Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Congo Update

-Found dead bat on porch. Looks gross. Is gross. Did you know that bat poop is called guano? Apparently, this is common knowledge.

-Called new internet company to inquire about changing our service. They sent 5 people over. 4 and a half of them completely useless. Around $750 to set up, $220 a month...still undecided if it's worth switching companies.

-The Congolese soldiers on the river walk have acquired a monkey. It was on a leash and tied to a tree. I really hope it's not food. Sophie and I may stage a rescue tonight.

-Word on the street is there might actually be fireworks for New Years Eve here. Not sure if explosive devices and Congo go well together. Hopefully the fireworks don't consist of the soldiers shooting their AK-47s in the air.

-This week I experienced my first foray into the Congo nightclub scene. The forecast? Slightly ordinary with a few scattered Congolese hookers. Interesting experience but will most likely not become a part of our regularly scheduled programming.

-Also, and weirdly random, it seems that Sisqo had a concert last week in the parking lot of the nearby Grand Hotel. Yes, the Thong Song has finally made it to Congo.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Ho-Ho-Hot Holiday

Christmas in the Congo. Not exactly white with snow. Nor a winter wonderland. Of all the holidays, this one was definitely the hardest to be away for. We really missed seeing family and doing all the traditional holiday stuff. Luckily, we have found some really good friends here and spent the day with them (and a big pot of melty fondue).

All month long has felt a little pretend. Like allegedly it's December, but I am lacking the solid evidence that it's not still August. I normally love Christmas season. But this year, try though I might, I couldn't convince myself it was actually here.

One place to buy an xmas tree here...Sold in Congo, made in China.

Our sad little gingerbread house. We tried to convince ourselves it was Christmas with this masterpiece.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Charming Kinshasa: Part Un

The Internet
Seems to not work more than it actually works. Oh it's raining? No internet. The wind blows. No internet. It's perfectly sunny outside? No internet.

I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, my poor-to-mediocre internet connection isn't a code red situation but, nonetheless, it is frustrating at times. Then again, I guess it's hard to have high expectations when the help line goes to some dude's personal cell phone (we have interrupted him at the doctor's office, at the grocery store, and I think, once, we woke him up from a nap).

Photography can be a challenge here. Most Congolese do not like being photographed and it is actually illegal to photograph government property or officials. The good news is, since laws are somewhat optional, I take photographs anyways. Somehow I don't think any of the Congolese police are checking this blog or facebook.

I have started to paint portraits of people here and we will try to go out on the weekends to find willing subjects to photograph. Sometimes I bribe people to pose for me (usually about 1000 FC, a little over a dollar), sometimes people get mad and shake their fingers at me, and sometimes I am stealthy, sneak in like a ninja, and take the pictures before they realize it. It all depends on how spicy I feel that day.

The Streets
The roads here are in pretty deplorable shape. After being here for several months, you get to know where the really bad potholes are. As you drive along, you will constantly see cars swerve onto your side of the road. This used to cause me a little concern. Now I am unfazed.

Traffic is also horrible. The traffic jams here put the beltway to shame. It could be the lack of street lights, road lines, and nonsense like that. It could also be the police blocking the roads at various points, trying to extort money from people. Or the cars who ignore the "rules" completely and drive on the pedestrian walk areas (sidewalk is too strong a word for Kinshasa) or on the opposite side of the road. But I am just guessing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Come for the malaria, stay for the civil war...

Here is the local (and perhaps only) branch of the National Office of Tourism. Though the pictures probably speak for themselves, I think it's safe to say that tourism is not exactly a booming industry in Kinshasa at present time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New work

Recent commission...

Boy fishing on the Congo River...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Running in the Congo

Here is the river walk near our residence. As far as running routes go in Congo, this is pretty much it. Every day starts here. It is my Groundhog Day.

Though it can be quite pretty (sunsets and so on), it also has the potential to be kind of anti-scenic as well. Like when the Republican Guard soldiers need to pee and decide to utilize the nearest patch of grass. Or when the people at the end of the road decide to burn their trash. Yep, just lovely.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bonobo Monkey Reserve

Here are a few things we learned on our recent trip to the Bonobo Monkey Reserve:
  1. There are things monkeys do that I never saw on the Discovery Channel.
  2. Bonobos can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  3. I am still mentally disturbed by some of the monkey activity we witnessed. Turns out, flinging poo is not the worst thing that can happen.

The monkey reserve is about an hour outside the city. Once there, you hike around a trail to see all the creepy little monkeys.

We saw many people swimming here. In my mind, the problems with this are threefold. One, it's the Congo and, therefore, probably dirty and parasitic. Two, it's a MONKEY RESERVE and that also probably makes it dirty and parasitic. Three, it's a MONKEY RESERVE in CONGO.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Congo

12:00 A.M.

Thanksgiving officially kicks off with a huge rain storm that floods our kitchen. Gobble gobble.

8:00 A.M.

Wake up and go for a run on the river. Must make preemptive, though probably futile, strike against the two Thanksgiving dinners scheduled for today. Just saying "two Thanksgiving dinners" makes me feel tubby. Oh, and in case you were wondering, there is no Macy's parade in Kinshasa.

11:30 A.M.

Cook stuffing to bring over to the Ambassador's dinner. Comes from a bag, not sexy but it works.

12:30 P.M.

Thanksgiving dinner at the Ambassador's residence. Everyone brought really great sides and the Ambassador provided the turkeys and some kind of huge Congo fish. A little odd having turkey and whatnot in 90 degree weather (and not to mention, in the Congo) but overall it was very nice. Didn't really seem like real Thanksgiving, more like Thanksgiving Light. We really missed being with family.

5:00 P.M.

After spending some quality time with Soph and attempting to Skype with the family units, we headed out for Thanksgiving Part Deux, hosted by the Marines and the RSO. Less garden party, more pig roast. Lots of fun. Lots of wine.

So, we ended up having a really good day, despite being away from all our friends and family back home. It's very hard to believe the holiday season is here and I especially missed my annual Friday outing with Ryan this year. I hope everyone had a really great day and we miss you lots!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have mercy, Bon Jovi

Oh, French. Nothing like necessity to help one learn a language in a jiffy. Many have asked how it's going French-wise and here it is in a nutshell. At first, it wasn't pretty. Pronunciation was a bit of a disaster and, as Henry loved to point out, the "bon" of my bonjour did sound a little Bon Jovi-ish and my merci seemed more like a surrender. At present, things are gelling a bit, pronunciation is back on track, and I can actually understand and converse with people here without total embarassment. I practice with our domestique (our housekeeper) and even though I am limited to present tense at the moment, things are definitely looking up. Henry still leaves me in the dust speaking French but at least I no longer have a blank stare when someone directs words my way. So overall, French is going ok but I still have a long long way to go before I am fluent. For example, the other day on the river walk, one of the Congolese soldiers said something to me about either wanting to "eat my dog" or "feed my dog" and that's a pretty important distinction that I will need to learn.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cercle Hippique

Today we went to the nearby equestrian club, Cercle Hippique, and went on a trail ride through the forest. On the Congo excursion barometer, this one ranks pretty high. The club takes very good care of the horses and the grounds are beautifully kept.

The trail ride was a lot of fun. We had a guide and meandered around some back paths for about an hour or so. Also, since pesky things like lawsuits and waivers don't exist here in Kinshasa, we were able to go as fast as we wanted to on some parts. I would do this every day. It was awesome and I definitely want to come back often. I used to ride a lot and I think I am also going try to use the jumping course sometime.

While we were at the club, we found out one of the horses was for sale. Though tempted, something tells me this is probably the last thing I need at the moment. Plus, I doubt either the horse or Sophie would like sharing a crate together on the flight to the next post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chez Tintin

Yesterday, we went out to Chez Tintin with some friends. Chez Tintin is a restaurant on the river that is (weirdly) themed after the Belgian cartoon, The Adventures of Tintin. There are statues of the characters scattered on the property and so, I guess, that sort of makes it like Congo's version of a low rent Disney World.

This part of the river is pretty rough and has some decent rapids. Not ideal for your man-made tree canoe or swimming. But we saw both.

Local beer.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kinshasa Zagats Guide: La Piscine

Kinshasa: Day #1
I will never ever eat anything that was cooked, grown or sold here. No thank you to food poisoning and belly worms.

Kinshasa: Day #85
The rules are not as strict. While there are still many things here that scare me away, we have actually found that there are some decent restaurants here. By Kinshasa standards anyways.

La Piscine is a Greek restaurant we have gone to a couple of times. There is a big pool in the middle (hence the name) and it's a weird little oasis steps away from the dirty streets. A lot of the restaurants are like that here. Driving by, most places seem...icky. But, once you get through the gates, it's often surprising what you can find. Surprising, but not transferable to the United States. It's still Kinshasa.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fishing villages

Poverty is everywhere in Congo and the fishing villages are certainly no exception. These dwellings are where some of the fishermen (les pecheurs) and their families live. Most of the structures do not appear strong enough to withstand a strong wind, let alone the weight of a person. I am quite sure if Henry or I ever climbed up onto one of these houses, we would certainly plummet straight through the floor.

It is the rainy season now and the storms can be very powerful. I asked how these people can possibly stay dry and sadly, the answer is: they don't. They get wet. Yet another jarring example of how things are here. We visited one of the villages recently (more on that later) and hope to bring them some things when we return soon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sophie and the Congo

Poor Sophie. Sadly for her, she had the least amount of say regarding the move to Congo. When we first arrived here, she was pretty mad at us. And rightfully so. Her case against us was pretty strong. Some of our offenses included, but were not limited to: locking her in a crate and flying her halfway across the world; forcing her to leave her best friend Sadie and her little life in Maryland; facing the fact that she now lives in...Congo.

Three months later and Sophie is settling in and doing well. She seems to have forgiven us for the whole Air France incident and appears to enjoy scaring the blank out of every Congolese person she meets (most Congolese are very afraid of dogs, especially crazy ones like Sophie who try to kiss them on the mouth). Here, she has the ability to part crowds like Moses and the Red Sea. It's actually quite useful.

Congo highlight: swimming in the Ambassador's pool.

The first days were rough...

I hate my parents.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

River + Restaurant

Last weekend, we spent another great day on the water. This time we headed up river to eat lunch at a restaurant about an hour or so away. The ride up was really beautiful and the food was quite good. We sat at tables under little huts, ordered Capitaine du riz (a locally caught white fish and rice), and drank some local beer while watching the boats on the river. Not a terrible way to spend a Saturday.

Local boats, one with luxury seating.

Congo Airlines, non-stop service from Congo to Boston daily.