After a year away, maybe thinking that I hadn’t traveled enough I decided to follow my mom and my sister to Congo, the land of my ancestors. I love solo travelling but truth be told I was glad to embark on this adventure with them. Even China which was my most challenging trip until then didn’t cause me to live such a cultural chock.
We went in November 2016, 8 years after my first trip back. The first time I went back for 10 days and I don’t really have a good memory of that first trip. I was raised in France but I always thought that Congo was an integral part of me, therefore I didn’t think that I would need to adjust in any way for that first trip. Let’s just say that thinking that way was a mistake, I had the hardest time adjust and feel like I belonged and I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to going back.
The birth of my nephews, in 2011 and 2015, made me reconsider a little bit. For me their coming into this world, made want to know more about that part of my heritage, so that I could share it with them. But it was not the only reason, I also had a few entrepreneurial ventures I wanted to test out and thought Congo could be a good place to do so.
My mom tried to warn me about idealizing a country I hadn’t been to in 8 years and I was sincerely convinced that I was going there with zero expectations. I even decided to think of this trip just like any other I had been on before. To do so, I started looking up places of interest and working on an itinerary. Ever since I went to New Zealand I took a liking to nature related things and there are apparently a couple things worthy of attention in Congo. So I prepared everything and went on this journey full of positive energy
Two mere days after my arrival I was already starting to dislike it. All the things that I didn’t like when I first went there were still there, like people overtly judging you because you’re not one of them or not being able to go where I wanted to. Now that I am very accustomed to the fact of travelling on my own and therefore doing things only according to me, I had a bit of trouble to adjust to the idea that I couldn’t go anywhere I wanted in that country.
Congo is not at war per say, but there are still enough trifles and political dissensions to complicate things in certain areas. To sum it up, I was not able to go south of Brazzaville because some rebels were roaming the area and it was a little dangerous. Lack of infrastructure also impacted a lot my ability to get around. The government is apparently trying to work on it little by little but it still is a work in progress. Between the lack of good public transportation on one way and the states of the roads on the other, getting from point A to point B could turn into an epic adventure sometimes.
Still because of my optimism I really wanted to come back from this trip with a good overall impression, but that’s not really what happened. More than the “technical” issues I encountered trying to get around, I really struggled with the cultural aspect. I was confronted with the same issues I encountered when I first went there in 2008. Like I said before, because I am from Congolese descent I thought I wouldn’t need to get adjusted to the country… I realised that growing up in a different country and only being exposed to few bits and pieces related to Congolese culture was not enough.
One thing I’m not really used to in France and which annoyed me beyond words is the fact that you have to be careful about how you dress over there. If it was something that was widely communicated about and enforced like in UAE I think I would have been okay with it. I have no issues with the idea of respecting other people customs if they are not harmful, but I did find it a bit over the top there. Knowing that shorts are not very accepted, I didn’t put any in my backpack and mainly packed dresses of various length. Apparently some of them were still not good enough…
The one time I wore my shortest dress, I heard a lot of comments such as: “why did you put this on today” and this coming from random people in the streets. I usually ignored them and kept going but I lost my cool when we had to go the prefecture and the police headquarters. When we first went to an official building, with my parents, there was a sign saying that access will be denied to every person with clothing deemed “too sexy” or short. My sister who was wearing a T-shirt dress at the time had to stay outside.
So for my visit to the prefecture I put on a sleeveless maxi dress, once I got there I was told that because the Prefect was in the premises I couldn’t get in like that because of my uncovered shoulders… I had a scarf with me so the issue was solved once I was “decently” covered. I was already riled up by that but things just went downhill when me made it to the police HQ. I came across an awful woman who condescendingly told me to leave right away and go get dressed. Even the scarf on my shoulders wouldn’t do it for her. I stomped out of there with every intention of never setting foot in that place if I can!
This trip wasn’t only filled with bad encounters but there were still too many for my liking. A few days before my return home, I had heated words with a guy who accused me of taking pictures of him without his authorization. When you know that I try to avoid people on my pictures as much as I can, I was really taken aback by the attack. He wouldn’t let the matter go until I showed him my pictures. I caved and ended up deleting the picture, or so he thought…
All in all, this trip wasn’t completely bad, but it was definitely not good. I know that I will eventually go back, if only for family but that’s definitely something I am dreading a little. Now after almost 3 years I am not as hurt in my feelings but it is still a trip I will approach with a lot of caution. I still secretly hope that next time will be the one that will make fall in love with the place even a little bit