1<1p>One of the most special trips that I had was to the Central African Republic. In fact, it was also amongst the most dangerous as well. Starting from the time that I arrived in Paris in order to catch a flight to Bangui until I returned home to Beirut, I saw the most formidable sceneries and lived the most perilous times of my life.
Before going to Bangui, I did a bit of research about the country. What I found out is that it was among the poorest in the world. It was also on the brink of civil war. My colleagues warned me about the dangers that I might face starting the harmful insects, the heat, robbers, kidnappings, and the low security level in the country.
A fair question to ask is: why are you going there? My job is a telecommunications field engineer and I had a mission to accomplish for a client in the Central African Republic.
Upon my arrival to Paris, I was surprised to see that the airport was extremely crowded. As a result, I started to panic because I could not afford to miss the connecting flight to Bangui. After asking the first Air France employee that I saw, I understood that flights were canceled because of a snowstorm. My flight was delayed for more than 18 hours.
Following the stay at a fancy Parisian hotel at the expense of Air France, I was able to board my flight to Bangui. I thought that my problems had ended, but they were just beginning.
Arrival to Bangui
Because of the delay in the flight’s departure time, the arrival time to Bangui had changed. I was not aware that a curfew is imposed in the city, and it almost coincided with my arrival time. Taxis had already left the airport, and everyone on the plane had someone waiting for them or even had their own cars. Luckily I met a nice person on the plane which offered to drop me at the hotel.
I either had to sleep on the ground of a primitive and dirty airport or leave with a stranger at night time in an extremely underdeveloped city. I chose to leave and I was lucky that this guy even exchanged my USDs to CFAs and gave me a sim card.
Despite being extremely tired and dirty after a 30-hour trip, I was glad to find that my room is still available at the hotel. Even though the furniture and décor look like they were last maintained in the 1970s, the window had cracks in it for insects to crawl in, the electricity was out as always, the temperature around 30, and the workers outside the hotel broke the main water pipe and the faucets were dry, I slept like a baby.
Stay in Central African Republic
On the next day, I was excited to visit our client which required telecom services in Bangui and in other remote sites. Our client was the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). We scheduled how and when my services will be offered. I had to visit 2 remote villages which were only reachable by plane.
In due time, we boarded the small ICRC airplane and left Bangui. I never traveled on such a small plane before and it was a scary experience especially when landing on dirt runways in rebel-controlled areas in the middle of the jungle.
One of the sites that I visited was attacked by rebel forces the day before. I was lucky that my flight was delayed, else I would have been in the middle of it.
Following the accomplishment of my job on all sites, I had to return back to Bangui and catch my flight back to Paris, and then Beirut.
During my stay, I saw the most amazing sceneries of untouched jungles, rivers, mountains, sunsets, and sunrises. I even saw primitive tribes living in houses that can be found pictures showing early civilizations. Also, I experienced first-hand the message and aid that the ICRC delivers to underdeveloped countries. I saw the sacrifice that these people were doing in order to help their fellow human being. It takes courage and heart to be in the shoes of the people sent to such locations.
Back to Beirut
In spite of me thinking that my troubles were over, still there were challenges awaiting me. With my bags packed, I took a taxi to the airport. It was one of the dirtiest cars (from inside and outside) that I have ever been in. In other words, the color of the seats, the car’s smell, and the weird sounds coming from everywhere in the car were unnerving.
I took the flight, landed in Paris and there it was again. Another storm is hitting the airport area and we were transferred to an Alitalia flight to Beirut through Rome. Starting with our departure from Paris until our arrival to Beirut, severe turbulence was our lovely companion. From time to time, we used to experience some occasional 5-minute breaks but that was it.
By the time that the plane landed and we exited into the airport, I received over 10 calls from family and friends asking me if I was okay. Following my departure from Bangui, a rebellion happened and President François Bozizé fled the country to Cameroon.
Tips before going to CAR
In the light of what I experienced in my trip to the Central African Republic back in 2013, I would like to mention the below:
- The country has breathtaking sceneries
- The nature is still unspoiled by man
- Bangui is extremely underdeveloped with dirt roads and the tin houses everywhere
- There is a curfew at nighttime
- Electric power cuts off during the night
- CAR has the potential to be a great country
- The ICRC and MSF are some of the hidden heroes that are helping in CARs development
- Never travel there without completing the necessary vaccinations
- Carry a first aid kit which includes medication to cure malaria
- Not all areas are covered by the same mobile operator
- The security level is very low