I’m back in Kinshasa after five years, and was planning to revive my blog. Since I arrived - almost a week ago now! - I’ve had a hard time formulating what to say. In most ways, the city is the same as when I left it, and the experience is very similar: lots of heat and noise, mosquitoes and delicious food and beer, the poise and style of the Congolese amidst the incredible bustle that is Kinshasa, amazing music and crackling energy. There have been, however, a lot of changes.
Among the most obvious are the traffic lights on the major roads, especially in the centre-ville and on the way to the airport. The signals actually count down both red and green lights, so you know exactly how long you’ll have to wait. Those same major roads (the boulevard that runs through the central downtown area, as well as a few others) have been completely redone, and most of them are perfectly smooth. It isn’t limited to the major thoroughfares either: Oshwe (the road at the center of my old stomping grounds in Matange) has also been completely redone, and is harder for me to recognize.
One major difference in my experience is transportation. I’m staying with a friend, not too far from where I used to live. I can see the big stadium, my old neighbor, from the window here, as well as the tall downtown buildings faintly across the airfield that is just across the street (the smaller Ndolo municipal airport, not Ndjili international airport). We’re on a large street, which means the sound of traffic is almost constant, and there’s a new layer of soot on things every 24 hours or so, and although many taxis are passing by, they tend to either be already full, or heading towards the market (and thus away from almost anything useful to us).
The solution my host has found for himself is to walk a few blocks down (through the neighborhood, not right on the big street), where there are motorcycle taxis, and take one of those to Victoire, where other taxis are easy to find. He claims that there are more motorcycles in Kinshasa, which seems to be the case, although I’ve also become a motorcyclist since I last came, so I can’t tell if I’m just seeing them more!
Anyhow, the moto-taxis (as we called them in Cameroon), or “wewes” (I was told that this comes from the Tshiluba word for “you,” since the first motorcycle taxi drivers were predominantly Luba) cost about double a normal (i.e. shared) taxi. This is still only 1000 Francs, just over $1 (when I left it was 550 Francs to the dollar, now it’s more like 920). However, they get you there much faster - mostly because they weave precariously through stopped traffic, can choose to go onto the sidewalk if necessary - and instead of being crammed into a back seat with two other people, you’re out in the open air. That said, the open air on Kinshasa’s busy streets means a lot of sand in your hair and a lot of exhaust filtered by your nostrils!
I have run into a few old friends/acquaintances here and there, and spent New Year’s Day “en famille” which was an absolute delight. In general, though, I feel like a stranger, and at first I felt kind of melancholy about no longer being a part of a Kinshasa neighborhood. After a few days and some conversations, I’m feeling more like this trip is a reminder of how much time it took to reach the level of intimacy I was able to accomplish on my first trip.
Last but not least, I got to play with another guitarist for the first time yesterday, which was awesome! Maybe I’ll write more about that later, but I think this post is long enough for now.