Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Their Countries of Origin

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Their Countries of Origin

Article excerpt

An inveterate traveller and a retiree with disposable income, before Ngongo I had already visited Malta and Kosovo. These were the countries of origin of three of our building's superintendents. But perhaps our most memorable hireling was Super #4, Michael, a slacker who once had the temerity to announce, 'Me Plumerian, you Chew. We same, no, Meester Bob?'

'Thanks a lot,' I replied, but he was impervious to sarcasm, a super-duper.

Historically, it is true that Plumeria, a small island in the Black Sea, has been a football for the Greeks, Turks, Russians, and other bullies in the region. But the Plumerians have given as good as they get: their hands are stained with the blood of other weak nations and ethnicities.

A far more sympathetic super haled from Ngongo. His name was/is Pierre Tshombe - like the Congolese dictator. Tall, thin, coal-black, agreeable and industrious, but with a modicum of skills, Pierre was only with us for six months, in 2010. He invariably addressed me as 'Monsieur Sheh-pardL When he disappeared one day, I assumed he had been picked up by the Citizenship and Immigration Services. At the job interview, he had produced a green card, but our Board is careless about things like forged documents.

I wonder what happened to that African guy,' I mused one evening, looking up from the paper. My wife turned toward me from her desk.


'That's right, I forgot his name,' I lied.

'I liked him, too. Everyone did.'

'I was thinking of visiting his country.'

She shrugged, raised her eyebrows, and turned back to the report she was writing. I took her non-response to mean she would not try to talk me out of a quixotic trip to Africa.

While she was at work the next day, I googled La République Federate d'Ngongo. I discovered a landlocked place the size of Luxembourg, tucked between the DRC (Congo) and Zambia. News items emphasised economic development, many involving coltan, which is used in cell phones. The country's deposits are grossly disproportionate to its size and population (5.2 million, according to a 1992 census).

Ngongo seemed exempt from the wholesale violence that dogs Central Africa, perhaps because it has been ruled for decades by an ancient dictator, who began life as a freedom fighter. Several times in recent years, this small nation has been flavor- of-the-month at Human Rights Watch. I speculated about the dictatorship's longevity. The capital, Fort Chaltin, is named for a major from the Belgian Congo. Why has the dictator not renamed his capital something more palatable, like Lumumbaville? Perhaps the old name inspires fear, at least among his minions. More to the point, the city is perched on an escarpment, which must discourage coup-makers.

By early October, having obtained my shots, visa, and plane ticket, I was ready to go. Despite the distance and airfare, $1400,1 planned to stay in Africa for only a week. I would fly via Paris to Fort Chaltin, then either spend the week there or make a side trip to Lake Tanganyika, which is just across the eastern border, 110 miles by road from the capital.

I pre-paid for a room for three nights at a pensione I also found on the internet. Having learned from previous red-eye experiences, I left NY at 12:35 pm, had a two-hour stopover in Paris, and arrived at 12:15 pm the next day. Even so, I was so tired I was glad I had not booked a rental car. I found a Citroen diesel cab to haul me up the narrow hairpin road from the airport and through the dusty town. It was the dry season.

Hidden by trees and flowering bushes, the Pension Saint-Louis looked lovely. When I signed the guest book, ?for security reasons? my passport and most of my money were put into their safe. I was given keys to my room and to the high iron gates in front, which would be locked between 7 pm and 7 am.

My second-floor room was kitschy, but spacious, clean and comfortable, with tile flooring, big windows, and a ceiling fan. …

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