Monday, March 9, 2009

Not What We Expected At All! (Women's Day Festivities)

Women’s Day, expected by us to be a parade and maybe a feast, was an absolute explosion, and I think, just what we needed.

Working hard yesterday morning, I found myself barely inclined to put on my hideous, quickly-constructed uniform we’d had made the day before for the event. As Invited Guests, however, Adam and I had been requested to show up at noon!

None of our clothes fit us anymore, so I ended up using a luggage strap as a belt, trying to salvage my appearance in this table-cloth dress, identical to the 2 others the tailor had made for the three ladies of our Foundation. I’ve never felt more Congolese!

I was so reluctant even to shell out the 15,000FC on fabric for these dresses -- it felt like another Congolese scam where I, as the employer, was obligated to shell out a whole bunch of money on something that is “traditional” but yet still somehow unnecessary.

After seeing the parade yesterday, though, I only wish we’d spent more!

Arriving in the center of town, we found it looking completely different, with a huge canopy constructed outside of the Administrator’s office. There were lines drawn on the ground in chalk, and ALL of the policemen were in their full regalia -- even though most of them had empty pistol holsters!

We were ushered into this tent-canopy, and seated directly in the middle, second row. The men in the third row, all in very fine suits, grinned widely at us and all reached for our hands in greeting.

Man, was I glad I’d put on earrings, lipstick and deodorant!

We sat, waiting, for a quite a while, as officials continued to enter. For each government official’s arrival, the police chief would march down the center of the street in time with the drums and home-made flutes of the “band” and greet the official, well, officially, and then usher him to his seat (which was right in front of us).

We did certainly feel bad for the chief, as he marched, stiff-legged and unnaturally, the fourth time -- even the band seemed already tired, though they would continue to play for HOURS!

Once finally all settled in, we all rose in unison, and the band commenced the Congolese National Anthem. As the voices of the crowd swelled, Adam grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and it was then that the logistical crap that had been haunting my thoughts sort of swooshed away and I was caught, overwhelmed, in the true magnificence and uniqueness of my surroundings.

I was SO glad we’d come (Adam was disappointed we’d lent the video camera to one of the workers, because he’d wanted to get it on film!), and we sat, excited to watch the parade.

I could only sit for several minutes before Olivier ran over to get me to tell me to line up for the parade -- we were to be marching third in line, and already Gracia and Beya were sporting their equally-hideous uniform dresses!

The only white person in the parade, I did feel a bit paraded as jaws dropped at my passing-by, but it was a complete thrill as I stood in front of the ATE (chief of the Aketi Territory) and gave my little national-pride hand gesture.

We didn’t actually “march” per se, but did this sort of shuffle-dance in time with the music, that involved varied amounts of butt-shaking.

I was glad, though, to return to the privacy (and shade) of the Elite Tent and to watch the rest of the parade go by.

Ladies were decked out in their finest matching dresses -- sometimes as many as 50 dresses in exactly the same fabric, as they displayed their professions in often-witty little plays in front of the tent.

The Wives Of Motorcycle Repairmen brought a motorcycle with them and mimed fixing it. The head woman got on and pretended to drive away, which is when we realized she had NO idea how to drive a motorcycle and nearly careened into the compressed crowd around the main thoroughfare.

Everyone cheered extra loud when the Ladies Who Import Primus (and other bottled beverages) came by, dressed in delightful Primus Fabric dresses! I am sure now that I cannot leave Congo without one of these dresses, and must go to the market to find the fabric as soon as possible!

Equally crowd-pleasing were the Female Makers of Raffia Wine (aka Kongolo) -- the cheap alternative to beer that intoxicates many a drunk at 9 am in any city in Congo as likely as it does at 9 pm.

Many church groups passed by too , decked in various kinds of Jesus Is Our Savior/Light/Lord/Etc Fabric and shaking their Bibles vigorously!

Each group of women left some sort of gift at the table in front of the territory officials -- including the beer and wine ladies -- though some of the gifts were terribly obscure!

The Women Tailors left a pile of zippers, and the Wives of Gas Sellers breezed by without so much as an ounce left at the table, much to the chagrin of the officials and with a lot of catcalls ensuing!

We’d thought perhaps the parade would feature all of the ladies of Aketi (the city), so as the hours passed on, and the sun blazed away, it felt more like every woman in Aketi Territory.

I relayed this to my mother as expecting the ladies of Manhattan, and getting the ladies of the entirety of New York State.

Countless school girls passed by us, coordinated in their dance-march steps and their blue and white school uniforms.

“I can’t believe I see so much movement and yet so little forward progress,” I said as the fifth group of school children passed by, ever-so-slowly.

“That’s Congo!” said Adam, and we had a good laugh at our cleverness.

I was glad, however, to be among the “Elite” in the tent -- the crowd accumulating on either side of the street was continually berated by the policemen and hit with wooden sticks for going over the line and into the street!

Curiously, (and perhaps Cleve could shed some light on this), the group of ladies from the Azande Tribal Quarter were booed and hissed at considerably during their part of the parade, and managed to find a way to move much more quickly down the street (though still in time with the music).

Unprepared, we’d brought no water, and as 4pm rolled around and the air thickened with humidity, we were desperate for the parade to be over.

We were glad to see, however, a group of women rallying against sexual violence. They gave no gifts, but did deliver a harsh speech over megaphone about the dangers of staying silent and of the need for societal change.

The parade did finally end, and we were asked to stay for the “meal” afterwards -- only for those invited they impressed upon us!

Very exclusive, when we made our way back from the house with our waters (Adam already looking a little green), the “meal” was, in fact, a plastic bag per Invited Guest filled with peanuts, some fried plantains, and a piece of chicken. the same bag.

Any appetite I’d had was quickly extinguished upon finding the piece of chicken hidden among my peanuts, slimy with the palm oil from the plantains.

We thanked our hosts immensely for inviting us, and I explained in Lingala to the other guests that Adam was sick. He did look the part, thankfully, to ensure our quick exit.

At home, we relaxed and drank a LOT more water, though found ourselves with nothing to eat for the night since we’d given the staff the rest of the day off, presuming we’d have dinner at the feast!

We had some lollipops for dinner, and Polycarpe eventually sent someone out to get us some bread.

But all in all, a great, though exhausting, day!

No comments: