July 28, 2005


Yesterday evening, I saw people sitting in chairs reading to the only light in town (a NGO building that has a single light bulb that burns bright during the night). I asked a friend what that's all about and apparently, they were Kindu University students stdying for an exam the next day. Even in the middle of seemingly nowhere, people still manage to cramm for exams. I'm impressed.


Note to RHJ: I removed my comment from your other blog because the comment that came after it freaked me out a little (blogs are fun but can attract unwanted comments--see my disclaimer). Just so you don't think I'm in anyway related to the person :)

July 27, 2005


Being in Kindu makes me think a lot about water. In Kinshasa, I typically run out of drinking water about once a week, if I haven't planned my food shopping very carefully. I suck it up, shower in the morning and get to the office parched and ready to drink all the water in the work kitchen's filter.

In Kindu, I run out of water everyday. Sarah usually receives four « bidons » (large water containers previously holdpetrolrole or motor oil) a day. When I'm around, she gets 6. Each bidon is pretty large: they can contain about 20 liters each and are brought directly to our doorstep. We then have to carry the heavy bidons, and tip them over the flush and shower buckets carefully. The remaining two bidons go into the water filter and the maid/cook uses the rest to clean floors, dishes and clothes.

This is a pain in the ass, especially if you happen to be tired that day and all you want is a nice warm bath. To brush my teeth in the morning, I need to make sure I rinse with potable water which has been filtered and bleached. The filter is not the best performer and dribbles water so it takes about 12 minutes to fill up a 1.5 liter water bottle.

I can only imagine what a arduous this task is for a household with 6 children, the mothers and their daughters going to the water source and back. The water source is sometimes located 1 hour away. Women can carry 20 liters bidons back and forth to their households about 4 times a day.

Cooking also takes forever, the charcoal needing to be heated up, water boiled, beans soaked and cooked, twice a day, for 6 people. In a day that is organized around cooking, cleaning and fetching water, no wonder girls don't go to school.

By way of comparison, I did some research :

WHO Guidelines

For a household that uses a medium amount of water in the developing world, WHO estimates that it uses:

-Drinking water 3-4 Liters per day per person
-Food preparation, cleanup 2-3 Liters per day per person
-Personal hygiene 6-7 Liters per day per person
-Laundry 4-6 Liters per day per person
-Total 20 Liters per day per person

Kindu, by my estimates uses:

-Drinking water 2 Liters per day per person
-Food preparation, cleanup 25 Liters per day per person
-Personal Hygiene 15 Liters per day per person
-Laundry 8 Liters per day per person
-Total 50 Liters per day per person

The Average American Household

-In the United States, typically, households consume approximately 30% of their water for outdoor use, such as watering the lawn. Inside, toilets use the most water, with an average of 27 gallons per person per day (102 liters per person per day)
-Total water use (both indoor and outdoor) in a typical single-family home is 101 gallons per capita per day (383 liters per person per day)
-The average five-minute shower takes between 15 to 25 gallons of water. (76 liters per person per day)
-Total 76 liters per person per day

Makes you think...don't it?

(For some reason this post makes me think of « just take a look, it's in a book, a reading rainbooooow! »

Thanks to dreyno01 and Mary for posting on my Guest Map !

July 24, 2005


I'm in Kindu to help out for work for a period of 12 days. Very exciting indeed!

Kindu is located in the East of the country and, as a result, has a high concentration of soldiers--both Congolese and UN-based (a large portion of which are South African men, living on a military base--think prefabricated units and lots of big trucks).

We run into a little trouble with the immigration guy who takes us into his office, closes the door and demands 5 dollars from each of us. A demand we fight bitterly against. The intensity of the man is intimidating but I shut my mouth, stay in the corner and we leave unscathed.

The flight into the city is beautiful: wide expanses of thick green forests (bordering on being a jungle), punctuated by a large riverbed and little beige/orange roads leading to different areas around the city. What a change from Kinshasa.

I am staying at Sarah's apartment with large ceilings, and plenty of living space. Which seems quaint, until she reminds me that there is no running water and electricity runs for about 3 hours in the evening. Not ideal when you find yourself pouring water from a heavy bucket into smaller toilet and shower buckets. After two days, my muscles are already getting larger.

My room is also situated on a busy street and, I learn that New York is not the only city that "never sleeps". The first night I sleep a restless sleep punctuated by cries of children. I think I am dreaming but look out the window to see three children in the misty morning, dragging their feet through the orange dust and weeping into their hands. In the morning I find out that a child had died in the hospital.

Morning, afternoon and evening music blares from battery-operated radios from 5:30AM in the morning to 11:00PM at night

I shower in a concrete block with cold water from a bucket, where I can catch a view of the dusty roads, palm trees and carts.


On of my first job is to take pictures of people so that badges can be made. One by one, the guards and other employees take their place against the blue wall and give a very serious look. They come check out their picture on the digital camera, shake their head and smile at the results. They remind me that so-and-so isn't here yet but that I musn't forget to take his picture. One of the guards does not have his uniform on, so he switches shirts with another guard. He adjusts his collar and gives me his most serious look. I do manage to get a few of them to smile for the camera.


I watch friends play tennis on the only tennis court in town. They bring their own nets and chairs. The court is simple but does the job. My friends have a regular audience of adults and a multitude of children who rush around like real professionals to get the yellow balls. I feel like I'm in Wimbledon. The children constantly ask me to sip some of my drink which I refuse stating the red can may look like cola but contains beer. It's a useless conversation since they all speak Swahili but I note with interest that the "give-me" sign and the "no-way" sign is pretty universal.


Local families, the women decked out in their best and brightest pagnes and spiky hairs, children standing at attention, babies cradled in their mothers arms and fathers standing protectively next to the children, ask the local camera man to take their pictures in front on the shiny new cars. A teenager chooses a red car and leans against it, legs crossed and elbows on the hood, looking very stylish indeed.

I am talking on the phone when I get whistled at from all corners. I look around in a panic, not understanding what's going on, when I see a soldier lowering a flag on a pole next to the court. I hang up without saying bye and turn off the phone quickly in a panic (should the caller try me again). I stand at attention. Whew, no one gives me a hard time. I think I just escaped another national incident.

July 18, 2005

Rumble in the Jungle

I just finished seeing a great documentary called "When We Were Kings" about the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Congo (then called Zaire). Mobutu, president at the time, put up US $10,000,000 to have them fight in an arena in Kinshasa. The fight was phenomenal, watched by both Congolese and Americans. Its amazing to see these two boxers, one a hilarious trash talker, the other a calm buddha-like reincarnation, prepare for the fight amidst the discovery of a new country, an awareness of self as a black American, a pawn to promoters, a sex symbol, a hero and a bad guy. All these emotions are tugged from you throughout the documentary set to fast-paced action and incredibly well-timed sound effects.

When I think of Muhammad Ali, I see the old guy with a bent back, hands shaking with Parkinson and a gentle air to him. This movie shows the POW, the charisma, the power, the charm of Muhammed Ali at age 30. What a presence (Ali, if youre reading this and single, please marry me)...

Heck, I hate sports movies but loved this documentary. Next time youre at blockbusters, rent it will ya? I promise you wont be disappointed.

Some timeless Ali quotes:
"Float like a butterfly.
Sting like a bee.
Your hands can't hit
what your eyes can't see."

"If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize."

"I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark."

"That all you got, George?"
What Ali whispered into George Foreman's ear in a late round clinch during the Rumble in the Jungle.

"It's not bragging if you can back it up."

"The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life."

"If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you."

"I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest."

"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me."

The Color of Democracy

(alternative title: Color Me Democracy--I've been listening to too many 80's songs, or the Mystery of the Black Finger)

I was in a meeting last week when I noticed that one of my Congolese colleague had a blackened tip of his finger. I winced, imagining the force of a door slamming to bruise both finger and nail.

Then I started noticing more and more black fingers. Were people just being careless? I would have to be more careful when locking the bathroom door behind me.

The second meeting of the day started with a little bit of banter and discussion on the new voting cards in Congo. Boy oh boy are those cards sophisticated: they have names of the voters but also their picture, fingerprints and a code bar. AND they're laminated! I announced in a little voice, that ours were made from paper and still printed on those printers that need paper with perforated holes in the side of them. It's embarrassing.

I suddenly felt a little light bulb go "ping!" in my head when I realized that my colleague's had not been banging their little fingers in doors, instead had been getting registered for voting and dipping their fingers in ink for fingerprint.

Black is the new color of democracy. (Now if they could only get their fingerprint database up and running...)

I would like to thank Kim for posting on my map. Thanks Kim! And I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that I have this wonderful Guest Map (see side bar), and that you would be a wonderful guest for pinning on my map.

July 15, 2005

Bonobos and other exciting sights

Me and the Bonobo (I am on the right of the picture, the bonobo is on the left)

Recoiled water lily and waterproof leaf in muddy water

Fruits decay at lightning speed in my humid kitchen. I would have kept this orange longer for purely artistic purposes but the fruit flies disuaded me

I'm not going to point fingers but someone reeeeeally needs to use Vaseline's Intense Moistering lotion

With its alkiline nose, small lips, pointy chin and small close set eyes, this orange mask caricaturizes the European man, held by the ticket person at the Bonobo Sanctuary

It is a Sad Day when...

You have to start putting disclaimers on your Blog front page --->

July 11, 2005

Truck, Marché and Bonobos

Photo of the truck
I wanted to post some pictures of the truck and other things but, for some reason, they're not coming up...Hum, I might switch from hello to the new picture blogging feature.

The Grand Marché: Monsters, Inc.

Last weekend, I went to the Grand Marché in the middle of the capital.

While people don't bug you at all here like they would in Senegal ("come on, you want to buy this, yes you do", "Ma'am you're so rich you ought to buy this", "what, you're not paying any attention to me? Are you racist?"), it is still a daunting experience nonetheless.

First off, the Marché is huge. It spans quite a few blocks. It sells anything and everything under the sun. If you're looking for a faucet, envelopes from the 60s, multicolored plastic flip-flops, vegetables, shoes, baskets, live fish swimming around in buckets, cut-up crocodiles (by section, would you like the tail or the snout?), machetes, grubs as big as your toes squirming around in hot and spicy mix, half-dead tortoises, second-hand undershirts, Chinese pink underwear, sugar by the scoop, manioc floor or plungers, go to Grand Marché.

Just be careful not to walk into the pile-high garbage heaps or step into the black stream in the middle of the alleyway. That shit might burn through your bones.


I also went to see the Bonobos! Bonobos are monkeys (yikes, someone correct me please) that can only be found Congo, in the area bounded by the Congo river.

Because the adults are heavily poached (they make a nice BBQ steak), the babies slowly die of starvation or are brought to sell in Kinshasa--which is highly illegal of course. The Bonobo Sanctuary recuperates these poor few ones and pairs them off with a Congolese woman. With them, they learn appropriate social behaviors, they learn how to eat alone and become independent. Which is no small feat considering these bonobos have seen their parents die and have all survived the gruelling journey from the center of the country to Kinshasa. The bonobos in the sanctuary are now so comfortable with the place, that they have started having babies themselves.

The bonobos are very sexual monkeys (*giggle*) and they tend to rub themselves and each other, visitors or no visitors. I would hate to have to enter the enclosure :) What a job.

July 08, 2005

Global Terror

Message from my Brother
Hi all,

You may have heard that there have been some attacks in London. I'm a-okay.
I guess leaving to go to work about 2 hours before anyone else finally came in handy (I was at work by 7:50).


P.S. it may be the French who are pissed off about loosing the

Message from my Sister

After today's scare. I just wanted to check that everything is OK on your end too. Ugh! Having a global family is not too cool at times. I bought a phone card, but it doesn't have enough money on it to call the Congo (go figue, haha). I will try again with a new (and improved) phone card.

July 07, 2005

The Idiot's Guide to Calculating Postage

So, you have two medium-sized envelopes to send through the pouch to Baltimore (for free) and then from Baltimore to various parts of the country (add postage stamps purchased from the States before leaving to Africa)

1. Hold the two medium envelopes in your hands
2. Guesstimate their weight. The average weight of a laboratory brown mouse is 25 g (from your experience working at the NIH). The two letters weigh about the same of one mouse. The two letters are about 25 g combined.
3. Go to a site converter website. Type in 25 g to get the pound value (25 grams is about 0.055 pounds). So it's about 0.025 per letter
4. Go to the US Postal Office website. Type 0.025 in their "Postage Rate Calculator". Determine that 1.2 stamps is approximately the correct postage.

Ask Congolese Secretary to confirm this. As she is not from the United States, she is unable to answer but suggests you put two stamps on each letter as they weight just a bit more than an average letter. D'oh.

I'm so glad I got a Masters degree

Last night, I worked till 2:00AM printing, photocopying, hole-punching, sorting, and putting in folders, 11 copies of a proposal we are submitting. I started at 4:00PM.

My back was killing me, my feet were swollen. As the fumes of the toner and the heat emanating from the copier went to my head, all I could think about was "Thank God I got a Masters degree...it's definitely given me invaluable skills in being a secretary".

Today, came to work at 11:00AM but am still dead tired.

July 04, 2005

Peanut Butter and Sadness

This morning, like almost every morning of my work week, I went to get a peanut butter sandwich from the local "Mama" on the street corner. She sells these huge Congolese baguettes (about the size of one's forearm--without the hand) and offers a range of choices for filling:
-an omelet that she cooks with onions over a Kerosene stove
-margarine from a brand that does not need to be refrigerated
-home-made peanut butter

Now the best filling is the home-made peanut butter. She actually buys fresh peanuts, roasts them, pounds them until they become mush and adds a little peanut oil and salt. It's absolutely delish and there are no added preservatives. Yumm!

She hasn't has "pate d'arachide" (peanut butter) in the past two or three weeks so I begrudgingly go for the chemically enhanced margarine. Today, I complained that there was no pate d'arachide in French (she doesn't speak French) but she laughed at my dismay.

I looked up at her and noticed that she had a black eye. I quickly looked away, and grabbed my sandwich (unit cost $0.20). Now why should an honest, friendly, hard-working woman end up with a black eye? So sad.

July 03, 2005


So, nothing much happened around the 30th of June. I think a bunch of people died in the neighborhoods around the airport though, which really really sucks. I mean isn't it sad that, instead of people being excited about their independence day, they hole themselves up from fear of civil strife? There were fireworks, midnight of the 29th. People thought the popping sounds were guns going off. Ugh.

On Wednesday, I went home from the office early in order to pack a suitcase and some food cans. On my way home, I had to stop at the intersection de la Gare because the police were putting on a show. Truck after truck full of soldiers armed to the teeth (with cute little sideways berets) were leaving from the corner of the intersection with blinking blue lights, honking and rushing about. I stopped the car to let them by, trying to smile while not bring attention to myself (I did undo my seat belt should I need to leave the car quickly with my hands on my steering wheel--"See I have no radio or anything threatening in my hands!")

We were cooped up in the compound--upon reading my last blog, I realized that I made it sound a whole lot better than it was :) It was safe but allowed us to do insane amounts of work while keeping an ear out for helicopter sounds and radio checks. I'm safe and soooooo glad to be back in my apartment. Yeah!!

Overall, there was a lot more bark than bite.

PS: Someone name Luke emailed me to get info about Congo... I mistakenly erased your email. Could you leave a comment or email me again?