This weekend was my last weekend in the DRC, so naturally I left the country. Me and a TDYer, Krista, traversed the magnificent Congo River over to Brazzaville. I figured I might as well go over there since it is just across the river, and it was definitely a good decision. But before I get into my trip, here are some 6 quick facts about Brazzaville:
1. It is the capital of the Republic of the Congo
2. Kinshasa and Brazzaville are the two closest capitals in the world.
3. In 1884, the city became the capital first of the French Congo, and then of French Equatorial Africa, a federation of states which encompassed Gabon, the Central African Republic and Chad.
4. In 1944, Brazzaville served as the capital of "free France." Charles de Gaulle briefly lived there.
5. It is a lot safer than Kinshasa (you can walk around and take taxis).
6. Unlike Kinshasa, photography is legal.
So anyway, we took a "canot rapide" over early in the morning, so we had pretty much the whole day to explore. Brazzaville is a LOT nicer than Kinshasa, and I was pretty culture-shocked. Like every 5 seconds I was like, "Wow, look at these smooth roads!" or "Look, there are sidewalks!" or "It's so clean! or "They have ice cream here?!"or "Look how beautiful the buildings are!" At one point, Krista finally told me to shut up, haha. She actually grew up in Cote d'Ivoire, and she emphasized to me that most of Africa is not as deeply impoverished as Kinshasa, and even though she grew up in West Africa, even she was culture-shocked coming to the DRC. SometimesI have to keep reminding myself that the DRC is one of the poorest nations in the poorest continent in the world, and that it is truly not the norm. Anyway, we stayed with the ECON intern who has been there this summer, which was cool cause we didn't have to rush home/didn't have to pay for a hotel.
In the morning we stopped at a patisserie, which I very impressed with. I'm sure there was nothing impressive about it, other than the fact that it existed (there are no patisseries in Kinshasa). We then checked out Poto-Poto market, which was a huge sprawling market that seemed to go on endlessly (even more than the souks in Marrakesh). I got a nice tablecloth and a fake Louis Vuitton wallet, which added up to a total of 7 dollars. Another good thing about Brazzaville, it is a lot less expensive than Kinshasa! I was amazed at how cheap things were there.
For lunch, we took a taxi down to the rapids on the river, which was beautiful, and I got some nice pictures. It was really cool seeing Kinshasa from the Brazza side of the river...it actually looks somewhat impressive (although I know better than that, lol). In the afternoon we checked out Charles de Gaulle's old house when Brazzaville was the capital of Free France, and the mausoleum where Pierre Brazza (the man who founded the city) and his family are buried. I was absolutely amazed at the mausoleum, which was made completely out of marble and had a beautiful dome. It was built about 3 years ago, and was extremely controversial at the time, because the government blew a ton of money on it while a lot of people still were without running water and electricity.
For dinner, we ate at a Moroccan restaurant, which was very good. It had very much a Moroccan decor, and made me nostalgic for Marrakesh. Afterward, we went out, ROC style. The club scene there is very much similar to Kinshasa, except there is perhaps more mingling of expats with the local crowd. The Brazzaville embassy is very small, only having about 8 ppl. There is also a much smaller UN and UNICEF mission, so in general, the expat community is tiny. I noticed that all of the expat community hangs out there (American, French, Italian, Russian), whereas in Kinshasa people are more cliquey with their own embassies.
Although Brazza is overall a nicer city than Kinshasa, but I can see how it could get boring pretty quickly. Like I said, the U.S. mission is tiny, as is its budget. Plus, there are only about 3-4 million people living in all of ROC, (whereas there are only 8 million people living in Kinshasa alone) so there just isn't as much stuff to do. I'm glad I spent my summer in Kinshasa, but I'm glad I got to see the other side of the river.
As soon as I get home, I'm going to upload pictures (I took a lot of them), so hopefully you'll get to see the difference between the two cities. I still don't have a lot of pictures of Kinshasa (since photography is illegal), but hopefully I'll have enough for ppl to get a sense of what the city looks like.
I'm probably going to be writing my last blog entry tomorrow (or maybe even this afternoon), which will be sort of a reflection on all my experiences here. I have MANY things to say about my experience here, so I figured it would be a good thing if I summarized it all and put it one place (for keeps).
I can't believe I'm leaving tomorrow! I am going to be incredibly culture shocked.
See you all soon, I hope!