Brazzaville, Kinshasa and Muhammad Ali

First, I want to wish a Merry Christmas to everyone from Kenya as I am a little behind on blog duties so here we go. Before I talk about Brazzaville and Kinshasa I have to adequately describe the scene at the airport in Pointe-Noire before my Trans Air Congo flight to Brazzaville. I was lucky to get a seat on any of the flights as they were shockingly all oversold even though there were 4 or 5 per day. So I got to the airport 2.5 hours early as was advised by the wonderful lady who booked my ticket on the oversold flight as she said it was a little crazy at the airport. I was smugly thinking, “Do you know who you’re dealing with?” Well I was soon to see why she said that and that I clearly know nothing!

Never in my life have I seen such chaos at an airport as I did in Pointe-Noir. First, I got there 2.5 hours early for a short domestic flight and the line was already around the corner. I was harassed incessantly by people trying to take my bags or claiming they could help expedite the process of me boarding etc. But they weren’t letting anyone in to actually check in because the previous flight was of course late and was oversold by like 50 people or so. This concerned me obviously as I needed to get on this flight because of my connections the following day out of Brazzaville and Kinshasa and the only flights were on Trans Air Congo.
Finally, they opened the rope and everyone sprinted into the ticketing room and horded the check in desk in a completely insane and disorganized way. So I took the initiative to hire one of those guys to help check me in because I didn’t need to start pushing a bunch of insane Congolese around. But he wasn’t accomplishing anything and was too small and getting pushed around in the mosh pit that was the check in area.

Then they made some announcement that apparently gave priority to electronic tickets. I had one and apparently so did everyone else because all the people started pushing more and people were falling down getting trampled and it was something out of a Neanderthal’s anarchic dream. My guy had no chance and I was about to take my ticket and start pushing people when the girl who sold me my ticket shows up and says hi and offers to help me.

It was like a blessing because what all these guys in the mosh pit couldn’t accomplish: she simply took my ticket and showed her badge or whatever and got me checked in. I was sweating, stressed and completely baffled by how insane the airport check in process was and will forever be thankful for her helping me.

So afterwards I decided I had to videotape the circus at check in and started to video tape and narrate when I was asked by the airport police to come with him. I was like “Ahh shit!” I thought for sure they were going to confiscate my video camera as the guy was pissed but when I got in the office I just brought out my regular camera again and showed him the pictures obviously hoping he was stupid-he was. There were none of the airport and he kept saying video. I kept saying it back to him and showed him video on the camera. He was confused and eventually got pissed and just said leave! I was happy because I didn’t need to deal with anything else after the mosh pit situation and got to keep the video just not any pictures.

The good thing that came of the check in process was I made some new friends. A British couple working offshore in Pointe-Noire and a Dutch guy named Romaric who has been based in Abidjan and Lagos but is now in Pointe-Noire doing logistic management for a French company.

We all just stood back and watched the utter nonsense ensue and just couldn’t believe what animals these people were acting like. There was no order and not even a semblance of order. It was entertaining but extremely stressful while there because you have no idea what’s going on. Anyway, the flight went off without a hitch and we landed in Brazzaville.

Romaric was traveling on business and had a hotel room at the Olympic Palace Hotel in Brazzaville which was the only 5 star hotel in Brazzaville. It wasn’t a US 5 star equivalent, more like a 2 star but that’s OK. He was kind enough to offer me to stay with him and I happily accepted. The rooms were expensive, like $250 so I was thrilled. Granted he kept me up the entire night snoring like a chainsaw but that’s OK, haha.

Brazzaville is a very pleasant place to be, it really is. It surprised me because I was expecting absolute hell on Earth but there was nothing to it. It had nice cafes and we ate dinner at a great restaurant called Sympathique. We crushed some beef tartare and headed back to the hotel to have a few Ngok beers before bed. There were no sights to really speak of but the city was clean, had a decent downtown area, everyone was nice and it wasn’t too crowded. I can’t say the same for Kinshasa.

From across the river in Brazzaville, Kinshasa looks really nice and pleasant as well. However, after several polite shakedowns in Brazzaville at the dock, as the boat pulls into the dock in Kinshasa it’s a different story. It is crowded and a complete nightmare. Luckily for me, my Uncle’s brother in-law and his family, whom I have known for my whole life, own a lot of businesses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and he arranged for me to be met at the dock where the speedboat from Brazzaville dropped me off for which I am grateful.

Mr. Bonana met me and whisked me away to a special VIP airline lounge kind of area while his henchman took my passport and got me checked through immigration. I didn’t even have to go through or fill in a landing card or anything-it was weird but very cool. In the lounge there were some Congolese VIP’s there, one had 2 bodyguards with him but I had no idea who it was. Mr. Bonana spoke no English and wasn’t much for chit chat so I didn’t even ask. So I got my passport back 5 minutes later and we were off in a land Rover to see the city of Kinshasa.
Kinshasa, in a word, is a hole as you can see above. There aren’t really any sights to see and the city is very overcrowded. It’s not like Lagos where you feel threatened the whole time but it was certainly not a place to honeymoon. I believe it’s the third or fourth most populous African city (after Lagos, Cairo and maybe Addis Ababa) and the air pollution is choking. We drove around the whole city and the only stop I wanted to make was at the Tata Raphael Stadium. This was the site of the famous 1974 heavyweight title fight between challenger Muhammad Ali and champion George Foreman dubbed the “Rumble in the Jungle” by Don King in his first major boxing promotion.
As a huge boxing and sports fan, this was very cool for me. The stadium is completely dilapidated and in awful condition but still standing and host to a soccer team practicing the day I was there who all stared at me the entire time I was on the field as if they couldn’t believe a white guy was there. It was funny and then one of them came up to me and we started chatting. Soon the entire team was around me and asking questions-it was very cool.
For me, standing in the place where the ring was where Ali knocked out Foreman in the 8th round after utilizing the rope a dope strategy was so cool. I kept picturing the stadium filled with 100,000 Zairians screaming “Ali bumale” (I may have spelled it wrong but it means Ali kill him). This was made famous in the documentary ‘When We Were Kings”. If you like boxing and haven’t seen that-do it, it’s fantastic.

Anyway, so I got to see the locker rooms which now are basically toilets but there are still pictures of Ali up to commemorate the fight which was probably the most significant event besides war in the history of Zaire and now the DR Congo. It was pretty awesome I have to say.
From the stadium we went out to the airport (I didn’t have to fill out and papers again but still got stamped…hmmm) where my nightmarish 2 days of delays, missed connections and hassles began and finally, mercifully ended with me in Kenya for Christmas which is where I am now in Mombasa with my friend Joe to spend a few days at the beach on Diani Beach just south of Mombasa.

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  1. Kinshasa sounds great LOL

  2. I remember watching that fight around Halloween 1974 and thinking there was no way Ali could possibly beat Foreman especially after he dominated Joe Frazier. But Ali showed why he was and still is the greatest. What a strategy he had that night and it worked to perfection. Nice to see some pictures of that stadium. It looked a lot different I remember when it was packed with fans. Thanks for the story.

  3. sounds like a good trip , to say the least. Glad to hear you are enjoying yourself. Glad you got some help from danny, to bad he wasn\’t there. Stay well. Your Aunt Robin Loves your column.
    Love ,
    Uncle David

  4. Brilliant about the stadium and nice pictures but Kinshasa doesn’t sound like the kind of place to bring the wife.

  5. Enjoyed your write up. I lived in Kinshasa in 90-91 and was evacuated because of the coup d’etat. You are right, the city is a disaster, but very interesting place to live short term. When I was there, I ended up buying quite a few sets of commerative stamp sets of the Ali-Foreman fight in different “Z” denominations. Always on the lookout for more fight stuff, but never could come across any. The stadium looks the same as when I was there some 20 years prior. Anyway, I enjoyed your write up and believe me, the airport sounds more organized now than when I was there. The first time I landed at the airport I was coming down the ramp, and a guy said “Taxi”. Looked over his shoulder and he had driven his taxi right under the plane and was parked about 10 meters from the last step of the stairs. The adventure started.

  6. Muhammad Shafiq says

    Very well written and fascinating description of the historic Boxing match between two great boxers. I am sure you must have heard the echo of “catch me if you can”
    Thank you for sharing your travel experience and keep doing it
    Muhammad Shafiq

  7. The stadium have been renovated completely I guess after your trip in Kinshasa…It is hosting international games again!…

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