Congo: Day One, May you please have a try.

Here I am at MPH Guesthouse. When our family first arrived in 1987 we stayed here. The drive in from the airport is long and crowded, and the city is full of hustle even at 9 PM. On my bed is a towel, a bar of soap in a box. The box says Beauty Soap Juliet TM Floral Bouquet, Lingering Freshness, New and Improved, and has a picture of a very attractive Indonesian woman on it. The soap is made in Indonesia, marketed from Malaysia, and imported in Algeria by SARI Far East Marketing. Somehow it’s here in Congo. It’s pretty good soap, it really does smell nice, leaves you feeling clean, rinses off well. I also get a complimentary roll of crepe paper, apparently for when I need to go take a crepe. Seriously the paper looks like a dull lavender version of that streamer stuff you decorate for your birthday with. This reminds me of the t.p. we had long ago which was made in China and said “BAMBOO Toilet Paper. may you please have a try.”

My bags didn’t arrive with me, I barely had time to catch my flight in Brussels. I had to run to my gate, and when I asked the gate attendant if I had time to use the restroom before boarding she said “TWO minutes” so I am just glad I made my flight. But since we arrived in Brussels late from Chicago, my bags didn’t get on the plane. I’m very glad I observed Travel Tip #1, which is to always carry an extra pair of underwear and socks in your carry-on luggage. I probably won’t have my suitcase until tomorrow afternoon, so it looks like I’ll be in my favorite pair of jeans for 4 days straight, and borrow shirts from Bill Frisbie and Charles Buller. Fortunately they are both bigger than I am.

I don’t have photos for you yet because the cable that connects my camera to my laptop is in my suitcase.

On the drive in from the airport, the night was breezy and cool. It’s dry season, so even as it gets warm this afternoon it will be a dry warm and I doubt very much that we’ll ever get seriously sweaty. The air is full of smog, fumes from cars and motos that don’t have proper exhaust systems, plus charcoal fires. I exit the airplane and the first thing i notice is the smell: heat wafting off the asphalt. I catch a whiff of barbecuing meat. I smell diesel rolling off trucks. People carry cartons of eggs on their heads, sometimes a couple hundred eggs. You could buy one right off their head, a hard-boiled egg. People are carrying anything you might want to buy on their heads. They drift through traffic, hanging on the sides of minibuses, harassing drivers who’ve done everyone a disservice by trying to cut around a line of traffic — if you can call it a line. One intersection has a “robot”, a sculpture designed by an art student which has alternating red and green lights. Apparently because this thing has arms it gets more recognition as a legitimate traffic director, and when the light goes red people actually stop. Aside from this one intersection, it’s go when you can and stop when you must. Charles orders pizza while we are still driving in.

We arrived and our driver was tired.  They started out for the airport at 3:30 PM, it took them over two hours to get there, through rush hour, and an hour or so to get back, so he’s been driving quite a while. I would not want to drive here, it’s stressful. If you hit a pedestrian you’d be likely to suffer mob justice: a beating or worse. We passed a hospital I am almost positive I saw on the documentary “Kinshasa Symphony” a few months ago.

Pizza arrives. It is wood-fired, and the crust is delicious. There is “tropical” which is onions, mushrooms, chicken and pineapple, and “o poeto” with green pepper, burger and sausage. I haven’t eaten pizza for so long … we put piment on it too. That’s a bright red pepper paste, which I ate for the first time at this very establishment 28 years ago. It’s hot. REAL hot. But does have a certain flavor enhancing property. I ate piment on my first two slices, and then I noticed my eyes were leaking for some odd reason, and didn’t put any on my third piece.

Showing up at a guesthouse where our family stayed for a week and a half in 1987 is bizarre to say the least. My brother would remember playing ping-pong with me here. The place is dilapidated to be sure, the tennis court, which was beginning to be overgrown in ’87, is now completely unusable. But the interior is still comfortable, with clean sheets and comfortable cots, a clean bathroom with hot water, fans that keep the air moving, and though I didn’t have a mosquito net, I didn’t need one. Dry season means no mosquitoes this week. As far as jet-lag goes, I fell asleep at 11:30 local time and woke up naturally at 6:45. I’ll probably be drowsy this afternoon and might need a nap, but because I didn’t sleep too well on the airplanes I’ll probably adjust faster because I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and slept almost eight hours straight.

In 27 years many things have not changed. Old buildings are older, but what is noticeable is the ubiquity of cell phones. Huge billboards advertise free Facebook all the time with a certain cell-phone plan.

A tailor showed up to deliver a shirt for Charles this morning. On spec he brought a second one, and Charles bought it. I liked the fabric so I ordered one as well, and in three or four days, he said, he’ll show up before lunch time to deliver it.

Bill Frisbie felt affirmed when I noticed at breakfast that he said “tell me more.” I told him that was an old standard coaching hymn. He said, “that doesn’t make it any less special,” and I said, “no, of course not, it’s like singing Amazing Grace.” Bill is off for Kikwit this morning, he was supposed to go yesterday but that fell through. We were glad to see each other. He’ll be back in next Saturday and we’ll go to the airport together as we come home (though on different flights, we depart within an hour of each other).

We’re just getting started, but for those who are praying for me here are two things to pray for: 1) Pray that my stomach tolerates the unusual amounts of gluten I’m consuming. 2) Pray that my bags will arrive intact today and that we can pick them up without a hitch tomorrow.


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The author lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife and four children. He is self-employed as a leadership coach working with business executives, writers and other artists, and spiritual leaders. His clients enjoy business growth, increased vision and purpose, work/family lifestyle balance, and freedom from writer’s block.

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