Rogier has been waiting for the Sowidaja to sail for two weeks now. He sits under a plastic sheet to protect himself and his two children against the heat. They keep asking when the boat will leave. “I don’t know,” he tells them time after time.
Four days later I join him and over 100 other passengers. I am assured that we will leave today so I have come with all my luggage. Two major boat accidents have recently shocked the Congo, one that left more than 100 people drowned. People still giggle when they see me carrying a massive orange life-jacket on board.
Here in Kisangani, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the heat is almost unbearable. It seems as if the hundreds of miles of tropical rainforest around us repel every breeze.
The long wait has now started. Soon we hear that we won’t leave today or even tomorrow, but previous experience tells me that we may suddenly cast off once paperwork is cleared. The majority of the passengers are traders, who know that sitting around on or near the ship is the safest way to guarantee a place onboard.
“I boarded the Sowidaja nearly two months ago,” says Adou Beya Bulungu. For all those weeks the boat has been taking on goods and passengers, and enduring dozens of visits from several authorities who all demand a bribe.
Three months after the ship started loading, it finally loosens the steel cables, makes a U-turn and starts going downstream. Soon we reach our top speed of six miles per hour. Our destination Kinshasa is more than 1,000 miles away.