Saturday, March 11, 2017

dinner with french people

going out to dinner with a french guy in Congo:
"what red wine do you have?" he asks the waiter
well, there's a bordeaux...
"bring me all of them, everything you have"
the guy comes back with his arms full of 8 bottles which he presents on the table.
"a 2006 beaujolais nouveau? you must be kidding!"
"a 2006 saint emillion? stored in the fridge or on the window sill? inbuvable!! (undrinkable)"
and so on...
we tasted them all, they were all horrid, so we went back to drinking beer...

Friday, March 10, 2017

mamiwata update

so now the real story. it turns out i met someone who actually knows the french tourist who got taken by the mamiwata...according to him, the tourist got drunk, wandered away from camp at night and came back 2 days later.  "il était totalement défait" (he was completely undone). either before or after he went missing (or both).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

the mamiwata part II

the true story of the mamiwata.
three mondeles arrived at base camp, a lady, her ex-husband and another guy. the lady and husband accompanied by the guide go for a hike (the same one we did the next day, a gruelling trek up a mountain), leaving the third dude at the cap. after a while the ex-husband says, i can't go anymore, i will stay here - you two go ahead and come back and get me on the way back. so they do the hike and when they come back, the guy is GONE.
they come back to camp, and get all the guides and rangers (there are only 8 total for an area the size f Belgium) and start searching everywhere, calling his name, but no luck. 
so they call the police, the embassy, the military..."losing a mondele is a big deal," he says
so they search for a few more days and still no luck. they interrogate the lady and the dude separately and they quickly conclude that she must have devised a plot to kill her ex-husband, that's it, hein?
but it's not true she says, keep looking!
several more days go by and they stil can't find him. so the villagers do what they typically do when someone goes missing, they find a fetishiste to do a ritual.
so they find the best fetishiste in Congo, because this is a mondele we are talking about, and the french police bring him to the site. the feitshiste sets up all his stuff and candles and mixes and whatever and says "ah! the mamiwata! [the forest sirens] we need to sacrifice someone in exchange, and since this is a mondele, a goat or chicken won't do, we need to give the mamiwata a real human in order to free Jean-Marc!"
and so apparently the gendarmes were all, yeah no we aren't killing someone to find this idiot who got lost and so the fetishiste says, "ok fine, i will sacrifice one of my parents because they are really old anyway".  and so he does, somehow, this part wasn't clear, and the fetischiste says go to the river, you will find him, and now the other guy tells the story of how even though they are 50km from where he got lost, and go down to the river, where the ranger says suddenly this mondele rises from the water, gasping for air. all banged and scratched up and looking like a mess and "il bagayait" shaking and talking nonsense. according to our ranger, the first word he was able to utter was "water!" to which the guide says, but you just came from the water! and the french guy says "but if i drink this water, it will make me sick!" and somehow this is proof that he was taken by the mamiwata..[obviously].   
so he is taken back to brazzaville and after several interrogations by police will not say how he got lost or where he was, he remembers nothing....the scientist in me says he probably fell off a ledge and was carried away by the current in the river (yes, it's pretty strong and deep), but then again, how would the ranger have been in the right place to find him? how did he survive for so many days? so maybe it was the mamiwata afterall...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

the mamiwata part I

so alicia wanted to celebrate her 37th birthday by spending the weekend outside of Brazzaville, in the Lesio-Louna reserve, a few hours drive away. but planning something in Congo isn't so easy, we had to repeatedly go to the park office at lunch time to sort out the logistics, rather difficult for an organization which has literally no comprehension of tourism. so each day it became this african monty python skit with conversations like
"we want to camp on saturday, and do a boat trip on sunday"
you want to do a boat trip on saturday and sunday? that's a lot of boat trips
"no, only sunday."
the boat operator does not work on saturday
"i know, that is why we want to do a boat trip on sunday"
but if you do the boat trip on saturday, you will be too tired for the boat trip on sunday

Alicia actually asked the guy at one point "have you been drinking today, sir?"
so we would give up and come back the next day and hope someone else would entertain our queries. 
the most difficult obstacle to our quest, was the ever evolving legend that last month an american tourist had recently died in the reserve, therefore overnight stays were not allowed, hikes forbidden, though the story kept changing and we never knew what was happening. 
we found out that it was a french tourist. and that he did not die, he just got lost. or that he was up to no good and actually purposefully disappeared.
and then once, our man left the room momentarily, and his assistant sitting across the room whispered to us "the french tourist was taken by the mamiwata (the sirens of the forest)" cue scary music! 
that day we are driving back from work when we get stopped by the police for the second time in two days because of the tinted windows. everyone has tinted windows! but as of today they are illegal. and they always say "go home and remove the tint, it's easy, it just peels rightoff!"
so alicia calls her mechanic to come, and he meets us at her apartment, he will take care of everything to get the car in order for our trip. and well, we go upstairs to drink wine on the terrace. an hour later we come down and the mechanic is sitting on the curb, pointing to his wrist like, hello, i'm done here, let's go!
he tells us how he fixed the battery and the car is running great
but i say, wait, papa, the tinted windows! you haven't touched them
oh yeah that...
to which i repeat my new favorite congo phrase "you had one job!"
and guess what, only the plastic outer part peels right off, the black tint stays, and you need to scrape it off with a razor blade and then dissolve it with paint thinner.  awesome. that's how we spent the next two hours. and alicia is a total neat freak ocd so it literally felt like we were cleaning up a murder scene with toothbrushes and white rags (which are actually her old panties, which go over real well with the guys).  
saturday morning we packed our things, and we soon notice that somehow the electrics of the car are all backwards - the windows go down when you click them to go up, and all the inside lights go ON when you close the door. you had one job! 
we sigh if off and go pick up two colleagues to complete our group and drive search of fuel. gas shortage! the rebels have apparently blown up the train bridge fuel supply route to pointe noire, long lines and fights at all the petrol stations, what to do?
we call the reliable mechanic who instructs us to drive down some sketchy shanty town route where we buy diesel out of yellow vegetable oil jerry cans. we get an extra just in case, which john attaches to the back bumper with a bungee cord and his belt. 
and finally, many hours late we are off, following the hand drawn map on the inside of a cereal box. like i said, they have no clue how to deal with tourists. bumpy bumpy potholed roads which you actually pay tolls for, get extorted by the police, stop and buy avocados and charcoal, avoid chickens and dogs, and all the way whenever we would say we are going to lesio-louna, this mysterious legend of the dead/lost/undead french tourist and his mamiwata would grow in intrigue. we magically find the unmarked overgrown dirt path which after many wrong turns leads to the reserve, and arrive at the little entrance booth and the guy is all excited "we've been waiting for you for hours! we thought you got lost" to which we explain, you might want to maybe, i don't know, put signs somewhere so we don't drive all over? 
he doesn't care, he tells us where we will spend the night, 12 km away, but that the beautiful lac bleu, is only 6km away, so we should really go there first and swim. he gives us a heap of manioc to feed the rangers at the base camp, another warning about the mamiwata sirens! and we head towards the lake. 

lac bleu from above
Lac bleu is a stunning, clear, deep lake which is a rarity in a land of dark brown or black rivers. the water is crystal, calm, serene, surrounded by tropical trees sheltering us from the increasing winds, the falling ashes from the neary bush fires.  we are entirely alone, accompanied by a few welcome beers and the echoes of our voices from the hills. we attempt to film this magical location with a drone but my colleague had studidly forgotten an essential part! gah!
jump right in
as the day turns to dusk we sadly change out of our bathing suits and resume the vehicle to trek towards the base camp. we stop several times along the way to spot birds, take photos, and take in this amazing landscape. further down we pass a vehicle, racing towards us, flashing its lights and blaring its horn. the guy from the entrance booth runs to us, out of breath 
"we have been looking all over for you!"
apparently not everywhere, we were at the lake
"we were expecting you at the base camp and when you didn't show up we thought you were taken by the mamiwata"
but you told us to go to the lake!
they drive away, a bit frustrated and we laugh it off. night is falling quickly and the road splits in two very different directions, no idea which to take. 
"wouldn't it be funny if now they stopped looking for us and we actually did get lost" i say? my companions are unimpressed.    
we drive and drive and drive and take turns here and there and we cannot find this base camp.
it's now dark, and harry, the australian bird fanatic shows off his mega-bright flashlight. 1100 lumens, which i guess is brighter than the projector at the cinema. he starts pointing the light into the woods, part of a sport he calls "owling" and counts all the different glowing eyeballs. which i just find super creepy.
finally we stop in an open savanna and get out to determine what to do. we are near some abandoned house and consider if we should just sleep in the car or what. shortly, two guys come running over "we found you!" it's two park rangers. who explain that they were waiting for us, and then saw this really bright light appear in the distance, and that's how they tracked us down. thank goodness for those 1100 lumens! 
they bring us back to basecamp, which is a delightful collection of bungalows with these screened in thatched roofed common rooms. we start up the grill, open the wine and it's saturday night. 
at one point john says "i know those ranger guys smoke weed, we should ask for some." so he goes off and comes back and explains how he used hand motions and subtle hints to asked the guys for smoked stuff, and they were were all sure no problem we bring you some maboke tomorrow. 
we ruin his fun by explaining that maboke is actually smoked fish, haha. but he says whatever, they are drinking this rocket fuel and you need to try it. so we go over and join their little party and drink this home made corn alcohol from a pastis bottle which could certainly light up something. so we drink and talk, and then i ask one of them, hey what's the deal with the french tourist, are we going to get the real scoop?
the two guys look at each other and tell me "we were there, madame" and so just like in a movie with flashbacks, we each take a bottle cap full of jet fuel and they begin their enrapturing story telling. it was like all they needed was a flashlight under their chin to make it complete. though their story telling style was also interactive, the guy would say a phrase like, there was a tourist named jean-marc" and he would wait for me to ask a question or say "and then what happened?" and so we finally heard the story of: the french tourist and the mamiwata. (TBC)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

fine art kinshasa

so on sunday it was so hot we went to the pool. felt pretty classy to be sipping a gin and tonic and then get a call from an artist i had met on the first night, asking if i wanted to come by his "atelier." 
well sure! he seemed to push a bit on the time, like really, you need to be here by 5, but jeanne and i were enjoying the sun and breezy palms, it was hard to motivate. so finally we get to bandal and it's pitch black. cloudy pitch black but also the entire neighborhood cloaked in darkness from an afternoon power outage. we are calling the artist navigating for directions and trying to avoid the mud paths and ghostlike silhouettes who are all in the same situation. we enter a little courtyard with women cooking over coal fires, meowing and fighting cats, and at the end, our host tells us he will quickly go out to get batteries for the flashlights, but in the meantime, sit here and -woof! on come the lights! what luck.

the atelier
we are at dollet malulu's tiny workshop/kitchen/bedroom/livingroom. in less than 10m2 of space, there are 4 or so giant canvases on the wall. i am immediately drawn to one, but it's not just this tiny space that makes it look big - it's actually big. more than 3m on a side, there's no way i can carry that home, even rolled up.
i bought this

 i look over a few other pieces and i'm like, ok, so...that's it? but it's not. he starts to pull out bits and pieces of his art, from behind a wall, under a chair, he starts rolling out these pieces. each one has a long story, which draws you into each work, they always start with a congolese celebrity, sapeur or musician and weave into this and that. we must have looked at 100 paintings. sipping on a giant nkoyi, we are almost all the way through when i decide on one of the first ones. it's of julie dzikey, one of congo's first female performance artists, who, coincidentally now lives in Germany. everyone adds their crazy julie dzikey story and i'm even more enraptured. 
i know what i have in my wallet, and it's hard to negotiate with someone who's life is this room, his visa to go to his own openings in Spain were denied, so all he can show me are fuzzy cell phone photos from someone else. i want to give him a good price, but i also don't want to be insulting..-we finally agree and i'm high fiving jeanne on my first purchase of fine art! and what a scene...little kids with bulging eyes are watching me timidly from behind some drying bedsheets, some skinny chickens and the smell of pee wafting from another courtyard. well, whatever, i'm the proud owner of a dollet malulu!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

the ride

so one of the things with having a drone is you aren't really allowed to fly it anywhere.
in DRC i know a guy who is the head of his local territory, and runs a little community forestry project. so i asked him if i could come and do some flights, make some videos for them, try some new techniques and teach his guys how it works and everything. they were thrilled!
i asked if any of the kids from my training wanted to go - yes yes yes! i couldn't say no and had to upgrade to one our land cruisers to have room for 7. learning from the training experience i got Serge to rent a generator so we could be completely "autonome." don't have to depend on anyone. i also suggested that even though they said they had food and drink, we should bring some.
so on the way out of kinshasa, after the airport we started stopping at these busy hectic local markets. i would pick out something from my list - eggs! bananas! and it would arrive through the door or window or a few steps away, though preferably one of the congolese guy's door because a few times went like this:
eddy goes and buys avocados from a lady for 500 francs each and comes back and says, "avocados!"
and i say, oh, i love avocados, let's get some more.
the exact same lady comes to my window and offers me her avocados for 2000 francs each, which i buy and i'm like, hey guys, only 2000 francs!
so then they said, just stay in the car. 
eddy came back with matching straw hats for everyone. 
later, we are driving along and i spy mangosteens. i love mangosteens! i want like, 100 kilos of mangosteens!
next stop carine comes back and says, we couldn't find 100 kg but we got 20!
as always, crowds of guys hang around the truck talking lingala and all i hear is mondele. if i called out "congolais" every time i saw a congolese i say!
one guy starts chattering on and i ask TGV to translate. stop me if you've heard this one before...
"well, this fine young gentleman in the Neymar jersey is politely requesting your hand in marriage, he has a large farm and would be proud to be your husband."
thank you TGV, please tell him i kindly receive his request, but cannot accept. i am truly sorry.
the guy continues chattering, smiling everyone in and out of the car is snickering, Serge says, "oh, do you want me to smack him? i will!"
what is he saying? TGV continue translating
", he wants the wedding to be now now now, his brother is a pastor, you will be married at lunch, and the honeymoon will begin today. you will go to his farm and..."
what, go on! at this point i am eating a banana
and TGV does not want to continue
eddy picks up where he left off
"well, since you like bananas so much you can go to his farm and eat his bananas, all day, all night and soon you will have beautiful mixed metisse babies and he will be so proud, one baby a year, every year until you are so old you can't anymore! and every day, bananas!"
ok you can stop, thank you!
the car got fuller and fuller until i realized we should stop stopping and start going. one more stop - meat!
and so we hit the butcher, who, ironically is wearing a shirt that says "would you marry ME??"
to which point we enter the how many children should people have debate, which i know is a favorite. 
Serge the driver has 7 children and won't stop until he has to.
the other serge has 2 and will have no more - it takes a lot of "moyens" resources for many children, and i can spend more time with my 2 girls
Serge the driver responds: when le Dieu blesses you with children, he also blesses you with the resources to care for them (you know, the whole, children are wealth perspective)
to which the other serge says "what about Obama then! he has the resources but he only has two girls!"
pfff Obama, where is Obama now? 
Obama's face is on this plastic bag! (and it is, look!)
and then the conversation evolves into Lingala and i zone out. at one point i read a lingala phrase off a beer billboard:
leke leke
mwete mwete
pete pete
they all laugh hysterically, i guess it was good timing to say something like triple filtered, extra smooth, easy going or something like that.