A Congolese boy baths in a little bucket. DR Congo is hot and humid year-round, with lots of rain peaking from October to May and a short dry season from June to September when the sun is north of the equator.
Congo – Photo Tip

Understand the people you're photographing

Photo by Arne Doornebal

Congo – Photo Tip Understand the people you're photographing

“Did nobody try to steal your camera?” people asked me when I returned from a boattrip through Congo. A silly question, I thought to myself.

Arne Doornebal
Arne Doornebal Journalist

After we left the port town of Lisala in Congo, we spent nine days – four of them stuck in the sand – without picking up even a whiff of a mobile phone network. It truly dawned on me how far removed from the developed world I was.

The area that we visited was at least 500 by 500 kilometer and neither had running water nor electricity. I stood out tremendously carrying a big camera, but I wasn't afraid of theft because I knew acquiring a Canon camera would be the least of the worries for the villagers we encountered.

As we saw four barges being tied together I knew it was my opportunity for an overview shot. Normally I would photograph things near me or on shore, from the boat. So when this barge became stuck in the sand and disconnected from the others, the late afternoon light gave me a perfect opportunity to take a long-awaited photo.

Most passengers did not mind having their photo taken, though I kept my camera far away from the notoriously corrupt authorities who could demand any sum for a non-existing photo permit.

When our boat reached Kinshasa, I disembarked with only my compact flash cards stashed away safely. Next day, the captain of the ship smuggled my camera into town and personally dropped it off at my hotel.

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037-super-malaika-pushing-upstream

The M/B Super Malaika pushes a series of barges upstream. “Malaika” is the Swahili word for angel, derived from Arabic, and is also the title of one of the most popular Swahili songs. It is common to moor a barge at a town or village for weeks until it has enough cargo and passengers, before hiring a tug to move it. With 15,000km of waterways, the DRC moves more passengers and goods by boat than any other African country. Photo by Arne Doornebal

Arne Doornebal

Arne Doornebal

Canon EOS-20D

Aperture
ƒ/16
Exposure
1/1000
ISO
400
Focal
100 mm

The M/B Super Malaika pushes a series of barges upstream. “Malaika” is the Swahili word for angel, derived from Arabic, and is also the title of one of the most popular Swahili songs. It is common to moor a barge at a town or village for weeks until it has enough cargo and passengers, before hiring a tug to move it. With 15,000km of waterways, the DRC moves more passengers and goods by boat than any other African country.