The next morning, we decide to hitchhike to Madingo-Kayes – the nearest larger town by the coast, where there is a main hospital. I don’t feel well at all, and need consultation on whether or not to change medication. Some Malaysians working in the logging industry give us a ride in their Toyota Landcruiser. On the way, they share us some stories from their work.
Why, to begin with, is it that almost only Malaysians, Chinese and Indonesians do the dirty (in more than just one sense) work? For once, they ask for far less pay than what a European would demand, yet work ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day without complaint. And then they have the knowledge, too. Who knows best how to – as efficiently as possible – cut down a forest and ship its green gold to the industrialized nations – if not Malaysians? Who does it without questioning the morality – if not Malaysians? Besides, their own forest is near extinct, so those that previously worked there are now unemployed. Malaysians are professional pillagers.
Jimmy, 25 years, sits behind the wheel. The road is the toughest I’ve ever seen – often covered by deep mud. On several occasions, I turn around and look at the road we’ve just passed, and ask myself how it was ever possible for us to get across. At times, the road is just a huge waist-deep sea of mud. But Jimmy knows how to tackle the mud with the four-wheel drive. He searches for the best part of the road on which to pass, and then just drives. Resolute and tenacious.
We halt several times along the road. Jimmy’s colleagues drive old trucks on terrible roads, and we often pass ones that has got into trouble. They’ve parked their trucks by the roadside, with a broken hub, broken axle or ‘just’ a puncture. Jimmy stops and makes sure that everyone is assisted so to get going again. Each stop lasts for about half an hour, or sometimes a full hour. Just to fix a puncture with the tools they have takes a lot of time and effort – a tedious work requiring much patience. There are about ten stops this day, from Vunda where we join to Madingo-Kayes where we get off.
Jimmy’s colleague Eli, also from Malaysia, criticizes the local truck drivers. They sometimes drink and drive, and take no regard of rain or bad road conditions. It has happened that they’ve forgotten to check the brakes before setting off, he says. He then changes subjects and asks me if I’ve tried the local prostitutes. Eli proudly tells me how he was able to bargain the price down to 10,000 CFA for a night, when his colleagues paid up to three times as much. “But you have to use condom – there is a lot of HIV here,” he adds. He estimates that a third of all the Malaysians here have children with Congolese women and comments that they get a “Funny look with the straight hair and the dark skin.” Eli ends up leaving us halfway. He had been out the night before, drinking too much, felt ill and went to sleep in one of the road workers’ roadside barracks.
We reach Madingo-Kayes by tenish in the evening, say goodbye to Jimmy and cycle the last couple of kilometers to the hospital. The night is pitch dark. Jimmy bought a baguette with peanut butter and turned back east again. He will drive back on those same muddy roads we just came on – at nighttime. No rest.
The hospital is easy for us to locate – actually, coming from the East, it is the first building in town. The place is clean and decent, and the doctor is professional and kind to us. He changes my quinine tablets for three days of injections.