Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Hellholes and Back

A few months ago I read a book titled, To Hellholes and Back.  The author wrote about the most prolific hellholes- according to him.  He selected one continent, one country, one city and one destination which he crowned hellholes and then proceeded to visit them.  These proclaimed hellholes were based solely on his opinion and I didn’t particularly value his alleged expertise.  For instance, he selected Walt Disney World as the destination hellhole.  Can’t say I agree with him on that point.

Another criticism I had was that he selected Congo to represent the continent of Africa.  I thought that was a particularly foolish and uneducated assertion considering there are 53 other African countries that would almost certainly argue that Congo does not adequately represent the entire continent.  Maybe I should send him a copy of my blog post Africa is a continent, not a country.
However, after spending the past three days in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I would have to agree with him that for the most part, yes, Congo is a bit of a hellhole.  I arrived in Goma, DRC on Saturday afternoon to what you would expect to find with most third-world, African countries… chaos and trash.  I am here to teach at the University of Goma, where they have a tourism program, for the next two days.

Since I knew there was a lot of red tape, corruption, and general risk in making this trip, I elected to organize my visit through a tour company.  And I’m thankful I did.  My guide Emmanuel picked me up in Kigali, Rwanda, drove me to the border, and helped me through the Rwandan and DRC immigration processes.  There were two other muzungus (white people in this part of Africa) attempting to enter DRC on their own.  All I know is that with Emmanuel’s help I went through in less than 10 minutes and did not have a curiously invalid visa, incorrect yellow fever card, or was solicited for $50 to make any of these invented problems go away.  As we were departing Emmanuel told me it was stupid for a muzungu to try to come to Congo on his own, “It will be a week and those two will pay a couple hundred dollars and still not be let in.”

I am actually with Emmanuel the entire time I’m in DRC.  He is my driver back and forth between my hotel and the university, and then I am doing some tours as well which he is guiding.  Speaking of hotels, I am staying at a four-star hotel in Goma next to the UN Hospital.  (See Mom, totally safe!) Apparently the stars mean something a lot different here than in the rest of the world.  Maybe at a five-star hotel I would get two out of the four light bulbs working, instead of just one:
Do you that lots of countries around the world have toilet paper shortages?  A friend of mine who works in the British embassy in Venezuela told me she was once mugged walking down the street with a package of 12-rolls of TP.  They ONLY took her toilet paper, not even her purse or her money.  I’m not sure if there is a TP shortage in Congo, but when I asked the front desk for some they didn’t have any:
The light in my room had one bulb, but that didn’t work:
Since there wasn’t a lot of space to move around in the room I tried to open the closet, and pulled the doorknob off:
Of course, I can’t complain because there was a free amenity I found on the top shelf of the closet.  A chocolate candy bar, which had obviously melted and then hardened back together.  Who knows how long that had been there:
Yes, I travel with a headlamp even when I don’t plan to go camping.  I really took this because I figured there could be power cuts, but thankfully I am conditioned to do this, even in four-star hotels, since the only light bulb in the room that worked was in the bathroom.

So, here’s the best part of my hotel:  After spending a long day all around Goma, I took a sponge bath using my Evian water (I feel like a Kardashian!) because there was no water coming from the tap.  Before tucking in to bed I went to use the toilet only to discover…. There was no toilet seat!  I don’t know how I missed that little detail earlier, but at 9pm I wasn’t about to ask the front desk to fix it.
Don’t worry; the lock on the door worked.  And in the event that failed I used the Phelan security method of piling all my luggage up in front of the door.

The morning after my first night in my luxury hotel I asked another muzungu staying there whether he recommended another place.  “Hell no! This place is the Ritz.  This is where all the foreign expats making the big bucks at the NGOs stay when they visit.  Those people would never stay in any of the other so-called hotels in Goma.  Those places are total hellholes.”  Really? You don’t say?



    1. HAHA! Excellent. Can't wait to visit in a few months.

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