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).