so there's finally a company that has a shuttle bus between kinshasa and the international airport. it's a total ripoff at 60$, but the most annoying part is that the driver uses the van as his personal delivery vehicle, picking up his girlfriend, running errands, and it ends up taking twice as long to get anywhere. or worse, he'll go to some really ghetto part of town to pick something up and leaves me in the car while he runs off. i have to quickly lock the doors from inside and sit there while everyone and their mom comes up to the window and begs and stares and bangs on the roof, it's a little uncomfortable. i might as well be on the street with diamonds in my pockets.
it turns out papi will drive me in half the time and half the price so i might as well do that, plus papi is really nice. the road to the airport is being redone, but the right side of the road on the way there still isn't paved the whole way so we weaved into oncoming traffic, on the left side of a highway barrier for a harrowing 35 minutes.
luckily, we weren't the only ones (see photo), we had an old renault espace leading the way, but still, every once in a while you have to play chicken with a tanker truck that most likely doesn't working brakes...
but the best part, is papi's cleverness.
the airport is a classic african onslaught of non. stop. people asking you for money. la lutte, quoi. the first obstacle is the parking lot. there's no set price, you have to negotiate with a mix of police, militeray, and entrepreneurs. today it was guarded by a military guy with "special agent Jacques Bauer" written in sharpie on the khaki strap of his AK. (Jack Bauer is Keifer Sutherland's character in the TV show 24, in case you didn't know). so while 10 different guys are trying to sell me little suitcase locks on the passenger side (the problem being i actually needed one, but how to open the window and not have them all wave their hands in my face and try and grab your money before the next guy), papi is telling jack bauer that i'm from the presidential palace. which, well, is sortof kinda true. one guy totally doesn't believe us and starts yelling, banging on the hood, and i have my huge jackie O sunglasses on and really playing up my disinterested presidential demeanor. we're in a mercedes, dude. jack bauer rubs his chin and thinks for a bit, and then, ok, green light. he smacks the screaming guy for disrespecting someone from the palace and eventually calms everyone down, gives us the salute and says that he will now personally escort us inside. because we are from the presidential palace! everyone stands at attention. i high-five papi who says, that guy isn't going to escort us anywhere, he's just going to be the one who stays by the car and gets 1000 francs at the end. true.
we unload the car, shoo away the 20 or so one armed scragglers who want to carry my bag, sell me phone credit or bags of tasty grasshoppers. papi does a little change transaction and now has a wad of francs and passes them sneakily to every police officer, guard so he can come in to the ticket area with me. then for some reason, we sit down, we just wait. and i'm wondering why i'm not in the check-in line, but papi says just wait. surely enough a guy in an ed hardy style shirt with "RDC all the time" written in flames comes and collects all my documents to do my checkin for me. because thats how we roll with papi, people do our dirty work for us. this probably breaks every security rule in the book, but whatever. so papi and i are just chillin' hangin' out, adding eachother on facebook, and i pay a guy to get me a lock, another one to buy cigarettes (good gifts for friends!). i told ed hardy before he took off that i wanted a window seat, business class (worth a shot), and that my bags should be checked all the way to Botswana (i have ridiculous stopovers and am cursing my travel agent for making me spend 2 consecutive nights in crappy african airports but i digress). 30 minutes later, and i don't even know how this is possible, ed hardy comes back with my boarding passes and assures me my bags are checked to bangkok. bangkok. i have this handwritten boarding pass for bangkok? no no no. BOTSWANA. Kasane. as it is written on my itinerary. ok ok ok. 30 more minutes. now what. i have to pee. and the n'jili airport toilets are what you enter only in an absolute emergency - like you are being chased by a murderer. the murderer if he is human will never follow you in there. so i usually shy away from any drinking. but papi asks me if i have ever been to the upstairs lounge? upstairs lounge? i've been to this airport what, 7 times in 5 years, there's an upstairs lounge? the only bar i know is a place with 3 broken plastic chairs. it's more of a stand, really. this whole time i could have been in the lounge?? so we go to the lounge. and holy crap it's up on the roof, overlooking the runway, and there's a huge balcony where all the baggage handlers guys are hanging out with their shirts off. this is an outpost of the grand hotel where a coke is 5$ (and a diet coke is 10$??) so, yeah, it's pricey. but it's nice, and the waiters are all wearing red tuxedos. they have a giant air conditioning unit, even though you're outside. luxury. i gave ed hardy 4$ and he complained that he wanted more and then we ignored him until he went away, and papi told me about his family, his philosophy on DRC, his recent trip to dubai. there were signs everywhere that said "you won't miss your flight! see departure announcements on our state of the art TV system!" and then you pan to an unplugged tv on the floor...my departure time had kinda come and gone, so i ask the waiter, how do i know when my flight is boarding? and he gestures towards the runway...do you see a kenya airways plane? i see the congo river in the distance, the junkyard of airplane corpses, a propellor plane loading up 25 barrels of cooking oil, and people wearing blue pyjamas sweeping the runway with rattan brooms, just like they do on the boulevard. when the plane lands, watier tells me, then it's time to go. so i ordered some more beer, avoided the bathroom until i couldn't anymore...drank some more beers, and finally, lo and behold, with only 3 hours delay the plane arrived...and then, goodbye congo, and hello (in 29 hours) 5 star safari lodge in botswana!