Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ode to my red-sheeted bed at 1 a.m.

My mosquito net watches over me
Tucked into the foam mattress
Catching my cell phone alarm clock
When I accidentally push it off

Sheets clinging to me
Out of love? Out of heat?

I roll to the same spot out of habit and gravity
The imprint of my body in the mattress
My bed does not want to forget me
When I leave it

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How beautiful is this boy?

I have a confession to make. I bought a nice new digital camera and it makes taking pictures sooooooooooooo fun. The instant gratification of the digital with the options of an SLR. So this picture was taken 26km up-river from Kindu. I had a group of children following me around like my personal army. I took a bunch of photos and this is one my faves. We had done a seed fair there (picture a market with seeds and tools and a thousand people). Underneath that hot Congo sun. Hot, that is, until about 30 minutes into our boat ride back to Kindu when it started pouring down rain. Then we ran out of gas. It was like a comedy routine (as is much of my life here). Everyone laughed as we passed the a plastic jug up to the front of the boat and siphoned off gas from the motorcycle we were transporting. 15 drenched soles huddling in shocking orange life jackets - pure comedy gold!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Three moments during the journey from New York to Kindu

I looked out the window as the city lights of New York became smaller and disappeared. An hour before I had smiled at the Air France agent who told me I was likely to miss my connection in Paris. Such things really aren’t so important when I think of all the flights I had made and missed in Congo, and the crucial one that got me to Tanzania to be with my family. I also recalled the time I spent at JFK exactly one year before when my flight to Morocco was canceled. It took me a personal record of eight days to journey from NY to Niger. Or maybe the smile was because she had just said that I might have to take a Sunday flight and I had the break the news that the next flight to Congo from Paris would be three days later. She glanced back at her computer, gave me a voucher that could buy food at JFK airport, and told me she would put me at the top of the stand-by list for a flight leaving an hour from then. I pondered getting a glass of wine with the voucher, the decided on a Tuna fish sandwich. My logic was that if I missed the flight I would definitely be needing a glass of wine and would willingly pay for it, and if I did not, I could enjoy one on the plane. Eating a tuna fish sandwich next to the check-in counter seemed like a logical choice. I made the flight.

I stared at Kinshasa from a rooftop Indian restaurant. All cities look better from higher up, but especially cities in third world countries. It’s like standing back from a piece of imperfect art: you can’t see the flaws. The restaurant had a gold glitter toilet seat that seemed especially funny after I had drunk a beer. The elevator operator was Congolese man wearing an ill-fitting bellhop styled uniform. Congolese have a way of being regal amid the grime of cities or the poverty of villages, and the juxtaposition of this man and the dank claustrophobic elevator made for a perfect example. The elevator always stopped on the second floor on its way up and down. “It’s a like a car shifting gears,” said my friend, and we all laughed.

I opened the door of my Kindu apartment. One of our guards, Pappa Donation, stood outside wearing a thinning yellow t-shirt and smiling mischievously. “Bonne fete,” he said and handed me a small plastic sack. Inside were three eggplants - a perfect present.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Years Resolutions

My new years resolutions are to:

1) Learn conversational Spanish
2) Meditate more
3) Take lots of photos

Then there are the lofty-not-gonna-happen new years resolutions that sound fun to say, as though writing them means that they will magically happen. These are:

1) Write a book
2) Become fluent in Spanish
3) Going running a lot*
4) Promote free and fair elections in Congo

*Voluntarily. Does not include being chased.

I rang in the New Year in Boston among friends and it was lovely lovely - luxury chill. I will miss them, my other friends, and my family lots as I head back to Congo. I wish I had a clear sense of where I would like to be in a few months but I'm still wide open.

Happy New Year.

Tomorrow I head back to Congo. Being in the states has been great

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Reindeer + Rant

There is a 5 foot tall (thats 1.6 meters or so for the rest of the world) reindeer standing in my living room. My father was going to repair the wired animal - it's part of the out-of-this-world lighted display at my parents' house that provides christmas spirit and joy to all who live on our small out-of-the-way street and severe confusion for pilots looking for runways. It reminds me of these lighted palm trees that they have at the Grand hotel in Kinshasa. These trees frame one of the outdoor areas and I really thought that they would look great in my apartment. Granted, they might fry the generator, but I think it would be worth it. They would be a great accompanyment to my inflatable Eiffel Tower, which I got on one of my stints as a tour guide in Paris, at a store called "Why?"

Changing subjects completely, here is a link to a very interesting article on international aid to the third world. Follow this link at

While I find the Theroux's article terribly simplistic, it has an important point that if third world governments cared more about their people's quality of life then development would move forward. However, and this is a catch 22 that the article does not address, this necessitates that people who care become people with power (or likewise, people with power become people who care). Third world countries in Africa are not the United States. Candidates don't run on platforms and then prove themselves to the people. Getting power is not an easy thing - wars aren't terriblely less common than fair elections. To get power means to help others, and this usually means paying others, hiring others, feeding others, giving loans to others, contracts to others...etc. You "take care" of your those who support you. this eventually leads to crony-ism, if that's really a world. So to expect some of these governments to start voluntarily making large investments in social services and infrastructure can be a bit unrealistic. My problem with the article is that its assumptions that aid has not worked and that more aid will not work lead to the idea that governments might step up to the plate if they didn't have all this money to cover for them. Sadly, I don't think that is the case. If my organization did not build a road, would the government do it? If we stopped funding medical supplies to health centers, would the Congolese parliament take notice and demand that funds be released to help the people of that town? The answer is no. The power base of these political entities is eons away from the rural, decentralised villages. Non-governmental organizations and international organizations might be seen as letting governments off the hook by taking up their slack, but leaving people without healthcare, without roads, with poor education, and with questional water sources helps no one. I cannot refute the argument that sustainable development requires a government accountable to its people, but I can say that in many areas of the world this might take a wee bit of time, and working to ensure a dignified life for people in the meantine is not only not a waste of money, but a worthy cause that should continue to be supported to the fullest extent possible.