|Footing Through The DR Congo|
|Written by Sascha Grabow & translated by Dieter Grabow (german), Takeshi Tajima (japanese)|
|Wednesday, 11 April 2012|
In a normal country they ask: "How are you doing?"
. . . . . In the Congo a random passer-by may ask: "What is in your big bag?"
I arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 7th, 2009, from Zambia on a good road. A moslem border guard wanted 20$ extra from me, but after telling him I would go back to Lusaka to inquire there at the embassy about this treatment, he became polite and let me pass. Shortly afterwards I caught a ride in a Pajero jeep, and in two hours time, on an excellent road, we were already in Lubumbashi, the country's second city and capital of Katanga province, the policemen in their bright yellow-blue uniforms posing no problem at all on this road. In the city I managed to stay in the Don Bosco Christian Center, VERY friendly people! Meeting some German/Zimbabwean expatriate couple, I relaxed some six more days, getting more information and preparing myself for the trip inland. My plan was to travel overland to the upper Congo river, and from there on a boat all the way to Kisangani (with some overlanding around some rapids in between). It is about 500 km to Bukama on the river, but my plans to hitchhike there were annihilated by the sheer lack of traffic!! On average maybe one car every four days (!!) passed by (or was passed by me walking as a truck may be stuck in the mud or broken down, thus making walking faster then using the truck!), meaning I needed about 10 days to get there, my feet pretty ruined by that time. I had made friends on a short truck-ride the last twenty kilometer into town, and thus when a boat left the very next day, I decided to wait for OUR boat, one that we already knew the captain of, and that would leave the next morning...
Big mistake!! The trip was postponed day after day, the captain waiting for more cargo, and by the time he was ready, police had become so interested in me that it was impossible for me to leave; they wanted to see special 'interior travel' permits and bring me back to Lubumbashi on their motorbike (of course me to pay the gas/petrol for the trip) to get the paperwork there from the head of police Katanga province. That night I phoned a friend, head of UN Katanga, and we kind of said that ANYTHING BUT coming back would be the right course of action, it would just be too frustrating. "Check the Walls!" ... I'm telling myself ... planning my escape from this Congo "Hotel"-prison! I couldn't sleep all night, and at 3.30 a.m. I decided that I would escape the hotel, jumping the 2.50 meter toilet wall at the back of it with all my backpack and gear on, then quickly proceeding through the market square and onto the railway brigde, when I saw that I was already followed by someone with a strong, bright torch, some guard or what. I hid behind a post of the bridge and then quickly crossed, then continued on the rail track, so that they would be incapable of following me with the motorbike. I heard some more barking of dogs, but when I had brought about sixteeen kilometer between me and the town, I started believing that I had made it out of their grip. I slept in a tiny village along the track, in a mudhouse that they offered to me. My diet consisted mostly of bananas, sugarcane, peanuts, dried maniok, oranges, lemons, pineapple... lots of vitamins, but not too much energy, causing me to loose weight quickly. Drinking here means purified river water or really any source you can find. On day number two, about sixty km from Bukama, when I had started to walk on the road again, thinking that by now it must be safe (and much more comfortable than the big stones on the rail track where there was always a chance that one would twist an ankle), I reached a bigger town around midday, and just sat down to peel an orange, when I heard a motorbike. I quickly jumped behind a door, and when the bike had passed, I took my bag and ran into the maize fields. I heard the bike coming back; he must have asked the people on the road if they had seen the white man, and of course everybody had! I couldn't believe he followed me sixty kilometers on their bike, the police station's, sole means of transport! I hurriedly walked into the outskirts of town, 90 degree towards the main road, looking for some place where I could hide, not too easy as all people naturally were suprised to see a white guy around here. Finally I saw a raw building as yet not inhabited, and just when the kids in front of it ran around the house to tell their friends that they had seen me, I jumped over the wall from the back into a window and hid in the last small room, the one that was meant to be the toilet probably, with only a small window. There I hid and tried to sleep some for about fifteen hours, hearing shouts of 'Muzungu, Muzungu' (white man) from time to time, and also the motorbike engine - a clear signal in this area where there are sometimes no cars or any engines for days that they were searching for me. At 2.30 in the morning I decamped and started to look for the road again, then continued to walk towards Kamina, a stretch with a lot of hills and forests. (This was still much easier of course than Monte Cristo had had it :-)
Overnighting had become always the same thing: Arriving late in a village when it was already dark, so that their secret police would not see me instantly and start asking all the questions, try to find some older person with some sense in them, and who still remembered the colonial area & contact with white people, sleep there (extremely tired as one was after 13 to 15 hours of walking, feet full of infected blisters and all), make them believe that one would be there at least another day to answer all the questiong to police etc, THEN leave 5 a.m. or not later than 5.30, so that by daybreak you had already covered too much distance for them to bother to follow you. This can be very tiring indeed over an extended period of time (in total it took me almost one month and 900 km to reach Mbuji Mayi in the heart of the Congo, with the only respite in between being the three-day-rest in Kamina that the very friendly Franciscan Monks from Croatia, stationed there since 26 years, afforded me.
UN helicopter eventually took me out of the diamond center that Mbuji Mayi is ...
to be continued ...