Much to your surprise I'm sure, I have arrived safe and sound in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Except that I screwed up my plane ticket dates and actually arrived a day later than I was supposed to (I am already hearing mom snickering and saying "that's such a You thing to do").
**The Dreaded Airport**
Needless to say, I have already come down with a rather dire case of Culture Shock. My first contact with the DRC was the hectic mob they call the airport. A colleague of mine (you know who you are) had warned me about the N'Djili airport. To put it mildly, the trip from the plane to the gate to the luggage check is rather uneasy. The airport has a reputation of being rather disorganized, with difficult officials, people trying to "help" you with your bags and bribes needing to be paid. I was frazzled, tired and rather dehydrated but, apart from someone "helping" me to pull my bags (which consisted of edging himself between the bag and sharp corners to wedge my bag more deeply and then jimmying my bag out of the created situation--needless to say, I didn't pay him), I got out of it intact.
The first impression of the DRC is that it's very green! That may sound like a triviality to a lot of you but I've been hanging out with sand and goats for the better part of my 6 months in Senegal. There are rows and rows of trees, hills and green mountains, heck there's even grass here.
I was instantly greeted by one of my colleagues who stayed in the office until 9:30PM to welcome me. Now, I consider myself a nice girl, but even I wouldn't have done that! The following day was a Saturday and I was taken out shopping for essentials.
The weirdest thing was that all the items were priced with stickers: B24, A10, C17 etc. Puzzled, I ask around for what the actually prices are. It turns out that the Congolese franc is so devaluated and devolving that, if prices were set, a bottle of ketchup priced at $5 would only be worth $2.50 a month later. The way they get around that is that they set sticker prices and you have to match up the number (B35) with a list that translates the price. That way, when the franc drops, they don't have to change ALL the stickers on ALL the items. They just readjust the list, print it out and redistribute it. Pretty ingenious, especially when you consider that those 15 bills bursting out of your wallet actually represent 2 dollars.
Another strange particularity here is that small purchases are made with Congolese francs and large purchases (read: "more than 2 dollars") are made in US dollars. So, here I am paying at the stores for groceries that cost 8,000 francs (translate to US $16) and I give a $20 bill (so theoretically the cashier should give me $4 back) and I receive $2 and F1,000 (which makes sense since F1,000 is about US $2). Doh. I smile at the cashier and hope to hell that she gives me the correct change back. Cause my little brain is not strong enough to process the information.
**more to come soon**