A Travellerspoint blog

Catch-up

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!
-Bonni

Posted by bbrodsky 00:19 Comments (0)

Long Weekend/Headed to Lubumbashi/21st Birthday is coming up

Mbote! Sangunini? (Hello! How are you?)

It is going to be an exciting weekend/upcoming week for me. This weekend is a long weekend because tomorrow is a local holiday, otherwise known as "Parent's Day," (basically Mother's and Father's day rolled into one). Right now I sort of have tentative plans to visit a village right outside of Kinshasa or possibly go camping near Zonga Falls....Either way it is going to be a pretty interesting weekend and you will surely hear about it when I get back get next week.

As you probably already read, I'm going to Lubumbashi for an official trip (mostly doing various odds/ends) from the 4th-7th. I am also going to be there for my 21st birthday! That's a big one....I can't believe the day has finally arrived. Although, I've basically felt 21 because I was studying abroad in Paris....

Anyway, I'm not sure what my internet access will be like next week, so I'm thinking I won't be able to update until at least next Friday. We'll see though.

Last night was Greg's last "Ambassador's Business Roundtable," which is a basically a big get-together of American businessmen or (Congolese businessmen representing American business interests). There was schmoozing, drinks, finger foods, and a couple of people spoke/asked questions. It wasn't overall that exciting, it was pretty much at typical diplomat get-together. And today is Greg's last day! I'm sad he's leaving...he's a really nice guy and a great boss...I'm leaving before his successor comes so I'll sorta be on my own for the last month/ish that I'll be here.

Well, I guess that's all! The next time I blog I'll be 21! Hehe.

-Bonni

Posted by bbrodsky 07:03 Comments (0)

Congo Reading List

So I'm allergic to mefloquine (the malaria prophlaxsis I've been taking.) I had hives all over me last week when I took, and the same thing happened this week, so I know I'm allergic to it. It's pretty annoying, because I already have a ton of bugbites on my legs, so they are just totally swollen, red and itchy. It sucks, to say the least. Also, I'm a ton of benadryl right now so I am like super drowy right now so if this entry doesn't make any sense that's why...

This weekend was not as crazy as the last, so I don't really have anything new or interesting to report. We did our usual frolicking. Greg, my boss, is leaving in less than week (he's done with his tour here, and will be headed to Haiti next), so he invited everyone from ECON over to his house to visit a bit before he and his family leaves. He has two little kids, 3 and 1, and they both speak Creole, French and English. They speak French exclusively with their mom (who is Haitian), English with Greg, and then Creole with the nanny (who is Haitian). It is pretty incredible...So anyway it was fun to get all the staff in ECON together. I'm sad Greg is leaving, he is a nice guy, and is really smart and good at his job. After he leaves I won't really have a supervisor to report to, so I'm guessing I'll be totally on my own for the rest of the summer.

Also, I'm going to Lubumbashi next week for an official trip, which is in the Katanga region, right on the border with Zambia. (Look at a map.) The Katanga region is a mining region that is rich with copper, cobalt, gold and other precious minerals. It should be a really cool place to check out, and I'll definitely blog on it when I get back. I'm actually going to be there for my 21st birthday (!), which should be interesting in itself.

On another note, I figured I post some good books on the Congo if anyone is interested. The history of the DRC is fascinating and well-worth learning about. I'd recommend reading the Poisonwood Bible first, since it is the most accessible.

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
King Leopolod's Ghost, Adam Hochschild
In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo, Michela Wrong
Capturing the Congo, Michela Wrong

Enjoy!

-Bonster

Posted by bbrodsky 05:21 Comments (0)

Inflation in Zimbabwe

I don't know how many of you have been following the political/economic situation in Zimbabwe, but everything there is basically a huge mess, stemming from Mugabe's one-man election coupled with his blatant persecution of the opposition party, the Movement for Demoratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Zimbabwe used to be one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, but is now in economic shambles (due to Mugabe's terrible economic policies and overall political turmoil), to say the least. Economists estimate that the current inflation rate is, conservatively, 2.2 million percent. 2.2 MILLION percent. Here in the DRC the inflation rate is between about 30-40%, and I thought that was pretty bad, so I can't even conceive of how an economy could possibly function with such crippling inflation. Oh and by the way, banks have started issuing an 100 billion bill in order to help consumers. INSANE!

Here's the link to the BBC article about it:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7515823.stm

That is just nuts.

Posted by bbrodsky 01:56 Comments (0)

Crocodile in the Bathtub, Dikembe Mutombo, House Party

This is ALL TRUE

Okay, so as you might have read in my previous post, I wrote that there was a crocodile in my bathtub, and that there would be details to follow. It was last Thursday to be exact, and in a nutshell, here's what happened. We walked into our house, I smelled something bad, Tiffany went to go check it out, and subsequently flipped out upon seeing a crocodile the length of bathtub in OUR bathroom.

I should mention that it was not like a wild animal that crept into our house....and we immediately noticed that its jaws WERE bound. It would be impossible for a crocodile to sneak into the house for several reasons. First of all, there aren't any crocodiles in Kinshasa. Second, if there were, they would be eaten, as all wildlife is. Third, we have guards and high walls, so it isn't like the crocodile could punch the guard and try and jump the fence. So here's what we found out. Apparently, one of our other roommates who just came back from a trip that day, apparently brought home a crocodile from the town she had been staying in, and wanted to eat it eventually.......Had she been home, or had she TOLD US, we would have at least known that she had brought it there....although I'm pretty sure I still would have found that a totally inappropriate thing to do.

Now, I'm pretty sure no one I know has walked into their bathroom and seen a crocodile in their bathtub, but you can imagine that you might feel terrified, disgusted, shocked and scared...and let me tell you, we were flipping out. We called the Marines, the RSO, everyone. The RSO actually came to our house with his brothers and at least removed the reptile from our home. The crocodile got so nervous and agitated that it ended up shitting all over the bathtub, which was extremely disgusting.

We were all really mad at Cynthia for doing that, and we had a house meeting to discuss why that was inappropriate. She totally understood and apologized profusely, so we're all good now. Apparently she had sent a text message to one of our other roommates who was working late, saying we had a new "house pet," but that clearly wasn't good enough. I was really disgusted and mad at her, but we're all good now. I know she wasn't seriously trying offend. I think it was just a serious lack of forethought...

Okay, so the day following the night of the crocodile, I met Dikembe Mutombo!! If you don't know who he is, he's a famous NBA basketball player who has played on the 76ers, the Rockets...and a bunch of other teams, and holds various defensive records, like for shot-blocking. He came to the Access Camp (where I have been teaching the "internet" class), because he himself is from Kinshasa and does a lot of humanitarian work in the city. He even built a whole hospital, which is the biggest and best hospital probably in the country. So that was cool.

The same day, we went to see a "bonobo" sanctuary just outside of Kinshasa. Bonobos are an endangered species similar to the chimpanzee, and they are only found in the DRC. They understand language and often stand up-right. It was really really cool to see them. They are so human-like! It's crazy. Here's a blurb about their closeness to humans from Wikipedia:

"Bonobos are capable of passing the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness. They communicate through primarily vocal means, although the meanings of their vocalizations are not currently known. However, most humans do understand their facial expressions[9] and some of their natural hand gestures, such as their invitation to play. Two Bonobos at the Great Ape Trust, Kanzi and Panbanisha, have been taught a vocabulary of over 3,000 words which they can type using a special keyboard of lexigrams (geometric symbols), and they can respond to spoken sentences. Some, such as philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer, argue that these results qualify them for the "rights to survival and life," rights that humans theoretically accord to all persons."

Anyway, so after we got home from the bonobos, we immediately had to go into "houseparty" mode, cause we had invited basically everyone we knew over for a house-warming. I had never had a houseparty before, so it was fun. It was funny because a lot of ppl we knew didn't end up coming, but then we had a ton of people come who we didn't know at all. I guess that is how parties work...word gets around. All in all, it was a success.

Okay, so then on Sunday, we went visited a manioc (otherwise known as casava) farm run by one of Katherine's co-workers. He has 14 hectares of land, and also makes palm oil, palm wine...he has mango trees, banana trees, and tons of stuff. It was definitely eye-opening to see how little industry there is in agricultural here. I could tell Paul had a rich farm by Congolese standards, but the technology was all looked pretty primitive to me. The workers were basically doing everything by hand, and very little machinery was used at all, except some hydroelectric power. If his farm is considered "semi-industrial," I can't imagine what other poorer farms are like...

Anyway, so sorry about ranting about all of that. Also, sorry if there are lots of typos cause I am writing this at work so I was trying to write as quickly as possible. All in all, it was a particularly crazy end of the week/weekend....although after this weekend, I don't think I can be shocked by anything anymore. Kinshasa is crazy. Anything can happen here.

-Bonni

Posted by bbrodsky 23:45 Comments (0)

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