It is always a bit chaotic in the departure hall of the Lubumbashi international airport. I was waiting for the flight that would lift me away from Congolese soil and couldn’t help but to take in the scene.
There were a couple of bigger groups of Chinese and Indian men clustered together. Obviously workers from the mining sector and heading home after their latest rotation, they didn’t seem to speak any French and were constantly waiting for instructions from their Congolese counterparts.
There was one group of Americans that were, according to their matching hats, “On a Mission from God”. The women were all nicely dressed in bright Congolese wraps, likely given to them during a tearful farewell party after a few weeks in the country.
There was also a group of four, probably two fathers with their sons. Although I could not place them, things did not seem to be going so well. Their Congolese handler, his dirty white ball cap on lopsided and with a big gold dollar sign on the front, was making things worse by getting everyone excited and using an authority he clearly did not have.
There were also a few other humanitarian-types waiting patiently for the same flight and some African businessmen trying to look much more important and more in control than they probably were.
Travelling with MSF
While everything is relative, travelling with MSF is pretty great. I was picked up at the MSF house this morning and brought directly to the airport. I handed my passport, yellow fever card and airplane ticket to our liaison officer and he simply takes over. We scoot past the rather unofficial “pre-screening” process and I wait as he pushes his way to the front of the departure counter.
The process becomes very complicated and I enter a sort of obedient trance as I simply follow the instructions from the Liaison officer. Hold this. Fill this in. Put your bags here... and now here... and again here. He has done this countless times before and he expertly obtains the required signatures, validates my tickets, checks my bags and gets me ready for the flight. I cannot imagine doing this on my own!
While we wait, a fight breaks out near the main entrance as supporters from an arriving football team try to push past security. An airline official hand delivers my connecting ticket to Amsterdam, where I will stop by the MSF head quarters for debriefing. The liaison officer goes over to talk with a friend. My departure is announced, we shake hands and I quickly walk past the final authorities and out on to the tarmac... leaving the hectic airport and the equally chaotic Congo behind me.