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).