Archive for February, 2011

A Bearded Programmer Does Kinshasa. . .!

February 5, 2011 15 comments

A very dirty denim jeans, uncombed hair, bushy beard, dusty sneakers, bag strapped to back (with ‘Zainab’ my laptop in it) like a baby will best describe my appearance as I arrived in Kinshasa via Brazzaville. I knew one thing for sure, that life in Congo DRC will be nothing near exciting as compared to Addis. Ethiopia is now like a second home for me. The friends I have made, the places I visit, the Muslim community etc all make life beautiful. I was busy  coding time away and that made me even forget I was in an aircraft at some point. I didn’t feel the plane shake or experience turbulence. Even if the plane did, I didn’t.

At some point I stopped coding and began to think of what kind of life, people or culture I was going to be living with for the next 2 months. The only thing I knew about Congo DRC before now was war. . .war. . .civil unrest and other vices. Not to mention the stories of Lumumba, Kabila father and Kabila son that I have read in books, I knew Fabrice Muamba of my darling Bolton Wanderers hails from Kinshasa. I knew Makalele of Chelsea FC  hails from Kinshasa too and that’s all. Oh…I’m a member of the Congolese Java user Groups and had planned to meet with the president and other members on my arrival.

I was still lost in thoughts thinking about where I would live and the kinds of neighbors I will have. Not that there will problems loving them, but are they ready to be loved? The language barrier thingy scared the shit out of me. At least in Ethiopia, I could not speak Ahmaric but I could communicate in English with everyone which made living and dealings very easy.

The plane landed safely in Kinshasa. Unlike in Egypt where the immigration officers nearly ate me for being Nigerian (Yes..! they gave me a hard time in 2010), Kinshasa was different. I made my way to the arrival lounge and immediately, I spotted a woman holding a name card. and “LUKMAN, AFRICAN UNION COMMISSION” was written boldly on it. I smiled, at least that was in English. I approached her and said “Good afternoon . I am Lukman from the AU“. She replied. .”Oui oui papa. . Bonjour monsieur Lukman. coment cava?.” I’m like. . .yea I’m in deep shit. Of course she doesn’t speak English. I gave her my passport and she ushered me into an office. She spoke french to me a second time but all I heard was “Baggage” meaning luggage. I said OK. She was gone for almost 30 minutes. I was getting worried and uneasy. Hope she didn’t say she was going to sell my “Baggage”… or that I should go look for my “Baggage” myself or maybe “Baggage” doesn’t mean luggage anymore. That’s how you reason when you are deaf with your ears open and blind with your a very clear eyesight.

Thirty boring minutes later, she shows up with my big “Baggage” and a man who would later become my colleague in the office. His name is Didier (no Drogba…lol). He led me out of the office to where a blue Toyota Corolla with a Senegalese diplomatic plate number was parked. He speaks a bit of English which was the first good news for me in Kinshasa. As we drove through the streets, he asked “So my Jaji, how is your plane travel…?“..he said, in his distorted English. Lukman of old would have screamed..“Gbola!!!!...” for that kind of English but naaaa…I’m matured now. “You mean, how was my flight…?” I asked sarcastically. “Oui..Oui…” he replied. “It was hitches, no hassles” I replied beaming with smile as I noticed the confused expression on his face when he heared the words “hitches” and “hassles”. After like 20 seconds, when he recovered from the double punchlines or should I say “punch words” I gave him, he said..”Mr Jaji, my English not very much good so you teach me“.  .“Pas de problem….” I said in French…”As long as you will teach me French because my french is not very much good“. Didier is a nice guy showing me every part of the city. “That big stadium is where Muhammed Ali and George Foreman fought in 1974…” he said as he pointed to a stadium along the high way.

Kinshasa is similar to other African cities I have visited except Tunis. You get into the main city and all you see is castles in the sky. Tall buildings, tarred roads, good looking restaurants and a whole lots of other things you will find in New York but 10 to 15 minutes drive out of the city, welcome to reality. Your brain quickly recalls that city you have been seeing on CNN and BBC cos these are the parts they love to show the world.

Map of DR Congo

Map of DR Congo. The country has a huge land mass and blessed with abundant natural resources

There is a very heavy presence of UN troops here too as there are in every post conflict areas. What I do not know is whether there are PCRD (Post conflict reconstruction and development) programmes for the young people here at the  UN level. I know there is one called TIVET being implemented byt the AU in PCRD areas. These kinds of programmes helps them to be actively and positively engaged in activities that will change their lives and their orientation. It prevents proliferation of arms and keeps the country at peace.

45 minutes later, we arrived at the Pan African Institute of Education For Development (IPED) headquaters, the place I was going to be a consultant for the next two months. My task is to develop an IT platform for EMIS (Education Management Information System) that will be used by the 53 member states (countries) of the AU. A new challenge, a new experience but same old codes it will be. “Salam Alykun Warahmatulah are you…?” I heard in the best spoken queen’s English. That was Mr Ahmad Diop, my Senegalese boss. We had exchanged a couple of emails before my arrival. He is trained as an English teacher. “Walaykun Salam Warahmatulah Wabaraktuh….Alhamdulilah..I’m doing fine sir“…I said. “Good to know. I didn’t know you are a Muslim…” he said. I’m like Ddduuuhhh??? “Didn’t you read my name..LUKMAN..Lukman is the name of a Muslim prophet and there is a chapter in the Qur’an named after him (Suratul Luqman – Chapter 31)” I said. “I thought so for a while but when I looked at the way you spelt it, replacing Q with K, it looks like an English name to me“..he said. I smiled. English name indeed. We exchanged pleasantries and we drove to town together to get a couple of things. A sim card, changed a hundred dollars and bought some provisions. While in the car, he kept telling me of how dangerous the town could be and their attitudes towards foreigners. Soon we were at a resort, the place I will be laying my head for the next two months. I filled all the necessary forms, got my keys and we drove straight to Chalet 19. Mr Ahmad and the driver stayed with me for a while before they left. I unpacked my “Baggage” and arranged my things.

Next day would be first day at work. It was like every normal first day at work. Orientation, question and answer sessions, introduction to other staffs etc.

I am spending my third week in Kinshasa now and I must say I settled into life pretty fast. I walk around town, shop, use the mini buses, visit the mosque and other things i can’t remember.

What haven’t I said….Oh I forgot to mention that I met a Nigerian solider on peace keeping mission with the UN on the plane. We’ve hung out a couple of times. he’s a nice guy. Okay, I won’t tell you about the Ethiopian airline air hostess…..we’ve exchanged emails a couple of times….and…………..

that’s all for now. . .I’m gradually loving life in Kinshasa. . .!

And the beard, the uncombed hair. . .? Fly down here and see me if you won’t leave your boyfriend for me. . (girls only). . .lol

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