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Ubuntu by Ellis Heather;

Ubuntu by Ellis Heather;

Author:Ellis, Heather;
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Schwartz Publishing Pty. Ltd


14

The Floating Village

Zaire

The Zaire River, also known as the Congo, is 4700 kilometres long and, in places, a staggering 220 metres deep and up to thirteen kilometres wide. My voyage from Kisangani to Kinshasa would cover 1750 kilometres of this mighty river, the world’s second largest after the Amazon. This giant artery flows in a wide brown arc from the mountains of the East African Rift to the Atlantic Ocean. In a country with few roads and highways, the river is the only means to transport goods – and people – from Kisangani in the centre to the capital Kinshasa in the west. Several hundred people were now crowded on the docks in a last-minute attempt to buy passage on an enormous flotilla of barges before the scheduled departure the following morning.

Benwar, Mikail and I fought our way through this crowd to reach the ticket office. People were camped outside the gates with their belongings and goods, waiting to board and get the best spots on the decks to trade, which would mean more customers and greater profits. For most passengers, this journey was business, and it wasn’t the first time they had been down the river selling and trading their goods with the river people.

We made it to the ticket counter just as the clerk pulled down the shutter. I was grateful Benwar could speak French as he begged the man to stay open a moment longer.

‘Non cabine,’ the clerk said and Benwar insisted we were happy to sleep on deck.

‘Non possible,’ he said, but Benwar demanded to see his superior.

The clerk pointed to the main office that sat above the ticket booth, only too happy to palm us off to a higher official, and we bounded up the stairs. Our demands worked and my ticket on one of the world’s most exciting river journeys cost the equivalent of US$8 for me and the TT.

‘We leave tomorrow morning at ten. We must be on the barge by nine. It is very lucky we are here when this timber barge is leaving. Only once a year does a flotilla of barges this big go down the river,’ Benwar said as we walked back to my hotel.

*

The hotel guard banged on my door at daylight as I’d asked. I wanted to be on the docks by seven to load my bike before the crowds arrived and well before departure at ten. But I was not the only one planning to beat the rush, and long before I reached the gates I had to weave through hundreds of people as I slowly rode towards the river. A mass of bodies stood outside the locked gates and armed soldiers stood at the turnstiles. Benwar and Mikail were there beside them, pressed against the wire-mesh fence.

‘Eda. Rapide, you must hurry. We go through. The soldiers will unlock the gate so you can load the moto!’ Benwar yelled over the hum of voices.

As I slowly idled forward the crowd reluctantly moved aside, then rushed to fill the gap behind me.



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