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

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! 

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!

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!

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! 

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!

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 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...?

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.
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.   

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? 
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!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

i'm a pretty good kinshasa tour guide

when the conservation thing doesn't work out, i am going to start a tour guide business in kinshasa (if  just only i had darker skin....).
so for this trip i am brought some help down to kinshasa to do some press for our project (stay tuned for killer photos and video, and maybe even a guest blogger). and though my donor is accusing me of nepotism, i selected some good friends for this task. i don't care what the donor rules are, i am not going into potentially hairy situations with people i don't know or trust, and i am not a babysitter. besides, my friends will do this for half the price, and they'll let me put them in said hairy situaitons and probably smile about it. AND, everyone loves them and wants to invite them back.
so eric and edouard arrived a few days after me (and broke every airport rule i gave them), and i set them up with 2 cheap bedrooms in some apartment i found. it turns out to be a UN flophouse/frathouse on the 26th floor penthouse of the building with the giant samsung billboard on it. the view is insane. the elevator is crazier. you go up with blue helmet UN guys, or ladies with big bowls on their heads full of fruit, selling door to door. some of the floors are totally run down and abandoned. the elevator doesn't go all the way up so the last few floors you have to hoof it but then, you feel this breeze: from brazzaville to the airport, from gombe to kitambo, the entire upper layer of kinshasa is yours and yours alone. it's a total man-house with cable tv and cold beer kinda thing and my guys couldn't be happier. but what's better? papi the taximan lives downstairs! it's probably one of the most absolute shadiest corners of town but papi can drive right into the garage: perfect! 
view from above

the first week has been the accustomization phase, where i bring eric and edouard simoultaneously to the most fanciest, and the most crappiest places in kin. so they get their bearings. i think it's working. we had 40$ scrimps one night, followed by eating goat bits in the dark with toothpicks, sitting in broken plastic chairs the next. where are the bathrooms? uhhhhhh everywhere (i don't drink liquids so i don't have to go) eric, who is an exact replica of disco stu asks "is this my introduction to bushmeat?" 
ever since he has been rather pale and complaining of stomach cramps. he falls asleep a lot too. we met the head of the parks department, he says to a wincing eric, on whom you can see the waves of stomach pains rippling in his smile "first order of business, is never come to my office in flip flops." and so we left and went to look for a pharmacy. 

on friday night i brought them to the hottest new club in town: the kwilu bar. every other place is now empty, pretty much every UN car in the fleet is parked outside kwilu. this is the place to be. you can actually sit outside on couches and listen to music that goes beyond crappy congolese disco - you can hear the macarena and jay z hip hop too. all my colleagues were calling me "where should we go tonight carbon girl?" and so here we all were. sadly, we shared a table with some gentlemen from an oil company who were all jazzed about digging for oil in virungas national park - that was not a fun discussion, and around 1 am and too many cocktails later (kwilu is awful congolese rhum) my eyelids were getting droopy and i was thinking about my bed. edouard says, look, there's papi! great, my taxi is here, time to go. i bid my farewells and go over to papi when i realize, oh, he is not here to take me home he is here to party! so, party with the taxi driver, let's do shots and then you can drive me home. this is kinshasa! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

fabrics, fabrics

so as of yet, i have not found a single, relaxed, normal way to buy african fabrics. ok, unless i want to go to vlisco where they are 80$ each but that doesn't count.
the whole reason i am in congo is to fly with this little plane we are bringing in from south africa, but it has nothing but problems like crashing in malawi or needing a new o-ring in namibia so, i'm basically waiting for it to show up. which means i have some down time to visit the fabric store.
i asked and asked and asked around for the mother of all fabric stores and was told avenue du commerce, which is really long, and really insane.
so i call papi and ask him if we can just swing by to buy fabrics before lunchtime.
i can already tell that papi is not too jazzed about the idea but as usual he's very accommodating, no problem no problem. we get to the market neighborhood and slowly creep through streets just filled to the gills with buses, people, animals, potholes, dirt, everything. this is it.
i see the store and right in front there are, as usual, all these guys helping you to park, eager to get their commission. so we pick a spot and the guy is like, here here here and he just tosses aside some poor lady's mango stand and waves us in to his special parking spot. 
we get out and i'm in this crazy fabric store, with the loudest music (as usual, so loud you can barely even hear or understand it because it is blowing the speakers) and this guy with a microphone is screaming "super quality! best price!" and some stuff in lingala. it's chaos. there's a bargain corner, with all the fabric pieces on the floor and all the mamans are fighting over the bits and one of the store employees is up on a box, his head and body all wrapped up in fabric and dancing very suggestively. 
the employees are helpful, even though they have this sortof half shut eyelid please kill me now attitude. it's extremely hot. 
i find what i want and papi comes running in, aurelgrooves! aurelgrooves! i need some small bills! the police! and i see his car has a recently installed (man they are quick!) boot (they have boots here?) on the front wheel. this is not good. there are three angry police officers with weapons sitting on the hood. this is so not good. but papi, he is laughing, oh it's just a little negotiation, but it is implied that i must stay in the store - the police cannot, under any circumstances see me or the whole game changes. 10x the bribe, or they might even arrest me - they always find a reason. also, i can't just walk away, this is not at all a safe place to be wandering.  
so i just hang out in the store. the owners are all, what are you doing here? leave! and i say! i can't! so i just start dancing with the employees up on the box with my bag of fabric until papi has finished his business some 20 minuntes later. then, he peels out onto the sidewalk, let's go! go go go! and i hug all my new friends goodbye and jump into the front seat, just as the policemen are slowly counting their loot (papi is so smart, small bills are always best for bribes) and they realize they could have gotten much more than 10$ from this mondele, but we are too quick! thanks for the parking, seeya suckers! and wait until you see my new dresses...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

end of the month in kinshasa

so this was the first time i have been to the airport to pick someone up. being on the other side. so thankfully, i was with papi, who suped up his mercedes or something because he drives crazy fast and it only took us 20 minutes to get to the airport. ask anyone, they will tell you it takes an hour.
papi has a military police buddy or something because he makes a call when we're close and then they just wave us in, as opposed to price gouge us for parking (the hourly rate is whatever you can negotiate, sometimes the passenger and the driver negotiate different prices with different dudes and then you have problems..). once in the parking lot we huddle and figure out our strategy. we need to find the best guy we can bribe to get in, or close to the door. papi's buddy only runs the entrance, he has no authority over the little waiting zone. we have a number of suitable candidates eager to do their duty. papi wants to pick the guy with the highest rank, but i can barely see their little badge stripes, i think the guy with the biggest gun is the way to go. we agree on the most angrily tilted beret guy and start walking. 
it's like a kung fu movie where different waves of people come at you and you need to fend them off with smiles, bribes, illogical debate. like the one guy who said "you can't cross this (invisible) line" without paying 2,000 francs per person.
me: why?
"because if we let everyone close to the airport who wanted to be close to the airport, there would be disorder."
me: what if i pay you, and THEN go cause disorder, because i am so outraged at this bribe?
he looks like he's doing a calculation in his head.
our beret dude is only so-so at helping, he basically steps in when he occasionally remembers that he'll get paid the most when we finally get to the door.
we get to the door, i pay him...but then he goes away! which makes our whole effort moot!
the next guy comes along to ask me for a "coffee" and as i pull out bill after bill i'm saying, "guy, this is the most expensive coffee ever! i am not a bank machine!"
my favorite is when you give them money, and they refuse to accept it because my 5$ is a pitiful amount. that's when i say ok, your problem and put my money away and they get suuuuuper mad.
step on it papi! and we peeled out into the street leaving a trail of beggars, and i don't think i'm welcome there anymore but i don't care. oh, unless the plane i am bringing in from south africa has to land here. woops.

which reminds me - never come to kinshasa at the end of the month! i have a line of people at my office door asking me for money...but i am broke i tell them!
white people are never poor.
don't go there buddy...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

there are no gifts, sigh

i'm not even 5 minutes here and everyone, even the guys who play checkers and open the gates at the office are asking me what i brought them, what i brought them. i'm not santa claus, people. it's bad enough i had one 20kg checked bag filled solely with pruning shears and test tubes for our field office. 
on the other hand, i have quickly found out that if a merchant gives you a gift after buying something, in the guise of you being a valued customer who will surely return - well it's only because they just ripped you off and feel kinda bad about it.
i bought avocados from the lady with the big bowl of avocados on her head. she bats your hand away if you touch them (the people at my market in berlin do that too) and asks you when you plan on eating it, now, later, tomorrow and selects one appropriately. i was tired from haggling with my taxi driver, so only half-assed bargained (i tend to go off coffee on these trips and stick to tea) so was also kinda hazy. when she was giving me my bag she takes my hand and says "gift for you my dear" and gives me a avocado so ripe it's almost melting in my hands. (it was delicious, btw).
i wasn't so easy on the taxi driver, because most of these guys are assholes. i mean, they just dreeeeam of picking up a white girl to charge 100 times (literally) more than a congolese. as i paid him the outrageous fare he has the nerve to say ok, that's great, i threw in the security for free. security? what security? you put your driver seat all the way back and slept while i shopped in a store whose parking lot is guarded by UN soldiers!! grrrrr. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

you'd think they...

so when you leave kinshasa, you have to pay this 50$ fee at the airport, called the go-pass. it's mandatory. so, as i was sitting there today on the runway in front of my plane, indian style on the warm asphalt, leaning against my backpack, only 50m away from this decrepit building with its flickering lights, i started to think. if there are let's say, on average 6 planes leaving a day, and each of them has, ok 200 people in it? on average? then that's at least 60,000 USD a day revenue. For an airport with basically one gate, ok, wait, no gates, just a building, really, that's kindof a lot, dontcha think? enough to buy toilet paper? or more than 4 plastic chairs at the bar? how about one, maybe two of those buses, like they have in other cities that transport you from the plane to the terminal? that would be great. because even though our plane is practically touching the airport terminal you need to be transported allllll the way around the back of it and basicallly in a figure 8 to end up right where you started, but closer to the door.  besides the one actual airport bus which is parked on cinder blocks over there, they have limited transport options. there is one small school bus, which is a total death trap, you can either fall through the gaping hole in the floor, or out of any of the doors that open whenever it careens. because it careens. it's like a last lap nascar dash and there is nothing to hold on to but some congolese lady's hair extensions when that thing gets going. 
so now they have evolved a series of mini-vans, like from off the street or something. sooo you walk down from the plane and there's a line of minivans waiting for you. and yes it's just like in the street, you push your way into one until they are filled to 5 times the standard capacity, though here, people are all fancy and they go and put their luggage in the trunk, like we're going on a road trip? and so i'm just letting you picture what this whole scene looks like for the 250-or so people who have just exited this plane and how many minivan trips this requires. and once inside the van people are all, wow, (whistling and tongue clicking) this is pretty nice, what an improvement! a mercedes! as they tenderly rub the upholstery. let it just be said that congolese will always let needless luxury blind mindless inefficiency.

once i exited the airport there was a giant party, flags, singing, madness, uggggghhhh. the president's wife was on the plane and they were welcoming her. that's really great and all but having to barge through 200 people to get to your car, and then having to wait in that car for another hour before making it to the exit just wasn't my idea of funtime. 
finally on the road (there's a new paved road which is made by the japanese, which is 100 times better than the chinese road, btw) we were in the usual stop and go traffic. in front, a huge 18 wheeler, which about half of its wheels missing, and a bunch of dudes sitting on top of piles of stuff. every time the traffic slowed to a stop, a guy would jump out and put a small log behind the wheel to keep the truck from moving backwards. i don't need to tell you that the log was quite round and large couldn't logically by my geometry prevent any dangerous incidents. when the truck would start moving the guy would toss up the log to his friends and run and jump on. as this happened over and over again i ask my driver if he wouldn't mind changing lanes, and he's like, what are you so worried about? that's not the only log you know, they put one under every row of tires, and even in front, duh.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

lozère update: not much has changed

the end of a whirlwind tour through my personal history, via new york, paris and finally: Lozère.

it's been years since i skiddadled through the narrow streets of la salle prunet, a village of less than 100 souls on the edge of la mimente.

lozère tu aères
the old people were still on their bench where i left them and pointed their rickety fingers at me: you're that american girl!
they were loading wood into the communal stone oven, heating it up for next night's bread. they still fete les prunes - where everyone brings a plum pie to eat in comraderie.
in the adjacent valley, Cocurès was having its annual fete. Delighted were we to be able to walk there, beer in hand like old times, though upon seeing the entertainment, we were more paralyzed by fear and imcomprehension. english tourists from the nearby campsites were overheard saying:
"i told you dude, french people are weird." 
the buvette had lines as far as the village square, people lined up to buy bulk red wine and rosé, poured into 1.5L bottles of quezac for 4€. kids who were out way past their bedtime were having their eardrums torn and shredded by a sound system that was echoing within the valley. it was well past 1 am, yet, Pilou et ses danseurs were in full effect. the no good adolescent crowd, which i was once part of was milling in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes and mixing their own drinks. at one point they started throwing eggs at Pilou who stopped mid-song to scream, in his southern drawl "putain de emrde mais vous arretez oui les gros cons??" but back to Pilou.
France has a legend known as Patrick Sebastien, who has classy songs such as LMLeQ and c'est bien fait pour ta gueule with sexy dancers in their various costumes. every single song has a refrain that goes la la la la la la laaa la la la la la la la la laaa la la la la la la la la laaa la la.
Cocurès, has Pilou, is his official look-alike whom quite honestly, was undiscernable from the real thing. and this went on, until 3 am. long live la lozère.
a little bit of rio in a little bit of france

Friday, June 14, 2013


so i recently switched to private insurance in germany, which does not pay kind homage to my socialist heritage, but saves me a ton of money. yes, it's messed up and also sad that you can get better coverage for less - i'm just not rich enough to pay for all the poor folks. so i'm on a fancy plan, where you get choices like only being treated by the chief doctor and a private room. i'm cheap and chose the double-bed room.
on my first night in the hospital for my double malaria i was awoken at 2 am by my new roommate, an energetic 400 lb bearded lady brought in for untreated diabetes. she's been here before, knows everyone by their first name, and speaks rather bruskly to all who manhandle her. they respond with a cool "ja frau ssssssshsspeckmann." her name literally translates to baconperson. after she finally settled down she woke me up with her raspoy smoker's voice "you can't sleep either, eh?" and shared all her problems. her kids have names like maurice marcel and daniella antonella. she doesn't like facebook, she is on yappi. 
the next morning she was entirely half (there is no good half) naked (they don't believe in separator curtains) and i think it made my visitors, including my boss a little uncomfortable. at one point he stopped midsentence and just nodded his head and said "this is sooo east berlin right now."
what started with fighting over tv channels has developed an interesting relationship where we scream at eachother in german. i tell her to stop eating chocolate and smoking and she tells me to stop drinking, which is funny, because i am not drinking! why does everyone think i am drinking?? ...and will i share some of my chocolate pretty please? also, she has recently taken to tickling and poking me. i'll be totally sleeping and wake up to have a giant monster giving me a charlie horse and squeezing my ribs and laughing with her smoker's cough. it's a little scary. 
frau speckmann showed me the joy of the nurse call button, which i feel bad abusing, but not her. you press the thing and what sounds like a submarine horn beeps a few moments later. but because we're right across from the nurse station, she can hear who's there and knows precisely when to press in order to get the cute nurse guy to come in. joey will arrive, all angry, alright who buzzed AGAIN, and frau speckmann goes, she did! she did! and points to me. me? it wasn't me! frau speckmann: frau shapiro has a fever! take her temperature! and lo and behold there is a 90% chance i am sweating and way over 103, which means they then they hold me down and stick me with a painful iv and i can't move for 2 hours. i got her back though, with a huge insulin shot brought by the mean tattooed lady with the pink hair (we may be in a military hospital, where everyone is in uniform, but we are still in berlin), and when the mean lady asked "thigh or stomach?! thigh or stomach?!" i got to answer, "thigh! thigh!"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

sunday is funeral day

not because i'm having thoughts of death or anything kinshasa, sunday is funeral day. let's just say there's a lot of people in kinshasa, and there are a lot of people dying. loooots of funerals. there are funeral neighborhoods, like, a square where there might be 8 funerals at a time, and you can basically forget driving through in a car. or, just beyond the airport, a whole cemetary neighborhood backed up with lines of hurses and people flooding into the streets from the dusty fields nearby. leave it to the congolese to turn a sad day into a wicked party though. people are snazzily dressed, screaming, holding up huge adorned ribboned guilded coffins and running through the streets like they just won a soccer game. then there's the party, eat some goat, drink some beer. i bet people have funerals to go to every week, it's just how it is. but it's soooo expensive. i heard it's a minimum 600$. then, there are the pimped out hurses with the lights and sirens, or just having the car alarm sound, that's gotta cost more. and the huge imported rose bouquets that say reposez en paix. and if you have 200 people showing up.... someone please explain to me then, how people who can barely feed their families spend half a year's salary on their dead. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

back to bombo lumene (for malaria)

it's my last weekend in congo. we are at the delicate boundary between wet and dry season which means sunny days and cool nights. doesn't get any better. good days for flying, too, which means i have spent all week working on flight permits, contracts, inspections and approaching burnout. 
so on thursday evening, a few colleagues and friends decided we would cut out early friday and head to bombo lumene, the little protected area a few hours away. friday morning my colleagues and i were in our respective meetings, ministers/bureaucrats blabbing on and on and on and we're texting eachother "arrrrggggh almost ready! you?" finally, around 3pm we were all in the land cruiser, i'm on a conference call and can't hear anything over the honking, the buying of 15 liters of water through my passenger window transaction, so i just hung up - we're going to bombo. 
to my delight we are picking up uwe, my favorite little half algerian kid, best friend of my colleague's son. uwe is this adorable egghead who does math for fun and throws disses like "tu es comme le c cedille de surf - t'existe pas!" follwed by a "casssséeee" disssss. on our haste we didn't exactly plan our weekend meals too well, the cooler seems ful of chips and meat and peanut butter (what happens when the men go shopping) and given my prowess for logistics, i'm designated food focal point. an hour an a half outside of kinshasa i ask to stop at a little village market. my jaded kin regulars want nothing to do with this so i offer to go buy the veggies. i fill my pockets with cash and wander non-chalantly over and immediately it's pointing, mondele! mondele! and instantly the women flip the little cardboard price cards over, an indication that prices have instantly doubled. i manage to talk down a few tiny brown eggplants to a ridiculously hefty 3$ - but me negotiating vs. these hardened village women, and it isn't working. i need to play an atout. i go back to the truck and get the 2 nine year olds. i am now a maman, too! and so now the market ladies, they are letting us pet the dead goat fur, poke the eyes of the fish and play with the caterpillars. like melting butter the prices and outer shells dissolve and we are in some sort of feel good disney movie.
arriving at dark at bombo, bats swirling around the flashlights (and so many mosquitoes) peculiar glowing eyes coming from the woods, i have no motivation or courage to cook rice and plantains in a messy smoky charcoal pit. while the adults are serving up their campari i grab a kid and we sneak over to the village and find a few mamans who are more than delighted to cook for us for the leftover market change in my pocket. everyone is setting up their tents, looking at the stars and hey guys dinner is ready! and my little kinshasa family sits down to eat. wow, this is delicious, aurelgrooves! 
i still got it!

leaving bombo lumene, the park warden asks for a ride (they always do, probably only chance to go somewhere and not have to ride an awful crowded bus). this is a new park warden though, the kick ass lady from last time got sent away somewhere else. so sad, she was really happy there and was going a good job - but this is congo, women do NOT get promoted, only demoted. 
so we leave the park and we were unknowingly on a policing run. every so often we would find an overloaded charcoal truck with an park ranger escorting it with his ak 47. pretty obivous where that charcoal is coming from. park warden would get out, ranger would tidy his green beret, do a litte salute and accept his pay from the warden. at first sight this would seem totally mesed up and corrupt, but no, the park warden was paying the ranger for a good job well done and then giving instructions on where to take the prisoners and the soon to be confiscated loot. go find out though, if the ranger doesn't just pocket the change, and take a cut from the charcoal sellers (i hear 1 truck can carry $4,000 worth).

Thursday, May 30, 2013

roland garros kinshasa edition

i went back to my tennis place tonight at the grand hotel de kinshasa. it was like running out onto the soccer field from the locker room. aurelgrooves is back! high fiives! ok, so i did give them all wwf t-shirts, 4 cans of tennis balls and 500m of tennis racket string, but still, they like me for me.

tanya and i teamed up in our brand new matching red skirts i brought to play our usual opponents, the persian and italian UN guys, who, pretty much make a ghastly scene just about every time we play. i might have to find some other members to mooch free court time off of (oh, except that visitors now have to pay 20$?? for an hour?? i'm going to make a scene too!).
so, ok, it's the dry season and so they haven't watered the clay courts and it's like playing on sand. half the lights aren't working. at one point i go to pick up a ball in the "danger corner" (you'll soon know why it's called that) and everyone, even the lebanese guys two lumpy courts over are like no no no don't go there with your racket! danger! danger! the danger corner is a disgusting opaque puddle with live wires sparking all over the place. it emanates sounds like someone is welding. my ball had actually landed on the wires, and the lights on all the courts were flickering...ballboy comes over with a big wooden stick "je ne veux pas vous voir electrocuté, madame" and pokes the ball out. the ball is now covered in slime and picks up all the clay/sand and we might as well play with rolled up wet socks. so, outrage, outrage from the UN guys. my racket, strung less than 2 hours ago by tanya breaks a string (for which i brought a 12€ package or primo strings argh). she feels bad and makes us switch, and kicks ass with a halfly strung racket and we clean up 3 sets. my backhand is wicked - nice babolat, tanya.

the usually unbribeable completely impartial ballboy/umpire guy was actually rooting for me. normally there is nothing you can do, no arguing, screaming or paying, it's either in or out and he calls it and that's the end. but this time, i was at the net and he was murmuring in this really lowwww slllooowwww voice "il faut gagner, madammme...tu ne peux pas rentrer en allemagne une vous perdez je pllleeeeur...." but i would end up laughing and hitting the ball into the danger corner. maybe he was working for other team - well, probably not, since everyone hates these angry UN guys.  

i tried to sneak out without paying but i was caught, and so the UN guys come with me to the sports desk to fill out a formal written complaint about the courts, everything. i guess they pay like, 300$ a month, so i would be pissed too. the guy behind the counter is all you again! hellooo! i loooooove your complaints! here, write another one! and he pulls out a folder and it's 22 pages of letters, all written by the italian. the sportsdeskman promises us that he faxes eeeeevery one of the complaints to the head of customer services. as if there's such a think as congolese customer service. and where is this office? just over there, down the hall. why do you send a fax? hand to forehead. has anyone ever even received a fax in kinshasa? seriously? that thing isn't even plugged in. i offered to take back my 20$ to invest in 4 giant street light bulbs for my next trip back. they are considering it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

who needs gas? not me

so i took a taxi the other day - he ironically picked me up at a gas station, where my previous taxi had lumbered into, full empty. i didn't feel like waiting for the other guy to fill up so i picked someone else. a few meters down the road he starts saying something, which i can't hear over the loud music but we are quickly losing velocity, and then violently jerking back and forward i nearly broke my nose on the headrest. his technique is to just keep turning the ignition and creep along, like that's going to miraculously make gas appear. so we stop. in the middle of the road, he doesn't even try to go to the side. people are really angry and i'm wearing a towel over my bathing suit, with a wet t-shirt shirt, i'm not exactly eager to start walking about centreville.

he turns around and asks me if i want to push, he'll lower my fare. we had already argued about his egregious overpricing, no papa. this white girl is not going to push your car you should have filled it up when you had the chance.

but you can't leave me here madame!

which is sortof true, given the state of my attire, and that i had just changed 500€ into dollars...ok, how about white girl drives and you push?!


and so here we go, for at least a kilometer, every time i found a suitable place to pull off he would say, no, just a little further! so we rolled right to my house. guy is super sweaty, pushing us over the giant potholes and everything. at one point it was a little downhill and i even got ahead of him. it was an english right side drive thing, so i was confusing the clutch a bit and ok, just once i braked to see what would happen and he plowed onto the trunk and was pretty angry. i was waving to people, honking, saying stuff like "can't this thing go any faster?" of course, no one, not a soul offered to help but the weirdest part? not a single person even smiled or thought this was funny. they were nonplussed, like it was more, pfffff there goes another mondele, they're even too lazy and cheap to buy gas!