Twenty years ago or so, a work contract took me from Kansas to San Diego for about a year, where one of my first outings was to a Moroccan restaurant in La Jolla called Marrakesh. Seb often jokes with me that my strongest memories are those that revolve around food, and this memory is no exception. I can no longer recall what specific occasion took me to that particular restaurant, but certain subtle details became forever embedded in my olfactory machinery. The ambience, the low seating and lighting, the washing of hands at the table, the belly dancers, and, most of all, the crispy, exotically rich, and oh-so-mysterious pastry full of chicken, ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. I remember wondering, is this supposed to be savory, or sweet? And happily concluding that it was, somehow, at the same time, inexplicably and perfectly both.
I LOVE reading comments from friends and family after I post something. I enjoy hearing other people’s stories, or their perspectives and memories, whether they are the same or different than mine. Plus, I so appreciate knowing that people have taken time out of their busy lives to come and see what we’re up to. It makes me feel loved, and valued, and remembered, after being so far away from home for so long. Seriously, I cannot overstate how much it means to me to hear from you.
It’s that time of year when our corner of Congo turns lush and green. The rains have finally arrived. During the dry season we water our lawn and garden by hand, but we are no contest for these rains. Out in the bush, grasses and shrubs are busy devouring our favorite trails. We figure we might not get our mountain bike fix again until next April or May, after the rains stop and the purposely-set bush fires clear the trails again. Darn it. I was just starting to like biking.
How on earth is it September again already? Last I looked it was March.
September 1st seven years ago we began our little adventure over here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time, we thought we might stay a year or two. I remember telling a friend we might even be back within six months, because the company’s contract was currently being renegotiated with the government and nobody could predict how that was going to turn out. Signs weren’t altogether positive as there had been a little skirmish nearby and the spouses had been evacuated while we were packing up our things in Tucson, delaying our departure by a couple of days.
That event passed, the spouses came back just in time to welcome a new one, and seven years later — one signed contract, a couple more evacuations, one global ebola scare (plus lots of local ones that no one abroad ever hears of), seven rainy seasons, zero cases of cholera/yellow fever/typhoid/malaria between us (but numerous giardia flare-ups, two entirely self-inflicted salmonella incidents and one self-diagnosed case of trichinosis), one cancelled presidential election, and one major change in company ownership later — here we still are. It turns out, we’ve not once regretted it. Giardia included.
Happy Independence Season! From Columbia’s today to France’s last week, ‘tis the season for national fêtes. On the 4th of July a few weeks ago, all across the U.S. there were probably thousands of Independence Day parades, large and small. Just a few days prior, on July 1st, our friendly Canadian neighbors experienced the same thing. (Though the Québécois may have partied a tad harder on St-Jean-Baptiste Day, the 24th of June.) And just one day earlier, on June 30th, DR-Congo also celebrated their Independence Day.
This story is dedicated to my parents, who made an epic trek north to visit me in Québec City four years ago. On that Father’s Day weekend, I was beginning another month of immersion in French — only the second round of four, as it turned out — but the real education I received that summer was about how much that city rocks. It was so great that Seb and I went back the following summer, and very soon we’ll be there to soak it all up yet again. Happy birthday, Mom, and happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for exploring this fantastic place with me. Come back anytime. And a special thank you to Réjean, Édith, and Mélanie, for welcoming me, tolerating my attempts to stay in French, and showing me around La Belle Province four years ago. À bientôt!
Now that we have a nice roomy backyard and a better chance to actually grow stuff, I’ve finally thrown myself into composting. Friends have been trying to get me to do it for years. I barely started two weeks ago, coincidentally just in time for Earth Day. I can’t believe it took me this long.
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.
I’ve been remiss in posting an update since finally returning “home” to the Democratic Republic of Congo on February 20, after six months away. It took awhile to sink in. I don’t think I let myself believe that I was actually going until literally seated on the Ethiopian flight that had been changed three times since the previous September. A flight that was nearly changed a fourth time when it appeared that my passport would need another week at the embassy to get an updated Congolese visa. I had flown from Tucson to Washington D.C. the day before (nervously, with just a driver’s license, wondering if those things still worked on domestic flights) on faith that my passport would be ready in time. When I checked into the D.C. hotel, I asked if a package was waiting for me. The clerk said “Let’s get you checked in first and then we’ll see,” followed by, “How many nights are you staying?” to which I replied, “That depends on if you have a package for me!”
Just a quick update to let you all know the latest news — Tout va bien au Congo. The election period passed without too many problems, although without a new president, either. The administration and the opposition have agreed to hold elections later this year, although I’ve heard that both sides are missing notable signatories. So we’ll see. In the meantime, everyone is back to work as normal chez nous, and last week they even gave the spouses permission to return. If I hadn’t already paid for a month of French classes, I would have jumped on the same plane as Seb.