Let’s face it, the Congolese are sorta known for a few unfortunate stereotypes. Petty theft, grand theft, corruption of all sorts and sizes. It wasn’t for nothing that the term “kleptocracy” was invented (or at least seriously enhanced) here. It’s not true of everybody, of course; generalizations are just that: generalized. There are tons of positive things to write about, and I often do. But I have another side of the story to tell, a story I’ve held back long enough out of respect for the many wonderful people we’ve met. Today, I wanna get down to the nitty gritty. Let’s get stereotypical.
I’m talking about a relatively harmless but highly annoying habit that many of our friends here possess. I shall call it Gimmeism, or the disease of the hand which is unable to rest in any position other than straight out, palm up. For today, I shall speak only of a few stories that have happened here on our own turf, base camp. I have many more beyond these iron gates to share in due time.
My friend and I returned to the airstrip today for our second round of incredible exercise for the week, secretly hoping the women who had been working there on Tuesday wouldn’t be there any longer. They were. We decided to walk anyway, but only one lap, and after that we would walk the village road to the grocery store. While our magic exercise car followed us, of course.
The women were excited to see us, and were much more forward today. As soon as we stepped onto the tarmac two of them approached, waving. They wanted to give us a high-five, which felt pretty awesome. But then the second one said, in good English, “Give me…” which, sadly, is the way many sentences begin around here, while she searched me for something she could take. I didn’t have anything on me except my iPhone. “Give me…” she repeated, followed by something unintelligible. But it didn’t matter. I looked her directly in the eye, still smiling, then deadpanned, “No.” It came off like the joke I wanted it to, and all the ladies from the sidelines laughed. Even the asker laughed, and moved back to her side of the tarmac as we sped on. Continue reading
Everyone here has a story about run-ins with the local traffic police. Sometimes these stories end with being taken to the police station, where the unlucky ones have to wait for our security folks to show up and negotiate. Of course this is even more of a problem if you don’t speak French. You don’t have to be doing anything wrong — in fact in most cases, nothing is wrong — it’s just that the cops like to pick on vehicles that look like they might be carrying occupants with money. They make a pathetic salary, and as a result rely on bribes and gifts to make a living. I feel sorry for them, actually. But nothing will ever improve if we keep feeding the beast.
So far we’d been lucky; no one had attempted to pick on us, until today.