October 27, 2011

Photos of Kinshasa

View from the 11th floor of Grand Hotel Kinshasa.  According to one of my colleagues who lives in the DRC for 8 years, the large building (all encased in colored glass) in the back used to be the Central Bank.  He would exchange stacks of bills there.  According to lore, the windows did not open, and when there was an electricity shortage (as it happens often here), the interior would heat up like a greenhouse, and it would be get to an unbareable 120 degrees.  You'll notice that huge windows have been "punched" out in the building now, probably as a way to regulate the heat.  It gives it an eerie ghost-like glow...  I'm curious to know how they deal with the heavy rains during the rain season though.

 Another view from the hotel, watching the rain clouds roll in.

Turbo King, a beer made in Congo.  I particular enjoy the dramatic lion, with arms tensely resting on the logo, ready to pounce at the person drinking it.

Being part French, you may be surprised that this is one of the rare times I tried snails and frogs legs.  I don't know what I liked best about the snails: the butter and garlic sauce, or the cool 6-holed dish they came in.  The frogs legs were super yummy - too bad it's such much work for so little meat!

October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011: Going Back to Congo

It’s been about six years since I, wearily, left the Congo.  Tired, and burnt out, it nonetheless remains a strong memory - fraught with vivid stories and half-remembered fears, stuck in frozen time.

As part of my work, I have been asked to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo for two months, to observe the climate and the processes surrounding the second-ever elections since its independence in 1960. 

It doesn’t hit me that I’m really going back to Congo until, after an 8-hour flight from Washington D.C. to Brussels, and a 7-hour flight from Brussels to Yaounde (Cameroon), we slowly descent over Cameroon.

I’ve never set foot in Cameroon, but flying over its sparse forests, punctuated here and there by thin clay roads, and with clearings giving way to metal-roofed hangars, houses and huts, I am reminded of Central Africa.  At the risk of restating trite and perhaps na├»ve/colonial platitudes, I love seeing the surface of the earth as it was meant to be - at its most natural, lightly touched by human habitation.  Perhaps nature here is particularly indomitable and impossible to control into ordered patches of vegetations.  Or perhaps instead, city planners in Yaounde don't have the right tools to push the forest to the far corners of the city, loosing the battle between nature and urban sprawl.

I fall in love again with the tall, slender trees that reach their trunks and branches to the sun, topped like a scalp with a thick layer of dark leaves.

Another couple of hours until we arrive in Kinshasa.  I am curious to see if it has changed.  I hear it has.

October 16, 2011

Celebrity Dentist

I have a celebrity dentist.

I know what you're thinking.  That guy that looks like Timothy Dalton, who bleaches and applies veneers on all the starlets teeth.

Nope.  I just came back from my dentist.  Every time I go there, I sit in the reception area with a number of low income folks, mostly hispanic.  The wait is not long and the staff is polite.  As happened the last time, Dr. Rahim Sharmin engages me in really interesting conversation.

I always assumed he was hispanic but I learned today that he's actually Iranian and has been in the States for 20 years.  He was a oral/facial surgeon in Iraq and Iran.  Offhandedly, I told him that he must miss the field, given that he does mostly preventative dentistry and fillings now.  He disagreed and proceeded to tell me about some of the horrors of war he saw while there.  He vividly remembered seeing a young boy of 12 come in to see him, with a large bandage on his face.  The youth scribbled a note to him asking "when do I get back to go to the battle field?".  Dr Sharmin then removed the bandage, revealing a mass of exploded flesh, from the bottom of the throat to the top of the jaw, the lower jaw being completely missing.  Dr. Sharmin, misty eyed as he recalled the event, had to tell his patient that, even if he had access to the plastic surgeon, it would take the boy years and years of surgeries and rehabilitation to even begin to be OK again.

After a long 20 minute conversation, he sends me on my way (I have good oral health, yay!) and shows me a certificate on his wall.  Vincent Gray, the current Mayor of Washington DC, honored him for taking in underserved people from Washington D.C. on Medicare and Medicaid.  Mayor Gray decreed that April 6, 2010 was "Dr Rahim Sharmin" day.  I congratulated him, and said that we would have to celebrate it next year.

Before I left, he shook my hand and said "at my age, I don't care about money, but being recognized for my efforts in the community means everything to me."

Good job Dr. Sharmin!