April 25, 2005


I have officially moved into my new place. It's really nice except that there's no running water in the kitchen. So if I don't wash the dishes in the bathtub 2 mins after I'm done, the plates are swarming with ants. I found out that it's also pretty gross to shower while staring at the rice and tomato chunks stuck in the drain.

I seem to have "misplaced" my work shoes in the process of moving and, as a result, am wearing flip-flops today.

**Guest Map thanks: shout out to Vijay the Dijay in California, I hope to be able to catch up with you soon; thanks Rafael for posting and I promise to email you but am going to be out of commission from the 26th of April to the 8th of May because I am going on the field, yay!**

April 22, 2005

The Best Driver in the World


I get loaned a car every evening and weekend (I know, I know, I'm a lucky bastard). But the car allocation changes every week and as a result, I end up having to reaccomodate to a different driving style every week.

Last week, Congo Girl and I had to share car 26. This is her warning before I even had a chance to put the key in the ignition:
-the 26 has no power steering, so when you are about to make a tight turn, slow the car down and turn the wheel with all your might,
-the 26 is a little bit fickle, it tends to stall a lot. Make sure you really give it gas when your foot comes off the clutch,
-there are two large blind spots on either side of the windows due to the large metal frame blocking the view of incoming traffic.

Trembling, I turn the motor on and set on my merry way. Upon feeling like my spine is about to snap off when I drive on a bump, she adds "oh ya, and there are no shocks".

Surely, this driving practice has to make me the Best Driver in the World?


It must be spring in the US because the google front page has a bird, a little squirrel with nuts and a green tree.

The only seasons here (it seems) are wet and dry. That reminds me, I have to make sure the proper amounts of gasoil, kerosene, fuel and motor oil have been purchased by today so that they can be placed on the boat leaving for the middle of the country. I am told that if it leaves any later than next week, the dry season will be upon us making it very hard to naviguate the shallow river.

Yikes. The realities of the country.

**Thanks Steve in Wisconsin for placing a pin on my map**

April 21, 2005

The Stupidest Person in the World

**Alternative title "Honesty, Thy Name is Woman"**

Since there are no cash or credit card machines in the country and almost no places accept checks, one has to go to the bank once a month to take out a lump sum of money. I bravely went up to the cashier, showed my passport, flashed my whitest smile and asked for, well, a lot of money. I wrote him a nice check, he handed me the money and I went off to the side to count it all...

...only to find that he gave me $400 more than I had written the check for! At this point in the story, you probably think that "the Stupidest Person in the World" is the cashier. Wait, there's more.

What I did at this point (apart from the full two minutes of debating "do I? do I not?") was walk up to the cashier's window, and give the money back to him. What??

I'm still reeling from the implications of that. Does it mean that I'm honest? I guess so. Does $400 really matter in a country to mismanages its money so much that there aren't decent roads even in the capital? Probably not. Did the cashier appreciate this gesture or he is used to making mistakes of that scale?

I think it's safe to say that I'll be winning this year's award for "Stupidest Person in the World".

Day 11 of 32

Without electricity.

The guards are posted right outside my living room window with impossibly loud walkie-talkies and crackling Congolese hand-held radio that plays until ungodly hours of the night.

Can't wait to get out of there.

April 20, 2005

Why you little…!

Why you little…!

Insurance companies. Dental insurance companies.

I received a letter through the pouch from my dental insurance company telling me that I hadn’t filled out the following information:
-Name of dentist
-Address of dentist’s office
-Phone number of dentist
-Tax ID number of dentist

Fuming, I call the 800 number (which, as it turns out, is not free at all if called from outside the United States), compose myself while I navigated through all the touch tone menus and announce to the lady that said “Hi my name is XX, how can I help you?”:

Me: “Hi XX, I’m calling from the Congo”. Dramatic pause. “I would like to verify my latest dental claim please”
Xx: “OK, please wait for me to pull it out from our system”. On hold with eye-scratchingly annoying music. “oh here it is, yes?”
Me: “Well, it seems that I received a letter asking me to fill in some additional information for my dentist”
Xx: “Yes”
Me: “Well, my dentist’s name is on line 3, her address on line 5, her phone number is beside the line 8, and well, she doesn’t have an tax ID number because she lives and works in Senegal”
Xx: “Oh she doesn’t have a tax ID number? What’s her name?”
Me (baffled): “…”
XX: “…”
Me: “her name is YY, it’s on line 3”
Xx: “Oh, I see, YY. It looks like you have all the necessary information on your form, I will reprocess your claim”
Me (sweetly with an edge of tense): “Thank you ma’am”

Why you little…! What’s up with insurance companies? Are they just intent on making it very very hard to obtain the money for services that you pay for each month? Do they hold special training sessions on how to slow down claims (lesson one: stall claims coming from overseas! There is less of a chance that the said individual will want to spend her hard-earned cash on long distance to deal with the situation!)

Sigh. Zen, I need to remain zen.

***Thanks Kissa Kyssa and Eric for Posting on my map!***

April 19, 2005

Dear RHJ

My dear,

Sigh. I know exactly how you feel and, if you are anything like me, this situation probably pains and saddens you. Just you remember that your friends love you (even if they don't have the best ideas at time). Also, keep in mind that people have crushes on other people even when they are in committed relationships, that's perfectly natural (you don't stop being a girl when you start dating a boy, sheesh).

On the one hand, I feel you should be able to express yourself freely; and on the other, I understand your bf for being annoyed at the situation (though if he did read it carefully, he would be flattered at the way you described him ;)

Anyhow sweetie, just wait a little longer, thing'll straighten up in the end...

(let me know if you want me to remove this post)

April 18, 2005

Beaten by 40 Robbers

I went to a Body Pump class on Saturday, which involves a lot of grunting, using weights to tone one's arms and legs to the beat of a techno song. The teacher was very scary: she would shout at me not to stop, tell me to make deeper squats and ask me to add more weights to my bar.

Today, two days later, I still feel like I 've been severely beaten by 40 robbers. It's even hard to press on the clutch and open the door to my house. I won't even mention what new sensations shampooing created.


Thanks Kimo who's soon going back to Nagoya (lucky duck) and Astrogirl who would go to a Starbucks with me, for posting on my map!

April 15, 2005

Thanks 2!

Thanks Pamie who wrote Wonder Killer and Bill who's still in Dakar for posting on my map...


I'm feeling rather down today and listening to impossibly sad songs. Waaaaahh!

If I had electricity, I could make myself a simple meal and read by the cool air of the a/c with a nice glass of wine.

If I were back home, I would order an overpriced coffee from Starbucks and surf on the internet.

If I were more settled, I would call friends for a cooling swim at the pool.

If I had money, I would get a pedicure. (Note: the Bank wouldn't give me money because I didn't have my passport on me).

If I had just arrived, I would be amused at having to read by candlelight.


PS: I am still looking out for AstroGirl to post on my map ;)

This is getting old...

Yesterday and this morning were quite typical for me as there was no electricity...again.

Listen, I'm open to understanding the reality of the country, but 9 days without electricity in the past 27 days is a bit excessive.

Not that's I'm counting or anything. Siiiiiiiigh.

April 14, 2005

Gosh Golly!

A colleague is taking English classes in CALI (Congo American Language Institute). When a rather funny, animated lady came to pay us a visit, the colleague said "she's a real number!".

I giggled at the expression and remembered fondly my days as an English teacher. My favorite students were those that would remember all the idioms and try to use them in the next class. But, "She's a real number!", isn't that a bit 1950s?

Another colleague said "Goodness gracious!" today, I swear.

It's those little things...

Wormox-the Best Medicine in the World

**Note: not for the faint of heart**

From the instruction pamphlet:

"Therapeutic indications: Vermox is indicated for the treatment of single or mixed infestations by Enterobius vermicularis (pinworm), Trichuris trichiura (whipworm), Ascaris lumbricoides (large round-worm), Ancylostoma duodenale, Nector americanus (hookworm), Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm), Taenia spp. (tapeworm)

Undesirable effects: Adverse reactions to Vermox have been minor in most cases. Transient abdominal pain and diarrhea have only occasionally been reported, in cases of massive infestation and expulsion of worms"

I guess I had a massive infestation. Shudder

April 12, 2005

Caterpillar Mush

So, I just tried Caterpillar mush at lunch today. I tasted it from the tip of my fork from my collegue's plate.

As you probably imagined, it's pretty yucky. You can feel the little spiky hairs and skin that doesn't give in easily. It's all mushy inside. And even the excessively liquid gravy that surrounds it, doesn't hide the fact that all and all, it's relatively tasteless.

**Thanks Again and please post on my map!**
Dan who Enjoys Reading my Blog, Tracey from Sunny Alberta and Christine from her favorite location in the World.

Un-be-live-able 2

Yesterday, naive that I am, I drove myself from work to home stopping on the way to get vegetables from the side of the road. After a little bargaining and talking to Eve, the gardener there (who seems hell bent on knowing where I live and giving me free flowers--which I refused under the premise that "nothing is ever free"), I get home.

Imagine if you will, me, happily humming along, chopping up basil, ginger and onions, while a pot is boiling water and rice and a pan is frying some freshly bought vegetables.

Then, Boom! a torrential rain exploded, out of nowhere, drenching my garden and little Jasmine plant (which I rescued from its planter and dumped in a carboard box, poor baby). Of course, the electricity turned off 2 minutes after and I was a left in the pitch dark at 6:30PM, while my dinner was cooking. Unbeliveable. This is the 7th day of my three weeks here, that I've been without electricity. I've been keeping track.

Thankfully, I remembered where I had stashed my little flashlight. Within 5 minutes of screwing around with it, I broke the bulb. Awww, great. Remembering my little mood lights, I stumbled around in the dark until my fingers touched the matchbox. Shake shake shake rattle...I only had one match left! Trembling and praying (local matches are rather flimsy and they tend to break off before they've had a chance to light), I managed to strike it and quickly light 3 or 4 mood lights I've had lying around in the bathroom. And by mood lights, I mean little Sea Breeze sented tea lights.

Annoyed and irritated, I beg a collegue to come by to pick me up after work so we can go shopping. When he arrived at my house, it took the guards a good ten minutes to open the heavy doors are the torrential rains had gathered and created a little dune of sand. The road to the store was apocalyptic, and I hoped very strongly that our car would make it past the pools of deep water without stalling. I watched with apprehension as half a dozen cars where pushed out of the road by their owners.

In the store, there were no real candles, and I had to pick from Glad's $14 multiscented candles, or a $4 larger version of my tea lights in sea breeze. Heck, I figured that I already had the scent lingering in my house, I went for the larger sea breeze candles, a couple of lighters, a mat, some food (I always end up buying more than I plan).

Upon getting home, I put all my food away by the light of 4 dinky candles, and settle to read my Times magazine squinting a lot only to settle in bed a few minutes after that.

At midnight, I awoke to bright lights shinning in my eyes, convinced that I was finally in Heaven. Nope, still on this earth only the electricity started working again. Sigh.

In the morning, I find that I forgot to turn off a stove top (burning for 6 hours) and had not closed the window of my car (the seat was soaked through and through).

Help. Me.

April 10, 2005


Thanks Kimiko, Red Handed Jill (for the original idea too), Victoria, Crazy Beaver, Ammo, Michelle, Steph, Laura, Katie, Magali, Andrea, Congo Girl and James Bond for posting on my map...It's crazy to think that everyone is so far away. Why can't we just get along--and decide to live in DC like a big happy family?


My first day out with the car

*Dad says "Have they warned everyone in Congo?"*

Any of you who know my driving record are probably shuddering and hope that innocent pedestrians have not been killed by my car.

None that I know of so far. I think.

I have been coveting a beautiful terra cotta planter with white leaves designs for several days now. This morning, I bargained for what seemed like hours, created a rapport with Eve (the gardener from the side of the street), got a Jasmine plant repotted in the planter and finally got the whole package placed in my car. I was so happy with my purchase, though I know that I probably paid way to much for it.

I was happily driving along the road when I hit a bump on the road a little too enthusiastically. The planter fell on its side and broke in 5 pieces...NOOooooo! I spent 30 mins scooping dirt from the back of the trunk, reloading my Jasmine in a cardboard box (so sad looking) and gathering the piece of my broken heart...I mean of my broken planter.

I am so sad. My friend said she'd lend me her super-glue.

Watch out Kinshasa...

007 is driving a car!

I just received my driver's license (for which you only have to pay money and not pass a test--suspicious don't you think?) and have been on a test drive with Papa X, our head driver.

He was really sweet and gentle with me, knowing that I hadn't driven for 8 months, much less on the African continent. He gave me a lot of encouragement, punctuated with "great job!", "you're an expert now", all the while gripping his seat to keep from fainting. If only my mother had been this patient with me when I first started to drive...

Merci Papa.

It's actually tricky to drive a stick-shift, praying to God (I left Allah behind in Senegal) I don't stall when I'm crossing traffic to make a turn into a dirt road, just barely missing the street kids and the goats, judging the depth of the numerous holes in the street and swerving left and right to avoid them...without running into a head on collision.

The office lent me the easiest car for the weekend ( with relatively smooth change of gears, power steering and shock absorbers). I shudder to think what the tough cars are like.

April 07, 2005


**The internet is super slow during the week at the office and so am I reduced to coming to work at 6:30 PM on a Sunday after a day at the pool to satisfy my need to blog...pathetic**

I spent 6 days last week without electricity and water. Before you roll your eyes in your sockets or rub your forefinger and thumb thinking "this is the world smallest violin", please consider the consequence:
-no a/c,
-pitch black annex after 6:00PM,
-bucket baths in the evenings hoping that you're not rubbing soap in your hair and shampoo on your body,
-eating a lot of stuff out of cans,
-and trying to color coordinate your work clothes just by the feel of the fabric.

Considering we had several important meetings at the office and a proposal to finish ASAP, this was just unliveable. So the New Arrival and I ended up sleeping at Congo Girl's apartment (who incidently has become our temporary guide to the city, collegue, chauffeur, pharmacist and personal assistant--I owe you one) on the floor, then a male collegue's apartment on the sofa (who didn't own a single piece of cutlery but all the condiments in the world, I am not joking. We ate pasta with large plastic spoons, but I dare say that the mango chutney and pieces of dried cranberries did indeed lend an exotic flare to the dinner), then back to the annex. We did finally complain loud enough that our landlord decided to come off his throne and lend us a hand with fixing the problems.

When the water and electricity finally got fixed, we heard loud cheers coming from the neighbor's children. It seems that they also did not have electricity or water but never bothered to do anything about it. I understand that there are power shortages here and there, but 6 days? Un-be-live-a-ble.

I am finally catching up from my lack of sleep from the previous 6 days. I can confidently say that it is possible for a person to be relatively pleasant to one's boss on just 4 hours of sleep everynight... Well, at least, I think that was my boss, it could have been the maid for all I know.

April 05, 2005

Oy, I meant the other left

Mr. Anonymous just pointed out a silly mistake. The icon is actually on the right (right?).

I swear, I do know my left from my right. I'm just a wee bit stressed out lately.

Let Me Know Where You Are!

I just added this nifty little icon on the left...OK there are actually two icons and I don't know how the heck to remove the second one.

I would love it if you could place a pin on my map to let me know where you live. Come on, it's not that hard, impress me :)

April 01, 2005

Surely, I'm going to hell

A few days ago, a really smiley religious sister came for a visit to the office. She was here to see the Congolese doctor who works next to me, and having seen her before, I was very polite and offered her a chair.

When she was done with the doctor, she pulled me aside to talk to me outside the office "just for a minute".

I happily obliged.

Sister: I have no money for the transport, could you give me money?
Me (visibly cringing): Sorry, I can't do that.

I quickly darted back the office feeling ashamed. I must look really young, fresh, naive and new.

Surely, I'm going to hell for this one.