Anthony Bourdain's Congo



For the minuscule number of my blog followers, you may or may not know the number of times I've written in my blog posts my adoration of a particular Anthony Bourdain, of shows and series in TV which I have grown to enjoy ever since my parents opted to install Astro on our home telly, switch to the discovery travel channel and on was No Reservations, the much loved and irked travel series he's mostly accredited to. For those unfamiliar with this gentleman, google and look him up in Wikipedia! To sum it up, he's a writer, tv personality in travel shows and quasi-correspondent and a real-life chef, though I think he's professionally retired being a chef. He had a few shows under his belt, No Reservation was the famous one. I find it interesting though that during an interview with CNN regarding his life and background, he admitted that he never knew he'd end up today exploring the world particularly in his 40s, and leaving at the height of his career as an executive chef in the much spoken of French Bistro at Bresserie Les Halles. From a chef to an author and eventually a tv personality of non-cooking shows, I find that, for lack of a better term, particularly unconventional.

You see, No Reservations offers the viewers an insight into the, shall we say, less publicised parts of the town in the places where he visited, aided with Bourdain's knowledge of food, the show educates the viewers with a splash and bits of real fine food and cuisine that are often handicapped and well blanketed by overrated, Michelin-starred restaurants in books and magazines. Also, what's the point of a travel show if you're there to reiterate the conventional 'have to visit' places? Sure enough, Bourdain to the rescue! He would go to places where the rich and famous would visit, or to touristy areas, at the same time, he'd invite the viewers to look at the realities behind those glitz and blitz and those wonderful monuments in town squares, and have a sit down with shanty dwellers and ethnic tribes. Most of the time, he'd be in the 'in your face' kind of attitude, and 'oh, f**k, might as well' mode when trying out new cuisines and the less preferred dishes (highly acclaimed was the episode in Vietnam where he had a snake heart, still beating, mixed with a shot of alcohol).

Now the show has ended and Mr. Bourdain has moved to another network on to a new show, where he goes to various new places, be it in America's own backyard to hostile and 'highly ungoverned' countries and cities (insert Libya and Congo), his new series clearly tries to redefined travel shows on a different tone, perhaps more political and less touristy; and so the show was named 'Parts Unknown' for obviously reasons. While his in your face character has toned down a bit and topics discussed are somewhat political less so cuisine-ish, albeit the constant droppings of F-bombs are still there, this one I admit, I truly enjoy (mainly being that I'm a politics and history student). The episode that really sticks with me was when he visited Congo, the season's finale. I find it interesting but rather difficult to comprehend the harsh reality of the Congolese people post civil war. Being the size of almost the whole of Western Europe, Congo was supposed to be a rich nation, as it has pretty much everything in terms of resources. Gold, Oil, those things you need to manufacture semi-conductors and mobile phones; they have them too. Yet, history had not been kind to them.

During colonialism, the country was literally 'taken' in by King Leopold of Belgium, who declared Congo as his. And just like that most the goodness, peace and harmony that the Congolese enjoyed began to gradually slipped away. Like many colonised nations in Africa, the end of colonial rule meant self-rule, yet the process was too rapid, that colonial powers just wiped their hands off their African colonies, without really providing the right mechanisms and ensuring stability in the process. It's like after they stripped of the wealth of these colonies, they simply left them at their own devices. So same like Congo, being a country with a large land mass and population with hundreds of conflicting ethnic tribes (whom mind you were displeased with one another again as a result of the preferential treatment one tribe got over the other during the colonial rule), coups and civil wars were just a matter of time. Simply put, the Belgians installed an uneducated governing group of people will little administrative experience at the helms of power and  expect things will go down smoothly. And its proven less so, Patrice Lumumba became the Prime Minister, a figure much 'disfavoured' in the Western hemisphere due to this Soviet inclinations. He controversially increased the pay of all government officers except boldly the Office of the President and the military, those who were opposed of the Soviets encroachment. But not long after, the CIA in a typical fashion, sponsored a coup and installed Joseph Mobutu as the new Prime Minister. And just like that, a dictator was born. With a twist of irony, Joseph Mobutu 'a man of spectacular rapaciousness, brutality and megalomania', Bourdain later narrates, 'At one point, having looted the country of billions—and having allowed what infrastructure remained to largely rot into the forest, Mobutu’s army complained of not being paid. The President-for Life’s response was to point out that they had guns, and to suggest that they take what they needed from the already desperate population. This is an attitude that prevails today'. While Mubutu had been deposed out and long gone, gaining stability is still a far fetched reality. What's bizarre to me is that the latest figure released indicated that just in the eastern part of the Congo alone there are tens if not hundreds of rebel groups, all with their own territorial, ethnic, resource wealth interests and proxy agenda from neighbouring states. A good illustration below, taken from Parts Unknown:



And mind you, this is just an illustration of those groups and organisations that are already been identified. There are more that haven't come up with a cool name and acronym to be placed in the newspapers and evening news shows. Even worse, the map above is largely outdated. And boy, god knows what lies on the other side of that map. Bourdain again sums it up best: 'The Congo is a place where everything is fine—until it isn’t'.

The first season of Parts Unknown has just ended, and currently shootings for the second season is ongoing, and the airing date for that season will be in mid September. Following Bourdain on Twitter, he's currently in Copenhagen. Since I'll be there sometime around August, it would have helped if it aired sooner, but oh well!

I enjoy writing and travelling, much of which was influenced by Mr. Bourdain's comical and much appreciated narrations and anecdotal references on the weird places and things of the places he visited. But then again, who wouldn't be? Travelling is a joy, and its an educational process more than an activity of leisure. I mean, sure you get to relax and doze off in a hammock down the beach, but I can do that in Brunei any day, maybe in between lunch breaks during work.  You gotta love travelling, I'm telling you, you just have to!

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