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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Hello Again, or should I say, Nihao

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!”

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Bonne Année de la Côte d’Azur!

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.

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Happy Holidays from the desert!

Before I disappear for the next two months, I wanted to take one last opportunity to post something. This one is much easier to read and digest than my last post, I promise! No MBA required here — topics and photos include desert beauty, food, more food, fun exercise to work off that food, and a thank-you note to some very important people.

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News from Congo (and Tucson)

Before we get started, here’s a quick update on who’s currently where, which will hopefully make my vague references to places like “here” and “there” a little more clear in the post that follows. Hmm, maybe I should preface every post with this little segment… let’s call it “Where in the world are you??”

Where in the world is Seb? He’s in Congo, where he returned a week ago — after a 10-day business trip to Arizona over Thanksgiving, and a week of management classes in Colorado. He was initially told to stay put in the U.S. rather than return to Congo, given the events that shall be discussed below, but he managed to talk the bosses into how “essential” he was. Great job, honey! (The good news is, he’ll be leaving again soon.)

Where in the world is Jen? I’m in Tucson, where I’ve been staying in a corporate apartment for almost six weeks now. Except for a quick trip to Canada, I’ve been in the U.S. since mid-August — mostly at the company’s request, to avoid predicted election violence. (Congo’s election; not, you know, ours. Another chapter in the book of irony, right after the one about hurricanes.*) No word yet on when or if I can return to Congo.

Ok, end of introductory segment. Now on to the real news.

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Dodging Hurricanes

A friend of mine described the election politics happening in Congo right now as “trying to guess the course of a hurricane.” She was speaking metaphorically, of course, having said this several weeks before Hurricane Matthew started churning in the Caribbean. She had no idea those hurricane-force politics — which kept me from returning to Congo as planned, instead keeping me on the ground in Florida with my folks — inadvertently put me directly in the path of an actual hurricane.

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