The Ninth Year

Yes, another year has gone by. Yes, we are still alive. YES, I know, I’ve been extraordinarily quiet. Part of that — a large part of that — is that I’ve been feeling somewhat “censored” in what I can comfortably share. A year ago we hadn’t yet noticed much difference under the new management; today that is no longer true. A year ago we were hoping to hang on until our 10-year anniversary; today we’re not sure about next month. Nor whose choice that will turn out to be. Suffice it to say that a lot has been changing around here, and that we miss all the friends we’ve known during our nine years here in Congo, especially now as the number of remaining expats is at an all-time low.

In the spirit of our annual year-in-review, here’s a photo (or three or four) from each month. It’s been a quiet year, not a lot of movement beyond our home in Bravo camp that didn’t involve two feet or two bicycle wheels, but with “Congo eyes” I can see a lot of variation in the landscape from month to month. We still get to enjoy our travel benefits, too, but each time we return from an amazing vacation, I’m grateful to find it’s still rather easy to take a lot of pride and pleasure in the littlest things. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons living here has taught me. How nice it can be to just slow down and keep things simple.

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Pigeon Pie, or, The Best Thing You’ve Probably Never Eaten

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.

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A Comment about Comments — and A Note of Thanks

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.

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First Harvests

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.

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The Seventh Year

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.

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Everybody Loves a Parade

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.

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Class #2 in Quebec, or, Didn’t You Already Learn French?

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!

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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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