Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Leaving for Kananga

Electricity and Internet access have been extremely limited. I will try to post a couple times, but most likely you will need to wait for my return to Cairo for more news.
I had plans to travel to Kananga last Saturday but didn’t know what time exactly, so I made tentative arrangements for someone to pick me up early Saturday morning. On Friday I went to the campus to teach at 8am with plans for an afternoon meeting and then to visit a friend downtown. I got a call, however, from my fellow travelers who told me the van was leaving from Ngaliema to the airport at 6am the following morning. It would be impossible for me to make it down there on time from the campus that morning. My ride was an hour away from campus and campus an hour from Ngaliema. Leaving time for possible late-night roadblocks meant that he would need to leave before 3am...not feasible.

So I went ahead with my plans to visit friends and sometime later in the evening I would go back to campus to pack my things. I would spend the night with friends and then they would be able to take me to Ngaliema where I would meet the other travelers and the van. Thankfully my friend was able to borrow a car, without which this would have been impossible.

I met my friend at the high school where he teaches at about 5pm. We spent about an hour there. Then we went to the home of a couple of friends in the Kasavubu neighborhood, which is near the school. We ate and spent some time looking at photographs and I got to watch the video of their wedding last year. We left Kasavubu after 8pm and headed to the university where I was staying. By the time we got there, I collected my things, and we made it my friend’s place in Cité Mama Mobutu, it was close to 11pm. We hung out for some time with my friend and his wife. We had some wine, ate some food (including caterpillars), and looked at photographs. Shortly after 12, my friend’s wife went to sleep. I was tired, especially knowing that I needed to get up at 4am, but excited to see my friends. Then my friend wanted to watch the dvd of my wedding. And then after the wedding video ended, the tv came on and it was “le catch” (pro wrestling), which is incredibly popular and nobody in Kinshasa want to miss.

Through those last few hours something strange was happening. My friend’s wife went to bed around midnight. She was sleeping in a separate room (their current place is quite spacious). My friend was undressing down to boxer shorts and an undershirt in the room where I was going to sleep. That bedroom also had the television and dvd player, so we were watching the wedding and le catch from the bed. At some point, I am not sure when, I began to get the distinct impression that my friend was planning to spend the night in the same room (and bed) with me. I am still completely stumped as to whether or not it was so as not to disturb his wife by coming to bed so late (1:30am) and getting up so early (4am). Or perhaps, I wonder, is it a form of hospitality, him staying with me? As confusing as it was to me, I could tell that for him it was very normal, and not something that demanded any sort of explanation. I suspect sharing a bed with another man is not that unusual here, a place where extended families are large and space limited. So why not share a bed with an adult friend? As I reflect, it is probably not unusual in most cultures. But here, there was no space issue; his wife was one room away. I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking, or do anything that would hurt his feelings. But the mystery remains. He was being extremely generous in helping me out.

In retrospect, I think I was probably staying awake as late as I did because I was waiting for him to go to the other bedroom before laying down. He, on the other hand, was waiting for me to get ready before going to asleep. Both of us thought the other wanted to stay up. I couldn’t imagine that we were going to share a bed, and he couldn’t imagine that such an arrangement would be unexpected to me.

I finally announced I was going to sleep. So without discussion he got in side of the queen-size bed opposite from me. He slept with his feet at the head of the bed, opposite from me. And that was that. We woke up at 4am to get ready to go out.

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