Around dawn, while caught in a nightmare involving spider webs, my roommate and co-worker kicks in my bedroom door. With a booming voice that expresses the temperance of older age, he says he’s flying to a sub-office of our NGO, in the country’s center—that is, the center of the Central African Republic—and tells me of bananas he’s left in the fridge. He continues with a joke ending with “in case I don’t make it back.”
“Good luck, Arsène.” I turn over. “Good luck in Bambari.” And with that, my sleep is curtailed. I pull myself from bed mechanically, moving through a year of repetition, a year informed by both boredom and violence.
I hear Arsène, breathing through his mouth, as he shuffles through preparations in the hallway. On the phone with the Logistics Department, he laughs at his own jokes. At fifty, with twenty years in the field, he imparts on anybody within earshot theories he’s assembled working in fox holes such as this city, Bangui. He punctuates his assumptions with laughter.
The front door slams. Outside, they till the earth, clang church bells for a God that has forsaken them, and in proximity, a baby wails. The neighbors recently bought a sheep for an upcoming holiday during which they will decapitate him with the zeal of jihadists. The sheep bellows with the baby. In short, it sounds like a nativity scene.
Cursing Arsène, I move through hallways of undecorated walls. Undecorated because every tenant that passes through this house— on rubber sandals across the marble tiles, drinking on the back porch that opens onto a tended garden, or dreaming under mosquito nets in one of three bedrooms—conceives of their stint in C.A.R. as transitory. We stare out from barred windows at ten foot walls tinseled in razor wire. With a curfew from eight p.m. till dawn, this is our gilded cage.
I open the back door. In runs the puppy with her twitching eyebrows, trailed by the cat, and trailing her, a litter of kittens. They lobby me for food, whining like hyenas, and shadow me to the kitchen. I open the front door, behind which appear two banana trees and dust-covered corrugated tin roofs, capped by satellite dishes. They shrink over the distance of one mile to a river, across which frowns a single green hill of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s windless again—this city, although 1,211 feet above the ocean, is swampland.
Feed the animals, light the burner on the stove, and the kettle for instant coffee. Pour last night’s beer dregs down the sink and drown some hundred ants that I would’ve relocated with a Jain-like attention a year ago. Following a bout of malaria, finding a snake in my bed, and the worms in the dog, I no longer venerate nature. The human-being is a fluke at seven degrees latitude; the rest of life needs no leg-up.
Crack an egg, two eggs. The yolk busts in the white on both. The eggs are old, imports from neighboring Cameroon, because C.A.R. produces little after centuries of pillage and decades of mismanagement, except crude oil, diamonds, gold, lumber, and ivory. The country is also fertile ground for coups d’état, the latest being in March of 2013, in which disparate Muslim rebel groups united to overthrow President Francois Bozizé. The Séléka demanded representation, yet, in retrospect, were more interested in plunder. Their leader, Michel Djotodia, disbanded the group from a desk in the presidential palace, but was powerless to keep them from pillage and rape. In turn, Christian militias calling themselves the Anti-Balaka committed their share of rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings of Muslims. The transitional government, established after Djotidia resigned less than year in office, is kept in place by UN Peacekeepers, the French military, and a squadron of humanitarians that place band-aids on broken bones.
I scrape the fried eggs from the pan, then sit on a leather sofa and turn on the television to scenes of asylum seekers falling off boats in the Mediterranean. I flip to a reportage about the Sea Shepard frigate, sabotaging whaling ships in the Atlantic. Even the cheetah on National Geographic, while beautiful, grins with blood stained teeth. At my feet, the puppy gazes up, eyeing for dropped cheese. She’s a fortunate bitch to be sheltered in ignorance.
On the toilet, I scan an article in a sensationalist local newspaper that accuses medical NGOs of trafficking organs because they’ve started performing Cesarean births in rural areas. When the births go awry and the baby dies, or vice-versa, the mother, rumors of foul play fly.
I overhear the guard outside lamenting to the driver that the private security company, our sub-contractor, hasn’t paid his salary. I’ve been awake for one hour and the first pleas, or second if you count the pets, are imminent. Five minutes later, before greeting the driver, I hand breakfast to the security guard—Arsène’s bananas—before he’s obliged to beg, in the capital of this country in free fall.
“Salut.” I climb into the car. Although my age, Bienvenu looks the double. The driver, he’s also a friend, except because I’m relatively wealthy and he’s relatively poor, our relationship is painted with the wide brush of class and, come night, the only place we can agree to drink is on my back porch, where it’s cheapest.
“You look tired,” Bienvenu says, and unclenches the emergency break.
“Just waking up.”
“It’s impossible to wake someone who never sleeps.”
I know he’s giving me a local expression, because I’ve asked him repeatedly to tell me them when they come to him.
I respond with one, taken out of context: “The sheep lowers his head because he’s ashamed of seeing the goat’s ass.”
Bienvenu and I share presence, both held in this anomalous swamp, me sitting shotgun, and him behind the wheel of a Landrover. He smiles, his mouth is rippled with deep wrinkles. At 7:30 we exit the walled-in perimeter of my home.
Instead of respecting protocol by cracking the window to stay attune to gunfire, I space out and think of my neighbor, the widow of the dictator who crowned himself emperor in 1967. Her house is a hallmark of the short-lived golden era of the country, a mélange of Malibu beach house and the redwood of the countries old growth forests. The pool cleaner fishes leaves out of a pool the woman’s decrepit body never swims. Her dead husband, Jean Bédel Bokassa, proclaimed himself the 13th Apostle before he died of a heart attack behind those walls on the 3rd of November 1996, aged 75, with 17 wives and an approximate 50 children.
The car swings around potholes, heading north on the main artery that links the lower class neighborhoods with the city center in the south. Motorcycles, four people aboard, stream past. Going the other direction is an uncountable number of UN and NGO vehicles. Neighborhoods switch places during daylight hours, moving in a pendulum motion between two points, sunup, sundown. In the road, yellow, broken, puffing, taxis rarely yield. Biblical maxims are painted on their bumpers. “Take suffering as advice,” I read as a French military helicopter flies overhead, and wonder what instruction the day will impart to me. I tap Bienvenu’s shoulder and ask him to honk at a car approaching and I wave to a person, also sitting shotgun. We wave at each other with our big white hands.
At the office, a guard opens a steel gate and gives me a military salute. I return the gesture, as if enlisted. Inside, in the tradition of the French, I shake hands with forty odd staff, then chat while drinking an instant coffee. Over the razor wired wall and bookended by tanks, a procession of commercial vehicles drives by at eight a.m. I’m told the convoy is headed to Bambari, a city divided into Christian and Muslim neighborhoods and therefore a microcosm of the country. One bridge over a river is the only tie between them and the bridge is manned by a heavily armed check point. Camps of displaced persons populate either side. The convoy is organized by Muslims who’ve cornered the import/export market in the country, or rather on the continent, just as they have throughout history, across the old world.
I flip on the air-conditioning and open a colleague’s report to edit. Sip a second instant coffee. It’s a report drafted by Arsène, dating a few weeks, à propos Bambari. I read, “Due to the recent security, business owners starting tip-toeing back to their activities. Seeds were distributed to project beneficiaries.” Scrapping the sentences, I curse him, again. Arsène will nudge you to expound on his decades managing projects across Africa yet by a miracle he never learned to write academically. He’s like so many in the profession—a bullshit artist. Got himself hired because he’s stupid enough to move here. And he’s a mile in the sky on a flight back to Bambari.
Word-of-mouth comes down. The convoy from half an hour back. Other than staple crops, the dozens of trucks transported Muslim passengers, and was ambushed, on the unique road north, as it crossed an Anti-Balaka stronghold. The initial body-count is fifty. I stand on the front porch of the office remembering the men as they straddled sacks of rice and Chinese imports, all now dead. The convoy drives by over and over in my mind—men lay across sacks of rice dressed in lengthy robes, thirty feet above the shifting asphalt, their bodies full of bullets. It’s true that people live on after their death, and now they live on in my head. My co-workers don’t seem too shocked by the news—they remain hunched over bright screens or shuffle around the office stapling papers. I probe them for details and their shrugs come off as indifference, perhaps a form of adaptation.
An ambiguously worded text arrives from a girl I met over the weekend. It’s been a year and not once has the option of waking up next to a stranger presented itself (other than when my girlfriend visited. She can be a stranger, however that’s the arc of a different story). I met this girl under strange circumstances, in a hotel along the river. At one point, I was on the edge of the water, in broken conversation with a fisherman dressed in loincloths—his French poor, my Sango nil—and minutes later, given my talent for drinking with just anyone, I was navigating acquaintances huddled in a dim bar in the bowels of the hotel. A bunch of us had drunk ourselves past curfew, then decided to rent a few rooms. With the restaurant closed, I compensated for the lack of food by drinking. There were mirrors on all the walls, and nationalities, accents, talk of work on this side of the circle, and sexual innuendo on the opposite. Beside me, an American soldier prattled on about the threat of terrorism, citing reports of Boko Haram crossing in from the Chadian border, and their accelerating numbers of identical suicides under the black flag of jihad. I stared at the gap in his teeth and argued that in this country the rebel groups were devoid of ideology, a prerequisite for suicide bombings or mass shootings. This forgettable conversation continued for a glass or two, until I saw him fidget with his phone. In paranoid panache harking back to bad trips on LSD, I accused him of recording our conversation, figuring him not to be a soldier but a spy, not a good one, given he spoke only English, yet a spy nonetheless. He justified himself by describing the particulars of his phone. I was already elsewhere.
I had watched her become more attractive as the box wine was emptied, through the noise and smoke and handshakes and calling bartender, so I extracted myself from his American accent, talking phone applications. She was striking, what came out her mouth was interesting, and she was practically a celebrity in her youth amongst this inferno of burn-outs. “My first mission was in Vietnam,” she looked at the ceiling, “I thought I’d change things, like gender roles, and in the end it changed me more than the other way around. Now I’m a little more self-aware, a relativist even, which goes far in the field.” Her name doesn’t matter, but if you need one, call her “Infatuation”. At one point I touched her thigh, unfortunately it was only to kill a mosquito. After a conversation long enough to create an inside joke between us, I got her number then whispered goodbye. Too lazy to scale twelve flights of stairs, I pushed the button for the elevator. I must’ve been blotto because I had never set foot in an elevator in Bangui. It got stuck in between the fifth and the sixth floor. I ripped open the doors and climbed out on the sixth. Staggered through the empty hall, and spun up another six flights on a spiral staircase. I dragged a couch from the hotel room onto the balcony that overlooked onto the Obangui River, and the jungle end to end, suffocating in a muted tropical silence. I laid back in boyhood euphoria, as if Infatuation’s phone number took eighteen years off my life. In the skies, I saw, in an expansive cloud formation, my elementary school girlfriend, Sophie, over the body of water. As I emptied a bottle of wine, she broke off and formed two of her selfs, a Siamese phantasm of unrequited loves.
I ask Infatuation on a date via text. Text, because we’re both at work and I don’t really know her. I was blacked-out when I noted her number. Although, as Infatuation, she’s half the women I’ve known since Sophie.
Hit send. On the screen of the phone a circle struggles to become itself. While waiting, I learn that it was only a rumor about the fifty dead. Characteristic of oral cultures, rumors like these buzz across the republic and end in song and dance or killing sprees. Not today. The truck was only waylaid for food and Chinese imports. There’s relief, as fifty lives are resuscitated and rise up from blood stained sacks of rice, but those deaths were a memory for an entire hour, and I pushed them down as far as possible, the only way I know how—evasion, infatuations.
Meanwhile the emails pour in because it’s not simple to hire employees to relocate to curfewed lives along equator. In consolation for our team being short-staffed and overworked, headquarters sends regards from the Eastern Time Zone, through a string of patronizing messages expressing gratitude about our effort, spirit, our perseverance. Instead of struggling to up the moral, I suggest they fill the holes in our organizational chart. But the NGO believes in strategy and future thinking, so my co-workers in New York fly to London for brainstorming. They hold team building exercises in Asia. They can go fuck themselves while they publish slick documents about sector strategies—I’m at my desk job in failed state where it’s impossible to forecast tomorrow and emails addressed to them bounce back in automatic replies when I, in the Central African Republic, a no-man’s land for recruiting, understand again and again that we are abandoned. Busting out of my button down shirt after a year of drinking with no exercise, I do the job of three people.
I call a car to go sign a contract with the UN for a project to fight against Gender Based Violence. While waiting for the unpunctual bureaucrats, I bump into the American soldier from the past weekend. Turns out he’s not a soldier or a spy. He works in Close Protection—a bodyguard for the UN diplomats who move in and out of this conflict zone like migrating butterflies. I shake his hand, and watch the gap between his teeth as he briefs me on the security situation for the arrival of Pope Francis, who is touring numerous African countries. GI Joe segues into how last week he almost “blew someone away”. Going on a tangent about guns, he drops the name of a firearm that means nothing to me, while I stand on the doorstep of the United Nations in Bangui and understand that there are more toons in this town than Toon Town.
I’ve often thought that the worst towns built character, much more than the political or economic capitals of the Western world boasting healthy service sectors. That expression, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Nietzsche coined it. Strange though, because Nietzsche lost his mind, in syphilitic paralysis, and ended his life in a mental hospital for what George Bataille claimed to have been caused by a psychological maladjustment brought on by his philosophy.
At noon the contract is signed. I call for a company car and it rips through the tombstones of the dilapidated buildings. Sign in on the log sheet, and fill in the “destination” column with “store” and we roll out past the steel gate onto the road. Bienvenu stutters, as he tells me about the Pope’s upcoming visit. I want to explain to him why I think that the Catholic Church is a two millennium old criminal enterprise, yet because I’m in Africa, I’m also a product of the Church’s sway on Western Civilization—a humanitarian worker in a former colony. Also I’m tired and hungover and the story is too long for a five-minute ride.
We turn onto a derelict road—it was on this road, months ago, that I was even more hungover and extremely hungry and the security in the city was bad (Was it kidnappings of foreigners or the fallout from a political assassination?). Thrown left and right because of the fissures in the laterite, I was hallucinating and nauseous and rolled the window down to puke. A car of armed men approached us on the perpendicular. Bienvenu, who hemmed the potholes, stuttered answers to trivia on the radio concerning the spelling of the capital of Argentina. “B-B-B-U-E-N-O-S.” My synapses fired in synchronicities and miscues. “A-I-R-R-R-E-S”. Immobilized, I had an autobiographical moment, as if I saw myself in the third person. My gaze followed the flatbed truck, but I was too far gone to be touched by gunfire. It was a soul, or my soul, that watched on. Then again, maybe I was only hungover.
It was only the cops.
In the store, behind the cash register, a Lebanese merchant looks down from a chair as high as a throne. His face is pasty. A coffee at his side, he thumbs money as he shakes. I pile up canned imports—these are not provisions for a food drive or a bomb shelter, rather my daily bread, and if I complain about eating out of a can, I’m touched with guilt because in comparison to ninety-five percent of the country, it’s ten times more substantial. I chat with him in broken Arabic as so he’ll give me a discount. “50,000 francs.” He rocks in his chair then pauses. “Give me 47,000.” I’m a sucker because it’s three times the price as in the West.
At home, the electrician stands on the dining room table and fiddles with a chandelier. I run into him often, in one of the five houses and the office that the NGO rents, where he keeps himself occupied, because in C.A.R. everything breaks every two weeks. He’s a sweet if not voluble fellow with a raspy voice and he walks me through the intricacies of closed circuitry, pointing to the rooms of the house with a screwdriver. I say “ok” and thank him. Each time I say his name, it’s echoed by thank you, in the language of employer-contractor. I grab a plate and glass from the cupboard. The cleaner cleaned both of them. She swept the floor and cleaned my pants. She folds my underwear.
On the back porch, I shovel lunch into my mouth. Always fat or carbs. Juice from concentrate. Inescapable starches. I finish eating so I’m sinking. I’ve rarely given a second thought to my health, but a salad would be a god-blessed life ring right now.
No response from Infatuation. My evening presents two faces—one with flirting and foreplay and the other rocking in a plastic chair while gripping pilsners and within the one mile security radius. It’s shaping up to be the latter, so the choice of drinking is divided into the option of one of six bars (seven, if I include my bed). All are a five-minute walking distance from one another, yet each time I’m obliged to call a car to move in between them.
It’s two p.m. I step into the Landrover to return to the office and Bienvenu greets me with, “bonsoir”. I take it in stride, the day is dying for a city where the majority live off the grid and rise with the sun.
Ten minutes later, I narrow my eyes at the computer, and translate a report about awareness-raising sessions on hygiene given in rural villages. Halfway through the first page, in typical French, the subordinate clauses pile up in “ifs” and “buts” and “howevers”, concluding with punch lines, lacking verbs, rendering them lifeless like a train without an engine. I’m done. I close the document and write a “to-do” in a handover report for my replacement.
Over the office the chop of the French military helicopter. The late-afternoon reconnaissance along the perimeter between the Muslim enclave and the strongholds of the Christian militias (The conflict was never about religion, rather resources, however in a twist of logic, identity became a resource, that of security.). I finish compiling rape statistics, copy/paste them into a project proposal budgeted for a million dollars. I’m at once depressed and empowered and these opposites cross each other out, leaving me numb, functioning. I verify formulas in an Excel table, attach the budget and work plan to an email, and CC ten colleagues who work for this hydra headed international non-governmental organization based anywhere from New York to Bombay. Hit send.
A mosquito lands on my arm, heralding the great evening of Sub-Saharan Africa. At the dirty window the sun fizzles out on the horizon. I close my computer then ring for a car, just as I’ve done for 363 days, and the monotony is compounded by this—throughout the year, the temperature fluctuates only five degrees, the change in seasons is measured only through rain or lack of it, and along the equator the sun rises and sets, day in, day out, at the same time, regardless of the rotation of the planet.
Again, we navigate potholes, we, meaning one hundred expats, migrating en masse to a bar. In the car, I write “Relais de Chasse” in the travel log. It translates to “The Hunting Lodge”. The red wood sourced from the old growth forests lends a rustic air to the restaurant. A preserve of former French colonials, it’s a favorite of the ambassador himself, and occasionally you can spot, in between the faux-real African masks and sculptures, a smudge of whites, holding forth about eras of yore. They speak with no sense of urgency, because either the jungle or the privilege has done them in.
I’ve not even arrived at the bar, I’m projecting. Sitting shotgun, I observe the city through the windshield, as the informal economy folds up shop due to the uncertainty that comes with nightfall. On the right, a construction site, due to the real estate boom ensuing from the United Nations Peacekeepers upping their presence. Speak of the devil, a truck of Blue Helmets idles over there—in the flatbed, six soldiers are seated facing the road with automatic weapons in their lap. The gold tip of a RPG shines like a candle under a street lamp.
Again, I ask Bienvenu to honk at a car coming at us and wave to another white person in shotgun. I make an observation about the spatial awareness of drivers in sub-Saharan Africa (subtly thanking Bienvenu for driving), the importance of the horn to communicate, and the art of merging. An idea I formulated years ago and only repeat to fill the empty space of the car. Sitting behind me, in a cloud of DEET mosquito spray, is an acquaintance. This isn’t the first time we’re together en route for booze, except you never truly become familiar with others here. We talk, or vent, principally of work, and remain discreet in an attempt to avoid gossip. We gravitate around one another at an official distance, despite the fact we black out at every possible weekend get-together. One is also not oneself here. Among the poverty, we are affluent. Amongst the masses, we participate in meetings that orient government policy. We fly over the jungle in UN chartered prop-planes, never mind that we are John and Jane Doe at home. The reason why many expats stay on becomes apparent. I’m chauffeured by a private driver, and step out of a SUV in the gravel parking lot, and might as well be my opposite, as I place several coins in the palm of the valet. In the restaurant, doted over as a wallet on two legs, I pull out a plastic chair in a straw hut and request that a bottle of beer be placed at arm’s length.
The owner of the restaurant is, bien sûr, French. A toon too. Goes by a pseudonym. Been in-country going on forty years, putting him back to times of the Empire. Today, other than serving overpriced cuisine à la française, he cultivates spirulina and feeds it to street kids, or so he claims, when he pops his head under the straw overhang. He has the colonial knack of considering all westerners as allies. I give him the gated community of a smile and nod long enough for him to understand that his predictions on the approaching French legislative elections hold no traction in my skull. He excuses himself amidst a foray of formal conjecture, tips his hat, and disappears into his half-acre empire.
I drink. The acquaintance drinks. We talk, conflating the sound and fury of our drunkenness with passion and the exchange dissipates like petulance into the silent, humid, night.
“Oh God, I can’t wait to leave.” I run my index fingers under my eyes. “Longest fucking year of my life.”
I scan the restaurant and the faces framed either in collars or low cuts. Here, only nine months earlier, across the room, I dined with my boss. He talked at me and I drank at him and somewhere in there Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” played in stereo. It was the night before my first vacation and I considered the song as evidence of destiny. Tonight, the music is absent, so I hum the chorus of the Beach Boys “Sloop John B”. And the acquaintance is, in truth, a close friend who I’ll never see again come tomorrow. He’s a former roommate and co-worker and an alcoholic with whom I broke curfew more times than either of us remembers.
“At least we were bored together,” he says. No longer a co-worker, he switched to the UN as a consultant and has vacation every six weeks. He looks capable of living out another three-month contract. Plus he’s African, so he’s got that on me.
“Surely,” he says, “there’s something you’ll miss.”
I tell him I’d have to think about it and slip into the bathroom. Except I don’t think about his attempt to mitigate my negativity. I’m a pessimist, that won’t change. I’m an idealist stuck in hell. In the stall, I lock the door behind me and assess the insect situation. It comes to me while on the pot—the restaurant owner—he looks innocent in the autumn of his life, but so did Mobuto or Amin Dada, after they were forced into exile. I despise him, not because he carved out for himself a tiny empire, because I see him as an archetype that threatens to define me in the future—my career path is also predicted on international travel to remote outposts. I hear him on the other side of the bathroom door, wooing a difficult customer, and realize that I despise him not for his colonial ties, it’s because he owns a restaurant. It’s heaven for the homesick, serving French cuisine, for French expats, who fill the heart of darkness with the French language. It’s a painful revelation to know that one can travel to the end of the earth, live under a pseudonym, and reproduce the world one left behind.
Back at the table, the friend hasn’t forgotten. He says, “come on” and lifts a beer in my direction. Our eyes meet over the top of the bottle.
“It’s been a blur. I remember the dark nightclubs, you and I, dancing with girls who,” I pause to take a drink, “girls whose faces I couldn’t see.” In the distance I spot someone I’ve been avoiding. “There was the time in the countryside. The impression of pioneering.” I repeat something I’ve said previously, about the strange-for-strange sake, which ends with the word “anthropology.” I cite the story about the hippopotamus-man.
At this, we go back and forth with African proverbs.
He starts with, “Don’t set sail using someone else’s star.”
And I say my favorite, “He who does not know one thing knows another.”
He hits me with, “The foreigner only sees what he knows.”
“Touché!” We laugh.
“I don’t know if it’s a high point, well, there’s first time I ducked gunfire. This year has been a haze, only I’ll never forget that. The vivid memories are all tied to trauma and the rest, repetition. You repeat yourself so often you start to forget when one day begun and ended, or if it’s still going on, weren’t we here last Tuesday? Or is it just the present moment? I know we’ve already had this discussion, so what was the conclusion?”
My friend is better at listening than talking. He judges the level of beer in the .65 liter bottle when he hears the server in the vicinity. For me it’s the top of the third.
“I understand prisoners now,” I say, “how they must feel the night before they’re released. I understand soldiers. Sure, I dislike the majority of them, especially the soldiers I met here, nevertheless I see what living in a conflict zone does to a person, mentally.”
“You need to leave,” he points an empty beer at me, “But you’ll miss it, soon enough.”
We were roommates six months ago. One night, he asked me, on the back porch, why I worked so late. I told him I wasn’t working, was writing, and I mentioned the benefits of adventure for creativity, which is a non-conversation. I didn’t mention that psychic pain is equally effective.
“You’re right. And I’ll hate myself for it.” I think of a line by Jeffrey Eugenides—Real life doesn’t live up to writing about it. I finish my sentence, “As if the present moment escaped me for a whole year except when there was gunfire or I was writing.”
I return from the bar, slurring to Bienvenu while staring through a distorted window for the final time. I’m leaving in the morning. Bienvenu, which means “welcome” in French, will drive me through a city with so many points of reference that it became blurred, because that which is most familiar becomes foreign. In my pocket will be painkillers I’ve hidden from myself these last weeks. As soon as we clear the last stretch of road notorious for carjackings, I will swallow the handful. (I’ll eat painkillers with just anyone, especially myself).
I come up on the pills as we wait on the runway. The camp of displaced persons that edges the tarmac has grown since the brief uprising in September (when I was in the south of France on vacation in a hospital bed with malaria). Here we come full circle—a woman with a large tray of fruit stands beside the runway staring at the plane. I squint through the window. She was the first person I saw when I landed a year ago and she reappears like an archetype in a dream. She’s motionless and dressed in a shirt ripped like venetian blinds.
We take off, and the scope of the camp becomes clear at bird’s eye view, sixty thousand splintered lives in one window. We one eighty the airport in direction for Cameroon and at a higher altitude the hues of farm land tile the earth. I make out the Relais de Chasse, located in between two avenues. I think of the moral of the story that I should have told my friend last night:
If you tuck into the correct latitudes, pay for experience with sanity, and manage to hold out, even if only for a year, the world is still a very, very, wild place.