The reason for my confusion is quite simple really: our good friend Federico, who established the popular Sunday evening expatriate institution Cine Grosso (i.e. a film projected in his garden – needless to say, the name was given after the World Cup), is about to disappear for a few months on paternity leave and decided to alter the routine and host cinema night on Saturday. An electricity blackout cut the movie short, and so instead we huddled around the garden table eating pizza and comparing notes about Kinshasa’s latest eccentricities and horror stories.
We launched into the topic with stories of ridiculous arrests. My favourite was this guy who was arrested recently for calling up the chief prison warden and imitating President Kabila’s voice to demand the immediate liberation of four of his mates. The warden didn’t believe him, and since the man’s mobile phone number had appeared on the warden’s mobile phone screen, it wasn’t too difficult to track down the cheeky culprit.
This reminded us of another funny story. During the President’s inauguration speech, when he made his now famous and widely-repeated statement “recess is over”, he also warned that the prison doors were open to everyone – meaning, I suppose, that even high-level politicians and businessmen were no longer exempt from the law. Well it seems that prisoners in Mbuji-Mayi understood this statement differently and simply walked out of the prison. As you do.
Unfortunately I can’t remember all of last night’s stories (I’d had a bit too much rosé wine by then). I do remember F. doing an impersonation of traffic etiquette in Kinshasa: squeezing through gaps, cutting left right and centre, stopping suddenly for no apparent reason in the middle of the road (irrespective of the car behind you), swerving violently to avoid potholes (irrespective of the car alongside you), driving at top speed on the wrong side of the road to avoid the traffic jam on your side (irrespective of the cars coming the other way)… And I remember that I was called upon to contribute with the string of cat-related horror stories we have been privy to, and with the story of my marooned car, and then I volunteered a few references to my infected Christmas abscess. And I proudly showed off, in the candlelight, my latest weird ailment, on the middle finger of my left hand: it looks and feels like the blister from a burn, except I don’t recall being burned there at all!