Saturday, July 7, 2012
Many basic infrastructure necessities are missing here. We are constantly amazed at the resilience and creativity of the Congolese. Mass transportation is one of the elements of the infrastructure that is lacking. In a city of 10 - 15 million people, the vast majority of whom do not have automobiles, getting from the outlying neighborhoods into the city to work or sell their wares must depend on some sort of transportation. The free-enterprise entrepreneurial spirit has somewhat solved this problem. In Kinshasa there exists an informal or parallel economy. That is to say, with 85% unemployment, people must find ways to feed themselves and their families outside of the normal job market. Transportation is one of them. Since the government has not provided mass-transportation, the entrepreneurs have. There is one very very old train that runs from Masina, the highly populated suburb, into down town Kinshasa. It comes in about 8 am with several thousand people jammed into it, and then goes back in the evening. Most transportation is provided by old beat-up vans. The owners remove the seats and replace them with 2x4 slats. That way they can get 20+ people in a 9 passenger van. It costs about 500 Congolese Francs to ride across town. (that is about $1). There are no set times or routes, they follow the crowds and come and go as they please. For these "transport" drivers, traffic rules are more suggestions than rules. They will come down the wrong way on a street, run red lights (well, anyway, the four traffic lights in the city.) A good rule of thumb for driving among the transports is to ask yourself, "what is the absolute dumbest, most dangerous thing that transport driver will do next?" Then, he will surpass your expectations. Sidewalks are fair game for the transport drivers. Anyone who owns an automobile is automatically a taxi. People line the streets and cars will stop and pick them up to take them on their way for 500FC. Goods are often moved around the city on "Pus-Pus" carts, they too can be a challenge to ones driving. Big trucks (Poire Lourd) are interesting. Some I think were left behind when the Belgians left 50 years ago, some I think, are world war two left overs. All in all, driving here is somewhat like bumper cars on steroids. Suzanne says that I must go to driving detox before I can drive to Safeway when we get home.