Mild Culture Shock
03.07.2008 -17 °C
Mbote, à tous! (Mbote is Lingala for hello).
Yesterday was my first actual day of work. I’m responsible for doing 4 projects in the 2 months that I’m here, so what I did all day was basically do tons of background reading to find out what interested me. By the end of the day, I narrowed down my options. In July, I’m going to be investigating child labor in the Katanga region (where all the diamond mining is done), and debt relief and the prospect of debt-for-nature exchange in the DRC. In August, I’m going to be doing a cable on the status of intellectual property rights in the music industry, and I’ll also be putting together a report on the status and success of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in the DRC. These topics aren’t related or anything, Greg just wanted me to pick things that are underreported by the other economic officers. I plan on blogging on each of these issues, so look for that in the near future. I’ve already started to delve into them, and trust me, it is going to be really interesting. (Well, except for maybe intellectual property rights issues. The DRC clearly has bigger problems than pirated music, no offense, DJ Kabangu.)
This weekend is supposed to be really exciting. There is going to be a big party at the Ambassador's house tomorrow night to which all diplomats (not just American) who are in Kinshasa are invited. About 1200 people are expected. As interns, I am pretty sure they are going to put us to doing menial work (like guard the house and direct people to the bathroom), but we are nevertheless invited! The embassy has been planning this event for a long time, and it is considered the biggest social event of the year. I'm glad I'm here for it! All I really know about it so far is that there will be salmon imported from Norway and the wine will be free-flowing. Then on the 5th, we have a picnic and independence celebration for all Americans in Kinshasa, from 12-5. There is a talent show, a bake-off and many other events, which all have prizes! The talent show prize is supposedly to be really special; it is a $100 gift certificate to a gourmet pizza place in town for whoever wins. My roommates really want to win it, so we’re putting together a performance showcasing a mixture of African dance. They made costumes and everything. Oh, and I won’t be dancing, I’m going to be playing djembe (a traditional Congolese drum). Ha! Unfortunately, I did not have an opportunity to learn djembe during my brief stint playing percussion with the Brown Orchestra in China, so I’m basically going to improvise and hope for the best…. I hope no one who actually plays it is there, because that would be super embarrassing. My roommates also want me to play the piano (the keyboard, unfortunately) at the talent show, because that will give us a better chance of winning. Guess what I’m playing…Ginastera! Lame I know, but I won’t have to put any effort into it. I just hope the keyboard isn’t a piece of shit. If you know me well, you know I will absolutely NOT be entering the bake-off, as I am incapable of cooking absolutely anything. Sure, I’m great with mixes, but I’m pretty sure that’s against the rules of a “bake-off.” Plus, it isn’t like you can exactly buy a Pillsbury chocolate cake mix in Kinshasa.
With regard to the status of my extreme culture shock, I would say it has already gotten a lot better. We’ve been walking around a bit more, so I’ve gotten used to seeing buildings with bullet holes and street kids begging for money. After that first day though, I was so shell-shocked I couldn’t sit still or sleep. I kept replaying everything I had seen in my bed, and I was pretty disturbed by it. I was like, is this real?? Is everything I saw real?? Being so far removed from poverty, it is hard to believe people actually live without electricity 1/3 of the time, that they are have to walk traipse around for miles to go places because they couldn’t dream to afford a car, and, drink contaminated water are constantly being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes and various other disease-carrying insects. We have bug spray, air-conditioning and malaria prophylaxis. What do they have? Everyone that is here with the State department and USAID gets put up really nicely, like absolutely disgustingly extravagantly compared to how the people here live. It makes me feel very guilty. It is like we’re flaunting it amongst such extreme poverty. Everyone has generators, because the power is constantly going out. To put the extravagance of this in perspective, a generator costs about $4,500…and the average Congolais makes about $350 dollars a year. Internet, satellite television and beautifully furnished homes are just a part of the package, and we get driven around everywhere. It causes much resentment toward diplomats and expats; so far I’ve definitely felt the disgusted stares and the jeering when you walk by. I would say at this point, I’ve moved down to mildly culture shocked, and extremely guilt-ridden. So much for sleep!
If you’re wondering why I haven’t put any pictures up, I’ll tell you why. Photography is actually illegal hear, unless you get a photography permit, which almost no one can afford (it is $20). As a result, the Congolese are not used to having their pictures taken, and can get very taken aback and upset if you do. Thus, it is imperative to be discrete when doing so. I’m going to take my camera out when I start feeling more comfortable.
I’m definitely going to blog about the 4th of July festivities, so look out for that soon. I don’t know who is reading this blog, but I hope you are having a good summer!