Is it too late to say happy new year? Surely not, because it is a happy new year for me, and I warrant you can carry on basking in the new year glow until at least mid January. I spent Christmas here in sunny dusty Bangui (the rainy season finally dried out mid December) and we swam and drank and I played tennis (lessons no less; I feel almost ashamed ‘cos this is just so white-middle-class-ex-pat, but, there isn’t an awful lot else to do in Bangui and now I’m loving it so decided to just ‘come out’); apart from that, we just hanged (hung?) around Bangui, enjoying not working, until the end of end of December when, thanks to the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) I flew off to the battered remote but remarkably beautiful town of N’dele in northern CAR, to meet the Sultan.
It sounds like a story: and his Majesty Senousi Ibrahim Kamoun, who took up his role as CARs most senior traditional leader (as opposed to religious or political) in March 2014, and lives in a wondrously turreted frail palace of a home on one of the sandy streets of N’dele, is a cool, regal leader, who works with the towns many different communities, offering counsel when disputes erupt. N’dele itself has a turbulent lineage of Sultans, some of whom engaged in politics, and slavery, eons ago. Nowadays the Sultanate is more about community mediation and development. I asked him what he thinks CAR needs to move out of this chronic crisis. ‘Reconciliation and co-habilitation’ said the Sultan. ‘There has been a religious element to the violence [in CAR] – some people thought the Muslims were taking over the country, and that we were all foreigners, and this was just a Christian country. But it belongs to all of us; this country of ours, that is rich, this country that will reconcile us if we live together.’
N’dele is one of my favourite places in CAR, especially the market, one of the busiest in the country, where you find spices, fruits, vegetables – and wonderful peanut-brittle! And right next door is the local marche des boissons locale – a local drinks market selling douma honey liqueur, kochobo, a sesame and honey brew, and bire-bire made from maize that gently knocks your head off! We spent part of New Year’s day there; I sat on a bench under a mango tree, squeezed between a local priest and a Muslim merchant and we laughed and toasted the new year together and how fabulous it was.
But all good journeys unspool and after a few more delightful days of meeting other local leaders, some motorbike rides and lots of star-gazing under the influence of (very) cheap red wine, I flew back to Bangui with air UNHAS (and was the only passenger they picked up in N’dele which made me feel very special indeed: thanks boys!)
This was a wonderful start to the New Year, which was a good thing because after that I went into free-fall: I do not usually look this sorry for myself: but after eating chicken in a little local restaurant, and delighting in the excellent tomato sauce and that went alongside it, I promptly threw up all night, and ended up at the French Embassy clinic weeping and begging for medicine….
Three days later, I am in recovery and now beginning to feel like Louisa again; so will celebrate my new found health with a packet of soup (I haven’t eaten for three days folks) and a cold beer. Happy Newish Year, thanks for all the messages and emails.
My 2015 resolution is to write this blog twice a month, with updates on the forthcoming ‘Bangui Forum‘ plus unreported stories from this country that is now my home, so do keep in touch: a bientôt x