Notes from this morning's journal - 2: Pointe Noire, Congo

So yes, everything came to a head.  At dusk on Sunday, we’d driven to Pointe Noire beach, on a sandy road beleaguered with bumps and dunes and troughs and all kinds of obstacles for Mr. Bienvenue our driver to get around – which of course he did with no problem.  The sun was setting pink and disc-like in the groggy sky and the earth was luminescent with evening light.  The beach seemed like the perfect destination.  But when we arrived the horizon was like a nightmare – plagued by oil tankers, stinking of petroleum, the sand tar-ish beneath our feet.  It was dream-breaking: it was all our dreadful knowledge of human disaster and disrespect and greed and wickedness stenciled out across the landscape.  We were the only ones on the beach. And no one even dared to go near the water.

            That was Sunday night.


On Monday, we woke up and headed directly to our newfound haven / den of iniquity – the Café de Paris – where they charge £4 for a real espresso and who knows how much for a croissant, but they know people with money will pay for a fix.  It’s light and welcoming and they have Wi-Fi, so we went there to work on the play.  Jean Leopold got stuck dealing with some official about his papers, there was a traffic jam because there was a strike by the transport people so traffic prevented everyone else from reaching us, and so it was that we set out in high spirits, putting last night’s atrocity out of mind momentarily, to see the chimps.


Of course, the chimp sanctuary was closed.  And there was no one to call or consult.  Just a poor lone guy at an unsignposted outpost, hanging out with some chickens and a few army-looking dudes who passed by and concurred that yes, the sanctuary was closed, and no, there was no number to call.  Unless we knew the manager of the camp personally – Rebecca.  But none of us did, of course and the numbers that mum and Nick found for me online were off or not working or who knows what.


So we headed out to a village by the ocean.  Over more sandy obstacle courses and past weird plains where Raoul said the original slaves were taken from or perhaps sold from and sent from the port there.  I couldn’t quite tell.  But there was a melancholy in the air so heavy that you could almost brush it off your face and arms or try to.  It would only return.  There was a strange feeling there in that place we came to.  A small bar ‘welcomed’ us, but it was a menacing welcome – suspicious or weighted down itself perhaps.  I felt uneasy with my camera, seen as exploitative somehow.  And only the tiniest of the children smiled and hazarded a wave.


Walking to the sea, the road lined with what looked like more upscale huts, sardines drying in the sun on large tarpaulins - even those people regarded us with lowered heads and serious eyes.  Not like in the Grand Marché or in the nightclub or in the streets or anywhere else I’ve been here where smiles are barely contained.  But of course, when we got to the beach, I could sense perhaps why, for there were the empty, large stone houses of the Lebanese and the French and the authorities and the ministers.  Large, empty, posh white sentries overlooking yet another empty beach.


Aaron and Nicole wanted to go running and we did, and Jeanne joined us, but I didn’t feel in the least bit energized.  Only sad and confused and like I couldn’t properly swallow, or capture on film the filth that was screened by the natural beauty of the place.  The filth of human inequity and greed and disregard.


And so we went back to the menacing bar and sat drinking beers under the scrutiny of the other customers and didn’t work on the play.


By the time we were back at the Swedish Hotel, we were somewhat downbeat and tired and over dinner we sat searching for things to say – not because we had nothing to talk about but because the day felt like a defeat.  I came upstairs afterwards whilst Aaron and Jeanne worked on the play with Alain and Raoul and whoever else turned up.  And I lay on my bed wondering what on earth I’m going to be doing for the next month, and if it’s at all justifiable for me to be here for so long, and how to manage being seen as a filmmaker when there hadn’t yet been very much of relevance to film.  And I was just beginning to feel a bit lost, when Aaron appeared at the door and everything came to a head.

Rachael Castell
m. 07939 040 836