Cows, beer and chocolate eggs.
I have now discovered a little circuit that I walk each weekend. It’s not much to get excited about – I walk from the compound to the MSF hospital, then to the General Hospital, and then home again. In some ways it can be a bit repetitive – particularly the predictable conversation with the motorcycle taximen, who ask me (every time) why the MSF staff never use the moto-taxis (I invent increasingly elaborate reasons on each occasion – often our creativity flourishes when our repertoire of activities is limited). But the route is pretty in places, with its crops of palm trees and fish ponds; and the highlight is a little river that is forded by a slippery log, providing a few moments’ excitement in an otherwise unremarkable promenade.
Now, I wasn’t really planning to talk about the walk in such detail – it is the little river that I wanted to get to. And before I get there, I should say a word about the rivers here. No matter how diminutive or dirty or inaccessible a river may be, it will always be the site of frenetic activity of one sort or another. Women will be washing the clothes of numerous children; numerous children will be playing nearby (and getting their clothes dirty again); and the men will be polishing their beloved motorbikes, or (occasionally) killing a cow.
This latter task is undertaken only on special occasions – indeed, it was back on Easter Sunday that I chanced upon this activity taking place. Everyone was in a good mood, and eager to chat. We started discussing Easter celebrations around the world – I told them that in the UK we hide chocolate eggs for the children, whilst in the Czech republic (according to one of my colleagues) the young men chase the young women across the town, attempting to whip them with birch twigs, whilst the women frantically bake cakes in an attempt to appease the men. I asked them how Easter was celebrated in Congo, and they told me that they kill a cow and then spend the day drinking beer. I asked them if they hide chocolate eggs, but at this point the conversation broke down due to linguistic and logical barriers (why do we hide chocolate eggs?).
After graciously declining the offer to participate in the cow killing, I headed back to the compound. I stopped off briefly at the moto-taxi stop to discuss our non-utilisation of the moto-taxis, and then at the corner store to see if chocolate eggs were available. They were not, so I picked some birch twigs, headed home, and tried to persuade my colleagues to celebrate Easter the Czech way.