Kinshasa Orientation

For the next two weeks it was a mixture of following up with business opportunities (more Othy, but sometimes both of us), and looking for an apartment. Some days I worked from our temporary home or from a cafe in town (a juice bar and crepe place called Surprise Tropicale) while Othy went on apartment searches or to meetings, and other days we both worked from home. After about two weeks we finally found a place that we thought would be a good fit. Although the construction was slightly shoddy, it was close to town, a good price, and a bit quieter since it was off the main road. Our broker helped us arrange a meeting with the landlord and we wrote up an agreement. In Congo it is common to pay three months of deposit, but to get an even better price we agreed to pay six months. We paid half with the agreement we would pay the other half when the place was finished in about a weeks time. We were thankful and relieved that we would soon get to move into our own home!

Two days later we visited the apartment and met up with the building manager so that I could see the place in person and so that we could give instructions to make sure the finishes were done well. In speaking to the building manager we learned that the person our broker set us up with was not the landlord and that we had been scammed! When we shared our situation with a few of our Kinois friends, they said “Bienvenue à Kinshasa”, as if this was our orientation or “baptême”. I was pretty sad about it as it would mean that it would take us even longer to be settled. Othy was determined to try to get some justice and our money back, and so he went to the police and continued communicating with the broker pretending that we were unaware of their scam so that we could arrange another meeting with them and catch them. About a week later we caught a guy who was with the broker when she showed Othy the place, but we lost a chance to catch the landlord and her assistant because the police decided not to go to the meeting Othy had arranged with them. We were able to get $400 back from the parents of the one guy they caught in exchange for letting him go free. Apparently in Congo, you spend 48 hours at the police station, and once you are sent to prison than it is very difficult to get out again. The parents signed an agreement to give us the remaining amount after one month, but they didn’t honour it. And even though the police could probably track the whole network down using their ID-registered phone numbers, they haven’t done anything.

We have learned our lesson that in Kinshasa nobody can be trusted and there are a lot of people who will go to sad lengths to make a buck. We also learned that we are mostly on our own and the police aren’t all that helpful and many people escape justice. Contracts don’t necessarily stand up because there is no way to enforce them. I think that for there to be real positive change in this country, the public institutions need to be overhauled so that they function properly. I find it fascinating that all of the institutions exist and many people are employed, but beyond paper-work, very little gets accomplished. What’s crazy is that I’m sure many people would jump at the chance to actually be productive instead of moving through the bureaucratic motions. So I challenge the current or next president with this task! I think it would be like pulling off a bandaid and would cause some upheaval, but money would be much better spent and the public would recognize the leader that made a change that improved their wellbeing.

So finally after a month and a half of being in Kinshasa, we have found a place! It was definitely a test of patience. We are thankful for the generosity of our friend who hosted us all that time. So there may be broken institutions that cast a negative light, but Congolese hospitality is some of the best! More to come about our new apartment! And hopefully some photos too!

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