Friday, May 26, 2006

One of the pleasant surprises here has been my ability to keep in close contact with home. We don't have a very fast Internet connection but I'm still able to use Skype to call home. I just got off the phone with an hour and 15 minute conversation with my mom that cost me...NOTHING! Yay for Skype. Not only that, but we put a wireless router in my apartment building so we don't even have to go to the office to get online! As I write this I'm sitting at my very own dining room table. Who'd have thought?!!

This is Nicaise, one of the main translators of the Munukutuba New Testament that was recently published. He works for the Bible Society and we often see him there or at our own office. Everyone wanted me to take his photo with all the cameras and phones and flash drives around his neck :o)

I met the coolest girl the other day. She's from CA but she works out of Kenya. She came here to interview refugees who want to go to the United States. I took her out cloth shopping so she wanted to treat me to dinner. We ate at Hippo Campe, an Asian restaurant near where I live. We ate sooo much food! But she gets a really nice daily food allowance, so no worries! Thanks Jenny!

When we got to the restaurant there were all these white people. I was so surprised! So I asked the waiter what was going on and he said it was a US Embassy function. Cool! I even saw the new ambassador. We actually haven't had an embassy or an ambassador since the wars in the 90's, so it's cool to see things getting under way again. I hope they will host a ball and build a swimming pool! :o)

I took this picture more for the garbage than for the goat. It's hard to describe the way plastic bags and other trash just accumulate on the ground. This is in the middle of a neighborhood with sand roads. The goat is just wandering around free though he must belong to someone I'm sure.

The other day Elizabeth introduced me to some friends of hers who came over for a visit. It was a holiday (the equivalent of Labor Day) so they invited us over for a meal.

We in turn invited them over to our house. We supplied the chicken but Nadine worked the magic and made a delicious meal, probably the best African food I've had so far.

Alas, my roommates Elizabeth and Erica moved to another town called Nkayi. They even packed up Fiver the cat and took him with them on the airplane.

Actually, this is how the cat travelled to Nkayi. We called in a vet to sedate him, though he just kept stumbling around in a daze until we tied him up in this basket. He woke up that night in his new home!

This little guy was a surprise to find in my cupboard! I was like "Uh, what do I do now? That is completely disgusting." I thought I was just being a wuss but when I called in Elizabeth who has been in Africa a year and a half she freaked and was like "It's huge!!" We fed him to the cat.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I decided my profile pic needed a little spicing up. I love wearing funky african head scarves! I'll admit, on this day the cat was afraid of me. (Sorry I don't why the picture isn't showing up. Just click on the box, or else just look at the little profile photo).

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mundele on the Bus!!

Wednesday I had a funny experience here in Brazzaville. I went to the tailor to pick up some new outfits I had ordered and took the bus back home. I like taking the bus (vs a taxi) because it’s a point of contact with the people of this city and makes me feel more like a real person who lives here. The buses have various routes with certain stops. They are basically vans with four back seats. Each seat is made for 3 people, but of course they manage to squish 4 in each row.

This particular day I got in a bus that seemed especially cramped, only a few inches of leg room between the rows. After a couple of stops there weren’t any other passengers, just the driver, the monitor who collects the money and calls out for people to get on at each stop, and myself. So the monitor says to me “Vous allez au centre ville?” “Are you going downtown.” “No,” I said, “I’m getting off at Congo-Pharmacie.” “Oh, you live down there?” “Oui.”

Couple minutes later, a whole load of people want to get on. A lady tells her 2 year old son to climb in, but he just looks at me in terror and starts crying! Everyone starts laughing, including me, and I hear them saying “mundele” which means white person in Lingala. They’re like “Ha, ha, he’s afraid of the white lady.” The mom finally convinces him and they ride along with him staring at me in wide-eyed suspicion. I hear the monitor say the words “mundele” and “Congo-Pharmacie.” He’s basically telling everybody on the bus that the white lady is getting off at that stop. I turn to look at him and he seems a little surprised that I understood. I’m thinking, come on now, how many times a day do you think I hear the word “mundele” ringing in my ears? He starts laughing and saying something about “les blancs, les blancs” (white people, but in French this time). The lady next to me turns around and yells something which I think was to the effect of “How would you like to be talked about like that?”

So we get to Congo-Pharmacie. Now with the limited leg room it’s a little hard to get out. Not to mention to climb over someone to get out. Not to mention the fact that that someone has a child in her lap. So I tumble out of the bus with everyone staring at the “mundele” who is getting out at Congo-Pharmacie. I mean, they’ve been waiting for this right? The monitor is laughing his head off. “Les blancs, les blancs!”

This whole time the monitor has been having trouble with change. You may think that AIDS or poverty or whatever is the biggest issue people face here. Nope, it’s lack of small change. Seriously, it’s a problem every day, everywhere I go! Well, a bus ride costs 150 francs (about 30 cents). All I have is 2,000 ($4). He has 1,500 but for the other 350 he starts giving me 5 and 25 cent pieces (the equivalent of pennies and nickels). I say, « C’est quoi ça? Qu’est-ce que je peux faire avec ça? » What is this? What can I do with this?! The whole time he’s laughing, “Les blancs, les blancs.” So I say, “Take it, I’ll just pay for the place of the lady and her son.” His eyes light up and he smiles and jumps back in the van. As they drive away he hangs out the window, “C’est bon, c’est bon! Ha, ha, les blancs!” It’s good, it’s good! Ha, ha, white people. I walked home unable to wipe the smile off my face.

Le Blog Déjà Vu

OK, so for those of you who have been faithfully reading my blog for awhile, you have to check this out, it’s hilarious. A girl in my organization is studying French in Switzerland now and her blog is like déjà vue! (Hi Angi! Yes I'm writing about you) She was living in my apartment and eating Jean-Pierre’s food (now she’s living somewhere else), she’s hanging out with my friends, eating cheese, talking about how expensive the restaurants are, not able to speak Spanish without French coming out, getting inspired by the outdoor beauty, going to my school and my church. It’s kind of freaky actually. Check it out:

It was just another thing to make me reminisce about my time in Europe. I wrote this last week: I don’t think I realized how good I had it in Neuchâtel! I’ve been looking at some pics, marveling that I lived in such a beautiful place and got to do so many cool things and met so many wonderful people. I’ve been in ecstasy thinking about the things I ate, especially the way I got to eat chez Jean-Pierre on a regular basis. Not that I’m not experiencing interesting things here or being poorly fed, but I’m coming to a new appreciation of how magical my sojourn in Europe was.

Good times. I was in a hurry to move on with my life, but now I'm realizing I'd love to go back, at least for a visit.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Lest anyone think I'm suffering here, I just need to tell you that I made THE most delicious grilled cheese sandwich yesterday, which is saying quite a bit since they're my specialty and mean quite a lot to me.

More than one way to boil water...Who knew!?!

OK, so when you live in a multi-cultural community, the things you used to think were normal/standard/obvious now become foreign/relative/optional. Take boiling water, for example. Now if you were to boil water, say to make a hot drink, how would you do it? APPARENTLY everybody in England, Ireland, and Australia owns what is called a "kettle." Now what comes to mind when I say that word? If you're an American, you need to hearken back to your college days and remember those electric gadgets for boiling water in your dorm room. That's right, folks, proper British tea is boiled in a hot pot. I for one, am quite disillusioned.

I boil water in a "tea kettle." A pot that goes on the stove. Somehow this just seems right. To the rest of the world this just seems stupid. I mean, this is 2006 afterall. Sigh. What do you think? How do you boil your tea water?

OK, here's a funny thing that has become commonplace...peanuts are stored and sold in old liquor bottles. It's pretty funny to see all of them around our house...Really, we just store peanuts in them, I promise.

OK, we may call him "Terrorist" and "Little Devil" and "Naughty Boy" but Fiver can be sooooooo adorable. He provides endless hours of entertainment and conversation. He's moving with my roomies to another town and I don't know what I'm going to do! Here he is with "Reading Lolita in Tehran" a book I highly recommend, especially for literature buffs or anyone interested in Islam.

It doesn't matter where you're sitting or standing, beware of flying furry critters landing on your shoulder! He used to always jump on my shoulders while I was eating my oats and yogurt for breakfast. He'd position himself right next to my face, hoping that just once I'd miss my mouth and he could have a spoonful of Quaker goodness.

The cat also likes to climb onto the window shades. It's rather cute and it's funny how comfortable he makes those hard slats look.

Fiver the TP fiend strikes again

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Holidays in Congo

Wow, so everyone really has been clamoring to know why Easter isn't celebrated here! I talked to one of my colleagues who is a Congolese pastor about this yesterday during coffee break. Basically what I gather is that the celebrations that are important here are still the traditional ones, not the ones that have come from outside the culture. For example the grieving process is still really important--for a year you don't shave or you dress all in black all the time and then on the one year anniversary of the death (say of your father) you have a big party and officially end the mourning.

I guess Easter is somewhat acknowledged in the churches, but it's not really of cultural importance here. I think maybe it's partly just a poor understanding of the significance and the way Easter corresponds with the Jewish Passover. The Catholics, however, are very much linked with the liturgical calendar, so they celebrate Easter, but I would be surprised if the celebration extends much after the church service is over. I don't think it's a "family holiday" like it is for us.