Monday, February 28, 2011

Accountability Zero

The Life and Times of an African Leader

An excerpt from Cassie Knight's book Brazzaville Charms (with parenthetical commentary by the author of this blog) accurately depicts the life and times of so many African rulers both living and dead- a tragic portrait of unfortunate circumstances.

People had voted for Lissouba (fill in the name of any African dictator) because they believed he could build a broad-based alliance that would clean up Congo’s political corruption and bring new life to the rural economy. But, once he was president, with access to the enormous wealth of the offshore oil fields, Lissouba’s (any African dictator’s) sole preoccupation was staying in power. Oil money (or revenue from any other desirable commodity) was siphoned into foreign bank accounts to prepare for the eventuality of having to leave office, militias were armed and recruited, and senior government positions were given to family and close friends who could be relied on in a time of crisis.

There was little change or improvement on Sassou’s Marxist dictatorship (or any past African regime). Ethnic rivalry increased, suspicion was sharpened by the memory of violence, public spending on health and on education went into decline, and government money went into a new set of politicians’ pockets.

When Lissouba (or any other African dictator for that matter) was ousted by Sassou in the civil war of 1997, Lissouba fled and took up residency in London. He lives in luxury in Knightsbridge, spending time also in his townhouse in Paris.

Endnote: (Lissouba was rewarded richly for ruling Congo as if the oil and natural resources were his own personal treasure with no regard for the health or welfare of the Congolese people other than his own family and close friends.)

Pascal Lissouba was the President of the Republic of Congo from 1992 until 1997 when he was overthrown by the current President Denis Sassou Nguesso in the 1997 civil war.

Primus Time 2

This is fabric from a pair of Primus print pants. Primus is my beer of choice in Congo.

It's Primus Time = It's Miller Time in the U.S.

There are varieties of fabrics in Congo that don't have widely-worn counterparts in the United States- from this Primus quality export beer pattern to President Denis Sassou Nguesso à Edou's face plastered on green and yellow fabric recalling the celebration of Congo's 50 years of independence in 2010. I have never seen the beer equivalent of Budweiser or Miller Light pants, dressy shirts, or skirts so widely covering breasts and bottoms in the United States. I often see people wearing not only Denis, but other political faces I can't identify on what I consider to be rather stylish matching skirt and blouse ensembles in Brazzaville.

Political t-shirts are popular in my country especially during presidential election years. In the last Iowa caucus, when I first supported Hillary Clinton until she had to drop out of the race, I proudly wore my Iowans for Hillary t-shirt. Beer t-shirts are also a common addition to the wardrobe in rural Iowa especially for rednecks who frequent dingy bars with names like the Knotty Pine. Many of these beer brand t-shirt wearers have tummies that spill over the top of their worn out blue jeans.

We have something similar to Primus pants in the Midwest, but with our own Iowa twist- more slovenly, loose fitting and comfortable.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rainy Season

I didn't see this plant growing on palm trees when I first arrived in Congo in late August 2010, but after the rains swept the color brown from the horizon, these light green suckers sprung from the trunks and bodies of the trees. Petals of unidentified vegetation- living corsages for the host.

The light today was hazy and humid in Brazzaville. The heat increased throughout the morning. That's why it's possible to see these murky weather conditions through the camera's eye. Looks as if the lens is smeared with humidity and sweat just like me!

Marche Plateau Centre Ville

This photo of a woman carved in wood was shot at the Marche Plateau where I saw some nail fetishes this morning. These fetishes intrigue me. One was a wooden carving of a man and the other was a crocodile, both embedded with nails and sharp pieces of metal. Such objects were most likely crafted by a fetishist (witch doctor) to protect homes, families and villages. Most fetishes have an orifice where sacred medicines can be inserted.

Scroll to the middle and bottom of this site to see the nail fetishes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Premeditated Stabbing In The Kitchen With A Spoon

Crush, Kill, Destroy

Roaches are rather fragile and thin-skinned here in Brazzaville (maybe due to the heat), and they don't always run when startled. I had a stare-down with a plump specimen in a friend's bathroom. I used the toilet and left the bathroom all while he remained frozen on the sink. The only things waving in the air were his antenna segments.

I killed a large cockroach in my sink last night when I jabbed the insect to death with the pointy end of a spoon. I crushed its head. Part of its leg and wing broke off, so I washed those bits down the drain and disposed of the body in the trashcan. Sounds like a murder scene. I sometimes let them run free, but this one frightened me, and my instinct was to stab, stab, stab like Norman Bates in the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Stab, stab, stab over and over again is what I did with the pointy end of a spoon. I am sure the cockroach's blood swirled down the drain just like Marion Crane's, but I couldn't see it.

When I looked up from my agitated and premeditated stabbing, I saw a terrified companion of the deceased scurry to hide amid the couscous box, can of spinach, and bag of coffee on my counter. I was pleased that both cockroaches I saw were fairly large. Perhaps it's inaccurate information, but I believe that large cockroaches indicate the population is not breeding profusely. I have never seen a small cockroach in my apartment. The petite size would indicate a nest, eggs, and a family setting up shop somewhere in the walls or cabinets. That is my belief about cockroaches currently, but I don't have scientific evidence to truly support it.

A question I have always had in my mind: Can cockroaches climb into and out of my fridge at night when I am in a deep sleep? When I am completely unaware, do they poop on the food inside?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Put A Spell On You

Eating A Spirit

I have been thinking about spirituality lately: trying to understand fetishes and how and why a man, woman or child is labeled a witch in the Congolese worldview. It’s hard to wrap my mind around these concepts because they are so new to me, but the more I discuss witchcraft with the missionaries at SIL and read about sorcery in the book Brazzaville Charms, the more blaming an aunt or uncle for eating the the spirit of a dead relative flickers as a scene from a bad American horror film in my brain. Will I ever understand? Do I want to understand? Am I capable of understanding in a nonjudgmental fashion all the blame surrounding death in the Republic of Congo?


1. One of my friends who speaks incredible English and is destined to spend two years in America on an academic scholarship told me that his family believes his father was murdered. They believe that two of his co-workers put poison in his beer when they visited a bar for a drink after work. The family believes the motive for the murder was jealously.

2. Developmentally disabled people are sometimes viewed with suspicion here as if witchcraft could be the cause of their disability.

3. Congolese leave the caps on soda and beer bottles after they have been opened. When I asked why, one of my Congolese acquaintances told me it was to prevent evil spirits from entering the bottle. He explained that witches could exist in their human form but could also transition into a spirit form.

4. When I wanted to explore the monument and graves for the victims who died in an airline crash, my companion stopped me. She told me that I would be viewed suspiciously as eating souls and advised me not to venture too close to the actual graves. I think, but I am not 100 percent certain, that the memorial honors the victims of the UTA flight 772, which was flying from N'Djamena in Chad to Brazzaville when it crashed in 1989. I want to find the memorial again but this time with camera in hand.

5. Passage from Brazzaville Charms by Cassie Knight:

In Congo most illnesses are understood to be caused by sorcerers, and when a sorcerer kills someone he is said to have 'eaten' them. This belief in black magic causes fear and suspicion, even within family units (p. 86). The missionaries I discussed the matter with who live at the SIL compound in Brazzaville have seen families blame one member for the death of a child, grandparent, mother or father. In Kinshasa, many young boys are cast out of their homes and accused of being witches when a misfortune strikes their family.

Where in the world...?

The Last Honest Man: Does he exist?

[This is the cover of a cheesy romance: the unrealistic portrait of love that occupied my time and attention between the ages of 13 and 14 years old. I stumbled across it in a Books for Africa shipment. The Last Honest Man: a gift that keeps on giving all the way from the U.S.A. to Congo.]

Caveat: Beware of false advertising and slick American marketing campaigns: The airbrush and Photoshop are mighty weapons in creating the image of honest men in the fight for global dominance.

Brazzaville Charms

Once, and only once, I met a tourist!

I began reading Brazzaville Charms: Magic and Rebellion in the Republic of Congo by Cassie Knight and found her observations to be rather astute. The book was published in 2007, and the average life expectancy for a Congolese citizen that she cited was 48 years. According to the U.S. Department of State website, the life expectancy in 2009 was estimated at 54.15 years.

The space between life and death is so fragile: innocent men had been killed, and Jacques had survived. People in Congo can be eliminated if they are seen as a threat. Jacques had escaped, but he lived with the knowledge that his cold-blooded government decided whether he breathed from one day to the next (p. 27).

When I told my students about being man-handled by a soldier in the president’s Republican Guard, this was one student’s response: “Don’t breathe wrong when the president is passing by or his soldiers will shoot you, and they will leave you there in the street.”

Congo is well and truly off the beaten path. A few aid workers make it here and even fewer journalists. Once I met a tourist, and it was rather in unfortunate circumstances (p. 28).

I have never met a tourist in the streets of Brazzaville. Nearly every French, Australian, American, South African I meet who isn't a missionary or NGO worker is in the country to extract money, in one way or another, from the already impoverished and exhausted population suffering under political leadership that simply doesn’t care. Oilmen, construction company CEOs, or foreign timber business representatives – they are all enriching the elite and privileged Congolese micro-minority who spend half their year in posh Paris homes squandering kickbacks and beer money on a grand scale, so grand I should call it champagne money. Who has a conscience intact? Perhaps scruples never existed in the first place. It’s all about nepotism and connections here in the Congo.

There are widespread feelings of frustration and injustice in Brazzaville, and yet people have no way to channel their feelings into protest or pressure for change. The Congolese people are powerless to change how their country is run at the highest levels. Democracy is a charade, and the government is utterly unaccountable (p. 35-36). Despite this sad fact, "Women can wiggle their bottoms in time to the music in Congo like nowhere else" (p. 37).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Power Tease


LJ: The city power isn't functioning, and the generator in my apartment complex only runs from 6 until 9 p.m.

It's now half past nine, and I'm in the dark using the torch on my cell phone while I prepare for bed. It's dark, there is no water, and my apartment is boiling hot. This describes a typical weekend. Shout out to my ELF Sister in the west: "I hope your power is full force tonight."

ELF Sister: I just jumped out of bed and ran to the computer because my power came back on. So far today we have water. Hang in there, there's always cheap Valium. No, don't think it builds character.

LJ: Power came on- Power went off - in the span of 7 minutes. What a tease. I often run to the shower when I see signs of electricity stirring. Oh, to feel clean and fresh. I am past the half-way mark in my contract- only March-April-May and June remain. Maybe I will create a countdown calendar representing those days. I wonder if such a calendar would make me feel better: a visual representation of departure.

A Baffled King Composing Hallelujah

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

I have listened to numerous musical artists add their unique vocal charms to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. It’s a beloved Cohen creation crooned here by K.D. Lang. I adore the fact that K.D. is singing barefoot. She is completely unified with everything that is happening in the moment like a true performer should be. The healthy dose of skepticism, bewilderment and disappointment Cohen infuses into the religious exaltation Hallelujah resonates with my frame of mind at the moment. Thanks Canada!

Rubbish Pile: Three Blocks From My Apartment

This pile of garbage was on fire the day I took the photo, February 19, and the smoldering refuse surrounds a sign that reads, "Forbidden to throw rubbish under the penalty of a fine." The garbage from my apartment complex three blocks away is most likely dumped here. Kinshasa is across the river in the distance. There is no government-sponsored garbage collection system in the capital city so people dispose of it anywhere and everywhere.

Jeter les Ordures

Forbidden to throw rubbish under the penalty of a fine.

[Although it's forbidden to throw garbage, the rubbish pile behind this sign in Brazzaville's city center certainly stinks.]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Twitching Dreams

Rain is cooking over Brazza City again- curtains flying. A nervous twitch in the fabric created a time warp- temperature dropping by decades. Pothole soup for dinner again.

Kirby: I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're going and hook up with them later.

- Mitch Hedberg

LJ: My dreams play outside in the rain without my permission. I watch them through the window.

[Photo shot in the alley near the American Embassy on Boulevard Maya Maya in Brazzaville on Valentine's Day 2011. Driving after a hard rain in the city is a pot-hole extravaganza. Brace yourself for some bouncing and jerking and praying not to get stuck in the mud. I am not Christian, but I mutter my own hedonistic Buddhist pleas to the weather gods at such times.]

My Classroom

Do we need tables and chairs to educate students?

For a mysterious and undetermined reason, and there are many such reasons lurking in Brazzaville, the Ministry of Communication decided to remove the conference table and chairs from my classroom leaving it empty, airy and suitable for an aerobics class. The scene when I open the door in the morning looks something like this. My students scrounged the chairs from other rooms in the building.

Most Wanted


L'ELF travaille avec le Ministère Congolais de la Communication et l'Ambassade Américaine. Elle a été invitée à Brazzaville par le ministre de la communication. Nous vous prions de lui faciliter l’accès pour lui permettre d’enseigner librement.

The ELF is working with the Congolese Ministry of Communication and the American Embassy as an English teacher. She was invited to Brazzaville by the Minister of Communication. Please allow her to pass freely so she can teach her courses in the building.

[I created this poster after the public diplomacy officer in Brazzaville suggested the idea to me. I posted it today at the guard post at the entrance to the television station where I work, Tele Congo, so the soldiers lounging near the entrance would let me pass freely. They stopped me at least once each week demanding identification and searching through my backpack and purse. I tried to convince them that I had no intention of detonating a bomb disguised as a Reference Guide to English by Alice Maclin, but did not succeed, hence the poster.]

The ELF is in the building! (English Language Fellow)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ministry of Tourism and the Environment

I often dream of a touristic infrastructure and a plan for garbage disposal in the Republic of Congo. These small plastic bags pictured above are used for drinking water and litter nearly every street corner of the capital city.

A weekend getaway package to Pointe Noire (hotel and flight) would be one of the trips I would investigate if I were the Congolese Minister of Tourism. Believe it or not, I daydream about cleaning up the country and making it simple and easy for people to be tourists here.

Where Is The Paycheck? Congo's Extortion Game

Policeman A: How much money did you shake down from innocent motorists today?

Policeman B: Since I haven't been paid in over two months, I think I extorted just enough to pay my daughter's school fees until the end of the term.

[shot on February 14, 2011 in Brazzaville]

Word Of The Day: Makeshift

Calm, Calm

FYI: Just to let you know that Mr. Bongi pointed out something I could already see. The tables and chairs are no longer in our classroom at Tele Congo. My resourceful students scrounged chairs from nearby rooms in the building, and the semicircle makeshift furniture arrangement we created worked quite well for discussions, but the room is completely void of furniture until we redecorate each morning. Opportunist that I am, this situation provided the context for teaching the vocabulary word “makeshift,” which was in our reading assignment about the Congolese basketball player Serge Ibaka. I swept my hand grandly through the empty space surrounding me and said, “We work in a makeshift classroom.”

I realized I am adjusting to life in Congo when this observation did not raise my blood pressure or cause any form of anger to arise in my being. I just smiled.

Distel, thanks for teaching me that lesson.

Have a great morning!


Monday, February 14, 2011

Plastic Jesus... or is it Mary

Plastic Jesus
Plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my taxi man's car.

He don't slip and he don't slide,
because his ass is magnetized...

But I think it's Mary.

I find inspiration where I can in Congo, and yesterday sitting in the backseat of a taxi on my way to work, this dynamic trio was pulsating to the beat of the music on the radio.

Where do you find the inspiration to hop out of bed each morning? from plastic Jesus? or do you have another secret source?

[Shot while in motion on February 14, 2011.]

Saraswati Attack

I have a fast Internet connection and a date for Valentine's Day, which infuse me with higher power so that I resemble Buddha, God, Ram, Saraswati, Mr. Bojangles and the fiddler on the roof combined.

This hasn’t happened in so long I might have a heart attack, mild not severe, just enough to jazz up the night.

side note: A soft rain is falling on Brazza City. The evening's pitter patter is perfect for lovers on this day of the heart.

Sarawati Image Source

Amy Tan: A Teacher On Every Page

A Master Teacher

I am currently reading Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses and with every paragraph, I absorb and appreciate this writer's fluency of human expression on the page.

"I learned to make things not matter, to put a seal on my hopes and place them on a high shelf, out of reach. And by telling myself that there was nothing inside those hopes anyway, I avoided the wounds of deep disappointment. The pain was no worse than the quick sting of a booster shot. And yet thinking about this makes me ache again" (p. 8).

"One day Miss Banner touched her palm on the front of her body and asked me how to say this in Chinese. After I told her, she said to me in Chinese: 'Miss Moo, I wish to know many words for talking about my breasts!' And only then did I realize she wanted to talk about the feelings in her heart. The next day, I took her wandering around the city. We saw people arguing. Anger, I said. We saw a woman placing food on an alter. Respect, I said. We saw a thief with his head locked in a wooden yoke. Shame, I said. We saw a young girl sitting by the river, throwing an old net with holes into the shallow part of the water. Hope, I said" (p. 48).

Poems and Interpreting Voice

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2011 - The Muse Daily Blog

[This is the perfect entry for Valentine's Day 2011. "The courage to have a self and to lose it too..." What could be more beautiful.]

Poems and interpreting voices

Our poems are conversations in every meaningful sense. They are an exchange between ourselves and those parts of ourselves that belong to other people [the dead as much as the living], that we owe to them. Intimate whisperings, productive tensions. They challenge and tease us, lead us to say things we have not thought to say. They give us the courage to have a self and to lose it too, which is surely the most we can ask of any conversation.

Peter Pan and Pharmaceutical Fanfare

What can you buy for eighteen American cents in Brazzaville?

Eighteen American cents or .27 CFA (Central African Francs) buys one 10 mg tablet of Roche Valium over the counter with no prescription necessary at the Pharmacie Mavre in downtown Brazzaville. Pfizer”s Celebrex, on the other hand, is two American dollars a pop for one 200 mg capsule. I discovered this pharmaceutical fact when the left side of my neck decided to stiffen up like the legs of the dead cockroach I left belly up overnight on my kitchen floor.

I prefer the 180-degree freedom of a flexible neck so I can- for one important reason- negotiate the pedestrian perils of Brazzaville’s hazardous streets since I am sans my Mazda. When my peripheral vision is impaired, the risk of getting struck by oversized SUVs populating Brazza’s streets skyrockets, so the pain cramping my neck and shoulder had to be eliminated. The first drug cocktail of Valium and Celebrex took me by surprise because I did not realize I should have split the 10 mg tablet down the middle and swallowed only half of its blue magic. Because it was the early hour of the start of my weekend, and I had no place to go, I watched my feet sloppily crisscross a crooked path down the straight-line highway of the cool white tile blocks below. Foggily listing possibilities for the day’s activities, I ruled out operating a motor vehicle or swimming laps in the Villa Washington pool. My mental abilities were resisting the idea of order and responsibility when I began to read the instructional insert in the box of Valium. Under the heading Effets Indésirables Possibles de Valium Roche 10 mg, I discovered this side effect:

Difficulté à coordonner certains mouvements and remembered the pharmacist stressing two words, cinq milligrammes, emphatic in her articulation when she instructed me on the dosage of the drug.

Reading the package insert induced drowsiness, so I decided to hug my favorite overstuffed pillow with its paisley blue flowers decorating my dreams and visit Never Land for several hours of unobstructed deceleration of life.

Later in the week during a lunchtime conversation with my Congolese coworkers, they informed me that in Brazzaville, we are responsible for our own bodies in the pharmaceutical sense. Self-prescribing medication for ailments, fevers, aches, chills and/or shoulder pain replaces the tightly controlled physicians’ prescription system in the States. As long as customers at the pharmacy can pay for their treatment, they are afforded the option of picking and choosing drug cocktails that they personally feel will cure them. Before slapping down the money at Pharmacie Mavre, I did; however, read about Valium in a medical manual I found at work, so I knew its ups and downs. Celebrex was a drug I had encountered previously and was aware that it could destroy my stomach lining or increase my risk of a heart attack.

Despite stumbling on the actual dosage for the first time around- ten milligrams is simply too much for my nervous system to absorb- my shoulder pain has disappeared and the 180-degree sweep of my neck is back in action. The risk of getting struck by an SUV has decreased and life moves forward.

Camera Shake

Shaken But Not Broken

Report Date: February 14, 2011
Re: Report - Republican Guard Incident

On February 14, 2011 at approximately 9:20 in the morning- although I don’t know the exact time- I was walking along the embassy fence that faces the Boulevard Maya-Maya. I had my camera with me, and I was taking photos- shooting photos across the boulevard where two members of the Republican Guard were sitting on the curb. One of the guards called out “Madame” and crossed the street. He walked up behind me and grabbed me, but more specifically grabbed my camera in an extremely tight grip. I was not letting go of my camera, but I wanted to discuss the situation with him, so we struggled. I had been taking photos of a billboard advertisement for the DRTV Internet service in Brazzaville. I do not speak French at a high level, and I was scared, so I continued to try to break free from his hold on me. We struggled some more, and I screamed. The American Embassy guards came to assist me, and the member of the Republican Guard released me when he saw the embassy guards nearby. By this time, I was rather upset and started to cry. I walked with one of the guards from the embassy back to the embassy reception area.

Date: February 14, 2011
Re: Staff Recognition/Appreciation

This is a letter to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Mr. Bally Gassayes and the members of the American Embassy security team for their assistance on February 14, 2011. From the day I arrived in Congo in late August until today, I have always found every member of the embassy security staff to be professional, courteous and extremely helpful. I really do not know what I would have done without their support on February 14, 2011.

When I thanked Mr. Gassayes for everything he did to help me on February 14, his response was that he was only doing his job. I see both Mr. Gassayes and the guards at the embassy going above and beyond their job duties every day to make everyone at the embassy feel safe and secure, and for this I am both appreciative and grateful.

Sincerely yours,
Brazzaville English Language Fellow 2010-2011


The member of the Republican Guard (a soldier who protects the President of Congo) who grabbed me and stubbornly refused to let go of my camera will be going to prison I was told by an embassy official. For how long, I don’t know, but the conviction of the delivery and tone concerning his fate leads me to believe he might be behind bars now. A Congolese colonel apologized to me personally after the incident, but I do believe that the soldier wanted to steal my camera. That’s why he grabbed me rather than politely tapping me on the shoulder and engaging in a civil dialogue about what he assumed happened, which was that I took his photograph. Stealing is easier if civility is disregarded.

But unfortunately for this particular soldier, his life changed in an ordinary instant.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a book I will never forget. Through the anguish and fog of grief, thank you Joan Didion for writing that book.

Life changes in the instant.

The ordinary instant.

At some point, in the interest of remembering what seemed most striking about what had happened, I considered adding those words, "the ordinary instant." I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word "ordinary," because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. "He was on his way home from work - happy, successful, healthy - and then, gone," I read in the account of a psychiatric nurse whose husband was killed in a highway accident. In 1966 I happened to interview many people who had been living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an "ordinary Sunday morning" it had been. "It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers. Even the report of the 9/11 Commission opened on this insistently premonitory and yet still dumbstruck narrative note: "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Mangosteen Fruit Virgin No More

The mangosteen fruit requires a constantly humid environment and is rated as one of the most delectable fruits of the tropics according to The Little About Everything blog entry from January 2008. I would agree.

I might add that they are quite sweet and add the perfect balance of firmness and squishy-ness for the tongue's pleasure.

[Shot in my Brazza kitchen on February 7, 2011 seconds before consuming the mangosteen fruit in my hand. I only brought tangerine orange toenail polish, but I am on the lookout for a pure passion purple shade as well.]

Hats Off

Tarafel, Cape Verde Hat
New Year 2011
Can't wait to wear it out for a night on the town!

inconsistent taste

It’s not that our family has no taste, it’s just that our family’s taste is inconsistent.

-Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Show and Tell: Groin to Groin

Dancing Congolese

I’ve watched Congolese couples dance their slow hypnotic rumba at various dance clubs around Brazza, but last night was the first time a lithe flexible man wrapped his hands around my waist and began the seductive sway with me as his partner. The music was pumping frantically only minutes before, but when the beat wound down to a gentle sexual pulse, couples flooded the floor. It took my partner about 45 seconds to establish a hip bone connection, snug and tight, because 45 seconds was about the time I needed to match the fluid circular rhythm driving his body.

There is no distance, not even a millimeter, between the woman’s groin and the man’s groin in the Congolese rumba. The motion is one.

He pressed me closer and his dreadlocks brushed my cheek with a smooth sort of roughness smelling of cocoa butter and artistic vision. I visualized the canvases he had painted- urban graffiti abstract- and wondered what colors he would choose to represent this instant on the dance floor. Closing my eyes and embracing the moment when body, spirit, mind and heart dissolved into the sway of the night, I was dancing Congolese.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

minor mishap

“Minor Mishap” playing on iTunes – Tommy Flanagan, John Coltrane, and Kenny Burrell on February 5, 2011

A Minor Mishap is a good day in Brazzaville.

When I arrived in the Republic of Congo on a dusty August evening in 2010, the sun had decided to smear itself across the horizon like a squashed firefly flickering for the last time. Mismatched, awkward, betrayed and small soon entered the vocabulary of my psyche as September drifted into October. Empty and hopelessly ticking the squares off the calendar in my artificially frigid hotel room, I wandered the streets in search of something to do. As the days passed, my balance returned, but five months later, I am still processing the pain that circulated through my core during the first 90 days of my stay in Central Africa. I wrote this reflection on a blue Saturday when those memories were kicking and screaming, demanding to be recycled and put to rest. The pain on the other hand, raw and exposed, will always be a part of my identity, anchored firmly to a time when I drank a Primus before noon to numb the ache and cloud my head just enough to cope.

Congo is…

The damn electricity left me in the dark for the hundredth time last night at the exact moment when I was spitting toothpaste into the sink, so I stumbled to bed by moonlight. I’ve stubbed my toe when this has happened before, but last night, I didn’t. No one can predict when; no one knows why; and it hasn’t been determined how to fix the electricity problem, least of all by any government employee.

It’s the uncertainty of the water. Shower-less and smelling of four or five rounds of perspiration that soaked through my clothes throughout the day. The tap refuses to cooperate. The water pump needs electricity and the two partners in crime exercise their right to remain silent.

Congo is rushing to do dishes, mop the floors, wash clothes, grind the coffee and bathe myself when electricity and water mysteriously grace my morning.

Congo is seizing the opportunity.

The Republic of Congo is not knowing when the Internet service will connect from home. Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday… postpone that urgent e-mail until no one knows. Everything can wait in Brazzaville. Patience is stretched, tried, spread thin until finally any remaining resistance fizzles and pops into a heap of tears or morose laughter.

Congo is compressed relationships- neither long-term nor concerned with community building or even the welfare of each member. Short-term assignments prohibit each individual from connecting to their ex-pat neighbors in a wholesome and productive manner. Why invest in intimacy and commitment when “pack up and move” every two years is the lifestyle?

Congo is a management officer who greeted me in September at the embassy with an unsavory slot on her shit list and the following rant, “Get on the next plane home if you don’t like it here. In my opinion, Brazzaville wasn’t ready for an ELF.”

Central Africa is the man who sent me spinning heart first into a romantic hypnosis but refused to be seen in public with me: a condition I could never accept. He’s among the professionals who quiver and quake at the thought of how others will perceive them in Brazza society- a fishbowl existence of swirling gossip. Can’t do this; Must do this; Stand up and sit down at the State Department’s directive. Existing under the thumb of a higher power because career comes first.

Will the revolution in Egypt, Tunisia, or Yemen spread south? Is the devil you know superior to the devil you haven’t yet met? Both have horns and both can steal your soul.

I can’t answer looming political questions revolutionizing the continent, but reflections on the Republic of Congo, city of Brazzaville, are my minor mishap today.

About Me

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What do I do? That’s a question with more depth than the deceiving three-word construction would lead us to believe.

I live on planet earth with other folks, and I’m involved in the field of education and learning. I’m a life-long learner with a passion for knowledge and the process of bending bits of ideas into new constructions of beauty.