Emilio in Congo (DRC)

Landing at Kinshasa airport, an experience

I landed at the Kinshasa International or Ndjili airport at 10pm on a Turkish airlines flight on a Sunday night.

As you leave the aircraft, there is a bus waiting for you to go to border control. Forget French, Lingala is spoken almost exclusively by the ground staff.

There is only one bus to take you to the terminal so when it is deemed full, you are asked to wait on the tarmac for it to drop off passengers and then return to pick up another set of 20 or 30 more passengers. And so on and so forth, until all passengers standing on the runway are removed.

As I am waiting for the second round trip by the only non-air conditioned bus, I see a sedan with government number plates parked on the tarmac behind the bus and what I presume is a government official greeting happily a Chinese man dressed in a suit. The man is whisked away in the sedan along with other government officials. I assume this is an important guest for the DRC government.

Regarding COVID, the measures are weak and masks are not worn by all the staff, or at least not properly.

As my bus arrives, I get in and we are driven to a makeshift container base with plastic chairs, some basic printing and IT equipment to be PCR tested for COVID. An Indian man from a local Indian-Congolese hospital seems to be in charge.

A lady in a white vests takes down my information on her smartphone to produce a QR code that I will need to pay 46 USD by card or 45 USD in cash to receive the test.

There is anger among passengers that this added test is a robbery and that “they”, the staff are thieves or that the test is not necessary. Some staff feel insulted as the insults are done by a white woman who has a “superiority complex” as they said.

The staff have it their way eventually and everyone ends up doing the tests but only to receive the results the next day.

As I wait 45 minutes to 1 hour to collect my bags, I’m asked for some “water” by the customs agent.

Later, as I walk onto the parking lot of the airport, there are 5 to 10 people talking to me and approaching me to hand over my trolley with my bags for them to help me put them into the car. I refuse several times but they all insist and keep speaking in Lingala.

The ordeal continues after my bags are in the car. There are now more faces at my car window that I had not seen before, asking me for change or “only 1 dollar”. Eventually I give in and give them something.

The drive from the airport to the house is quick if you can argue with the cops at the 10 or so check points along the way.

Because yes, there is still a curfew due to COVID. The cops ask for the flight tickets or boarding tickets but sometimes they don’t bother. All they want is a little money or “coffee” to let you through.

As we approach the downtown Gombe area, two cops attempt to ask for a “special permission” that I don’t have. I say I’m coming from the airport. Eventually, a female colleague of theirs lets us through and we drive away from the two opportunistic cops.

At last, I am home.

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