So we're off to Lubumbashi.
Formerly Elizabethville, pronounced loo bum BAH she, it's the capital of mineral-rich Katanga province. (I think that's the official title: "mineral-rich Katanga".) Katanga has a long and complicated history; it was very nearly part of Northern Rhodesia (what today is Zambia), but the Belgian expedition just pipped the British and King Leopold snatched it away. Later, at independence, the Belgians tried to peel Katanga from the rest of the country, leading to the Congo Crisis and a brief but nasty civil war that accomplished little except to further blight Congo's already dim prospects.
But all that was a while ago. Lubumbashi today is a provincial capital and a mining town, and... I don't know what else. I guess we'll find out.
It's not easy to get there. Congo
is, I've already mentioned, a large country. Kinshasa to Lubumbashi is
about 1200 miles or 2000 km as the crow flies. It's seven degrees
further south, a kilometer higher up, and in a totally different
There are direct flights from
Kinshasa. Unfortunately, they are on local Congolese airlines. And
U.S. government employees and contractors are not allowed to fly local
Congolese airlines because, well, they crash. A lot. So we have to
take a commercial flight for five hours all the way across the continent
to Nairobi, Kenya; overnight there; and then fly two and a half hours
back to Lubumbashi. It's like flying from New York to New Orleans via Seattle. With the added wrinkle that there's only one flight a day each way.
So right now I'm in Nairobi, Kenya, sitting in the hotel room.
Nairobi is different from anything I've yet seen in Africa. The airport was pretty good; the lines were long, but everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and we got our bags and hotel vouchers without difficulty. The road into town is a real, no-kidding highway, lined with car dealerships and corporate parks; if you squinted, it could almost have been southern Florida. The hotel is not a particularly famous or important hotel but it's oh so much nicer than the Grand. There is an all-night supermarket two blocks from the hotel, and I was able to quickly change money and buy some snacks for the morning. (Early start tomorrow -- 5 am. The Lubumbashi flight waits for no man.)
I feel like I should write some more about Nairobi but, honestly, I'm just passing through. I'm in the country for twelve hours, most of which I'll spend sleeping. I did buy some locally made salt-and-vinegar potato chips, and also some McVities Digestive Biscuits. I'll let you all know how those work out.
Nobody can tell me what sort of internet connectivity there is in Lubumbashi. There's definitely no fiber optic connection. Blackberries work, but they work everywhere. So will I be posting? I have no idea. But, again, I guess we'll find out.