Saturday, February 25, 2017

bienfait espoir, ça.

so one of the reasons i came to kinshasa was to do a web mapping training, where you make interactive maps for websites. the office kept asking for one and i kept saying no, the internet isn't good enough, it's going to be really frustrating, and they answered, DRC has fiber optic cable now! so i said ok. 
the first day of the training i was awoken by a mad thunderstorm that turned all the streets to mudslides and shut down power everywhere. i was the first to arrive at the darkened office, an hour late because there was no way i was walking and because everyone and their mom was stuck in awful mud traffic, most inconveniently, my driver. well, turns out there is fiber optic cable but no one thought to fix the generator. did i mention my training had 20 participants registered, many of which took expensive life-risking flights from Goma or Bukavu, so no pressure or anything. what to do? i pictured myself doing a tap dance or shadow puppet show to 40 glazed eyeballs. i went to my phone credit recharger guy and bought 50$ of 3G data, while the rain banged on the zinc roof so you could barely hear. did you say 50? five zero? DOLLARS? c'est beaucoup!
my phone dude. also sells fresh roasted peanuts.
and then i hotspotted my computer for an extremely long day of Loading...Please Wait...ERR_INTERNET_DISCONNECTED. the training was basically, this is what you CAN do, someday, maybe monday. one attendee's name was Bienfait (welldone). repeating bienfait, Bienfait! when he spilled his tea or cleaned it up, never got old. The power came back but the internet didn't. The IT guy was also in the training, and his name is Espoir (hope). Y-a-t'il Espoir pour internet??
second day, same thing. but the air conditioner dripped some weird freon juice all over my computer bag. so, anyway, it was friday, time to go out. One of my students Esaie (try) invited me out for beers and goat in his neighborhood. ah, just like the good old goat days of 10 years ago! the neighborhood, Matongé (same as the congolese part of Brussels) is a bustling, lively mess of cafe patios, people selling stuff on their heads, goat and chicken slaughtering, and smoggy traffic including motorbikes. yup, they have motorbikes now. they were banned until a year ago, and now they are everywhere, being used as taxis, and quick purse snatchings (i though the colombians had cornered that market but i was wrong), which means everyone walks with their belongings clutched to their chests. 
a whole bunch of other people from the training joined us, along with the guy who goes by his initials which are TGV, guy-guy from way back when and some of their wives. it was a perfect cool evening, eating salted gristly meat with toothpicks and just sucking down the beers. 
when it came time to pay, roseline, esaie's accountant wife grabbed the bill "let me see it." lucky for her, whenever they cleared our table they put all the cadavers in a big plastic graveyard, so she went through and counted all the different kinds, corrected all the math and then called our nervous waiter over. the bill was then reduced by a good 25%. and me, i never even check the change i am given...
next stop, well, kinshasa, friday night, gotta be a club! they all asked me what i wanted. i said i didn't want to be molested by grody african guys, but i also didn't want to be surrounded by white people, so, something in between, please. 
so we ended up in this upscale, extremely extensive club in Bandal that went a bit overboard on the lasers. the dancefloor was an exact saturday night fever replica, glowing pulsating large white tiles (though not very good quality, sagging slightly with seams you trip over), but the best part? everyone at arm's length from eachother doing this very subtle butt shaking dance. like if you had change in your back pocket and wanted to jingle it to a really slow beat - just like that. of course, impossible for me and my genetics, but nonetheless an enjoyable group activity with no fear of being groped! but at that point i was pretty drunk/generous and ordering rounds of 10$ beers and paying on my credit card because omg you can pay with a credit card and save cash since the only bank that accepts my debit card went out of business.
we were in a VIP section which came with free bowls of popcorn. i was trying to toss kernels to land in Bienfait's ear when i dropped one piece on the floor. immediately, and not at all imperceptably a little guy showed up with a broom to sweep it up! he also collected the one piece that fell on the table outside the bowl. but what made it more ridiculous was that he was wearing a yellow reflective brussels airline vest so that in fact, the entire world knows that white girl is a big slob and as a result we are all blind now because lasers and reflective tape do not a good combination make. i took it to a point where i was holding my hand out and dropping popcorn to see if the guy could catch it before it hit the ground. then everyone decided it was time to take me home. 
i might have still been drunk when my seamstress came ringing - she's usually 5 hours late but now comes on time ever since i gave her a cell phone, which now holds thousands of modern, creative african wear photos that i had to flip through with my nose running, back sweating, headache, she's measuring me and telling me how much wider my hips are, and finally i just pointed to one and said "ça."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

jean claude beer man

i was walking back from the office on my first day, trying to retrace my recalled steps from the morning, through a significantly different urban landscape drenched by rain. i recognized an intersection and took a road leading to mine, when a guy opens a gate at the corner and says, "come on in!" inside is some half-finished house with piles of rubble, broken glass, a tangle of electric cables and who knows what else. i'm a little more street smart than to willingly walk in to my own eventual kidnapping/mugging/beheading so i politely decline. and then he called my name saying, "you live here!"
he knows my name?
then i saw it was jean-claude, the gardener i had met for 20 seconds that morning, when he had no shirt and no hat, which was why i did not immediately recognize him all dressed and dapper now. i peek inside the gate and it is still clearly this bizarre construction site. he closes the gate behind me and goes out into the street and i have a look around. it's a nice old house though in major disrepair, broken windows, no doors, yet someone seems to be living on the second floor balcony. behind the house i see a hole in the wall, an odd shape like in the cartoon when the road runner smashes through a door and his silhouette is left? it was like that. i climb over a mound of garbage and slide my way through when suddenly, hey, i'm in the garden of our house and there are jocelyn and jeanne, sitting with their empty beer glasses.
"where on earth are you coming from?"
i have no idea! jean-claude let me in.
"ah, that's his house now." so that's who's living on the balcony, he has a view of the whole street, and even the congo river in the distance and watches over all. he must have seen me coming down the street to greet me. yay for jean-claude.
when jeanne noticed one day that he never ever took time off, or never even seemed to leave she told him, you can go home you know, to see your family? take some paid/deserved vacation! he waved it off, "that is not a topic for you to worry about." so she figured the obvious, he lives far away in the cité, where everyone knows he has a job and probably always asks him for money. pretty sure his wife boisterously complains when he gets stoned on the couch all day, which seems to be his daily passtime, so...why not just live in the abandoned house? he's in a nice neighborhood, a fairly intact house, a bed with a view and everything he needs and if he wants to smoke weed all day in the hammock well then, no one bothers him about it, "il est pénard."
he also goes and gets beer for you! which arises from a mixture of concern for safety/laziness/privilege. why not.
you give him some cash with room for a tip, some empties and he will bring them back full. of course, it doesn't always work that smoothly. that night i sat with jeanne and jocelyn, pooled some money together and sent him out. for some reason the guard felt like he needed to provide 10 minute updates, as if he were a messenger for a live soccer match, interrupting us, out of breath "jean claude est en déplacement!" "he is now at the store!" "he is on his way back!" they were clearly up to something, there are little kiosks all over the street, it shouldn't take more than 3 minutes for the transaction but jean claude is clever. in this part of Gombé, the beers are expensive, maybe even 20% more than elsewhere, and so he has probably figured out where the absolute cheapest bottle in Kinshasa is, maybe he pays for a bus to the brewery, buys a whole bunch of beers with his tip and then brings them back to our street to sell them to double his earnings. who knows. he comes back 40 minutes later with 2 dusty lukewarm beers and in that time i have eaten all the salted peanuts and i'm just thirsty so it doesn't really matter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

it's Rafa

hey elvis, who is in charge of the internet here at the office?
"c'est Rafa" (it's Rafa)
ok, where is Rafa?
"C'est Rafa" (it's Rafa)
yes i know
"no, his name is Cérafa"
huh? oh!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Art is alive and well in DRC

the night before my trip to Kinshasa we went to the Berlinale to see Felicité, a new congolese movie which won the silver bear. 
i have seen a lot of Congo movies, and they are mostly blurry jobs played at horrid loud volume on a tiny set behind the cashier at the supermarket. Every scene looks the same, either close up faces full of make-up or a 2D scene from the waist up...but Felicité was different, real cinematography and actors whom you can't really determine if they are actors or just real people. which says a lot for a country that doesn't even have any movie theaters. i am not counting the Alliance Francaise which shows french comedies in their courtyard which do little more than disgust the locals with regards to exported european culture.

i arrived at N'Jili realizing two years must have gone by since my last arrival. the buses which bring you to the terminal are intact with two sets of wheels, and there's a whole new terminal and customs area with orderly lines, no more fighting for your luggage and toilets with seats! you can still win the staff over with a smile though, as I did to the guy who wanted to scan my bag containing a drone - ey mbote papa! high five! no scan. 

i was out in the waiting area so quick my driver wasn't even there yet. i was immediately surrounded by yellow vested young dudes asking me questions about europe (i tell them they opened a new airport before Berlin did) and got the scoop on what i missed, the president is an asshole and the opposition guy died. 

anyway, soon omba arrived looking younger than ever. he wasn't even 5 minutes in the parking lot and was charged 6$ at the exit gate- no negotiating! (apparently, you can still park at the old airport where the military guard prices are more flexible).

anyway, i arrived at my airbnb - yes, kinshasa has airbnb now! - to find a beautifully lit garden full of models in tight dresses and big burly dudes quietly clinking glasses. what is going on here?
they are filming a movie!
my grody airport attire would really ruin the scene so i waited outside with my host and a few others until the coast was clear. i was offered enough whisky and beer to speed up the time, and when they packed up the camera equipment (and even the little clapboard "action!" thing) i was told the people who worked on Felicité were still in Berlin. And then, milling around at this little after party, i met the young producer 
"i hope it's ok we filmed a scene in your room?"
not a sex scene i hope...
artists, musicians (you play cello? I will find one! and i said, even if it has bicycle cable for strings kinshasa symphony style i can play it!) and young singers who broke out into impromptu beautiful songs, and then argued with me about reincarnation, and made sweeping accusations like "you women are always making tomato salad." this was after my host jocelyn (a guy with a girl's name?) asked if i needed any vegetables. sure! and then came two tall divas floating through the crowd carrying so-heavy-i-couldn't-even-lift-them plastic bins on their heads with cabbage (salad is now possible!), avocados (ready to eat on thursday), tomatoes, onions, zucchinis, cukes, all of which i picked out over the irregular beats of local music and when i tried to pay Jocelyn stepped in to handle the price mitigation. somehow it took me 10 years to find this little oasis of culture, only 3 minutes walking distance from my office? 
well the art scene is alive and well. i'm hoping i'll get to play some music and i commissioned a new art piece for my bedroom wall...
all of this 3 minutes from the office!