Fieldset
Talangai Night Market

I was in Brazzaville for a few days of rest, relaxation, and figuring out why one of our suppliers has been grossly overcharging us for food. The prices on the shelf didn’t match the ones on our bill.

I was in Brazzaville for a few days of rest, relaxation, and figuring out why one of our suppliers has been grossly overcharging us for food. The prices on the shelf didn’t match the ones on our bill.

In the end the Yemeni shopkeeper was friendly and reasonable about the whole thing, and he readily refunded the amount that we were overcharged. We all agreed to blame a careless former employee and to continue doing business together.

Some people said I got off lucky. Apparently persistent demands for accountability often end with a large and well-armed chap escorting you off the premises.

Later I visited Talangai night market with Cécile (MSF super scientist). This place could work really well in a Cronenberg movie. It’s quite dark, with tightly packed stalls lit only by little kerosene lamps. The main offerings are alien-looking fish in various stages of asphyxiation, and exotic meats.

By the time we got there most of the croccodile and snake had already been sold, but there was plenty of turtle: live and dead; whole and in parts; giant riding turtles and cute little guys like the one that your third grade class kept in an aquarium, until someone forgot to feed it over Christmas break and you came back in January to a bad smell and an empty spot where the aquarium used to be.

One stall had big chunks of raw gazelle meat spread out on a bloody table. Sales were morbidly supervised by the gazelle’s own recently severed head, as proof of authenticity and freshness.

Cécile stopped to ask one vendor how you might go about cooking a 40-pound turtle. For a while we discussed turtle recipes and laughed together over the absurd prices proposed for the beast. Soon we attracted an entourage of admiring young pickpockets, who distracted us from our shopping.

I kept an eye out for smoked monkey, but apparently that goes pretty fast. Talangai’s customers are a discerning lot. “When there’s an Ebola outbreak upcountry you can’t sell monkey here, even at 500 francs ($1) a kilo,” MSF driver Euloge informed us.

(Spread by monkeys, Ebola is the famously incurable hemorrhagic fever that, in extreme cases, causes your internal organs to liquify and leak out of you.)

So that’s a good thing, I guess, and a triumph for free markets. Call me overly cautious, but I’m going to stay off the monkey meat. Their little faces remind me of this kid I knew in third grade.

We’re definitely having crocodile steaks next time I’m in town though. Seeing as the croccodile could be hunting you at the same time that you’re hunting it, I say fair dinkum.