Thursday, December 22, 2005

I have tried to sum up how being home can be nice but it's also a little strange. While I don't expect the world to stand still while I am away the main thing I have to base it on when I am in the Congo is how things were when I left. Home becomes an idea: pictures and thoughts of people and places that don't necessarily update themselves based on reality. So coming home is like arriving at your house and finding the furniture rearranged - it's the same but different.

Haiku of the day:

Pink hats and snowflakes
One is fuzzy, one is brave
I missed you both

Friday, December 16, 2005

The American Jungle

As I settled into my seat on an air france flight exactly one week ago, I marveled at how I had already entered a more orderly world. Assigned seating. Nice rule-enforcing stewaerdesses. Background music. It was a lovely feeling.

Arriving in NY my linen jacket was no match for the December chill, but I only had to run from the cab to my friend Courtney's apartment, where I raided her closet. It's been a while since I wore winter clothes and it felt nice to bundle up. That weekend Court, her boyfriend and I ate good thai food, attended a fun cocktail party in Brooklyn, and played botchi ball at what has to be the world's only bar with a botchi ball court inside. Court? Pitch? Not sure of the name of the place-where-one-plays-botchi, but I was amazingly lucky and kept winning.

After the weekend I went home to Georgia and cluttered my room at my folk's house with my two suitcases and a box I shipped from Niger that I still haven't opened and have forgotten what's inside. Clothing and a moroccan rug I think (I got stranded in Casablanca on my way to Niger last year. It took me EIGHT DAYS to get from NY to Niamey. I think it's some kind of record). My mom, dad, grandpa and I went to our fave restaurant Pastis, where my grandfather regularly updates people about my life and pulls up my blog.

Now I am in DC. Last night I went to a holiday party with people in the development and humanitarian assistance industry and marveled that they are our (people in the field) counterpart. The yin to our yang. People thinking about the same issues that me and my colleagues think about but don't have the time to deal with them in depth because we are caught up in our day to day management activities. Neato. That said I definitely enjoyed talking about DC dating as much as saving the world (time and place for everything, right?). I even ran into someone that I had taken a flight with in Maniema.

I have a big question mark for what I am going to do when the project I work on closes at the end of April. More field? DC? Become an astronaut? Marry for money? Yes, the possibilities are endless, but it's good to get a feel for the DC thing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Earthquakes and other unheard of events

There was an earthquake to hit eastern congo two days ago, though not much has been reported on it (check out this link for an article: A few people have died but there was remarkably not too much damage. Buildings in that area (Kalemie) are not structuraly sound but they are rarely above one story. More interesting perhaps is another tragedy that killed 20 or so people (I've heard different numbers) a couple of weeks ago. People often ride on the tops of train for transport, and dozens were swept off a train heading from Lubumbashi to Kindu by support beams on a bridge. Again, there was little reported on this, though the BBC had a mention.

Not to have a downer of a post, but on this theme of routineness by which people in third world countries face death and loss, I'd like to mention the saddest thing I've seen since my arrival in Africa 16 months ago. Incidentally, this incident was never reported in any press. I was in Niger, driving in between some very rural villages that had no roads connecting them. We got a little lost and ended up in a village not on our list to visit. There we asked a few men for directions. They gave them to us, but wanted to show us something. We got out of the car and walked towards a large whole in the ground where the earth have caved in on itself. It was about 8 meters in diameter. It used to be a well and it had collapsed five days before. Seven women, several with babies on their backs, had been gathering water when it caved in. They all perished. Some of these wells were dug more than 50 years ago and don't have proper support beams. Three men tried to retrieve the bodies and were killed when it collapsed farther. I imagine them with the ropes tide to their waists that were held by there brothers and friends, and how these same men had no choice but to flee as the ground gave way. In addition to the deaths they also lost their principal water source. But what surpised me was the way in which the event was recounted. The even tone of the voices of the men. I saw in their eyes that they wondered why this had happened to them in particular, but that they did not queston why such things happen. I saw acceptance. Death is very much a part of their lives. In America - in most any western country - such an event would have been front page news. But there we were the only outsiders to see what had happened, to hear their recount, and to have the scene imprinted on our minds. The men never asked us for help - not for a new well, not to help them retrieve the bodies, not to help the families of the deceased. They just wanted to tell the story.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kiss my Kinshasa

Today is Tuesday. I think I was born on a Tuesday, but that’s neither here nor there. I arrived in Kinshasa on Saturday. The UN flight was remarkably hassle-free. It arrived on time, and we even sat in the first class section. Joy! Once in Kinshasa I met up with a few new friends and enjoyed the city life. I think always manage to take a hot bath and eat pizza within a couple hours of my arrival, and this time was no exception.

I’m always surprised at the small adjustments that I make when from Kindu to Kinshasa. Maybe for an outsider might picture all these African towns as being the same, but basically Kinshasa is a bustling capital city with lots of traffic, people and movement, and Kindu is a one-street kinda town where 95% of the 70 or so vehicles belong the UN. I eat the same thing every day in Kindu and my life is pretty simple. I only have about eight places that I hang out at: friends’ houses, the three UN bases, UN headquarters, and one bar that I hardly visit. Everyone knows everyone. Kinshasa has so many choices in comparison: who to chill with, where to go, what to eat, what to buy. When I get to America on Friday there will be much more. I’ve realized that you don’t really need much to get by. In Kindu we rally because we don’t have too much to work with.

Looking forward to coming home.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Haiku of the day: School children marching, Raising new desks above them, Like happy coffins;Posted by Picasa