To Hellholes and Back: the funniest joke in Africa

The first chapter of “To Hellholes and Back” introduces a running theme of the book’s Africa section — my month-long effort there to uncover the funniest joke in Africa.

Reader Chuck Hafter has submitted a better Congo joke than I was able to uncover.

Told to him in the 1980s by a friend from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Hafter’s joke nevertheless remains painfully accurate, as I discovered in a town called Matadi in an episode covered in chapter 3.

Hafter’s joke:

Reagan, Brezhnev and Mobutu are taking the same plane together. They fly into a very thick cloudbank.

“I wonder where we are,” says Reagan.

“I will tell you,” says Brezhnev. He opens a window and sticks his hand out. “We are flying over Moscow.”

“How can you tell?” asks Reagan.

“I felt the top of St. Basil’s Cathedral,” says Brezhnev.

Later, they fly into another cloudbank.

“I wonder where we are,” says Brezhnev.

“I will tell you,” says Reagan and he opens a window and sticks his hand out. “We are over Washington D.C.”

“How can you tell?” asks Brezhnev.

“I felt the top of the Washington Monument,” says Reagan.

Later, the biggest cloudbank of all.

“I wonder where we are,” say Reagan and Brezhnev.

“I will tell you,” says Mobutu and he opens a window and sticks his hand out. “We are over Kinshasa.”

“How can you tell?” ask Reagan and Brezhnev.

“Somebody stole my watch,” replies Mobutu.

Thanks to Hafter also for emailing me a nice note despite his strong disapproval of my predictably pissy take on soccer in the Mexico City chapter. Per Hafter’s request, I did indeed check out a few Lionel Messi highlights on YouTube. Impressive, but I’m not yet willing to concede the larger points of my “down with nimble-footed nimrods” position. Still, when next in Spain, I’ll have a look at La Liga.

Thanks to all who write.

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