Wednesday 1st of August, 10.00
Diary of the Congo Journey, part 1 / March 2014
From Maria von Welser, Journalist, Author and Vice-Chair UNICEF Germany
It's pouring with rain, as if a " Monsterwave " would hit the country. I only open my eyes shortly, see how Klaus takes pictures of that rain and continue sleeping. Finally I am in bed, after a 26 hours flight and long waiting times.
Hamburg - Istanbul was quite agreable. In the evening we continued with Turkish Airlines to Kigali. During this flight we couldn't stretch our legs, since we had unfortunately seats directly behind the partition to the business class . So what - I was reading and Klaus tried to sleep. At 01:20 in the morning we were landing in Kigali and continued quickly to the hotel, since we planned to continue with Ruanda Air - already at 07:00 am to Kamemba. Klaus couldn't sleep, which turned out to be our luck, since we had forgotten to set our I-phones to Kigali time, with 05:10 waking time. So we almost slept over, in which case we would have missed our flight. But this was only the beginning of our first day. At the airport - after very strict security checks
( Klaus, my great pilot had to give away a water bottle and a pair of scissors, he always had in his hand luggage - I couldn't but smile a bit ) the friendly agent from Ruanda Air declared, that we were not on that flight. So, out oft he security area again and back to the ticket counter to buy there 2 extremely expensive tickets. And again shoes, trouser belt, laptop, I-phone and a little bag with personal belongings through the scanner. Although the check-in desk had already closed, the Ruanda Air agents were friendly and took us to the airplane. Sweatening I sank in my seat in a brandnew Bombardier aircraft. No departure yet - why not ? The captain admitted, that he had got a weight and balance problem and asked 6 of the economy passengers to move forward and sit down in the business class. Then finally we took off, disappearing in thick clouds.
Kamemba is still on the Ruanda side. And there we waited for a extreme long time for our luggage. Klaus stood there, shaking his head. He tried to count the enormous heavy parcels, maybe construction material, that were offloaded in addition to the passengers' luggage. " I would never have boarded that aircraft in Kigali, when I had seen, how this aircraft was overloaded " he said. Thanks God, he only saw that after the landing.
Berta from UNICEF was waiting for us with a UNICEF offroad car and driver and guided us - with her experience - relatively quickly through the Congolese border controle.. A small wooden bridge connects the 2 countries, which still dislike each other. Ruanda or Rwanda as the country calls itself, appears clean and well organized. We saw well paved roads and well maintained farmland. The Congo then was the complete contrast. The roads can't be called roads, since one is moving from hole to hole. There were long queues of people on both sides oft he border, women with big parcels on their heads, one even with a big glass full of eggs. But they were also carrying construction material, clothes, well everything that can be sold or bought. The local people need for the border crossing only a small sheet of paper, which they hand in to the border controle clerks, to get a stamp on it. We however had to fill in long immigration forms, in addition to the visa we had already received from the Congolese embassy in Berlin, for 75 Euro each. For the so urgently needed yellow fever vaccination, nobody was asking us. Slowly I got some headache. We hadn't yet had a breakfast and a cup of coffee appeared to be a saver.
Berta from UNICEF took us to a luxury place, directly at lake Kivu, the Orchid hotel. Never a breakfast had been better then in that moment. I fell asleep and the rain lulled me in, like a child.
Thereafter Ndiaga from UNICEF was due to come to discuss our plans for the interviews. Klaus was sitting on the terrace, whilst the tropical plants were now waving in the lighter tropical rain. I wondered, how the local people might live in their shaky huts, with no watertight roofs during such rainfalls. I was curious, which stories and fates I would hear, but also what UNICEF and World Vision are doing. And I was also curious, to meet the doctor, who had been awarded the alternative Nobel price for his engagement for abused women.
Tomorrow I will write more, about the Congo, the war victims and to the still disastrous economic situation, although the Congo with its rich mineral resources could be one of the richest countries on earth.