August 28, 2005

Cool Blogs

I have just added some blogs that link to me on the side bar --->

The blogs are all pretty damned cool so I'm terrible flattered to be linked to them. Although, their content does considerably improve by the mere mention of my site :) :)

("Modesty--thy name is Woman", or as my dad would say "If I were modest, I'd be perfect")

PS: I have not asked for permission to link to some of the site here so please let me know if this is OK by you
PSS: Let me know if I forgot any links!

August 27, 2005

Ying and Yang

Post to come on Immigration Troubles and Redeeming Speech

Thanks for Lulu on the Bridge who is blogging from the Congo too and Black River Eagle (aka Bill) who has a great compilation of various blogs.
Also, thanks for all the comments I have received and not answered (like the interesting comments about the spiky hairstyle, the gecko on the windowsill that happens to be real, the encouragements from various people I don't know and those from people I know :)
I am still at work on Saturday and planning to be here on Sunday to prepare for my next trip on Monday to Kole. Sigh, so much to do, so little time. How do people do it? I just don't know.

August 26, 2005


August 23rd

I have to hurry writing these few words as my computer is out of power and lights are going to be turned off any minute now. I had a long day but I managed to sneak out a lunch, go to the main market with a sister, buy some fabric and bring it back to the sister’s seamstress for a Pagne. I hope to get it sometime tomorrow or I might have to leave without it!

I went to visit a hospital, and though I had to pay close attention to what the lab tech was saying and take notes, I couldn’t help sneaking glances at the frightened and despondent parents who brought in their listless child. The mother was attempting to fan her child and rock him but his body was flopping in her hand (imagine a rag doll), his eyes bugged out and letting out tiny hiccups that were attempts at crying.
I also went to visit the Central Bureau in charge of administrative issues for the Health Zones. As yesterday’s, there were no windows or doors, the building was completely dilapidated. It’s really demoralizing when the Doctor Chief of Zone says that he hasn’t been sending his last reports because his typewriter has been out of service for the past three months. We told him a hand-written report would be fine but how do you encourage someone’s who’s job is considerable, to work in such conditions? It’s embarrassing.
Tonight, I have the beginning of a migraine and I hope that the night will bring me hope and enthusiasm for tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that. My biggest fear is that we are doing absolutely nothing that is helping this country and this is looming larger and larger in my subconscious (I get terrible nightmares while on the field).

Kanda Kanda

August 22, 2005

I have an exhausting day of visiting health structures in the area of Kanda Kanda. Though the area is only 2 hours away from Mwene Ditu on a relatively good road, the trip is exhausting and by the time we get back home after having skipped lunch, we eat like we’ve haven’t eaten in days. I chow down on rice, pondu (manioc leaves) and termites which the hostess has prepared after she hears I am fond of them.
The day was packed and full of discoveries but the hardest one was to witness of young mother who had discarded her child after its birth. She was lying on her cot next to her sweet sleeping child, looking scared and lost. Outside her door was a policeman keeping an eye on her, because she was considered a criminal. I couldn’t help shuddering, thinking about the millions of other more dire needs for a policeman in Congo.

That night, I struggle to stay up past nine but force myself to watch the French news on TV5. What do you make of a famous shoe company laying off workers in France, forest fires in Portugal, floods covering the bottom levels of large buildings in Romania, damaged US planes sold to developing nations, a lady receiving a $253,000,000 settlement for the Vioxx-induced death of her husband, the new google feature that finds detailed images of geographical locations, the best tourism spots in the world and the new Rolling Stones concert; when you’re a nun in a diamond mining town of Congo?

Sisters (2)

August 22nd, 2005

The breakfast is copious and I notice a cream cheese-like item that, I’m told, is a cheese made from powdered milk. A sister promises to write down the recipe after her day at the hospital. She is wearing a knitted vest that has been made by a “Maman” of the village. I take a shower with cold running water and marvel at how much better off these sisters are than those in Luiza. I talk to a sister of Spanish origin who has been here since 1971. She is quite talkative and laments the fact that the country’s situation hasn’t changed since the time of Mobutu. I ask her if any of her family has come to visit, she answers that her living relatives have been talking about it for a while but that there would be nothing for them to do here. The country has been very reticent to accept tourists and back in the day, one had to bring a large amount of cash (about US $1,000) and show a budget of expenditures before returning home. No wonder no one came for a visit!

The Sisters and Television

That night, I stay at the sisters’ house where the dinner is taken communally. Though I have a little room much like any other in a Congo nunnery, this is definitely a high end convent: the place houses 17 sisters with constant guests that come from NGOs, locals who go there for dinner and Congolese visiting sisters. Four of the sisters are European, one of which (originally from the Iles de la Madeleine in Canada) has been in Congo since 1965. Having spent more time in Congo than anywhere else, she has not been able to register for voting since she doesn’t have Congolese nationality.

A group of 20 people sit around the television to watch French news on TV5. Images of the painful Gaza strip withdrawal, the privatization of France’s roads, soap car races in a Paris park, celebration of Australia in a local zoo (drawing hoos and haas at the sight of a baby Kangaroo) and Dom Juan playing at the theater. It’s so odd knowing that I am in the middle of seemingly nowhere and television connects sisters who have never left their village to people from all over the world. French news seems so irrelevant and dramatic here yet it’s comforting to know that the outside world is still spinning. I wish I could switch the polarity of the television so that the newscaster and French families sitting on their couches could see the sisters watching them with avid eyes.

I feel like I’m in college again.

Mbuji Mayi (Boo-Gee-Ma-Ee)

August 21st 2005

We arrive in Mbuji Mayi after a short, uneventful flight. The view from the air reveals shallow clay canons, a sprawling city with corrugated iron roofed dwelled interspersed by palm trees. Once again, I register the wonderful greenness of it.

Navigating through the airport proves to be a little too much for me, with officials coming in and out of the waiting area with my passport (making me very nervous) and a long discussion about why I had to pay the special $50 + Fr 2,000 fee: for all first-time foreigners there’s a special fee, but since I am working in the humanitarian sector, the official would be willing to reduce the price considerably. Would I be able to pick up the passport tomorrow to fill out paperwork? No? Well then I could just pay him right here and now and all would be over with.

When we explained that the fee hadn’t been budgeted in our planning and that we needed to call our boss for confirmation, the affable official says that he can waive the fee this time around but I would have to pass by the customs office located in the middle of town.

I am fuming but trying hard not to show it. It’s so discouraging to be asked for a bribe each and every time I arrive in a new airport; it’s enough for me to want to go home and say “screw it, I’m going to help no one but myself”.

The drive from the city of Mbuji Mayi to Mwene Ditu is very pleasant and I have time to notice striking differences with my trip to Luiza. The road is 130 km and it takes us only 2 hours to get to destination! Compare that with the 150 km of the last trip to took about 8 hours to complete. The road is quite nice, actually paved all the way with a few tricky spots that involve having to drive around the potholes.

There are businesses everywhere and you can really get a sense that the city somewhat prosperous. I learn three things about the region:
-it is renowned for its diamonds and cookies. The diamond trade is prevalent with large drilling machines along the river bed and dozens of diamond cutting shops. Foreigners are not allowed to buy them of course. The city, though better off than its Congolese counterpart, should be a lot wealthier when you consider all the diamonds that are harvested there. The biscuits are produced in a factory close to the diamond club;
-the beer here is not Skol or Primus, it’s called Turbo King. Despite it’s name, it has the reputation of being watered down;
-one a hillside by Mbuji Mayi live the “refoulés de Katanga”. These are displaced peoples from Katanga during the time when Mobutu wanted to divide a state into two warring zones (?). The displaced have adapted quite well to the town as the people who fled were primarily highly skilled and educated who fled to the city where the only skills revolved around diamond harvesting and trading. They now own shops, training centers and technical industries (mechanics, welding, iron gates—useful when you consider how many places need to secure their diamonds).

August 20, 2005


Because I like shopping and I've been in serious shopping withdrawal mode, I buy the only things there are to buy here: furniture, and tons and tons of cloth. Below is a sample of the many loud prints I found appealing. I cant' wait to go to a tailor and make myself some Pagnes (Congolese equivalent to Boubous).

My favorite ladies selling the clothes set up their wooden displays in an alcove by the side of the road, constantly bothers by visiting policemen (who impose bogus "fines" and make money off the business too). They charge a set price of 10 dollars for 6 yards of fabric. There's no bargaining and it's an absolutely wonderful experience... If you don't mind the sun, the dust and the ladies trying to draw your attention to their "unique" cloth (that happen to look exactly the same as the previous stall's).

In order to verify that this is good cloth, one has to watch out for the bottom tag marked "Guaranteed Veritable Wax-Top Final" or any derivative thereof. If you were to make a long skirt, you would make sure that the tag is visible at the bottom center of the dress so people would know you're wearing the real thing! Most dresses look weird to me, as have an unfinished quality to them with their unhemmed bottoms.

The image below contains fabric that I bought from Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Congo (but made in Côte d'Ivoire or European countries). Little known fact: most African cloth is actually fabricated in Scandinavian countries with designs created by African stylists. So the cloth I bought on the market is most probably made in Europe rather than in Africa. European cloth with African appeal.

I'm thinking about having an American grandmother make me a funky African quilt with the remaining fabric. Can anyone sew?


Thanks for posting on my Guest Map Eva Roca and San Marino or Bust!

August 17, 2005

Advertisement for Hewa Bora Airlines

(You can travel to Lubumbashi for $148 or less like this...)

(Or choose HEWA BORA AIRWAYS, 1st company in DRC, and travel like this)

Trip Cancelled!

I was planning a trip to Kole (situated in the middle of the country) to visit some partners. I mean, it's been close to 6 months that I've been in Congo and I still haven't been able to get there. Some of the reasons are:

-I had just arrived and needed some time to adjust to the project
-we suddenly had to work intensely on an HIV/AIDS grant
-we had to rush to Luiza to prepare the health offices before our donor came to visit to area
-we suddenly had to work intensely on a Malaria grant
-the 30th of June and feared civil unrest was looming close

It's just bad luck.

I was all set to go to Kole today when my travel agent comes to the office to announce that the Congolese Ministry of Transportation banned all flights using Anatanov flights inside the country for an undertermined length of time.

Antanov aircrafts are old rusted shells of airplanes from Eastern Europe that have been refurnished and used since the 1960s. Rumors are that they are barely held together by duct tapes and it's a miracle everytime they take off and land safely. If you do a google search for Antanov and Congo, you'll come up with searches that tell of their many crashes.

The first thought that came to my mind about the ban was "Well it's about G**Damned time!". Then the second thought was "Why oh why am I so unlucky with this planned trip?".

I am currently adding on my résumé: "Amazing ability to adjust to local resource-limited settings".

August 16, 2005

Grubs and Termites

This weekend, we went back to Maluku, that place by the water where we ate Liboké and Chikangwe.

On the way back, we stopped at FIKIN, the Foire International de Kinshasa. The place was so crowded that it took us about 45 mins to drive the car into the Fair...and we were located about 5 meters from the entrance (I had half a mind to abandon my friends in the car and just walk there).

I got to eat those disgustingly active and wriggly white grubs from palm trees (barbecued and skewered, they don't have much taste--but it does play a number on the psych to bite into the thick white body and tiny black head).

I also tried termites which, surprisingly enough, are deliciously fried in oil, pili pili and salt. I thought I was going to be disgusted but I started popping the little things like they were sugar. The man selling them was walking around with a huge bowl full of the things and it makes me wonder how many hours it takes to gather so many tiny insects for my eating pleasure.

Will definitely try to score some more to cook at home.

Thanks Chris for posting on my Guest Map. Others should be inspired by this great initiative and post their pins too :) I'll definitely come see you guys in Louisville, Ky. What's it famous for again?

August 15, 2005

Happy Birthdays!!

Happy happy happy Birthday Vicky and Dad!! (and if I knew which friggin' phone number you can be reached at, you'd be enjoying a earful of my great birthday singing :)

August 10, 2005

Both Big Dorks

Initial email:

Check out the attached email I received from Amazon. To quote: "As someone who has purchased music from one of today's hottest bands, you might be interested in back-to-school offers...". The last music I purchased from Amazon was by Josef Haydn, who died in 1809... And before that, the opera "Arabella" by Richard Strauss, composed in 1930...

Does this mean *gasp* that Classical Music is coming back into fashion?

Response from my brother:

Hi Dad,

Wow, Amazon thinks you're cool. Weird. They must've confused you with Victoria or something... But they're rarely wrong so perhaps I should reconsider things (maybe I should start ironing my blue jeans too...).


The funniest thing is that my dad doesn't even own blue jeans...

Words of Encouragement?

"[…]Anyway, don't let it get you down; go buy a tub of ice cream and make a pig of yourself instead. Or a beer with friends.


They should really make people take parenting classes.

August 09, 2005

Kindu in Pictures

My morning view through the bathroom's mesh window of Sarah's apartment

Little neighbor with spiky hair. She laughed and laughed after I showed her the picture.

Two Congolese NGO workers set off for an adventure through remote villages where they will draw list of the neediest persons to benefit from an agricultural project. Two people per moto insures that, in the common occurence of a flat, the team works together to fix the tire. In the white bag they have enough clothes for ten days, 2 mattress, two floation coats for the trip on the pirogue, a special drink prepared by a village woman for back aches (those long hours on the motorcycle can be really painful), beignets for the morning breakfast, sheets, plates, cups and work material. Talk about efficient packing!

Bright white manioc (peeled out of its ugly black skin) is dried out in the sun on a straw cot for two or three days

August 08, 2005

Finger Lickin' Good

Yesterday I went to Chez Tintin again, the place by the water. We sat on rocks and explored the two rusted ships that where shipwrecked by the side of the river (mostly they were ghostly shells of their former selves, smelt weird and had lot of flies breeding around them).

I ordered my usual (Liboké--the grilled fish in Banana leaves, and Chikwangue--the manioc bread-like slices), drenching my Chikwangue in the wonderfully tasteful and spicy sauce inside the banana leaf.

I was so good I licked everyone of my fingers.

Today my stomach is cramping up like crazy. Ooow. Why-oh-why must something so good be so painful? Isn't there anything enjoyable that is remorse free anymore?

Give me M&Ms or give me death!!

August 04, 2005



Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my first time living in Africa. This special date makes me think about deeply philosophical questions like: “what am I doing here again?

Bad Mood II


I’m in such a bad mood I actually fought with a religious sister working here. I’m going to Hell for this one. I bet Hell has a shitty generator too.

Bad Mood


The UN flight in Kindu to Kinshasa was cancelled. I will therefore not be able to flight back today. Apparently this stuff happens all the time. A humanitarian typically tries 3 times to get on a flight before he/she can take off.

The Kindu office just received a heck of a lot bigger generator. These are the things I expect never to experience here again:
-the whole electrical system to shut down every time a job is sent to the printer
-the lights to dimmer to the point of near dusk when we cook on the electrical stove
-the electricity to not come on at home during the three planned hours of the evening, two nights in a row
-the lights to come on/off, on/off 5 times in an evening
-the server to be restarted 3 times during the course of the day
-the overworked generator to travel around the room due to vibrations of the motor
-the cord of the generator to break off in the guards hands when trying to start it

I have high hopes for this generator!