Friday, April 30, 2010

Congo Update

-There are times when I reach my Congo limit for the day. Yesterday was one of those times. The morning: asphyxiated by black exhaust smoke in the face, burning trash smoke everywhere, and a decent size splash of dirty Congo street water on the clothes. Afternoon: sitting in traffic, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the street kids bouncing on the car, wanting to give them food/money but not wanting to start a riot, more traffic, more people in need, more deteriorating buildings, a couple near high-speed car crashes. Evening: reprimanded by Congolese soldier for taking a picture of the sky, brownish water in the faucet, and a huge bug in the kitchen. So far, today is better.

-I am not Japanese. I am also not Chinese. This is a fact that most Congolese can not seem to grasp. I tell them I am American and I leave it at that. I could be helpful and tell them that I am "an American with Korean heritage" but I feel like they can figure it out on their own and, if they can't, they deserve to be confused on this one.

-One of the street kids we see all the time calls Henry "Colonel". Last time we saw him, Henry told him he was recently promoted to General. General Henry. I think it must be the haircut.

-This week at the market, I wanted to buy a melon. I found out it was $20 and then I didn't want it that much anymore. Instead, I bought frozen spinach for $11 dollars. Oye.

-Lately, it has been very very hot and humid. Sophie isn't a fan. She taps out of our walks early by just laying down and refusing to go any further. I can't say that I blame her at all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Charming Kinshasa: Part Deux

This is a Congo pothole. A small one anyways. As seen above, they are often filled with trash. Not the best method of repair.

This is a Congo supply store. Many of the stores here sell a wide range of products. Like this place for instance. Here, you can buy a wheel barrow, an office chair, or a toilet. It's like Congo Walmart, sans the price slashing happy face.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today I had a conversation in French that involved more than "how are you?" or "It's hot out, no?". And it actually worked. **Pause for victory dance** Fortunately for me, Congo is very forgiving and I can get away with speaking a somewhat bastardized version of one of the most beautiful languages and no one seems to mind that much.

Lingala is the other language spoken in Congo. Presently, I know how to say two things.

Mbote = Hello
Nakabomayo Mamma Nayo = I will kill you, mother [insert very very bad word]

One is a little more diplomatic than the other.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend Review

Art exhibition at the Ambassador's residence. It was a really nice afternoon. Music from a school choir, drinks, and art all over the place. Unexpected? Being interviewed (in French with help from a translator) by a Congolese TV station. In all probability, the interview will never make it to the grainy Congolese small screen. However, if it does, it will be the second time Henry and I have made the Congolese news. Emery, our domestique, told me he saw us one night on TV when we were attending a reception at the Japanese Ambassador's residence. News is apparently very very slow in Congo.

After the art show we went over a friend's house for Indian food and alcohol. Of all things to have, Kinshasa has very good Indian food. I bet you didn't guess that.

Typical Congo weekend day. Tennis, pool, and shopping for overpriced groceries at the markets.

Saturday night we went to a fundraiser dinner/dance. The event raised money to help build a school in a remote section of Congo. So, we drank wine. For the kids. As they say, it was hard, but someone had to do it.

More pool, more tennis. Sunday evening bbq by pool. Another weekend in Kinshasa.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Congo Utilities: Fail

We are having issues. Technically speaking.

The internet situation: dismal.
My phone: frequently out of order.
The electricity: here and there.
AFN (our TV connection): non-functioning for…6 months…I think. And counting.
The water: off for periods of time. When it does come back, it's a lovely sepia poop color. It's as wonderful as it sounds.

Today, I have the internet "technical" person coming to our place for the 3rd day in a row. He arrives by taxi and never has the necessary tools to fix whatever our problem is. I think it is time to make the much debated change to another internet company. It pains me a little on principle to pay $900 dollars to set up, what could be, another non-working service…but c'est la vie au Congo. I am pathetically desperate to get the internet up today. Of course, to communicate with all my loved ones. But also, and I'll add, quite important, I need to start the 3 day download of the latest Lost episode. I need to find out about that dang island.

So, I write this entry…In Congo, sitting at our dining room table, with no electricity, my laptop battery fading, and my phone informing me in indignant French that "my call can not be placed at this time". I hope to post this online later today from the embassy.


We have officially switched internet companies. I am already impressed with the improvement. This new company has actual office space. And they arrived in their own vehicle. Fancy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Congo Update

-Next Friday, the Ambassador’s residence is hosting an art show. I will be submitting a couple of the recent paintings I have done. Hopefully no one will point and laugh.

-Yesterday, I sat in traffic for 3 hours. It should have taken about 15 minutes. I used to think traffic in DC was bad. Sadly, the beltway is now a fond memory. Massive potholes, corrupt police, a million pedestrians, deteriorating roads, missing roads, and 80% of the cars ready to break down at any second are all contributing factors that create this Rubik's Cube of a traffic situation. Oh, and probably the human traffic lights don’t help either.

-In related news, it seems they have actually started to paint road lines on part of the main boulevard. Again, it remains to be seen if this is purely aesthetic or if this new addition will help establish a small sense of order. The trick is getting people to stay within the lines. It’s a good start though. It makes a certain amount of sense to delineate what is supposed to be a four lane road. To be honest, at this point, I am not too optimistic. It’s pretty rare to even stay on the correct side of the road, never mind in your own little lane.

-Lately, I have been seeing billboards promoting Akon. Could we be so lucky as to have Akon in Congo? First: Sisqo…Now: Akon? Who’s next? Bobby Brown?

-One of the security guards at our residence is named “Bob”. I find this amusing for some reason. But the best name winner has to go to the gardener. His name is “Beefy”.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Recent new work

Woman from fishing village.

Congo River

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


So, I stand corrected. This past weekend we saw Avatar. In the Congo movie theater. True statement.

The Place: The Majestic.

Location: In a room on the second floor of a somewhat deteriorating building in a deteriorating area.

The guy who owns it: Tino.

Price: $10 USD ($15 USD if you want a drink and a plastic cup of popcorn).

The Ambiance: Pretty nice for Congo! The seats are wooden and sort of how I envision the Flintstones creating chairs for the movies. But they were cushioned. The theater seats about 50 people and has a projector in the back of the room. There are no previews. Though I am sure it wasn't the same as on IMAX, Avatar was of pretty decent quality, despite a few moments where the picture went blank.

The Legality: Questionable. We have reason to believe Tino may or may not acquire his movies via nefarious sources. One piece of evidence? The disclaimer across the bottom of the movie that prohibits resale. But who knows. Don't ask, don't tell. Either way, I am ok with it. It's Congo for Pete's sake. I'll reclaim any of my lost copyright morals when we leave.

(Oh, and on a side note, I'm not sure I understand all the hype about Avatar. It was really long. And, I thought, I tiny bit silly. But it was really beautifully done. And, hey, beggars can't be choosy in Kinshasa.)

Photo by Lauren

Monday, April 5, 2010

Here's how Sunday evening went...

Last night, our car fell into an enormous ditch.

Due to ongoing construction, another attractive aspect of Kinshasa are the mammoth ditches that line the roads here. When you want to turn off a main street onto a side street it is very important to verify that the street is whole before you turn so you won't end up driving into a cosmic crevasse. Like we did. Last night.

Yesterday, we were on our way to experience "the best chicken in Kinshasa" for dinner with some friends. The restaurant, Mamma Colonel's, is located further away from where we normally circulate and would probably be considered more of a "local establishment". Many people have told us about this place and how great it is. So, off we went.

After navigating the dark and jolting streets and the crowds of people, we found the street to the restaurant. We also found a sizeable ditch. Now, usually, when there are ditches blocking access to side streets, the construction crews will create little concrete gangplanks for your car to cross over on. Such was the case last night.

Or so we thought. In the dark, it appeared to be a solid crossover. In reality, it was not. It seems some person decided to replace half the side of the bridge with cardboardy wood instead of concrete. Covered in dirt, it was impossible to tell the difference in the dark. And so, when we drove over, our right front wheel broke through and our car plummeted partway into the trash filled ravine. Not good.

After a few wtf-filled seconds, we jumped out to survey our predicament. The front right side of the car was completely in the ditch and the remaining three wheels were up in the air. Not good.

Luckily, there were about a quadrillion Congolese people on the streets and about 405 of them came running over to help us out. It is pretty unbelievable. One time, Henry got a flat tire and he had about 20 people at his car wanting to fix it for him. But, back to the car-in-ditch situation. Thankfully, the people were able to help us out pretty easily and lifted the car out of the trench and back on the street. Extremely grateful, we paid them for their efforts and went on our merry way. Even more lucky, it seems that there was no serious damage done to the car. We had the car checked out today and it seems the side runner board took all of the impact. And that was easy to fix. Go Nissan.

So we made it to Mamma Colonel's after only a slight hiccup. The grilled chicken was good. The atmosphere was fun. We had a guy with a fake eye serenade us during dinner. On his playlist? La Bamba. And a song about how war and nutron bombs are bad. That definitely made up for falling in the ditch.

So another fun night in Kinshasa. Where things, like roads, should not be taken for granted.