Magazine article The New Yorker

Second Act

Magazine article The New Yorker

Second Act

Article excerpt

When friends and acquaintances of Joan Blumberger Olden, a former fashion executive in New York, received an invitation recently to a cocktail party honoring Francois Bozize, the President of the Central African Republic, it came as a surprise to many of them not only to discover that there was such a country as the Central African Republic but also to learn that its President had appointed Olden an Ambassador and member of his Cabinet. "You say 'Central Africa,' and people think of central Africa," Ambassador Olden said the other day.

The Ambassador's own familiarity with the C.A.R., a landlocked nation--just south of Chad--that is one of the world's least developed, resulted from her business interests in North Africa. In 1999, Olden had been appointed the president of the Mary McFadden apparel company; but when McFadden later went out of business Olden turned her attention to her own company, the Omnis Group, which imports medical equipment into Libya. ("Selling is selling," she said with a shrug.) She met President Bozize's brother Jean-Roger Ouefio in Paris, and made the first of three visits to the C.A.R. last year. In her capacity as a Cabinet member, she aims to be there once a month. "I do special projects for the President," she explained.

Ambassador Olden was in Bangui, the capital city, just last month, with her twenty-five-year-old son, Michael, who lived in Tripoli for four years and is now based in Switzerland. (Another son, who is twenty, is at George Washington University.) "We spent a week there, doing drives and exploring the different restaurants," she explained. The Oldens sampled local fare: fish wrapped in banana leaves and steamed in a tomato-based broth. "They put it on the plate so that the leaves unfold like a flower," Olden said. "It's delicious. It's a Pygmy dish."

Olden had stayed in a hotel overlooking the Ubangi River, on the far side of which lies the town of Zongo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "In the courtyard of the hotel, there are these huge mango trees, and everyone takes them for granted," she said. "I was sitting there with Jean-Roger, and I said, 'Gosh, in New York these can be so expensive,' and he said, 'Here they just drop off the tree!' He couldn't remember the last time he ate one. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.