Book 2, Chapter 20

Up close...

Absurd is the word...

I can't stop shaking my head, open mouthed, smiling.

It’s the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some doozies.

On arrival at the gates of yesterday I'm skimmed in along with a group, split into two precise columns. I don't have any idea what the fuck is going on - the preamble was in French - but I just go with the flow.

We make our way solemnly down the immense marble floored grounds leading up to the basilica - hundreds of meters - in silence.

I'm struck by the similarity of this gargantuan basilica with an egg in an eggcup.

I’ve got to stifle a giggle. It looks just like one.

Finally we get to the front doors. It’s obvious that there’s already something going on inside.

Our whole group gets hosed down with an overly generous lashing of holy water. We’re let in.

The place is packed. Everyone is already seated. There’s gotta be thousands in here.

I take one of the last seats available with the rest of my group.

I don't think I'm meant to be here... I think I might have just jagged a massive win: right place, right time.

I've got my own air conditioning vent in the seat in front of me...

Opulence.

From the outside it was imposing and impressive, from the inside it’s just plain beautiful.

Stunning.

The church is a grand, perfect cylinder with the altar at its centre. Around the perimeter there are no walls. It’s all columns and archways of immense stained glass windows.

The colours...

My god...

The morning sunlight is pouring through the windows. The depth and richness of all those colours - blues and golds and greens and reds - like thousands of shards of precious stone. Sitting in here feels like being in the middle of a many coloured, many faced jewel.

Awe inspiring.

How the fuck can they afford this??

I peel my eyes off the windows for a moment and get lost in the dome above; more stained glass; swirling rings of blue and gold, encircling to meet in the middle at a dove in white.

Magnificent.


The mass starts.

It's a wonder that anyone could pay attention to it, given the surroundings. And the fact that it's in French makes a slam dunk of my decision not to listen.

I'm more interested in the wooden adornment built into the end of each of the luxurious pews. It looks remarkably like a fist sized Easter egg in an egg cup.

For the life of me I can’t shake the notion that we’re all here to worship the mighty Lord and Savoir: Egg.

I gawk about for a long time, till I finally feel like I've soaked and taken a memory of every aspect of the building. When there's nothing left to do, I finally start paying attention.

This is obviously not your run-of-the-mill mass; there are more priests up on that alter than you could shake a stick at; I count twenty. There are four whities in amongst them and a bloke with a big, tall, fancy, papal looking hat.

Must be the biggen.

In the same way that McDonald's tastes the same anywhere you go, so does a mass. After getting dragged to church on Sundays for many years, I know it by heart, and I can recognise what's going on, even in French.

No one else seems to know what’s going on...

To stand, to sit, or to kneel? That is the question.

There's no consensus.

At one point in the mass there's a third of the faithful doing each.


Two hours in.

Even the priests don't even seem to know what to do next. There are some pregnant pauses...

This is so awkward... I want to run away.

There's a bloke two rows back from me who is snoring. Loudly.

A woman a couple of seats to my left decides that now is a great time to flop a tit out and starts breastfeeding her kid.

The choir fire up. They're superb. I close my eyes and get taken to a cathedral in Europe with their sound.

Then the keyboard gets going. Small and tinny and cheap. It can't fill the room.

It's playing cheesy pre-loaded backing tracks and melodies.

This is so weird.

I think of the place, and think of what this mass could have been...


Three hours in two other blokes are asleep. It's starting to become understandable.

I reflect on the lunatic who thought this was a good idea, the President, and come to the sad conclusion that we're actually very much alike: We both have the money and the ability to make a difference in Africa, but we’re both spending it in ways that are self-serving, selfish, frivolous, and maybe more than a little megalomaniacal.

Put more simply, we’ve both got our heads up our own arses.

The priests all leave and everyone seems to be looking about for a sign that it's ok to leave ourselves.

We're released from this stunning, gorgeous purgatory.


Dinner costs me 30 cents, a whole pineapple for desert costs the same, and mangoes – the biggest you’ve ever seen – cost 10 cents each. This is my kind of place...

On the walk home I come across a car outside the butchers section of the market. The boot is open, and full of chickens.

Packed with chickens.

Alive chickens.

They're just sitting there, huddled together.

No one's watching them. They aren't tethered. They could escape. Easily.

I stand there, eating a mango and watching.

Not one of them makes a move.

They've trapped themselves.

I think back a mere year ago, back to the skyprison... The office...

A chicken, waiting patiently in the boot of the car for the butcher...

Oblivious | Luke Gelmi