To get to where I threw darts last night required a harrowing three-hour flight in a beat up old Cessna -- without maps or radar -- through stormy African skies. To stay safely (more or less) below the turbulence we cruised just above the canopy of the rainforest and in and out of the mist that rises so eerily from the trees.
To suggest that I actually know where I was when I stood at the line last night would be a serious stretch. Yep, it was in the Congo. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". Primative people. Mysterious sounds ...
If the truth be known, I haven't a clue where I've just come from -- somewhere east of Gabon and south of the Central African Republic. But I can guarantee you there's a dart board there and that it's hung just right. This is because I bought the board. This is because I carried it in a bag all the way from Johannesburg. This is because I nailed it myself, with a rock I found in the bush, to a tree by a bend in a river.
The way I've got it figured this now makes me the world's first darts missionary. Some aspire to great heights -- to walk on Mars or to solve the meaning of life. My aim is a little lower -- towards the triple twenty and introducing Cricket to the Pygmies. My wife is more than just a little bit worried!
The closest collection of people -- still a twenty mile hike from my board-on-a-tree -- is in a Bantu-occupied, mud-hut village called Mbomo. The barefooted tribesmen here are darters from way back. They throw (blow actually) the poisoned-tip version from little bamboo tubes.
The largest so-called major cities -- Kinshasa, Zaire (site of the famous Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974) and Brazzaville (Congo's capital) -- are, at best, a week to the south by pirogue (dug out canoe) via the Le'Koli and Congo Rivers. Just north is the pristine "Last Eden", the Nouvabale Ndoke Forest. Without a doubt my board is hung as far away as one can get from the civilized world.
I'm not sure what numbers most in the African night -- the stars twinkling high in the incredibly vast sky or the fireflies flitting like so many scraps of glitter against the darkness of the ancient forest. Movement is constant. Sound is incessent. The lights of the night seem to dance to the symphony of a billion unseen creatures. The "thunk, thunk, thunk" of my darts only added another instrument to this uniquely African chorus. I threw alone this night. My concentration has never been better.
The return to the real world was wilder than the journey from it. The second plane was even more decrepit than the first. As we landed on dirt airstrips at village after village, people fought with each other and the pilot to get a seat. Seriously overweight, carrying a good half-dozen more than its maximum capacity, the flight lumbered it's way back to Brazzaville. Sandwiched between a dying woman, a shackled elephant poacher and a baby gorilla in desperate need of a diaper I held my darts close and hoped for the best ...
There's one other place in the Congo to get a game. That's at the American Club in Brazzaville, wherever that is. For some reason I was able to locate the middle of nowhere but unable to find this establishment. I'm told the Ngok (crocodile) beer is a bargain though at about a dollar a mug. Apparently the place is only open on Friday's.
Anyway, if you're ever trudging through the Congo rainforest and you happen upon a lonely board dangling from a tree -- enjoy your game. You can thank me for setting it if you ever get back!
From the Field,