Cognitive Dissonance In The Present Tense

A decade later, with the Congo's once-impressive infrastructure rusted or looted, the IMF imposed a new SAP. Tshikala Biaya describes how the 1987 agreement "sought to give 'legal power' to the informal sector and make it a new milch cow which would replace the welfare state that the IMF and the World Bank had just destroyed." The Club of Paris rolled over Mobutu's debt in exchange for further retrenchment in the public sector, more market openness, privatization of state companies, removal of exchange controls, and increased export of diamonds. Foreign imports flooded Zaire, home industries closed down, and another 100,000 jobs were lost in Kinshasa. Hyperinflation promptly destroyed the monetary system and any semblance of economic rationality.64

There is something unique about trying to read a radical Marxist urban planning tome while flying on a Boeing 737-700 with a bunch of drunken, middle-aged white women.

"LOOK!! It's that guy who was on the plane with us on the way in! THE SAME GUY!!!"

"Hey! What's your ..." leaning in very close ... "um, name?"

"Money," wrote René Davisch, "appeared to be a mysterious and fantastic entity, retaining no relation to either labor or production. People came to seek refuge in an economy of fortune."65 The Kinois, indeed, were caught up in a desperate frenzy of betting: French horse races, lotteries organized by the big breweries, bottle cap games by the soft drink companies, and, most fatefully, a pyramidal money scheme, secretly controlled by the military. (A similar quasi-magical "pyramidmania" would sweep Albania with equally devastating results in 1996-97, sucking up and destroying the impoverished nation's GDP.)66
"I have drink coupons!!"
Yeah, well, I have drink coupons, too, and I'm not afraid to use them. And I have a can of Red Bull in my bag, so maybe I'll get some vodka with which to mix it. But the flight attendant is distracted by the inebriated ramblings of the ladies in the row ahead of me. I wait, and I wait.

I used to be embarrassed about ordering drinks on a plane, mostly because I felt I looked too young, and I did not want to be carded by Southwest Airlines. Once, when I was 23 and looked 19, I ordered a gin and tonic on an early afternoon flight. It was a Sunday. Easter Sunday, in fact. Both of my seatmates turned and eyeballed me as I tried to hand over my drink coupon with as much nonchalance as possible.

My plastic cup of vodka and ice arrives, so I mix as much Red Bull as the cup will hold and start sipping gently. I have been loath to consume much vodka since a 1999 party called "International Vodka Night" left me less excited about distilled Russian potatoes than I had previously been. The cup I was served is essentially a double vodka rocks, and I am only able to add about two tablespoons of energy drink as a mixer. Somehow, it is not as overwhelmingly vodka-ish as I would have anticipated.

One minute later the flight attendant is back at my row. "Does your vodka taste like rum?"

Hmm. Is this a test? "Uh, I already mixed it, so I can't really tell." The flight attendant apparently suspects that she slipped me the rum that was ordered by someone two rows back, and vice versa. Upon closer inspection (i.e., me sniffing), it appears that I was, in fact, served rum. But you know, Red Bull is so disgusting that it mixes equally poorly with just about any hard liquor, I imagine.
"Remember when they stopped you at security because you had a half-eaten banana in your bag?"

"OH MY GOD! I thought I was going to die!! And they let you through with your can of mace!"

I have a very low tolerance for caffeine -- Excedrin makes my hands tremble -- and I have already consumed 20 oz. of Coca-Cola Classic this afternoon before boarding the flight. Combined with the energy drink, that's still less caffeine than a grande café au lait at Starbucks, but it's also about 1000 percent more than I usually have in a day. Also about 1000 percent more rum.

Initial investors won radios or appliances from South Africa, inducing everyone else to gamble that they could board the scheme and then disembark before it crashed -- but there were few survivors of the inevitable disaster. As Devisch explains, "With such a large part of the population of Kinshasa involved in these financial schemes, the effects of the collapse on the economy, and especially the informal sector, were disastrous. The bitter frustration of the people led to an imaginary yet vicious mentality of sorcery."67
"How did we get so drunk?"


Later tonight, I will have sangria. Things are looking up. For me, that is. For the Congo, not so much.