Our new traveller spotlight series is created to inspire and encourage travellers to explore new places. The advice in each interview feature includes tips from travellers that will allow you to truly uncover the beauty of a place.
Being born in a country and relocating to another without ever returning can leave its mark, more so if you feel a strong connection to your birthplace. For Marilyne, a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), visiting after nearly 30 years turned out to be life-changing.
Moving to Europe
After leaving the DRC as an infant, Marilyne moved to France with her mother before permanently relocating to Sweden as a toddler. In Stockholm, she grew up in a Congolese household that highly celebrated their culture. Through the music, cuisine and entertainment, she was taught early on the importance of preserving her heritage, and with time she began to yearn to one day visit her native home. After years of patiently waiting, she purchased a return flight ticket to Kinshasa, where she would spend two weeks learning about herself, her people, and how her culture contributed to the woman she had become. And as she sat on the plane heading towards the Congolese capital, it suddenly hit her that she was on her way to finally finding the last puzzle piece.
What were your initial thoughts on Kinshasa?
I was slightly nervous when I was about to land. I wanted to solo travel but didn’t know what to expect. But arriving at the DRC and landing at N’djili International Airport was unreal! The feeling of standing on the land of my ancestors was truly indescribable. I waited a long time for this moment, and though it had taken time, my heart was full. By just looking out of the car window on my way to my house, I got a sense of the city and how people lived. As a minority living outside of the African continent, being back home, where everyone looked like me, was unreal. Despite standing out, for the first time in nearly three decades, I was a majority.
How was Kinshasa different from Stockholm?
It was different from Sweden or Europe in general. Kinshasa is chaotic in a beautiful way, which makes it perfectly put together. As I strolled around the streets, I constantly felt like I was a character in one of the Congolese tv-shows I grew up watching. The air was filled with pulsating city noises with music playing from different corners, while the sounds of people chatting as they went on about their day created a vibrant atmosphere. The sun was beaming every day, kissing my skin in the most beautiful way while slowly but surely adding another layer to top up my melanin.
After two weeks, what was the verdict?
I loved everything about my city, from the heat, and the lively ambience, to the accessibility to things. Regardless of what you were on the hunt for, there was always a way to obtain it. From food to service, nothing was out of reach.
But despite its beauty, it broke my heart to see the state of the DRC. The country has been plagued by war, poverty, and resource curses, which has deeply affected the state of the nation. And while you’ll find lower, middle, and upper-class living in Kinshasa, the reality is that not everyone can afford to live a normal life in the capital for multiple reasons.
- There are different vaccines for travel to Africa, and you should do your research and find out if it’s mandatory to obtain it or if antibacterial pills are enough for each country. Health organisations and embassies often update their websites, and I advise you to look them up when you book your flight.
- Don’t forget your sunscreen! You may be a melanin queen or king, but you should still protect that skin. Unless you’re planning on spending all of your days at home, top it up as you roam around the streets.
- Find a connection – If you’re Congolese, you’re more likely to either stay with family or elsewhere yet still have access to a family that can help you along the way. However, if you’re not Congolese, I’d say travel with a family member or friend, at least the first time, as you familiarise yourself with the region. Kinshasa is amazing, but the city can also be overwhelming, especially if you’re a foreigner. Having someone there can facilitate your stay!
Have you been back ever since?
Oh yes! Since first visiting, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Kinshasa seven times, and the feeling of gratitude and joy fills my body every time I land.
You can follow Marilyne on Instagram.