Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Let's go for a ride down a street called "Poids Lourds" -- essentially French for "very heavy" loads. This used to be the only street into downtown Kinshasa from the east side of town, until they built Lumumba Blvd, which is a divided two lanes in each direction road. Sometimes when you are approaching the junction where Poids Lourds takes off from Lumumba, you can see the backup on Lumumba, so you take Poids Lourds and hope for the best.

Here's what 15 minutes driving down the road is like. I will probably have my driving privileges revoked when someone from the church's safety division sees that I'm driving and talking on the cell phone or taking pictures at the same time. But this will give you an idea of what driving is like. I generally drive at least 15 hours a week, going to meetings or interviewing the missionaries and their investigators who need interviews for "special situations" before they are baptized.

Taking pictures is a tricky business. If someone sees you taking their picture, they either want money, or are mad at you. So you learn to take pictures very carefully and not too openly.
Here's a guy that is intent on passing someone -- so I better swerve to the right. Note the silver Mercedes ahead of us, and the red and white bus coming in the opposite direction. Hidden behind the yellow VW bus is a "pousse-pousse" cart. These carts occupy the right hand lane and are given right of way. Which means that the red and white bus will have to get around the "pousse-pousse" somehow. Usually that means they will be in the center of the road and into your lane.
You can see the dust where the Mercedes wagon has driven on the shoulder to give the oncoming bus much of our lane.
This isn't the same white VW van -- just one of the many. This is typical Congolese style driving -- because traffic is pretty slow in the lane coming our direction, this guy has lurched across the road and is now traveling on the shoulder in the opposite direction. The real fun comes when someone going in our direction is traveling on the same shoulder, and the loser in the game of "chicken" has to figure out where they are going to go. Usually it is somewhere into your lane.

A common sight -- someone swerving to miss a pothole. Driving here is like a video game -- you hope your reflexes are fast enough to miss the holes on your side and the guy who maybe coming over to join you!!
There are no such things as "lanes" -- just lines of traffic that snake down the street, searching for ways around the potholes and watching for the cars coming in the opposite direction to make sure they're not in your path.

These are "people movers" that the government uses to transport the workers to their government office (you can guess that the colors in the DRC flag are blue, yellow and red). About 60 plus people will be crowded into one of these -- the lucky ones get to sit, while most stand for the hour or so commute. And the people who ride really are the lucky ones -- each night from 5 to 8 pm, people stream out of downtown headed for their homes. Many ride in the combies, but tens of thousands walk home. Driving on the roads gets very hairy because the walkers just ooze through traffic. You inch forward a little at a time and hope you don't hit someone.
Not all the interesting things are happening on the road. Here some shoppers are checking out a "marche" on the right side of the road. I don't know what the lumber is -- maybe scrap just left out for people to take home, either to add onto their house or to burn for their fire that night.
Meanwhile, on the left hand side of the road, behind a concrete fence, are the train tracks. Once a day a commuter train serves a suburb. The Thomas's, who can see the train station from their apartment, say that as the train starts to leave the station, it is relatively uncrowded. But in about 30 seconds, as it starts to inch out of the station, hundreds of people emerge from who knows where and crush into the train. The freeloaders ride up on top of the train, because they know the conductor won't come up there to check if they have a ticket. The smart ones sit down on top for the ride. But the intrepid ones -- check out the next picture.
I wish that I could get a picture that does justice to the train. If the fence didn't block the view, you would see people are hanging out the windows and the doors and crowded beyond belief. That's why maybe the best place is up on top of the train, in the 25 mph or so breeze as it rumbles down the tracks. The tracks at best are uneven and pretty scary. So the roof riders get to practise their surfing as they ride home.

And that's 15 minutes on "Rue Poids Lourds". Every trip is like this. That's what makes it fun!!

Hope you can get a little flavor of what life here is like. And yet the people are relatively happy and content with what they have. One of our bishops rides the VW transports for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to his position with the "Department des Affaires Etrangers" -- the Foreign Affairs Department in English -- in his three piece suit. I can't imagine how much I would sweat. And he is grateful for his job, for the church and for his family.

Count our blessings -- Love -- Don and Marsha

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