The Story Of A Steak Sandwich

The Story Of A Steak Sandwich

It had been another long hot day in central Africa, and I was driving a fast RIB – a rigid inflatable boat – down the river Congo at full speed. We were flying across the water, but I was steering carefully between the floating clumps of water hyacinth as we headed downstream to the capital city of Kinshasa.

We had started early, and I had loaded extra cans of petrol on board as it was a long push from our campsite at the side of the river to reach Kinshasa, but the leader of our expedition needed to be there as soon as possible. There were three of us in the small boat and the floor was literally covered in petrol cans. The cool of the morning soon warmed by the inevitable sun and by mid-morning it was baking hot. The metal petrol cans were too hot to touch, but thankfully the Mercury outboard was pushing us along at about 30 knots, so the rushing air was keeping us reasonably cool.

The first few hours saw us speeding along the calm river. Waves or rapids would have slowed us down but here the river was running deep and the surface was flat. The banks here were jungle and the trees really came down into the water, I am not sure if they were all mangrove trees but there are three types of mangrove and we probably passed them all. It was the same on both sides of the river which in this area was a couple of hundred metres wide. We were making good time.

We drank from our water bottles as we didn’t really have time to stop and make a brew of tea. It would have taken too long to gather the wood to make the fire to boil the water. The problem with our water is that it came from the river and it was best to strain it in a muslin filter to take out the animal and vegetable matter that was present. There were about 20 grains of foreign matter in each litre of water. So we strained the water and then put it in our water bottles along with chlorination tablets to purify it and kill any germs. The good news was that the water was now palatable, but the bad news was that it was like drinking disinfectant. But we needed to drink in that heat to stay well.

Our eyes were always sweeping ahead, partly to avoid hitting an object in the river and partly to see if we could catch sight of any wildlife on the banks such as hippos or monkeys in the trees. At the same time, we would look for landmarks to try and pinpoint our position. About the time we felt we were nearing the city we began to see some high-rise buildings poking out on the horizon above the great moabi, iroko, ebony and mahogany trees that formed the jungle canopy.

After another thirty minutes, we came upon the long dirty brown wharves where wood, palm oil and vegetables were unloaded from the river barges. Then further on we saw the manicured bright green lawns of what turned out to be a smart yacht club, with many small and larger boats bobbing on their moorings. Above the lawns was a single storey clubhouse neatly painted and with bright flags flying from an impressively tall flagpole. This seemed to be a sensible place to tie up and find a vehicle to take us into the city and to the British Embassy who were expecting us.

It was about midday and we had been on the river for over four hours and I was starving. Breakfast had been a rotten plastic mug of tea and some dried biscuits and I was looking forward to grabbing a bite to eat wherever we could. Having secured the boat, we walked up to the Clubhouse and were rather conscious of our scruffy appearance in soiled and sweaty shirts and petrol stained cotton trousers below which were wet boots dripping with river water. We must have looked an odd and unusual sight to the kindly barman who stood on the veranda as we approached. He was a Congolese man of about forty who spoke fluent French and was dressed in smart dark trousers with a white jacket, white shirt and bow tie. I briefly explained who we were in my stumbling French as he ushered us through the doors of Kinshasa Yacht Club into the bar area. Coming in from the strong sunlight my eyes adjusted to take in the fine carpet and comfortable looking armchairs around us but more exciting was the bar promising cold drinks and possibly food? I asked, with some trepidation, if there was anything we could eat for lunch to which I heard the immortal reply “Would sir like a steak sandwich?”. As the barman called the order to the chef in the adjacent kitchen, he poured the first chilled larger into a frosted glass and I was at the gates of heaven. The succulent steak sandwich soon arrived – a tender piece of sirloin steak in a fresh baguette. It was delicious and how hard it was to eat slowly. In no time at all the glass was dry and the taxi was waiting to take us to the Embassy – the spell was broken.

Kindly contributed by a Wenvoe resident