Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Law of Attraction in Congo

Ten years ago when I started traveling in Africa I had horror stories to tell about things and experiences in these African countries. Ten years later I am still traveling in Africa, but my stories are not that "graphic" anymore. I don't think Africa has changed much over the last ten years or so, that would be wishful thinking, but I think the way I am experiencing and interpreting everything has changed considerably. Not only do I believe that all my experiences in these countries had shaped me into a more relaxed traveler and better problem solver, but I think I have become much more wiser and "street smart" as well. If there are two books that have made a considerable impact on my outlook on dealing with problems, then I have to mention these two, The Power of Now by Eckhart Toll and Around Africa on my Bicycle by Riaan Manser. Both  these books I have refered to many times before in my life. I have always wondered why people have different ways of defining problems and dealing with them, and I think I did not only get my answer from the one book, but also seen some practical applications of that in the second.
Road from Airport

Pointe-Noire main street

Today was one of those days that could’ve made a good war story. I was on my way to Congo with its infamous crooked customs and immigration officials. If I had a blog years ago I could’ve refered to some of those stories. When you arrive to Congo or leave Congo, the chances are good that you will find yourself in a uncomfortable situation at the airport. If your yellow fever card is not yellow enough, or if your perfectly legible date in your passport is not stamped clear enough, you are in for a very long argument. This argument is usually solved with some bribe or the other, because when some people have the authority to make life difficult for you, they find any excuse to do that. So let me get back to my story. Because of some unannounced flight schedule changes I was heading to Congo without a valid visa. Years ago I would’ve been sick to the stomach imagining what could happen when I get there with the incorrect “papers”. I would’ve been scared to be honest. But, due to experience, and due to the two books mentioned earlier I was prepared to go face them and get a good story for my blog.

I did try to get the visa problem sorted out before I left Port-Gentil, but there was no time to change anything or get a later flight. Years ago I would’ve been a nervous wreck from the time I discovered that my visa was invalid, adding grey hairs to my wig while shortening my life at the same time. But the Power of Now taught me that premature worrying is not going to change anything. You deal with the problem when you are faced with it, or like my dad always says: “Cross the bridge when you get there”. I was on my way to the bridge and had no idea whether the river was coming down in full flood or whether it would only be a stream after a year’s drought. Riaan Manser’s book taught me another thing about the misperceptions we have on Africa’s inhabitants. He managed to cross something like 32 border posts in Africa, some with good visas and some with nothing at all. And each time he was successful and survived to write about it. One of his tips was to just keep smiling no matter in which situation you might find yourself. I know that smiling doesn’t help much in Congo when your yellow fever card is fine but not yellow enough according to a colour blind official, but when you are in the wrong a good smile on a good day might just pull you through. And even though the corrupt officials are out to get money from you, they are not out to physically harm you, just financially. So I was pretty sure that I was also going to get through customs physically unharmed. The only thing I was not looking forward to was the senseless illogical reasoning, the feeling of being interrogated for a crime you did not commit (although I was guilty this time), or that feeling that you are being treated as inferior just because someone else had the power and position to do so.

Port-Gentil's "ice-cold" departure hall

My "grounded" transport to Pointe-Noire
Then there was a third reason why my mood was different than ten years ago. I was rather miserable when I sat at the departure hall in Port-Gentil waiting for my flight. After the plane arrived our luggage was put on board only to be taken off a couple of minutes later. When he walked passed I asked the pilot and he explained to me that a small problem with the aircraft forced them to request another one from Libreville. This aircraft took about another hour to arrive, and as the door opened a familiar face with a huge smile looked out. It was the same air hostess that was involved in my previous experience where my luggage was not put on the plane in Pointe-Noire. Immediately I felt how my whole mood changed. There I was miserable for sitting and waiting, for wondering what is going to happen in Congo, and from literally out of the sky someone appeared that made me realize that I was not alone in this part of the world. Someone that speaks my language, that understands my situation, but most of all, someone whose positive outlook on the world were contagious as were discussing unfortunate events that happened in her life since the last time I saw her. We had a long chat on the plane, and when I climbed down from the plane I felt rather sad leaving her behind knowing that I might never see her again because she might soon be flying in another part of the world. But at that moment I couldn’t care less about what might be waiting for me inside that airport building. I was prepared to take on any official. I walked in, filled in the landing card and proceeded straight to the Immigrations desk. The old man that was sitting behind a dirty window mumbled something about my visa but I could not hear or understand what he was saying. It was just too noisy outside. After eventually realizing that he was not going to get through to me, he just shouted “Visa?!” I took my passport from him and opened it on the page where the visa was. He stamped it without even looking at it. I was so disappointed, I felt like showing him the date. I know that would’ve been a stupid thing to do, but after hoping for a good story I felt a bit let down by him. Ten years of traveling, The Power of Now and Riaan Manser didn’t make me the complete optimist or motivational speaker. I am still far from that. But it has made my life much simpler, much more relaxed and much less stressful. Unfortunately on the other hand it also robbed me of some good stories to tell, but that I can complement with pretty pictures I guess. It seems the more positive I am; the smoother everything else in my life goes as well. I believe some people call this the Law of Attraction. Maybe another good topic to explore and write about if all else fails, but first I have to spend 4 more days in Congo before I fly back for "unfinished business" in Gabon....
"Not-worth-mentioning" view from my room

Staff house


Four hours after publishing this post, three of my colleaques from Angola arrived at the office here in Pointe Noire, clearly VERY upset. I asked them what happened and they told me that they were put through hell at the gates of this little town by no other than the immigration and customs officials. One had to leave his passport there because his LOI was not with him (this is not a requirement), the other's yellow card was confiscated because the printing looked smudged (this was clearly an excuse to keep it)...and the third had to pack out his whole suitcase in order to convince them that he had nothing "illegal" on him (he had the largest suitcase of the three). The passport and yellow fever card can be collected tomorrow, it will cost a couple of CFA's! Bastards!!

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