We flew into Kisangani by a small air craft from MAF piloted by one of the organisations great characters. Jon Cadd have seen, heard and done most things in life. I remember the MAF pilots as vividly as anything else from my 2½ years on a push bike through Africa. Most of them, like Jon, has a lot of humor as well. You need that to survive Africa. But, I also remember one pilot, who didn´t have enough humor. Whilst cycling through East Africa 1989, where I was accompanied by one of my best friends, Steve Jewell, we stopped at the MAF compound in Dodoma, Tanzania, and Steve helped one of their pilots to pull a propeller of a plane. And whilst doing that, suddenly oil gushed out of a hole and Steve, never tactful, shouted:
The pilot of this profound Christian organisation looked at Steve, with great seriousness and said:
“I guess you could call it that…..”
Jon had far more humor and distance to himself and life. He cruised over the great African rain forest with ease. Now, whilst flying for two hours from Epulu to what was formerly known as Stanleyville, we were so close to these broccoli shaped tree tops, so at times it felt like we could touch them. Only on and off was the thickness of the forest cut up by mud brown rivers snaking through the denseness. Except the pilot, it was Jeff, Olly, Patrick, me and a slightly terrified Emmanuel. Everytime I asked him if he was ok, he smiled in his usual charming way, but most of the time he probably prayed that the flight would be over as soon as possible.
The airport in Kisangani looked like it had gone through all levels of the hell described in Dante’s inferno. This revelation and the heat hit us badly, as did the officials of the airport. Even though the worst of the cleptocracy created by the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko is gone, officials still spend a fair amount of time trying to find faults in the passports belonging to travelers. This time, correctly though, they noted that Olly and Patrick´s visa was overdue by a day. If it hadn´t been for Kennedy´s extra ordinary contacts and skills, that could have ended with Olly and Patrick in a dreary prison cell, whilst Jeff and me enjoyed the entertaining Kisangani street life seen from a bar in the center of town. I say dreary, because I found out, at the bar, that two Norwegians are imprisoned in this out back and far beyond town.
“It is two young men who just got a bit a stray, they wanted a bit of adventure and things went terribly wrong” , a Norwegian from their Angola Embassy said whilst gulping down a cold beer, “They are not doing to well at all. They´re freaking out and are terrified that they will be moved to the prison on the other side of the river. It is supposedly even worse than here on this side.”
I have to say, I feel really sad for these two young men. Kisangani isn´t the place where you want things to go wrong. Am also amazed that one of the charges is spying. The question is for what? What in earth could the government of Norway be interested in when it comes to Congo? How to make good matoke? Better to go to Uganda then! Or, maybe they like many other countries are interested in the vast quantities of diamonds that are around Kisangani. At least if one is to judge by the street signs, where every other store seems to deal with diamonds.
“Buy one for your love” , Jeff said, “Then she will never leave you. Diamonds are forever.”
When I passed through here 1989 I was really ill after over eating bananas, pine apple and home made peanut butter. I spent most of my time in a bed at Hotel Kisangani. I saw much more of this extra ordinary place this time. It is really run down after the Mobutu years and two wars, but still has great character in many ways. It is, also, really in the middle of Africa, it came to fame through Henry Morton Stanley and it is a micro-cosmos of all of the bad and good things of Africa. Everything from poverty to the great African laughter and spectacular natural beauty. The great life line of the continent, the great Congo River, is impressive. This also applies to the last reminiscence of the architecture from the colonial era.
It is also a very hot and humid place. This fact tires you easily and I can understand that as many as 30% of the colonial employees from Belgium, just freaked out after a short while in this area. They couldn´t take it, they almost turned mad. I read a book by a Norwegian journalist, Alfred Henrik Mohn´s book Kongo kallar, about the colonial era. Very interesting. Others returned to Belgium, couldn´t take the life there and returned to Congo. Which I also fully understand. There´s something profoundly deep with this continent, which always makes you extremely run down, but always wants you to return!
Don´t miss this slideshow of this great country!