Friday, April 07, 2006


Working in Africa has had some unexpected benefits. For starters, I have incredible night vision. If there's a guy on the road wearing all black fifty feet in front of the car in a town with no lights, I can spot him. This skill was quite essential in Niger, where bicycling at night with no reflectors wearing dark clothing was pretty much a national hobby. I can also manouever a vehicle out of mud or sand, while being watched by children, adults and couple goats. And I can spell the names of hard-to-spell places, like Lubumbashi.

I had a talk with a pilot two days ago in Goma, one that echoed a conversation I had had with my friend Emmet a day earlier in Kigali. The theme was basically, "Are we crazy for doing what we do, or are the people who think we're crazy actually the crazy ones?" Every move we make gives us another experience that most people from our home towns would never understand, though I do find people are usually very nice about saying they think I am doing good work. It's quite strange. If people start talking to me about "those poor Africans," I reply about their resourcefulness and strength. If people claim that we should stop wasting our money on lost causes and focus on problems at home, my response emphasizes the huge challenges that come from the horrible colonial history, even though I know that you can't blame the past forever. I play a bit of a devil's advocate because I know most people have a composite image based on photos, news stories, movies and national geographic. And i know that I can never explain Congo, much less "Africa," but I try to add a new dimension to the concept.

I am about to add a new hard-to-spell place to my life: I will be moving to Lubumbashi next week to help start up our emergency operations in Katanga. In Katanga, Congolese military has been heading after some rebels, with civilians losing on all accounts. Tens of thousands are currently displaced with very little assistance.

Like an impressionist painting, the Congo looks so lovely from a distance. These rolling hills are near Bukavu in the East. I took the photo this morning on my flight back to Kindu.


Anonymous Kurt Wayne said...


Forgive me if I'd asked this before is America viewed by the Congolese? Is it viewed differently in the east there vs. the west?

Thanks in advance...BTW, beautiful Kindu picture...tragically, so close not only to the DRC bloodshed, but that of Rwanda as well.

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Kevin J. said...

i'll be in lumbambashi in july to do some electrical & misc. construction work not far from the airport. in dc, i work with a congolese expat who has invited me to do some teaching, and solve the energy issues at a school there.

i dunno, just wanted to say hello.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think i'll miss kindu...
sara b

6:39 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

american is viewed quite favorably by the congolese. it's seen as supporting the democratization process in congo, and its seen as the land of opportunity that most people here would do anything to get there. if you ask about iraq, that's really not an issue...a congolese colleague told me that western countries can afford to not like eachother because they already have a certain level of development, but that congolese aren't too critical of america and other western countries because we've made it so far already.

kevin, will you be working with MONUC?

Kindu will miss you too, sara.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

Damn, I just lost my excuse of going to Kindu. How long will you be in Lubumbashi?
Anyway, just spend two days in Mbandaka to attend a memorial service for one of our contractors who passed away (malaria) and I think Mbandaka will not be on my list of places to visit. I heard that Kindu was nice (compared to?)

Anyway on the flight back today (an old Antonov 24) I had the opportunity to be in the cockpit (standing up) during the last ten minutes of the flight and the actual landing. It brought back good memories of my Air France years. I will be going back to Athens for four days (YES!!!) for the May 1 holiday and my offer still holds if you need anything.
You can email me at

Take care,


7:47 PM  
Blogger Taylor Walters said...


Have fun in Lubumbashi. I suggest eating at least once at KFC (Katanga Fried Chicken) and La Brioche. Right around the block is a place where you can buy fresh milk and yummy yogurt smoothies. If you want to meet an amazing painter, drop by the U. Methodist guest house by Jeruselum UMC (big church). George's art studio is behind the guest house. Oh, and you really can trust Trust Merchant Bank.

I'm so jealous you're there. My boss won't let me return to my work in Kamina until the political situation is settled. If you ever get the chance to take the train up to Kamina, let me know.



7:25 PM  
Anonymous Kevin J. said...

naw..i'm just a union electrician, no affiliation to MONUC.(someday maybe) - not easily navigated, but it has the basic info of the school and correspoding foundation..if you're interested.

actually though, i'm considering putting my trip off for a bit in an attempt to secure grants for construction of a radio station and internet network at the school. communication is a big part of education, no? it would be nice to get the community talks on hiv/std & conflict resolution out to more folks in the area than just the village.

just curious, do you have any leads on where i could track down communication regulations in the DRC? generous grants i may not know about?

i'm gonna go take advantage of the recently arrived warm weather..

take care,
kevin j.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! 5 years exactly I missed my home town Lubumbashi and specialy Kamalondo wa tanshi. I've been in Baltimore now for 5 years, nothing can compare to my home town Lubumbashi. Calm and lovely place to leave. Poor but peace every night, small town but nice people I miss Lubumbashi. I miss batoto ya mama. I miss bulaya ya Kaseba Makunko. I miss Mufwankolo and so on....

2:53 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

your monuc coms people should have all the info you need regarding regulations. i wish i knew more about grants, but we tend to go for big government money. the internet thing is pretty tricky - vsats are the most practical, but very expensive, other services are available only in big cities and often are unreliable. i do know that some NGOs (oxfam, for example) have supported cybercafes in the past, using solar power.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Jean Ilunga Mutombo said...

Jambo yenu,

I grew up in congo (Kananga, Nbujimaï, Kalemie) and was still living in Lubumbashi a few years ago (I've left the country, to finish my studies in Europe, but will go back there soon)...
Actually, I'm not totally sure about the overall feeling that we have about americans. The fact is that the biggest "foreign" communities living there are greeks, libaneses, belgians and italians ('t seems that chinese community is growing quite fast). The USAid and the american school are both closed since 1991, thus most of the American reprsentants have left the country since then, and the only one we met are those that do not stay longer than a few month... So it is quite difficult to have an opinion about you. Yes we appreciate the efforts of the few of you doing their best to help peoples, but it is so episodic (just like it is for any other "foreign" association/institution), that it quiet is hard to balance what you do and what your country tries to have...

Anyway, thanks for what you are doing, young idealists are sometimes dreaming, but at least they are acting...

Bakia muzuri.

PS: Kazi yako eko muzuri sana.
Ada ya mja kunena, muungwana ni kitendo

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lubumbashi mukini yangu yabutamu, nakuwaza sana pale katuba2, mambo ming. always loving you my sweet town.
chembe chibwe
silver spring

3:38 PM  

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