Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Worst Day Yet

It goes without saying that Thanksgiving is sort of ruined - as our happy home is in the midst of a perilous ploy of sabotage.

That’s at least what Polycarpe thinks, and I tend to agree with him.

Per the entry of yesterday, regarding the thief, catastrophe has befallen us and all we can do now is endeavor to fix all of the damage that has been done.

I’ve never felt so helpless, or powerless, or less in love with a country than I feel now in Congo.

Ever prone to pointing the finger inward, our “friend” insisted today that we go to the police to report the theft today. Polycarpe had left to meet with the official we spoke of to see what it was that he needed. While Polycarpe was gone, a cadre of policemen came to house, claiming that we should go to the police station.

I refused, saying that we needed to wait for Polycarpe to return. Our “friend,” with the police, told Olivier that it was Polycarpe that had sent them, and that he was already at the police station, waiting for us.

We processed in a line, as though to the guillotine, and arrived at the police station, another husk of a building with only echoes of former glory; lovely carved stone planters out front and fancy columns, smashed and decimated nearly beyond recognition.

Polycarpe was not, in fact, there, and the policemen took Seba and Olivier into the office to question them. I asked for them to please wait for Polycarpe, but they commenced regardless and I quickly sent Damien to go and bring Polycarpe right away.

While Damien was away, the commandant of the police station called over a man who was gardening in the front “yard” of the police station. The man looked ragged, defeated, and tired. His clothing had more holes than cloth, and his hands seemed clenched in pain. The commandant, in uniform, and several other men proceeded to yell at this man, heckling and laughing at him in Lingala.

The man seemed to be protesting something. Suddenly, a horde of men from the patio of the police station pounced upon the man, pushing him to the ground and smacking him. The man was screaming and everyone watched. The men hitting him loudly started pushing him around the side of the building, pulling at his threadbare clothes and pushing him repeatedly into the dirt.

The man screamed and was crying, futilely, as the 6 men on him shoved him into a back room, laughing and heckling him as they slammed the door shut. The man banged on the door from the inside, crying and screaming more, and everyone on the patio laughed.

The man’s cries became muted, dulled by the sound of the echoing laughter on the patio. As the man became quiet, and the pounding ceased, everyone just kept laughing.

It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.

Damien came back without Polycarpe, and gave me some weak excuse that he was gone. Not content to just sit and wait for execution, I set out to find Polycarpe immediately.

Finding Polycarpe meeting with another official, a friend of ours and to the environment, I entreatied him to please hurry, and come to the police and help me defend our beleaguered colleagues.

He came quickly, and we walked back over to the police station, only to discover that the police had taken Olivier and Seba, on our “friend’s” orders, to the house to initiate their investigation.

We arrived and there were five or six men, not including the three we already knew, all discussing the means of getting the tin out of the tiny upper windows.

I didn’t understand a lot of it, because it was in Lingala, but it was clear that our “friend” was blatantly accusing Olivier and Seba of conspiring to steal the tin.

Now, it’s one thing to do this in the house, when you’re angry. But to do it in front of the police? The police tried to replicate the thieves’ actions, and had difficulty.

This “evidence” somehow convinced them that if it was difficult, it was possible that it was, in effect, an “inside job”... so they carted Olivier and Seba off to the station.

Our “friend” looked like he was glowing as they were taken away. Of course, one doesn’t realize that a) I’m sure a thief is far more motivated than a policeman and b) How does one prove that they DIDN’T take something?

I mean, Olivier and Seba both live at the house, so if they’d stolen the tin, where would they put it? Not only that, but why would they chase a thief down the street and scream at him if they were in cahoots?

But of course anger is never directed in the proper direction here, and Olivier and Seba had to go to the police station to give “declarations.”

And what could I do?

I can see no other solution than us going out into the town and finding another house. These are the kinds of scenarios that no amount of scientific preparation can actually prepare you for. As you sit in your room, helpless, wondering how you are meant to protect five chimpanzees when you cannot even protect your own employees?

But I feel resolved that I did what I could, and when Dido came back and told me that the police commandant was demanding 2000 Francs for each man (approximately $8 total), an outrageous sum, for their “official declarations”, I begrudgingly paid it.

Regardless, we will not be having a fancy Thanksgiving dinner tonight, but I left the receipt with Polycarpe and, with luck, Seba and Olivier will be back home within the hour.

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