From West to East and Back Again

Due to craftiness, advanced knowledge, and the general greatness that is #1 Fan, we were able to get UN press passes from the MONUC office in Kinshasa. Two years ago, it was something of a free-for-all and just about any nitwit could wander in and get press status. They’ve since cracked down a bit due to said nitwits getting in trouble with local governments for asking the wrong questions and needing to be repatriated. One such case was, Lisa Jackson when she got in trouble in Burundi for doing what Americans do best and walking in to another country with a crude, crass bravado that gives off the air that you’re untouchable, which you most certainly are not. So, because of this, we had to be a bit more detailed in documenting our projects while we were there.
One may wonder as to what the advantage of having a press pass is other than having a cool badge that makes you feel somewhat special. The advantages are many. For one, you can actually set foot in MONUC without having to go through all the sign in procedures each time. Then of course you have access to the shuttles that they run so that you don’t have to throw yourself at the whims of a Congolese taxi driver. Lastly and most importantly is the fact that as long as you have some kind of press business with MONUC, then you can use their flights to get around the country. This is very important for two reasons. For one, it would have been somewhere around $1,500 for the two of us to fly across the country and back (again I need to remind people that DR Congo is more than half the size of the continental US.) But beyond the cost issue is the crashing issue. On April 15th, a flight from Hewa Bora, the only Congo airline not on the EU blacklist, crashed in to a market in Goma. This had the effect of killing a large number of people on the ground and in the flight, getting Hewa Bora placed on the blacklist, and lastly crowding the UN flights because no one wanted to fly Hewa Bora after that, although a great many people still did.
So, as you can see, getting on the UN flights, while difficult, was quite necessary. There was no way we were going to go east unless we could get on, which required a great deal of patience due to our having lowest priority and getting bumped both coming and going, requiring multiple 5AM trips out to the airport.
Once onboard though, the trip across the country takes awhile. Depending on the route you take, it’s anywhere from four and a half (Bukavu, Kananga, Kinshasa) to five and a half hours (Kinshasa, Kamina, Bukavu). The Dash 8 that they’re flying these days aren’t the fastest things in the world, but because they fly at lower altitudes, you see a good deal of the country and can even take some photos. This is good because there is really no reason to go to the interior. A great swath of it is just plains, endless plains, with some farming here and there with villages that have turned in to the major cities.
Naturally, with no food service or inflight movies, there is little to do, but sit and wait. So, after doing this trip once, I will happily never repeat it again, preferring to see the east via Kigali, Rwanda, which is a much more direct route. But it was still pretty cool to see and get something of a grasp as to the actual, massive size of Congo.
From West to East and Back Again