December 22, 2005

What the hell...Merry Christmas!!

**Belitteling efforts of Politically Correctness and Cultural Sensitivity across the globe, 007 wishes everyone a Merry Christmas!!!**

Hey folks, it's almost the holiday season and so, as I must, I am sending you warm wishes. But seriously, this time of year invariably reminds me of all the people I love and (I hope) love me back.

Unfortunately, distance makes interacting with friends and family very difficult. I miss you all and my only wish is that we can remain close despite my poor attempts in keeping in touch. Got that Santa?

And what the heck, Happy Hanukkah and Merry Kwanza! I'll even throw in a Very Happy Holiday Season for those hippy people who don't believe in organized religion and won't buy their kids a present to discourage marketers.

Mom, I hope you got me a present this year.

December 20, 2005

Waiting for Their Moment in the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman

Being a bit of a feminist in a country that has a very strict set of rules for men and women, I wanted to share this great article about the new election of a female president in Liberia and its meaning for Congolese women.



You can't get to Bukavu, Congo , from Monrovia , Liberia . Like just about everywhere else in Africa , the two places are separated by dense rain forests, interminable wars and impassable dirt roads that don't go anywhere.

Yet they might as well be the same place. "Oh, finally, now I'm home," I thought as I crawled out of the tiny single-engine plane and jumped onto the landing strip of what passes for Bukavu's airport. It was about six months ago, and I was on a reporting trip throughout Africa . It was a weird trip for me because I was there to write about poverty and development, yet everywhere I went, from Accra , Ghana , to Mekele, Ethiopia and Kisumu, Kenya, I kept thinking that none of those places, for all of their endemic poverty or corruption, seemed as bad off as my own home country, Liberia.

Until, that is, I got to Bukavu (in the D.R.Congo). After the semidesert of Ethiopia and the savannahs of Kenya, Bukavu was otherworldly lush, with that tropical just-rained smell that often greets me when I go home to Liberia . Leafy, green mountains and valleys surrounded the teeming city, with rich banana trees and tea plantations dotting the countryside: the same luxuriant, verdant landscape we have around Monrovia .

And the same inexplicable sense of abandonment that comes from having a population ravaged by years of pointless civil wars. Thousands upon thousands of young boys troll fetid, trash-strewn streets, with nowhere to go. Downtown buildings, long devoid of any commerce, are marked with holes from rockets, grenades and the various other projectiles common to all of the continent's numerous wars. A few private cars - mufflers dragging, crammed with 10, 15, even 20 people - travel the crater-filled streets, but mostly just the white United Nations S.U.V.'s.

What struck me most, though, in Bukavu were the women. As I drove into the city, I passed women I have known all of my life. There were old women - old in Africa means 35 or so - with huge bundles of bamboo sticks on their back. In most cases, the burdens were larger than the backs carrying them as they trudged up one hill after another. There were market women in their colorful dresses - in Liberia we would call them lapas - huddled together on the side of the road selling oranges, hard-boiled eggs and nuts.

There were young women and girls, sitting in front of village huts bathing their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters in rubber buckets. No electricity or running water was anywhere close, but one 10-year old girl had dragged a bucket of dirty creek water up the hill to her house so she could wash her 4-year-old sister.
These were the women I grew up with in Liberia , the women all across Africa - the worst place there is to be a woman - who somehow manage to carry that entire continent on their backs.

In Liberia, when their sons were kidnapped and drugged to fight for rebel factions, and when their husbands came home from brothels and infected them with H.I.V., and when government soldiers invaded their houses and raped them in front of their teenage sons, these were the women who picked themselves up and kept going. They kept selling fish, cassava and kola nuts so they could feed their families. They gave birth to the children of their rapists in the forests and carried the children on their backs as they balanced jugs of water on their heads.

These are the women who went to the polls in Liberia last week. They ignored the threats of the young men who vowed more war if their chosen presidential candidate, a former soccer player named George Weah, didn't win. "No Weah, no peace," the boys yelled, chanting in the streets and around the polling stations.

The women in Liberia, by and large, ignored those boys and made Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 67-year-old grandmother, the first woman elected to lead an African country. I wasn't surprised that Mr. Weah immediately said the vote had been rigged, although international observers said it had not been. In the half-century since the Europeans left Africa , its men have proved remarkably adept at self-delusion.
No one can be sure what kind of president Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated banker who was imprisoned by one of the many men who ran Liberia into the ground over the last few decades, will be. There are plenty of African women who have brought us shame, from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in South Africa to Janet Museveni in Uganda . But after 25 years of war, genocide and anarchy, it's a good bet that she will smoke the men who preceded her in running the country. It's not going to be that hard to do; Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is following Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, both butchers of the first degree.

Ever since the voting results started coming in a few days ago, showing what the Liberian women had done, I've been unable to get one image from Bukavu out of my mind. It is of an old woman, in her 30's. It was almost twilight when I saw her, walking up the hill out of the city as I drove in. She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up.

I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia . I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too.

November 16, 2005
Editorial Observer

Thanks Chelsea who'd love to be in Africa, for posting on my GuestMap!

December 14, 2005


1. I have a mysterious stomach ailment that has me eating rice and apple sauce for the last two days
2. I am going on the field tomorrow (2 days trip, one day field work)
3. I will be going to Mbuji-Mayi where, a few months ago, they retained my passport overnight and could only hand it over to me after I donated $60
4. I will be returning on Saturday because Sunday is the day that people vote for the Referendum (whether to accept or refuse the new constitution--which, incidentally, has been somewhat modified from the one defended in front of the authorities a little while ago). Social "incidents" are expected.
5. I will be returning with on an unsafe plane

A Goat (two)

So my boss called me at home yesterday and said he just couldn't keep the two goats (one for me and the other for the health department) because he couldn't feed them. When could I come get them?

Having no backyard, we ruthlessly decided to transform them into small packages of meat (neccesiting I'm sure, the intervention of a butcher) and distribute them around.

Upon learning this, my colleage exclamed, "please reserve a head for me". The worst part of it was that I stayed up in my bed thinking how the heck one would cook a goat's head. Do they even make pots that big?

December 12, 2005

(11) A not very sturdy Bridge
Bridge that we had to cross a few miles after the river. Needless to say, I promptly got off of the motorcycle and walked across it, arms outstretched.

(12) Pygmee Child and Motorcycle

(13) Sister and Chicken
We rode in the front of a truck on the way back and carried (I am not joking) in the back: a mass of luggage, several containers of petrol, one live goat, 5 live chickens, one live duck, several cocoons of caterpillars, one whole smoked monkey, one sister, one old woman, one mechanic, and a spare tire.

(14) The Thinking Man
Our driver ponders how to get the massively heavy truck from out of a sandbank. Later down the road, we are stopped for an hour because the car won't start. It turns out there was a loose wire on the car battery.

(15) Yum, Grubs
Upon my arrival, we buy a few grubs for dinner. I tried these a few months ago, in the interest of science, and found them pretty gross. Now termites, on the other hand, are scrumptious.

Thanks Meirion from Wales for Posting on my GuestMap!!!

December 09, 2005

(6) Mr. Potato Head
We took advantage of a potato farmer and bought his entire stock of potatoes. Agriculture is not diversified at all (the major crops are by far manioc, rice and corn) so when you see something different, you better take advantage of it.

(7) Pushing Tin
We only had to push the car four times--which is not bad considering the van was woefully inadequate for field driving. And when I say we, I mean the men. I politely stayed out of their way.

(8) Yayoo!
As we got to our destination, every village welcomed us with brightly colored wreath, songs and drugs beats (the typical drum there is flat and elongated). I suspect a good bit of PR work was done prior to our arrival.

(9) School in Vango
We arrived to Vango, which is about 7 kilometers from our destination, just before the river. This school teaches latin (!), french, math, geography etc... It is completely isolated yet the wealthiest villagers send their kids there. The dormatories house about 23 girls and 25 boys. This was an old convent in 1960 when Belgian people lived in the area. There are now no foreigners within 250km and the building is falling in serious disrepair.

(10) Crossing the River
Try as we might, there would be no way to get the car from Vango to Lomela--because a river runs between them. We left the car in someone's yard, loaded the pirogues and got to the other side where a whole congration of people we waiting for us. Surprisingly enough, the pirogues were sturdy enough to carry all the motorcycles across too.

(1) A Safe Plane
The beginning of our trip was a plane ride from busy Kinshasa to sleepy Lodja. We got to board the safe plane, which made 92.7% of my anxiety concerning the trip disappear. Unfortunately, the CEI (Comité Eléctorale Indépendante) had rented the cargo space for its computers and printers to register people for voting, so we had to leave behind some auto-claves, markers and flipcharts for the evaluation and a few drugs behind.

(2) Antonia Again
I staid at the brother's place in Lodja and was happy to hang out with Antonia again. She seemed in good spirits but her energy was considerably lower than usual, perhaps owing to the recent bout of stomach troubles (seems like children gave her rotten fruit again).

(3) How to Fix a Car Tire the Real' Old Fashion Way
We spend the next morning fixing care tires the old fashion way. I remember having to do the same thing to my bike tire but, trust me, this is considerably more work. We set off two hours late, which isn't bad considering African time.

(4) A Motorcycle
We were lucky enough to find space in the vehicle but some of our collegues had to use motorcycles--which doesn't leave much room for your personal belonging when you have to bring as many containers of fuel as you can carry.

(5) A Possum and a Posse
Apparently this is not a possum but rather a forest rat. These boys were selling the rat to interested travellers. After finding out that the meat was two days old, a sister decided against purchasing the meat to prepare for dinner.

December 08, 2005

A Goat

So, my trip to the field was great, and I still haven't forgotten the assignment I set up for myself.

I just learned a few hours ago that our partner on the field, sent us a freight of two live goats with three packages of bush meat as a thank you gesture.

So my day is now consisting of --in between the running around to get reports finished, organizing yet another trip to the field, tracking down all paperwork for this and that--trying to get the poor goats from their lieu of arrival into a nice, clean garden wedged in a popular neighborhood of Kinshasa.

The two goats are now waiting the arrival of their new owner: my boss. Hehe, surprise Mr. Boss.

I can't wait to meet the goat...on a BBQ with sweet and tangy sauce!

Thanks Elizabeth for posting on my GuestMap...Afghanistan is a pretty crazy place to be I imagine!

December 05, 2005

Blog Assignement

So, here I am, back from a 10-day trip to the field. I am catching up on all the other blogs out there and noting on interesting entry on Acceptable Forms of Humiliation vs. Non-Acceptable Forms of Humiliation that Civil Servants subject Humanitarian workers to from Candide's blog.

Which makes me reflect on my just newly-minted trip, where (I shit you not), I was locked in the airport gates --I could leave through the back way but still-- and had to physically remove my passport from the immigration office where it was wedged in between a folder and a wall. It's a long story, but let's just say that I managed to piss off an immigration officer by not paying the bribe and making him feel like his job was redundant.

I swear (I say this often), if I didn't have a sense of humor, I'd be on the first plane outta here.

Annnnnyways, I have given myself the following blog assignment:
1. Describe the logistics of getting from Kinshasa to Lomela (an enclaved region in Sankuru) in 10 pictures or less.


On a positive note, I dreamt of Joachim Phoenix two days ago, which is a notable improvement on Zombies.