Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Trip to the Museum

This morning, trying to find the National Museum, J (my driver) and I were stopped at a roadblock by FARDC soldiers. They asked us for a small bribe. A small bribe of $125. Again, that’s: One. Two. Five. US dollars. I laughed. Out loud. I scolded them. We drove away. I called M and I ranted. M advised me. We drove back. I scolded more. They explained. We discussed. (This is all going on in French, thank you very much.) Eventually we all realized that, um, I was actually on the wrong road.

So that worked out in the end.

We laughed and shook hands. And I gave a long speech about the importance of museums and allowing visitors access to them. In French. O! my French cousins, you would be so proud.

The museum was very fascinating. Masks, totems, Stanley’s boat, a statue of Leopold. Also: Happy news! I am now engaged to the museum curator’s son.

I haven’t met him yet, but I’m assured by everyone (curator and accompanying guards alike) that that doesn’t matter. My new fiancé is 33. He lives in Belgium and draws comic books. His mother is despairing a bit for grandchildren. Mothers are the same all over. I liked her. She liked me. We had fun in broken-English broken-French wandering through the museum.

(Of course, this is not my first engagement. If I’d said yes to every single proposal I’ve received along the way, I’d have a whole army of men at my beck and call. I could shore-up MONUC or I could invade small countries. Honestly, it might be kind of great.

I do recognize, of course, that this desire men have to marry me has everything to do with my personality and nothing at all to do with my American passport. Nothing to do with the weird myths and legends surrounding the magic of that small blue book that I possess.)

After the museum, the curator and I took a stroll through the park surrounding Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga’s old residence. In his backyard, we saw the graves for the men who built the railroad in the late 19th century. We saw empty, rusting, vine-covered cages that once held Mobutu’s collection of exotic animals, leopards and zebras and eagles. We saw the amphitheater he had constructed and we strolled beneath his ancient trees, where he used to walk, everyday, at noon.

Mobutu, Stanley, Leopold, and the monuments to their insanity. What a world. As I walked past these artifacts of luxury and suffering, I was so lucky to have the kind company and deep historical knowledge of the matchmaking mother by my side.

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