World through my eyes

It rained during the night. My laundry was returned at breakfast so I was able to pack. Breakfast was the standard: bread, butter, jam, chocolate drink (Nescafe), bottled water and two fried eggs. Bruno joined us for breakfast. I bad farewell to the others at 8:45 and we took off in a BMW for the airport. Misha had a flight at 9:00pm that evening, and Monique and Christine are here for another week. They were going to visit Bonobo to see the friendly monkeys there.
The traffic was (for Kinshasa) pretty light and we arrived at the airport at 9:30am, so depite some mud and water from last night’s rain made good progress.

Figure 26: muddy road on way to Kinshasa
As we approached the airport the number of cell phone towers increased. It is very evident that they have by-passed the use of wired phones, I saw only one during my trip.

Figure 27: Cell phone towers close to Kinshasa airport
We parked in the shaded parking lot and were met by someone assigned to assist me through the various airport procedures. First I had to get $80US from an ATM machine to pay the airport tax, then we had to pay it and take a receipt which I needed to present as we boarded. Next our bags had to be checked to make sure we were not exporting something illicit. Then queue for the South African deskthat was to open 3 hours before the flight at 10:45. Then check we had tickets, and get out RDC visa valildated, get the ticket. Then to the check in for bags. I locked my case and pray I will get it back in Johannesburg. Then to go through the security screening. I finished my water before going through. Despite mistakenly leaving the cell phone tower coax cable in my bag, there were no problems, but they did pat us down before and after the x-ray machine. Then into the waiting lounge which had no A/C. I visited a folk curio shop to get an idea of prices and purchased a little box as a memento with my remaining dollars. At boarding time we handed over our receipts for the airport tax, went through a another check of the passports and tickets, and a pat down, and boarded the bus. A the plane there was one last check of the, passports and tickets and we could board inking about in all the time in Kinshasa apart from our party and in the airports I probably saw less than 5 white people. There were about 10 on our flight out.
Figure 28: Parking lot with shading at Kinshasa airport.
The flight was cold and I put on my anorak to keep warm. I arrived in Johannesburg La Tombo airport on time. After passing through immigration and picking up my bag with no hitch, I found my ride behind the usual crowd of waiting people. He was a very friendly white S. African single parent, not very interested in rugby but an interesting life story. The temperature outside was 73F. The freeway was empty, the road was excellent, and we arrived at the hotel after about a 45minute drive. The Royal Elephant hotel in Pretoria is a luxurious place with spacious bedrooms and bathrooms, king size beds, free WiFi, and breakfast included, A/C, hot & cold running water, a coffee/tea maker in the room. I am out of deepest Africa. Despite all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there once I re-adjusted expectations. Here, the electric plugs are the old British large 3 round pin style. This was the one style my adapter does not cover. The hotel lent me an adapter so all is well.

When we got to breakfast at 7:00am the power was still off so there were no fried eggs. Soon after a man came in carrying a car battery and started the motor generator. Then we had omelettes. For today’s program on networks and the grid, the lecture hall was in the bibliotech in the main university. A large part of the audience was new. Misha kicked off with a talk on SPIDR, and I followed with on with the Internet Digital Divide: the emergence of Africa. The questions mainly had to do with the difficulty of networking in Africa.Later in the morning Dibungi Kalenda gave a talk on connecting universities and centers of research which was most interesting. I talked to him after and found out more about the existing state of networking for universities in Kinshasa and the near future.At the end we took a group photo.

Figure 23: standing 3rd from left front Dibungi Kalenda, Monique, Christine, Bruno, unknown, Dinga Bienvenue . @nd from right standing Celestin
In the evening I went to the university data center with Augustin Kanyimbu to see if we could install PingER. We installed part of it but ran into problems and gave up at 7:30pm. I will try again when I return to the US. The data center itself was being renovated so there was lots of dust etc. It looks like it will be nice when finished.

Figure 24: Servers at UniKin, one of them is, another

Figure 25: Core network at Unikin consisting of Cisco 8500s, 2960, 3570 etc.
I got back to the guest house at about 8:15pm and they had all gone to bed. Tomorrow they will pick me up at 8:30am allowing 2-3 hours to get to the airport. My flight is at 1:45 so I should be in good time. I need to pick up my laundry before I leave. I find I have 4 insect bites about my ankles.They are little red itchy dots with no swelling . They probably occurred when we were at the River Congo. Tomorrow I will wear long socks since we saw some mosquitos at the airport on the way in.

Friday 16th September 2011
In the night it rained so the dry season is coming to an end. This morning I left my laundry with the people at the Guest House. We drove from the Guest House to the conference center in a BMW. Christine re-organized so Misha and I gave our presentation back to back at the start. Thus we were done by 11:00am. We met Bienvenue Dinga who was printing out the invitation letters. They seemed to take forever and we left the conference center at about 11:25am. We stopped en route to get some money (in US$!) from an ATM, to pay for the boat tickets. AS we drove, we took some photos and videos of the traffic and shops. That was a big mistake, we were pulled over by the police in an unmarked Suburu. As I understand it they saw Misha taking photos and this was illegal. We sat in the car while Bienvenue and Celestin remonstrated with them and I believe they even called the ministry. They demanded Misha’s camera so as to delete the picture(s). Eventually in order to stay on schedule a payment was made. We asked for a receipt, however to get a receipt they said we would need to go to the ministry, and wait in the queue, so we gave up. Downtown Kinshasa had some elegant government buildings and well paved roads.

Figure 11: New buildings in Kinshasa. The tall buildings in the rear are clearly visible from Brazzavile.
We arrived at the river at about 1:00pm. There were lots of people all seeming to yell at one another in French, all very confusing. There were also lots of people carrying large loads (of reinforcing steel, agricultural products, large gas bottles etc.) to or from the river boats. Then the negotiating really got into its stride. First we had to part with our passports and go through passport control for Congo-Kinshasa, then to get a Congo Brazzavile passport, then buy tickets for the boat, then go through customs who wanted to know how much money we had on us and what objects we were carrying. Each step seemed to involve in depth negotiations and a need to pay someone for their “services”. In some cases we asked for a receipt but they would say, “Oh a receipt costs more”.

Figure 12: Waiting in the VIP lounge at Kinshasa port

Figure 13: . The ferry boat leaving Kinshasa for Brazzaville. Our boat is on the right.
We finally left on the boat at about 2:00pm for a 30 minute trip across the 5km wide Congo River. As we crossed the river Bienvenue who is a hydrologist explained about the navigation and in particular about the sandbanks. These can move in a period of months and need tracking and management (e.g. dredging to divert a flow to wash away a sand bank).

Figure 14: Kinshasa skyline from the boat crossing the Congo to Brazzaville.

Figure 15: Les and Misha on the boat crossing the Congo River
On arriving at Brazzavile port it was a similarly confusing scene. Once again we gave up our passports, however they said we had to go elsewhere, so we took a taxi elsewhere (about 100 yards away), where they sent us back to the first place. This time, they reviewed our visas carefully, gave us forms to fill out, and stamped our passports. We also paid a little more to ensure a smooth passage back through the various steps.
We hit the streets of Brazzavile at about 3:00pm in a standard Toyota Corolla green and white taxi.

Figure 16:Typical Toyota taxi in Brazzaville, Les, Biennvenue Dinga and Misha with the Congo River and Kinshasa behind
The roads were very good, with several impressive government buildings, and we passed Bienvenue’s universty. Many of the new buildings etc. are being built by the Chinese.

Figure 17: New building being built by China.
We had a brilliant driver and the drive was better than any video game since we did not have a lot of time before we needed to catch the last boat back to Kinshasa at around 4:30pm and we had no desire to be stuck in Brazzaville. We drove West to the rapids (which totally block any navigation) and stopped at a little café overlooking the rapids. There we had a coke and took photos. Even from a distance of a mile or so, the rapids were very impressive.

Figure 18: Congo rapids seen from Brazzaville.
We returned to the Brazzaville port at about 4:15pm.

Figure 19: Shops on the side of the road on the way from the Rapids cafe back to Brazzaville port.
Once again we went through the circus of negotiating, passport review etc. However now, in addition, we learnt there were only 5 passengers and the boat would not leave without 7. So we could wait, stay in Brazzaville, or pay for the missing 2 passengers. Not wishing to spend the night in Brazzaville, we paid up and took a photo of Brazzaville Beach.

Figure 20 : Brazzaville Beach (a sand bank)? This portion of the port used to be the landing point, however due to the movement of sand banks it is now blocked. The main port is about 100yards to the East, however some of the offices are at the old port.
The speedboat left Brazzavile at 5:00pm and arrived at Kinshasa about 15 minutes later. On the way Bienvenue Dinga explained that there was talk of building a bridge across the Congo to unite the two cities. Bienvenue Dinga was not to sure uniting the two Congos is a good idea, given that the DRC is about 10 times the size of Congo-Brazzaville.

Figure 21: Leaving Brazzavile on the “7 passenger” speedboat with a 300HP Yamaha outboard
.At Kinshasa, Bienvenue ran into a friend his who worked in the passport control. She offered to speed up the immigration process and was as good as here word. We were through by 5:30pm. To avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic we went to a small café and relaxed over a beer until 6pm when we started out for the University.

Figure 22: Celestin, Bienvenue, Misha and Les enjoying a beer in Kinshasa while waiting fof the traffic to ease up.
Despite waiting the traffic was still bad, we had to divert at various stages to avoid complete blocks. We arrived at the guest house at 8:15pm. Power was out, the hostess was just leaving. She had left a couple of large LED flashlights to illuminate the corridor and the dinner table. Dinner was in a thermos and consisted of cooked vegetables, potatoes and fish. Once again it was very tasty, especially since we had no eaten since breakfast of 2 eggs. After dinner I worked on the talk for Saturday. Then to bed. Once the flashlights were turned off it was pitch dark.

Thursday 15th October
Up at 6:30am, good night’s sleep, I am getting used to the temperature and humidity. Breakfast at 7:00am consisted of an omelette. I had two 1.5 hour sessions to present this day so last night and this morning were busy preparing the two sessions. The first at 1:00 am was on monitoring the Internet, the second at 2:00pm was on diagnosing network problems for non-networkers. Both sessions went well. Monique translated. There were many questions, several on Ipv6.
One of the items at lunch was some kind of caterpiller. I tried it, it was chewy, with not a lot of taste.

Caterpiller for lunch

Bienvenue Dinga had succeeded in getting our visas to Congo Brazzaville across the river. They cost $80 and only accepted new banknotes, not ones with tears etc in them. Apparently Bienvenue’s cousin in at the Embassy so that may have helped. We then worked out with Christine that Misha and I would each only talk tomorrow for 45 mins plus 15 mins questions. Also we will have a short break. This will mean we should be able to leave for Brazzavile at 11:15am, go to the Embassy, pick up the visas, catch the ferry boat, look at Brazzaville (maybe a museum or an art gallery) and catch the last boat back at 4:30pm. At the end of my 2nd session I met with Dibungi Kalenda (a Professeur in Pharmacy at UNIKIN) who is working to set me up with some IT experts so I can assist in setting up a PingER host there. We will meet again on Saturday after my talk to go further with this. As usual we left the conference center as it was starting to get day at 6:00pm and by the time we got to the Guest House it was dark. I took a shower before dinner while the water was still flowing. Dinner was at 7:00pm. After dinner Bruno Kahindo and a couple of others from the University stopped by and we had some beers. Just before we went to bed a tiny light blue bird flew in. It was caught by the lady in charge.

Figure 10: hostess with bird

Wednesday Sep 14th 2011:
Up at 7:00am, breakfast of an omelette, took malaria pill. Bus arrived to take us to the conference room at 8:20am, it had picked up the others first. While waiting Misha and I strolled down the road to see the little shop and a place to make phone calls.

Figure 8: Shop with necessities

Figure 9; Place to make phone calls
The president of the Institute gave the second talk of the morning. It appears we may appear on TV. At break it was once again apparent that everyone is quite religious about washing hands before touching any food, even small snacks, this a guard against cholera. Also I have not seen anybody smoking. On the other hand, though people are extremely tidy, well dressed and all seem healthy, however, there are enormous amounts of rubbish, manly plastic bags, lying around. Gave Dbingu Bienvenue my passport, other information and photos, they will try and get a visa to Brazzaville at the embassy in Kinshasa tomorrow. Lunch was potatoes, cabbage, rice, kebabs, fish and we also had mango juice. Drove back to the Guest House, just as it was starting to get dark at 6:00. Dinner was with a type of savory banana acting as potato. It was very pleasant together with fish and vegetables. For desert we had some excellent sweet bananas. Once again I could not get the shower to work. I had tested it before dinner when it appeared to work. However, now it did not. So it was back to the barrel, bucket, jug transfer of water to the sink to wash etc. Bed at 9:30pm, the Internet is not working again.

Good night’s sleep. Barbara’s brother Martin called at about 10:30pm local time last night. I had a short conversation with Barbara, it was good to hear her voice, then back to sleep. Dawn was announced at 5:30am by the crowing of cocks and another bird with a long shrill call. Arose at 6:30am. Breakfast with Christine and Misha was an onion omelette. We left for the conference center at 8:00am on the old bus. After picking up the other professeurs we arrived at the conference center at 8:30am.

Christine gave the first 1.5 hour talk on space physics and sunspots. After the following break I gave a lecture on how cellphones work. The slides had been translated to English by Guillaume, I gave my remarks in English and Christine translated. After the talk I was bombarded with a host of questions. Most of them had to do with radiation concerns from the cell phone set and also from the tower antennas. There were also questions on disposing of the batteries, how to determine where a phone is located, and the differences in the various generations of phones. There was a lot tremendous interest in the solar cell charger which I handed round and was returned later. When we broke for lunch there were still people with questions. Over lunch Misha and I had our photos taken so we could apply for a Congo Brazzaville visa. Lunch included chicken, cabbage, chips, and millets with maize (bit like a dumpling).
We returned to the Guest House at about 6:00pm as it quickly became dark (within 30 mins). Power was on at the Guest House however there was no Internet connection from the Wireless Access Point to the University backbone and the Internet. Monique arrived about at 9pm from Paris. We celebrated her arrival with a beer. I retired at about 10:30 after vainly trying to get the shared shower to work. I suspect they had cut off the water.

Up at 7:30am after a good night’s sleep. Outside a loud bird was singing. WiFi worked now I had the password. I had breakfast with Mikhail and Christine. They arrived late last night after their plane from Paris was delayed by 3 hours. Monique had some problems getting permission to leave so had to delay a day. Breakfast was Chocolate drink, water, bread and jam or cheese, fortunately I was not hungry. The bus arrived at 9:00am and we drove in an old bus over un-tarmaced roads picking up other professeurs en-route. The building for the lectures was fairly modern and had air conditioning.
The minister looking after oil production arrived around 10m pm with his entourage followed by lots of introductions. We then waited for the Minister of Education and the president of the university to arrive about 30 mins later. After introductions we entered the salle de conference. It had seats for about 80 people, a few standing and 10 seats at the front. Among the students were several from Congo Kinshasa, one from Russia and one from Arabia. The student were mainly dressed in dark trousers and smart shirts often with a tie.The various big-wigs each gave a short talk welcoming all (greetings were relayed from the President and prime minister), explaining what the school was about, thanking the professeurs. After the last speach by the education minister there was a musical interlude with a male female chorus and en electronic device. Among others they made a splendid rendition of La Donna e Mobile and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

Following the music we adjourned to snacks. Misha and I chatted with the president of the university (3rd from left in photo above). I took my Malarone/anti malarial pill. At around 1:45 pm we started the lectures with Marcelline (from U. Kinshasa) talking about Geographical Information Systems (GIS). She finished around 3:00pm when we broke for another 15 minute break. Following this I gave my first talk on the Internet’s origins, it’s goals, current state and future. My transparencies had been translated into French by Guillaume Cesieux. I explained that my poor knowledge of French meant that I would talk in English and would try to go slowly. It seemed to go well. I presented 30 slides in an hour and 15 minutes. Afterwards there were several questions which were translated and my answers were also translated back to French. Following my talk we had a lunch after washing hands with soap solution and water from a tap on an a barrel of water. Lunch consisted of fried bananas, casava, meat, mixed vegetables, spinich, followed by uncooked bananas. The last lecture was from Misha on databases. He spoke in English and his slides were in English so Christine translated, this also seemed to go well. During the lecture we lost house power twice. Misha had given me the password for the WiFi but though it appeared to allow my laptop to connect, I could not get Internet access. Funnily enough about 15 minutes later without doing anything the connection I started earlier started to work.

We returned to the Guest house by bus at about 6pm as it was getting dark. On the bus we discussed with Dinga Bienvenue of the Universite de Marien Ngouabi in Brazzavile a half day trip across the Congo from Kinshasa to Brazzaville on Friday Afternoon. We will need visas for $25US for which in turn we need photos so we are working with the local folks led by Prof. Dibungi Kalenda to see how to get them. The campus had lost power so the only lights were from a few buildings with motor generators. Fortunately the Guest House had a motor generator that they kept running until we had finished dinner of an excellent vegetable soup, bread ham and cheese. We also had WiFi access until the power and lights went out at 8pm, so now it is black with a faint light in the distance, possibly from the City of Kinshasa. Tomorrow morning breakfast is at 7:00am and we leave for the lecture hall at 8:00am. I will give a talk on how cell phones work at that meeting. Before losing power I had an email from Barbara reminding me to wear mosquito repellants. So far there has been no evidence (apart from screens and bed netting) of mosquitos. This is since we in the hills, well away from the river, it is the dry season, I am indoors most of the time, and when outdoors there has usually been a wind that prevents the mosquitos from flying. I am taking my pills religiously with breakfast.

Tag Cloud


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.