Délire de Kinshasa

(Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC 29 March 2007)

The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there – there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.

(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)

George W Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Joseph Mobutu¹ eventually pass away and happen to meet in Hell. After a little while they realize there is no TV, no newspapers and no Internet, so they have no means to know what’s going on in the world they’ve left behind. They decide to go and ask Lucifer for a quick buzz home. “Well, OK,” says The Devil, “You can use my Blackberry ™, but I’ll charge you for the call, all right? Here, give it a go.”

Baroness Thatcher quickly phones Buckingham Palace and inquires whether people are still mourning Lady Di. After a one-minute conversation, Lucifer charges her 25 million pounds. “This really is awfully expensive,” she complains whilst writing a check. “You are calling the UK all the way from Hell, Dear,” explains The Devil, “And that ain’t cheap.”

President Bush then calls the White House and asks whether people are still supporting Barack Obama. After 35 seconds on the phone, he gets a bill for 60 million US$. “This is highway robbery,” he grumbles drawing his Visa card. “It’s a Hell-US inter-dimensional call, Mr President,” placates Lucifer, “It’s bound to be pricey.”

Finally Marshal Mobutu gets on the phone and calls Kinshasa and asks all sorts of questions, talks about the weather, about soccer and whatnot and hangs after three hours of jabbering. He gets an invoice for 11 Euro. “What?!” exclaim Thatcher and Bush. “What do you mean 11 Euro? He was on the phone for three hours!” “Yeah,” says Lucifer. “But since Congo is hell, well, this was just a local call.”

(Local joke, Kinshasa, 10 March 2009)

      and Light and
                 and a loud Clamor
Gnawing all at my senses
At first
They’re all well nested inside me
By midday:
High on malaria in a traffic jam.
Queasy, numb
I curl up in my seat and implode – I quiver,
Iced marrows, and either
Conjure bizarre visions or scram
My mind shut eager
For womblike void.

Picture twelve million people.
Make it thirteen.
Thirteen million people then
Chanting n’
             Hustling n’
                   Whoring n’
                       Napping n’
                             Begging n’
                                Cooking n’
All over this boundless
         Jungly Babylon…
I daydream
Thirteen million humans bottled up
In a gargantuan ant farm
That possessed with ant-like fast-forward a muck
Swarm through roads, barracks and Churches
Of All Gods
And sprint up building walls
Ant-footed flouting gravity
And generally exist in layer upon layer
Of their own selves,
Sandwiched between their kith and kin yet
Contorting their way
Through them smothering living matter
Day in, and day out.

I open my eyes.
Still immobile.
Bumper-to-bumper they wait, five thousand old trucks and buses
Clobbered beyond recognition
Resembling big rotten fruits
So wrinkled and shrunk
That you couldn’t tell an apple from an orange –
Or a Daihatsu from a Ford

I close my eyes.
I sweat again.
Tricked by fever I suddenly fancy myself
A postindustrial zoologist (of sorts) and
Full of Linnaean zeal, I set to catalog the fauna around:

Petite and sprightly
Springbok of the motor kingdom
This is the Toyota RAV4
Driven around by UN personnel
Or the bejeweled wife of some Lebanese merchant…
The big herbivores, sluggish and noisy,
Sickly Mercedes kombis and buses, spilling out their passengers
That claw at door frames, and at each other
(And you’d believe that some bloodthirsty giant gutted the vehicles,
Their entrails now bursting out of their carapace)…
Prowling behind them, ready to pounce at the red lights
Patiently await the mighty predators:
The carnivores of shiny radiators
Like fangs:
Nissan Muranos and Lincoln Navigators
Driven by Fat Cats in abacost²
Hurting their paws of rubber
In the city’s two million potholes.

Alongside my bestiary move also polio-cursed men and women
Who pedal on their customized tricycles
Who pedal with their hands then
Their legs, bony and brittle, thin like sticks, dead,
Are folded somehow
Not to scuff over the pavement…
Plump mamans in bright red-and-yellow-and-green robes
Crabbing sideways squeeze through the cracks
Between the car-beasts
With piles of eggs or mangoes on their heads and
Shuffle their sumptuous buttocks against doors and bonnets
Bringing smiles to drivers and passengers alike
(Oh, la belle evunda!³)
And a teenager in Chinese camouflage fatigues
That puffs with gluttony on his joint
Trudges by with a grenade launcher
Slung on his shoulder
With carefully measured

daniel aristiDaniel Aristi was born in 1971 in San Sebastian, Spain. He studied economics, freelanced for a while as a surfing designer, then moved overseas. He has lived and worked in Indonesia, Bosnia, Bolivia, DRC, or Lesotho. He currently lives in Brussels, Belgium, with his wife Reshma and their daughter, little Ria. He writes whenever Ria decides to sleep.

1- Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (14 October 1930 – 7 September 1997), former ruler of Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, from 1965 to 1997.
2- Abbreviation for the French “à bas le costume” (“down with the suit”), a short-sleeved suit for men with a mandarin collar promoted by Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – as a symbol of the break with the colonial past.
3- “Oh, what a nice bodywork!” A mixture of French and Lingala.

  8 comments for “Délire de Kinshasa

  1. Daniel, first thank you for your writing. But the real issue that brought me here was to contact our family back from we, in the Dominican Republic, came from. I just knew days ago about my last name, Aristy, it is from San Sebastian, Spain and people over here change the i for a y. I was in San Sebastian about 10 yrs ago, regret not knowing this at that time. Hope to contact you in the future. My name is Rainer Aristy, if you google it find me under Acero Estrella. The others are my two male kids. Regards…..

  2. Daniel- Interesting format! I liked the local joke and quote with which you began your piece. I think the poetic body of the piece works in illustrating the compactness I got out of your writing. I could see and hear and feel the crowd around me. You give us a lot of interesting images in a very small space. I like that! -Val

    • Thank you all for your very kind comments, I feel humbled. It took me years – since 2007, on and off – to cobble this piece together so I am elated to have it published. It started as a seven-page chapter in a book and then got concentrated and compacted over time into its present form. And “throbbing” is definitely a good word to describe Kin, I agree.

  3. I enjoyed this commentary. I, too, have lived in Kinshasa, experienced in being “high on malaria in a traffic jam”. But there’s something about the place, deep and throbbing that sticks with you long after leaving.

    Well written, Daniel.

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