Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thieves Market

Aptly named, the Thieves Market is an interesting place to shop. Need a wood carving? A preserved tarantula? Local art? Old Zaire money? The ever popular ivory? Yes, friends, you can get all that and much more.

Though lacking a bit in the curb appeal department, the Thieves Market consists of two rows of tables, underneath a corrugated tin roof, and also an open area where you can buy things like paintings, monkeys, and African Grey parrots*.

While we were at the Thieves Market I purchased a wood carving of a giraffe at one of the first tables we stopped at. From then on, I was known as "a person who likes to buy giraffes" and everyone tried their darnedest to sell me a complete herd of wooden giraffes. I think the price for a small wooden giraffe started at about $20 USD but I eventually "negotiated" down to $5 for two. Someone also tried to charge me $100 USD for taking his picture with my own camera but I also "negotiated" with him and worked out the price to $0 USD.

All in all, it was a good experience and I am glad we went. Also, FYI, everyone this year will be getting a wood giraffe for Christmas, along with a bottle of Purell.

*The animals make me very sad, especially the monkeys. Not that I am a huge monkey fan. In fact, I think they are creepy little animals that know way too much about the use of thumbs. But, nonetheless, I don't want to see them suffer or abused. If Planet of the Apes ever happens now, I have seen first hand why. It makes me want to start my own Escape to Chimp Eden.

And just for the record, this man sells fabric, not monkeys!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Here is an example of a Kinshasa cab. They are always packed full of people, always in pretty poor condition, and always something I would never want to be in.

In clown-car style, loads of people pour in and out of these vehicles. I have seen people riding on top of the roof, hanging off the back, and sitting on one another (see above).

From what I can gather, I think the system works like this:
  1. You need a ride somewhere.
  2. Stand on the side of the road and shake your hand at one of the vans (sort of like you are miming throwing dice).
  3. Passengers already in the van will yell out where they are headed to...
  4. If their destination sounds good, you are in business!
  5. Try to find a spot in/on/attached to the van.
  6. Done!
Price system unknown at present. Also unknown is what happens if there are multiple destinations. Will find out and report back!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kinshasa street pics

Burning trash. Who among us doesn't love a good pile of burning trash? I don't think a day goes by without experiencing this lovely aroma.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where we live

Here is a pic of the dining room area and the view from the balconey. The furniture is on loan and temporary until our stuff arrives. Whenever that may be.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Red light, green light

Ah, the Kinshasa traffic system... It works about as well as you might imagine. Most of the time you are on your own and you do your best to avoid high speed crashes by inching out slowly, looking both ways a couple dozen times, checking for major potholes, and then darting across with a prayer. On the main boulevard, during the day, some of the busiest intersections do have generally accepted traffic directives. Sort of. Please see the accompanying photographs for examples of this high tech method. The guy on the concrete thing is a human traffic light. When he turns to face you or if his back is towards you, that means to stop. When his body is perpendicular to you, that means go. If he is tired that day and droops on sort of a diagonal, who knows. Also, as with most regulations here, it is really 50/50 if your fellow drivers feel like adhering to the body language rules. Of course, if you have someone accosting your car, banging on your windows, or trying to get into your backseat, it is sometimes best to press on without waiting for your turn.

Staying on the correct side of the road is also optional...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lac de Ma Vallée

We recently went out to Lac de Ma Vallée with a group of people. Lac de Ma Vallée is a lake about an hour outside of the city where you can have lunch and paddleboat on the water (I use the term "boat" loosely). It was a really nice break from the craziness of Kinshasa, although not without a few Congo-ey moments.

Our trusty sea vessel.

Despite reason, I decided to join Henry on this contraption. As soon as we kicked off from the dock I realized that my feet did not reach the peddles and also that I really really didn't want to fall (or sink) into a murky Congo lake. Luckily, we made it back mostly dry and without foundering.

I'm fairly certain I saw something move beneath us...

These kids are way smarter than us.

Here is where we had lunch, after we made it back to shore.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Turns out, they don't call it a "hardship post" for nothing...

As you may have guessed, life in Congo is quite different.

Prior to coming to post, I admit, I thought I knew what to expect. I soon realized that nothing was preparation enough. One hour in Kinshasa will certainly make you realize giving up True Blood and HGTV is not a hardship. Our day-to-day is now newly defined with the threat of pandemic disease, gross bugs that may lay their worm eggs under your skin, acid flies (don’t swat them!), the horrifying poverty and living conditions, small children in rags begging for money from you, women changing their babies on the side of the road, the smells of burning trash and God knows what else, the possible threat of evacuation, very expensive groceries ($15 USD for cereal! $12 USD for a small container of soy milk!), bleaching vegetables, Malaria risk, trying and worrying about keeping Sophie away from stagnant parasitic pee puddles, a country that has an 80% unemployment rate and rampant corruption, and of course, my biggest fear and debilitating phobia: BUGS.

Ok who wants to visit first?

True, things are going to be a bit harder and more challenging than I originally thought. Congo is hardly a place you plan to visit, let alone live in for the next two years. But after a couple of weeks now, I decided I can either let the "hardship" get to me or do what I initially planned before we came and try to help in any way possible, focus on the good, and make the most of the experience. At least we are here together. And it will certainly be an adventure.

Also, it is only fair to mention, there are many good things. The diplomatic community has been very nice, helpful and welcoming. There is a strong sense of community and we have met some really great people. We have moved into our permanent residence and right near our place, there is a running route along the Congo River. Henry is really enjoying work and is looking forward to being here in that regard. This weekend we may make a day trip out to the Bonobo Monkey Reserve and we are planning on joining the tennis/swim club. One of these days, we will also make a trip out to Zongo Falls, which we have heard is amazing.

I’ll be honest, it has and will be a very difficult adjustment and the first weeks have not been without some major Jenn meltdowns and thoughts of fleeing back to the good ’ole U.S. of A. Luckily, even though I seriously consider shipping myself to Massachusetts from the DPO (diplomatic post office) on a daily basis, Henry has adjusted much better and is practically driving like a local already.

As far as everyone who wanted to visit? Of course, you are all still very welcome if the above has not fully scared you away! Though at present time, we may suggest saving the expensive Kinshasa fare and meeting up in elsewhere in Africa (South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania) or Europe. Ha, honestly, we may need the break.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kinshasa Street

Sorry, very very bumpy road.