As red as tomatoes

At 9 o´clock we began the workday by visiting Banque Internationale Pour L´Afrique au Congo (BIAC) in Matadi. We met with bank manager Mr Lazaré Kiwaka and his closest co-worker Mr Julien Makwala. We described our activities in Sweden and in Congo, and we had a number of questions and demands on the bank. Sums of money had been withdrawn from our account without a proper description of what they were used for. Mr Kiwaka promised us to look into this. Then they told us about the procedures for transferring money from Sweden to BIAC. We gave them a specification of how the statement of account should be done. They promised to follow the specification. Mr Kiwaka and Mr Makwala were very obliging, we mixed jokes and seriousness and the atmosphere was pleasant. They seemed to be willing to do anything to make us satisfied customers. Gunnel Jönsson interpreted our conversation, but they promised us English speaking bank staff for the future. From now on, we will have direct contact with BIAC in Matadi instead of going through a Swedish bank. Mr Kiwaka said: ”Our customer is our king” and ”I value friendship more than money.” We choose to believe him until he furnishes proof of anything else. The meeting ended with Mr Kiwaka inviting us for lunch on Friday. Exciting! We won´t miss out on that invitation. The language at the lunch will be English, but generally in Congo there is much work for English teachers. If you´d like to go to Congo – go there and teach English. Huge possibilities would open up.

After the bank meeting we picked up our wives and went on to Seke Lolo, a farm run by papa Tenda. He is an agronomist and does plant experiments at the farm. Today, the farm is strictly cultivating plants. Earlier there have been both cattle and pigs. He showed us the remains of the cattle plant, among other things a large basin where the cattle were bathed in order to get rid of vermin and a water tank for the pigs. Tenda wished to reintroduce pigs. Many students come to the farm to study agriculture. When we arrived, we were generously entertained to lunch. On the menu was coleslaw, very tasty fried manioc fries, meat, fish, spaghetti, peanuts and honey. To drink we had water or a special drink made of lemon and honey. The latter was appreciated by those who tried it. We were presented with two huge clusters of bananas that we put on the roof of the car. We also got honey and lemonade. Tenda and his co-workers showed us how to grind manioc. Then we went into a house with a cage, as large as a rabbit cage but strengthened. In this cage large rats, really large rats, lived. Tenda explained with a wide smile and tongue in cheek, that this was the origin of the meat we had at lunch. Of us white people, only Bernt and Jenny had tried the meat, and while eating they didn´t have a clue of what it was. They just chewed and thought it was…interesting. Jenny had had enough after a few bites, and she tried to make me finish the piece of meat because she didn´t want to offend the host, but I declined the delicacy. It was probably for the better. I took the risk of being impolite by not cleaning up my plate. Bernt and Jenny got a new taste experience.

Of the 50 kilometer distance to Seke Lolo, a third was mud- or graveled road. The bus raised a great deal of dust as we travelled on. Our vehicle, an old Mercedes, is quite shabby. On the way there, I sat in the back where a steam whistle of dust came into the bus from the back door. The side door had been sealed with a coat. We covered our mouths and noses with napkins to minimize the consumption of dust. I had the red soil of Congo just about everywhere, internally as well as externally. I looked like someone who had been outdoors during a heavy snowfall. Covered in red snowflakes instead of white, I looked like a tomato. I had to get undressed, shake off the dust, put the clothes back on and wash my face to make my companions recognize me again and be able to have lunch with decency and respectability maintained. But I wasn´t the only one who had been besieged by dust. We were all quite red by the time we got home. I took a more thorough shower than usual, but nevertheless; the towel was red after I´d used it. Sweat and the red soil of Congo could make up a fine red paint, no doubt. Maybe a product for future entrepreneurs.

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