Flying to the Democratic Repulibc of Congo will take approximately 24-30 hours from the US or Canada. You will be on a plane for quite some time before arriving at your destination. For the flight you will want to dress as comfortably as possible. In my opinion, the purchase of a neck pillow for this trip is a must. Families will likely want to purchase some water before getting to DRC. You will want to buy your water on the last stop before reaching Kinshasa, not in the US or Canada as you will likely need to go through security again causing you to have to discard the purchased water.
When you arrive in Kinshasa it will likely be in the evening. It gets dark at around 5:30pm in Congo, as it is so close to to equator, so it may be dark when you arrive. Once you land you will deplane onto the Tarmac and will be directed to a shuttle bus to go through immigration (DGM). The bus may be packed with people and you will be let out to go through immigration. You will wait in line before a DGM officer will review your travel documents and let you pass through to obtain your luggage. You may be stopped before the baggage claim so that members of DGM can check your passport and yellow fever vaccination card.
You will not yet be accompanied by an MLJ team member when you get your luggage, though there may be a DGM officer that will be able to assist you. There will be a lot of people crowded around the luggage area and you may need to be assertive and push your way in order to view your luggage. It will be important to clearly mark your luggage with something brightly colored or otherwise noticeable. It is possible that your luggage will be lost or items contained therein could be stolen. Make sure to put all items of value in your carry-on. Lost luggage is a somewhat frequent occurrence when traveling to DRC. If your luggage was lost, your last name may be written on a board and placed in the middle of the baggage claim area. Once you obtain your luggage you may exit and will be met by one of MLJ’s Congolese team members. This individual will speak English and be able to assist with bringing your baggage to the car. Various other individuals may also try to assist you with your luggage. You will not want to hand your luggage to any of these individuals unless instructed to do so by MLJ staff. In addition, you will not want to tip these individuals unless such tip is approved by MLJ staff. Bringing money out in this area could cause more people to gather around you and the car making it more difficult to leave the airport.
Once you are seated in the car with MLJ staff and driver you will make the approximately 45 minute drive to the area of Kinshasa where parents will be staying. On the way there you may experience significant and chaotic traffic.There are few traffic lights, though even where there are working traffic lights, red lights are much more of a suggestion than a requirement. Cars, buses, motorcycles and people all share the road. The drivers are aggressive because they have to be in order to get anywhere in the traffic. There may also be accidents on the road specifically involving buses that are packed with people and used as an inexpensive taxi system. As far as the people you will see, you will see those that are trying to sell small items and women and men carrying large quantities of various products on their heads (balancing them perfectly) and impoverished people that are clearly in need. I think this is what many of the families and I expected to see. What I think is most surprising, was how so many are so well dressed and clearly care about their appearance. There were many men and women dressed in what would be considered business attire walking the streets, which was so wonderful to see. Also, many women in Congo still wear traditional dress in beautiful brightly colored African fabrics. Seemingly, some of these individuals may not have much by way of material things and clothing, but they are making the absolute most of what they have and taking pride in that.
Once you get to your apartment or hotel make sure to get settled and get a good night’s sleep, as you will be meeting your child the next day!
Photo Credit: Alan Levine