May 30, 2006

Attack of the Killer Mosquitoes

So ya, the dry season is upon us and it's a lot cooler but there is an alarming number of mosquitoes around. It's gotten to a point where I will shoo them off my door before I walk into my apartment.

Sometimes, I will be talking to someone and absolutely cannot concentrate on what he/she is saying because a mozzie or two are buzzing around them and frolicking in their hair or wig.

The very worst thing about mozzies (after the fact that they carry deadly Malaria) is that they make this annoying buzzing sound. For some reason, at night they are particularly interested in the ear area and will come fly around the ear canal buzzing and struttin'. Taunting you with their buzz buzz sound while you flail your arms spastically trying to shoo them away.

Two nights ago, I had two, TWO mosquitoes in my room. They decided to organize a little dance around my head at 11:00PM. Annoyed, I first went to get my can of RAID. Unfortunately, it was empty. Try as I might, the little fizzle of spray did little to discourage them. Fortunately, I had Off Deep Woods insecticide spray. I ran to the medicine cabinet, reached for the spray, pinched my nose shut, closed my eyes and proceeded to spray my face vigorously.


Then I went back to sleep. In two seconds flat, the f*&ckers were at it again. I proceeded to spray myself three more times (at that point, I was choking on the fumes) but it just seemed to attract them more. What good is an insecticide which, when applied liberally three times in a row, does absolutely nothing?

My next trick was to make myself tremble every minute as so, so that the mosquitoes would fly away. First I'd start with my legs, then my arms, and finally my head. I probably looked like I was having a seizure but it was better than having a malaria-infected proboscis penetrate my skin.

Tired of all the effort, I took my pillow under my arm and went to sleep in the guest room. The next day, a friend bought me the largest can of insecticide he could find: Killit.

Cost: Priceless (actually it was more like $2).


Ekondas (latin name Paedirus) are little red and black striped insects which are found more commonly in Central Africa. This seems to be mating season and they come out of the ground in swarms. When they release their juice, the liquid will burn human flesh like a fire would.


I have heard an Ekonda landing on someone's legs two weeks ago and he casually brushed it away toward his...sensitive regions. Last week, he was unable to sit on a chair comfortably and would place one half of his left butt cheek on the chair. Though it made me laugh for a long time, other males winced in compassion.

The best part of Ekondas is that a grown man will shriek like a little girl if they so much as walk in their direction.


May 29, 2006

Everything in life is cyclical

I've been here for a little over a year and my memory is constantly jogged by cyclical events that seemed so strange a year ago but now seem perfectly mundane and sane.

I arrived in mid-March 2005 and, between trying to sort out my living situation in overpriced Kinshasa and settling in at work, the three first months melted together to mid-June 2005--a date when the elections were first set to take place.

At the time, we were listening obsessively to the radio and scoping out rumors and ruminations of troubles that might arise in the country. It created a heavy atmosphere of paranoia and unease... waiting... waiting with anticipation for the date of the 30th of June. The country had never held a proper election since 1960 so the buzz and the energy were palpable.

Kabila had warned the population early: there would be no election this year due to the logisitical challenge of getting the whole country registered in the span of a few months. Instead, the election would take place on the 30th of June 2006.

Today, almost a year later, formidable advances have been made: a large majority of people of voting age now detain a voter's registration card. This has been a particularly amazing feat when you consider that there are no roads in the majority of the country. Both helicopters and computers (with cameras, fingerprint scanners and lamination machines) had to be brought into the numerous large villages (those living in extremely hard-to-reach villages made the 2 or 3 days walk to get registered). And those few literate people were trained in how to use the equipment. A large majority of those villages had not seen helicopters or computers ever. A large majority of that population had never had any contact with the central level government. MONUC and the CEI (Comité Electorale Indépendente) deployed all their efforts to get people registered.

The elections have been pushed back again to July 2006 and, in a climate of distrust of the government and presidents for life, it's no wonder people are anxious to put in their votes.

These are some of my thoughts from last year. Many of them are still relevant today:

Post from June 2005
Posts from July 2005

May 26th 2005-Security Issues
June 8th 2005-Radios
June 8th 2005-The Smell of Money
June 9th 2005-Severe Internet Troubles
June 10th 2005-The Theory of Relativity
June 13th 2005-What's in your Wallet?
June 23rd 2005-Appeasing the Population
June 25th 2005-Odds and Ends
June 27th 2005-Congolese line up for voter registration
June 29th 2005-All's well
June 29th 2005-Girl vs. Generator
July 3rd 2005-Anticlimactic...
July 18th 2005-The Color of Democracy

May 24, 2006

Let the paranoia begin...again

Now that the elections are nearing, we are all getting a bit testy. The security guy at the office sent me a text message at 6:45 in the morning (sheesh!) about possible marches from the UDPS party around my house.

This morning I have received another email message from him in my outlook and two more from a friend about where the marches would progress. This is exactly like it was last year, at the same time when the elections where supposed to take place.

Also, the weirdest thing happened to me when I was driving to the office. I saw....brace yourselves...4, FOUR! traffic signs at the last round-about: a STOP sign, a MERGE sign, and two others which I was too stunned to really observe.

May 22, 2006

Poliovirus is back

Congo was about to receive, in 2006, a certificate announcing to complete eradication of the Polio Virus. However, according to a Ministry of Health Report in May 2006, one case of poliovirus, type 1 was isolated in a laboratory in the Boma-Bungu health zone, in the province of Bas-Congo that shares a large border with Angola.

What's frustrating is that it was so close to disappearing: during two years (2003, 2005), the DRC had organized National Vaccination Days with vaccination coverage reaching 105% and 99%* each.

But it's going to be near impossible to make poliovirus disappear in a context where some communities are so isolated that medical staff cannot reach them with cold vaccines, syringes and sensitization.

*This seemingly too high coverage is due to several factors: (1) the number of children existing in the health zone is underestimated, and (2) other children may come to this health zone from neighboring health zones-->thus more children than planned are actually vaccinated

May 21, 2006

Spring is here! Spring is here!

Just kidding, made you look. There is actually no spring, summer, fall and winter in the Congo. There are only two seasons, the dry season and the rainy season.

We have officially entered the dry season. The dry season has finally descended and the air has cooled down considerably. It feels much like the emerging spring in Washington DC. I am getting this weird mixed feeling of ecstasy--an ingrained feeling in my body is telling me to be happy, happy, happy because it feels like spring and the buds are opening, the birds are chirping and babies bunnies are being born.

What's strange is that the weather's been almost consistently warm and sunny here so I really shouldn't be feeling this way.


I was talking to a neighbor about our rat situation: we have HUGE rats in our courtyard. They are about as large as her 6-months old cat. The f%$#ing things live in our metal drum that holds about 30 apartments' worth of trash. In the evening when we get home and flash our lights to find a parking spot, a rat or two will scurry back to the open pipes or the drum. Our conversation proceeded as follows:

Me: "We need two or three cats in our back parking to get rid of our rats"
Her: "Hey man, we need a Puma! Those rats are huge!"

That actually seemed like a plausible solution. I've been here too long.

May 16, 2006

Burn-outs, burn-outs everywhere

It seems like burn-outs are the new black in this week's new Development world!

Poor Sahara has been working hard to open a new office in Lubumbashi. She is *wisely* considering turning to alcohol to solve her stress problems.

Pitiful Beaver has been globe-trotting as an auditor and has no place to call her own. Thankfully, her boss gave her some time off so she can resume posting on her blog.

You givin' me drivin' lessons?!?

This morning, I was quietly driving to work when a truck full of people swerves from the opposite side and starts driving like a wild man on my lane, on my side of the road. In the opposite direction!

Wait, there's more...Then the driver proceeds to flash me THREE times to tell me to get out of the way. I got angry because:

(1) You're in my lane buddy!
(2) You're driving in the wrong direction!
(3) Where the hell do you want me to go?? There is no sidewalk, there is no space!

Now I know my car is crap (it has only 55,000 kilometers or about 34,175 miles), drives like it's about 100 years old, it rattles and shakes, it threatens to disintegrate when rolling over any kind of pothole or slight bump. But yours does not have any headlights, has holes for windows, doors held tight but large rubber bands and sports eight different colors (mud-brown, original white, blood-splatter red, pollution-black etc). So show me some respect!

I decided to play chicken with this bus, waiting to see who would get out of the way first. I am sorry to report that I freaked out first, swerved alarmingly into the dust and let him pass.

This happens about three times a week. But until now, it's never happened this early in the morning. Thank god I drank tea to steady my nerves.

Suzuki Samurai: one of the many sh**ty cars I drive to work every morning. Source:

Un Point. Un Trait-

Un point, un trait.

French idiom.
Literally translated as One period, one dash.
Meaning That's it, period.

Although I believe this is initially a french expression, I have heard it in Congo twice in the last two weeks. It is usually used by people trying to make the point that the decision is undebatable. That's it, period. The last person using it was getting excited, with saliva shooting out of his mouth while gesticulating energetically in the direction of a car. I'm not sure what he was saying but I sure wouldn't like to be the one arguing with him. Un point, un trait.

May 15, 2006

Sad News

I have decided that it's time for me to leave to Congo for good and return to the United States.

Though there were some pretty pressing reasons to do this, today they seem pretty inconsequential after all. Despite all my bitching, my complaints, my witty sarcasm, and my doubts during this time in the Congo, the thought of leaving fills me with dread. To use a vastly overused and abused cliché: I have a heavy lump in the bottom of my throat.

I try to smile but I know I have that funny crooked smile that looks more like a frown even if the corners of my lips are going up.

I am pretty scared of what's waiting for me there (or rather, what's not waiting for me). Will my friends still be alive? Will I be able to live on a shit wage? Can I find a job in less than two months? Where am I going to stay? How am I going to grease the wheel to get better service? Is anyone going to love me? Is my shipment going to make it back OK?

Thanks editor10, Your parents, Lyon apartment for Posting on my GuestMap! You guys are AWESOME! Sigh.

May 12, 2006

1001 uses for mosquito-nets

My friend Kate has written a beautiful post The Art of the Mosquito Net on Mosquito-nets. She is quite the expert on them:

A poorly-hung net is really an embarrassment. Perhaps it is the wrong size. It is an awkward and gawky teenager, not quite grown into elongated limbs, slouching to hide what does not seem to fit. The net is stretched at the corners from which it is hung, one end hangs low and tucks under, with the propriety of a nun’s habit; the opposite end stops abruptly, as promiscuous as a mini-skirt on a streetwalker inviting any visitor of the night.

During an evening of drinks, ciggies and sitting on the porch, we discussed and exchanged the many uses of a mosquito-net was have seen in the field:

1. As prevention against mosquito bites
2. For fishing (drag the net in the water and collect your little Ndakala)
3. To make a beautiful veil to complete a wedding dress
4. Use the conical ones on termite mounds, wait for the termites to leave the nest and trap them
5. As a form of birth control (don't ask me how, the logistics of this are mind-boggling)

And the list goes on!

May 08, 2006

Popular demand

Due to popular demand, I am reporting today that I do not have that weird worm-like feeling in my throat. Was it the Vermox? Was it the stress? Who knows, but thank god it's disappeared.

I apologize for anyone who may have taken me up on the challenge (I dare you to type the word "ascaris" in the Google Images search engine) although if you haven't done so and you are the type that likes horror my guest!

Thanks Elizabeth Now is in Tajikistan (what are you doing there?), Manuel Delgado, and Stephanie (you're coming during the heat of elections-good timing :) for posting on my GuestMap!!

May 05, 2006

Sauce Martin and Bitter Cucumber

Martin and Steven have been buddies for the better part of 9 years. They love going to Al Dar, a local Lebanese joint in the middle of the city. The food is pretty damn good, and the waiters are jovial. If you order a burger, they bring little jars of mayo, ketchup and pili-pili to the table. If you order a salad, they bring little jars of mayo, ketchup and pili-pili. Hell, even if you are just there to order plain water, they'll bring you little jars of mayo, ketchup and pili-pili.

Over the years of late nights discussing religion, girls and football, Martin has perfected, what he likes to call "Sauce Martin". This consists of taking even-sized wads of mayo, ketchup and pili-pili, mixing them briskly, and scooping up the resulting mixture with pitas. This is a strange, yet fascinating process, yielding a tasty product. The mayo+ketchup deal is a left-over from the Belgian period, the pili-pili is what makes it interesting.

That same night Steven, feeling particularly healthy, was eating a greek salad. The salad tasted a little off and he decided to taste each vegetable in turn to determine which was the offending food. The mear taste of a cucumber was enough evidence to let Steven know the result of that test.

I honestly haven't laughed this hard in 6-7 months.

Thanks George (formerly Rwanda, now Seattle), Marie (as mom would say I’m hurting you for your own good), and Vernicious Knids (your picture of Willy Wonka and the little munchkin thingies is disconcerting)--let's see, that would be 8 x 3 = 24 hours of happiness.

May 04, 2006

A Rather Disgusting Feeling

For the past two weeks, I've been feeling like something is stuck in my throat. It causes me to swallow compulsively and drink a lot of water to get rid of the unpleasant sensation.

Then, a colleague mentioned that his neighbor threw up a large worm a few days ago. The worm was carefully placed in a jar--to show the doctor. Needless to say, I drove to the pharmacy very fast to get some worm medicine.

Oddly enough, it's almost one year ago that I first tried Wormox:
Wormox-the Best Medecine in the World
(I dare you to type the word "ascaris" in the Google Images search engine)

By the Way, thanks so much Erick, TeaandZen, and Dallas for posting on my GuestMap! If you would like to make your presence known, thanks for clicking the link to your right. It takes about 5.7 seconds to pin yourself on the map and makes my day for 8 hours.

May 02, 2006

Are you Burned-out?

What is burnout?
When your body and mind are relentlessly strained, you can develop emotional and physical fatigue. Burnout is a physical, mental, and emotional response to constant levels of high stress. Burnout produces feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, cynicism, resentment and failure—as well as stagnation and reduced productivity. These stress reactions can result in levels of depression or unhappiness that eventually threaten your job, your relationships and your health.

Burnout is associated with situations in which a person feels:
-confused about expectations and priorities
-concerned about job security
-overcommitted with responsibilities
-resentful about duties that are not commensurate with pay

Burnout can occur when you feel you are unable to meet constant demands, and you become increasingly overwhelmed and depleted of energy. Debilitating sadness, anger or indifference can set in. You begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.


Yep, I'm definitely getting there.