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Friday, March 21, 2014

ca sticks good

so a lot of people say i have a slight canadian accent when i speak french. my mother will deny this to the bitter end, as she feels it may reflect on her ability to teach me the "mother tongue" but alas, i may have just picked it up in Quebec and it stuck. ca sticks. can't help it. after spending a lot of time in africa, i tend to pick up the africanized phrases you often hear around here. i have caught myself speaking like this, and might need to re-immerse myself in some pure french in france to cure my language ails: 

"Il faut gagner la solution" you have to find the solution...not win it. i read this in emails and job application letters all the time.

"Va suivre la télé!" you watch tv to see if they found the malaysian plane, you don't follow it.

"Je vous arrive en 10 min" i'm almost there...but, this is just bad grammar. 

"Tu m'as absenté hier!" what, you had malaria and absented me?

-Tu le connais depuis quand?
"bah, depuis depuis"
-quoi?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Real African pickup lines

If African men are committed to one single thing, it's hitting on white girls. Even if the white girls says she's married, not interested, sick with malaria...

Here are the highlights:

1. i was born with one leg but my uncle my doctor says i will always have boys. I'll make you many boys.
2. you are only sortof married, because you arent opening your heart to an african man
3. i am a boxer. your husband? KO
4. i will play drums for you every day. every day. 
5. being a soul mate is something you learn. being in love with a cameroonian is something you have to learn
6. you don't like alcoholics? i will drink water, wine and beer for you, no alcohol 
7. we can really get to know eachother through skype. i like to skype
8. love conquers distance. as long as you buy me a plane ticket, i am there.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2nd time malaria ain't so bad...

soooo i guess when you're immune system gets down, let's say after a sleepless night of saying goodbye to Yaoundé, the old Malaria parasites can creep back up on ya....but i am back. to health and to Internet. inshallah.

for my last friday in cameroon, my new friends couldn't just let me get to bed early to board my flight sober and well rested. instead, we had to make the rounds of the bars and do a proper goodbye to our haunts. a motley crew of coworkers and friends went back to the buncker, the scene of women's day debauchery where i apparently made a lot of promises. ...just like how my dad will invite you to thanksgiving after a few gin and tonics, i told maria the waitress i would come back and eat THE BIGGEST FISH YOU HAVE. and i did. and it was delicious. and i paid 6 bucks for it.

don't just choose the fish...feel the fish
we stopped by the route 66, the american bar across the street from my house where the owner, walter, who speaks a really weird non-accented english made us re-enact the previous thursday, when we were urged to challenge these poor deep pocketed koreans to a disgusting shot drinking contest. they lost, and they lost hard. pohw koweans. (thankfully on this night, no one threw their car keys in my face saying, "you know how to drive? you seem less drunk than me" and "we can't leave the car here" making me drive a very sllllow deliberately unsober 500m to our door, screaming look at my White Girl chauffeur and making it through the narrow gate, no damage!).
anyway, there was some pleasant outdoor pool playing in a leafy parking lot/garden/open toilet area, where i laid my best pickup lines (so, play pool in a parking lot often?) on an adorable belgian who replied: "we have met before. in kinshasa, we had lunch, you don't remember me." woops.

anyway, then came food finding mission, which took us to this crazy kindof meat market (not that kindof meat market) thing, where these guys have flattened chickens piled up like books next to an open fire. they are sweating, handling money and machetes and chopping. you get pile of meat with bones and toothpicks and onions on a metal plate. napkins cost extra. one guy has the most delicious beef chunk that he slices for you to try. this is the christian side, because apparently there is a muslim side, an entire are of steps where the guys with the long robes and hats come and set up their carpets, take off their shoes and do their morning prayers. i do pray that i don't miss my flight to libreville...
 

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

international women's day hangover

so they really take this women's day thing seriously. and this year, it fell on a saturday. before i left the office on friday, i stopped in to say hi to a british intern, who is just about the closest person socially and age-ly to me at work. i asked her what she was doing over the weekend and she may have thought i was asking her out? her co-workers loudly shuffling papers awkwardly. 
she came over on saturday night in her own designed women's day dress. i didn't really like the pattern this year (orange and browns, with a woman hugging a cameroun outline) so i just wore a regular african dress. her boyfriend, as it turns out, is this brawny, tatooed, rather famous musician who has adoring fans and stuff. as it turns out, he is friends with the guy i am staying with, rizbo, who is also a rather famous musician. they have some 90s style african rap album. lots of neon. anyway, eric, the boyfriend of the british girl kelly, being the gentleman that he is, accompanies us to a terrasse bar/night club/restaurant/cabaret (they are serious about this part)/fish grill (also serious about this part). as he knows the owner and is somewhat of a celebrity he settles us into a table, which is unfortunately amid all these expats, and goes off to his own evening. the thing about women's day is you're supposed to be without your man. 
the expats are all saggy eyed drunk fat american mommies whom you know just from looking at them are peace corps volunteers who met cameroonians and never left. not our cup of tea. we nod gratiously and order a round of boosters: 1l bottle of whiskey and coke. excellent discovery. kelly turns out to be a hoot. she's an intern, which means she is surviving on 150$/month. i give her big ups for that and buy all our drinks. i mean, she is from a sailing, designer dog raising family and in yaoundé, saving up for a fridge. i'm very impressed. the american girls finally leave and kelly remarks how just about every american you meet abroad is whale-sized. it's really true. me, i'm french. 
so about 80% of the clientele are cameroonian women in their women's day print dresses, which, are just very unflattering mumus. i don't understand why they don't share the same sexy fashion sense as congolese. the waitresses are running around with giant plates of grilled fish and bananas. super friendly. ridiculously friendly. especially when i tip them (a very expat thing to do, whatever). i am invited to come back for a free beer tomorrow. and if i want to take a uniform i can wait tables. thanks, maria. 
i have never seen such positive energy, and kelly and i are remarking that what makes today especially wonderful is that no guys are obscenely hitting on us. the biggest perk of women's day, they leave you alone! no sooner said than some ghanains show up with their djembes and start uttering crap about being our soul mates. kelly casually mentions her boyfriend the famous musician, they back off. what about me? i play with my fake wedding ring, norwegian oil tycoon is home with the kids. they say that if we were single, they would have played their drums for us, but since we are married...well that's not right, mister. this is all women's day, not just the single ladies. so they set up their drums and start banging away, drowning out the crappy nightclub music. one guy has wrist maracas. and the dude with the ubiquitous creepy marionette shows up to dirty dance it everywhere. kelly is scared of these marionettes like people are of clowns and she is right. i am taking photos with my 10 year old blackberry and the creepy marionette head is always the only thing in focus. 
next thing we know, women are coming up to us, asking permission to dance to the beats...our permission? what for? go girl! and there's this insane dance off with some of the craziest african style dance i have seen. women in trances, giggly shaking and stuff. tables are moved, the dance floor has comed to us, it is like me and kelly are royalty being entertained by our court. more boosters please, and the waitress is dancing while serving us. 
i finally can't hold it in and need to go to the restroom (remember: singular). i love that the first thing you see upon entering this establishment is a pile of fly-infested whole fish of which huge sweaty women are smashing with cleavers. there are women everywhere, dancing, drinking, they are super friendly, they grab my hand or call me over, ask for my name and number "let's hang out and go the market!" i have 20 new bffs. in the bathroom i accidentally walk in on a woman (obvi no locks on the doors and she hasn't mastered the squat and hold the door stance). i am profusely apologizing over the stall wall and she's all, ain't no thang, it's our day, where are you sitting? oh, you're the ones who brought your entourage? uhh, not really, but apparently the whole club is talking about us. she comes out and dances with her jangly bracelets and earrings and she is complementing my hair, asking if it's real, how do i curl it. 
finally, it's past 2 am, the place starts to empty out, the drummer's hands are red and tired, and they pack up and leave. we should head back. kelly's boyfriend wanders in, all, oh, my phone was off baby, sorry i wasn't in touch and tells us about this djembe drum jam he was at, and we would have loved it. what did you girls do? eh not much, just drank a bunch of boosters, let's go home.  



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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the rather enjoyable fabric buying experience for once

so it's international women's day, and i don't have an international women's day dress! i'm such an idiot for leaving my march 8 congo dress at home. stupid, stupid. so i need to go to the market. probably best to not go alone, so olivier who is half my age and eager to impress says he'll take me. it's funny that he has no idea where to buy the fabric, but i do, so in reality i'm the one taking him. but anyway, we first have to meet in mokolo. i go to the street to catch a taxi and there are a bunch of women there, in the women's day garb. and it's true, this is probably the best day of the year to walk around as a women. everyone is all, joyeuse fete! and holding up 2 hands like it's your birthday, and all the mamans are super friendly and ask you where you dress is, and how drunk you are going to be tonight. this is our day. 
i've learned the practice of hailing a cab here. a dude in a busted up corolla slows down and you race to the window with everyone else, and scream where you want to go and a fare. so, makolo 200! and the guy will either imperceptibly nod, or lean on the horn, which means get the fuck in (and the rule is 2 people in the front passenger seat, 4 in the back) or he'll stare angrily ahead and basically drive over your feet. 
i still have the problem with the white person tax though, because the other day someone was all, bastos 100! and they get in, and i'm all, yes me too! bastos 100 and i go to open the door and he's already driven over my toenails. so it's kinda sad that it goes like: the other people: bastos 100!
they get in.
me: unenthusiastically bastos 400 :(
so we're standing there, we scream at a few but no dice. after a while, no more taxis are coming in our direction. the roads are all blocked for the big parade with the first lady. so a nice old lady who is standing next to me, who introduces herself as Lizbeth, is going to the same place, she wants to exchange the dress she already bought for her mother. i have no idea where i am going so i follow her and we walk. we cross a few police blockades and meander through the streets until we are in this crazy busy neighborhood and we grab a makolo 100. lizbeth is nice though, and she negotiates for the both of us. she even pays my way. but we get stuck in completely stalled traffic. we're sweating our faces off. the windows are rolled up, but the handle thing is missing, it's just a ring bolt nut thing and i'm clawing at it with my fingers and lizbeth goes, monsieur, can we open the window? and i think oh? electric windows? no, he hands over the opener: a long piece of metal that slides perfectly into the nut and you can open the window and you return it when you're done. nice. so no one is moving anywhere, except for the motorbikes who weave through the cars and i'm all, lizbeth, should we take a motorcycle? and she's all, not unless you want to die! and just then, a motorcycle comes out of nowhere and slams into a car, ejecting the 3 passengers and all the vegetable contents of their bags all over the hoods of 3 different vehicles. ok, let's not take a motorcycle. 
we pull up to a crazy market area with the typical goat heads and live chickens and stuff. one guy is trying to stuff 11 chickens into the trunk of a taxi. they are not tied up or anything, and each time he puts the last one in, one jumps out, and this goes on until he lowers, and lowers the trunk, holding the chickens in with one hand. as soon as they are all in, he slams the trunk closed but one makes a last ditch escape. decapitated. blood. gross.
olivier takes me to meet his grandfather, who lives in a part of the market where they sell giant aluminum pots with lids. it seems they them in cameroun, but then all these malians sit and file them all day with these huge long files. filing an aluminum pot sounds like 1000 nails on 1000 chalkboards. it's terrible. nonstop. all. day. long. i can't even listen to what the guy is saying, the hairs on my back are twitching. i need to get out of here. i'm sweaty, dizzy, completely hung over.



the guys who sell fabric are all muslims with with the little hats and the long dresses and chin beards. they have shady little stands where you can slowly, patiently look for what you want. they are actually helpful,  quite the change from chaotic shopping for fabric in kinshasa. and even though they are ripping me off, and stern hard bargainers, it's half the price of congo, too. i bought fabric with a chicken motif on it, in honor of my trunk trapped friends. 

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Monday, March 10, 2014

get a dog

so a common problem in africa is that your night guard sleeps through what you actually need him awake for. the people i am staying with in yaoundé got a dog. not to attack the robbers, but to wake up the night guard so he can attack the robbers. 
the dog, titos, is a mutty african street dog mixed with insane. totally cute though. they got a trainer who was actually able to calm him down some, but he's pretty much nuts. also, he has a foot fetish. wherever you are, he just places his head on your feet. which is cute. until he bites them and jumps in your face.

he spends all day in his cage in the garage so he's pretty wound up when i come home. so i've decided to do him a favor and take him for walks. which is brilliant. africans are terrified of dogs. mortified. i exit the gate and it's like a nuclear bomb radius around me. everyone crosses the street or hides. this is fantastic! i can go anywhere! how did i never think of this. 
the easiest place to go though, is actually the dead end where the office is, which is like, 100m away, which is why i get no exercise while i am here. because when i walk to work people actually stop and pick me up and i'm all, no, really, i can walk, it's just over there and they go no, there are corpses in the gutter and i'm all, what is a corpse going to do, really...anyway, once you take titos out he gets pretty chill and you can actually let him off the leash, and he trots happily around. which i do, especially at the dead end, which is a dead end because some rich lebanese guy was sick of people driving in front of his morbidly huge mansion and so he built a wall. he literally just built a wall, so the street ends and that's it. the house is this really ugly tile and guilden arabian style crap, with a hedge/flower arrangement that seems to be depicting a lebanese flag or something. anyway, titos saw one of those tri-color iguanas go through there and went totally apeshit. disappeared into the hedges like a tasmanian devil. flower petals and leaves everywhere, just caddyshacking this landscaping. so i chase after him, titos! titos! and he runs back to the wwf office where he pees on literally...every....car...including the country director who sees me and screams, "is that your dog? he smells like garbage" titos does smell like garbage. like he rolled around in cadaver juice or something...so this guy doesn't know who i am because he was out sick when i made the rounds at the office...now i just have to lay low for 9 more days...    

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

things that cannot be unseen: friday night in yaoundé

i taught a weeklong course in yaoundé as soon as friday noon hit, i could tell my students had the itch to just pack up and go drinking. i chatted with the 2 younger guys from the ministry of forests, asking them what one does on fridays in yaoundé. 
we drink! 
can i come along?
of course!
so i meet them a few hours later at some roadside half closed chicken rotisserie place near the university. you kinda just serve yourself from the big cooler. everyone drinks guiness in bottles, it's digusting. like some sort of rotten molasses beer or something. they do not know what guiness is. 
we're having a sortof intense bushmeat conversation and i'm getting devoured by a mosquito. one little fucker is just eating me alive, despite the tropical mega strength bug juice. as usual, no one else is prey just my sweet european blood. they don't believe there is a mosquito even after i show them the giant welts on my ankles. we decide to go somewhere else. 
to the standard central african night club recipe: music so loud it's distorted you can barely recognize it, fog, laser lights, giant bottles of beer and someone grilling chickens out front. having been to places like this before i know what the bathrooms are like. it's a bathROOM. i.e. one closet space with some urinals and busted up turlet, all together and jolly. i'm already regretting my second beer and scoping out where it could possibly be. out next to the dance floor is a door, 4 1/2 feet above the ground, that seems to have missed the staircase going up to it, a few more feet away. an african architect woopsie. the men kind of gymnastics their way up to the threshold whereas the women go up the stairs and make a leap of faith onto this little ledge to go in.
this guy oliver had already went and i asked him, are the women and men separate or is it a communal thing in there. and he's all don't worry, it's totally fine, the women's stall are separate. do you want me to go with you?
no it's ok, i can handle it. so i go up the stairs and everyone at our table is like, cheering me on, take the jump! and i make it and i push the door open and gaaaaaaahhhh! i was like in a detective tv show, the first person who opens the door to find the corpse of my husband or something, horrified eyes, covering my mouth with a hankerchief and turning away in tears. that was me, though it was infinitely worse. and it wasn't just the smell, it was this huge black penis almost in my face, something that belongs on a horse. yeah, separate bathrooms, there are stalls at the end but it's a parade of dongs and guys who are like, heeeeeyyy white girl! i need to get the hell out of here so i go back out the door, but there are all these people coming in the ledge is single file, so i shuffle along the ledge in the other direction, and i'm backed up against the wall, like a jumper on the 76th floor who needs to be talked down. olivier comes over and i'm screaming over the music "that is so not my definition of separate!" and he's like oh come on, and he carries me back to the door and shoves me back in there. i make my way to a piece of broken porcelain that can't even hold the liquid inside it, i pee and it all squirts out a crack on the side on my ankles. i would have been better in an alley. i come out and all my peeps from our table are there like, yaaaay! you made it! and we're having some sort of party in this disgusting place, where we celebrate midnight, which is now international women's day. yaaaaay.
after finally leave, it's a whole mess of taxis at this roundabout. and i'm such a white bitch because i really have to pee, and i want to get home like, now. and well, if you have enough money (3$) you can basically commandeer your own taxi, with the poor fools inside it. so i find one and i'm only half apologizing to the other passengers as i whip out my 2000 franc bill, which means my stop is first, and completely in the other direction and so they can either come along for the ride or try their luck elsewhere. sorry suckas. 


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Saturday, March 8, 2014

the maid

so the maid who comes during the day (i never see her, but my bed is perfectly made and all my shoes arranged when i come home it's the BEST), well she also just takes whatever is in the fridge and cooks it. we're kind of in this roommate situation, so, i do buy my own food and try to tuck into a corner of the fridge but pascaline doesn't know this so...my avocados get cut up and arranged into lavish salad plates (she washes lettuce with drinkable water. props), my oranges are juiced, and eggplants mixed with big hunks of meat and stuff. but, whatevs. they let me eat whatever, and absolutely delicious most of the time. so today she made this great chicken dish with cashews and my roommate asks, hey, where did you get these wonderful cashews and pascaline says, oh, in the tupperware in the cabinet. which is my tupperware, with my imported stuff from germany stuff like, beluga lentils and müsli and buckwheat. so when i get home my roommate apologizes, all, sorry we dug into your cashews and i'm like, cashews? i don't have any...oh wait. i had a bunch of individually wrapped tiny peanut mixes from trader joes (best africa emergency food)? which means pascaline opened each and every little bag, and dug out all the cashews. well that's pretty dedicated. thanks for the half bags of raisins, pascaline.  

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

trying to be nice

so i went to the supermarket, and being the wonderful person that i am, i pick up a coke for the guardian guy. i go to check out and the cashier is straight valley girl cameroon style. crazy hair extensions, super long nails, loudly chewing her gum. and she's all, did you bring back an empty bottle to exchange with this coke
and i'm all no, i didn't bring a bottle. i want to buy this one
"you have to bring back a bottle to get a new bottle."
but i don't have an empty bottle. this is my first bottle. ever.
so the bag boy jumps in, "where's your empty bottle? you have to bring an empty!"
i understand the recycling thing but at some point in time, someone should be able to buy a new bottle. the circle is not closed. 
"well, you want to pay the deposit?" says the cashier with a look like i'm insane with hundred dollah billz coming out of my ears.
how much is the deposit
"75 francs!!" (10 cents)
oh my god! 75 francs? whatamigonnadooooo and i hand her a 10,000 CFA bill
and i get this glare, "i don't have 25 franc coins, so here's a BISCUIT" along with...a receipt with a red pen signature, which i will present, with the empty bottle, in order to get my 75francs back. well, i'll tell you what, the guard's gonna think it's christmas!

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Me arriving for my first day of work in our Yaoundé office

Colleague: How was your walk to work?

Me: very nice, i only live 3 minutes away, easy.
Colleague: yes, there is a little trash sometimes on that path but it’s ok. And well…i don’t want to scare you or anything but last week there was a cadavre on the side of that road

Me: oh? (mouth kindof agape)
Colleague: yes, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Me: ?
Colleague: Ok, so it wasn’t the first one we have found, it might have been the second, but really it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a little…"desagreable" (unpleasant).

Me: ?
Colleague: no, really, it’s just when, you know, someone doesn’t pay their taxi fare or whatever, it turns into an argument, well, it can end up like that. you know how it is.

Me: thankfully i have no money for a taxi. Yaoundé doesn’t accept Maestro.
Colleague: yes, Yaoundé is a Visa town. Enjoy your stay! 

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

yo, yaoundé

fiirst time in cameroun! yaoundé to be exact. hilly, low-rise kinda city of average central african shithole-iness. haven't found a bank machine that will accept my cards yet, but did find a lovely basket maker to take what few central african francs i had left from my last trip to gabon. 
 
a very slanty basket workshop


there are questionable establishments like the libyan gas station, which looks just plain old shady and reminds me of the frantic scene from Back to the Future with Christopher Lloyd screaming "the libyans are coming!" there is a "twitter hotel" which seems neither to have any electricity, and to be pretty much a cement shack and of therefore dubious access to twitter or social media. yes, jules, i'll take a picture of the "coiffure en 3D" sign. i think everyone wants their haircut in 3D, am i right?

the number of burning trash piles per hectare, slightly less than kinshasa. it's comfortably warm, as opposed to butt-sweating river hot. at night there are pleasant downpours to cool everything down. i am renting a room in a wonderful flowery villa of a friend of a friend which is a 2 minute walk to the office. hot water, cats, a dog, a maid who cooks, hibiscus as far as the eye can see in a delightful patio where i was served brunch with homemade guacamole, gazebo with loungy basket chairs and internet sometimes. for the absurd price of 15$ a night. should be totally airbnb verified. 

the chillout gazebo

my new breakfast friend
my host took me to a crafts market (yes we're best of friends already) where there were endless stands of people and their goods. 
often, a man sitting in what literally could be construed as a throne, ornate with feathers and nuts and shells waving ceremoniously over his wares. pointing informatively to something: "that is a plate, this is a bowl, that is a hippopotamus." my favorite stands were the ones with the fat sleeping ladies, i would step over them gently to inspect their baskets and only wake them when i wanted to buy something. which was so cheap you almost wanted to offer more. the guys with their bronze statues were really pushy, but i think i came away with a good deal on a bell. "to command my future husband." and then the crazy furniture. a huge imposing mahogany bed with a flourishing headboard featuring a lion taming his lionness around a giant mirror, to see what you are doing, i guess. must be for the lebanese crowd. who were also gawking over the gold and faux tiger print dining room sets. and of course, the never absent phallic art. i asked one man, so, what is this animal? holding up a giant 2 foot long gold (circumcized) cock n balls. he blushes, saying...madame, that...that... is a zizi. 

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Friday, October 4, 2013

my charm is enough to grease the wheels of corruption

my last day in kinshasa certainly wasn’t the best.
the night before i was awoken very late by the my project surveyor, steve, who has been stuck in brazzaville with the plane for the past few days. It goes like this. The plane we were supposed to use for our project crashed in malawi (steve was on board and survived and told me the whole crazy story), so the backup plane was doing a job in congo brazzaville and was going to pop over when it was done. Just needed 2 days. Easy peasy. Right in time for our press trip. Well as it turns out brazzaville doesn’t have the right kind of fuel, and so the plane was popping over to kinshasa to refuel – stopping at n’jili international airport and going through customs (2 hours), paying fees and then hopping, literally 5km away to N’Dolo domestic airport, paying more fees and refuelling, dealing with the crummy authorities there (3 hours). So one day they happened to be delayed until night and they couldn’t fly through the fog so got stuck in Kinshasa and the pilot never got a stamp in his passport (had a visa, just no stamp!) and this meant another 2 day delay being stuck at immigration, poor guy wearing the same overalls and underwear the whole time. 
So steve calls me and says they don’t have the right permit to land and that they won’t get it for another week and i need to pull some strings. I can pull strings! I look into the stack of business cards from the previous week and woohoo - There is patrick, assistant to the important someone who will sign our permit! At our meeting he held my hand a little too long when he told me he would do whatever it would take to help our project but anyway. I call him first thing, 7 am. He says he’ll call so-and-so and get me a meeting with another so-and-so in 2 hours. I call omba, my slowest driving chauffeur/go-to civil aviation ministry guy. We plan a strategy and we’re there.
Before you go to any of these ministries though, you better arm yourself with hard and soft copies of whatever it is you already sent them. In this case, a signed letter of support from the former president of DRC (yes, our project has been delayed since 2011) and all the stuff that accompanies the permit application. We’re kind of in a hurry, got stuck in a big traffic jam on the way to the office. i quickly send everything to the printer and when i go to pick it up there’s a crowd standing around like someone just got into a bike accident. I push in, Let me through! As if I am a paramedic. But i am, I am the emergency personnel because my office mates cannot ever seem to comprehend the printer.  They’ll open and close the compartments, and lift and press buttons when the screen clearly says „insert paper in tray 2.“ And then all the print jobs they each sent a million times because they weren’t coming out pile up and delay everything. My letter comes out sideways. Someone messed with the manual tray. Gah! I send again. Low toner. The letter is barely visible, the map doesn’t look so hot but f it, this is DRC, come on.

So we go the Civil Aviation’s second office in my best congo dress– i have been to the fancy one on the boulevard, this is a whole other story. We are on the same crazy street i bought my fabric. Blaring music, handicapped children, madness. People selling sneakers, and locks and police everywhere. I climb out of the truck and instantly someone is showing a plastic bucket in my face, 1$! I feel like i’m part of an undercover drug deal movie where someone is following me in their sniper viewfinder. Shday dealings here. We meet some guy on a crowded sidewalk and shake hands, he leads us into a dank alley where people are reparing motorbikes and cars. I have to step over oil cans and pumps and machines. We go up a back stairway and see a paper stuck to a door that says civil aviation. Inside is a maze of chairs and tables and offices in closets. The fact that it is indeed the civil aviation office is proven by heaps and heaps of dusty old binders with titles like Air France/1989-91. Documents everywhere. They are piled on the stairs, against doors, and even a huge mess on the balcony. A man sleeps on a desk, he has a very fancy suit, but neither shoes or socks. There are 2 computers, maybe, for the 11 people crammed in one office.  Every so often I want to take a picture but i recall how much edouard had to pay in fines so i slink back. They instruct me to sit on some antique chair which is totally broken, i sink through it and spend the next 10 minutes picking out splinters from my dress. A gust of wind comes and blows documents around- receipts, xerox copies, the kind that printed in purple. Some of the documents swirl out the window and land like falling leaves in the chaotic street below. 

They finally invite us in to an office which is about, 2.5 feet by 14 feet. It’s more like a corridor, with a big closet at the end. Everyone sits side by side, but all look to the guy at the desk all the way at the left. I explain in my utmost polite french our situation, the plane wants to come here, we just want to move things along. I hand over the letter. The director guy reads it, beginning to end, at the pace of about 1
word

per
second.
Then he reads it again. Even slower.
This letter is from the time of the other Kabila! Yes, i know…he is super nice. He says he’ll give us a permit for whatever we want. But this letter, it seems to lack toner and is it printed sideways? Please go to a cyber cafe and make me a better copy. He did just read it in his entirety, but the hue of the text is now not to his liking. This letter is also in the dossier that is sitting open on his desk but i won’t argue. So we go to an internet cafe, which is a whole other fiasco. I need to get into my email and get the files. They ask me if i want to use aol or yahoo? Really? Aol?

Neither, i need the internet. I want to print.
You want to game or chat?

The computers are from the 80s and there are far too many plastic chairs to fit in this room, people keep bumping into them.
Uhhhh. I am starving. This place is owned by lebanese, there are tons of cats lounging on windowsills, and they serve schwarma. Not so bad. We finally manage print our stuff and go back to hand over the docs. Omba says i can wait in the car, he will run in. He comes back, with the dude from the street, who gets in the car, sits right next to me and wants to ask me something. I have my phone in my hand, my mind is back in the sniper movie…i should record the conversation i am about to have…but i can’t seem to do it not obviously, he’s already talking to me. Omba and his driver trainee or whomever it is, tune out. this is my business. The guy says that to bring our file to the next office, you need to pay for transport and i say, no need for transport, we will take you now, buckle up! And he’s all no, not just that, you have to pay a fee, for the delivery and i say, no problem! I’ll pay any fee as long as i have a receipt! And so he’s all nooo, no receipts madame and everything is in slow motion, i have papi’s voice floating in head „smallll biiillls!“ there’s a man knocking eagerly on my window, he has 50 brooms and wants to sell me one. What do you want me to do with a broom?? How on earth does one man carry that many brooms? My mind flashes to my wallet, which i recall i emptied to pay for the internet cafe and only has a 100$ bill left in it..yeah, i’m certain this guy will give me change …woah hold on, wait a minute, i’m being asked for a bribe! Cool!

But wait, guy, i’m broke, without a receipt i pay out of my own pocket and sorry but times are tight. I need to pay my rent, my 50$ go pass, and the hotel bill of my mindless colleague who skipped out on us! So, no can do, really. So why don’t you do what you usually do and take a bus and call me when you get there. he grumpily leaves the car, and omba drops his head into his hands, shaking his head.
What, i was supposed to pay the guy? Really? How do i know he’s not going to just pocket it? We kinda have a policy against this stuff, ya know.

Aurelgrooves, you are so congolese, but you are not entirely congolese.
So we drive off. Omba is quiet. i’m trying to justify my morality but he just turns up the music. He is very disappointed, all this work for nothing.

I get back to the office and poll my colleagues. My assistant elvis (whom i’ve recently bummed money off of) is all, man, you gotta play by the rules! Cyril uses the analogy, „well I hope you left a door open, you have to stick your foot in before it closes.“ My logistician Serge comes in, almost angry, why didn’t you call me?? I tell him the predicament, that our permit might not arrive at all now, and he shares omba’s disappointment. When will you learn, aurelgrooves? He looks at his watch, he makes a call, he has a plan. I am now ranting about my principles, my finances, the fact that this country is so fucked up, yet it actually has a mandatory insurance rules for employers! Government shuts down every day but they have affordable health care! I gotta pay my go-pass! Serge asks me what i think i should pay. As a moral employee of my orgnization, i did not answer „ok, less than 50$ but maybe more than 25$,“ i did not hand him cash and he did not provide me with a mystery receipt 4 hours later….and i did not receive a call later from patrick saying „we have expedited your dossier, it is now with the security authorities and will be approved first thing tomorrow morning!“     
when i reach my bed, i am deflated. in the end, Congo prevails, nothing will change it. the next morning Serge comes to pick me up, and he asks me how the dossier is going. i thank him for his wizardry and tell him as expected our application is all in order will be ready later that morning, by the time i am boarding my flight to nairobi. but he says, "i still have your money, i was about to drop it off with the guy now!" no way! you mean i did this on my own! with my congolese charm! still got it! 

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

ya rezo?

So we’ve been here at the headquarters of this cattle ranching company for 3 days. The welcome has been wonderful, we have 2 well equipped houses (one of which is the CEO’s second residence) for  our10 people, rainfed water system for refreshing bucket bathing, a little man who makes coffee in the morning and serves breakfast and cleans up, at night we eat dinner with the operations manager , monsieur Ntondo in his home. We eat beef. Lots of beef. Grilled, roasted tenderloin, liver, you name it. Mr. Ntondo seems tob e vegetarian. He says meat is bad for your health. He doesn’t mind serving us lots of beer, which he also doesn’t touch. There’s a generator that provides enough electricity to charge up our phones and computers, we really couldn’t have asked for more. When we are not on a trip visiting villages or pastures, we sit around our plastic table on the veranda, the germans chain smoking and trying to crack the problem of how to figure out a feasible emissions reduction project. We play a little frisbee and make fun oft he complaining journalist, talk politics with the congolese and receive our share of visitors. The DGM guys who ask for our passports, the Public Relations guy who seems to like the Yankees. It’s a very nice ambiance and could almost be like vacation if i wasn’t ask to pull up imagery or a map every 20 minutes, and if lunch didn’t consist of stale bread and sardines.
When i have some downtime, i’ll take a walk through the worker village to find the „reseau“ the one square meter where you get vodacom reception. The first night i found it by walking towards the little glitter of lights that resembles fireflies – as i got closer i could discern the little nokia screens lighting up the faces of their owners. As i got closer i met a man who goes by the name rambo, who lit the way through the field his phone flashlight (the nokia really has anything you can need). On this little mound in front of a hut, seems to be some church or something. we all gathered around, phones reaching fort he sky, shouting eagerly like at bingo – i have 2 bars! And then we all huddle closer, then one person breaks away, and the crowd follows him and so on. I was able to download a few messages, and send some more, trying to get an update on my lidar plane! After i started getting devoured by mosquitos, i headed home.
The next day was Sunday. We had a lazy morning around the house and mina and i decided to take a walk and go check our voicemail. We went through the market, some houses, saw some lazy dogs and acquired the usual 50-75 kid following. We get to the little spot and it’s a rather crowded. Kids, mamans, it’s a bit chaotic and hard to hear your messages and write down numbers when kids are tugging your hands and hair and pants. The phone is cutting in an out, you have tob e really careful not to move an inch when on a call. I’m desperately trying to understand what my LiDAR plane pilot is saying in 1 second intervals between 4 seconds of silence. This is really challenging. When i finally find a moment of streaming conversation, 4 kids turn the corner with drums and flutes. These are the kimbangiste congregation, mass is starting! 
The drums and music drown out my phone, what did you say? Can you repeat? Gahhhh, this is not going to work. i give up. The kids all cheer when i hang up, dance! Dance! Pictures! And so begins the conga line, the jumping, the cheering, the hair pulling and hand shaking, total excitement because mondeles never dance, i guess. The angry pastor comes out oft he church and demands everyone come in. Oooh le big boss, smirks one little boy. The adults are getting angry, we are distracting everyone, we really should go. NO! Les copines restent! The little girls demand! They are grabbing our hands and clothes, trying to get us to join them for mass, which for these guys lasts aaaalllll day. Non non we have to work! The pastor bangs a bell hanging from a tree, which is an old truck tire hanging from a branch by ropes. Don’t leave!  For a second i consider it – well, if there is good reception inside, i could sit in the back and surf facebook or chat with my friends? Non non, désolée les amis…i really should go. I’m in a fin fond of Congo, i’m going offline, i don’t need to checking my email!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

beef. it's what's for dinner

So today we think we found it. The real cause of the problem, and this unsustainable lifestyle, that is, actually, at the moment not yet a problem. DRC is huge, space is not an issue, people cut down the forest like it is limitless, and in a way it is. But not for long.
Monsieur Ntondo took us around in his land rover, showing us some of the camps that houes the workers, some more pastures, and remaining gallery forests that you can see have been visibly reduced. It’s a sad landscape, chopped and burned trees, ovens to make charcoal and a few lonely huuuuuge trees that remain – they are probably too big to be cut down. We go to another village, ikoki. The chief and his deputy is away. This is kind of a good thing, perhaps we can really talk to the people – we want information on how much crops they grow, how much area they use, how they earn their livelihoods.
We thus have a meeting with the chief’s 3 sons. One of them calls the chief and asks for his permission to talk to us, we are given the ok. Same drill as the day before, i try and speak for our group while someone translates into lingala. An odd moment is when the village brings their own translator, they don’t want monsieur ntondo to twist our words. But everyone speaks french so they don’t really need a translator but anyway. We introduce ourselves, tell them why we are here and just jump into the questions. How many houses are here? How big is the average household? That sort oft hing. And the chief guys well they seem clueless, royalty. they just shrug and it’s mostly these younger teenager guys who answer. 53 houses! Everyone has 7-10 kids and 10 chickens! When you ask them to count average things, like how many sacks of manioc they sell downstream a year it gets a little complicated, but joachim, one of our german consultants is chain smoking, making calculations, vewy interested. They tell us how every year they burn all the savanna (one of the problems we are trying to solve is that the villagers make these huge savanna fires in the dry season,  and that spills over into monsieur ntondo’s cow pastures). So we ask them, Why do you burn the savanna?
To make it easier for the women to walk through it.
They generally seem to like our questions, like we are on a little game show. It becomes obvious that these people are pretty well off. Relatively speaking. Of course, they could be bragging, but it is clear they have fish, they hunt, they have lots of food, they have space. There are chickens everyhwere, and goats. A goat starts bleeting urgently behind me. It seems paralyzed or something, calling to her friends. It keels over and dies. One less goat. We figure this village is better off than the others because they are on the river, they can sell food, charcoal at markets, even kinshasa if they wish. I ask them if they have any questions for us. One latecomer comes to the meeting and raises his hand and asks what the heck we are doing here. Everyone hisses at him, you are always late! Go away! He then starts to say his big problem is that they don’t have enough guns to hunt the animals they want. They want us to give them guns. Uh, sorry my friend. Eat more fish!  We ask them how much fuelwood they use and they say, one basket worth. How big is a basket? And one of the mamans proudly models her really nice backpack basket. I totally want one.
We ask them to take us to a place where they have cut down and burned the forest and planted manioc and corn. They are thrilled. The whole village comes with us on a walk. Sadly, my photograhper is nowhere to be seen. He likes to wander off and talk to people and comes back with lovely portraits of kids and mamans, which are very nice for a gallery exhibit but we have very little use for. We want to show the people, in their surroundings, how they are using nature, how they are cooking, it’s not really enough to see just their face. I ask a kid to run and go find him.
As we take the path into the forest, through recently torched savanna we cross all these young women, carrying palm fronds on their heads, piles of wood, everything, it’s the picture we’ve been looking for – the people using the forest in various ways, edouard where are you? We finally arrive to the site. Carnage. Huge burned trees, still lying there and in between little corn plants, manioc. They are very proud. This is so hugely wasteful. I am talking with the germans, it would be so simple to reduce the burning, and allow them to stay on their land longer and they wouldn’t have to keep cutitng down forest. But this is exactly what we are looking for. A problem with a relatively (?) simple solution…though changing people’s traditions is not simple. But at least we know what needs to be done. Edouard is still not there so i am taking pictures with someone’s crappy digital camera. Grrrrr.
So this is it. I thank our villagers profusely, and translating for joachim, i am standing on a burned tree trunk, make a litlte speech on how we want to thank them, and hopefully work with them in the future. Edouard finally arrives and photographs me and i look like i’m a preacher or something…not what we were going for. I look over and joachim is smoking, contently….along with 8 other villagers, surrounded by clouds of smoke, huge smiles on their faces. „my personal supply“ joachim says and yes, i guess it’s better than giving them money, which is what they usually ask for.
 
 
 
We walk back and the gun guy asks me again for guns. I am trying to explain to him, in simplest terms that if he kills all the animals, and since there is less forest every year there won‘t  be any more animals to kill! His children, grandchildren may never even see what a buffalo looks like! He laughs, there are plenty of animals (i have yet to see anything but one type of bird this whole trip). So he asks me for mosquito nets for fishing. Yeah, i bet he wants the one impregnated with insecticide too, they are particularly effective at catching and killing everything.. his friends all crowd around as i try to explain that every time he eats a baby fish, he is essentially eating 100 future large fish – isn’t better to just eat large fish, and let the small fish become big? He laughs like i am totally crazy. Go back to europe you mondele, you don’t know what your talking about! I try to tell him how it was in mozambique, people starving, no fish left because they catch everything…mozambique is millions of kilometers away, DRC is huge! Vast! God gives them everything they need in huge abundance! Look madame, we give you one of our chickens! And one of the chief’s son’s hands me a chicken. I don’t know what to do with it, i’m petting it, showing it to the formerly vegetarian journalist. We toss it in the back and drive off. It freaks out a few times cluckclucking and flapping around the truck. The cook meets us at the car, and then cooks it. This is only night we will not eat just beef my friends!
 

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

attack of the village kids

One of the goals of our travels here is to try and understand why people are cutting down these gallery forests. There seems to be little forest left in this mostly savanna landscape, but deforestation is also relatively low – there are small patches of forest remaining, cool, shady areas that are a welcome respite from the heat, with cool tannin waters….but they are constantly being burned and chopped down and converted to agriculture in little pieces. or worse, burned just into order to flush out the animals to hunt, until there will be no more left. Then what will they do?
So we want to talk to villagers and see how they feed themselves, what their needs are, how much income they earn from deforesting, in order to determine what would entice them to stop.
So we go to villages. The only problem ist hat when you roll into a village with a landcruiser with 2 white dudes sitting on the roof (they can’t stand being stuffed together in the back and have preferred to be nearly decapitated by branches), it’s hard to go unnoticed. Every human being under 12 years old screams mondele! And come running in packs and mob us when we climb out. I find these kids to be a bit more agressive than the typical village kid i am used to, they grab my hair and twist my skin, indian burns on my arms and even scratch me.
We stopped in a rather large village of ndjonkele, along the fimi river. 6000 people in these parts. Heaps of kids. I am chasing them, scaring them, throwing the frisbee. You can’t cause this type of disruption for long tho, after a while you need to go see the chief. So we send a messenger and we have an appointment. Plastic chairs and a bench are set up in front of some homemade loungers. Out comes the chief, dressed in bright red, i recall from a trip near here in 2007. The chief sits and looks none too happy. We are surrounded by hundreds of people in a curious semi-circle. We are asked to introduce ourselves and explain what we are doing here, through our lingala translator, flory. Despite the kids jostling to look at us and their parents slapping their heads away, it is completely quiet. We go around our circle, and the chief doesn’t even explain himself he jumps right into his questions. Why are you here. In this situation it is rather difficult to start inquiring about the data we are interested in, so we just need to discuss some background on the project. I start explaining the carbon map, the plane, in the most basic way and immediately all these hands go up. Lots of questions. The chief’s deputy, an angry looking young man with lots of arm muscles requests permission to question me direcly. the inquisition begins. First, he wants to know why his village, ndjonkele is never on the map of drc. There is kinshasa, there are territories, districts, but there is never ndjonkele. I promise that his village will be on my map. In fact, i will make him a map that shows his village, and only his village on a map of Congo. I will bring this to him when i fly out of their airstrip on Monday.
Anyway, they start saying that the forest belongs to them and they can do what they want with it, which is agriculture.  They are not wrong in this respect, but it’s all a little…tense. The chief is staring at me, intently, angrily. Kids are creeping up behind me and pulling on my curls, reaching for my elbows. Everyone else in the group is sitting there, smiling. I need to answer, kindly politically. The more i talk, the more i realize, how on earth do you get 6000 people organized to stop cutting down the forest. When there is nothing left, the soil will be depleted, there will be no more animals to hunt, and that’s it. Finally, they’ve had enough and we decide to adjourn. We get up and take a group photo.
 
 
The angry chief stands in the middle. At one point, edouard asks to take just a photo of the chief. He moves in close, the chief does not budge. At this point, everyone, everyone is completely silent. Edouard snaps some photos, you can hear the shutter click echoing throughout the huts. No one is moving. Edouard slowly turns the camera around so the chief can approve. He stares, emotionless at the small LCD screen which is reflected in his eyes. Total silence, which seemed to last an eternity.

 
Slowly, the chiefs face morphs into the largest smile we have ever seen, teeth and all. and everyone cheers at the same time.
 
Chaos. Kids jumping everywhere, photos! Photos! A hundred kids jump on my shoulders and pull on my earrings. A hundred mini zombies devouring me, i’m down on my knees, overcome. The deputy guy comes and pullst hem off me, and asks me for money. Oddly, he says this in english. „money“ my pockets are empty. Emmanuel, the driver, honks the horn and i make my move towards the land cruiser. Kids reach into grab my neck through the window! Step on it! 

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Monday, September 30, 2013

weekend travels to bandundu

We arrive to nioki airfield, a dusty piece of dirt amidst random huts and houses. We were significantly delayed at the migration (note that it’s not called immigration) office (oh, my old friends, the DGM!) who sat in their hut with our passport literally spent 57 minutes copying our the numbers into old notebooks. The bathrooms consisted of 3.5 pieces of zinc leaning shabbily together – but padlocked? So I peed behind a termite hill, upon which our truck was awkwardly parked on a slant. I realize later it’s because the battery is dead and it doesn’t start on its own, it needs a push. Which is tons of fun when you’re in a middle of a village with every kid for miles screaming mondele! Mondele! 

Anyway, it’s time to shop for food. My logistics guy doesn’t really seem to comprehend the conundrum of buying overpriced food for 10 people for 3 days in a place where they have never seen 100$ bills. He buys a few bottles of water, some crackers and is all, let’s go! Um, no. I’m in this weird store that could have been something on H street in DC, where you order fried chicken from the asians behind the bullet proof glass? Well here i am sticking my bills into the holes of a chainlink fence with indians on the other side. You point to things on the wall, or the faded, dusty packages in display cases. I am doing calculations, sweating profusely while all these people are staring at me, and the town drunk starts doing an amusing dance and attracts a crowd. The only bottles of potable water are little 300ml things and according to my calculation we need like, 200 of them. Moving on tot he next place…i finally find a place with 1.5L bottles but the price is outrageous so i send my congolese guy in to order for me, and a boy to carry everything on his head back to the car.
On this main street is mostly flip flops, matches, plastic items like buckets and salt for sale, it’s behind this where all the real fresh action is. we head through a dank dingy walkway to the meat and vegetable market. Here i am greeted with cheers and shouts – come buy my crocodile! Whaaaaa? This woman proudly shows me her croc head, chopped up boa, antilope, you name it.
croc for sale



She doesn’t mind my photographer, who has to constantly swat flies from his lens. This one woman keeps pointing to a baby and saying mondele! Mondele! And hands me the baby. So now i am bargaining for rice, with this adorable baby in my arms. We wander around some more for onions, spices, peppes and manioc. The boy is back and piling all the things onto his head.
We get back tot he vehicle, where the driver is replaced the oil filters and other things with some supplies we brought from Kinshasa.  we start tossing everything on the roof of the truck like a train in india. And we’re off on our 6 hour drive. the women get to ride up front while 8 guys are unhappily crammed in the back. They complain the ENTIRE time. I remind them that the gear shift is between my legs and everytime we shift it’s rather uncomfortable but no. They say it’s too bumpy, too hot, too this too that. The press guys are not ready for this. We are in congo! you can’t get anywhere without at least 6 hours of mind-numbing spine crunching 4x4 ing!

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

me and my peeps

normally, when you take a picture like this the organizers stand in the middle, flanked by the most important ministers...in this case, all my german colleagues vanished to go take a smoke, and as i stood next to head of the department of sustainable development, our major partner in the project, the pesky civil aviation guys (who have assured me repeatedly that my permits will be approved quickly and easily - i'll be checking in on ) edged themselves in for the photo. anyway, does this look like a miss congo pageant...?

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Friday, September 27, 2013

i am NOT sorry

so this week has been mostly around the official launch of our project. to officially launch a project you need to have a workshop where you invite all the important people, especially some ministers to make comments and get paid perdiems, then you give people free lunch and a chance for them to complain at length about the project. and this is what we did. and we even gave out free t-shirts. people go nuts over t-shirts. there was actually a small mob scene and i told my assistant several times to order xxxl. sigh. though of course, this being a workshop, the same photographer guy shows up and takes pictures 2 inches from your face, with a flash and then goes and prints them and then displays them and sells them for outrageous prices. people love the photos too. the thing to do is buy the photo of someone and then give it to them. though people always buy up the photos of me (cuz of my awesome congolese threads, for sure) and then when i go their office it's like, oh that's me! this photographer never really catches the best moment tho, you always have your eyes half open, or you're picking your ear with your pen. so you get these low quality prints that look something like this:
thrilled to be here!

anyway, at one point i see the photographer quickly packing up and running off and even though i have my fancy press team with professional photos, everyone loves bad photoguy. so i ask my project manager, mina, this wonderfully organized and productive korean woman we hired to run our project in kinshasa. and she is all outraged, he was taking photos and selling them! really expensive!
yes, mina, i know, but this is what they do, it's a congolese thing, people love the pictures.
oh.
so i manage to call the photographer back before he is hastily, angrily deleting all the photos and even better, i negotiate to have everything put on a cd and delivered to the office for 10 bucks.
mina comes to me later "so i called the photographer and asked him to let me copy his memory stick for 100$." oh mina, you have not been in kinshasa long enough... 
the funniest though, was a few days before the workshop mina sent around the updated agenda and participants list to all the 120 or so people we invited. well somewhere in there, we had a very important guy listed in the speakers list, but not in the list of participants and so he replied-all (everyone replies all, especially the people who reply-all "your message has been received, thank you") complaining that he was forgotten, and his organization is so important and blah blah blah. so my project manager, who does not have the most fluent french, but does ok sends around a response, but jumbles the words and write "sincerement, je m'excuse pas de vous avoir mis dans la liste" essentially saying "i would like to sincerely say, that i am NOT sorry." this goes to everyone, EVERYONE! even the secretary general of the ministry of environment. so then it's 100 rounds of message received, messaged received, message received until someone is all "wait, i think she meant to say she WAS sorry" message received message received message received and there are hundreds of messages, and whenever you get something that is more than 5KB your email is essentially jammed for the entire day. gah. so finally i send a SINCERE apology and tell them they won't be sorry to have attended our workshop heheh! and we have all been giving her a hard time and laughing about it, because i'm sure more embarassing things have happened.
but ending on a touching note, i since received several, simple, reply-to's! just to me! is it even possible? from someone like a cabinet minister telling me things like, we are all working here together in congo towards the same goal, and we are connected in our hearts and understand eachother, we do not need words to express that. nawwwww.   

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

omba vs. papi

so i think i've told you about omba, he is our go-to man for flight permits and stuff. he is very calm, sounds like barry white, drives a prado and has a bluetooth thing in his ear. the way he drives (like 10km/hr and never uses his horn) is sortof like the way he negotiates. very passive. he needs a little papi in him, don't back down!
so low and behold our plane is finally in range. we're launching our project at a big workshop with all the ministers, i'm shaking hands, posing for photos in my awesome congolese outfit to which everyone says with a kind of sleezy tone "you need a congolese man to go with that."  
omba's man at the airport says a cessna has just landed at n'dolo.
but i can't go, i need to stay here! so i send my photographer edouard who is only really here to get footage and photos of the plane (not sapeurs and wrestlers, those are side projects). so i send edouard to go without me. we do a quick check of what he needs, copy of passport, spare batteries, photo/video permit...and bribe money. as they get into the prado i call out "receipts for everything!"
6 hours later, i see a visibly distraught omba, the sweaty pilot and engineer in their blue overalls with south african flags on it, edouard was dropped off at home. the plane was supposed to be back in Brazzaville tonight, why is the pilot here, what happened?
ohhhh juste des petit soucis...
so, as it turns out, upon arrival at the airport, they paid their respects to the airport chief, or whatever it is called, who scrutinized the photo/video permit, which i should add was officially solicited months earlier from the DRC government to the tune of 400$. "apparently" we failed to "activate" said permit, kindof like i didn't activate wi-fi on my phone and ran up my roaming bill? this comes at a cost..200$. 
i ask Omba, why 200$? 
"well it is 160$ but they did not have change." 
This is where i shake my head, papi would have never let this happen. 
but at least you have a receipt? 
yes.
the receipt is for 160$. 
someone is eating that 40$ and it's not me.
anyway, the airport chief guy then waved towards the runway, giving his green light. a cessna sits near a hangar
edouard and his much lighter wallet go enthusiastically onto the runway and started taking pictures - not of the plane just yet, just the scenery, when he was immediately siezed by police, miliary. because that cessna is not our cessna, that is the president's cessna! your cessna has not landed yet, it is up there in the sky!
but edouard shows the photos, he was first taking the runway, the scene, he happens to have a piece of the propellor of the president's plane.
that's too much. drats. 
edouard deletes the photos. it's not enough. 
the airport chief arrives, in a huff, and says, this is your problem you will have to pay a fee.
100$....80$....ok 50$ , smallest bill he has and they have no small change - did papi teach you nothing??
this time no receipt.  

there she is!
 

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