16
Aug
08

ministry, pt. 3

Tuesday, August 5, 2008.

Something has happened to Counselor Félix. The last two times I’ve seen him, he has completely changed. His glasses, while still roundish, are quickly evolving corners. Gone are the earthtones, the whiff of ideology he wore like cologne. Now it’s creaseless white button-downs and understated polka dot ties. At his waist, he has a horizontal hip-holster for his cellphone.

I resist staring and turn to my left to look at…Enzo. Enzo the legend. Enzo the Italian priest-farmer-cook. Enzo who has a meeting later in the day with the First Lady (of Burundi) but wanted to stop by the Ministry of Foreign Relations first to plead his case against a local bishop who closed one of his facilities – motive: greed.

“They can’t just close down my carpentry shop like that! The rule of law!” Enzo proclaims.
“Yes!” shouts Félix.

Or something like that. It’s easy to forget the pettiness of Burundian politics when it doesn’t involve me. Instead, I focus on the conversation and I am almost in tears from holding back the tears that should accompany the laughter I can’t let out. Somehwere along the way, Enzo and the Counselor have decided that animal metaphors are the most sincere and efficient way to communicate. Félix has his hands flapping over his head: a bunny. Enzo chuckles, responds with some chortling that I think is suppose to be a pig or a boar and says something about butter. I am really hoping there is someone next door.

Félix switches it up, puts his flapping hands against his cheeks. A fish. I never see that coming. I’m totally stunned. It’s all brilliant. It goes on and on. Enzo tosses in some Kirundi proverbs that sends Félix’s assistant into hysterics.

Enzo’s friend, Alberto, is sitting in a chair in the back with a funny kid-like expression on his hexagenarian face. Alberto tells sidesplitting stories about working in the Congo and with MSF (Doctors Without Borders), amongst other organizations. Most of the tales end with Alberto replaying some vulgar gesture he made toward the other party, a gesture I can’t helping giggling at everytime.

Finally, Enzo gets up to leave and remembers that I have been sitting next to him for a reason. “Ah yes, you know Jefferson? We are going to work together. He is trying to get his organization registered and he wants to follow-up. Can you help with that?” Enzo says.

Félix: “Jefferson? I know Jefferson! We see each other all the time. He’s like family! He’s one of us already!”

 

The next day

I go back to the Ministry building, alone, but I’m not there to see Félix, at least not the person. I’m here to see his word in action. My file should be working along the Ministry of Solidarity by now. (The Ministry of Foreign Relations is on the sixth floor, the Ministory of Solidarity on the second. There are elevators but they are just for show.) I walk over to the reception and ask if my organization’s file has been sent down from the Ministry of Foreign Relations. The reply is curt:

“We don’t have any file like that here.”
Uh-oh.
“Do you have a receipt for the file being transferred?”
Uh…

This kind of thing has happened to me enough where I don’t even bother to argue. I just leave. The following day, I go directly to the reception of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and ask if my file was ever transferred. Three young women in pastel polos have now firmly entrenched themselves in the spots once occupied by older more serious staff. One of them looks through the giant ledger they use to keep track of each organization that signs in. No one ever remembers my organization’s name (Heartland Alliance), so I stand there and wait a half-hour, staring proudly at the functioning printer cable, a shiny new item amidst all the old discolored plastic. Finally, the woman spots my organization’s name and says, “Oh, there it is, from two weeks ago. That’s why I couldn’t find it. I think we were supposed to send out the file, but we didn’t. We’ll do that now.”

Félix!

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