Pointe-Noire at Night
Pointe Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of Congo (also known as Congo-Brazza) is situated on the coast and boasts the biggest commercial harbour on the west coast of Africa. Because of the petrol industry many multinational companies are found here and as such Pointe Noire is also the economic capital. Home to almost half the population of the entire country (approximately 2 million inhabitants), Pointe Noire is a melting pot of cultures and very cosmopolitan.
Photographing at night has always been on my to do list as a self-taught photographer and while in Pointe Noire last year the opportunity presented itself quite unexpectedly.
Frustration with Congo’s almost permanently grey sky and lack of bright light during the dry season, meant that I couldn’t do the work I had planned on and so I went in search of light. I found it at night, in the light from car lights, and the lamps of small informal market and shop stands, under umbrellas…
I decided to embrace the night, staying out till the early hours, exploring the city and following the ‘light of the night’.
During my nightly forays I found a bustling ‘night city’ with many of the daytime activities having their night-time counterparts. From take away foods to hair salons and pubs, Pointe Noire at night turned out to be vibrant and alive with activity.
Take away foods
Traditional take away foods such as burgers and fries or deep fried chicken cannot really be found extensively in Pointe Noire. The fast food culture is slowly emerging, however at the moment take away foods consist of barbequed fish and chicken and even traditional cooked foods as well as some baked goods such as the much loved Congolese deep fried doughnut, called a begne.
The traditional foods are usually served in containers which can be taken home and reheated and the fish and chicken are presented on a skewer so that they can be eaten by hand whilst on the move. It is unlikely to find a take away store on the outskirts of the city, these can mostly be found near the pubs and clubs in the city centre. Near the residential areas, one is more likely to find market stalls offering these ‘convenience’ foods and people tend to congregate around these stalls after work, to have a quick catch up with their neighbours and friends before heading home.
Salon de coiffure
The hair salon or ‘salon de coiffure’ in French, is an African institution and in Pointe Noire it is no different. Most Congolese work from 8am to 17h00 with a lunch break of two hours at midday. This means that for ladies (and gentlemen) who take their hair seriously, and the Congolese take their hair very seriously, night time is the best time to have their hair done, as it can be a time consuming process.
When walking past a hair salon at night, one can often see groups of women having their hair done at the same time, in barber shops many men seal their business deals whilst having a shave and more than one young man has found his first job by making sure he was at the right barber shop at the same time as his prospective employer.
Pointe Noire is well known for its many different street markets, each area, whether industrial or residential, has its own market, some of these are specialised, like the immensely popular dried and fresh fish markets near the harbour area, whilst others are more general. On the more general markets such as the informal but massive Fond Tie-Tie market one can find almost anything ones heart desires, from fruit and vegetables to hair weaves and electronic goods. If one has the time, it is easy to get lost in the diversity of these markets and it is always good to have a local friend as company, as each market has its own character and way in which to bargain and shop.
With the recent improvements in infrastructure in Congo, it has become much easier to get around at night and most taxis (cabs) run all night. With the right price, one can go almost anywhere in the city in the relative comfort of a private cab.
If visiting Pointe Noire for only a short while, taking a ride in a taxi at night is a must, as many of these cars, recognised by their blue and white paint work, are often decked out with disco lights, plastic flowers, fluffy and colourful seat covers and the flags of the driver’s favourite football team. Drivers are usually friendly and courteous, often see themselves as great disc jockeys, and safety, especially in the city centre, is not something to worry about.
The alternative to the taxis are the Cent-Cent (literally translated as the hundred-hundred, taken from the time when a one-way trip cost 100 Fcfa), minibus taxis which are usually painted yellow and dark blue and which run along fixed routes and take up to 20 people at a time. These busses have informal but fixed stops and fill up really quickly. Cent-Cent usually run until 22h00 or 23h00, depending on the area.
Pubs & Night Clubs
Traditional night life such as pubs and night clubs varies greatly across the different areas of Pointe Noire, it is possible to find comfortable local hang-outs in the more residential areas, with the more upmarket and exclusive(and higher priced) clubs being more likely to be found in the city centre.
A local pub is a great place to discover Congolese music and learn some moves on the dance floor, the Congolese love to move and have a reputation for being great dancers. Most night spots serve a variety of drinks and in the more residential areas, it is common to stop at the pub on the way home for a local beer, of which Congolese brewed Ngok is the most popular and often the most affordable.
Shops and Supermarkets
Many shops and supermarkets in Pointe Noire are open till late at night, most usually around 20h00. There are also a number of convenience stores in many of the residential areas which sell items such as airtime, cigarettes and a few general household essentials.
I found exploring Pointe Noire at night to be perfectly safe, however it is important to keep ones eyes and ears open and if possible, it is always more fun to go around with a friend who knows the city. French is the main language, as well as Lingala and Kikongo and there are an increasing number of places which have at least one staff member who can assist in English when necessary.
Useful websites and information:
- Transport costs:
- Private taxi: 1000 Fcfa in the city centre, up to 3000 Fcfa to the outskirts and at night, regardless of the number of people.
- Cent-Cent minibus: 150 Fcfa per person per trip.
- Ngok beer: around 500 Fcfa per bottle.
congo night point noire