As a psuedo writer, Ive been working on hard on finding unique observations that compel me to put pen to paper. But experiences are impossible to manufacture and even harder to replicate on paper. So till we get to the next level, here's a quick story about one of my experiences
The Red Earth
Welcome to Kinshasa!! Keep your head down, lie flat in the car and keep your bags beside you. That’s the first sentence said to me as I get out of N’djili airport at the democratic republic of Congo. As I leave the airport five bodyguards with guns bigger than me surround me towards my bullet proof car. The driver zips off as soon as my head hits the ground. On the way to the brewery I try to take several peaks out the window. All I can see are red flames dancing over burning houses and all I hear are rounds of ammunition being fired not unlike when the drops of the African monsoon hit the tin laden shanties. Kinshasa is burning. President Kabila has just been reelected and it seems that not many people are happy with that. While all this is happening I’ve got three months to try and sell beer to the very people who are trying to burn every moving vehicle, including mine. That shouldn’t be difficult considering war and beer have had an intimate relationship akin to Romeo and Juliet.
As I enter the expat district, things change dramatically. Straight clean roads are being patrolled with armored vehicles patrolling the streets. There’s lighting, open shops and even many locals walking around not trying to kill me. “We are safe now grand chef’ Ilnyas, my driver says to me. “you can come out now”. I tentatively sit up straight and light up my Dunhill’s with my trembling hands. We reach the brewery. An opulent gate opens up to a vast landscape of beauty. A line of tall buildings come into my vision, followed quickly by rows and rows of picturesque European row houses with manicured gardens, a large swimming pool, basically the works. I reach my row house. I enter with 5 bedrooms and 3 butlers all waiting to do my bidding. “My oasis in hell” I say to myself. Heineken definitely makes you live king-size.
Over the next three months I scoured the city, flanked by my AK laden guards and tried to sell as much beer as I could across roads so uneven that the roads of Bangalore would feel like a dream. Across districts filthy with dust, dirt, garbage and excrete all mixed together creating a medley of stench stronger than that of urea. Small children with big guns, big men with even bigger bottles and big women with their bruised laden bodies converge together to create an almost surreal environment. It’s no wonder the Congolese say “God left Africa the day he left Kinshasa”.
Among all the chaos the only soothing sense is the ear. Everywhere you can hear it. The sounds of the music of Africa. The sounds of people trying to survive. The sounds of defiance.
These people have seen violence for 60 years. Since the Belgians left, many pillagers have come and raped this beautiful country. But the people survived. They rebuild and rebuild till another catastrophe washes everything away after which they build again.
As I am leaving Kinshasa, the Congolese of the brewery all want me to take a picture with them at the gate. It kinda looks like the picture hanging in the CEO’s office of Freddy Heineken, the founder of Heineken, who first came to Kinshasa 60 years ago to open the brewery.
Then as now everyone is smiling. The palm trees are swinging wildly and the red soil is jumping up, leaving translucent layers of African dust on our clothes. And then as now the situation is the same. The earth is still red, made so by the blood of Africa
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