africa

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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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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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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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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Goodbye, Base Camp

After nearly six years of residence here in base camp, the day we’ve been mentally preparing for has finally arrived. No, I’m not talking about coming home for good, though that possibility always exists — I’m talking about moving thirty minutes down the road to our other residence camp, called Bravo. It’s far less dramatic than leaving Congo, for sure, but for us this shift is still significant.

Seb and I have been hearing the rumors about moving camps for so long now that it was hard to give them much credibility. And once we settled in, it became even harder to envision switching. In fact, we used to say that the day they made us move would be the day we’d say goodbye for good!

Why? Because we fell in love with hilly base camp, with our spacious red-tiled house, with Lucy the monkey just outside, with all the colorful old trees around us and the songs of their winged occupants. We enjoyed the proximity to town for the occasional dinner, or beer, or Sunday morning market run. Seb, especially, enjoyed that he could walk to work and come home for lunch, since his office is also at base camp! Bravo camp seemed comparatively… well, boring. It’s flat, comparatively treeless, and laid out in a grid, populated mostly with long rows of dormitories chock-full of contractors and laborers. It always struck us as a personality-less, army-style “man camp.”

But both camps have been changing. The trees have been growing at Bravo, and the town of Fungurume has been growing at Base.  Continue reading