Extra-Congo Affairs

Any Time is Socca Time

I have to tell you about one of my favorite things. Its name is Socca. It’s a very simple, very tasty, naturally gluten-free flatbread made from just chickpea flour, olive oil, water, and a few seasonings. It’s a popular street food in the south of France, particularly Nice, though its origins are just over the border in Italy where it’s called farinata.

Hmm. “Street food” and “France” don’t quite sound right together. It’s not like the French eat it out of hand while like, simultaneously walking or anything like that — non, non, they sit and eat it properly, off plates and all, and would never forgo pairing it with an apéritif of some sort, ideally a frosty glass of rosé. But I liken it to street food because sidewalk cafés in Nice often showcase the final product in plain view along the street, the better to tempt passersby. And the tables of these cafés spill onto the sidewalk, or the street itself, the better to sit and soak up the Mediterranean sun. And it’s definitely portable. You don’t need any cutlery to eat it, just some napkins.

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Home Again

Hello friends and family, just wanted to send a quick note to let you know that we arrived home safely after adventuring around Italy. And relatively intact, too, though one of us may have sore muscles and a few bruises after an amateurish attempt at some serious biking. Lessons learned: Florence is still lovely but entirely full of tourists rather than Italians. Rome should be avoided completely, unless you MUST see the historical sights and don’t mind other people’s selfie sticks in your face and all your photos. Both of these cities would be better visited in the off-season. They say winter is nice. I’ve never been to Venice but I hear it’s just as touristy. Unfortunately, all three of these amazing cities may have become too popular for their own good.

The bright side is, Italy is full of beautiful surprises if you just get off the beaten path a little bit. My mom taught me this sixteen years ago when she booked us at a rural Tuscan “agriturismo” — a working farm that offers rooms to visitors, kind of like a B&B but often you can have lunch or dinner as well (and you definitely should). My brother taught me this too when he took us to see the small Tuscan towns he became familiar with during his semester abroad. These are the spots where you start to “get” Italy. And the food is better, too. Trust me, there is no bigger waste than having a bad meal while in Italy.

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Recovering from Christmas Vacation

Friday morning, 7am. Sitting outside on a peaceful patio with my morning coffee and a good book in the most perfect temperature imaginable — 72 degrees Fahrenheit — under a cloudy sky pregnant with rain that never seems to fall. The only sounds are of birds chirping, gardeners chatting, the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance, and my cat’s collar bell chiming as he runs after foolhardy lizards. Lucy the monkey hears us stirring and bounces down from her bamboo perch to squeak new year’s greetings after my month-long absence. She doesn’t often vocalize but when she does, I’ve decided it sounds a lot like Chewbacca.

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Church Hopping

In Europe you cannot throw a rock without hitting a cathedral. There’s probably a clever pun there somewhere, but all I really mean to say is that there’s a lot of them. In America we may have a larger variety of churches of different denominations, one on every corner sometimes, but Europe dominates in centuries-old, beautiful Catholic cathedrals. They seem to punctuate every skyline, whether you’re in a major metropolitan area or a tiny village in the country.

I’ve had the opportunity to see some really beautiful churches during my travels and adventures. Each time I step inside one to admire its architecture, its tranquility, or its shelter, I always think of my dad, and how much he would love seeing what I’m seeing. The feeling is strongest, of course, whenever I’m inside an old-world Catholic cathedral, my dad’s chosen faith. So to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, I’ve put together a collection of the most interesting ones I’ve got on digital record.

It turns out I’ve got quite a few, far too many for one post. Since I’m kind of going with a French theme at the moment, this will be the “French edition.” Future editions may be forthcoming… I’m thinking an African Edition would be fun, and there’s also temples, mosques, synagogues… so much variety. Next week we’ll be exploring Jewish culture during our stay in Kazimierz, Kraków. But in the meantime, I hope you like this one, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!!

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On Snoozefests and Shitholes

You may have noticed I haven’t written up very many of our vacations here on the blog. I was thinking they wouldn’t fit since the blog is is supposed to be mainly about Congo. I’m starting to change my mind, though, as we’ve taken a lot of our vacations in various parts of Africa, which is kind of relevant, plus we’ve learned a lot about our host country through the eyes of its neighbors. Tomorrow we’re heading to Lesotho (geography quiz, anyone?), after good friends recommended it to us. We’ll be hiking for six days, camping overnight in different caves, and sharing a hut with a local Basotho family. The rest of the two weeks we’ll try pony-trekking, dinosaur footprint-hunting, and abseiling/rappelling the world’s longest commercial drop if we can keep our nerves together… it should be an adventure! Continue reading

Assholes on Planes

Getting ready for Ethiopian Airlines’ Lubumbashi-Addis Ababa flight to depart. The last few passengers are boarding, we’re all getting settled in. I turn off my iPad and deposit it in the seat pocket in front of me, tuck all my other things under, and buckle my seat belt. I’m traveling alone this time and am lucky enough to have found a cheap fare in business class. Well, relatively cheap considering the cost of the competitors, and hard to turn down considering the overseas portion to Toronto will be on the brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. So here we are, me and my privileged and genteel neighbors, sipping champagne and refreshing ourselves with warm wet towelettes.

The older British gentleman in front of me drops his towelette behind him. It lands on my personal item, a Congolese-fabric bag with my travel folder and other not-entirely-waterproof goodies poking out the top. Not a big deal. In fact I don’t even notice it until I hear him complain to the flight attendant, “I dropped my towel!” and urge her to give him another one. I consider handing his towel to him, but then decide it could be construed as rude. It’s now soiled, after all, plus he might think I’m forcing his hand to apologize or something silly like that. So I simply pick it up and put it with mine for the flight attendant to pick up later. This maneuver requires me to unbuckle my seat belt and nearly exit the seat just to reach the items at my feet, the seats are so gloriously roomy.

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Mpumalanga (or, Where God Must Live)

Will Smith remarked on his first visit to Africa: “It feels like God visits everywhere else but lives in Africa.” I don’t know if he was specifically referring to South Africa when he said that, but if he was, then I think we stumbled upon God’s hometown. It’s in Mpumalanga province, specifically along the Drakensberg Escarpment, where the highveld is separated from the lowveld.

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Safari Days 3-4 (or, Leopard’s Leap isn’t just a bottle of wine)

Gary wanted us to watch the sun rise from the top of a bluff, on foot. We were well on the road by 6am and on top of the bluff fifteen minutes later. Gary poured us a cup of coffee as the sun peeked over the horizon, and we listened to the sounds of the bush as it woke up. The first one to greet us was a klipspringer, a little antelope that bounces all over the rocks so quickly he “springs” from one to another. These animals have a little pad of flesh that grows in between their hooves on the bottom of their feet, giving them a softer landing and more staying power on the slippery rocks.

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Safari Day 2 (or, The Brotherhood of Lions)

“Did you hear the lions roaring last night?” Gary asked us as soon as we reached the breakfast table, around 5:45 in the morning. We had, though at the time we thought it could have easily been our over-active imaginations. “There are four brothers in this territory. We saw one of them last night, remember? At the moment they’re spread out, but they were roaring all night long, locating each other. We estimate they will meet up sometime this morning. You’ll want to be there to see it when they do.”

So we slammed a cup of coffee, grabbed a danish, and, as soon as our safari mates arrived, jumped in the Land Rover to set off for the lions.

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