Friday, September 3, 2010

29 - Closer To the Heart

Brazzaville's corniche at dusk
Time to move on closer to the heart; muggins heads for Brazzaville, on the other side of the Congo River from Kinshasa, by the Malebo (or Stanley) pool - of Stanley and Conrad fame - just above the rapids that prevent through navigation to the ocean.

It's time, too, to take Trans Air Congo's Fokker again as there are ninjas in the forest in between. These are militias of the Pool people who fought a tribal/civil war and now have an uneasy self-rule arrangement - meaning ninjas playing yo-yo with AK-47s board the thrice-weekly train as it dawdles through their territory (there are no buses or trucks) and demand money or otherwise harass travellers. Western embassies warn people not to try it - verbotenissimo!

Muggins turns up at Dolisie airport at 7 a.m. for the 9.45 flight, as ordered - after being stranded in the shower totally soaped up when the water died (fortunately there was a full bucket there; that's what you pay $72 for). The problem is the airport staff haven't.

De Brazza's mausoleum

This time we're allowed to queue up inside and the police guard is friendly, both of us cursing the Malaysian timber companies who are chopping down the trees throughout the region, just as they are doing in Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. A surly guy helping a fat woman with two huge carts of luggage pushes ahead, but my anti-Malaysian cop friend soon puts them in their place.

After about half an hour the staff start dribbling in; after another half they start sitting down; after another half they start getting their act together. Once through security a beautiful lady cop smiles winningly, saying 'Bon voyage to Brazzaville. What are you going to leave for us.' Nothing,' quoths I, sensing a little hint of bribe-seeking.

On arrival at Brazzaville there’s total screaming chaos as swarms of barking luggage touts mill about seeking your custom to get your cases off the partially holed conveyor belt.

Brazzaville, founded by Italian-born Pierre de Brazza, the father of French colonialism in the area, is a rather grand mini-metropolis in its way, befitting the capital of former French Equatorial Africa; it's like a garden city, though run down. There are large expanses of green, forests of trees, expansive boulevards, even if somewhat rubbish strewn, playful fountains, and mansions now taken up by palatial ministries and the favoured.
St.Anne's Basilica

Muggins is sneaking a picture of the presidential palace enclosure from across some open ground when three armed soldiers lolling under a tree wave their weapons and loudly proclaim 'verboten.' I beg your pardon, quoths I, noting a whole group of little kids playing football on the open ground; am I not allowed to snap these adorable little kids? Ah, you're photographing the adorable little kids, quoths they, that's fine, go ahead. Which I do, standing in exactly the same position with my camera likewise, zooming in on the presidential enclosure.
A Brazzaville modern skyscraper

There are in fact two presidential palaces next to each other behind high walls, railings and guards. The second, built by current holder Sassou-Nguesso to coddle his holy self, has a huge surveillance tower - again all properly walled and fenced and soldiered - with views across the river to the skyscrapers of Kinshasa. A few weathered modern towers in the centre contrast with the purely African quarter of Poto Poto, with its narrow dust and mud lanes, low buildings and boisterous markets overflowing with life. Other city sites include the odd-shaped green-roofed St. Anne Basilica and the round domed Mausoleum to de Brazza, an ironic honour inaugurated earlier this decade by the president to the imperialist coloniser of his country. But then de Brazza apparently did eschew the extreme and appalling brutality of Belgian King Leopold II's regime on the other bank.

The city's best sites, however, are natural. At the south western end is the Djoue River with its rapids pouring into the broad Congo, whose even larger rapids make navigation down to the Atlantic impossible. And the river views from the Corniche across to Kinshasa in the ebbing light of late afternoon are, again, spellbinding; one more glorious African dusk, a golden haze over the green river-bank vegetable allotments on this side turning to blue-grey on the other Congo's high-rise studded shore. A solitary pirogue slowly furrows the waters far out in the centre as dusk closes in. Once again, ‘The curfew tolls the knell of parting day...’
Kids play soccer in front of presidential compound

View across the Congo to Kinshasa

Street in Poto Poto

Local beauties in front of Sacre Coeur Cathedral
Djoue rapids

Congo rapids

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