Archive for the ‘The Way Home’ Category

Goodbye Africa, Hello Istanbul

January 31, 2009

Leaving Africa was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.  I suppose that it was because most of the friends that I had in Goma had already left before I did and that I almost tried to avoid making new friends in Kinshasa during the time that I was there just because I knew that I was only going to be there for a short amount of time.  Maybe that’s a bad attitude to have, but it seemed like it would be the easiest way to go.  I think that if there was one thing that could keep me from living the kind of life I have lived for the last year is just the temporary nature of everything.  It’s life six months at a time.  

It was last week that I knew I was ready for a break from the hassles of Africa.  We were driving back from the office in Kinshasa to the apartment and the policeman directing traffic at the intersection ahead decides to change the direction of traffic just as we were approaching the intersection.  The driver was a bit too slow to stop and rolled into the intersection which made the policeman angry.  He came up to the driver’s side window and started yelling at him.  The cop opened the his door and got in, almost sitting on the driver’s lap.  “Hmm… that’s odd,” I thought to myself.  The driver was instructed to pull the car over to the curb (at this point we were stopped in the middle of the street) where the cop got out of the car and continued to yell and shake his arms for another fifteen minutes or so before letting us go on our way.  Other than looking forward to the upcoming trip and to seeing family and friends back home, that was the first time that I actually wanted to leave Congo.

So now I am in Istanbul.  The trip here was a long one.  I had to go from Kinshasa to Goma, drive to Kigali, fly to Entebbe, then Addis Ababa, Dubai finally arriving here in Turkey last night around 6pm.  The flight from Entebbe left about five hours late which got me into Dubai just before 5am.  My flight from Dubai to Istanbul left at about 3pm, so I just ended up finding a relatively dark corner in the airport where there was a recliner of sorts and slept off and on between the PA announcements of flight such and such arriving or boarding or departing which became more and more annoying as the morning went on.  

Even though the plane left Entebbe five hours late, the service on Emirates was about the best I’ve ever had on any airline and the coach seat that I occupied was even almost comfortable and the voices of the pilots were clearly American.  If I had bothered to look at a map and draw a line between Dubai and Istanbul, I wouldn’t have been quite as surprised when I saw this:


Passport control was hassle free and my bag was circling the baggage claim belt waiting for me after I got the stamp in my passport.  The customs agents waved me right through and saw a line of yellow cabs waiting outside.  I got in the cab at the front of the line and found that the driver even (almost) spoke English.  I showed him the address of the hotel that I had printed out and we were off.  At one point the cab stopped, the driver got out and motioned with his hands for me to stay and went into a building with the paper I had the address of the hotel printed on.  After about 30 seconds he’s back hops in and gives me thumbs up and we’re at the hotel a couple of minutes later.  This was the least amount of hassle that I’ve had to endure getting ANYWHERE in the last year.  

I walked into the hotel and was soon in my room.  A bed was a sight for my sore eyes after not having seen one for about 40 hours.  So was a shower since it was about as long since I had seen one of those and I was smelling… let’s say interesting.  After a shower, it was time to check eyelids for holes. 

In the morning hunger led me to the top floor of the hotel where free breakfast was promised to be.  I think I could smell the food from the floor below.  I must have been hungry.  After I ate my fill, I took a few minutes to appreciate the view.  The sky was grey with a relatively low ceiling of clouds, but the visibility was still almost unrestricted.  In one direction I could see the “Blue Mosque” with it’s immense dome and many minarets piercing the sky.   Out to sea I could see what seemed to be hundreds of ships in the Bosporus waiting their turn to come into the port to drop off or pick up a load of something.  On the other side of this channel of water lies another continent and the other half of Istanbul.  For some reason, it made me think of the view from the porch in Kinshasa where on the opposite bank of the Congo River, which is, I think, at least as wide as the Bosporus, you could see Brazzaville, the capital of a different country.  

I spent the rest of the day wandering and getting lost in the narrow cobble stone streets and fending off people trying to sell me carpets.  At one point when I was near the Blue Mosque I ran into a guy who was on the same flight from Dubai.  I only recognized him because of his unusual clothing, which he was also wearing on the plane.  He wore a black top hat along with a vest and jacket and unusual pants.  I figured that he looked a bit like a chimney sweeper.  I went over and talked to him and he said that I must have recognized him because of his clothing.  I admitted that to be true and he explained that it was some sort of traditional German clothing for workmen who traveled before starting work, or something like that.  He’d been traveling for almost two years.  

After that, I continued wandering, sometimes lost, sometimes not.  At about 3pm I ate at one of the many kebab restaurants I’d seen already.  They brought out a lot of food, which was a good thing because by then I was quite hungry.  When I took a bite of one of the many pieces of meat, I remembered that I don’t really like lamb, but that was not a problem as the plate was full of all sorts of beef and chicken.  

I managed to stay not lost for the rest of the afternoon.  I was quite happy with that accomplishment when it started to rain about 5pm and was able to find the hotel without any trouble.  

I think I might wander to Asia tomorrow.