"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

3.31.2006

take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently

My last days in Kinshasa weren't so bad. The place wears you down quickly, though. Wednesday Wonderful Taxi Driver John had to go to his other job (see below), so he had his friend José pick me up at the Cultural Center. That's right. José. José is Kinois, born and raised in the Congolese capital, and doesn't appear to speak any Spanish. I don't know. Anyway, he's just as nice as Wonderful Taxi Driver John, although José's car was hot-wired. No, really. There were no keys. He had taken me to Kabila's mausoleum the other day, and yesterday took me to the Academie des Beaux Artes (Academy of Fine Arts), the professional art school here. The professors there have two galleries in which they sell sculpture, ceramics, and paintings. There was some lovely stuff there – I splurged on this painting, which will look so cute in my living room.

Kinshasa wasn't all bad. I got some great fabrics at Utexafrica (Wonderful Taxi Driver John could not understand why I thought that was a great name – in French it stands for African Textile Factory). I picked up three pagnes (6-yard pieces of printed wax fabric) there, including a very special gift for the Bibi "Bwana Ain't Fupi" B. Let's just say that her CBF is going to be extra-special.

And the grocery stores have everything, including STRAWBERRIES. For $7. Which was actually cheaper than buying lunch. They were really good.

Seeing a red miata zipping through town with the top down was also pretty funny. And it made me sad.

Thursday morning Wonderful Taxi Driver John picked me up at 6:30 to drive to Ndjili. He had a tape that his brother in Dallas had sent – old school southern gospel. So my last glimpses of Kinshasa came with the sound of "I'll Fly Away." We passed the Lumumba statue listening to "Put Your Hand in the Hand," Wonderful Taxi Driver John put on his MONUC badge (he works there part time) to ward off the bad people at the airport, and I managed to get my passport back from a man who claimed to be a "Protocol Officer" and not pay anyone bribes. The plane ride back was Something Else – sat with Larry from the Bronx who was headed to look for diamonds (Really.) and Conservation John who came to Zaire with his wife in 1971 to work on their dissertations and basically never left. Conservation John wanted to meet Mr. Florida and to put us in touch with some of his contacts here in Goma, so we all ended up at Doga (a restaurant/club that's the big expat hangout here) talking about land tenure and German zoologists who train commando forces to protect the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. A fitting end to the Kinshasa trip.

The best part about Kinshasa was getting to see my friends Tom and Christine and their adorable children. Tom was my boss in Cameroon the summer after undergrad. I've been lucky to have great bosses at almost every job I've ever had, but Tom and I just clicked in a way that made the experience in Cameroon so much fun. Most expats in Africa either completely hate it here and do their best to get out after a year or two, or they adore it so much that they "go native," marry a local, and stay forever. I'm not either one, and neither are Tom and Christine. We are all fascinated by this place, but also see what a mess it will be until the leadership decides to make things better. Christine, Tom's Australian wife, is just great, and their kids have grown up so much in the last six years. The last time I saw them, their daughter was 3 years old - we sat on the front porch one night while she named all the stars in the sky after people she knew. Now she's nine and quite the hostess with helping her mom entertain. It was really fun to have dinner at their home twice while I was in Kinshasa, and to get to watch the rest of Capote Wednesday night – they have Netflix! (By the way, Capote was soooooooo much better than Crash. I had seen the first half on the plane, but fell asleep during the second half. But what an amazing character study and exploration of the use of others' suffering for selfish ends. But I digress.) It was great. They've invited me back and offered one of the kids' rooms as a free place to stay, so I might go back to Kinshasa in May. Maybe.

There actually is one reason I might go back, but an explanation of that will have to wait. Suffice it to say, I have a potential job offer for the first part of the summer, it would be crazy-interesting, and it might even pay well. We'll see. For now, I'm glad to be back in Goma. I am planning to stick around for the visit of a very important visitor on Tuesday and will hopefully get to Kampala after that. Thanks for your prayers!

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