Saturday, December 11, 2010

Congo Update

- Rain, rain, rainy season. Lately, it has been coming down in buckets, causing flash floods, and drenching poor Sophie. We were out on a walk when a storm came in and the rain was unbelievable. Within minutes we were soaked and wading through inches of water on the ground. Just further proof to Sophie that Congo is a silly place to live.

- One of Emery's favorite Christmas songs is "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer". Surprising? A bit. Awesome? A lot. I came into this knowledge while listening to a "Now That's What I Call Christmas, Volume 1" CD, which I inexplicably found in a random junk drawer. When I went to skip the song about Grandma, Emery came running into the room and exclaimed, "Madame! Please do not change, this song is good!". Alrighty then!

- Another Emery favorite: John Cena and WWE wrestling. When flipping through all 10 of our AFN channels, I came across the "Slammies" and Emery was psyched. For those not in the know, apparently the "Slammies" are like the Academy Awards for aggressively dramatic men in banana hammocks. To me, it just seems like an event that reminds me how many crazy people there are in the world. To Emery, it was like finding gold. He knew all the wrestlers and their back stories and helped me understand how fragile the world of wrestling can be. As he explained, "Madame, this man, in moment minute he will change and then (shakes his head)...it is no good".

- This weekend I went with a friend to see Inception at the Congo movie theater. I think it was good. It was a little hard to tell because the copy we saw was in pretty poor condition. Hard to see, hard to hear. Both of which are semi-important qualities when going to see a movie. When we arrived at the theater, we were the first and only people there and they had to turn on the electricity and air conditioning for us. About 30 min into the movie, the power went out. About 50 minutes in, some random Congolese people sat behind us, talked on their phones, and left about 20 minutes later. About 70 minutes in, more random people came in, had a jolly old time with each other, and then left before the movie was over. All of this was unsurprising.

-Next week we are heading home for Christmas on R&R! First, I can't believe Christmas is in two weeks. And second, I can't believe it's already time for our last R&R from Congo and that, by this time next year, we will be in Nairobi. I also can't believe how excited I am for the cold weather. Freezing in Boston sounds great.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Safari - Kenya Part 3

Still floating on a dreamy Kenyan high, here are a few more pics from our trip to Masai Mara (come visit!).
One of our Maasi warrior safari guides...looks the part, has ginormous holes in his earlobes, lives in a Maasi village with multiple wives...also has an iphone and a cousin in Chicago. Oh, and he thinks that DR Congo is complete B.S.

Hello. I am wrinkly and I remember things.

Bones on a dry riverbed from the yearly wildebeest migration...

Lioness looking for dinner...

Did I mention I love the tubby lubby hippos?

Big sky!

Cheetah!

Sunset...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Safari - Kenya Part 2

Thanksgiving 2010
Location: Masai Mara, Kenya

This year we drove down to Masai Mara to go on safari with some friends. If Thanksgiving last year felt a little odd and out of place, than I feel I must classify this year's Thanksgiving as unrecognizable. Unrecognizable but a lot of fun.

Masai Mara is a national game reserve in Kenya and connects with Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. By car, the Mara is about 3.5 hours from Nairobi and it is just completely amazing. We stayed 2 nights in one of the tented camps in the park although, it has to be said, the term "tented camp" is a bit misleading. Yes, technically, it was a camp and yes, we literally slept in a "tent" but it was the nicest tent I have ever stayed in. Comfy beds, full bath, electricity, and 4 course dinners at the lodge restaurant. Not exactly roughing it.

The first night there we went on a afternoon game drive with a local Maasi warrior as our guide and about 20 minutes into the drive our truck decided to break down. As our guide tried to fix the problem we got out to look around for a moment...only to book it back to the truck when we saw a hyena hanging out nearby. Somehow the idea of being eaten alive was not appealing. Best to wait in the big metal object. Soon, it became apparent that the truck was not going to work any time in the near future and our driver called for another means of transport to pick us up and continue the game drive.

After the minor vehicular hiccup, the game drive was near perfect. Our guide was great and we were extremely lucky and were able to see cheetahs, a leopard (with its morning kill up in a tree), elephants, lions, zebras, gazelles, antelopes, and giraffes all in one evening.

The next day Henry and I went on a day long game drive. Again, the day did not disappoint. We saw lions, lion cubs (insanely cute), wildebeest, cape buffalo, warthog families, more elephants, zebras, antelopes, gazelles, giraffe, and my personal tubby favorite, hippopotamus (aka hip-hop anonymous). Lunch was picnic style under a tree amidst a herd of wildebeest. In the afternoon, one of the most incredible parts of the day was coming across a pride of lions eating a recently killed antelope. We were about 8 feet away and could hear their teeth ripping away at the poor animal. Pretty unreal.

The next day we went on another early morning drive at sunrise. It was beautiful. There were hot air balloons in the sky. There were herds of zebra and wildebeest moving about. At this point on our safari, the only 1 of the big 5 we had yet to see was the rhino. And then - as if he knew - one showed up. Such a cute tub-a-lub. Our guide told us it is very rare to see a rhino at the park because there are so few of them in both Masai Mara and Serengeti. This made us feel very special.
So, in short, the safari was one of the best experiences ever. As many are already aware, our next post is Nairobi and we will be moving there late next year. I absolutely fell in love with Masai Mara and am very glad that me and the hippos and the baby zebras will be neighbors soon.

More safari pics coming...to be continued...

Mom and baby giraffe...

Sunset on the Mara...

Looks cuddly and friendly. Probably isn't.

Zebra love.
Family of elephants + us...

Our "tent"...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nairobi is Lovely - Kenya Part 1

Henry and I just returned from a week in Kenya and, coming from Kinshasa, I must say, Nairobi is one sparkly little African gem.

Nairobi weather is cool and dry and there were hardly any mosquitos. Congo is hot hot hot, it feels like 300% humidity, and my legs look like that of the Elephant Man thanks to all the mosquito bites.

Nairobi has things like working traffic lights, shopping malls (avec actual food courts and coffee shops), resort hotels, office parks, safari, and taxis that one can use without expected robbery, assault or death. Kinshasa has none of the above, although, in fairness, Kinshasa does have a couple of traffic lights but they are more of a novelty versus a part of an actual functioning traffic system.

To be sure, Nairobi is still Africa and it's not all bunnies and cartwheels. There is still extreme poverty, disease, crime, security issues, and problems but, as one Kenyan said to me, and which I think sums it up pretty well, "Kenya is just more civilized than DRC". Agreed.

We spent 4 days in Nairobi and then drove down to Masai Mara to go on safari. Which was incredible. And which I will post about next...

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the River

Sunday: Spent the afternoon out on the Congo River again with some friends. We drove two of the embassy boats to Petit Paradis (previously visited here), a restaurant about an hour up the river. In typical Congo fashion, restaurant service was pretty abysmal but that is to be expected and it was still fun nonetheless. On the way back, one of the boats broke down...as the sun was setting. And who wouldn't want to be stuck on the Congo River in the dark? Luckily, we were not too far from the marina and sent one boat back to fetch the supplies to repair the problem and all was well.

Another way to travel on the river...a very slow way to travel on the river.

One of the sandbars. Last Sunday, we spent the day here. Henry tried wake boarding and went tubing. Lots of Congo water inhaled but, as of this moment, no notable side effects to report. As for me, I have decided my swimming-in-the-Congo days are done. People tell me that it is perfectly safe but my bug phobia begs to differ.

Beautiful countryside...

Congo sunset...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Goat murder!

There is murder in the neighborhood.

Apparently, our next door neighbors are having a party tonight. And, apparently, there is going to be goat on the menu.

This afternoon, I was on our back balcony filling up water pitchers from the distiller and throwing some laundry in the washer when I heard a horrible cry. Is it a person? Is it...who knows what in Congo? Maybe it's nothing. Back to the laundry. But then, again...the horrible Baa-aaaa-ARGHHHHH! Wtf?

I scan the Republican Guard soldiers to the left...nothing. One is peeing in a bush and the other is twirling his AK-47. All clear there. I check out the neighbors directly behind us. All clear. Then I spot our neighbors to the right. And it's not pretty.

One little goat is being held down. There is previously cut- up meat on the driveway. There are more innocent little goats watching the carnage. I've seen enough.

Now, I'm a full on omnivore. So it's not like I don't know how hypocritical this sounds. But goats are cute and tubby and have short legs! But anyway, that's that. Saturday in Congo. Less Crate and Barrel, more goat massacre.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Conversations at home

Today...
Conversation #1
Emery: Madame, why you not speak Japanese?
Me: Because I am not Japanese.
Emery: But why you not speak Japanese?
Me: Well, one, I am American. So there's that. Two, I have nothing to do with Japan. Not now or then.
Emery: But you should speak it!
Me: Why do you think so?
Emery: Because you should! You look like you should!
Me: I speak English and mediocre French. The thing is, in the United States, there are many different types of people. But yet, and this is the important part, they are all still American. Some people do speak other languages in their families, but I don't. And if I did, it would not be Japanese. The reason being because neither I nor any of my family or ancestors are Japanese.
Emery: But, Madame, you Japanese!

Conversation #2
Emery: Madame, why do people like dragons?
Me: I'm not sure, I suppose why not?
Emery: Me no like.

Conversation #3
Emery(pointing to season 3 of Dexter): Madame, this man, he no good.
Me: Aw, Dexter is the best!
Emery: Madame, he no good.

Racial profiling in the home, America loves the melting pot, dragons, and Dexter. Another Congo morning is complete.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Congo Update

- Back in Congo again. Things are good. Flights felt long. Airports in Boston and Paris could not be more different than the airport in Kinshasa. But more on that later. Emery made me another welcome home sign and cemented his awesomeness even more so in my mind (the first welcome sign).

- Though I am happy (in certain ways) to be back in Congo, I really do miss the fall back home. One has fire places and cool weather. The other has burning trash piles and hot humidity. One has apple picking. The other has life-threatening* falling mangos. One has cute fall clothes and boots. In the other, wearing layers can cause heat stroke. I could go on. I leave it to you to determine which is which.

- This Friday, the Marines are hosting a big embassy Halloween party. This year I am going as a Native American and Henry is going as "Henry with lots of hair" via a first class "Mississippi mud-flap" wig. It is important to note, dressing up in random bizarre costumes does not make us Americans look sane to the Congolese.

- Last week I gave Emery his suit and he was so grateful and happy to have it. He said, "Now, people will think I am president!". He told me it fits well and one day he will wear it over to our house.

- The rainy season is on. Last night there was a big storm and this morning Sophie decided it would be a good idea to amuse herself by jumping and rolling around in all the puddles like a maniac. She came back from the run very pleased with herself but completely covered in Congo mud from head to paw. Thankfully, though not without difficulty and a Jenn vs. Sophie wrestling match, she is now freshly laundered and smells like a coconut.

*Not really all that threatening

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh...hello there

So, as we all know and can clearly see by the useful archive/date column to the right (--->), the blog has been sadly unproductive lately. Let's just go ahead and blame it on France and the United States. It was a combined effort and I was happily unable to resist the distractions.

This week I head back to Congo and, I dare say, the blog entries will pick up again. Not that this information really impacts the life of anyone. But, there you go.

Today, I started to pack for the trip back. I'm no mathematician but it's beginning to look like I have too many things to fit into two suitcases. And I can't seem to stop adding to the "things to go back" pile. Since being back in the States, I've been one continuous economic stimulus. I can't even help myself in places like Target. Things just fall into the cart. Hence the current stockpile of random things for our Congo use. My bounty, in part, includes: toothpaste, underwear, shampoo, Halloween candy, face wash, and running shoes. But, of all the stuff I have acquired, there is one thing I am really happy to bring back: a suit for Emery. Emery and I were talking one day about how expensive suits were in Congo and I took the opportunity to buy one for him while I was home. Avec pinstripes. He wants it to wear to church and I think he will look dapper.

So, for now, I bask in the perfect New England weather, fall foliage, and family time. Tomorrow I prepare to return to Africa. See you soon, Congo. You and all your rainy season hotness and aromatic splendor.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vacances en France

This is not Congo.

The place: Côte d'Azur
When I want to leave: Never
Actual duration of stay: 2 weeks

Henry and I are currently on a Congo hiatus. This is the second time we have left the DRC and it is just as enchanting as the first. Clean air, water that looks like water, escalators, smooth roads, the lack of 783 mosquito bites, credit card use, non-bleached fruit....I am a fan of it all. Congo and I are getting along but, let's be honest, most places are an improvement from Kinshasa and, even without the Congo comparison scale, I think Côte d'Azur is near perfect.

Friday, September 10, 2010

More Sightseeing

The best way to carry lots of eggs...

Just your average Kinshasa street...

Biking from point A to a distant point B...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Little Sophie and the Republican Guard

The Republican Guard soldiers love Sophie. And by love, I mean they would love to eat her. As previously discussed, every day I walk by their checkpoint with Sophie and the soldiers frequently ask me if they can either have her or eat her. Neither being acceptable options.

Today I had a conversation with a soldier that went like this...

In French

Soldier (with hungry eyes on Sophie - like she was a hot little biscuit): Your dog. Can I have it?
Me: No. Absolutely Not.
Soldier (points at Sophie's wiggly rear end): That is good meat.
Me: Meat?! No. She is family. I love her.
Soldier: Mmmm, good meat. Good to cook with a side of tomatoes.
Me: Tomatoes?! NO! Absolutely not! No!

Now, I get it. The soldiers probably barely eat and rarely get paid on time and are undoubtedly always hungry. It's not that I don't have sympathy for their situation. But, nonetheless, if they ever come close to Sophie or if I so much as see one small tomato in their possession headed our way, it will be on. Like Tasmanian devil, fists of fury, take-no-prisoners on. So there.

And poor silly Sophie has no clue of any impending danger. So much for doggy sense. If I'd let her, she would sashay up to the soldiers, without a care in the world, in hopes for a belly rub. What a doofus.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Congo Update

-Yesterday we went on another HASH run. While running by the villages, many of the people pointed and laughed. I'm fairly certain they were mostly laughing at us and not with us. Frequently, I will have a "Oh-I-forgot-I-actually-live-in-Congo" moment and running through the rural Congo countryside and down local sandy trails with Congolese people laughing at me is definitely one of those moments.

-In woebegone news, the Michael Jackson statue is gone! We drove by the other day and all that remained was a sad little MJ shaped imprint in the sand. I can only hope it is missing to be replaced by a bigger and better statue of Michael Jackson. Anything else will be a disappointment.

-The Kinshasa 50 Cent concert is back on. We have seen actual billboards promoting Mr. Cent. And, as we all know, billboards never lie. This week we are going to attempt to buy tickets again. Round #2.

-In 3 weeks, Henry and I will be in France! We are planning to spend 2 weeks in Côte d'Azur and a couple days in Paris. To say I am very very excited is an understatement. Sorry Kinshasa, but I am not overly sad to leave you for a little bit. French Riviera vs. Kinshasa...French Riviera vs. Kinshasa...hmmm, sorry Kinshasa, you lose.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to Zongo

Last weekend we went back to Zongo Falls with some friends. This time we decided to stay overnight at the Seli Safari Zongo resort. At the resort, there are three options: bungalow cabins, room suites, and a campground. We chose the rooms and they were actually very nice and it was another really great and relaxing escape from Kinshasa.

Standing on the edge of the falls. Pictures do not accurately show the magnitude of the falls or how wobbly my knees were. One slip and it would be a permanent bon voyage. We asked the local guides if anyone ever fell over and they said "oui, all the time". I asked if the people who fell over all died and the guides responded, "oui, of course".

The view from our room. The paillotes are right on the water and have tables and grills.

Henry sitting on the edge and I am definitely not thrilled with his proximity to tumbling over and becoming "another mundele who went over the falls". As I reminded Henry, what if he lost his balance? Or what if a Congo gorilla came charging out of the woods and pushed him over? It could happen.

Our room. It was a happy surprise to find out how nice it was. I had no idea what to expect when we reserved the suite. Having participated in our previous Congo camping experience, I came over prepared with sleeping bags, flashlights, and toilet paper.

A real bathroom! Vast improvement from the "hole in the ground" and the "pee floor". Thank you, Baby Jesus.

Leaving Zongo and heading back down the rutted and rugged road...

Mundele is what some of the Congolese call foreigners. It supposedly means something like "person without skin" to explain people with lighter complexions. This is what someone told me anyways. It may or may not be accurate.