Friday, July 30, 2010

some humans are just savages

i have found out here that for every 3 good days in DRC, you get one bad one.
the last bad one was saturday, when the whole water issue was happening, the next was when i discovered this poor monkey, whom after populat vote has been named "chunky."
chunky is a young putty nosed monkey whose parents were presumably murdered for meat and rendered an orphan and then sold in a market. the brainless, soulless, savage owners of the Luntu Apartment Flats Hotel thought chunky would make an amusing pet and entertain their guests. they quikcly realized that chunky was indeed a wild animal more than a perfectly domesticated pet, and that chunky might possibly bite and misbehave and scare guests and so they decided to lock chunky up in tiny iron cage to spend the rest of his days sitting on a metal bar amidst his own feces, and barely given scraps to eat or water to drink.
the cage is so small he can't stand or stretch, hasn't felt the ground or walked on his own two feet in months. these people think bread is a staple of a monkey's diet. even worse, his cage is right next to a noisy construction site and lit up at night by streetlights so the poor guy barely can't even sleep. chunky never gets a break.
i've started sharing my trader joe's trailmix with chunky - it's perfect because i found out he only eats the craisins, which i don't like, and he hates everything else so i don't feel bad about picking out the almonds and cashews. he makes bird noises when i feed him. i gave him water from a bottle which he slurped up with his little tongue. i hardly see how he can bite given that his teeth are but millimeters long. 
i have repeatedly threatened the hotel owners that it's barbaric, we will call the authorities, no longer stay at this hotel and we are constantly harassing the staff as to why they let this go on and we have repeatedly offered to take it away (where to? what do you do with a monkey, it's like a child!)...yet we are always met with the saddest moment which is when they laugh. silly lady, it's just a monkey.
they think it's funny.
ok, the kite birds with clipped wings are one thing but this monkey is a totally different level. i can hardly understand how keeping this monkey justifies losing $360 a day of my organizations's business but if that's their principle, then i am allowed mine and so be it. so whoever comes across this blog, please, don't stay one single night at the Hotel Luntu Flats in Gombe/Kintambo Magasin as long as that monkey is there. (other choices are African Dreams, Hotel La Residence 165, El Castillo).
there are times when you wonder whether humans can actually stop being human - whatever quality "human" describes? it's not a matter of different culture anymore. i truly believe that the people who publicly torture this innocent animal every day will be punished by whatever god or karma they believe in.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

kinshasa supermarket

the supermarket i used to go to is gone. but the big fancy chain supermarket is still there...sorta. it is now rather empty and one of the creepiest places in kinshasa. half of it is totally dark, weirder than the LIDL in Berlin. i'm waiting for zombies to crawl out of the ceiling tiles and chase after me under the flickering neon lights.
the wine section is interesting, dusty bottles with brown rotting labels, none of them younger than 1992. i guess that's a good thing? what about white wine? i bought a 1991 reisling for a dinner party...i think we'll make sangria.
the frozen food and cheese section are a bit of a disappointment.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

logical shower debate

it's kinda hard to yell at people and expect them to take you seriously when they are laughing.

so i haven't had a legitimate shower in 3 days. sink trickle jewish bath doesn't count.
my bathroom faucets sound like a 90 year old with emphyzema when you turn them on. but i figure hey, it's the dry season, water is scarce, showering is a western luxury right? you know when little black girls get their braids taken out, and their mom is picking at their hair with a comb, and it is all an unraveled mess? this is my hair.
i wake up late (some guys in the room next door partied until 7 am, even though the sign on the room doors specifically say "absolutely NO occupany by people of the same sex. punishment is a FINE."), but once again, no water. sigh.
i go get breakfast, but they have no coffee, no tea, no nothing, i have a coke. i come back, still no water.
i finally ask them what's up and they are all shocked like, what? no water? 5 guys all come to my room to investigate, hmmmm, indeed no water. "go have another coke and we'll see what we can do."
i come back 30 minutes later and nothing has changed. the still is still mezmerized by "under the tuscan sun," that lame romantic movie with Diane Lane. (they have a tiny 8 inch color tv in the lobby now)  on one really wants to clean my room, but they must.
you don't need to clean my room, i just want to get some work done, maybe take a shower.
"it's the dry season, water is scarce. there is no water. alain needs to clean your room. he will bring you a bucket"
i really don't want the budket shower. i go get another coke.
i come back and alain has stripped all my sheets and is replacing my towel, which i clearly didn't use since tuesday. why are you changing the towel? and the sheets?
"we clean the sheets and towels every day."
what the...are we not the dry season? is water not scarce? and you wash everyone's sheets EVERY day?? do YOU clean your own sheets every day? this is ridiculous! why don't you NOT clean my sheets so i can take a fucking shower??
the people across the hall have all come to spectate and they are just laughing at me.
i look in the mirror, i am a freak. my hair is an absolute disaster, i am wearing no bra, no shoes on my disgusting dirty feet. i'm covered in nasty mosquito bites. and they are supposed to take me seriously? i'm just a crazy mondele. i'm going to get another coke.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

bathroom instructions

these signs in the women's restroom are totally something this guy would write. a very convincing debate on why you should flush the toilet when you are finished with your business:

Monday, July 26, 2010

this is my chair

johannes and i fight over who gets to sit in this chair every day at lunch. it's the only one of its kind, out of the sea of plastic chairs in this country, but it might very well determine the fate of our little missionary 4 seater cessna flight on wednesday...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

chinese for YUMMY.

johannes and i are feasting on ethnics wonders of kinshasa. who knew this place would have such culinary delights?
on the way back to the hotel there is a newish chinese restaurant with bright red lanterns and lights with DONG FANG written on the wall. we figured why not.
we enter the huge building...into a teeny tiny dining room with glass tables, and all the windows covered shut by thick curtains...we were kinda hoping for a patio but whatever. 
we quickly realize none of the staff speak english, french or german (worth a shot). all the other patrons are chinese, hunkered around various frangrant dishes and slurping out of soup bowls. we get the menu and ask if they have beer. 
beer? the waitress looks around nervous, be-er? totally confused.
she rushes outside and brings back the security guard from the parking lot and stands him in front of us. translator, i guess. 
oh oui! and he rushes to the cooler to get 2 mützig.
the menu is extensive, page after page, not organized in any particular way, but has large out-of-focus glossy photos of the dishes, their prices, and hilarious nonsensical names like "fantastic fish farm" or "towering castle of radish!"
we choke on our beers when we come across "pepered pangolin" which is a protected kind of anteater found in one of our study regions. i'm fairly certain you could get tiger if you knew how to ask but whatever. 
we pick three random things and wait. 
on the other side of the window there is what sounds like a struggling jet engine. i immediately flash back to our flight here, when i was bored of looking out the window at endless sahara desert and asked johannes to wake me up when we hit rainforest. an hour later i was jolted awake by the screams of the fellow passengers, drinks flying everywhere as we went through some pertty hairy turbulence. johannes relaxes back into his magazine "there's your rainforest!" there was a forceful shifting sound, like the engines are suddenly put into another gear and fighting for survival. you wonder what the pilot is thinking, has he done this before? you grip the seat and closely watch the face of the flight attendants for any hint of fear...anyway, the sound behind this window of our restaurant is EXACTLY the sound of those engines, including the swirling wind part, i'm having a total flashback.
i go outside to find our parking lot attendant/waiter sitting in his plastic chair and ask, what on earth is that noise?.
"those are the ovens." 
i communicate this fact to johannes who says, "that's it, ve are leaving! ve are not eating in a place where they serve elephant!!"
but at that moment our dishes, our fragrant, glistening dishes arrive, and i don't know what kind of meat it was, except that it was dark and fried and tasty and we each picked out all the shiitake mushrooms, which were some of the best ever. they don't exactly sell jars of sweet and sour sauce and chinese vegetables at the kinshasa market, this stuff has to be authentic.
what is chinese for YUMMY? 

Friday, July 23, 2010

s.s. tandoori

this visit is all about re-visits. met up with some young germans introduced by my mother (small world) who took johannes and i to the taj tandoori, the indian place at the top of a building downtown with a fantastic boat-shaped patio overlooking the city. we didn't take the manually operated elevator, as it was out fo service, evident from the screams from the elevator shaft. "hey! pierre! up! up! ok fine, down! just please move us!!"

each of the 8 floors was as mysterious as the previous. there were abandoned offices and desks, a gentle breeze blowing through a blown out wall. does that keep the building structurally sound? hmmmm.

another floor had a long past its heyday shuttered night club, floor 4 had bunch of dudes watching a small tv and one level above, a guy was setting up his mosquito net above his new bed. a weird sortof squat i guess, but at the top you reach the opulent tandoori smelling restaurant with views extending all over. we didn't take the elevator down, either, because i got a glimpse of the mechanism, and the operator getting electric shocks trying to fix it thanks i'll take the stairs!

Platanus temporalis: the time-telling tree

if this tree could talk, it would say "lunch time is over!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

hello luntu!

prices in kinshasa have gone downright apeshit.

it's like someone went and drew 0's after every number they saw.
gone are the days of 50 cent lunches or dollar beers, everything has at least quadrupled, and you wonder how these poor people survive.
our hotel was eager to lead the price fiasco and after dropping $70 US on a bowl of pasta and a small bottle of water johannes and i said that's it, we're outta here.
bare simple rooms have skyrocketed to $170/night, a clear consequence of the influx of UN and aid agencies, little supply of adequate accomodations. sadly, our do-gooder environmental NGO, which probably hasn't been innocent to the mismanagement of foreign money has been wrapped up in the targets of this price gouging. this was a "special price."
johannes was furious. we're going to ruin our budgets if we continue at this rate. do you know of any affordable hotels?
weellllll, i do know one i thought lovingly back to the luntu flats, a hotel i swore i would never return to. i told johannes, it doesn't often have electricity, an apathetic staff, birds of prey as pets and snow white and the 7 dwarf lawn gnomes.
"sounds wonderful! let's go!"
and so here we are, 3 years later, the luntu has transformed itself into a luxury, albeit affordable hotel. there is power, a shiny brand new generator whose services aren't often needed, hot water, internet! one of those gold baggage cart things like you see at the four seasons (but no elevators, and not sure how those roll through the dirt which separates the buildings, but let's not criticize), and of course, the begging birds of prey who have gotten larger and wiser.
sadly, the pool is no longer, it's now a construction site for a new 3 story building, but the lawn gnomes have been redistributed throughout the comlpex, the restaurant still has alush ample patio, classy red table cloths and gold mongrammed plates with LUNTU all over them.
alain recognized me immediately. "do yo have a present for me?? you promised me a present!" shit, i totally gave away all my tiger t-shirts. i think he's going to get my ann taylor loft sunglasses, as i bought a nicer pair at duty free.
they put me in the same crappy room i switched out of before, because it has holes the size of my head in the window screens. those are still there. and no hanger in the closet for any of my clothes. the luntu has welcomed me back with open arms!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the war of luggage

if i may declare one thing about Kinshasa, and that is that the baggage carousel at n'djili airport needs to be lengthened about 14 times its current size.
it is about 20 feet long total. For 200 passengers plus their families, acquaintances, employees, associates clamouring for luggage, this 0.12 inches per person is clearly not enough, and i learned that last time.
moses did not meet us at the airport as i had hoped, instead it was his matriarchal counterpart. a sort of dr. bailey with purple lipstick. normally, moses would be off answering his cellphones and chatting with his friends so i expected to attack the luggage issue myself, but this lady surprised me with a "would you like me to get your luggage, madame?"
she takes me luggage tag receipt, rolls up her sleeves and does a loud finger whistle which attracts 3 eager luggage grabbers. she shouts the baggage tag numbers to them and they disappear into the mob of limbs like those creatures in lord of the rings who can climb vertical surfaces.
after 15 minutes she senses no progress, determines i should help. she grabs my arm and literally shoves me into the human mass. my feet are no longer touching the ground, my weight is supported by the 5 different people spooning me. one of them i find out is my colleague johannes.
hey there!
how did you get here?
i don't know!
there are 3.5 pairs of hands all over me, searching every orifice for money, perhaps my cell phone, but i am smarter than that.
dr. bailey is tring to protect me, complaining loudly in her dialect at everyone who tries to push me, but i am on my own. this is war. we finally float to the front of the crowd and hold our place near the carousel.
there are no bags, just the guy riding the carousel who tries with little effort to push people back. and a few coolers.
some guy in the back screams that's his cooler! which cooler? there are three different ones! they are each extremely heavy, probably packed stiff with meat and vegetables. people team up and pass the coolers over their heads and they are gone.
then there's the box. a plain black box. we wonder what's in that box? it's heavier than the coolers.
i crouch down and look through the little door to see what is behind the scenes and see the guys unloading our plane's luggage from the little trains. they are not unloading the bags directly onto the carousel as you would expect, but forming a random heap which other guys with orange vests are crawling and climbing on. the guys with the vests then get on the carousel and ride a lap, shaking hands with the dudes on carousel island who pull random bags out and hold them there.
there are a few phone numbers exchanged, cool head butt handshakes, and the orange vest guys disappear into the back.
i am not describing to you the 80-odd minutes in between these events but we have seen the black box a hundred times now. i declare that we need to rub the box each time it passes for good luck. the box doesn't really stay in the same place because people flip it and inspect it each time it comes around, perhaps looking for an address label, or maybe rubbing it for good luck. sometimes it's hard to reach it but i make johannes rub it too.
finally, after 3 black box rubs the guys start dismantling the heap onto the carousel.
YES!! here come the bags! this is the most exciting part of my trip. i hug Dr. Bailey and she is holding my hand like we are ready to jump together.
now the people are really shoving. i notice that across from us, people are calmly waiting 3 feet from the carousel with ample space in between them, civilized. oh, and they are all white people. but i will get my bag 5 seconds before they will!! i win! watch me. i grab my bag and get crowd surfed all the way to the door. the little baggage grabber people will not earn their tip today! i give $5 to dr. bailey, float confidently through the crowd of amputees and beggars and SIM card salesmen and find our van with its sleeping driver who has been waiting for 5 hours.
so i guess they could make the baggage carousel at n'djili airport a little longer, but not sure it would be as exciting to arrive to DRC.

Friday, July 16, 2010

you don't need a bar to drink a beer

one of my favorite things about germany is that public drinking is not a right, it's practically a duty. and it seems you don't need a fancy bar with a liquor license to sell beer to patrons, all you need are some chairs.
since the finally above freezing weather has come about plastic chairs and tables are popping up left and right, notably in front of each little store, also called a kiosk, or spätkauf.
this kiosk in my building is great. in the winter they set up a little drab room with chairs and tables with doilies and a little CD player and a laptop in the corner, presuming you'll order a moccachino from the automated coffee machine thing and hang out and watch a movie or something.
now that it's nice out, the owners have moved the chairs outside and hang out every day, all day with their adorable pit bull Apollo who has now started to recognize me every time i come home. they spatkauf dudes say hi, hide their weed (i have a job, i guess that makes them think i'm uptight) give me whatever packages they've signed for during the day and ask what it is, apollo's tail whaps the pavement. i love coming home.
they've started to hand out expired soy sauce with every purchase, and sometimes, a kinder egg.
the spätkauf we went to after a frisbee game was special. literally PILES of beer. no pit bull, but a very nice smelling collie. and it was russian-owned, which meant vodka. don't believe me? piles of beer.

don't forget, there's a 20 cent deposit returned for empty bottles...keep drinkin'...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

why i might root for spain

it's a no brainer: rocker dude with the greasy hair (wears no headband, because that's girlie) and the ratty moustache, Puyol just screams New Jersey strip mall tapas bar. And who wouldn't want that to win over the clean cut Dutchboys?