Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Different Kind of Life

We have now spent 2 days hanging out with Kassim, our new Lebanese friend who lives up the road here in Aketi.

And I think the thing that baffles us the most is just how different his life is here, or maybe how different his standard of life is here from ours.

He’s been in the area for a year and a half already, but he’s not going crazy or slipping on banana peels or counting chimp carcasses and going slowly insane. Which is basically what we’ve all been doing here, reveling in what little glimpses of our “normal” lives we get while trying to just get through to the next day... and the next challenge.

After I fixed his computer and internet 2 days ago, he showed us around his house and his garden, taking extra time to show us his extra stocked kitchen, and even gifted us with a huge bottle of <gasp> OLIVE OIL.

As a commerçant, these things just come easily to him since he is already importing things into Aketi and the surrounding towns. He can’t imagine wanting for anything, though he and Adam did have a heated discussion about the wonderfulness of the cheeseburger.

We went to his house last night to watch Iron Man on his big television, but beforehand we got to watch some television!! He runs their huge group twice a day, every day, at noon and then during the whole night.

He and his girlfriend, Fatua, run an air conditioner at night. He eats laughing cow cheese and fresh olives and pita bread he made himself for breakfast.
They watch TV every night. He has non-BGAN internet (as slow as it may be).

And as we sat watching Iron Man without having to strain to hear over the sound of a cheap generator, some of his employees were sent out with bricks of cash. Probably as much money as Adam and I have spent since we arrived in Aketi nearly five months ago. He just brought them out like they were bricks made of brick. Stacked them together on the table, counted them succinctly, and then these guys took this huge pile of cash away.

Of course, even in the well-lit, electric-fanned luxury of Kassim’s house, the problems of Congo were not all that far away. And we did laugh when, halfway through the film, the generator crapped out and we sat in complete darkness, the only break in the total black the cherry orange glow of Kassim’s fancy imported Pall Mall cigarette.

(We were well prepared, of course, being used to the darkness of night, and pulled our flashlights from my purse)

Though there are certainly enviable aspects of Kassim’s life here, riding on the back of his company motorcycles at 10:30pm when we headed home (he refused to let us walk through town at night) I realized that perhaps our life here is different from his but there are things that I can come to appreciate here that I doubt he ever will.

I guess first and most important is that anyone trying to imitate Western life here in Aketi is always going to come up short and feel like something is lacking.

But additionally, by keeping that separation -- between himself and employees, or himself and local culture -- I can’t imagine that he can ever really know what Congo is like. He’s never eaten or enjoyed poondoo, or gone to the market himself, or had wonderful conversations with his staff about the beauty of the forest.

And especially on the “eve” of our extended forest voyage, I realize that in a way our closeness to real life here gives us a much different perspective, but not necessarily a diminished perspective. I love the relationships we have with our local friends here, and just how simple our lives are here does shine light on, perhaps, things in our old lives that may have been superfluous.

Not to say that cheese for breakfast wouldn’t augment my life here considerably more into the positive, of course (hehe) -- but these last two days have certainly given me some food for thought.

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