NOTE: I just got back from Kananga where I wrote a lot but could not post. I will try to catch up soon. Here is one.
Tu as bien grossi: This has been the most common greeting I have received from friends in Kinshasa who I am seeing for the first time in three years. Roughly translated: “You have fattened up nicely.” This is a rather high compliment for people living in a city where, according to a study, more than 50% of the people eat one meal every two days. If you get bigger, this means that you are eating well because things are going well in your life—you are employed, have a stable source of income, and, if male, a wife. One example: some famous musicians whose fame has allowed them a fat belly will often wear a too-small t-shirt to accentuate their graisse.
This intended compliment makes me incredibly self-conscious. Putting aside my own American sense of vanity, I don’t think I would be considered overweight by US standards. And I don’t really keep track of my weight, but I guess I have put on 5-10 pounds in 3 years. My measurement: I still wear the same pants that I wore then (even pants I had tailored in Kinshasa), although they fit slightly tighter around the waist.
When I was last here, I had a much better exercise regiment (thanks to Makfitness) than I have been able to develop in Cairo. Then, I was, I think, considered a bit thin for an American, but was, and still am (I think again) quite average.
I do not exaggerate when I tell you that literally the majority of the dozens of friends I have seen here have told me that I have bien grossi within the first two minutes of conversation. It is often accompanied by a “Tu es en bonne forme” (you look good). Although I realize it is a compliment, it is still hard for me not to be self-conscious and to process it in that way.