A lot of stuff has happened lately
Okay so sorry for those (my family) who have been waiting for me to write something! I've been super busy and didn't have internet for a long time, so that's why I have been MIA. I'm back now, though!
I guess I'll just go in order of what I've been up to. Last weekend, I visited a pretty rural village right outside of Kinshasa. We took a car out as far as we could, but then we had to walk about 40 minutes because there were no roads, which included crossing a small river (we crossed it basically by walking on a beam) and going down and up a valley. The landscape was absolutely beautiful, very jungly, with lots of densely populated palm and mango trees, but super sandy because it is the dry season. We stayed with one of Tiffany's friends who she met at the 4th of July party for Americans. She was married to a Congolese guy and came to the Congo after he died, and never left because she loved it so much. The place where she lives has almost no electricity (except some solar lamps) and no water. Every time you want to go to the bathroom you have to poor a bucket of water down the toilet. Also, the drinking water is down a hill, so you have to carry heavy jugs of water uphill. I ate a lot of traditional Congolese food, like fufu (which is a starchy thing made from manioc), vegetables grown from her garden, and some dried fish, which I thought was pretty disgusting but I ate it anyway. Aleta, our host, actually recently built a guest house so we had our own beds and even mosquito nets. Right before we went to sleep we saw a cockroach though, gross.
So then all of last week, as you probably know, I was in Lubumbashi, which is a city right on the border with Zambia, in the Katanga region. The city and the region revolve almost exclusively around copper and cobalt mining, having one of world's largest copper belts. The city was actually a lot nicer than Kinshasa, I thought, with the squalor and extreme poverty of the DRC slightly hidden. It was a lot cleaner, there are less street kids and beggars. Also, the city juts looked a lot different, because the dirt and the buildings are lboth ike orange/red. In any case, we had some interesting eating experiences there. We went to this restaurant called "Katanga Fried Chiken" (spelled exactly like that), which was pretty hilarious. It served everything from fried chicken to pizza to schwarma. Also we went to a Greek/Chinese restaurant, which served both Chinese and Greek food, which was very good but gave me horrible, horrible indigestion (probably not a great combination of cuisines for the digestive system), and a super fancy restaurant at a horse stable. Also, I turned 21 there!! The collegues I was with got me a cake, and we drank some South-African liquer called Amurula, afterward. Unfortunately we couldn't celebrate too much because we had to get up super early the next day. The trip was incredible though, and that made it an awesome birthday in itself!
Anyway, the main purpose of the trip, which was put together by USAID, was to encourage large foreign mining companies to work together to be socially responsible in developing the Katanga region economically. While there are certainly some not-so-socially responsible mining companies in the region, there are actually a good number who are consciously making efforts to develop the region, contracting local construction workers, using local farmers to grow food, and training Congolese to eventually become upper-management. We actually got to visit a copper mine, which was super cool, and I got some great pictures, which will be posted when my internet is fast enough to actually upload them. From what I could tell, foreign mining companies in the DRC have huge potential to develop the region, and much quicker than an NGO or an agency like USAID can, because the investment in the region is so much larger and long-term, like billions and billions of dollars over 80-100 years. It was very exciting and I think the trip was overall productive.
Throughout this weekend, we watched a lot a lot of olympics. Unfortunately, all of the good stuff, diving, swimming, gymnastics, are being aired from 1-5 in the morning here....so we've been trying to stay up, mostly unsuccessfully, while totally screwing up our sleep cycles. On Friday night we went to a fancy fondue restaurant, which was pretty deja-vu-ish to me because I did fondue like every week when I was in France. The entire time the power was out, so we had fondue by candlenight from a rooftop restaurant where we could see the river and Brazzaville across the way. Pretty cool, huh?
On Saturday, we went to a snake farm! It was really cool. They had about 34 venemous snakes, cobras, mambas, boa constrictors (all in cages), all from the DRC. We didn't get to hold any poisonous ones, but we did get to hold some cool ones that weren't. We also watched a mouse being fed to a mamba, which was actually not that exciting. It took a lot longer than I thought for the snakes to actually swallow the mouse. I have some video footage but I don't think it would be that exciting unless it was fast-forwarded.
Last night we went to this musical festival/city fair called FiKin, which was quite an experience. It basically had everything you'd except a city fair to have, bumper cars, popcorn, live music, and weird-light up thingies were being sold, but DRC style, meaning there was a ton of people, it smelled like garbage, and the speaker systems were horrible. However, it was pretty much a normal festival experience.....well, except that we literally saw a goat slaughtered and skinned before our eyes, and ate caterpillar. Yes, I did eat a caterpillar, a cooked caterpillar, not one that was alive. Well, I did put it in my mouth. When in Rome, right? I spit it out pretty quickly though, it was one of the most digusting things I've ever tasted, and I can't really describe it. For future reference, anyone who tries to tell you caterpillar is good is lying!
Also, on Sunday, it rained!!!! This may not seem like that exciting of an event, but since it is the dry season here, it NEVER rains. And I literally mean never. It hasn't rained since I've been here, and it apparently didn't rain at all in June. We were actually out running by the river when the rain started, and it was really cool. It got super, super dark in like less than 15 minutes, like all of the street lamps went on, and then started pouring. It got super muddy and by the time we ran back to the house, we were really muddy and gross. It gave us a little taste of what Kinshasa is like in the rainy season: muddy. Except, I imagine there would be a lot more mud then.
Well, that's about it in terms of an update. For those of you who are wondering whether or not I've received your packages, the mail has been held up for awhile, but apparently like 80 something packages have arrived today, so I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that I will get some of them today. I will certainly let you all know individually.
Looking forward to seeing most of you in just a couple of weeks!