Australian surf traveller Jayden ‘Mozzie’ Irving popped by our shores a little earlier this year, introducing himself and explaining that he was planning on travelling the entire West Coast of Africa, looking for waves and adventure and mostly traversing by trusty thumb.
It sounded like a gnarly mission, and we wished Mozzie luck as he left SA and headed forth.
We’d been following Mozzie’s blog for a while, regularly he’d been checking in along the way, detailing his adventures and personal discoveries, but then things went quiet, with no blog updates for weeks. Something went wrong?
Indeed, when Mozzie finally updated his blog he explained that he’d been arrested and had been held for 4 weeks in the DRC.
Here’s an excerpt from his blog, describing how the ordeal came about:
THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
I awoke at 10pm, on the Beach of Moanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Wednesday the 13th September 2012, to the worried calls of my travel companion having just been confronted outside our seaside camping spot by a trio of daunting immigration officers demanding our compliance and threatening “complications” on any refusal of their instructions.
The sweet romance, divulged within the french language, was somewhat lost between their aggressive vocalisation and overpowering body language, dangling handcuffs before our nose and ordering “Vitesse, vitesse” (french; speed) in the deconstruction of our tent. Perched on the sand of a beautiful beach, alongside a row of upmarket beach homes, we managed to disassemble our shelters and re-pack our travellers wardrobe in as much time as we could, almost savouring the smell of the ocean, the sound of the crashing waves and fresh salty breeze. For though we had no idea of our fate, it was quickly evident that its was out of our hands.
For six months I had been travelling through Africa – four with Lydon – and loosely the idea of being arrested had been thrown around, fully anticipating that someone would make and excuse to detain us for an unknown reason. To be completely honest I was somewhat looking forward to it, having a cool story of arrest in a foreign country and being released a couple days later due to a lack of evidence to hold you. The thought was novel and the theory good, but had we known of what was to come, I would have re-evaluated my wish list.
At 10.45pm we were completely packed and prepared for our next instruction, “Suivre” (French; to follow). Insults and verbal abuse helped us understand that the deputy chief was also unhappy about the nighttime mission and directly blamed us for his disturbed peace. We were marched up the beach and ascended a set of half collapsed stairs, constantly falling and tripping in the darkness, now more frustrated than worried in our current state. Eventually we made it to a vehicle and were wedged inside (us in the back with an officer of some description on either side of us, making the journey very uncomfortable having four people crammed into the back seat reserved normally for just three), the surfboards fastened to the roof and our packs in the boot. Off we drove.
By this stage I had practiced enough of my dormant french, that I had learnt two years ago whilst backpacking in Europe, to enquire as to where we were going. “Mauvais. Très mauvais.” he said, which translated to – Bad. very bad. So again our tattered emotions swung back from frustration to worry as we quietly discussed our situation and prepared ourselves for the worst.
After just five minutes in the vehicle we pulled into the immigration building enclosed savagely by metal gates, razor wire, sharp spikes and armed guards preventing any possible chance of escape. Here was to be our quarters for the night. A patch of dirt under the stars, in the middle of a metal Fort Knox, to be ‘kept safe’ from the outside world. It wasn’t much different from our past months of accommodation but I was furious at the fact that we were being held against our will, like a lion in a cage it would take a long time before the wild left my eyes, so I verbally battled any officer within earshot until fatigue took over and the constantly feasting mosquitos were beyond a joke that I finally retired into our first night as a prisoner.
The next morning set the scene for our arrest. At 6:30 am following much dispute and a machine gun threateningly loaded and wielded in our direction, the chief permitted our release ensuring we motion straight back to Kinshasa (the capitial city) and make ourselves known to the immigration there. So after signing a declaration and retrieving our documents we were released under strict conditions to leave immediately. The issue, we came to understand, was that two days prior we had attempted to enter a coastal village with good potential surfing called ‘Banana’, which coincidentally was also a military base and apparently a no-go zone. With the uproar of the previous day’s mistake and the fact that we were also travelling on a photocopy of our passport (our passports were at the embassy of Congo – the other one – having our congolese visas being processed and prepared for our return to the capital city), we had become suspicious items in their country and an issue best dealt with, by superiors in the countries capital.
We couldn’t get a hitch that morning so we investigated the bus option. It wouldn’t depart until one or two o’clock, possibly three if they were feeling especially lazy that day, so what better way to wait out the bus than visit the beach one last time.
To cut a long story a bit shorter, immigration didn’t like that we still hadn’t left, assuming we were rich white people and could afford a taxi all the way back, (which we could, but what cheepskate traveller takes a taxi now when he can wait a few hours for a bus that is a quarter of the price?), so after a huge squabble on the beach and then a big ordeal at the taxi stop when we demanded to see their ID, we literally had our bags ripped and torn out of our hands, pushed, shoved and thrown into a taxi and carted off towards Kinshasa at their expense. All this took about 2-3 hours with non-stop french yelling and abuse, a crowd 300 strong and the officers getting completely humiliated at having not remembered to bring with them their official identification.
Eventually after two days, three separate taxi trips – at their expense – and endless hours of statements and questioning, we made it to Kinshasa on friday, just before the strike of midnight. ‘Ironically’ this meant that the embassy would not be open for the next two days (being a weekend) and we could not be reunited with our passports. Saturday and Sunday, hence, passed slower than a pensioner with a reconstructed hip, walking down stairs and holding a freshly baked carrot cake. It was hot, cramped, dirty and insanely boring, though a spot of entertainment was rather humorous, at the expense of our congolese captors, for one of the long term prisoners on route to his morning poo, took a chance for his freedom. His win was a huge loss for the guards leaving the three of them with a punishment of 15 days in the slammer themselves.
Monday came and still no news, till very late that night. We would be released the following day (a day after our visa expired) and be permitted only to collect our passports and exit the country that day, our plan being to take a boat to Congo, north of DRC. Released on Tuesday morning, five days after our first arrest, we did exactly that. Our luck however wasn’t running too well, for upon arriving on the shore of Congo we instantly got refused entry due to a lack of address and deported straight back to DRC where our visa had already expired…
With barely four hours liberty we were back with our buddies in the immigration holding cells, cursing the Congolese and their stupid ideals. Fortunately however, experience brought wisdom, sparking a stroke of genius as we quietly concealed our phone and a pen before getting dragged once more into the cell. This time we were prepared and took first moments chance to call home and organise consular assistance. Who knows how long we could have been held?
Two days pass and the diplomats arrived, South Africans for Lydon and Canadians to represent me (as there is no Australian embassy in DRC). Two more days of waiting and again we were free…
Congo was contacted and convinced to let us enter, we had all our baggage once more and this time we would take a private boat as ordered by the Diplomats to ensure no funny business. After more than a week of being arrested we had tasted freedom once and we were so close to moving on, but DRC wouldn’t let us go that easily… The driver of the boat got a call just 20 metres before touching the other side of the river. He sounded frustrated. Then I heard him say the word “Retour?”, which means – return?
And surely enough the boat spun around, us completely relaxed and calm, thinking it was possibly just that maybe we forgot something. Truth was such though, that we didn’t forget anything, and instead we were about to be informed that this little mix-up of the few days prior had just turned into a suspected act of ‘Treason’. Apparent risks to national security. Possible terrorists.
That I shall talk about soon,
till the next post
Read more about Mozzie’s travels & discoveries by following his blog: