Hahaha, where to begin with the driving conditions in Congo! Before we arrived in Congo, we had the option to choose the color of our new car a Totyota something with of course 4 wheel drive. I wanted black as I feel every car should be black. But nooo, actually there was no option it was white or white, so white it was.This didn’t seem very practical to me but oh well its just a color.
I will spare you all the details of all the hardship that went into allowing me to drive in Congo but will share this one; In order for me to drive the company car I had to go and do a self-defense driving course. So I went…a bit nervous not knowing what to expect. I was the only one (from 15 on the list) that showed up that day so it became a private course. It started with a PowerPoint presentation of some of the basics; traffic rules, what to do and what not to do, pretty straightforward. Then the teacher told me I had to watch a 20-minute video whilst he would go out, before leaving me he stressed how very important it was for me to watch the video. OMG THAT VIDEO! It was horrific; I turned it off after a minute, it wasn’t even a video! It was another PowerPoint presentation with pictures of car accidents and casualties, random ones, with a sad song playing in the background. It weren’t even pictures from Congo they were taken in Europe and showed such horrific things that I couldn’t watch it. To be honest I didn’t even understand why anyone would have to witness that. The teacher came back and I lied pretending I had watched it. We went through the course material fast and were finished by 10 AM (the course was meant to go on until 6PM) as the teacher was a bit concerned not knowing what to do with me he wanted to show me something…one of those things where you sit in a car chair and feel the impact of a head on collision. First he strapped me in and put the machine on 10KM an hour impact, which surprisingly is quite an impact. It actually hurt, I was already done with this thing but he wanted to continue…. 15 KM, 20 KM up to 50KM an hour. At this point I refused, I pressed the red stop bottom and quickly unbuckled myself. I had my “certificate” by 11 AM. Yeeeyyy I can now drive in Congo!!!
Yes so I can finally drive….that is, if there is gas! You would think a country that has so much oil and gas would have plenty of it! No, not at its gas-stations! So always drive with a full tank if possible or have extra jerrycans filled up as back up or…. wait in line for eternity!
So….. the majority of the roads are challenging to drive on to say the least, but during rainy season….well, that makes driving almost impossible. The amount of potholes and their sizes are unlike anything I have seen before. The trick is to remember where they are, because after the rain the roads turn into rivers and you cannot see the potholes. I usually wait for other cars to go first as the thought of getting stuck terrifies me.
The asphalt is done for during rainy season, numerous attempts of the “road workers” repairing the roads but there is simply no point. The road to the school of my children is at the moment the worst, last weekend they repaired the roads and everyone felt like it was Christmas all over again YEEEEYYYYY a new road!……….this lasted one day! Another day of rain and not sure what their asphalt is made off but it just disappeared. One taxi after another gets stuck (taxi’s are a whole new story to write, in PNR they are blue Toyota corolla’s and they move about like ants, everywhere. Every city has their own color taxi…Brazzaville Green, Pointe Noire Blue, Dolisie Red and Nkayi Yellow). The worst part about getting stuck is that no one will help you unless you agree how much you will pay them in advance, seems reasonable but it still sucks.
Driving my husband to work is a route sooo bad that I sometimes have nightmares about it. Seriously I am sure the Dakar rally is easy compared to this, only you don’t get a medal or whatever it is you get at the end! Even though I so feel like I deserve one, after driving that route. It’s a sand/mud road with puddles where the water sometimes comes over the hood of the car. This is my “secret” technique:
Step 1: I slow down before entering the puddle/pool/river
Step 2: I open my window and shout at pedestrians to get out of the way
Step 3: Put the car in first gear
Step 4: Tell myself it will be ok! (15 times)
Step 5: I GOOOOOOOO, I try to keep my eyes open, but my gut tells me to just close them
Step 6: I MADE IT! (this is the part where I feel I deserve a medal but don’t get one)
Step 7: ………usually involves angry Congolese people that didn’t get out of the way to yell at me and I try to look apologetic but feel like such a champion for making it through!
A little expat joke going around when driving ……always wear your “safety goggles” read: Sunglasses. This way your argument when avoiding the police is that you didn’t see them, plus they cant see your eyes in order to make eye contact to stop you.
OMG, wait, hold up, you don’t stop for the police? No, in general we (I) do not stop for the police here; I actually step on the gas when seeing the police. In the past I did stop because it’s the police, of course you stop! But every time I got stopped I was informed of a new law-change and I was always doing something wrong, which is equal to paying whatever amount they tell you to. Sometimes its negotiable, sometimes it isn’t. I tried to have conversations with them in the past in French but this never worked out for me. One day, maybe a year ago I was in the car with my son who was sick when I got pulled over by three police woman. I had no intention of stopping but since they blocked my vehicle I decided that stopping was better then to run them over. They started with their intimidation techniques these are skills they master and still have an effect on me every time. I just get better in hiding my fear. They soon realize I refuse to speak French and demand my papers. I give them my papers and desperately try to understand why they pulled me over…even though I know the answer to this question. But this was one of those days were I refused to participate in the Congo-corruption. The police womenstart laughing and walk away with my papers. Nooo! I need my papers back I get out of the car (BAD PLAN, note to self…never get out of car again)…and the rest is me unleashing my anger and frustration towards a whole country that thrives on corruption. My son is still in the back of the car and at this point a crowd has gathered around me as I am still screaming and crying. It is so unfair! You have to understand that I deal with these minor cases of corruption on a daily basis and sometimes I have reached my tolerance for it. They decide to arrest me and take me to the police station! Noooo, no,no,no,no you are not taking me to the police station! I call my husband crying and he sends some people my way to help me out. In the meantime a Congolese man, very well dressed steps out of the building behind me and comes straight for me. I don’t know what to do but he does and he hugs me! Best hug ever! He speaks English and tries to calm me down and wants to know what happened. I explain…he then goes and talks to the Evil lady cops and surprisingly he gets my papers back from them and I can go. What? How? Who are you? Do I need to pay you now? “No Madame, I am a lawyer and I am very sorry this happened to you. They do not represent my country and shouldn’t have taken your papers.”
I go home and am so thankful that this man helped me! Not only to prevent me from being arrested but also I needed to hear the good in him as all the bad was taking over. I tell Christelle (our maid) the story when I come home and she is furious and about to go kick some ass. I have a hard time keeping her in the house and then I realize that she is unleashing the same anger I was, she is sick of the corruption too!
Last Tuesday I sat next to the lawyer on a flight, what a coincidence! He recognized me and I had the opportunity to thank him once again! Although I felt embarrassed when he said; “Remember me? I helped you when the police were about to arrest you and you where crying and screaming in front of my office”.