"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 19, 2024

Love In Africa - Delightful Assignations In The Worst Places On Earth

Hardy Blanton had thought he was done for as the Kalashnikov-armed, keffiyeh-wrapped thugs surrounded his car.  Hardy, a long visitor to the worst places in Africa could only think of the old Jack Benny joke, "Your money or your life?" to which Benny paused, and paused again to the impatience of the thief. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" he said. 


Universal lawlessness, downright incivility, and savagery were no strangers to Africa.  Mungo Park, a British explorer in the late 18th century, charged by the British Exploration Society to determine the direction of flow of the Niger River, was kidnapped, ransomed, and kidnapped again, grateful only that his white skin had trading value.  Paul du Chaillu, another traveler in search of the gorillas of the rainforest had the same experience.  The African tribes he encountered had nothing at all to do with the civilizations of the West. They were wild men.

One would have thought that two centuries would have brought a modicum of civility to Africa, and the European colonizers did their best; but the continent sixty years after independence was a sinkhole of corruption, tribal warfare, venality, and hopeless political animism.  Success stories? None.  Billions of dollars of foreign aid invested, diverted, and wasted. A familiar tale of big men and their parochial tribal interests. 


On one occasion Hardy had become so upset with government indifference and lack of support to his internationally-funded project, that he went to the Minister to complain.  The Minister, dressed in elegant, gold-embroidered blue robes replied in a faultless, equally elegant French.  Did Mr. Blanton not realize that his government's largesse was blood money, guilty contributions to the black man with no other objective than payoff for past colonial sins?

And so it was that Hardy played conservative hands to corrupt dealers, lost little and gained nothing but a continued place at the table, content with the stacked deck, underhanded dealing, and the jacked up odds for the house.  If the system in which he worked was so corrupt, so impossibly and arrogantly unconcerned with anything but personal profit, then what was it to him? Africa was, after all, a continent of easy love, burnished ebony-toned women, and an uncomplicated sexuality.  Why not enjoy it? 

His nights with African lovers were applauded by his colleagues.  He, unlike the hundreds of white men who had come to reform and 'do good', knew that there was no good to be had except in bed; and in his universal, insatiable desire for women, he had become a good African man. 

Most white colleagues thought him rogue, dismissive of the very values of fidelity, abstinence, and respect for women for which they had come to Africa.  He had become one of them, and goddam him. 

Not only were his affairs delightful in and of themselves - African women, as advertised were insatiable lovers, ready and willing at a moment's notice, unafraid, immune to social commentary or intrigue - but romance was a heady plus to making love while keffiyeh-wrapped militias roamed the streets, when the lights went out and never came back on for days, when flights out were cancelled and panic struck the expatriate community. 

Africa was indeed an ungovernable, miserable place -  a rabid, ransacked uncivil continent not far from its deep forest Paleolithic roots.  Yet who cared?  Countless missionaries had come and gone, incredulous that the word of God had been thrown out like a rotten piece of fruit; countless economists convinced that the calculus of supply and demand was indeed universal, were put out to lunch when the truth, the obvious truth, the Law Of Venality, became clear; and hordes of volunteers, intent on restoring the black man to his rightful place atop the human pyramid, were scuttled and shipped out on the next freighter. 

Hardy Blanton had the right idea. If something smacked of undeniable truth and absolute innate wisdom, then there was no point in trying to deny it. What was the point of hammering on about liberalism, democracy, and human rights in a continent that didn't care for any of it?

Africa despite it all had its delights.  The five-star hotel pools were still cool and inviting and the bar scenes were alive with seductive promise.  The French restaurants were still among the best in the world with fly-in lobsters, cheese, and Premier Grand Cru wines.  The Portuguese brasseries on the Luanda peninsula served the very best giant shrimp, lobster, and grilled grouper.

And so it was that Hardy Blanton found his existential niche in Africa. A man brought up with small Midwestern American values of simplicity, honor, and responsibility came into his own in Africa, finally loosed from the Puritanical, righteous harnesses of his youth. This was what life was supposed to be like - a moral free-for-all, a tribal primitivism par excellence, an open-eyed acceptance of human nature, as territorial, aggressive, self-interested, vengeful, and greedy as it might be.  Once he stepped off the plane in Abidjan, Dakar, Luanda, or Nairobi, all moral bets were off.  He was finally his own man. 

It wasn't only Africa of course that stirred his drink.  Haiti, the failed state of the Western hemisphere, a country ruled by one corrupt dictator after another, mired in endemic incivility and robbery was the place to be if one were of the inspiration of Hardy Blanton.  Haitian women were as willing and complaisant as Africans, and the beat of the voodoo tom-toms in the hills above Petionville just as arousing as the gunfire in Treichville. 

International development was an ideal cover for the romantic journeys of Hardy Blanton. First class travel, stopovers at five-star hotels in London and Paris, and the finest accommodations in country. Nothing got done, nothing accomplished, but so was the vanity of the enterprise.  No one on the donor side expected anything except political thanks; and no one on the receiving end ever intended to do good with the money.  Only Hardy Blanton and his colleagues benefitted from a career which promised everything to 'beneficiaries' and gave all to those who indifferently hedged their moral bets.

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