come to Mbandaka (Congo) to visit one of my friends who
is working here as an engineer. I have been here for last
couple of days. New place, new face, new milieu -- just
added to the vault of my incessant thirst for experiencing
means wilderness, it means animals, my friend tried many
types of meals to please me at the dinner table but I was
missing fish as is often a predicament for the Bangali abroad.
My friend noticed my hankering and told me to get ready
next morning for the fish market.
call it FISH MARKET all right but don't let that fool you
to think that fish is the sole commodity they put up for
trade in that place. Well, we started very early in the
morning me, my friend, and his Indian Sikh friend, who looks
like a thinner edition of the famous singer Daler Mehendi.
destination was a straight 30-km drive over a plane brick
and soil road with few bumps en route though my friend who
was driving the car seemed to care less about it! He drives
wilder than Michael Schumacher. I suggested that he better
try out the F1 formula racing as a profession where he would
have US$ 20,000 per minute as MSA (Motorcar Survival Allowance).
reached there after a 40-minute ride on the motorway to
hell. It wasn't bad though I could glance over the serene
greenery and gently flowing river they reminded me of my
country my loving Bangladesh.
enough, we were on the bank of the river that's where this
bazaar sits. We, the trio came out of our Toyota and had
to go down a little down slope to be in the middle of the
market. There was a big gathering all locals selling
and buying fish (at least until now I haven't seen anything
but fish) there were countless dinghies on the shore and
pandemonium much like the weekly haat in rural Bangladesh.
But little did I know what was awaiting me! We were just
window shopping around though there was not a chance to
see any kind of window out there in that wilderness! There
were many kinds of fish only God knows the names of.
my mates, I saw, were haggling with a woman, coaxing her
for a more favourable bargain. The woman who stood at least
six feet and had the physique of Mr World was even more
stone faced! I stood at a safe distance though I knew that
her arms had a reach of at least 50 feet and she could blow
me away with a single tap of her finger! Man! Where was
I!?? At last, after a lot of cajoling, she relented and
gave away her catch of the day a pair of God-Knows-What
fish for about 4 US$. Then we moved on to the next.
I was just standing at the corner trying to figure out what
was going on and suddenly (and of course suddenly.) I was
jolted to my senses by this woman vendor who brushed by
me! There she was, standing barely a feet away from me,
with this sinister smile on her face and with a pair of
dead monkeys in her hands!!! For a moment I was frozen my
head started spinning and my limbs went numb! This woman
appeared to enjoy my terror and came even closer! "Don't
you like monkey brain, honey.” (later I knew this from the
local translator.) I didn't have any clue what to say. Monkey
brain. I wouldn't eat that even for a million dollars. I
was soon rescued from my misery from my companions but I
could sense the woman following me for at least a minute
trying to sell her dead primates.
we bought some more fish from here and from there. Most
of the vendors, at least 90% to my count, were women. Men
in the rural areas of Congo sit in their houses while the
women work outside. Not a bad concept for a lazy couch potato
like me! I would propose my wife for this change of role
for a month she works, the maid cooks and does the dishes
and I just watch TV. Only heaven could be better than this.
still walking while my mates were buying even more fish
felt like a Dubai Duty Free shopping festival under an open
sky. At that precious moment what I saw coincided with my
image of some scenes from the Discovery Channel. There were
these small crocodile babies all but two were dead and fried
to the skin - waiting to be swallowed by potential buyers!
The two living ones were half-dead, apparently from their
struggling with their captors! I saw them wagging their
dreadful tails and opening their mouths a futile expression
of anger and agony! I could bet that if they were made free,
I would be the one they were going to unleash their indignation
upon (given my layers of fat and excess flesh, they would
have their most mouth watering meal of the day).
it fear or cowardice I soon ran for my life from the scene
only to be greeted by another woman a small village beauty!
I started having daydreams that lasted only for a second
when I realised that she was trying to sell me small Iguanas
a four legged lizard. They were very much alive unlike the
crocodiles and were hissing and sighing in the air. Their
eyes were dark blue and skin red-hot with colourful stripes
criss-crossing from side to side. The petite woman held
them on her arms with an ominous look in her eyes. Even
the toughest dude in the universe wouldn't dare flirt with
her with these reptiles-for-sale in her possession! Have
you ever felt so helpless in your entire life? You would
never even take a chance. I flew on my wings with the speed
of light from that place.
mates continued their shopping spree with multiplied gusto.
They really were having fun and of course, getting good
bargains too! It was only I, the new guy in Congo, who was
in the midst of his most dreadful nightmare in broad daylight.
the meantime, I saw them selling some turtles and a dead
deer. A little boy was walking with a rope in his hand at
the end of which was a small dog. You might be forgiven
for thinking that to be his pet. I confirmed with one of
the locals that it was soon going to make it to one of their
dining tables! And they call it a FISH MARKET? What an irony.
I was at the end of breaking down with fear, frustration
and panic. But the best was yet to come.
not a very heroic individual and even cockroaches set an
alarm in me! And I am really petrified even of thinking
about the cold and shrewd looks of slithering snakes! My
luck had all these downward nose dives stored for me just
that very day!! How close have you been to spiteful venomous
snakes in your life? Well, I was close to the TV screen
where I saw the movie Anaconda! And that's the closest I
WANTED to get! But my destiny conspired against me for who
I was standing, I felt this unknown and uncanny coldness
on my shoulder and my extra sensitive senses told me it
was what I feared the most a live snake poured over me from
my back like a garland of flower by another woman vendor
a snake seller this time.
was alive and it was coiling around my neck like a lover
you meet after a hiatus of 100 years! I lost my ability
to shout some kind of sound managed to escape from my trembling
throat asking probably for help of any kind! Then my mates
were there for the second time by God's will, to rescue
me from my trepidation. We were in our car within no time.
vehicle drove past the road we came through. This time I
was a man draped with fear and excitement, with thrill and
horror much like you feel after going through a horror movie
in a dark cold theatre! My wife always has a hard time sending
me to buy fish back in Bangladesh as I have this abhorrence
for stinky fish market. She is going to be happy when I
get home because compared to what I experienced here, our
Fish Market (solely Fish Market!) is as pristine as the
Tajmahal and I am going to frequent them everyday.