Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Congo LIne

The Congo is the name of a new travel guide issued by the venerable travel guide publisher Bradt and authored by Sean Rorison.Bradt is known for its coverage of such exotic lands as Madagascar ,Niger and Chad as well as Iran and Iraq, American intervention and hysteria notwithstanding.
The Congo, where millions have perished in recent wars in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo- until recently known as Zaire, and the ex-Marxist Republic of the Congo(formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, as all philatelists should know.
These wars have involved Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Uganda, Rwanda, Namibia, and Burundi in a continuous struggle for control over natural resources-including gold, oil, lead, zinc and uranium in what has turned out to be the richest failed state in the world.
And the Congo has been the source of a drive for exploration and extraction since King Leopold of Belgium purported to annex it as his private reserve( separate and apart from the Belgian state)and loosed a reign of terror and extermination that brought cries from the world and anticipated along with the killing of the Hereros by the Germans the actions of the Nazis in the 20th century.

It has been the subject of a number of famous books, from Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Stanley's Through the Dark Continent to Colin Turnbull's pygmy tome The Forest People and Michela Wrong's account of the years of Mobutu Sese Seko, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz.

And the Congo is where Bogie and Katherine Hepburn went upriver in The African Queen-how many times have you seen that film..and the site in Kinshasa of the Ali -George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle, in which Ali won back his heavyweight championship after playing possum in the famous fifth round Rope-A-Dope.

Sounds like it's worth a trip now- after all it's the center of the Ituri pygmy population, once called sorcerers by Herodotus and one of the remaining hunter- gatherer tribes ( even as they were literally hunted down and cannibalized by fighters in the recent Civil Wars.) It's home too to the bonobo ape-with its steamy promiscous sex reminiscent to some of Southern California and immortalized in Will Self's scathing satire, Great Apes(which has little to do with California by the way).As well as home to the leopard, pangolin, okapi and male gorilla- see Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall for more reading in this area.

The Congo was at the center of African Marxist politics in the early 60's when Patrice Lumumba, a young idealist Marxist was assassinated by you know which intelligence agency and when the country's polity dissolved in a battle between Joseph Kasavubu and Moishe Tshombe until the accession of Mobutu Sese Seko stamped a brand of corrupt military dictatorship over the land for almost 30 years. Most recently, Laurent Kabila, who trained with Che Guevara in an unsuccessful Cuban 60's sally, and then his son Joseph have ruled over parts of the land, and Laurent NKunda, a charismatic Tutsi priest- soldier with a pet goat named Betsy,chalked up more than a few crimes against humanity before being returned to his native Rwanda for some R&R and downtime.

Yes, this is the place for those truly lunatic travellers among us, who throw caution to the winds and execute codicils to their wills at each airport they frequent-

You'll learn from this thorough guide that if one needs surgery it is advisable to be "evacuated to a neighboring friendly country" with better medical standards and God forbid you should need a transfusion and try to secure one within the parameters of this nation- your trajectory is likely to be vertical- straight into the ground.

Diseases to watch out for- bilharzia,malaria, meningitis, tickbite fever,pneumonic plague(but only in remote unsanitary areas) and the not to be discounted ebola fever- You remember that one of course- it's when every opening of the body bleeds as you become a living(but not for long) stigmata.

In this connection, it is advised to avoid handling dead chimpanzees-hopefully that is not the reason why you are here, after your hedge fund advisory position was lost.
And do not under any circumstance try to show anyone a magic trick, for the accusation of sorcery is common in an animist culture which associates disease and bad fortune with witchery. Many children, abandoned by their parents, and adults have been torn to pieces as a result.And just think what would happen if the Crucible opened in Brazzaville?

All this and more can be yours when you pick up a copy of Congo at Idlewild Books, the lovely travel/fiction store recently opened by former UN Press officer David Del Vecchio on 19th st in Manhattan where books are arranged by country in a manner reminiscent of the downstairs of Dent Booksellers in London

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