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Smoke-filled rooms

August 29, 2007

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Today in the courtyard at the hotel there are a dozen soldiers, Congolese army, what they call FARDC (Forces Armeés de la Republique Democratic du Congo). Fully armed with assault rifles; one guy even has a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Why so many? I go up the stairs to my room, and one stands guard over the breakfast room, eyeing me with bored suspicion. In the back corner sits an officer — a general maybe? Lots of epaulets and badges and medals, a man in his 50s. He sits with two aides and two Chinese men in suits, smoking cigarettes. The room is entirely empty but for them. I walk past, get a spare computer battery from my room, and go back downstairs to the bar, our de facto office. An hour or so later, they all leave, the soldiers suddenly rousing from their torpor, running to their unmarked 4 wheel drive vehicles, jumping in, speeding off. I never see the Chinese guys leave. They vanish like ghosts.