Saturday, November 21, 2009

Liars and Thieves

“J'ai un probleme,” I said to a driver, B, this morning, and then I explained in my halting, broken French about my stolen phone. “D’accord,” I said. “Take me to the Black Market.”

So we went. And I must say, I haven’t yet found my phone, but I do feel way better about the whole thing. I’ve talked to many street boys, several thieves, and a handful of ring leaders. I’ve seen where they work, where they live, and their networks.

I put forty-five dollars in my wallet, twenty dollars in one pocket, and twenty dollars in another. I figured that, if it came down to it, this could help me with bargaining and save me if I got robbed wandering through the rainbow umbrellas of the Black Market. But as it happened, I never got out of the car. Instead of wandering from stand to stand in the small market, B and I drove around the whole city for two hours calling people over to our car windows and chatting with them.

At one point we drove down a road that was more a trash dump than a road, and that led to the lake. Here is this spectacular view of water and distant navy mountains and deep sky, and in front of it, here are these men and boys scavenging in the trash for I-don’t-know-what, smoking something, drugs, I-don’t-know-what. B waved a young man over. The young man took a drag of whatever it was and jogged to our car.

B spoke in Swahili. I drew a sketch of my phone and B wrote down his phone number beneath it, and we handed the paper over to the young drugged man in the trash heap.

In describing the situation, the trash and the drugs, I don’t mean to imply anything. I don’t mean to say that I pity these young men, and at the same time, I’m not glorifying in the fact that the man who stole from me probably spends much of his life scrounging in trash heaps. Clearly, the world is very unfair; we all know this. I don’t really understand this specific context and I don’t mean to pretend that I do. I just am glad to have talked to some people and have met them.

This is my city, after all, for the next six months. I need to know something about it.

The Fagins of Goma were very sympathetic, and promised, for a fee (to be given after the fact), to get my phone back for me, if at all possible.


At the very least, I spent the morning having to speak only French to B and to the thieves. It was a good exercise, and much more interesting than a school lesson in French could ever be.