The American Embassy

Posted on February 5, 2014


What are the chances of going to Congo and meeting a diplomatic in a dodgy bar? Well that’s exactly what happened to me on Monday night. The ex pat community is very small in Brazzaville and most people socialise over dinner and then go out for a few beers.

Tarzan, the Brit and I headed back to a bar they’d taken me to on my first night. It was someone’s leaving do, a lovely Danish guy who works for the UN was upping sticks to go to Ivory Cost where his wife and kids were waiting. Sat with him was a diplomat, ridiculously bright and my age! We’ll call him the historian.

In true Tanna style I invited myself to the embassy the next day. Tarzan looked at me at the end of the night, smirked and said, “Only you would get away with doing that Tanna.”

In order to be processed I had to email over my name and company for security and although a hack, the historian was more than happy to have me come over as his guest.

The next day Tarzan took me over to the embassy by bike. We walked in and were met by mental detectors and cheerful security men (makes a change). All our belongings had to be left behind. As well as the usual list of things not allowed no cameras, phones, laptops was something that did make me chuckle. Up there at number three was ‘No weapons!’ just in case you wondered whether it was ok to check-in your AK.

Inside, the building was quite bland. Lots of white doors with security coded handles, there was one conference room I was taken into, but on the whole I was quite disappointed. I thought it would be buzzy like a newsroom on a good day. I think the historians said there are about 200 ex pat staff who work there. It felt pretty quiet at 1130 in the morning. Sadly I wasn’t take past the first floor as more classified areas were out of bounds to nosey parkers like me. After a brief tour, the historian introduced us to his wife, the singer, who also works there in a professional capacity, but she sings in a band elsewhere and teaches music, that is her real passion – she has the voice of an angel.

A short walk through the impressive gardens which are used for evening receptions leads to the car park where the four of us jumped in the car and headed to the tennis club for lunch. It’s a members club, quite posh with a reasonably priced menu except everything we tried to order was not available.

It reminded me of when I worked at the BBC and the canteen at Television Centre. During the graveyard shift we’d go down to the ‘filling station’, we nicknamed it the ‘killing station’ and order breakfast. In the dead of night, most colleagues had been up for so long it felt appropriate to order dinner. On the menu was lasagne, meatballs, curry, fish pie, a roast dinner and pasta as well as the staple beans on toast, jacket potatoes, toasted sarnies and breakfast.

One day I remember a colleague losing the plot and exclaiming to the manager that every time he order anything that wasn’t breakfast or a jacket potato it wasn’t available. The manager calmly responded that what we saw before us was “an aspiration menu”, it had the entire queue laughing for the rest of the night.

Post lunch and a small rain shower we headed back to the offices for me to prep for an interview. I was expecting to meet with the manager from Odzala National Park late afternoon who was making the long journey down from the north to Brazzaville. I’ve been commissioned by two media outlets for two stories linked to ivory which I have found during the week, once they are published I’ll post a link.

There was so much to do before the end of the day, as well as pack and rendezvous later on with people for dinner. I managed to get everything done except packing thanks to a sudden power cut across the neighbourhood at around 11pm. It’s at times like this when you notice the difference between the wealthy and the poor. The sound of generators pumped out from behind gated barbed wire properties, while the rest of us scrabbled around in the dark hunting for candles.