I am so excited to have four seats across and I make plans in my head to sleep the entire second leg of my journey…a solid chunk of time from Brussels to Kinshasa. I look down to take off my sneakers and when I straighten, I see that someone has moved and has claimed two of MY FOUR seats!! He sits on the far seat and plunks the biggest bag of foil wrapped sandwiches in the seat next to him. As the hours tick by, he makes his way through the bag, bit by bit.
I nap for a bit, watch three movies, read, listen to music, and play a game. During movie number three, my ears catch an angry voice, starting low and menacing but getting incrementally louder. The man with the voice, a large guy with some sort of hat perched on his head, is across the aisle from me and he quickly escalates to yelling and pointing a finger in a violent way to a flight attendant. He goes from English to French to Lingala, angry and vehement. The attendant shakes his head and says something quiet as other attendants join him when suddenly, the angry man pounces, throwing a glass of something at the attendant, trying to jump over the back of a seat to reach him. Immediately, fear and anxiety are felt everywhere. People scream. A couple men stand up to help. I rip my earbuds out to listen as all the attendants act as one, trying to quietly bring the situation under control, even though the passenger is now out of control. It takes a while, but one determined attendant manages to talk him down while another makes a call to the cockpit.
We sit tight and watch as three policemen come to take the angry passenger away.
Shaking my head, I follow the crowd to the covid testing site…a madhouse of people trying to fill out papers while cutting in line. There is no control and I slowly make my way to the front with a grandma in tow, as she needs help with her paperwork and suitcase. That part done, I hand my passport over to Passport Control and am told I must pay for a $340 visa. I ask for an explanation and they have none, other than it is required and it will only be for seven days. I explain that I need a two week stay and that I have a resident visa, yet they refuse. At a stalemate after 15 minutes of trying to understand why this crazy fee is required, I feel my shoulders slump under my heavy backpack and I say quietly, “I am here to help your children. That is all I want to do.” There is no one left in the Passport Control room and I feel alone and a bit out of sorts…not angry, but sad that things are this way. Out of nowhere, the Chief of Police or of Security or of Customs (who knows?) calls me over and waives me by, welcoming me to Congo. Confused but grateful to be released from this scam, I get through the health check and step into the chaos of baggage claim.
Exhausted by the lack of sleep, stress and noise, I search for my suitcases and am accosted over and over again by men saying they will help me through customs as they try to take my bags. I keep a tight grip and keep saying I don’t need help when a hand reaches out and grabs my shoulder. I swing around, my patience running out when I see the smiling/scowling face of Trois Cents, sent by Mandaba to help. We do the traditional forehead bumps of greeting and make it through customs and out the throng to a waiting Emmanuel who takes me to a guesthouse where I have a confirmed reservation. Half an hour later, we find ourselves sitting outside the small apartment, waiting for keys. We eat snacks and catch up. We wait some more. No keys. No answers to calls.
At almost midnight, we move on to another place, clean and decent but more expensive and without a kitchen, which I need. Sigh…
And so begins Congo: Take Two