Moving to Congo!

Hello friends and family,

Well, we are charging forward with our Africa plans!  Sébastien arrived in Congo last week, where he’ll spend the next month transitioning into his new job as manager of exploration.  He’ll come back to join me at my MBA graduation on August 20, we’ll take the following week or so to pack up the house, and then we’re off!  We’re renting the house to a good friend, have one vehicle left to sell, and no idea when we will come back.  One year is the minimum target unless something goes south in the company’s current renegotiation with the Congolese government… but if we can handle it, we’d like to be able to stay for two or three.

We used to laugh at the idea of moving to the Congo, knowing it was a possibility given Seb’s background in exploration geology, not to mention being a native French speaker.  No way would we ever go there!  Congo* is at the bottom of the world rankings when it comes to corruption and transparency; it’s one of the worst places to do business.  (That the company went ahead and set up operations there anyway tells you something about the potential mineral wealth there.)  The people are the second poorest per capita in the world, and in decline since 1980 despite their vast natural resources.  The country has been in near-constant conflict since 1996.  If you google it, you’ll finds all kinds of frightening stuff, especially in the Goma and Bukavu regions in the east near Rwanda and Uganda.

*I’m talking about the French-speaking former Belgian colony formerly known as Zaire, now called Democratic Republic of Congo.  We call it Congo for short, which is maybe confusing because right next door is the Republic of Congo.  Locals call them Congo-Kinshasa or Congo-Brazzaville (the capital cities) to differentiate.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is we’ll be in the southern province of Katanga, which is a relatively calm place to be at the moment, despite attempts at secession in the past.  The mine seems to have been accepted as a positive economic contributor, plus the company makes a lot of effort to contribute socially… building schools, digging wells, helping finance local entrepreneurs, etc.  So, we’re optimistic that we will not be stepping into, shall we say, a hostile environment.  (However, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the national elections in 2011, and will have an escape route mapped out to nearby Zambia just in case!)

So, I guess you could say we’ve warmed up to the idea over time, and now we’re very excited to have this opportunity.  Traveling to Johannesburg for school last February was a real turning point for me, as I discovered that this was a continent I would love to explore more.  Not to mention that Thunderbird has deepened my interest in development work, so although it may be difficult to find a traditional job over there, there will certainly be no lack of interesting opportunities.  I hope so, anyway.

We’ll be located in Fungurume, a small village in the southern part of the country between Kolwezi and Likasi.  Lubumbashi is a 3-hour drive or quick charter flight away, and the second-largest city in the country after Kinshasa, the capital.

Seb has been having a good time getting settled into his new role.  The office has thrown him two big parties with musicians, dancers, and lots of speeches.  (The Congolese are fond of giving elaborate speeches.)  The department has about 200 employees, and every single one of them wanted to take a picture with the new “young manager,” they call him, and his predecessor, Wolf.

Haha!  I guess you could say he grew a little weary of being in all these pictures!

Part of the crew:

The official handoff of duties:

Seb’s first of many official speeches.  (They appreciate that he speaks French; not all expat managers do.)

Seb’s already got his Congolese driver’s license, and a company truck named “Geo 1”:

Bananas he bought from a little girl along the road:

One of the company’s social projects, a bakery they helped finance with low-interest loans.  (The translation is bad, it’s supposed to be “Glory to God” in English, which I find rather funny…)

If it’s safe for me to wander around the village while Seb is at work, I’d like to make a walk to this bakery a daily routine!  Maybe I can bring them an espresso machine to install…?

We are really looking forward to the move.  Will my newly acquired MBA gather cobwebs and dust?  Maybe.  The company discourages (some say outright prohibits) trailing spouses from also working for the company, plus I ended my 7-year career with this company in 2008 for very specific reasons, so I don’t plan to seek a job with them over there.  But in a non-traditional sense, I’ll still be getting quite an education.  And this is such a great career opportunity for Seb; we can’t pass it up.  Despite a few fears about black mambas and malaria, I am truly excited about the opportunity for adventure.  Plus, I will get to spend lots of time playing tennis and learning French.  Not too shabby!

More soon,