A Thousand Eyes

An overland transect of the Democratic Republic of Congo from East to West

I left my Congolese travel experience in much the same way that I had entered it — with no privacy. I had bumbled onto the Western shores of Lake Tanganyika at Kalemie Port one misty July morning, having spent the previous night sailing on a cargo boat from Kigoma sharing a bunk head-to-toe with the owner. Exactly five adventure-filled weeks later, I was floating down the Congo River on an overcrowded barge, destined for what I had been promised was civilised Kinshasa.

However, the end of my river trip could not come soon enough for my body, as the last twelve days on board since leaving Kisangani were beginning to catch up on it — unfortunately culminating on our last night with stomach problems. I left the stare of a thousand eyes and the rupture of laughter over the fact the young mundele needed a haja mkubwa behind me, as I frantically picked my way through the obstacle course of sleeping babies, rudely awoken parents, hot charcoal burners and tethered goats. It could not have been more than 50 metres between my allocated spot, which I defended so valiantly from daily incursions, to the pusher boat and the toilet at the rear of the barge, but in the race against time — a race I did not want to lose — it could not have seemed further.

Thankfully, my return was more in tune to a stride of pride than that of a walk of shame, gliding gracefully in the moonlight over those same bodies I had tripped over previously. I even dared to throw in a leap or two. I settled down for the night on my foam mattress with a grin on my face and music blaring from one Chinese radio belonging to the barge drunk at my feet and that of a new musical competitor at my head. Things only got better when, moments after my head hit my makeshift fleece pillow, the 70-something year old lady who was sleeping next to me shuffled through her meagre belongings to pull out a small plastic bucket which she proceeded to squat into.

Alasdair Glasgow

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