In the middle of the week I asked my dear friend Pastor François Tshidimu to do me a favor. Could he buy my ticket to fly to Mbuji-Mayi on Monday? Buying a ticket involves trekking to an office somewhere in this unwieldy city and my schedule was filling up. Yes, of course. He could do this Friday morning while I attended the closing ceremonies for the literacy classes. But he needed my passport.
I had no qualms about giving François my passport and enough money to more than cover the cost of the ticket. And later that day, before an elaborate reception that he hosted for me at his house in his wife’s absence, with the help of church members, and after attending to the sudden death of his wife’s sister, he handed me the ticket, my passport, and $105 in change. Trust François to get things done.
At the end of the reception he told this story to the assembly:
He had indeed purchased the ticket with no problem at the Congo Airlines offices. On his way back, however, he ran into a police blockade. The police were checking IDs and doing what police do to maintain the order of the regime and their own living arrangements.
François became concerned about the American passport in his pocket. Not only that; he did not have on his person his voting card, a primary ID. When asked for his ID, he produced his bankcard and explained that he didn’t have his voting card with him. The police officer asked him to empty his pockets. François emptied the pocket that contained his wallet.
What about the other pocket? François pulled out the $105 in change from the ticket purchase but left the passport in his pocket.
At some point–I am not remembering when–the officer said he would have to come to the station. François went.
He was asked why he was out and about and he explained that he had just come from the Congo Airlines office, where he had bought a ticket to Mbuji-Mayi.
Where is the ticket? François produced it.
And what is this name on the ticket? Nancy Myers? This is not you. Is this a woman?
Is she Congolese?
No, she is American.
Why are you buying a ticket for her?
Because she is my church partner. I am a pastor.
Ahh. You are a pastor. And what is that thing that is still in your pocket?
Most reluctantly, François pulled out the passport.
An American passport!
Yes, this is the passport of the woman for whom I bought the ticket.
Meanwhile, François says, an officer was looking at every single message on his phone, finding some evidence that he actually was a pastor, and no evidence at all of his political views. He is very careful about that.
Nevertheless, it was clear that it would cost him something to bring this session to an end, and it came down to the $105 in change from the ticket purchase.
But François objected. I can’t give you that! That is not my money. It belongs to the American woman.
It is not routine for police officers to accept such explanations but this one said, well, how about a bottle of water then?
François gave him 2000 francs–worth about $1.25–and was dismissed.
Buying a ticket for a helpless American woman, talking down the police, making funeral arrangements, and hosting a reception complete with formal speeches and a grand feast–Pastor François had a very busy day.