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 electrocutĂ©, 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!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"33" km de Kinshasa

you know when you are beyond 33 km from the Kinshasa boundary, because there's a big red 33 Export beer sign with bullet holes in it that tells you so. there are no buildings, no open sewers, just a lot of deforested shrubby landscape the occasional wildfire and periodic clusters of mud houses and cementblock structures where people convene to buy, sell, get on/off of those trucks with jugs and goats on top and create the usual roadside chaos.

the weirdest thing though, is that besides the crooked teetering 18 wheeler or recycled army vehicle, the car of choice is the totally beat-up rusted peugeot 504. just like the one we saw not get stuck in the mud - the only car on the road is this:
my ride is pimped

it's a funny, trippy time warp and you wonder why these things are still running and so beloved more than anything else with 4 wheels?

if a 504 is driving in the direction away from kinshasa, it will have a bunch of dudes on the back, on top of the trunk, holding onto a makeshift roofrack. i guess the angle or something makes it comfortable, and even though they are cruising upwards of 80km/hr, they enjoy the air and happily wave with one free arm, rather than be troubled by near death experiences.

if the car is traveling back towards kinshasa, it will inevitably be piled with 20m makala, or charcoal sacks on the roof and back. this is the major driver of deforestation around here, actually, if not the only reason DRC's forest are disappearing - the entire city of Kinshasa cooks with charcoal.
these cars are stacked so high it almost looks geometrically impossible. their towering loads peer over a regular 18 wheelers, the bumper riding low near the road, dudes hanging off the backsacks, it's a wonder they don't topple over. good thing there are no bridges anywhere, so clearance isn't an issue.
i couldn't take pictures because the windows were covered in mud, and bruno, the quebecois who was driving kept screaming at me "mais esti si tu ouvres tu faye rentrer l'ayre show!"
once in a while, some guy on the side of the road will be holding up a dead antilope or something and we'll all turn our heads, woah! there are still antilope this close to kinshasa? that's a good sign!
there's a tollbooth. big signs that say pĂ©age and are a bunch of guys sitting in plastic chairs outside their booths in the shade of a delapidated overhang thing. for us we just wave and a guy jumps onto the counterweight of a big metal bar and raises it. most drivers are confused and don't understand that each lane can only be one way, and so it's not unusual for a truck to take the lane at their far left, and therefore coming directly at you, with a load of like, 18 giant tree trunks and then everyone has to back up, and people are honking and then you just say "tabernac quels grow cowns!" and you engage the 4WD and just hop the curb and drive around the whole mess.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Zongo time

i was invited to a workshop in Zongo falls. They say it's 90km from Kinshasa, which sounds pretty close, but it's pretty much 4 hours of slippery red mud and huge deep ditches camouflaged with more mud.
and unlike other places i've been the local people are just...angry. like they really expect you not to drive and wave, but to get out of your car and help them push an 18 wheeler truck lugging giant barrels of gasoline out of a mud pit. and i mean REALLY angry. sorry folks, i'm a tiny white girl, wearing flip flops and white pants? shrug, put up hands and smile! my colleagues thought it was funny to keep rolling down the window and offering my burly services, upon which the people would throw mud at the car. 
or some angry guy wants you to give him, his 2 wives, their 10 kids and a goat a ride in your car but you're like, sorry, we're full, and besides, i don't hear what you're saying through the window, which i won't roll down if you keep throwing mud at me!
at one point there was quite a backup. someone from our convoy was stuck (oh, germans, when will you learn? land cruiser. not suzuki sidekick), so the whole village is out to help - not before collecting money with their machetes of course.

this thing is pretty much held together by rubber bands
i bet you're thinking, this peugeot here (which has diplomatic license plates, wtf?) and tires balder than a baby's behind doesn't have any better a chance of getting through 3 feet of mud on an incline than a suzuki sidekick, right?

top gear - congo edition

this is the part where everyone climbs on and in and they just gun it
i don't have pictures during the actual muddy party because i was 12 inches off of my seat and smashing my face against the window. take that, nissan pathfinder!

and you have just been proven wrong.

Monday, May 20, 2013

new kinshasa digs #3

So I have some new Kinshasa digs...not too bad, I have my own private mezzanine overlooking the living room with a full view of the city, balcony with tomato plants, a pool down below, and as many stray skinny hungry cats as i care to snuggle...
roommates are out of town and the cleaning lady comes every day. sounds like a perfect time to have a party...

view from above..