tonight is ladies' night - a bunch of gals from the office going out for pizza. i know where we WON'T be going...
christian had his first day at work at the UN on monday. he came back and found me and gilles at our usual rendez vous spot near the pool. he wasn't as happy and smiley as usual. he collapses into his chair "this place is impossible." he had a 2 hour UN security briefing where they tell you all the bad stuff that happens to ex-pats here - the bricks through your car window, armed robbery, police impersonation and passport theft, basically all the stuff you need to know about to never want to leave your house. there's a curfew, i found out, for whiteys. oops. gilles meanwhile turns real pale. so glad to be leaving this place, he says. he hasn't been getting much sleep as the waitresses are still finding reasons to knock on his door late at night...christian ups his spirit by telling us about a nepalese guy he'll be working with. the guy had never left katmandu until he had been assigned to DRC. "just imagine a nepalese guy, here in kinshasa! imagine what a punch in the face it was for him to land here!"
it had sortof taken the wind out of our sails for going out on gilles' last night but i said come on guys, people DO go out here. we'll get a nice reliable taxi from the hotel, it'll be fun! i saw this place the other day downtown with a patio and lots of ex-pats and locals, music, police presence, we'll be fine. so we go the receptionist to call a taxi - the hotel cell phone is out of minutes (maybe she should stop chatting with her boyfriend all the time?), so we use my phone. as soon as i hang up this beat-up carolla wagon comes barreling down the driveway. with a sunroof, yea! we negotiate an almost non-whitey price with the driver and as soon as we get in he cranks up the music, starts chatting and drives about a million miles an hour, soaring through potholes. gilles head is being pounded into the roof. we pass a car with no windows, no doors, no bumpers and completely rusted out. unbelievably, the blinker still works - one little lonely lightbulb that lights sporadically to let us know of its intentions.
the taxi driver's name is "bah-bee" (baby?). his car REEKS of gasoline. i pray that christian, sitting up front does not light up another cigarette. gilles is securing his money belt for the third time. we get let out in front of the "36-15" the place i had recommended. we make jokes about the old mini-tel, france's first internet. tapez le 36-15 code BABY! baby is real cool, he lets us pay later. a hummer drives up to the patio, all pimping out and checking out the scene. then some hip guys dressed like wannabe LA rappers roll up in a convertible peugot, music blaring. they pretend not to notice as the hard top goes down and folds into the trunk. what's up with this place?
we walk up to a table, gilles is already feeling better. this place is real nice. pizza looks good. you see? nothing to worry about. look at everyone, all the locals and foreigners, getting along. and then we scan the place and something is odd...there's only old white guys, and all the locals are these sexed up skinny congolese ladies with fake flowing wigs. the women are sitting on the men's laps and massaging their necks, and there's a group of wealthy lebanese sheik-like guys, and one has three ladies in his lap - hey wait a minute! prostitutes?!
christian finds this hilarious, gilles is back to being terrified. don't worry gilles, christian says, they won't come bother us, not with this cougar over here, pointing to me, making the requisite rrrreow (only instead of cougar, it's 'panther' in french). now that i'm 30 i guess that makes me a cougar, nice. but he's right. our waitress is friendly, the brick oven pizza is tasty (it has to be good, because if any lebanese mafioso guys got sick this place would be erased) and we have our own little conversation, and never get drawn into what is happening around us. except when the 3 guys from doctors without borders staying at our hotel leave with a little harem.
we treat ourselves to grand marnier for a digestif. i have been forbidden to drink vitell-o anymore - it's this super sweet fruit punch soda that likely has crack cocaine in it, makes me very hyper. i'm told crazy weird stuff comes babbling out of my mouth, christian and gilles like me better on water, beer or hard alcohol if possible. christian and i start placing bets on when gilles camerounian airlines flight will actually leave for libreville. i'll pay for lunch tomorrow if his flight is put off until evening. christian says it could be days. gilles is silent, angry because all day people have been predicting the worst and all he wants is to be back home with his family. so we make him promise to buy dinner if we find him back at the hotel the next night. ask anyone here, they have a horror story about CamAir. christian says he once had a four DAY delay in yaounde. basically, they fly when they feel like it, africa-style. we laugh at how the last time gilles called to confirm his flight was 2 days ago. 2 days? you need to call now (i'm sure there's a 24 hour receptionist!) i ask our waitress, ever flown camair? "i once got stuck in Kigali for christmas AND new years because of those imbeciles! I am relieved to hear they finally went bankrupt last year." poor gilles. he didn't join us for breakfast or dinner the next day, but i bet that's because the chauffeur left him off at the airport instead of waiting until the plane took off. and moses was off-duty. well, good thing there are dudes who sell peanuts in the parking lot.