Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lost in Lubumbashi

Created a bit of a scene in the middle of a flat crowded dusty Lubumbashi road this morning. It was… lovely.

I’d headed off (randomly, in the direction the hotel doorman half-heartedly waved me) for a nice morning walk and (as is my wont) gotten completely lost amidst the busy shops, paved traffic circles, men selling chunks of quartz and old colonial coins on corners, casino, synagogue, train station, crowds of school children slurping up pink ice cream cones – there was so much to catch my eye. Huge knurly trees with orange flowers that stand upright like tulips lined every street I floated down.

It was like a vacation.

When I stopped in front of a shoe shiner to admire the flag he had flapping above his stand – it had a crocodile biting a soccer ball – he explained to me that it was for the Lubumbashi soccer team and gave me a big sticker showing the faces of all the players – a gift, he said.

I searched through a pile of used clothes in the middle of a square and found a kick-ass bright purple jean skirt, but it was too small. The other women snickered and I giggled with them when I stumbled half over, trying to squeeze it on over my pants.

When the sun spun too high overhead and I realized I’d forgotten sunscreen (and I started to think about all the work work work I really should be doing in front of my computer), I blinked my eyes and looked up and tried to figure out where the hell I’d gotten to. Good little American child that I was raised, I know that when you are hopelessly lost what you must do is look around for a policeman, tug on his sleeve, explain your predicament, and wait for him to pat you on your head, give you a lollypop, and help. So I saw this guy in a blue uniform with gold script reading POLICE on his shoulders slouching over in a plastic picnic chair in front of a bank, his machine gun slipping lazily from his fingers. I went up to him: “Excusez-moi? Monsieur? Monsieur?” The copper didn’t want to help me. He half cocked an eyebrow, shrugged, and suggested I try asking directions from the moneychangers with their huge stacks of Congolese Francs that were stalking stealthily around the bank entrance.

So I did. And they were so sweet. First they wanted to find me a taxi – a reputable taxi, the taxi of a friend, they would bargain the price down to only $1.50 – but I explained that I couldn’t take public transportation (security rules being what they are). They none of them approved of my desire to walk (mzungos are delicate flowers, after all, and need to be driven places, and to avoid the high noon sun) but they respected my decision and decided to draw me a map.

And that’s where the scene began.

Because they wanted to make the map perfect for me. And what started off as a gentle debate soon devolved into waving arms, fists shaken in faces, feet stamping, mouths spitting words. The words were in Swahili, but because some statistic that I read sometime somewhere says that 80% of understanding of language is based upon tone of voice and facial expression, I think that I can translate pretty accurately, with confidence. They were either yelling because one of them had hit the other one’s mother with his car, or they were saying this:

“But no! She shouldn’t take that street, it would be too confusing for her!” “No, no, that map is unclear. Leave it! Let me draw a better one!” “Are you absolutely kidding me with that depiction of the traffic circle?! You are an idiot from the deepest circle of hell. Give me the pen. No – no, I mean it! Give me that pen, NOW!”

I ended up leaving with two maps drawn between three men (with others periodically poking their heads in to add a comment about one corner or another). The maps weren’t beautiful, but after I shook the men’s hands thanking them, and they slapped each other on the backs, everything forgiven, and I took off walking, I found myself back at the hotel in less than fifteen minutes, walking a perfect path.

Lubumbashi. It’s not Goma. But, hey.

It’s kinda neat.


lea said...

Oh Rachel I love to read about your adventures. I remember going to Kitgum and Kristen telling me what you found and I'll be like where? and she would say the bus park. I'm like where in the bus park? I guess I'm not as inquisitive since my jaunts into the bus park would mostly be focused on finding a rolex. My mind is mostly focused on my stomach. Trying to work on this problem. Thanks for sharing as always.

Rachel said...

Oh my gosh, I MISS those Chapatis at the bus park, Lea!!!!! Thinking about them is making my mouth water... HAHA.

How is life up North?!

Seriously, though. Those Chapatis... with sugar sprinkles (liberally) on them... mmmmmmmmm!