So what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word Congo? For me it was a movie about gorillas and vast rainforests, definitely not technology and BI consulting. Recently, however, an opportunity came up for me to travel to The Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa and I couldn’t help but jump at the opportunity. I mean how many people in their lives can say they’ve been to Africa? So after weeks of preparation, coordinating all the travel arrangements, 6 immunizations (including a nasty reaction), and a little research on the area, it seemed I was all set to go. All I had left was a 30 hour travel itinerary with a layover in Amsterdam and Kenya, and soon I’d be deplaning for an adventure the likes of which I didn’t know what to expect.
To call a trip to The Congo culture shock is a bit of an understatement. The phrase ‘third world’ really doesn’t do the country any justice; frankly for much of the country it’s more of an insult than it is an accurate statement. Upon my arrival to an airport that was at least 60 years old and hadn’t been updated in 70, I felt as though I was walking onto an episode of The Flintstones. All sarcasm aside though, technology it seemed was a ship that forgot to set sail for The Congo so far. My luggage, practically hand delivered, came out looking slightly softer and rounder than I recall packing it, but I was finally free to leave the airport and attempt to find my way through this urban jungle in search of my hotel. Lost in the abyss of a world completely unfamiliar to me, I struggled for some time to find my driver which of course had been setup ahead of time in an attempt to guarantee my own security. However, life never ceases to amaze me in its ability to fail in all the best situations. So after searching for nearly an hour I finally confided in the hotel’s driver to get me where I needed to go, only to be escorted to a car the size of a Ford Pinto, in a condition resembling that of a 1950s Cadillac Coupe Deville they found out back behind a farm house. Needless to say, I really felt like I was putting all my chips on the table with this character and yet I hopped in for what I was hoping was a ride to the hotel.
Only now, can I safely say my driver, who spoke no English at all, decided to take me on the scenic route to my hotel in downtown Kinshasa (The Congo’s capital city). By scenic, I mean I saw The Congo in rare form. No one’s faking anything here; life is real, raw, and extremely difficult. To even begin to try and describe the quality of life here does it no justice what-so-ever. To say the least my journey from the airport to my hotel was by far one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life, with an opportunity to see a way of life I couldn’t ever have imagined. Driving through shanty towns, streets filled with people to the point we could barely drive with and no ability to communicate let alone feel like I can trust the driver next to me, one’s patience are truly tested. Finally after nearly 45 minutes, with the streets at their worst, my driver decided to lock the doors. “Hmm…” I thought to myself, “Maybe he is taking me to the hotel and not to some random street corner to be abandoned”, this thought implanted in my head courtesy of the United States Government and their wonderful travel advisements for the region. Eventually though, we actually arrived at the hotel, where I was to say the least, a little relieved I’d made it that far.
Next it’s time to check into my hotel and all I can think to myself is “Please understand English!” Failing to find any time to brush up on my complete lack of French, I found myself at the mercy of my own language, but as it turns out they did. Even enough to give me a hard time about not speaking this wonderful language of French, lucky me! With things finally starting to feel a little more stable, I decide to take a breather and relax for the rest of my day here in The Congo, after all I start work the next day and after today’s adventures my imagination is running wild with what to expect.
With that, I head up to my ultra-modern 1970’s luxury accommodations in my 5-star hotel (I think they meant 2, oops typo!), where I am welcomed by a bed and sheets I can safely assume are older than I am and a television that’s about 2 years shy of knobs and a UHF/VHF tuner. Having settled in, if you can call it that, I decide maybe it’s time to jump online and let some people know I haven’t ‘kicked the bucket’ here quite yet. Complimentary Wi-Fi? Not a chance… and with these blazing fast dial-up speeds I think I may have better luck with the note in a bottle trick. Next on the agenda? It’s time for dinner and I’ve come to a cross roads; do I order the $35.00 personal pizza or any of the other outrageously priced items on the menu. It seems as though my 5-star hotel (err, I mean 2), also comes with 5-star restaurants. This, however, was hardly the case. So I pick up the phone and place my order, “I’ll have the pork tenderloin”. About 45 minutes later I’m sitting down to a wonderful cannelloni dinner, and I think to myself “The Congo strikes again!” Try to get the correct food? Why bother, they didn’t understand my English the first time, even trying to explain the mix-up would probably prove to be an exercise in futility. At this point I assume it’s a good time to call it quits and decide to retire to what I will loosely term, my luxury accommodations.
Jason Wolan, Technical Consultant, iDashboards