Tuesday, August 3, 2010

adventure to Ngiri, part II

we arrive in the dark at Ntondo. we can't find our way (there are no lights anywhere, nor roads for that matter, just huts and stuff) so we pick up a guy from the village to guide us. we have since lost the second car, the one that happens to have all the food, and our luggage. we sit quietly on the porch of our research station situated perfectly on the lake. there are fireflies, stars reflected in the perfectly still water.
we're starting to get antsy so we pay a guy with a motorcycle to go get us some beer. beer guy is gone a long time. geert laments the departure of the doctor and his very attractive wife who also cooks a hell of a meal. beer guy returns and we are happy. the other car shows up quickly after (they must have been attracted by the beer) and in the meantime i serve up some life-saving trader joe's mix.
we went for an amazing swim in the lake, the water was warm and it's very acidic, so good for the skin! i washed my hair and cursed my lack of conditioner and hair stuff which had previously exploded in my bag which foreshadows a coming week of thick knot hair.
i sleep in an afterthought bunk bed - it's like they had a bed that was kinda high up and then decided to put another underneath. there is about 2 feet between this bed and the one above and it has been decided that i am the only one who will fit there. i slide in my bed sandwich and sleep.
the house has walls that only go so high, not to the ceiling, probably for ventilation or something. but it means you can hear everything. so in the middle of the night when guard number 1 came in to do a number 1 you heard e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. i really had to pee but decided to hold it in.
in the morning we got up super early with the sun, had breakfast (peanuts and coffee) and i went for another swim. of course, all the local boys came to stare and 13 sets of eyeballs were popping out of their sockets while i undressed, what am i supposed to do, wear a burka? some fishermen came and fished right on the beach which in theory is supposed to be a reserve. i took pictures. they were super friendly and so incredibly proud of the miniscule fish they were catching with mosquito nets. you know you are killing absolutely every living thing in this lake and you won't have anything to eat tomorrow, right?
look at my teeny tiny baby fish, only 50 calories!
bowl o fish
i give a perogue a go and once again this is a spectacle - mondele in a perodgue! like they must think we whietys have gelatinous brains, eat nothing but bread and are incapabable of anything. like when you're eating grilled goat and people go "look at the mondele eating goat!" and laugh because it's hilariously weird to them.
crazy mondele, you can't pirogue!
everyone from the research station comes to the beach to board the speedboat, which clearly isn't there. Dodo the speedboat driver had left kinshasa a few days earlier and was meant to be here by now...and his cell phone is out of minutes (convenient)...so instead we put an engine the fancy perogue and conveniently outfit it with ubiquitous plastic chairs. i called dibs on the one with the words of praise to god. i was also seated behind the guy with the gun who would protect me in the event of a pirate attack.
off we go, and i take thousands of pictures of perogues. they are everywhere and they are so cool!
pirogue # 323

pirogue # 947
super loaded perogue # 1012 - (i would take nicer pictures if i had a better camera hint hint birthday in november)
we cruise down the lake, chatting, feeling the breeze and watching the mist lift and woah, 2 hours later lo and behold i still don't have to pee and there is our speedboat! we transfer our belongings mid-lake and off we go.
now we are 4 mondeles and 3 congolese (one heavily armed) in a speedboat that no local has ever seen or imagined before. everyone and anyone you pass stops what they are doing, stares and then starts waves madly and smiling. i am doing so much waving i feel like the pope.
every once in a while we need to add gas from the 11 or so vegetable oil canisters we have on board. we calculate that this boat burns more fuel and emits more carbon than the plane we took to Mbandaka. we will never speak of this gas consumption again.
we stop in crazy little villages with markets and more staring children. the kids all come to shore and just stare. they don't talk to eachother, or poke another's arm and talk, they just stare silently. if you look them in the eye, some smile and giggle, most of them run away in fear. woah, we're in the kind of place where white people aren't just different, they are scary.
a lady comes out of a hut with a small barely walking baby who takes one look at me and screams in terror like i am the baby eater all his baby friends have been telling him about. she is dragging the baby towards me and it is doing everything as baby-possible to escape but it's no use. she finally brings the baby to me and despite its every effort makes it touch me. this thing is screaming bloody murder, and once it touches me doesn't stop. she brings it back into the hut. touching a mondele is good luck, some people say.
more kids start to follow and if you turn around they freeze, it's like we're playing a schoolyard game. geert finds some ladies selling bananas and bread and we pick up lunch.
a self-important feeling man scuttles up with his little assistant and introduces himself as the CGM immigration service. these guys again. this village has 15 huts, probably 200 people, and there's an immigration service? he's demanding our passports as usual, and we just ignore him, drink a coke, chat with the people, trying to convert their frozen staring into thoughtful conversation. a young-ish lady named Fabiola shows me her house, and proudly talks about her kids and shows me the neighboring huts that stand empty since the war, the war being the whole mess last march. she keeps saying god sent me to her that she's so happy to meet me. thanks fabiola. geert likes to ask people what they eat, what they grow. and i look under a hut and see some ducks. we should eat some duck. good idea, geert says.
the perogue catches up with us and we go across the river and negotiate a live duck for dinner. thankfully it gets carried away in the the other boat so i don't have to stare into its vacant eyes for the next few hours.
more villages, tiny bananas and peanuts.
oubangui village
next we stop at the military base (no photos, hide your camera!!!!!) for more formalities (e.g. ass-kissing). this is an old belgian colonial site with overgrown busted up mansions and a large alley lined with tall palms, where our team was previously stuck overnight for refusing to pay a bribe - er, i mean 'immigration fee.' we once again give our passports to some very important people, watch them copy the numbersand hand our paperwork to dudes as we have been doing all day.
a lieutenant ambles up and introduces himself, along with his underling. geert vaguely ignores him by looking directly through him. these guys are most likely the ones who bombed our house. the lieutenant talks with his arms behind his back, waxing poetic about the cycles of war, and how things are destroyed, but that allows new better things to grow again.
geert says wearily "yeah, that's really great, papa, but we liked our house the way it was. would you like to build it up and make it new again for us?"
the lieutenant, realizes he is being indirectly accused walks off angrily. we get back into our boat and continue.
more villages, perogues.
we finally make it bobangui, it is now 32 hours since we left kinshasa, a trip our logistics guy said we could do "in a day no problem." ha.
arrival at base camp. there's our duck, whom we've named "dinner"
we are warmly greeted by the field team, and more guys with guns. we see the house, whose roof has clearly been burnt but besides the bullet marks on the outside, no evidence of rockets or grenades or any of that sort. this is a regular ole looting, folks. it's pretty obvious who are the mutherfuckers who did this. everyone knows the rebels (who are armed with little more than machetes), and local people aren't really the steal glass windows and shoot bullets in walls kinda type.
someone brings a plastic table and 4 chairs and we sit down to some peanuts and beer to ponder. oh, we will get them, we will win...and we will use our strongest weapon....the weapon of...conservation!? we each drink from our warm Turbo King beer and no one speaks as we listen to the overwhelming sounds of the peeping frogs and insects, who all seem to agree.

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