so yeah, it was my 30th birthday. on a sunday. started off typical really, slept until there was a knock on a door...groggily answered to a hotel dude dropping my off my two bottles of beajoulais nouveau that i had accidentally left in my old hotel room, before the switch. so i say thanks, and gee, it's early, isn't it? it's 10:25 ma'am. crap! our driver had been waiting downstairs for 25 minutes to bring us to our meeting. a super quick shower and dress, putting on backwards underwear and racing out the door. at the meeting, had to run through my presentation, in french. got assailed on my lack of accents, (i thought my mother had proofread, ha!) other than that, typical african meeting where people stand up and recite dynamic long winded speeches about their childhood, their high hopes for africa that in the end have very little, if any, reference to the topic of interest. my favorites tho, are professor dudu, an old congolian environmental scientist missing a whole bunch of teeth, but has the most giant smile i have ever seen.his doctoral student has a super scraggly go-t and wears a t-shirt with the sequined words "i'm maniac" on it. then there's laurent, a round-faced burkinabe with thick glasses and the excellent long dress getup. he eats with his hands. samy, our leader wears some sweet old lady-style gold rimmed tinted glasses. so the rule is you're free to call anyone (man) older than you "papa." so everyone is papa this, papa that...everyone is my papa! after the meeting we were off to the big boss's house. it was a fun ride in the back of a pickup with all the locals and some camerounians. look, the white girl wants to ride with us! it was dusty, hot and rainy all at the same time. we talked about mosquitos and goats and passed by very similar trucks full of angry military guys with huuuge guns.
we went by Mapao's house - this crazy congolese rocker who re-invents himself quite frequently and changes his name more often than he releases albums- he's been known as papa one, papa noel, benedicte XVI, which he got a lot of flack for, so he changed his name to sarkozy. maybe that makes him more bad-ass? anyway, his house has a huge wall with gold M M on the gate, which is written in the mighty mouse font. funny. so we get to our destination, a huge white square house guarded by high white walls that looked straight out of scarface. there was a huge white patio, pool out front and inside, endless near- empty rooms. it was about 10,000 square feet, not including the servant's quarters, where the cook, gardner, guard and pool boy live, the under-pool bunker and wine cellar - all rented for the same meager price i rent my place in DC. guess it pays to work down here! there was a huuuuge bbq with tons of fish heads, middles and tails. "something for everyone" it was called. i took a middle. there were the requisite gargantuan bottles of primus, skol (that's swedish for "cheers" btw) and other beer, wine, and of course, my beaujolais. we chit-chatted, took pictures, one of my GIS guys jumped in the pool and soaked everyone. it was a great mellow afternoon, the only time i've had to relax. then came the huuuuuge birthday cake. for me. some guys sang happy birthday in a local dialect and then translated: "may god add some more days to your life" only, at first i understood "may god add TWO more days to your life" and i said hey! that's not very nice! we got back in the evening, i had to work some more, and then it was off to the bar with the new visitors in town. i had a few pastis, and realized at 2am there were ice cubes in it! i had night mares about amoebas in my brain, but so far, no symptoms.