Kinshasa week two…
… and I’m just about ready to go home. There is something so anticlimactic about building up this image of a place and then getting there and finding that… it’s just a place. I’ve been studying the Democratic Republic of Congo on and off for about 5 years now, and I guess in light of all the horrific things that I’ve read (and written), I had built up this image of this place in my head that was both mythical and frightening. I’d fallen into the academic trap of “problematising” without necessarily having a grasp of what the problem actually is
Kinshasa is. Kinshasa. Its a city like many other African cities – sprawling, dense, just barely hanging on to rudimentary vestiges of public services. The better part of the city is a glorified slum but from ensconced in an ensuite room in the very posh La Gombe, I can block out those bits when I get home, although not as easily as in Karen in Nairobi or Tema in Ghana. In fact, unlike Nairobi where the line between slum and plush is quite rigid, here, I only have to walk 20 feet from the front gate of the gated community to find myself on a dirt road, buying street food, and struggling to hear myself think over the clamour of an illegal disco.
The thing that is actually most frustrating about Kinshasa to this point for me is the sense that I just can’t trust anyone. It could be just because of the experience I’ve had trying to find a house – my landlady jacked up my rent by 400% when she found out where I worked – or it could be that because I’m not confident with my French I’m retreating more into myself. I’m not sure. I just don’t feel at ease here the way I do in English speaking Africa, or even in Burkina Faso or Benin. It’s not as dire as Togo, but still, the DRC puts me at ease.
Anyway, what am I going to do now? The place I’ve mythologised in my head doesn’t seem to exist and that place was the basis for my PhD application. Turn around and start from scratch? Or do the PhD anyway and join in the ranks of the self-aggrandising hacks?