Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chapter 7

Diamanthe built Villa Blanca, a few hundred meters away from Medecin sans Frontieres. She owed them big time. Her mouth, lips and jaw had been hit by hundreds of slivers from an acacia tree. The lower part of her face was badly disfigured. Doctor Valero, a Cuban had painstakingly reconstructed her entire mouth and teeth. It had taken fourteen months. He steadfastly refused any money.

"Please. Let me help your country in kind," she had insisted.

He told her sadly."Diamanthe, no country is in the state in which the Congo finds itself. We need plasma, antibiotics, surgical instruments, mosquito nets, clean water, and plastic syringes. The truth is we need everything. It is mind-boggling. Whatever you can do, we will be grateful.”

Did Dr. Valero say they would be grateful? How can I ever repay them? Nothing I do will ever be enough! She reflected with a quivering heart.

She continued her donations even after Dr. Valero was called back to Cuba. All the doctors would have stayed in the Congo ad infinitum, but their health was usually affected, because they worked long hours and the human suffering they saw took its toll. Diamanthe lost track of the doctors. She was only familiar with Anita, the Italo–Congolese nurse because she lived in Kinshasa and no one could make her budge from the Congo.

Soon, dinner would be served at Villa Blanca. Unless she was entertaining a client at the Intercontinental Hotel, which was a five star hotel, it was her custom to dine "en famille."

They were all smiling at her. The twins, Kuya and Dongo, honor roll students at the Catholic Mission School run by Opus Dei; Tonko had a desire to become a priest and a doctor. There was a two-year difference between Kiru and Moko yet they seemed identical twins. Both had seen Akua disintegrate before their eyes: that made them quiet, and very pensive.

Along the way, Diamanthe had found Pepe, a twelve-year-old boy from Mozambique or Angola. He spoke some Portuguese so it was reasonable to assume one of these countries had once been his homeland. He had no clue as to which it was since he was kidnapped at age two. Almost a year ago to the day, Pepe had lost his left leg just below the knee, by stepping on a small land mine, on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Their family outing among the orchids and majestic canopied acacias was ruined. Now, they had picnics only inside the grounds of Villa Blanca.

"Part of the cache of the next batch of diamonds, fancy or white, will go to buy Pepe the finest prosthetic leg. Moko needs a complex operation and we may have to go to Switzerland for that,” announced Diamanthe before sitting down at the head of the table.

To honor her mother and father, the table was always set with hand-embroidered Belgian linen tablecloth, Sevre crystal, Cristoffel silver and Capodimonte porcelain.

Catherine Deneuve, an enigmatic, alluring and luminous French actress and star had recently agreed to finance an Italo-French company, which specialized in the most natural looking and flexible prosthetics for children.

"Pepe would be using a Deneuve prosthetic soon,” she vowed silently.

Pretty seven-year old Jinga, another one of the children whom she lovingly referred to as my pickups, wanted to know,” when will the burn marks on my legs go away?"

Her village, near Lumbambasha, had been bombed with napalm and phosphorus.

"You must try to be patient and I know it’s difficult, petit Chou. For that type of operation we may have to go to Zurich or Paris."

"It’s my turn to sing Mama Marena’s prayer,” said Pepe.

"Our dearest, most precious, never to be forgotten mother," declared Diamanthe, her eyes welling up with tears.

They all held hands and waited, "Mo-ne-tua-ka-sule-kango-Sao-Tome …” sang Pepe in a crystalline and melodious voice, then seven voices joined him in reverent song.

"How come we don’t know what we are singing and what the words mean?" asked Kuya.

He always asked the same question. It was part of their ritual of feeling safe and secure.

"We will discover it eventually by process of elimination," Diamanthe replied as she always did.

"It is not Congolese, or any of it’s offshoots," observed Dongo, Kuya’s twin.

"It is not even close to Swahili," added Tonko and Kiru in unison.

"Shangana Zulu and Zulu, it is not," affirmed Diamanthe.

"Someday, I don’t know when, perhaps when we least expect it, we will discover what language our Beloved Mama Marena’s song is and what it says."

She kept her reflections to herself. The melody is a cross between a lament and a prayer. The word – cross, struck her. In Africa, metaphorically and physically, we are very familiar with the cross. The Romans learnt the practice of crucifixion from the Carthaginians, a Semitic people, who conquered and traded in slaves in every direction of Africa. Mama Africa had known the pain of war and death and captivity long before the Egyptian and Babylonian captivity of the biblical Israelites had taken place, she reflected.

No! No! You must not delve into suffering again. Enough for one night’s reliving of past anguish, she scolded herself.

She was unaware that her mother Marena’s song was a lament sang in Kimbundu, one of the languages of Angola. It told of yearning for lost loved ones the Portuguese had sent to concentration camps on the desolate island of Sao Tome, off the coast of Angola.

She did know it had the tone of suffering, and rather than think of her own suffering she remembered that Madiba, Nelson Mandela, Father of South African Independence, spent 28 years in an infamous concentration camp – Robben Island, some place God had for a time, forgotten about.

Madiba was in Robben Island longer than I have been alive. That’s how I see it anyway. I must always remember that suffering is not unique to me or to members of my family or even to the Congolese.

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