Thursday, May 27, 2010

Congo Update

-It seems Congolese people are not convinced that Michael Jackson is really dead. Recently, I have been involved in two separate conversations that revolved around the idea that MJ is still alive and setting tour dates. One of these discussions was with Emery. He said neighbors knocked on his door and asked him to "question the Americans". To which I answered: Malheureusement, Michael Jackson est mort. Mort comme Elvis. Glad to be of service. I'm here all day.

-Recent T-shirt sightings: Terry Glen Patriots jersey, Abercrombie and Fitch All Star Team, a pink Hello Kitty (worn by a guy, not that I am making any judgements), Northfield High JV Soccer, Obama Vote for Change, Southern Pride, and a 2003 Yankees ALCS t-shirt (blah).

-Funny Congo story. In April, while traveling down the Congo River, a Spanish doctor was kidnapped by rebels who shaved all his body hair off for "magical powers". How does that spell recipe go? 2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 cup Bonobo monkey poo, 2 handfuls of hair from the white man's body, a pinch of salt?

-AFN (American Armed Forces television) is finally fixed and back on. It's been great to have the news and a link back to the US again. And other very important cultural staples like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars (note heavy sarcasm). One of the most entertaining parts of AFN are the commercials. AFN commercials are mostly PSAs that cover things like how to marry a host country national or gambling or depression or how to not overload a surge protector. Most involve a little skit or a dancing cartoon and what's not to like about that?

-So far, it has been a good month for Congo utilities (knock on wood). The power has gone out only a few times and the water has stayed on. Yay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Zongo Falls

On Saturday we went on a day trip to Zongo Falls with some friends. Zongo Falls is located about 3.5 hours away in the Province of Bas Congo, although it can take much longer to get there depending on traffic and road conditions.

We left Kinshasa very early. As we drove through the villages, some of the children would chase our car and yell "Mundele!" (which, I have been told, basically means "foreigner"). The road out to Zongo was one of the worst yet but the Falls were really incredible. Though not terribly high, the volume and force of the water is quite breathtaking. It would not be a good idea to go over Zongo Falls in a barrel.

The road out to Zongo...hours of bone-jarring and concussion-filled fun.

Henry at the "natural" shower.

The tunnel behind Henry apparently leads to a nearby village...Surprise, villagers!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

River Photos

Here are some pictures from the recent river trip. Yes, the same one where I went in the water. Swimmer's remorse still active and ongoing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Congo Update

-There is a Congolese man who runs on the river loop around the same time we do. We call him Congo Gump. Every day he runs 3.5 hours. We do not run that long. He looks like he moves effortlessly, dons a headband, and wears, what looks like, Converse high top sneakers. Yesterday, he passed me, while running backwards. I think he was mocking me and my glacial pace. That shamed me into running a little faster. Most days he accumulates various running partners for part of his run. Maybe one day I'll rock a headband and join him for a mile or two.

-Last weekend I went swimming in the Congo River. Again. I don't know what's wrong with me. I have swimmer's remorse and, apparently, a dinosaur-size brain. I went out on the boat with some friends and it gets so hot that I think reason and common sense, momentarily, cease to exist. So far no symptoms of anything.

-This past Monday, Henry flew back to Kinshasa after a stop in Belgium. He brought back some Belgian Neuhaus chocolate. Heaven.

-That same day, I went with a driver to pick Henry up at the airport. At a couple points during the ride, I was quite certain we were not going to make it. Weaving in and out of traffic, near pedestrian misses, sudden acceleration, U-turns in the midst of a sea of cars, detours on rutted side roads, impossibly wedged in a jumble of cars and people... The word for traffic jam in French is embouteillage. I use this word a lot here.

-There are a couple restaurant chains in Kinshasa. One is called Hunga Busta. I haven't been but I have heard it's not terrible. The other is Nando's. Both places serve chicken, though I think Hunga Busta also has other things. Weirdly, Nando's also has a location in DC. I think Nando's is the one and only semblance of the first world in Kinshasa.

-This weekend I think we are going to try to make a trip across the river to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo (it's like this whole other country). I have heard the streets are clean and quiet. What's that like?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A place to shop...

Kinshasa: where donated clothes go to die. Well, or sold on the streets.

If the jeans above look familiar, they probably are. And if you happen to be in the market for some 1990's tapered, stonewashed, mom-butt jeans, then you are in luck. Kinshasa is a place where all nostalgic fashion mistakes can be relived. That is, if you are lucky enough to find the right size. And if you don't mind your clothing purchases tinged with street dirt and burning trash smell.

T-shirts are another hot item. I think we have seen 93% of all t-shirts ever created worn on the streets here. Fake FBI t-shirts. "I'm kinda a big deal" t-shirts. UCLA Law t-shirts. Boca Raton t-shirts. We've seen it all.

Once, I even saw a Columbia Association t-shirt (from where we lived in Maryland) on a woman who worked a fruit stand. I tried to take a picture but, once again, the woman wanted me to pay her $100 USD. I offered $5. Then $10. Both were refused. I almost took the picture anyway but people were becoming somewhat hostile and we were a ways outside of the city. It's interesting to me that someone who is selling fruit for 50 cents would turn down $10 dollars and hold out for $100. Some cultures do not want you to take their picture because they fear that you will be taking a part of their soul. This does not appear to be the case in Kinshasa. It seems that some just try to make the most out of a situation. I don't blame them, but I can't see myself ever paying $100 dollars for a photo. It would have to be something pretty big. Like a unicorn. Or the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

I'll try to get some pictures of t-shirts to post soon. Photography is still proving to be a bit of a challenge. Sometimes, but not always, one has to choose safety over a picture of a co-ed naked bowling t-shirt.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bruno

A couple of weeks ago at the art exhibition, a Congolese man, who works at the Ambassador's residence, saw the painting I did of the boy fishing on the river. His name is Bruno and he got very emotional about the painting because, he said, it depicted a scene very similar to his childhood. Bruno grew up fishing on the Congo River and now works as the head butler for the American Ambassador. In Congo, fishing can be a vital part of a family's survival. He told me that he does not have any pictures of his childhood and asked, if at all possible, could he somehow buy the painting from me.

Bruno's response was really moving. In regards to tears, I am normally afraid people are going to cry at how awful the work is. Of course, I really wanted to give Bruno the painting. The only obstacle was that I already promised it to someone else. So, I decided to paint the scene again.

I finished today and gave him the painting. Especially for something so small, I have never seen someone so grateful. It really made my day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Congolese Head-Bump Greeting

In America, we do ho-hum things like handshakes, hugs, and, sometimes, the single kiss on the cheek. Here, we have the Congo-Head-Bump. The head-bump is a little more cozy.

The head-bump is sort of like a forehead nuzzle between two men (I have only seen men do it. Although, admittedly, I am not the best source of information). Here is the rundown:

Step 1: See someone you know.
Step 2: Lean forward and press one side of your forehead to the opposite side of your buddy's forehead.
Step 3: Alternate to the other side of the forehead.
Step 4: Alternate yet once more.

Presumably, more often than not, one does the head-bump with someone who knows the drill. Otherwise, as experience has shown, you might end up standing there alarmed and confused. Ironically, for a relatively homophobic country, men here are very comfortable with the man-on-man contact. It is not unusual to see Congolese men holding hands while they walk or cross the street.

In addition to the head-bump, another standard greeting here is the triple cheek kiss. Most people follow this convention, but with such a diverse international community in Kinshasa, you never know for sure what you are going to get.

Monday, May 3, 2010