By Roseline Soubele 

At this time of year, back home in my country, which is the Republic of Congo, the word “Janviosis” circulates constantly from mouth to mouth – old or young, it’s a word everyone uses. In Lingala, the word is “Mpiaka,” or “January drought.” 

Because after the big, end-of-year celebrations, with Christmas and its toys and gifts to the left on the calendar, and New Year and its exchange of wishes to the right, the pockets of many Congolese are empty. It is often said that the “January Devil” is passing. 

With uncertainty as to when the salaries of civil servants will be paid, and when delayed pension payments will be sent out, on top of the unemployed, January is chaotic, every year, and “Janviosis” is on everyone’s tongue. 

The month of January is a dry month, with all reserves exhausted, and many in debt, and the government does not provide reassurance. Moods plummet, people are very tense, anger boils over for very little cause. Fathers come home late, empty handed, dreading seeing their children welcome them with the hope of receiving a gift, some candy, or a cookie. Relations between couples go cold.The spaces in the market are almost empty. Saleswomen shout for customers in vain, and customers dare not stop unless they are sure they are going to buy – to avoid rage on the part of the saleswomen. 

But don’t get the impression that no one smiles at all in January. Keep calm – in the middle of all this, smiles remain at the local bars, commonly called “nganda” or “VIP.”  Alcoholic drinks are sold on credit; the men gather to talk about football and politics and forget the setbacks of the day; the mothers get together for “massolo” or “gossip.” The atmosphere in the bars is calm and fun – if you don’t ask the wrong question, of course, or if you don’t end up in the wrong place at the wrong time (because everything can go wrong anytime during January, even for no reason). 

The best hope for January, according to Congolese, is that the month goes away soon. Expectations turn to February, which will undoubtedly be a lot nicer, and carry luck.