October 31, 2005

Day Two

Oct 28th 2005
Bas-Congo

The day beginnings with a recap of the previous day’s activities, by a participant who starts: “On this day of the 27th of October, the participants proceed to blah blah blah. After a cursory introduction and word from blah blah blah”. I’m a little surprise by how formal the recap is but need to remind myself that this job is taken very seriously by the man who came to the meeting to represent his community—besides his counterparts, the others are all highly trained doctors with public health degrees.
By mid-morning, we settle in a routine of two “Pause Sucree”, lunch, lots of talking, some snoring and generally just trying to evaluate the project’s progress of the last year.

One of the topics discussed is how to make projects and health structures conform to minimum government standards. I then learn that, while religious sisters are an amazing asset to the country (a lot of the functioning hospitals can give credit to their impassioned and relentless work), they are also a double-edged sword: most Congolese doctors like to work in the well functioning hospitals of the sisters, but put themselves at odd with the Ministry of Health as sisters often completely disregard governmental standards. And in part, this is why they are so successful.

The waitress at lunch is very worried for my welfare (“what is the white girl going to eat?”) and I assure her that I’ll eat whatever anyone else is eating.

In the evening, we have a little party for a colleague who is leaving, involving even more soda. Feeling bloated and increasingly guilty that I’m replacing my aerobic classes with sweet drinks, I go for a beer instead. I spot a lady with a very becoming pagne: it consists of a shirt with very puffy sleeves (think Victorian Era sleeves here) in a rich blue color and the perennial long skirt. I lean over to my neighbor, asking him “whoever is that man whose face is plastered all over that pagne over there?”. He explains that that is Kasavubu, the first president, and people wearing his image belong to a sort of peace movement. Its supporters admire his honesty and try to emulate his calm manner. I shake my head in agreement, effectively realizing that I know practically nothing about this first president whose mandate lasted 4 years and feel ill at ease seeing him in an army uniform, staring at me from the lady’s arms, thighs and bosom.

That evening, we eat what I assume is Kedgeree (a South Africa dish made from curried hard-boiled eggs, fish and rice) but in essence is rather tasteless. After yesterday’s pasta and cabbage extravaganza topped with egg to resemble an upside-down bowl, I am inclined to think that the old Belgian sisters are adorable, but just plain terrible cooks.

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