Friday the 13th, Congo-Style


Friday, I asked Fiston, our friend and translator, if Friday the 13th had any significance in Congo like it does in America. He said, no, it was just like any other day. Good, I told him, then we won’t have to worry about bad luck today.

That morning, we had driven through the busiest part of town, a street so crowded with people and cars we could barely move the minivan (one of those Japanese ones that look a little like a VW bus) forward. At some points, we had to back up and move out of the way of oncoming trucks.

On our way into the restaurant for lunch, we passed a man cooking, and beside him on a table was a butchered goat leg, complete with hoof and hair. We all sat and ordered Cokes and Fanta and plates of grilled goat and french fries. The food took quite a while to come out to us. At home, I would have joked about someone having to go out and kill our food, but it didn’t seem quite so funny here. I would have eaten the goat with more gusto had I not seen it with its hoof, but all in all it was quite tasty.

After lunch, we drove out to a little store to see a woman Robin knows. We attract crowds whenever we stop and get out of the car, especially when Luke and Evan pull out the cameras. From the store, we left to find someone, but a storm rolled in and it began to pour. Which was beautiful and fantastic, save for the fact that we were on a dirt road on the side of a mountain in an old minivan full of people and gear. The dirt road quickly became a mud road, and our van quickly became more like a sled than a vehicle with wheels and an engine. We spun a little and nearly careened into someone’s house on the side of the road (which probably would have kept us from going off the side of the cliff, but wouldn’t have been so great for the people living in the house). Fiston, Evan, and Luke jumped out of the car to push us out.

Eventually, we made it off the hill, but as we drove back through the busy streets we heard a banging noise coming from the car. A quick inspection revealed one of our tires was about six inches higher than the other one. (It turned out that one of our shocks and slipped out of place.) We drove very slowly and very carefully to a mechanic to have it looked at. Something you need to know is that the roads here–which were at one point paved but have since disintegrated–are full of potholes. Actually, they aren’t potholes. They are craters. Many of the holes are so wide and so deep you have to drive around them, avoiding as well the rocks and people and other cars. Robin says it’s like driving through a riverbed.

We made it to the mechanic and piled out of the car to wait. By now, the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, so our ponchos and umbrellas were doing a fairly good job. We bought a couple of Cokes. While Evan was filming near a gutter across the street, water came out of a pipe in the wall and some splashed in his mouth. A man was standing nearby, and when Evan asked what the water was, the man said, “Toilet.” (We found out later that he meant it was from a sink or a bathroom, not necessarily a toilet…still, Evan was not exactly over the moon about the experience.)

So, by the end of the day I wasn’t sure whether we had had a lucky or unlucky Friday the 13th. The car still needs fixing today, and we are all exhausted. Luke’s tennis shoes will forever be orange from the mud. But, we are safe and sound, and Mama Lily brought us dinner last night, meatballs and rice and cabbage and avocados and lemongrass tea. And we sat around after dinner, drinking second mugs of tea, we talked about the day, talked about art and love and antibiotics and battery chargers. The power went out, and we sat quiet just a moment before getting up to turn on the flashlights.

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