my charm is enough to grease the wheels of corruption
the night before i was awoken very late by the my project surveyor, steve, who has been stuck in brazzaville with the plane for the past few days. It goes like this. The plane we were supposed to use for our project crashed in malawi (steve was on board and survived and told me the whole crazy story), so the backup plane was doing a job in congo brazzaville and was going to pop over when it was done. Just needed 2 days. Easy peasy. Right in time for our press trip. Well as it turns out brazzaville doesn’t have the right kind of fuel, and so the plane was popping over to kinshasa to refuel – stopping at n’jili international airport and going through customs (2 hours), paying fees and then hopping, literally 5km away to N’Dolo domestic airport, paying more fees and refuelling, dealing with the crummy authorities there (3 hours). So one day they happened to be delayed until night and they couldn’t fly through the fog so got stuck in Kinshasa and the pilot never got a stamp in his passport (had a visa, just no stamp!) and this meant another 2 day delay being stuck at immigration, poor guy wearing the same overalls and underwear the whole time.
So steve calls me and says they don’t have the right permit to land and that they won’t get it for another week and i need to pull some strings. I can pull strings! I look into the stack of business cards from the previous week and woohoo - There is patrick, assistant to the important someone who will sign our permit! At our meeting he held my hand a little too long when he told me he would do whatever it would take to help our project but anyway. I call him first thing, 7 am. He says he’ll call so-and-so and get me a meeting with another so-and-so in 2 hours. I call omba, my slowest driving chauffeur/go-to civil aviation ministry guy. We plan a strategy and we’re there.
Before you go to any of these ministries though, you better arm yourself with hard and soft copies of whatever it is you already sent them. In this case, a signed letter of support from the former president of DRC (yes, our project has been delayed since 2011) and all the stuff that accompanies the permit application. We’re kind of in a hurry, got stuck in a big traffic jam on the way to the office. i quickly send everything to the printer and when i go to pick it up there’s a crowd standing around like someone just got into a bike accident. I push in, Let me through! As if I am a paramedic. But i am, I am the emergency personnel because my office mates cannot ever seem to comprehend the printer. They’ll open and close the compartments, and lift and press buttons when the screen clearly says „insert paper in tray 2.“ And then all the print jobs they each sent a million times because they weren’t coming out pile up and delay everything. My letter comes out sideways. Someone messed with the manual tray. Gah! I send again. Low toner. The letter is barely visible, the map doesn’t look so hot but f it, this is DRC, come on.
So we go the Civil Aviation’s second office in my best congo dress– i have been to the fancy one on the boulevard, this is a whole other story. We are on the same crazy street i bought my fabric. Blaring music, handicapped children, madness. People selling sneakers, and locks and police everywhere. I climb out of the truck and instantly someone is showing a plastic bucket in my face, 1$! I feel like i’m part of an undercover drug deal movie where someone is following me in their sniper viewfinder. Shday dealings here. We meet some guy on a crowded sidewalk and shake hands, he leads us into a dank alley where people are reparing motorbikes and cars. I have to step over oil cans and pumps and machines. We go up a back stairway and see a paper stuck to a door that says civil aviation. Inside is a maze of chairs and tables and offices in closets. The fact that it is indeed the civil aviation office is proven by heaps and heaps of dusty old binders with titles like Air France/1989-91. Documents everywhere. They are piled on the stairs, against doors, and even a huge mess on the balcony. A man sleeps on a desk, he has a very fancy suit, but neither shoes or socks. There are 2 computers, maybe, for the 11 people crammed in one office. Every so often I want to take a picture but i recall how much edouard had to pay in fines so i slink back. They instruct me to sit on some antique chair which is totally broken, i sink through it and spend the next 10 minutes picking out splinters from my dress. A gust of wind comes and blows documents around- receipts, xerox copies, the kind that printed in purple. Some of the documents swirl out the window and land like falling leaves in the chaotic street below.
This letter is from the time of the other Kabila! Yes, i know…he is super nice. He says he’ll give us a permit for whatever we want. But this letter, it seems to lack toner and is it printed sideways? Please go to a cyber cafe and make me a better copy. He did just read it in his entirety, but the hue of the text is now not to his liking. This letter is also in the dossier that is sitting open on his desk but i won’t argue. So we go to an internet cafe, which is a whole other fiasco. I need to get into my email and get the files. They ask me if i want to use aol or yahoo? Really? Aol?