31 December 2007

a whole new year

Five years ago, I passed New Year’s Eve in the courtyard of the Auberge Beausejour in Kigali with a Lebanese diamond smuggler who spoke only French when I had only begun to learn it. There were very few others in the hotel, which is why we ended up hanging out. He spent the evening (as far as I could understand) telling me about how he had gotten a girl pregnant when she was 15 (and he was about 35) so that they could get married. He bought olives and beer and 7Up and Pringles from the stores up at the Chez Lando corner and at midnight he gave me a kiss on each cheek, in the old European fashion from before they resorted to four or six or however many kisses the Europeans are doing now.

Later, he offered me diamonds that he was smuggling out of Congo through Rwanda and I got scared of the whole diamond smuggler as an acquaintance concept and gave him a fake phone number so that if he ever got arrested he would not have my number in his phone, although I did hedge a bit and say, “Well, I don’t know it well yet… I think it’s…” We saw each other a few more times in the Baguette (fine, LA GALLETE, stupid new name) and other such ex-pat hangouts, but I managed to avoid any more long discussions. (Still later, I told a U.S. government employee about this guy and she said, “Oh, you totally should have taken him up on the diamonds! My engagement ring was made from a diamond that a smuggler friend of mine sent me through the regular mail! He didn’t even insure them, he had so many!” Er, yes, because I WANT to encourage the illegal procurement of diamonds from war zones? NO. I would be quite happy never to see a diamond again until they are coming only from areas where mines are locally owned, operate without exploitation, and use the proceeds within the country. Even then, I think I would have negative connotations.)

Somehow, I don’t think my first New Year in this new city will begin quite as eventfully. Hopefully it won’t be as nerve-wracking, either. It is, perhaps not surprisingly, a bit unnerving to try to figure out how to interact with a diamond smuggler who 1. smuggles diamonds, 2. has an underage wife back in Lebanon and is telling you about what should have been his conviction for statutory rape, and 3. doesn’t speak your language.

No comments: