Now to the shrimp. In the mid-to-late eighties I spent a lot of time in Brazzaville, the capital of what is now called the Republic of Congo in central Africa. I was part of a small team working with the country’s president, Denis Sassou-N’Guesso, to find a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Namibia. Not only did this effort succeed, but it led to peace in the two big civil wars of the time, in Angola and Mozambique, and to the release of a remarkable number of prisoners, including, eventually, Nelson Mandela. There’s a documentary about these efforts, largely focused on my French friend Jean-Yves Ollivier, if you’re interested in the details, and I’m going back to Brazzaville shortly, for the first time in many years, for the 25th anniversary of the happy event.
Anyway, I became a very frequent visitor to Brazzaville, came to love it (great food, great art–the only school of oil painting in Central Africa is there, the school of Poto Poto) and I developed a passion for their fresh-water shrimp. I consumed epic quantities. Never any bad reaction. One evening I was sent to Libreville (Gabon) to discuss a matter with President Omar Bongo, and before leaving Brazzaville I had a shrimp feast. The next morning I awoke to find that I had had an allergic reaction. Giant hives. My ears and lips were enormous, my eyelids were much too big, and, well, I looked ridiculous. And I didn’t have any good antihistamines in my kit. They were back in Brazzaville. So I hightailed it to a local pharmacy, but I didn’t know the French word for “antihistamine,” which I kept repeating with my best accent. No go. I explained that I was swollen up, but the pharmacist insisted that I looked fine, and eventually I went to see Bongo. He didn’t know what I looked like, so he didn’t remark on my giant hives, and we talked…eventually I returned to Congo, took the pills, and survived. I never ate those yummy shrimp again, and thereafter I traveled with an emergency self-injector syringe full of adrenaline, in case I got a hive in my throat that would block breathing.
So I take this amphipod business personally…you would, too. And I’m keeping Watson, the killer poodle, away from the waters of Rock Creek Park.