When I visited Zaire as part of the journey that became Going Around In Circles, there wasn’t a regular bus service from the Ugandan border to Beni.
You had to hitch a ride on a truck, taking your place amongst sacks of produce, piles of plastic containers and all kinds of livestock.
Beni was only 88 kilometres away but the road was narrow and dusty. At times it was little more than a goat track. I stood at the front, holding on for dear life as I was jostled from side to side.
I spent most of the journey fielding questions from my fellow passengers, most of which were a variation of ‘What the hell are you I doing here?’. The questions were translated by a young guy called Jean who had introduced himself by shaking my hand and saying ‘I don’t you.’
Jean also suggested I hide at the back of the truck when we came upon an army roadblock after nightfall. The soldiers would be drunk, he explained. They’d see a foreigner like me as a chance for extortion and maybe worse.
I curled up beside my backpack and pretended I was asleep. A soldier clambered up and shone a torch into the face of each passenger. Then he shone it down the back.
Just as the light swept over me a chicken on the other side of the truck squawked loudly. The soldier swung his torch around to see what was going on.
Satisfied it was nothing, he clambered off the truck and thumped the driver’s door to signal for him to move on.
When I emerged from the back of the truck the other passengers slapped me on the back, laughing and congratulating me on my luck.
Turns out, it hadn’t been luck at all.
When we clambered off in Beni and said our goodbyes, Jean sheepishly admitted he’d given the chicken a poke.