Wednesday, November 21, 2012

kinshasa snow day

the offices closed early today and everyone was sent home until further notice. after the rebels took over Goma, and people burned vehicles in Kisangani and bunia, threw rocks at UN vehicles, there was a rumor that unrest could come to kinshasa any time. better safe than sorry. especially since our office is right next door to munosco (you can see the tips of blue helmets in their little lookout cages over the wall) and we have seen our fair share of stray bombs in the past. my theory? people in drc are so poor and miserable and angry about being poor and miserable they will take any opportunity to make themselves heard, and also steal and break stuff. especially rich white people's stuff. or, according to my host grandpa "ils sont tous des singes, ils se mangerait entre eux." mmmm well i refrain from being shocked at this perspective, or telling him that monkeys actually aren't carnivorous species, but but then he adds "les italiens sont pareils d'ailleurs!"
but actually there are some other things to consider - most demonstrations in DRC do not last for more than a few days. as we saw after the eletions last year, protesting is a luxury. most people cannot afford. they can't just not work for a few days...they inevitably need food and money and must give up their cause for survival. also, it's raining. nothing happens when it rains. the buses don't even run. so we are not too worried about protests...
nevertheless, so we all loaded into a land cruiser, and boniface drove all the mondeles home. my house was the first stop. the guys at the checkpoint were unusually chipper, and even gave me the four star stand-at-attention hand-to-beret salute. when i got out of the truck i glanced over at the little encampment right next door. i handed a guy some yogurt that expired today and i was to scared to eat. the military guys all live in a big crooked canvas tent in the front yard of an abandoned house. looks straight out of world war I. probably 30 of them in there? 4 guys guard the post while the others sit around and smoke cigarettes, build fires, hang their laundry, sweat through their uniforms. there's a little tin hut, lit with a lone light bulb that sells two things: cigarettes and canned tomato paste? can't tell, the labels are all faded and falling off. pretty sure cigs are the only hot item. they all have sweaty faces and look tired. papi told me he had an appointment at the presidential palace once, and even the guards in there, like at the desks where you check in were begging for spare change.
there are over 12,000 congolese military stationed in Kivu. if these guys in kinshasa can't eke out a living in the shadow of the president, what do you think it's like out there? a lot of people say that the first choice a military guy will make is to sell his weapon for a piece of bread to feed his family. what would he even fight for? even today, they interviewed some rebels and they were all, rwanda? we get our arms for real cheap from the starving congolese army! filiberto told me every single plane from his old company was sold to south africa for peanuts. better than trying to fly them here. they'll sell anything. railroad ties. there's a fat guy who walks around offering the belt from his uniform, real cheap. when an official military vehicle comes, he quickly buckles up.
so i was home. in complete security with filiberto and his history of lighting elephant dynamite and walking around with grenades in his pockets. his son works for the UN and so we have a special radio. every 30 minutes some east timorian or nigerian announces something about the security level and to avoid crowds or being outside or whatever. we turned the radio down and turned up the tv. drinking molto grappa i birra. maria made a delicious spaghetti soup and we watched chelsea-juventus and cursed and cheered. sekuriteee levellll thr- GOOOOOOOOL! italian tv also has a lot of game shows with busty models in miniskirts and over-tanned announcer guys with hair implants, but my favorite are the video-pedia interludes "il momenti di historia" which tells you about some grand person or event in italy. car racing in the 1892 (ferrari?), or boticelli. every 20 minutes filiberto asks me if i want an espresso. i can't drink any more espresso, my teeth feel like cement. but when i finally cave in, we sit at the table and filiberto tells me stories. about how they started their restaurant: a rich lebanese guy showed up at the old place they were managing and gave them 10 days to open a new place with him. (they were over 70 years old, cooker jules, you still have time!) filiberto also loves his pilot days. he taught me about the different types of jet fuel, how to test it for contamination, the crazy runways in the east and what kind of clouds to avoid (actually all very relevant for my project to fly a cessna over congolese forests) and emergency landings, when you go into the cargo hold and throw everything out but the tanks and diamonds, and whatever "special package" being delivering to heads of state. pretty sure he carried ivory tusks in there, too - "those were just gifts" he says. filiberto pours more grappa. he isn't drinking until christmas, part of his "military regime," and so he makes me and maria drink double. maria is upset because the vet couldn't get through the police blockades to give the poodles their fleabath. (rich people problems).
and now for slight non-sequitur, an untranslateable excerpt from one of my colleague cyril's rants, the kind he gives every day around 11am when he threatens to quit:
"putain j'en peut plus, j'ai envie de me casser, grave, je travaille comme un gros con pour sauver 3 pauvre okapis tout pelés, et tes italos, la, ils sont petés de tune! leur resto marche a bloc sur les epaules d'un libanais bourré de coke! et des spaghetti bolognaise pour $23? je bouffe de la semoule avec des petits pois en boite, et mon loyer c'est presque $3500/mois! t'as vu l'etat de notre compta, c'est de la grosse merde, pourquoi on peut pas avoir un libanais bourré de coke, nous??"
maria complains that these problems always come at the same time of year, before christmas. president kabila where is he, he is invisble, she tells me. filiberto fills in - he's too afraid to come to DRC because someone will kill him just like his father! she says "ah, the good god blessed the congo with everything!" filiberto ends the sentence "but the congolese were all sleeping that day!"

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