Bourdain’s Field Notes

It is the most relentlessly f*****-over nation in the world, yet it has long been my dream to see the Congo. And for my sins, I got my wish.

It is a country, a subject so large and so complicated as to defy explanation—or any summing up in a sentence, a volume, an hour of television, or even ten hours of television.

Occupying an ungovernable mass of land the size of all Western Europe combined, the Democratic Republic of the Congo should be the richest country in Africa. It possesses the equivalent of trillions of dollars in resources: diamonds, gold, coltan (which the whole world requires for cell phones), minerals, timber, probably oil, uranium, and hydroelectric power. In short, it has everything that the First World needs and desires. This is its curse.

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Know Before You Go

Learn a little Swahili. Though many different languages are spoken across eastern Congo, Swahili is the common tongue, particularly in cities. French is taught in schools, but a significant number of Congolese continue to live without access to formal education. Many people understand and speak French easily, but Swahili is helpful when you’re on the street talking with vendors and negotiating prices. The prices of most things are up for discussion, so strong negotiation skills are key. Learn a few Swahili words beforehand or hire a tutor upon arrival. Kidogo tu—or a little bit (of Swahili)—will go a long way.

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