Monday, June 30, 2008

3 kisses for kinshasa

it's definitely an understatement saying that the experience in congo as a young white girl is different than if you're a guy. indeed. there's a USAID intern here i met back in DC who will never get to eat goat, never get taken to a disco, never see the seedy underbelly of kinshasa. though he also barely speaks french he'll never really understand the nuances that make this place so incredibly funny.
kinshasa is the most disorganized, chaotic unbelievable mess - in all of africa, i'm told, i'm pretty sure that's true- and you see it all on the way to the airport. ahh, the airport road. i wish i could ask moses to take me to n'jili every day. utterly breathtaking. take every single english verb, and that's what you see on the way to the airport. people hugging, fighting, kissing, spitting, shitting, living and dying, selling things, buying things, breaking things, making things, i could go on for pages. you go through the zombie neighborhood they call china, which gets its name from being so insanely populated. people everywhere in every direction times infinity. overflowing from their dirty shanty town roads onto the street.
patrick is my driver today, he is talking, seemingly not paying attention as we narrowly avoid pedestrians, trucks, garbage. he is telling me how yesterday, when picking up the national geographic film crew they saw a guy get run over by a van. like, brains on the road, totally dead run over. the van, naturally, didn't even stop, business as usual. the pandamobile cannot rubberneck as this sort of situation can catalyze an angry mob. his mondeles were silent. welcome to kin, crazy shit!
today, the military guys have decided to charge to enter the airport parking lot, and the price is whatever you have. patrick reaches into the backsheesh stash in the glove compartment. only 10 bucks? you are out of luck, mondele. we talk him down to $12. i ask for a receipt, which is answered by a hand gesture which i presume is insulting.
we're carrying my bags to the entrance when a yellow mercedes comes careening towards us, and makes its own parking spot, half on the sidewalk in front of the door to the airport. it's moses! right on time.
the formalities prove as enjoyable as the ride here. moses takes my passport and i follow him as he high fives everyone like he's coming out with the Lakers onto the court before a game. he's handing out francs here and there. i say goodbye to patrick, three kisses on the cheek. an angry looking policeman suddenly blocks the entrance with his gun. i look for moses, i'm not paying this guy. but he doesn't want money, he wants three kisses too. and here we go.
i put my bags on the searching table and two guys go through my stuff like kids on christmas morning. they are pulling out panties, the ones with the little fish on them, laughing, asking me if they can keep them, a little humiliating, but still pretty funny. potential terrorists are just flowing into the hall as they concentrate on the rest of my stuff. they toss my frisbee a bit, try on some of my hand cream, "look at these tiny shoes, jacques! how cute!" they find my bonoculars and make me stand far away and hold up fingers. they are really enjoying themselves. do you have children? i have two cats. no children! i will give you a whole family! and so comes my first marriage proposal.
moses meanwhile has taken my passport to checkin, filling out forms, chit chatting with everyone i hope he is trying to get me into business class. out of nowhere, another police officer confronts me. i am benoit, where is your husband? uhhh, no husband. can i have your phone number! we need to get to know each other! and marriage proposal number 2. moses steps in, back off dude, don't you dare, and the policeman is all, moses! what's up buddy? and they do the head knocking hello. and then it's you know, moses times are tough blah blah blah moses gives him $5.
i have to show my bag to another guy who opens it up. you have not really been to congo unless you've been with a congolese! take me with you! proposal #3. this is getting ridiculous. he gives me his number and address, so i know where to find him. this is pichu, whom moses also knows well. she is mine, back off moses screams! we laugh. the baggage checkin lady is glaring at me, typical for the woman who is taking all her country's men home with her.i now have 4 hours to kill and moses and i go grab a drink in the same cafe we got wasted in last time i flew out. i am still severely hung over. i get a coke. people are coming by every 5 minutes to say hi to moses, borrow money, then ask me to marry them. moses writes some funny lingala phrases down for me in my notebook, so i can learn the lingo, like "where can i find a goat?" and "let's go to the discoteque!" and "i am looking for a congolese husband" and i test them out on all the passersby.
moses is out of small change, so he calls the money exchanger over. this is a guy with faux leopard skin pants, a tupac shirt, sunglasses, a huge gold cross, a calculator hanging around his neck, and stacks of freshly printed congolese money. we get more cokes and peanuts.finally, it's time to go.
moses sneaks me back in the secret entrance to customs. the customs guy is in this booth, high on this platform. i'm on my tippy toes to give my passport and all i see are some eyes under a beret. formalities finished, this is the end of the road for moses. 3 kisses. passport guy bangs on the window. eh, oh! what about me? i blow his 3 kisses towards the glass.
i'm getting my stuff from the x ray machine, which is more like decoration and doesn't seem to be doing much. the guys running it are drinking sprite and talking on their phones. i'm laughing at this whole day so far and some european guy asks me what's so funny. oh you know, how i'm on my 5th marriage proposal so far, just funny. he says i'm lucky. xray guy puts down his sprite and comes to look at my passport. are you french? american? BOTH? can i be number 6? get in line, buddy.
so it's off to the plane, all security guys on the runway are waving goodbye like i'm princess di. i get settled into my seat, the doors to the plane are closed, they are spraying the insecticide stuff, i look out the window towards the decrepit planes, the dudes hanging out under them to keep cool in the shade. and then i see moses, accompanied by one of the bright vest guys, he's running alongside the plane, sreaming something, waving. i try to explain to the guy next to me why this is so funny, oh he doesn't get it. this place rocks.

1 comment:

dcpeg said...

WONDERFUL post!! It reminded me of a trip to Egypt years ago. Same kind of chaos, "overt friendliness" and general craziness. Makes one appreciate home even, more, eh?