Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The MONUSCO convoy is parked in the middle of the road as I stroll by, black plastic bag in hand, on my way to return a couple of soda bottles to the corner kiosk. I nod to the sunglassed, bearded Pakistani driver and his companions. They are all Pakistanis, our local regimen of MONUSCO (the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), known to the locals as MONUC (the United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo, as it was called until mid-2010.)
White folks (or wuzungu) are inevitably associated with the UN 'round these parts, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Though the organization has a mandate to keep the peace here in eastern Congo, that's not always how it works. The last time there was real insecurity in Minova (about a year before my arrival), MONUC's (say "Mo-NUKE's") only real response was to flee. Since our organization, in typical humanitarian fashion, has a "no arms" policy, we rely on the UN in times of crisis. So when our staff evacuated in the company of the UN convoy, the local population, understandably a little miffed with their "protector's" response, began hurling rocks at the vehicles in said convoy, including our own.
When the situation calmed down and the staff returned to the base, our drivers surreptitiously painted bold red stripes on all of our vehicles, announcing to all would-be rock throwers that we are NOT MONUC!!!
Alas, distinctions between this peacekeeping mission and that humanitarian organization are not so obvious to your average Congolese villager. Lightish skin means MONUC to many (the lack of maleness or facial hair doesn't seem to deter them). When I can stand the base no longer and slip out of its confines, I am inevitably greeted with "MONUC! Biscuit!" Or "MONUC-un-bonbon! MONUC-un-bonbon!" ("MONUC a candy! MONUC a candy!")
This invaribly annoys me, because (a) My appearance is not even remotely Pakistani, and, significantly, I am not male. Why, then, do the locals not notice this? Has Congo changed me more than I realize?; (b) What on earth was the United Nations mission in Congo doing handing out candy? ("Sorry that your country is uncurably unstable, sonny. Have a lollipop."); (c) "Biscuits" are not much better. In French, this can refer to either cookies or crackers. To give our MONUC friends the benefit of the doubt, let's say it was crackers, wholesome, whole-grain, vitamin-packed crackers. STILL, what on earth were they thinking? How will crackers ease the ills of eastern Congo? Will they not merely doom every other humanitarian organization that passes this way to be seen as a potential source of ready, unconditional handouts?
So my response, unvariably, is "A pana MONUC." ("No MONUC.") "Hakuna biscuit." ("I don't have any biscuits.")
What did they put in those biscuits, anyway?