If I’m stuck here all week, I thought, sizing up the stand-off, that’s just fine with me.
The room was stuffy and the light was the color of unwashed linens. Rusted filing cabinets lined the walls, metal shelves stacked with documents in duplicate and triplicate. Sitting across from the doorway was a thickset official, wearing a bright patterned shirt and a look of permanent grievance; even his baldness, the muscular frets of his forehead seemed full of warning. He made an ambiguous gesture with his pen, either to sit or explain myself. He was the only thing standing between me and the Congo.
I had spent three days in Cyangugu, a somnolent town in southwestern Rwanda, gathering my courage for this border crossing. The clouds were low, the wind rough, the sky cracking with thunder. The weather matched my spirits. I was worried about what might lie ahead; I knew from past visits that nothing came easy in the Congo. There was always a payout, and beyond that one, another. The greedy...