congo is way more fun than mozambique or namibia. i think speaking the language makes a huge difference, and these people are just whack enough to make for good times.the other night i was invited to the house of the Congo Basin USAID director.
on our way there we had a typical time on the road. a police officer will wave you through an intersection where the stoplight isn't working (no stoplights are ever working). he'll be whistling at you, all "come on!" but no one driving in the other direction even cares. they are blowing by him so fast his beret is nearly taken off his head. you'd think he would use the ak-47 slung around his shoulder and get some respect but no. so then he gives up and walks along the median, as our driver inches out into the constant stream of jalopies. lisa says as a general precaution "you might want to lock your door" to the lady sitting in the front. she fiddles with the door handle right when the cop walks by, so now he thinks she's going to give him something so he presses his nose against the window. we do not want this cop pressing his nose against the window because now he sees her lock the door and is very insulted. we quickly drive away.
lisa and the lady up front want cigarettes, so now we're driving slowly looking for the guys on the side of the street who sell cigarettes. we find some and pull over and roll down the window and get mobbed by the guys with the cell phone recharges, batteries, lemons. lisa's real good, she speaks lingala and sets the tone, like, stop! only one of you is selling me cigarettes, all hands out of the car! so the four guys argue over who was there first. then there's haggling over the price, with all these crazy words like mapongo, matebishe papa! the matebishe is the little gift you get when you buy something. lisa says she'll pay for 4 bucks if they throw in matches for free. they say they have no matches. they are totally lying but whatever, we're getting hungry.
we finally get to our destination - a huge, lavish, perfectly air conditioned house with a special distilled water pump, high ceilings and endless living, dining, bedrooms, an outdoor bar overlooking the private pool in the courtyard. i should note that the state department interns live in an identical house in the same compound. the chef, papa daniel was busy in the kitchen as we took our drinks in one of the huge sitting areas. i had pastis and a 2004 bordeaux with dinner. the table was set real formal, with several plates and forks, and i think papa went a little too crazy with the napkins. there was one all accordioned in the wine glass, another bouquet'd in the water glass and a third under the spoon. i leaned over to my colleague and whispered "i've never eaten at such a fancy table before, which napkin do i use with the appetizer?" there were lots of stories, courvoisier and drambuie for digestif. i was invited to stay if i get sick of my hotel, called the "african dream." hmmmm, i could live this life, drinking cognac, playing chess on the huge coffee table every night instead of getting electrical shocks from light switches.