Thursday, December 1, 2011


Elegant master procrastinator

Monday, November 28, 2011

berlin burger battles

mcdonald's, burger king, they are actually few and far between in berlin. mostly at train stations - and for good reason. homeless people and the punks with their dogs eat big macs all day long. so while new york is all cupcakes and bahn mi (ok, those are good), and washington dc is the new tossed salad capital, berlin is back to burgers, bro! 
in a block radius from my house there is the burgeramt, kreuzburger, burgermeister, and others which i can't name, and they all have the same recipe: a tiny 12 square meter space, organic beef, toppings, and weird choices that mimic pizza styles, like the hawaii burger (canadian bacon and pineapple)? and to my dear brother who seems to never worry about the bottom line: these places are always packed. these guys might be on their feet all day, but they are maxing relaxing when they come from the bank (imagine what you could do with sausages?). anyway, the burgeramt stays open until 4am, accompanied by requisite berlin techno music and it's a wonder the neighbors don't complain. maybe cuz the fries are so tasty. they even opened a sister sit-down place.
what's nice about berlin though, is the fries come with mayo and you can order different size patties, like normal, mini and super huge, and, if you're feeling veggie, you can go with haloumi. big old chunk of greek cheese. or, like the offer at my current favorite, berlin burger international in Neukoelln, you go all the way for the triple cheese double decker high ball: haloumi, cream cheese and tyroler, 2 patties, 3 buns. absolute ridiculousness, but when my friends ordered one the other night, and i only had potato wedges, i was slightly jealous. they are open sundays now, btw.

this little piggie gives a thumbs up
the thing about bbi though that tops the list of burger joints, is that you can get a stamp card (10th burger free) and all come with feld salat, what you call mache, (nice touch), fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, ketchup and mayo and a big toothpick to keep it all in place. i want another one. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

sorry to be so scatalogical...

...but never has a country been so unkind to my bowels. and is it normal that the only bathroom at the office... is in someone's office? that someone is also the chatty young guy. so you have to walk in there, like, hi....i'm just...going to...don't mind me! and they are meters away, on a conference call or something, on speakerphone. and you can't go in there too often, right, so, i'm pretty good at coming up with an excuse to go back to the guesthouse, which is right down the street. oh, forgot my phone charger...wiping the cold sweat off my brow...but i can only forget so many things a day, right? it's just not right...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

if i had room in my luggage...

...i would bring back some killer ratan furniture (better quality than the crap we had in our living room 20 years ago...)

Monday, November 7, 2011


so after working 12 hours days all week, it was friday and the other colleagues summoned nay, ordered us to leave our computers. ok. so we go to a little courtyard cafe that is just lovely. under the mango trees, a little courtyard partly covered by zinc roofs on comfy cushioned couches. this is very nice. we are just sitting around, having a great time when GADONGDONGDGONG! mangos. falling. sometimes hitting the zinc roof and blubblublblub rolling off, but more often than not, falling within centimeters of my head or my beer. hey this isn't cool guys, these are really big mangoes!
oh, don't worry about them. it's the bats that eat them, and then they fall.
ok, bats. don't bats carry ebola?
yes they do.
so these are ebola infected mangoes falling on my head?? finally, one manages to smash my glass and the cafe owner comes to clean up, and offer a plastic bag to take the mangoes home. souvenir!

we then decide it's too perilous to eat dinner there and head to some distant part of town, full of loud music, mangy dogs and zinc roof huts. we sit down and order "cotisse" which are some sort of mini porc ribs. being pseudo-vegetarian, i wander to the bbq stand across the way that has different sorts of fish and french fries. but quickly realize it was a mistake to order there, because the cotisse are delicious. absolutely devine, finger lickin' good. the ladies at the grill just chop chop chop and serve. with zesty mayo and mustard. eat, suck bones, eat some more. yum.

so i'm licking my fingers and tossing the bones to this street dog, which looks like it's like a large rat skeleton covered in scruff. it might be a puppy but it's suuuuuper skinny. kinda sad. i toss it some more bones, and of course it starts choking on them, and then gets nearly run over by a landcruiser and i feel especially bad. that's what you get for helping street dogs.
we then figure out that we are in the one spot of town where everyone makes a 3 point u turn and blares their headlights in your face. this is really annoying. why is everyone turning around right here? and running over my street dog? let's go.

so we head down the street to a place appropriately called "le terminus." a road that ends in some stinky muddy mangroves. yet, le terminus is this wonderful cafe sitting just inside an 8 meter tall stand of mangroves. they are mysterious, complex, and tey put neon lights in them, it's quite breathtaking. the bar is desolately empty, but there is a working bathroom and a friendly bartender who seems to have recorded every date and every score of every soccer match between gabon and equitorial guinee since the beginning of time. at this point i've realized our tunisian colleague in fact eats pork, and drinks, and is really funny. richard the camerounian is arguing that his country has a better offense. here i am, in the middle of a mangrove, the first natural thing i've seen since coming here. i order another beer, a regab, which the bartender says "french people love it." ok. because it's what you drink when you want to "regarder les gabonais ne pas le boire. regab." nice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

hello mr. grumpy

so my colleagues and i are sitting in a little terrace in libreville, calmly drinking our giant beers, occasionally trying to name each hip hop artist on the extremely why-does-it-have-to-be-turned-up-so-dang-loud tv next to the bar. no, that's not beyonce, that's rihannah. duh.

this old belgian guy comes up to hans to say hi and sits down, and instructs the waitress to bring him a beer as soon as this one is empty - and don't stop with the beers until he says so. he starts rambling ON and ON and ON about how much Gabon sucks, the government sucks, the gabonese people suck (uhh, ya mind buddy? stephane is from gabon and he's sitting right in front of you). and i deduce that he's some sort of old timey botanist or something. the pocketed khaki vest kinda gives it away.

i watch some more jay z and then i hear the guy start bitching about those americans, and their stupid satellite imagery and so then i perk up and lend my ear a bit. blah blah, then he starts talking about congo, and all the stupid satellite imagery those stupid americans collect over there, and how they use computers, to, you know, design parks and corridors and zones and stuff, like robots, you know, these stupid americans, with their little hexagons, and their little digital maps and their silly workshops ---woah woah hey buddy--- led by little girls with cutesy french names like...

---like, my name? hi. nice to meetcha.

so i caught him, a few nanoseconds before he called me a "petasse." wow. so my fame is international i guess.

but it continued. his beer glass never emptied, hours after we paid the bill. every loooooong paragraph started with: . BUT! the problem is....and on and on. hans escaped by faking a phone call, but me and stephane had to listen to him trash our respective countries, our organization, and, of course, the book he was commissioned to write on the whole process, before he quit and dumped it all on me. just last week i started editing his grumpy toned chapters to make it publishable. we left him in the bartalking to a plastic chair. small world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the dinner party

so today was the wishy washy meeting day. i was warned about it, a meeting with ms. wishy washy, whom i had met over a phone call years ago, and was indeed the most wishy washy person i had ever talked to then, and still today.
ms. wishy washy has a way of talking slowly, elegantly, what with her drapey scarf around her neck, flowing hair, underbite, she and promises the world! endless amounts of data, sortof...maybe...because as soon as you mention concrete details, like, oh, today? or can you put that on this usb stick? it then dissipates into total vagueness. if someone could speak like a grey fog cloud, it's ms. wishy washy. it sortof became tiring, and then i got antsy because i was hungry and it was time for lunch, so goodbye ms. wishy washy see ya around, whatever, maybe sometime. and that was it.
at the end of the day, our little dutch colleague hans comes into the office and declares he's invited to a dinner party at one of the other ngos. and is allowed only one guest. he scans the room -the gabonese guy sinks behind his screen and quickly mutters, no way man, not interested in being drawn into that trap again!...the camerounian waves his arms, champions league! sorry! so then the dutch guy looks between me and mahmoud, the tunisian whom i say is not white enough to be an expat. mahmoud is also on some sort of anti-ramadan diet where he only eats [an excessive amount] during the day and diets at night. and so i'm selected.
oooooh! dinner party!
we drive off through town, getting lost here and there. i'm getting all excited about a home cooked meal. what should we bring to our hosts, a pineapple? giant bottle of beer? hans says, we bring nothing but ourselves, we will be the most interesting people there. oh, it's a trap indeed.
we show up and it's this massive house with lots of random boats parked in the yard....and who is there? well if it isn't little miss wishy washy. yargh. i quickly say hi, and ask if i can use the bathroom (why do we do this? has anyone ever said, no you can't?) but i have to pee like crazy, because when night falls i learned on day 1, never, ever, ever use the office toilet. you turn the light on and every surface is covered with huge flying cockroaches who are much less scared of me than i am of them. and they seem to like toes. the first time i screamed hans screamed back from his desk oh, nicer than the toilets in germany eh?!
so i run to the bathroom and i'm about to do my bidness and woah, there is a gargantuan turd floating there. huge. hmm. seeing as i'm have a sortof complex about toilets, and am a self proclaimed pro at fixing them, i get striaght to work, take the lid off of the top, check the water hose, test the lever action thingie, try a little flush etc.. etc...i find the source of the problem (has anyone touched this thing in days??) and so i flush some more, things are going great, things are working, but let's face it-while the mechanism functions this thing is just clogged. really clogged. i don't get it - in libreville there are handmade call-a-plumber signs on every light post. but the water level's rising, i realize i've been in here way too long, it smells, i flushed many times. crap, i'm like the guy in the fukushima reactor core, time to get out! now!
i stroll back to the kitchen like nothing's wrong, la dee da have myself a little gin and tonic and engage in some mundane conversation about golden cats. cool, golden cats.
anyway, the lady who studies turtles gets up and minute later and we hear her screams "oy my god! clooooggggged!" and she starts freaking out and everyone suddenly looks at me. me! what did i do? i didn't even go! i'm turning bright red, even though i'm telling myself, don't blush, don't blush! it's a sign of guilt! but my cheeks are naturally red. crap! can't we talk about cats some more? but it's so fucking hot don't they have air conditioning. dang! hans is disapprovingly laughing. the botanist, panther expert, cat lady, turle woman and tree dude all think that i destroyed ms. wishy washy's toilet.
i'll have you know i actually fixed it and you should be thanking me!
and that's when we left the dinner party. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

surfing hippos?

the only thing i knew about gabon before coming here was surfing hippos. they have hippos that come out onto the beach and play in the ocean. they actually still have hippos. in Congo they have all been decimated by trigger happy militias.

i also found out that the population of kinshasa is about 10times all of gabon. (so how did the 7 billionth baby get born in gabon?? should have been DRC. where the baby probably has a 10% chance of getting AIDS, and a 90% chance of having a miserable life...) and that's really where the difference is. oh, and all the oil money.

which is why the maps I'm making are pretty boring. and lots of mining and forest concessions though, almost the entire country. so that's the main issue, but still, the forests are full of animals, not so much of people. they have fresh croissants, cafe au lait! france24 on every tv (al jazeera shows nothing but football), you can walk on the streets day or night, traffic jam? what's that? and there is a fresh breeze from the beach, which is right there, where you can also swim, and find sea turtles nesting at night. this is a capital city. in africa. though the house where i'm staying has no hot water, the sink is clogged and there is no internet...but hey, you can't have it all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes

Les sapeurs.

my coworkers took me out tonight, i thought it was going to be a concert but it was 100x better. it was a show by the sapeurs- the famous well dressed congolese: Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes. the group that has been hanging out together here, we call ourselves the  Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Un Peu Élégantes quoi. that's our new name because we inject ambiance anywhere we go, and we are moderately well dressed.

read about them here and here.
fantastic show with rhythmic tapping, dancing, and a guy dressed in paper who calls himself 100% papier. it was undescribable.

i was designated to go to the bar and buy a round of beers.
i order a tembo, they dont have it.
i order turbo dog, the next best thing.
but they don't allow glass in the theater area.
ok, so can i have 4 beers in plastic cups?
you have to buy a bottle
but you said no bottles
you have to buy a bottle that we pour into plastic cups
how big are the cups?
we are looking for them
<10 minutes> those are pretty small, give me one big beer into 4 cups
it won't be enough, you want 2 beers
um...ok fine.
the 2 beers end up being poured into 7 perfectly even cups.
how am i going to bring these back to our group? can i borrow a tray?
you can borrow temba.
temba is a guy in a tux. he brings the tray.
this is the greatest way to bring beers back to our seats. i go and sit down and everyone is all heeeyyy where are the beers? you were supposed to get beers! and i snap - temba! over here. niiiiice.

another night on the town

my days in kinshasa are numbered, so our little juvenile threesome is taking it up a notch. tonight we decided to go all bourgeois and get whiskey and sodas at the grand hotel. at 4 times the price, yes 4 times the volume of lunch we were pretty content. there's a nice little terrace by the pool and a 10 piece band that plays, note for note, this music:

next we went to a place that was essentially the set for Roadhouse. endless james brown from a crappy sound system, super smokey, wood paneled walls and strange leather banquettes. the first place i've ever been to here that serves club sandwiches and steak tartare. though the weirdest thing was people actually order the steak tartare. the spanish girl next to me was on her second plate (also called the cannibal's platter, which is a little too close to DRC for me) and told me how she had it yesterday and it was wonderful. wow.
there was also something else a little weird - i'm used to seeing the mixed congolese/white couples that often includes an exchange of money, but here they were all old white guys with young african boys. blech. though a little odd that it was so blatant, when we're in one of those "homophobia isn't a problem here because we don't HAVE any gay people!" on the way home the driver wasn't really seeing straight and so i was volunteered to co-pilot, meaning notify the driver of th vehicle for hazards. well it was like hosting an auction, there's a pothole there! there! and there!
and he would say too late! crash. too late! crash. too late! crash
and then it was street kid on your right! on your left! guy in a wheechair! guy wth no legs! three guys with no legs in a wheelchair! gaaaarhhhhhhh!

Friday, September 16, 2011

chile con carne?

Today i had lunch with the japanese. A while ago, I wrote to the Japanese aid agency because they had a project that overlaps one of ours and the guy wrote back and was all “you don’t remember me? We went to grad school together!” and I felt really horrible because I didn’t recognize his name, even if it was fuji yakashima and hiroshi majato, it’s all the same. because i'm so ignorant.

we decided to have lunch. My Japanese friend suggested the Cercle Gourmand, the really fancy french restaurant at the golf course. I didn’t want to go alone (and I really needed a ride) so I invited the loudmouth French guy, cedric, whom I’m working for at the ministry. I’ll totally go! He says, in his messed up hair and dusty jeans.

So we careen into the parking lot in a cloud of dust with our dented up pickup, and realize it’sone of those places were you get dropped off under the awning and a guy with white gloves opens the door. I asked cedric to drop me off at the awning but he said no.

We go in and it’s all classical music and oil paintings on the walls, and white table cloths and wine glasses. We’re just laughing and pointing at things, and I recall this is the place where I ate a duck salad with a former American governor 4 years ago and puked my guts out.
Anyway, we ask the host – there’s a host, I’ve never seen a restaurant in DRC with a host- if there are any Japanese people here and he says, yes, of course, the ambassador is right this way. And I’m thinking, really? They brought the ambassador? And I look at cedric, who’s sweating through his shirt and has a backpack and think this can’t be right. Then I see some asian dudes with ponytails on the patio and point – are those guys Japanese? Looks much more our style. they are.

I goof around with my 3 words of Japanese and we sit down amidst the foliage and sounds of parakeets. They get right to business. They have business cards, handouts, a giant map. Cedric is digging through his pockets for a pen and the Japanese guys are inquiring about the lunch special and there is some drawn out description, I’m not paying attending, I'm looking around at all the fancy people and what they are eating and when the waiter asks me, I just say, yeah, me too lunch special.

So we start talking, and sweating, the Japanese guys are wearing full suits, super rigid, radios on their belts (security) sitting straight up, occasionally answering their cell phones. It’s all rather surreal. The one guy baaaaarely speaks French or English, it’s super choppy incomprehensible accent and when I ask him what he thinks of Kinshasa, all I can make out it

“so very dangerous!....But!....Exciting!”

True dat.

So our meals come out, silver bowl over them and everything. White gloves delicately remove the cover to reveal a steaming…wait, is that chile con carne? Indeed it is. The beans were so undercooked I thought they were peanuts. And it cost the same as a monthly pass to a berlin gym. robbery. i thought the japanese would have paid but then i thought it's probably a cultural thing, or we weren't dressed well enough.

There were a few awkward moments but that was the jist of it. Cedric, as usual didn’t have any money, with his daily ritual “can I tax you 50 bucks?” and it basically blew my budget. Chile con f-ing carne? 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

getting stuff

a friend of a friend of a friend had some weed the other doesn't come in a little package here, it's a garbage bag. you basically get a whole dried bush of the stuff. your own tiny christmas tree. absolutely amazing.
then i started wondering about how one goes about purchasing this huge thing without anyone seeing you, white person, you probably stick out wherever they sell it but then i think duhhhh. you don't ever go get stuff here, there's always someone to go get it for you.
seriously, right now, there's a guy in brown pyjamas sleeping in a chair outside my room. i can wake him, show him a 5$ bill and say i want an unripe avocado and a baseball signed by mickey mantle and i swear he'll get it. that's how we got dry erase markers for the white board at the office. hey, papa, see this? i want four of them. in different colors. go. and voila.
buuuuut it's not only because i'm a cute white girl, i'm also madame petit dejeuner. you see at breakfast they serve you an entire loaf of sliced bread, eggs, bananas, juice boxes, it's way too much for a normal human. so i'll eat one piece of toast and then i'll make these wonderful little sandwiches - with butter, and salt, and you know, really made with love. and everyone gets one on my way out in the morning, the car washer, the gate guy with the baton, some guys at the office.
the bananas and fruit i save for the street kids at the intersection, especially the skinner smaller ones- only problem is they are starting to recognize our car and next week the driver is going to even more harassed- anyway, one day the hotel lady asked me what i did with all those sandwiches - as i'm apparently the only one who finishes their tray in the morning - and i told her.
and she looked at me like someone who has to pick up a dead bug "that isn't really done here" but in a more passive agressive way "ca ne se fait pas ici" like this is a sorority or something. so i ask half laughing, what they do with leftovers, ha, you throw them away? in the stinky open sewage canal? ben oui, of course.

the congo river

This morning there was a political rally outside our hotel so we thought it would be a good idea to go out for lunch a little further away. We went to "Chez Tintin", a little patio on a patch of grass on the congo river. We drank primus and ate our daily ration of roasted chicken with plantains and fries. there is this amazing view on the congo river that is as beautiful as it is troubling.

The river at this point is a series of massive rapids, waves 30 feet high, fast rushing brown water. On the river banks, which are now quite larger from the dry season is a strange mix of Congolese. On the one hand there’s the people from the shanty town who are washing their clothes or bathing in one of the pools, or the family rock mining activity- multiple generations, from 6 years old to grandma slowly hitting at rocks, carrying them away on their heads to sell on the road. And then the more well off people from kinshasa taking a stroll with their girlfriends and taking pictures on their cameras, and then us, the mondeles. The sound of the rushing water are almost overwhelmed by the clinking of the rock hammers – all of which are smothered in garbage. Burned aerosol cans, plastic bottles, flip flops and medical waste. It stinks. And this is the Kinshasa waterfront. 20 years ago this was the place to be.
i also made some new friends.
carrying rocks

team vodacom

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the future of DRC!

these days i'm helping out at the ministry of environment in kinshasa. there's a new office and we are essentially setting up the future park system of DRC and these are the headquarters!

The place is a big ole villa with a busted up schoolbus in the courtyard and a boat up on pilons.
There’s a giant ditch out front you have to leap over to get in and I found the ditch is juuust a bit wide for one of my skirts.

leap of faith
Across the street is some foreign ministry where pimping black cadillacs (from 1982) show up with kids running after it. A bunch of guys in leopard print will get out – chiefs from the other provinces. One day they caught me staring at them, I was contemplating the leopard print caps and rattan pants and they blew kisses and waved. So cute. I could have been part of their harem.
normally, there are employees in our building, but i heard the bus that picks them up (is probably the one out front) and brings them here apparently broke down and no bus means no employees come anymore. there are a few stragglers, people who sit in empty offices at empty desks and take naps. whenever we pass the door that says “Information Technology” and has 3 people in it (only working a/c) even though there are no computers or servers or phones we keep telling ourselves, the future of the park system of DRC!
sometimes i'll walk around and say hi to the folks around and it makes everyone so happy. They look up from their bible or empty hands and say heeeeeyyy! Madaaaaame! My favorite was how the papa who cleans the place apologized to me for 20 minutes that he has been out for the past 3 days because he was at the other office getting a new broom, check out his broom. It’s going to clean now.

The copy machine is just outside. Next to the ministry, a bunch of guys on the dirt with a table and a big old photocopier on it. There’s a sign advertising "crystal clear"black and white copies. They plug in to the guy next to them who has a grid of outlets screwed to a board. And this board has a long extension cord that plugs in somewhere, probably the foreign ministry.

The street is rather nice to walk around, lots of impulse shopping (eggs from a box on my head? jeans? cds?) but the corner at the boulevard is treacherous, with aggressively begging kids. Even if you give them money they end up fighting over it and getting all mad, it’s awful.
So it’s apparently a phenomenon now, the street kid, or shege. They’re not even orphans, it’s like a woman will have too many kids, or kids with a new boyfriend and they end up accusing the kids of their previous relationship of sorcery, which i guess is the most socially acceptable grounds to kick them out of the house and they end up as one of the 30-40,000 street kids who hang around intersections and reach into your car. The worst is that a lot of these kids are no longer kids, when sheges grow up they don't go off to college and marry, they become angry, bitter, very violent teenagers who don’t think twice about punching you in the face in broad daylight. happens almost every day, so far, thankfully, to everyone but me. And that’s the reality of Kinshasa.

goat: it's what's for dinner

so i'm sorry there's no crazy field trips to write about this time, it's really just a week of work in kinshasa and the only time i go out is to eat.

i can't explain why we keep going out for asian food. maybe because the beloved indian place closed down, or the pizza places have too many mosquitos and prostitutes, or perhaps it's because of "5 chantiers!!" the rallying cry of mr. kabila - which are the 5 example construction sites in DRC, you see them on tv....and they are entirely run by chinese.

tonight we decided to try the place next door to the hotel, the one with chinese japanese korean asian fusion food painted on the wall.

there were 2 relatively happy goats tied up outside and the nicer one, well i scratched his chin and named him "yummy."

i immediately discovered the fantastic appeal of this restaurant - it's not the tables which seem to be lined with real ivory, but the bright red glowing button that adorns each of them.

what does this thing do? i press the red glow-BING BONG!- a giant bell sound echoes - in the dining room, which is actually not the room where all the waitresses are hanging out watching tv - and in kinshasa people only watch tv at one volume: all the way up.

anyway, they apparently respond as a few minutes later you can hear the s l o w flip flop shuffling and poof! a pudgy congolese woman squeezed into a kimono appears! 

every restaurant should have one of these bells!

the prices and menu are, as usual all over the place, from $4 for tempura, $13 for noodle soup, $24 for sashimi to $37 for a kilo of kimchi? who orders a kilo? and pictures of everything.

and hot towels? and glowing cases of mushroom wine and sake. the lunch special is 18$. this place is fancy.

we ordered a bunch of food and the waitresses wheel your stuff over (an hour later) on a wobbly metal cart. i guess this is fancy asian congo style. except that from the kitchen to the dining area there are at least 2 steps of varying height, so they are constantly struggling with this cart, lifting up one side, and so all you hear are dishes jingling, knocking over the teas and drinks. and then BING BONG the other table wants to order!
let's give them an A for effort.

and wow, this is really the only place where the food actually resembled the pictures. it was delicious and delicate and all i know is we kinda ran out of there when it was clear they messed up on the bill and undercharged us. thankyoumercigoodnight!

on the way out, there was only one goat.
so that's why the "pork" was so chewy, yet fresh!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ils nous prennent tous pour des gros cons!

The other night we were talking about what it's like to live in Kinshasa, how you meet people, who are they, and I asked my co-worker about the NGO scene. Surely it’s easy to meet people in that circle? What about UN parties, medecins sans frontiers etc…?
well he let’s out this huge laugh and described that in the hierarchy of coolness of expats, WWF is apparently the bottom rung of the ladder. this was a total shock to me.

At that point a little musical interlude blooper reel cycles through my head, with images of the guys at the office loading stuff onto the roofs of vehicles, where they push more stuff from the back, the load ends up sliding down the windshield. Or the overweight quebecois guy with long hair and bulgy eyes whom you barely understand when he speaks French (it seems he only talks about mangwain, whatever that is), how there's never any toilet paper, and the we managed to destroy 2 boats in 2 days...etc...etc...
So i guess at the very top level of coolness you have diplomats, but you don’t really mingle with them unless you have a connection. Neither do you with the UN. They are overpaid, act like their shit don’t stink and if they are guys they spend half their salaries on prostitutes and if they are girls they are 22 years old and get their hair braided African style and just loooove Africa, omg it’s so great!

If there was still a peace corps here, they would probably come next, and then the NGOs. Though the ones building latrines walk some moral high ground over us, and since the rest of the conservation NGOs are apparently all run like they are on rails, and by prettier people, at the very bottom, well I guess that leaves us!

i was pretty bummed to find that out, but he ended it with, Aurelgrooves, don’t you know? “ils nous prennent tous pour des gros cons!”

another typical restaurant experience

so i'm working in a team with 2 other people, an american woman from wwfus who is staying at my hotel and a french guy based here. we've worked through the weekend. well, there's supposed to be another belgian guy but his wife put him on some sort of low-calorie diet and he's even slower than the typical belgian so we let him stay home.

the plan is to meet at 8am at our hotel cafe and whoever is there first orders our two alloted breakfasts withfried eggs, and one extra coffee and we all just split it.

it's kinda odd that the lady doesn't blink twice when i'm there all alone, ordering 4 eggs, 8 pieces of toast, 2 yogurts and 2 orange juices but she flips out when i ask for 3 coffees. TROIS CAFES??? we went through this yesterday do you remember?

at lunch on saturday we decided to try the chinese restaurant where no one ever eats at, but there's a nice patio. the kitchen is all Chinese, and the service is 100% consoles. chinese restaurants are for some reason extremely expensive, so we went with some appetizers and only TWO dishes for THREE people. we are very clear about this. we would like THREE plates and TWO dishes. she writes everything down.

if the waitress doesn't come back with the menu 5 minutes later it means they have all the ingredients for your dishes and order has succeeded.

she comes back 5 minutes later with the menu.

no sweet and sour pork.

so we have to ask - what are you missing, the pork? the sweet and sour sauce?

she has to go back into the kitchen, comes back as always walking real slow, with the shuffling of flip flops, no we order the beef.

a few minutes later she brings out a dish and places in front of us. we have no plates, no silverware, there's just this dish and it's not our appetizer. i'm sort of poking at it, looks like general tao's fish or something. smells like fish.

madame, what is this?

it's chicken.

it really smells like fish. it takes like fish. ok...

all our other dishes come out and we now have this extra dish.

where's the chicken with cashews?

there were no cashews so we put cucumbers.

cucumbers? who cooks cucumbers?

whatever, just eat.

we all had stomach cramps 4 hours later.

what's the same in kinshasa!

what's the same in kinshasa!

the luggage claim at the airport remains...a dazzling display of madness.

this time, i was lucky to be one of the first through customs (i chose the diplomatic passport line, hehehe), and got a spot at the front, but only to witness how ridiculous it all is.

first, there's a really sharp curve where all the bags gets stuck and eventually pile up and fall onto the ground. so don't bother standing after the curve. people will also accuse you of taking all the bags off the belt.

second, uh, why doesn't anyone remember what their bag looks like? you packed it 10 hours ago, do you not recall that it is a carboard box with a picture of a microwave on it wrapped in pink plastic and weighs 900 pounds?? since i am the front, i'm expected to be like the guys in the blue suits and check the nametag on same the bag EACH TIME is goes around...and around..and around. no, it's not your bag ma'am.

which leads me to my next point. no one seems to realize that the moving belt is actually a circle. people freak out, that's my bag! there goes my bag! someone get my bag! like they will never see it again.
then it comes back around and they don't recognize it, because they don't know what their bag looks like in the first place (see above)

and...then they get very angry when they finally realize they are seeing the same bags over and over again, like this is some collossal joke that they just figured out. wait.....these are all the same bags we just saw!!
which is when they start screaming at the guys behind the plastic curtain "hey!! stop sending the same bags around! we want new ones!"

Friday, September 9, 2011

what's new in kinshasa!

1. there's a traffic light. a working traffic light. a big fancy one with bright digital numbers that count down until the change.

only problem is no one really follows it.

because if you're a big stupid sucker and you are waiting at the light, you're basically a sitting duck for the police dudes rapping their sticks against everyone's doors and getting bribes.

2. my hotel has internet! working internet! wireless internet! that works! and no animals in cages!

3. bottled water is now 4$ for 50cl, and a package of instant coffee (one serving) is 5$. robbery.

4. there's a suggestion box at the office....

.....located in the toilet. and it's open.

i will suggest they move the suggestion box.

5. the lunch place has a chalkboard that features the specials of the day. today it read:

yaourt du lait

00 F.C.

like, it used to be 500 francs congolais (F.C.) but now someone erased the 5. you can buy them from a dude right right outside for 300 F.C. but it's ok, maybe these are actually cold? so today i nodded in direction of said chalkboard and asked, "oh, you have yogurt today?"

next week, madame.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

jever fun is so NOT fun!

when i first arrived in Berlin, i made extreme efforts to be social, like going out on sundays to madame claude's a little hangout in kreuzberg. on sundays there would be this open mic in a little back cave hosted by some hipster with a really thick funny german accent. lotz of zzz's. zo, ze next muzician eez...that kind of thing. the other novelty of madame claude's was that it was in a basement, and by that some sort of topsy turvy world where all this furniture was glued to the ceiling, tvs are upside down, so are coat racks, you get the idea. as such, the beer menus were also upside down.
what i like about mc's was their cheap beer selection, with several varieties of this jever brand. when at the bar i would peruse down - nay, up the menu for my cheapest selection: jever fun. looking back i recall a sortof smirk or under the breath laugh from the bartenders when i would order "ein mehr jever fun, bitte." i sometimes thought it was because i didn't tip or something, even though that's the norm - i'm no tourist you anglophone mockers. some nights i would have 4, 5 jever funs, though being a school night i would be sure to pace myself. never had a hangover. though never had an astounding time either. but props to jever fun for not compromising my monday
fast foward 13 months, at the most recent frisbee tournament where they modestly priced 1€ Jever varieties in between games.
do you have jever fun?? i asked eagerly.
no we don't.
why not?
why not? are you stupid? jever fun is non-alcoholic! why would we serve non-alcoholic at a frisbee tournament?
though that question deserves an answer - i quickly sunk into a funk so deep, like finding out someone has been sneaking 5€ bills out of my wallet all these years.
i've been duped! all those nights now making sense, and making an idiot of myself only powered by 0.05% or less alcohol that my grandmother would drink...the clean recollections of the night before, the tireness and barely mild mockable drunkenness.
in fact. jever fun is ANTI-fun!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

good stuff this weekend

1. The weinhadlung & fahrschule is on my street. it's a driving school/wine distributor. and several pimpin' black mercedes. yes, yes, yes.

2. the chalkboard sign at my favorite ice cream shop now reads:
"flavor of the week: VANILLA"
sorry, no photo.

3. the holocaust memorial always looks different, everytime you go

4. graffiti

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Seen in Mauerpark

...on a garbage can.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

i'm moving to friedrichshain!

after 2 months of endless apartment -er, they call them "flats" here, like in england, at long last i found a place that was liveable, somewhat close to a u-bahn and doesn't have a brothel on the ground floor*
so, it's in friedrichshain, which i don't know too much about, but it has the secret movie threater, you can eat sri lankan food, see half demolished train depots, buy grungy locally designed clothing, go rock climbing on a historic tower, and get beat up by neo-nazis. and i have a private terrasse! coool!

*yes, at one place i visited, for which they were charging over 900€rent, the real estate agent didn't have the front door key, and no one would buzz him in, so he said, oh, maybe they're home and rang the "24h erotische salon" who of course let us in,. and after we entered we were greeted by a skankily clad..skanky lady who was erotically touching the doorknob. gross.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the berliner teller

every day on my way to work i pass the 'ecke kneipe:' the corner pub with red and gold signs that is on every corner of every street in berlin. you can't see in the window because there's all this junk, and flower and jagermeister signs. mine has an actual hobo drunk little character. red nose, jug with three x's on it.
friendly neighborhood hobo
these place have the same recipe: wood paneled walls, they serve schultheiss, they open at 8 am on tuesdays. because a drunk needs his fix on tuesdays, as much as mondays.
on my way to work i often pass the little chalkboard outside announcing the day's specials. during christmas they had duck and goose. on fridays they serve fish. always something with sauerkraut.
i never had the courage to go in there, it was a sortof last frontier i haven't been confident enough to encounter with limited german. then one my american house guests went it and said it was everything they expected from a german pub, and more. and last week, they started advertising the "berliner teller." a plate of two meatballs, a currywurst, a schnitzel, roasted potatoes, and it that's not enough, a fried egg. for 8 Euro.
i'm living in berlin. this is my corner pub. i must try this platter.
well, all in all it was about what you'd expect, delicious, 2000 calories of brown. took an hour to get served. and the meatballs were actually hamburgers. with mustard.
i signed up for the eisbeinessen the last saturday of the month, a special event you need to reserve 3 weeks in advance. they serve one thing: pork knuckle. i'm so there.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

mixed nuts

one of the perks of living in little istanbul are these nut shops. like a deli that specializes in nuts, dried fruits and candy dates and stuff. there's a huge display case of little baskets of colorful nuts and assortments that you order in weighted quantities or whatever. there are picnic tables where people drink tea and eat sunflower seeds out of these giant bowls and spit out the shells onto the floor. the sidewalk and store are littered with shells that crunch under your feet. crrrunch.
now, i like sunflower seeds as much as ther next guy, but honestly, i have neither the patience nor mandibular prowess to eat more than one seed per minute. makes the whole thing very frustrating.
so they also have nut mixes.
a friend brought one of their nut mixes over once and it had all these delicious wasabi peas and cashews and you just wanted to put a handful in your mouth, but you would end up choking on a sunflower seed. why would they mix sunflower seeds into a perfectly edible and tasty mix?
so i am determined to come up with my own mix, the perfect variety and ratio of delicous nuts, without sunflower seeds. or raisins for that matter. this isn't trader joes trail mix. this is just nuts. i want to give planters a run for their money, and put utz pub and party mix to shame. my nut mix will be delectable, perfect, famous. 
so once a week after work i go to the nut place and order a bunch of diffferent nuts. they always try to sell me their selected mix, but no, i don't want any of yuor heimlich maneuver choking nuts, i'm gonna make my own. so ask them to mix all these different quantities of nuts into one bag. it took me several attempts to get them to do it, at first the guy was all sassy and giving me 5 little bags of nuts, and then complaining that i only ordered 100 or 150 grams at a time (does he really want me ordering a kilo of cashews? i will eat it all on the way home and then be sick). like i was wasting his time. one visit i got the guy to mix them up, but then he gave me grief about mixing sweet and savory. it's wrong, he said. seriously guy? you have a phD in nut science and you've never put sweet sesame almonds with salted blister nuts? what's wrong with you?
well, it's not perfected yet, but i have tried many different combinations and ratios and i will tell you that i have a mix so good, they should dedicate one of their little baskets to it. and i am telling you the receipe now, dear reader, so you can go and order it yourself, and get treated like dirt for your unorthodox ways, but i tell you, i never go to a movie without the following:

150 grams of roasted cashews (the dark brown ones)
200 grams of the wasabi peanut things. these weigh more, and they are the most delicious so always err on the side of a lot)
100 grams of sesame covered almonds (you need some sweet)
100g walnuts or hazelnuts, whatever you are in the mood for.
50g of the orange chick pea things. they'll complain that 100g is the minimum, but then you'll tell them that they aren't really good, it's just for color.
100g of the student mix - ok this is a decent mix that doesn't have sunflower, but a lot of other junk. good variety.

shake the bag around to ensure proper mixage. you now have 700g of deliciousness.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

fastest checkout guy EVER

so one of the stressful things about going to the big discount supermarket is that the checkout people are so fast, by the time you've found your debit card to hand over, your groceries are all piled up at the end of the moving carpet thing, and the next person's stuff is already threatening to topple and co-mingle. and these are small, european checkout counters, and you don't have the separator thingie so the whole line, as well as the cashier will be glaring at you, like hungry lions, their eyes saying "get your shit out of here so we can eat."
so you must prepare ahead of time. you get your money out, you arrange your bag in grocery collecting formation, plan your packing strategy far in advance, you put the heavy things in front. eggs last. stuff you can stick in your pockets in the middle. it takes a lot of planning and there is little room for error.
but nothing culd have prepared be for the tattooed guy at the ostbahnhof lidl with glasses so thick you underestimate his dexterity. guy was like a dog digging a hole. his hands were a blur, and there was nary a nano-second between beeps of the machine. he may have even just dragged everything at once over the sensor, like the guy who just won the pot during poker. i must have looked away for a tiny moment, pondering the impulse buy offerings and when i look over, he's leaning back, hands behind his head all proud. and all my stuff, piled up, mixed up senslessly, all that delicate forethought for nothing. as i got the glare from him and every homeless drunk in line behind with their plastic 6 pack of beer that they are paying for with the bottle refunds from yesterday night's binge. 
checkout: fail.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

bargain basement beers

so the karstadt is your german department store, a fancy-ish Macy's if you will, that has your household goods, clothing, whatever. in german class, you learn the term "Kaufhof" the building where you buy things. i usually regard the karstaft and its sister stores with the same bland indifference i give a bloomingdales: you only go there if you really have to.
but i recently discovered a few things that quickly changed my mind! first, every kaufhof has a ridiculous supermarket inside. like, dean and deluca on cocaine meets whole foods in a saks fifth avenue. it's insane. a deli counter that would make my brother blush, sparkling organic produce, a hot sausage grill with bratwurst for 2Euro, kilometers of yogurt aisles, an international aisle that even has an "american" section with doritos and peanut butter. pretty much anything you could ever want or imagine. it's a guilty pleasure those secret supermarkets.
but the karstadt at hermannplatz in neukolln has another hidden gem: a pub. in the bargain basement, amidst bins of extra large brassieres adn underwear, leftover shirts from last season, a quite wonderful classic german style kneipe, a circular counter thingie in the middle of the store with a clientele strictly over 65, a few of whom are usually asleep over their drinks.
the bartender is a chipper old lady who blasts boney M mega mixes and the like to drown out the department store muzak, and eagerly invites you to friday happy hour! starts at 12 noon! only 1.5Euro beer!  i'm surprised there aren't more bored husbands, sick of waiting/watching their wives shop and tryon outfits. there are a few casino machines in one corner, a few tables where last time, octogenarians were eagerly swigging screw top mini bottles of champagne, there's a wheelchair accessible corner counter, free pretzels in plastic cups, what else could you ask for?