Where I’m at: Brazzaville- spending my first (of 1, hopefully) Christmas in Africa
What I’m doing: frantically typing between internet outages (“Yessss, I thought of typing this post in Word and copying it over when the internet worked. Noooo, I didn’t do that. Noooo, I don’t know why.”)
Why I’m posting: nothing says Merry Christmas like this post’s title!
Just to clarify, I did not get neutered. That would be awful. Something Buck v. Bell creepy-ish there (that’s just a reference to keep the lawy-erudite interested). However, our son did get neutered last week. To clarify further, our “son” is our dog, Whiskey Peat. The time had come and they had to go.
Having had dogs before, I realized that neutering is often part of the ownership process. But watching WP’s behavior in the few weeks before the operation, I could tell that there was little that he wanted to do more than pass on his crazy gene. Unfortunately, there was little that we wanted less. We were hoping that he would be calmer afterward, what with significantly less testosterone pulsing through his crazy little veins. And whatdoyouknow, he has been…which actually makes it a bit worse since I feel like we opted for the neutering over the frontal lobotomy based solely on time of recovery. What kind of Frankensteins are we?!
Probably, though, it was the right thing to do. But this post isn’t just about the very literal castration in our lives. It’s also about the little castrations we see everyday (note: we are neither Mohels nor “in to that”). For instance, my walk to work most days takes me past one of the city’s main roundabouts. I’ll never forget the evening we first landed in Brazzaville, and what I felt like as we entered the big roundabout, with it’s fountain in the center, famous landmark, and trees surrounding it. It wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was memorable. And for someone that was to cover the environmental sector here (and for the biologist next to him, too, I’d imagine), I was struck by the reality of an African city carved into nature and known by many as “Brazza the Green.”
And so, it’s been with a heavy heart and a confused head that I’ve watched nearly all of the trees at that roundabout be cut down in the last couple months. A tree whose trunk seemed to indicate its very advanced age was the latest victim last week. A “castration” made all the more ironic by the fact that the tree thinning has made a billboard more visible that promotes the government’s current initiative to plant one million hectares of forest (in a previously unforested savanna, which is not exactly all that helpful or logical, but whatever). Not only is my morning commute less comfortable because I can’t hide from the beating sun – yes, it’s hot here, even at Christmas – under the shade for even the few seconds as I walk by, but also because I feel more aware of the crumbling, poor, man-made city that used to at least be hidden to some degree by nature’s mascara.
Unfortunately, that’s not where the castration ends. That morning commute by foot also helps to remind me everyday that we’re in Africa, less for the people and more because I’m walking and not driving. I’m not driving because our car is in a million pieces. Not a wreck. In fact, the car was running fine. It had just started getting noisy. Our neighbor recommended a mechanic at the embassy. So I asked him if he could figure out why it was noisy. “Sure.” Great. The one line emails that would follow between my emails asking for more info helped explain in quick succession that, the car needed parts, the parts cost more than $3000, we needed to order them ourselves, no we couldn’t have the car back in the meantime while we thought about it/ordered parts, why not, because we took the car apart, and it’s impossible to put it back together. W. T. F. Congo.
So yes, castrated by a now painful lack of mobility after having had gained mobility with our car not too long ago. Okay, I realize that this immobility is really not such a serious case. The frustration here is with the fact that we tried to do something in Congo and it backfired. As it always does. These little failures – be they through work or personal life – seem to happen with such frequency here that one feels, well, castrated. Helpless. And we’re not alone. It’s the reason businesses don’t come here. The reason that the infrastructure is either not existent or extremely dilapidated. It’s the reason that “This is Congo” has been said since the days of de Brazza and Stanley. Things – even the simplest, like asking someone to figure out why something isn’t working, not deconstructing that thing – often find a way to be impossible to accomplish here.
So yeah, I’m frustrated. But this place isn’t worth giving up on. Just like how Whiskey Peat continues to bounce around playfully, albeit less crazily, despite his castration, we’ll trek on despite the little ones in our life. And here, I feel it necessary to apologize to all who may be offended by the far too frequent use of the word “castration” in this post. Especially, Lance Armstrong. Unless it turns out he cheated. 🙂
Who said it: Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes
Why it’s relevant: Buck v. Bell was one of the low points in American history and in an otherwise brilliant career by Holmes (I earlier quoted another low point of his, in the free speech case U.S. v. Debs). The U.S. sanctioned eugenics, the practice of determining who was socially-fit to breed. A practice we widely condoned…right up until the Nazis showed us where that thinking leads. A post about castration has to include a quote about eugenics! Plus, it helps remind us that some of the political vitriol we hear around election season about “them” or “those people” might sound downright morally-reprehensible with a few years of retrospect. By the way, the subject of the 1927 case wasn’t even, as it turned out, actually mentally handicapped. She lived into her 90s, obviously childless, and died a poor woman who never received an apology.
The quote: “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.”