Congo’s history is particularly repressive. And dictators’ can be hard to shake off. I gre up in a dictatorship – in Dubai – and I recognized in the Congolese elements from my own society: a certain acquiescence, a cloistering within small ambitions, of business and family hierarchy; a paucity of confidence in oneself, and an utter belief in the power of one man.
It startles me how steadfastly I believed, growing up, that our dictator was just, good and wise. I was never told anything to the contrary. The media only carried good news.
………….in Kinshasa one could die poor but one had still to be buried like a rich man…… Nana told me about a boy who died of typhoid because his mother lacked two hundred dollars. Immediately relatives piled her with money – more than two thousand dollars – so the boy could have an elaborate funeral.
….. Congolese society ……among the foreign employers the Indian had a special place: known as the most exploitative, rarely paying more than the ‘market wage’ – meaning the minimum acceptable to the poor labourers, who were not in a position to negotiate.
The Congolese would complain and complain about the Indian, but they would accept that only one race treated them worse: the Congolese (the African, more generally)……..
…..the difference between the two kinds of Indians one met in Africa: there were those who had been brought generations ago by the British; and there were the new immigrants. The two bore little connection. While the former had built an India within Africa, with strict rules of marriage and gastronomy (it was they who had given Africa the samosa and chapatti, now the poor man’s staples), the latter lived as a hedonist, producing the metis, the half-caste.
This aspect of the Indians was considered a benediction by women, who knew that their metis children would have a status above the Congolese. Metisse girls, with paler skin, were considered most desirable. And though the Indian metis fell below that of the European, he was still more likely to avoid the life of a labourer. He was most likely to survive.