Thursday, October 27, 2005

Adventures of an Aid Worker

It's probably surprising to some people how non-adventurous the aid worker lifestyle tends to be. Sure, there are moments in the field that are pretty cool - zipping through the jungle on a motorbike, being trailed by kids who rarely see white people, chopping down trees that have fallen across the road. But really, most of us just have office jobs like anyone else. There's water-cooler chat, even if we don't have a water-cooler. If anything, we have more office politics because we tend to hang out with our colleagues outside of work. I spend most of my time following up on budgets, reports, and managing a staff. I guess what makes my job unique is that I don't go home to running water. This is pretty rare too. Most any post, outside of rural ones, will have all the amenities that americans are used to. I think that my experiences - plane accident, medically evacuated for malaria, stupid intestinal parasites...well, this isn't the norm. Will be great material for my memoirs though.

For someone glancing at this blog it might appear that my animal photos are from Congo. Unfortunately, not the case. Africa isn't generally about spotting zebras and usually have to go to special parks for that. There's a famous animal in the Congo called an Okapi. Like most everything else, they've basically been hunted to the point of near extinction.

Another stereotype is that just because we are here to help means that people will like and appreciate us. Indeed, not the case. It is in many areas, but the Congo isnt one of them. What people see is not that I am working for their country but that I drive a car and they don't. They know I have money and wonder why I don't give it to them when they ask. They think that since I am here I should share my stuff with them. They think we should be doing more, and above all, helping them personally. I get at least a couple of nasty looks from guys every time I drive. Women never do. Kids and women tend to smile at me. I guess in general have not run into this direct hostility before I focus on it, even though it's very much in the minority. But I never had this problem in Niger. I think a lot of it has to do with the war...on the one hand, it's caused a lot of wounds in communities. On the other, people think they are owed something to compensate for their suffering. I don't blame them for that, but I wish they would see that they need to work among themselves to move forward.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cheetah. How effin cool is that? Posted by Picasa
Me and Leah feeding the fake buffalo. Posted by Picasa
A small island off Zanzibar. Beautiful. Posted by Picasa

Home sweet....Kindu

Despite my temptations to stay in Zanzibar, I did return to Congo. I probably could have claimed mental health issues and my agency might have gone along with it...between planes and malaria and parasites, I've had my fair share of stressors. But responsibility got the better of me and here I am back in Kindu. I almost got stuck in Goma (my point of entry into Congo, it's a town on the border with Rwanda where I catch flights for Kindu, which can not be reached except by plane). My logistics person there told me the next flight was in four days! Luckily I called a friend in Kindu who happened to have progammed a flight for the next day, so I did get out. Ran into my lovely friend Emmet as I drove to the airport. He apparently isnt heading back to Kindu just yet, which is too bad, because he has the West Wing and Six Feet Under on DVD. We watch it on his laptop and try to set it really close to us so it looks bigger than it is.

Meanwhile, back in Kindu, my crew is struggling. My UN guys have been trying to switch posts for ages and once again have been screwed over. My German friend is trying to move her office to a nicer, more convenient town and is not getting very far. The line between work and friends has been blurred and a few pals are at odds. My dear friends the Indians have gone back to India and have been replaced with a whole new group. And (horror of all horrors) the South Africans have not gotten and will not be getting any more beer, so our main source of alcohol has been removed, as well as our Friday night hang out spot. Ouch. These are dark times.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Ironicly, the drug i took for malaria that didnt work (fanzidar) rhymes with m y current vacation paradise. i guess there isnt too much irony there and it's more like an observation, but that's okay. the internet cafe has a crazy keyboard that keeps inserting oodles of spaces to bear with me.

vacation has been great. i have it half in mind to get on the plane with my mom and sis and leave the congo behind. but that would be rash, and really, i do like my work when it isnt stressing me out. my new attitude is that i just cant let it stress me out- just deal with the constraints and make t he best. we'll see.

it's amazing how the congo is like being in a relationship. not the tom cruise-katie hol mes thing. congo and i arent really that luvvy. more like the jude law - sienna miller thing, if jude law were less good looking and had a rocky past. the long and short of it is that it's a bit rocky and won't last forever, but there's defin itely a spark.

but back topic at hand - my escape to ocean paradise. zanzibar is lovely. honeymoon material all the way. i want to come back and just sit on the beack for a week. we did nothing but read books and play scrabble...though we did go snorkeling once. i highly recommend everyone come here if you can afford the shots, plane ticket, visa and all the other things that make people realize that europe or mexico is a heck of a lot easier to visit. however, for those of you reading this in africa, open up a new webpage and head to then find a way to get there.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


In the flurry of activity that led up to my departure from Kindu (for only a couple of weeks) I didnt have time to post the good news that I was taking a vacation. That, and I honestly was worried that I would jinx it if I posted. Seeing as how I had to fly from Kindu to Goma, take a taxi from Goma to Kigali (Rwanda), fly to Nairobi (Kenya) and then to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)...there was a lot of chances for missing flights! But it all worked out. On the plane out of Kindu I was with two friends also breaking free of Kindu for holiday. We sat in the small plane and looked at the plumes of smoke climbing from fires set in the jungle to clear lands. We cheered when we finally landed in Goma. We had escaped.

The taxi ride to Kigali was breath-taking. Beautiful hills that my driver sped through. The hills were striped with farmland, even on steep sides. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa...if not the most dense. Not an acre looked untoiled. The airport in Kigali was very hassle-free. In Nairobi I ran into a French woman I had met in Ethiopia! She was still traveling. We arranged to sit next to eachother on our plane and exchanged stories about what had happened in the last three months. I arrived in Dar and hoped my mom and sis werent far behind. They had a flight from the states through Amsterdam. I got to our hotel and couldnt believe how great it was! With mom along, we're staying at nicer places than I would alone, and the change is lovely. Mom and Leah arrived with no troubles. They were also quite impressed with our hotel.

In Dar we did the "walking tour" outlined in the Lonely Planet. Gotta say, it was more "funny" than "fun." Not too much to see but we had made the effort.

We flew to the North and did an amazing safari for three days. Lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants...we saw it all. Now we are chilling for a day before heading down to Zanzibar for the next week. I am having such a nice time that it might actually be hard to head back to the Congo! Can't wait to post some photos soon.