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#1 Nov 18, 2018 4:25 pm

New Historian
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Kinshasa: then Heart of Darkness

Being driven through Kinshasa is an awes-inspiring experience, swerving between ancient cars, minibuses with people hanging out of every glassless window, trucks belching thick diesel smoke, overloaded carts pushed by glistening musclebound men, vendors of every conceivable thing, shoe shine boys and women in their colourful wraps - all shoving their way along what passes for the road.

When the Belgian colonialists built this city they called it Leopoldville, after one of the worst rapists of Africa: King Leopold. Back then it must have been a pleasant city with wide boulevards and cafes, transplanted from Belgium to the Belgian Congo. But those balmy colonial days are long gone, and I doubt the colonialists ever dreamt that this piece of Belgium abroad would become home to 8 million African souls.

Francophone Africans of both sexes are far more fashion conscious than their Anglophone neighbours, and Congolese men are the most fashion-crazy of all. I wanted to see the famous “SAPEURS” (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes) – Congolese men for whom clothes are king. Followed closely by music and dancing to kwasa-kwasa, Congo’s jangly infectious music. War, strife, poverty, hunger – nothing will get in the way of their pursuit of sartorial elegance. You see them everywhere in Kinshasa, strutting like peacocks in their Dior shirts (real, never fake) and crocodile shoes. They may earn only ten dollars by day, but half of that will gladly be spent on a shoeshine and laundry service to keep those creases razor sharp. Truly a sight to behold.

Another sight to behold is the mighty Congo River flowing fast as it wraps its way around Kinshasa; with Brazzaville on the far side. Two Congos, two cities, one River. The river here is wide and navigable; further downstream it tumbles through a series of cataracts until it reaches the Atlantic, spewing forth millions of tons of water and topsoil.

Ten of us went to dinner at Chez Maman Colonel, deep in the heart of Kinshasa. Getting there is a trek through what long ago passed for roads, not helped by the mini-hurricane that had just passed through. Chez Maman is a must-see on the Kinshasa circuit; it’s always packed with UN Prados and NGO vehicles full of les blancs experiencing a piece of le Vrai Afrique. There’s no menu: chicken or fish? And man, talk about tasty! This was the most delicious tilapia I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot of tilapia. Arlette Baliki Mandungu and I were fighting over the heads, the original finger-lickin’ good.

Afterwards David Ashiagbor and I gate crashed a function in the Sheraton ballroom, where a live band of about twenty musicians, singers and dancers had the place jumping. Stars of the night were two sapeurs resplendent in Vercace and Hugo Boss, who held a mock battle to decide who was the king of kwasa-kwasa. Hugo won.


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#2 Nov 18, 2018 5:29 pm

houston
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Re: Kinshasa: then Heart of Darkness

Historian, your stories are fascinating and extremely educational.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to write them so well.

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#3 Nov 18, 2018 7:24 pm

New Historian
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Re: Kinshasa: then Heart of Darkness

Thank you!

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#4 Nov 19, 2018 8:56 am

Slice
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Re: Kinshasa: then Heart of Darkness

OK,I do enjoy your postings and it is about time I say thanks.  This place would be very boring at times without your stories.

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#5 Nov 22, 2018 7:17 am

Expat
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Re: Kinshasa: then Heart of Darkness

I'll even chortle in with an appreciative grunt...    Especially for the ones that haven't been repeated... LoL.

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