Two eight hour flights and a three hour layover in Paris later, I found myself stepping out of a plane into warm tropical air – bienvenue à Brazzaville! Less than 24 hours into my stay here, I was already at HOPE Congo’s office, a short ride from my apartment in the down town area. It’s a lot to take in when you first arrive in the country that will be your home for the next year. Mme. Sophie, HOPE Congo’s secretary met me at the airport, and I’m incredibly grateful that she did! Getting through customs was slightly nervous experience. I had all my paperwork in order, but the line was exceedingly long and slow, and when I finally got to the customs officer I was struggling a bit to understand him as my French brain slowly jumpstarted – Mme. Sophie to the rescue! She kept smiling and managed to keep him from getting too angry at my lack of understanding, to the point where he eventually stamped my passport and sent me along through.
We picked up my bags without too much of a problem (unless you count me having to race through a bustling crowd to grab one bag as it kept moving), waved off eager porters and headed outside the airport to be met by Monsieur Adrien, “the feet of HOPE” who takes care of getting everybody from HOPE where they need to go. By the time I finally got through customs and out of the airport, it was nearly 8pm. Despite the late hour and my exhaustion, I leaned out the window straining to take everything in in the darkness. Bright green taxis bustled around everywhere, but the city streets were not as busy as one might expect for a capital city. The airport, Maya Maya, is extremely close to downtown which makes it extremely easy to get to and from. Our very first stops in Congo: Noura’s for some food and to exchange some of my money into CFAs – the local currency (pronounced seefahs). Schwarma or a hamburger? Apparently I got both without meaning to, but the schwarma was pretty good!
Food and money exchanged, we sang Happy Birthday to M. Adrien in the car and proceeded to get a bottle of water for me from the convenience store. And when you buy a bottle of water in Congo, it’s not some puny little bottle. Oh no. This is a serious liter of water, an essential item in Brazzaville because the drinking water here is not quite safe. Half a minute up the street brought us to SIL Congo- where I’ll be living for the next year.
It’s a gated compound, with guards opening up the gate for us to reveal few interconnected buildings inside. If you keep walking forward, I’m on the ground floor in the second building- which made getting my suitcases inside quite easy. After filling out some paperwork for living at SIL, Mme. Sophie turned on a small air conditioning unit for me (an exciting surprise from the previous owners from HOPE), and bid me à demain (see you tomorrow). After having spoken in French for the last several hours (since landing in Paris really), my brain was whirling with my new surroundings, trying to comprehend the fact that this will be my home for a year. I decided the best thing to do was explore, set up my water filter and then unpack and fall asleep since I felt ready to crash at any moment.
I’ll have to do another post showing some pictures of where I’m living, but for the moment, suffice to say it feels quite large for just a single person – I’m excited to meet my neighbors!
After passing my very first night in Brazzaville attempting to sleep while on the wrong time zone, I dressed for my first day in the office and was graciously picked up by M. Adrien again as I didn’t know my way. Finally, I could see part of the city in the daylight.
Some initial take-aways from my first few days in Congo:
- My French is going to be great by the end of my year here. Meaning I have a lot of vocabulary to catch up on!
- The Congolese I’ve met have all been exceedingly warm and welcoming. All of the staff at HOPE have been a great help in trying to get to know me, speaking French with me and telling me to come to them if I need anything.
- Internet and even electricity will come and go. Just last night we had a thunderstorm and the power went out- making me exceedingly thankful for the recommendation to pack a headlamp!
- Weather in the 80s is a welcome change to the constant snow for the last few months in Maryland. People here keep saying it’s really hot, but it feels great to me!
- Green taxis everywhere!
- This is definitely a tropical city- trees and plants everywhere which I love. Standing on the balcony at HOPE you can see the forest.
- Random fun fact of the day: a rooster likes to crow near HOPE’s office
I still feel as though I haven’t really gotten a feel for what it mean to be living in Brazzaville- that’ll come more this weekend as I explore the city more, see the markets and the river. Time to start learning my way around Brazzaville!