Book Review: Bradt Congo by Sean Rorison

bradtcongo.jpgPBs’ very own crackpot, the inimitable Dean Farisian, reviews the latest offering from the Bradt Guides collection – The Bradt Travelguide to The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

I come from downtown, born ready for you, with too many gin and tonics to remember, in a kind of blathering sense. Yeah, I drink these things for a reason – Bombay Sapphire might go on and on about botanicals but the cold hard reality is that I’ve had a few bouts of malaria and the only way to really forget about them is by staring down a saturated lime juxtaposed with a garish lion-print carpet somewhere in central Africa, Kinshasa preferably, but whatever shithole that has a bar will do just fine. Damnit.

So it was with great excitement that I heard someone had finally come around to publishing a guidebook on one of my favourite haunts when I feel like contracting malaria, that being the Congo, usually the “democratic” one, but on occasion I’ve found myself surrounded by shady hookers in Pointe Noire as well, pretending I enjoy their company but not totally up on doing anything nasty with them as everyone knows how easy it is to stow a knife upside a garter belt. Indeed, it could have been my sort of downfall coming back to these places, dealing with incessant bribes and rambling retards all obsessed with stripping me clean of all currency I may have been carrying, shambling me off to some shiny hotel in the city’s center of Kinshasa when all I really wanted was the noise and the ugliness of the “African” quarter, as if it wasn’t all African to begin with. Sure, the Congos are a wealth of contradictions, but we’ve heard that all that before. What it comes down to is that you’re drunk, you’re stuck in a town in a country you wish you weren’t in, but someone’s paying you a mint to be there. That’s where Sean Rorison’s guidebook comes in handy.

I used it a few times already while dodging disease-ridden prostitutes and filthy refugees from Liberia while rambling around Kinshasa, and on occasion I found an illegal pirogue over to Brazzaville where no one noticed I was just looking for some damned peace and quiet. It worked well – decent maps, decent hotel listings, along with some useful observations that simply don’t exist anywhere else. I guess all the other writers are afraid or something, but I found this nice restaurant, the Nuna-far or something, while running around Brazzaville. No one spoke English there, though, so I sort of had to smack it into their heads. You’d be surprised how well it works.

There was that one time I was stuck in the Congolese jungle, some chartered aircraft had dumped us off in Bana-wana-whatever-the-hell the name of the place was, and I was staring down this group of stout-faced folk while the sun set and I was running out of liquor. They’ve got these great cheap booze shops in Kinshasa, but damned if you can find some good edible petrol further inland. Later on, upon reading the guidebook, I learned that this place was called Basankusu and these people were called Pygmies, and usually don’t eat drunken retards. It kind of soothed me for awhile, until I needed a smoke.

I’m guessing for all the poor souls stuck in The Congo, or the other Congo, or that other Congo, for some extended period of time, it will be something of a gift from above to have a book to help them out. No one knows a god damned thing about the place, aside from the fact it’s at war, people are dying, and always use a condom, even when shagging goats. Bring lots of condoms. Malaria’s everywhere, but then again, it ain’t the same for everyone. I’ve met some hippy-dippy types who pray to the spirit world and do just fine, and I meet some United Nations types who are just choking to death on their own fluids because they don’t want to dip into their expense accounts and just buy some damned meds. But then again, I don’t get free hospital flights to Jo’burg, and they do.

Otherwise the book came in handy several times, especially when dealing with corrupt assholes – who knew you were supposed to be polite with them? Apparently there are also numerous parks around the country, with animals still remaining, and hippie backpackers are heading back to Goma, a kind of nice place with a nice Indian restaurant, but too many people who are friendly and speak english for my liking. It also goes into detail about Katanga, the mining province where all the business types go, and has plenty of useful information on the central part of the Kinshasa Congo with all their sort-of-above-the-table diamond operations there. You seen one open pit mine with kids mulling around inside of it, you seen one too many.

It’s a good read when there’s no power too. I don’t speak much French, so the dictionaries do well – especially the Ling-lala and She-lubes-up stuff, which apparently is hard to find. Not like I never looked anyways. Also good stuff on going north in Brazzaville Congo, lots of swamps and jungles and apes who are just right pissed off that us other drunken apes are coming in for a visit all too often.

Sure, I’d buy another copy, since I lost my first one. Think I left it in a cab in Kinshasa when I was running out, didn’t want to pay the fare, ran into the endless crowds around Place de la Victoire and into the deep, dark, Congolese night. Punched out a few drunken locals, ran through a pack of chickens, made some women scream, ended up wandering aimlessly along the banks of the Congo River for a few midnight hours until sobriety hit and I just camped out in the bushes until dawn. Lost all my worldly stuff that same night, too. Had to start again. If at another time I was again in the same situation, and if it was in either Congo, damn straight I’d buy this book.


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