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

Friday, April 5, 2024

Doing Good - The Odyssey Of A Nice Girl In A Pestilential African Sinkhole

Amanda Lucas had just begun her work for Children Are Precious, and she was delighted.  After years of charitable work in her home town - helping the homeless, abused women, drug addicts, and alcoholics - she was about to go to the motherlode of poverty, Africa, a desperate continent in need of love, care, and assistance. 


She signed up for one of the worst places possible, a sub-Saharan country run by President-for-Life Victor Mbongo who had been in power for decades and had bled the country dry while enriching himself.  The country had everything - diamonds, oil, and rare earths - but Mbongo bilked the international donor community out of tens of millions to relieve 'the abject poverty of the nation' due, he said, to colonial racism and European geopolitics.  

France, Ireland, and the United States bought his hooey and provided him with generous grants every year.  Not a penny was seen by the populace and with sheer chutzpah and bald-faced arrogance, the President watched his off-shore bank accounts swell. 

The country was irremediable.  It had gone too far down the rathole to ever emerge.  Most Western governments had privately given up on it, took the diamonds and the oil, spoke promisingly of European-Third World collaboration and the greatness of Africa, but in private called Mbongo's Place 'a shithole with oil', and left it at that. 

Most development workers - an international cadre of economists, public health specialists, educational docents, and agriculturalists - stayed clear of Mbongo's Place, knowing that they would get caught in his web of intrigues, arbitrary arrests, and dismal, indifferent governance. Worst of all, the Crillon, a dilapidated, malarial, rat-infested hotel was the only place to stay in the capital.  

Most Third World assignments to even the most fly-blown, horrendous places meant a stay at a three-star hotel, French food, air-conditioning, and a lively bar scene; but the Crillon, point de repère for Mbongo's thugs and Arab arms dealers, had nothing but a scummy pool, cheap prostitutes, and sandy, Sahelian cuisine.


Yet and still, the young and impressionable Amanda Lucas, despite all advice to the contrary, insisted on working in Mbongo's Place, and with a government grant and a promise of support from the home office, she set off for her new adventure. 

The arrival lounge at Mbongo International Airport was, even for Africa, a miserable, chaotic, hot, mosquito-ridden, foul-smelling, insulting place.  The minute she entered she was accosted by touts, pimps, and thieves.  She was shaken down at immigration, robbed of her foreign currency, kept in an airless, trash-filled closet for hours because her vaccination card 'was not acceptable', and left on the curb in the middle of the night empty-handed and stranded. 

Thanks to her pluck and belief in the native goodness of the African, she was disappointed but not discouraged. Good times were ahead once she got her feet on the ground.  At the same time where was the glorious expression of tribal greatness she had heard so much about at home? 

Her DEI courses had emphasized that the black man's African roots were sacred, profound, and of a higher order than the white man's. The black man, thanks to his intimacy with the natural world and God-given inner spiritual resources that beggared those of the white man, would soon be given his rightful place on top of the social pyramid. 

'It's only an airport', she resolutely said to herself as the chokingly humid day began. 'All airports are unpleasant places to be', and yet there was the niggling, unsettling thought that this unconscionably horrible place might not be a one-off; and with trepidation she, in a rattletrap Russian Lada, made her way to the Crillon. 


The Crillon only added to her doubts.  Could she have made a mistake?  She looked around the lobby for a friendly face, but saw nothing but lay-abouts, beggars, and naked children. 

'May I help you?', said a well-dressed black man; and Amanda breathed a sigh of relief.  There was hope here after all; but it became quickly clear that the man had ungentlemanly intentions, was probably a white slaver out for no good.  At the same time, DEI trainers had told her that her suspicions were racist, toxic, and unwarranted.  The African man was more sexually needy, they said; and since his insistent interest was only an expression of his native tribal roots, such desires were to be admired if not encouraged.  

Discretion being the better part of valor, she demurred, thanked the man profusely and made her way to the front desk where she was politely told that she had no reservation and there were no rooms available. However for a small consideration, he might be able to hurry the departure of another guest and free up a room for her. 

By now the packet of greenbacks she had been told to carry with her was getting thin - a twenty to the Health Officer to let her out of 'quarantine', fifty to the customs official for not impounding her bags, another fifty for the immigration officer who said her papers were not in order, and more. But she needed a room, some small measure of security in what was turning out to be a nightmarish place, so turned over another fifty. 

She had come to Mbongo's Place not as a consultant but an expatriate.  That is, she was to live there for a term of two years.  The American Development Attaché would be her liaison to the African community and would help her find a place to live.  

Brandon Scheid had been in-country for three years and stayed only because of of punitive alimony payments, child support, and a mountain of debt.  Otherwise he would never have been anywhere near this long in such a pestilential sinkhole; so as one might imagine, he was permanently out-of-sorts, unaccountable, and drunk.  There was no suitable housing for the moment in the European Quarter, he said, for all bungalows had been taken over by squatters and government lackeys.  As far as an office, that was out of the question.  Internet, phone service, electricity?  He just laughed, coughed, and lit another cigarette. 

'God Almighty', he said, 'Why on earth did you come here?' to which Amanda had no ready answer, so she stumbled and hemmed and hawed, and replied, 'To do good', and at his drunken howl, she immediately regretted what she had said, for she had not meant to say that at all. 

So, she took a village hut by the lagoon in an African quarter, implored and begged for a mosquito net, some kind of door, and plastic sheeting for the window; but got only a stained and ripped piece of molded canvas and a bunch of palm fronds.  'This will do', said a barefoot, toothless man who brought them. 

For the first time in many years, Amanda said her prayers that night, and vowed to overcome her temporary adversity and to accomplish the goals she had set out for herself.  Come morning, she was sure, she would have a different attitude and be in a better frame of mind. 

And indeed she did and managed to get to the Ministry of Education, Sport, And Health to meet with the Under Secretary who was to be her government counterpart. She waited for over two hours until the peon led her in to 'His Honor's' chambers.  She spread her introductory document on his desk, and began to spell out her intended program to address school delinquency and poor academic performance in North Province. 

'North Province?' shouted the Under Secretary. 'Those thieves, miscreants, and insurrectionists will not get a cent from this office', and with a sweep of his hand sent Amanda's papers scattering to the floor. 'Come back when you're serious', he said, and the peon led her out the door. 

Although she never thought it possible in this most horrible of places, things went from bad to worse. Every last stitch of clothing she had brought from America had been stolen, she came down with dysentery, and no African was willing to work for her since her project money had been delayed due to 'unforeseen circumstances'.  So she spent her days shuttling between hut and latrine, desperate, lonely, and hopelessly discouraged.  As much as she had tried to give Mbongo's Place a go, it was time to leave. 

Ragged, sick, and dispirited she boarded her flight for Paris, blessed herself, took yet another double dose of Lomotil to get her to Charles de Gaulle, and watched an army truck go by, its soldiers whooping and hollering and firing into a clutch of vultures picking dead meat off the runway until the plane finally, mercifully took off. 

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