Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Good Day!

Today, I started making friends with the ex-pats I live with. Which is, um, so very, very important to do. We went to this great big market to shop for Halloween Costumes! We were three girls and one boy, so in the end we decided to be Charlie's Angels & Charlie.

None of us could remember what Bosley looked like, so it made more sense to have the boy be Charlie, as he is never seen in the show so we could dress him however. "However" turned out to be in tight women's bell-bottom jeans, a woman's button down shirt, and a woman's suede jacket ($10). Really, it was fun having him try on the clothes in front of the laughing sellers, but also, I think that men in the '70s dressed sort of feminine anyway. And he's carrying a radio, to serve as the intercom from the show.

Buying the crazy high heels shoes and flashy shirts for us girls was insanely funny, too. And exhausting. We spent about three hours navigating the crowded market. And then I had to go to my in-depth security briefing, which actually has gotten put off until tomorrow, but I did have a two-hour contextual briefing. The contextual briefing was so interesting that it actually woke me up after the market, instead of totally wiping me out.

Now there's an hour or two of downtime before leaving for the party. I wonder if there's a couch I can fall asleep on at the party? And then tomorrow AM there's the three-hour-in-Kiswahili church service. And after that my security briefing. And Monday, getting ready for the field. And Tuesday through Saturday, going to the field. I love being busy. I love my life.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ma Chambre

My bedroom has a very solid door and a deadbolt, and is in the basement, and actually doubles as our compound’s safe room. That is (a) true, and (b) for my father, who has checked this blog 96 times in the last five days, according to my blog-counter. Hi mom & dad!

(Also, to my knowledge, the safe room has never been used, and is not expected to be needed anytime soon. That's why it's a bedroom, now.)

Bits & Pieces

Hello!: Jambo!
Hello back: Jambo san. (***Spelling to be checked)
Welcome: Karibu
Thanks: Asante
My name is Rachel; my name is not Muzungo/MONUC: Jina langu ni Rachel; Jina langu si Mzungu.
How are you?: Habari yako?
I am well: Habari mzuri!


I saw the volcano this morning as I walked to work.

The other volcanoes I’ve seen in my life are Mt. Vesuvius and this one in Iceland, where we got to walk up & around the crater, and the ground was warm & a little bit mushy.


I had my initial security briefing yesterday, and will have the in-depth one on Saturday afternoon. Now I know some of the things that I am and I am not allowed to do. For example, I am allowed to go with A to his friends’ tailor shop. I am allowed to go with our lovely cook to explore the fruit&veggie market. And for what it’s worth, I am allowed to go to the 3-hour-long Kiswahili church service.

Best of all, next week I get to go into the field for five days! I can’t wait. I get to go up in Nord-Kivu, NNW of Goma, to Kichanga and then as far north as Nyanzale. This is wonderful news.


As I was being driven north in Rwanda, from Kigali up to the border & to Goma, a small bird took flight across the road, smashed into the windshield of our car, tumbled down & up & over the roof, and when I spun around, it had landed on the middle of the pavement and was being driven over by another automobile.

Birds NEVER do that at home. Why did it fly in front of the car???


Another person told me that he thinks the reason there are so many walls built in Goma is partially to protect people’s homes against the lava, the next time the volcano erupts – since the lava mainly follows the flow of the streets.

Which serves as a reminder to me that there are always far more factors contributing to a situation than one can be aware of.

(You're so welcome for that moral-of-the-day.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Within 52 hours this week, I was in seven cities. Baltimore to DC to Roma to Addis to Entebbe to Kigali to Goma.

Friday at 6 pm, I was told I would fly out of DC on Monday at 9 am.

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, I was driven up Rwanda through Kisenyi to Goma.

Tonight, with three ex-pat colleagues, we recrossed the border to frequent a Kisenyi bar.

We had to be driven to the Congo-Rwanda border, but once in Rwanda we could walk in the street, even though it was nighttime. It was rather lovely.

(The colleagues I went with are all French speakers, and they periodically switched to English for my sake, but every time they did I attempted to answer in French.)

Really. Getting to cross the Congo-Rwanda border in the twilight, and run free through the streets of Kisenyi, and enjoy a pleasant meal, and then return to a room of my own in a big house on the shore of the spectacular Lake Kivu -- who in the world isn't jealous of me?


My new colleague, A, in the Grants Department, has been the most welcoming to me. It helps, I guess, that we share an office. He is Congolese, and fluent in English, although I attempt French with him and he speaks French slowly, patiently back to me. (My French isn’t a complete disaster, but it’s not great, either.) He likes photography and just got a camera, so we have taken breaks from work to photograph birds, clouds, and mountains from the balcony off our office. He’s been very helpful in explaining some of the quirks of this city to me. (He says that there are walls everywhere, partially because the volcano erupting made rock free, plentiful & accessible to everyone! People build walls because they can.)

A asked me this morning if I am “a believer”, to which I said an emphatic “no”. I’m not religious & I don’t believe in God, as it were. I feel a bit mystified by people who think that the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud, the Whatever, are factual. But. I did sometimes go to Mass when I lived in Kitgum – I lived across a dirt road from a Catholic Church. Not because I believe anything, but because I liked feeling a part of the wider Kitgum community, even a little bit.

I was raised Catholic, and Catholic services are pretty much the same worldwide. Latin doesn’t change. What are the implications of this dissemination of belief? Probably mainly tragic. (You’d have to ask my brilliant academic friend Gwen about that.) But selfishly for me – honestly – it’s kind of nice. In the middle of Lithuania, in the middle of northern Uganda, I can go take part in a ritual just like the rituals of my childhood, and be in my home culture, for a bit.

In Kitgum, before Mass, folks would gather in the church courtyard. I’d mingle, exchanging pleasantries and small talk with the grocers, the tailors, the women I knew from the vegetable market. I’d make new acquaintances. The children I knew from the streets around my office would hang off my arms. One Sunday, Gloria, a toddler, hid behind my skirts shyly when a local woman she didn’t know approached her, and my heart burst with love for her – and with gratitude for her sweet acceptance of me, not as a foreigner, but as a neighbor, an adult she trusted.

I told a lot of this to A, and he invited me to come to his church on Sunday. I reiterated that I really don’t believe in religion, and he said that he didn’t care; it didn’t matter. He then warned me that the service goes on for three hours and is in Kiswahili, of which I speak maybe three words. I responded that probably, then, I would only go once and never go back; he laughed.

I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to go. I won’t have had my initial security briefing until late this afternoon. And if I’m not allowed to go, then that’s fine. I’ll never ignore security mandates; that wouldn’t be fair to my colleagues or my supervisors. But it’s a bit of a relief to imagine seeing more of the city that the big house, the huge office, and the ridiculous Western grocery store.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goma: The Weirdest Place I Have Ever Been

Constant electricity. Running water. Functional street lamps. Blue helmets walking up and down streets with their rifles out. A super-market with everything -- EVERYTHING -- that I bought at the last minute and packed for myself, thinking I'd never be able to purchase it here. (Things here are paid for with US Dollars.) Spectacular views. Guards following us as we walk the half-a-block to the office. A guard tower at the office. It's so weird.

I don't think I'm going to get to know my neighbors...

Arrived in Goma at noontime.

The drive up from Kigali, and the view out across Lake Kivu – spectacular.  Rwanda is unbelievably picturesque, with muddy streams slicing green hills – waterfalls & hillside-farms – even in the rain, it’s lovely.

(We’re in the 2nd month of the 6-month rainy season – great timing on my part! Ugh.)

It stopped raining just as I got into Goma.  I have two new stamps in my passport (exiting Rwanda, entering Congo) and many, many, many thoughts in my head!

To be honest, I’m COMPLETELY overwhelmed.  The office is HUGE.  The house is HUGE.  The house is right on Lake Kivu.  Freaking hummingbirds* fly out over the lake!  We can swim in it, just not put our heads underwater, because it’s filled with poisonous gases and we may drown.

My new supervisor gave me a tour of the office and introduced me to oh about 50 bazillion of my new colleagues.  So far, I have remembered exactly zero people’s names.

I came out of the house after lunch to walk to the office, and one of the women I work with now was in the garden, crying.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what was up.  But she is totally my new favorite colleague.  Because eventually I’m going to get so overwhelmed that I start to cry – thank god I saw her doing it first!  That will make me feel far less stupid once I do it.

*UPDATE: Um, apparently, they're Kingfishers. Still awesome, though.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I forgot plug converters when I was packing, so I totally had to jury-rig this thing with coils to plug in my computer.  I'm a little scared that I did that.


I'm in Kigali.  It's lovely.  Green rolling hills & terra-cotta roofs, like Kampala.  Like ancient Rome.  And here I am, moving to Goma, the modern-day Pompeii!

(I'm so glad I studied the Classics in school.  Time-and-again they prove relevant to my day-to-day life.)

I'm exhausted.  Exhausted-exhausted-exhausted.  I'm here for the night in a lovely guesthouse, & then driving up to Goma tomorrow a.m.

I pulled a Derek Zoolander on the airplanes, staring at my reflection in the little malfunctioning personal videoscreen embedded into the seat in front of mine, and questioning, "Who am I?"  Who am I, & who do I want to be, as an aid worker?  I'm terrified of being the rich-jackass-on-the-hilltop aid worker, but there is the equally real danger of being the "I'm one with the poor!" jackass aid worker (to quote a blogger, who reminded me that just because in Kitgum I periodically drank, cooked with, and bathed in rainwater, I shouldn't think I'm more special than I am.  Which was a valid point.  We the foreigners are not, and never can be, "one with the poor").

After thirty-six hours of plane-flights & angst, I came to the conclusion that I should probably stop thinking about myself so much and just be myself, whatever that entails, and do my job.


For most of the sixteen hour flight from DC to Addis (with a stop off in Rome, but we couldn't deplane), I had three seats to myself.  Insanely lucky.  I slept relatively well.  In the last twenty minutes, a guy came up from the back to sit in my row, I assume so he could get off the plane faster once we docked.  He started chatting with me even though I was clearly attempting to read.  He asked what I was doing in Addis, and when I explained that it was just a transfer point, and my final destination was Goma, he responded with excitement, & detailed how his Grandfather, a missionary, had been killed in eastern Congo in the "uprising of the '60s".

That stunted our conversation.

End of Part One.

Start of Part Two.

Greetings from Kigali.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Next Entry to be from Across the Atlantic!

Loadied up my iPod Shuffle with "Flight of the Conchords" & "The Moth" episodes to get me though the next 36 airport/airplane hours.  Also, I've painted my nails with that purple polish, so I can spend the next 36 hours nervously picking it off...

I fly DC-Addis-Kigali.  Funny story -- I actually have no idea how I get from Kigali to Goma, but I guess I'll figure it out.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Au revoir, DC -- jusqu'à la prochaine fois!

There are things that I am planning to do for fun in Goma.

I want to make myself a compass.  My mom & I did this a few times when I was little, with a magnet, a needle, a square of tissue paper and a glass of water.

I want to learn to cook better.  My housemate in Kitgum, Floor, used to make delicious rosemary potatoes and banana bread/cake.  I bought myself spices to bring to Goma, in case I can't buy any there.  Floor sent me simple directions.  (Don't laugh at the simplicity.  I'm a TERRIBLE cook.):
  • Rosemary potatoes is nothing more than washing the potatoes (in the peel) thoroughly, slicing them very thinly, throwing them onto a baking tray and mix them with olive oil (lots of it but not too much), rosemary and salt, and then bake them in the middle of the oven until they're done. You can do it!!!!!
I want to make myself a sun-dial. I've never done this, but I got it into my head a few weeks ago that I want to figure out how they work.  I think it must be pretty easy.  You have to adjust for your location north/south of the equator.  (Goma is one degree south.)  (I've never been below the equator before.) 

UPDATE: My scientist-neighbor has weighed in on this:
  • In Goma it is easy, because you are so near the equator that there is (almost) no need to correct for latitude or season. Put a stick vertically in the ground. At sunrise -- 6 am -- the shadow will point (nearly) west; mark it "6AM". At sunset -- 6 pm -- the shadow will point (nearly) east; mark it "6PM". In between, mark the shadow every hour on the hour. Unfortunately around noon the shadow (pointing south, because you are a little south of the equator) will be very short -- thus hard to read accurately -- because the sun will be almost directly overhead. But then you'll care about accuracy only late in the afternoon, when you'll need to be confident that you'll make it to tea/gin/whatever on time :-)
I hope my new housemates don't think I'm a total geek.


I walked to CVS in Colmubia Heights to pick up last-minute necessities (razors, etc) that I may not be able to buy in Goma.  And there on a shelf was purple nail polish.  And I never wear nail polish.  But I wanted it.  Then I saw the purple eyeshadow.  And I never wear makeup, but I wanted that, too.

It's not like I could have gone home, slept on it, and then gone back tomorrow if I decided I still wanted it.  This was literally my last chance to buy ridiculous purple makeup for six months.

So I bought it.

I'm gonna go paint my nails right now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

T minus 2 days

I went to the Silver Spring farmers' market this morning, bought myself a quart of fresh apple cider, and felt real pity for all the folks who were there this week, and who will be there next week -- who will not be flying off into the unknown on Monday.  Poor dears.  I live the BEST life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Visa & plane tickets have I

I fly to Kigali on Monday.

UPDATE: Ooooooor possibly not.  No final-final-FINAL approval yet, which makes some sense, since it is nearly midnight in Goma.  Sooooo maybe Tuesday or Wednesday.

UPDATED UPDATE: Monday is officially a "go".  It's about time.

Spacial Anomaly

I pack.  I pack boxes & boxes & boxes.  I carry them to my car.  My car gets filled up. 

But my room.  Does not.  Empty.

My room is just as full of stuff as when I started.  I swear.  I SWEAR.

I really need to figure this OUT.  Because this morning, I picked up my visa.  So any day now! 

I'll be leaving on a jet plane.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Romantic Thoughts

When you are sitting around on cut tree branches and wooden folding chairs in the middle of an African town, a mixture of locals and ex-pats in a circle; and the sun has just set, it's night, the first stars are peeking out of the deep black sky; and you've pulled your leather jacket tighter around you for warmth; and someone hands you a lit cigarette -- that's when I want to be a smoker, and raise it to my lips, and take a full, deep drag.

But I'm not one.


In Kitgum, the people who worked for the big NGOs lived in big houses on top of the hill overlooking the town, with generators and running water, and they never walked through town, and you never saw them, except for glancing peeks as they sped by in the back of big white Land Cruisers.  I thought they were ridiculous.

Now that I am going to work for a big NGO, I'm going to be the one living in the big house, in the rich part of town, with guards, cars, drivers... separate from the hullabaloo and the riffraff... 

Doesn't this make me, like, every single villain ever in a Disney movie?

I'm being too harsh.  But I'm nervous.

The Sunny Side of Swine Flu

One of my dear, favorite friends & I both live in DC for an average of about 6 months out of each year.  Unfortunately, it's usually the opposite six months.  She's been in Pakistan, Iraq, and Europe... I've been in Senegal, Uganda, Vermont, and The Gambia...  She came back from Lahore literally the night before I left for Kitgum.  Most years, we overlapped for several weeks at most.

She's just gotten back from Germany, and this time we're overlapping for about seven days.  Normally, she'd be working full time, so we'd barely get to hang out.  However, um... this time, she contracted H1N1.  Since she can barely breath, this means she has to stay home from her job.

And since my only job this week is waiting, for my visa, for my plane tickets, I have plenty of time to go don a flu mask and hang out with her in the lovely late-autumn warmth in her garden.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inoculations, malaria pills, & the DRC embassy

That was my day yesterday!  And now my right arm hurts & my left arm hurtshurtshurts & I'm back to waiting.

Everyone at the DRC embassy was really nice.  I was in line to apply for my visa standing in front of (and then behind -- they don't take personal checks so I had to run out to the P.O. to get a money order --) a young man who was about 25, with a totally American accent, who was "returning" to the DRC for the first time in 22 years.  He was so nervous and excited, and I was nervous and excited, for obviously smaller reasons, and we didn't talk all that much about anything, but we liked each other, and there was a good feeling of nerves, excitement, and happiness in the tiny waiting room as we exchanged pleasantries and grins.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Night Vision

Last Thursday, I drove myself from DC to Baltimore to DC to Baltimore. (The last time in rush hour.)  My aunt and uncle live in Baltimore and they let me store things in their basement when I'm overseas. Which is wonderful, truly.  What else would I do?  My car stays in their driveway.  I'm so lucky for that.

Their basement has two entrances, one from inside the house and one from out. Entering from the outside, you have to pull up two doors horizontal to the earth, as if you are at Auntie Em's house in Kansas and there's a tornado on the horizon. You stumble down rain-washed stairs into the concrete basement, balancing boxes of your life between your arms and your hips.

When the lights are on, the basement walls are painted blue with fishes and a seal, the work of my younger cousins when they were teenagers. The basement is pitch black when the lights are off.

Ten days ago was my uncle's birthday, and his son, my older cousin Peter, bought him night vision goggles.  Last Thursday night, Pete and I set off down to the basement, where half of my life was newly boxed and stacked, to test them out.

They are pretty kick-ass.

When I pulled the goggles up to my eyes in the utter darkness, it turned out I was facing a wall, and the first thing I noticed were the fish murals that popped out, completely disorienting me.  I swung around and there's my cousin, looking like a blind person, talking to me but unable to focus on me or on anything, so staring unseeing over my shoulder.   And there's my life, piled up, and it looks weird enough outside of my room, crammed into boxes in a basement, without adding the green tint and shadowless nonsense.  


Last Saturday night it was pouring freezing rain, and a handful of friends and I decided to stay in and drink mulled wine and watch movies.  We watched "Spirited Away", a wonderful Hayao Miyazaki cartoon, and then couldn't agree on what to do next.  One friend suggested that we play "Mafia" like he used to play at camp, where you sit in a room and draw cards -- two people are mafia, one is the cop, and the rest are townspeople -- and you the townspeople have to figure out who the mafia are before they kill you.  In general, my friends and I thought this was a pretty dumb suggestion, but no one had any other viable ideas, so we shrugged and rolled our eyes and agreed to one game.

Three hours later it's 1 a.m., we're on our forth game, and two of my friends are involved in a glaring/screaming match over an accusation of mafia-ties.  I just started giggling hysterically over the ridiculous and joy of it all.

I have good friends.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


First, I am walking to Harris Teeters to buy the sugar cubes that I forgot earlier, to plop into champagne flutes at my cocktail party tonight, to up the effervescence and sweetness of the wine.

Then, I am running myself a bubble bath and soaking in it with my printed-out seven-page orientation packet for Goma.

Don't you just love Sunday, Sunday mornings?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Things I'm Going to Miss

(1) Salads.  I love salads.  And berries.  Mixed greens and berries.
(2) Good cheeses.  Also, Pepperidge Farm cheddar cheese goldfish.
(3) American accents.  (Depending, I guess, on who my colleagues are.)
(4) Target, big malls.
(5) Baths.
(6) Walking everywhere.
(7) Being anonymous.  (Not being a minority.)  Not being stared at.
(8) Seeing big airplanes high up in the sky.
(9) Drinking tap water.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Things That Scare Me (part 2)

Once upon a time, when I was in high school, this kid a grade above me crashed his airplane into a hill and died.  He'd been training for his pilot's license and was practicing solo landings.  It was mechanical, not pilot, error.  The city newspapers reported how lucky it was that the crash had occurred on a hill and not in the nearby neighborhood, where people on the ground could have been injured as well.  My journalism teacher broke down crying in the middle of class upon reading this, and said that the stupid reporters had gotten it wrong; it wasn't luck.  The kid had been the type of kid who would have stayed calm and thought of others, and purposefully steered away from the houses.

Like all stories involving a dead kid in high school, people showed far more grief at his death than they'd showed him love in life.  He was a jovial, overweight kid who really wanted a girlfriend, so he got made fun of a lot.  His pick-up line was inviting girls (me included) to go flying with him.  To my knowledge, we all declined, a little creeped out.  He was also a kind kid; I transferred into the high school my sophomore year, and I remember him talking to me in the hallway, welcoming me on my first day, before anyone else did.  His dad read out exerts from his diary at the funeral.  They were funny, short, clueless entries about how much the kid loved flying, how much he loved his friends, and how much he loved our school.

A few weeks following the kid's death, I was on a tiny jet-prop on my way to Canada, when it hit major turbulence.  It felt like we were going down-down-down even though I guess we were just being tossed around-round-round.  The flight attendants did not reach out to take the mic to reassure us, even though I don't think I was the only one crying (thanks, Air Canada!)  Between sobs, I remember thinking how sad it was that, after this crash, all my classmates would be permanently scarred about flying, and none of them would ever travel again, and I prayed that they wouldn't be too afraid.  

Anyway, long story short (well, maybe not too short), I was afraid to fly for years after that eventful spring.  I still would fly, of course.  I worked one summer on my cousins' farm in Normandy; I spent a year of high school in a boarding school in Italy.  Flying was torturous, though.  Before entering an airplane, I'd touch the outside for luck.  Then, on my way to my seat, I'd explain to a flight attendant how scared I was, and ask to talk to the pilots.  Then I'd get escorted to the cockpit.  (Um, yes... this is all pre-9/11.)  Upon returning to my seat, I'd tell my poor, poor seatmates how scared I was, and chatter on with them throughout takeoff.  (I'd like to apologize to all those strangers now.)

Fast-forward a few years, until one day, on a flight from London to Phillie (I was flying home to Pittsburgh from high school in Rome), I again asked to see the pilots midflight.  There was a delay while the steward checked with the cockpit, and then I was escorted up.  So far, that made it a pretty normal flight for me.  The semi-circular view out of the cockpit of a Boeing 777 (which this was) is dizzying and spectacular.  I chatted with the pilots, who, like all the pilots I ever talked to, humored me with a sort of mystified patience, assured me that they were not suicidal, and rolled their eyes at my questions.  Eventually, we got to talking about take-offs, which led naturally to talk about landings.  I asked if I could watch them land the plane.  The pilots were silent, hesitating.  They exchanged glances.  One spoke up and told me to never ask something like that on a flight led by a US-carrier, as they had stricter security guidelines and I might get arrested out of suspicion.  (This particular flight was British Airways).

Then the pilots said, "Okay."

With 25 minutes left to go in the flight, when we were well into our decent and the seatbelt lights were on, a stewardess led me up to the cockpit.  The jumpseat was pulled down for me and the co-pilot helped me strap in with all five seatbelts.  (I couldn't make this up.)  They gave me headphones, big black ones, with which to hear ground control.  Ground control talked about the local airshow going on and which number runway to land on.  A 777 is a big, big airplane, and I got to watch it land from the third-best seat in the house.

After landing, because I was coming from the cockpit, I was the first out of the airplane and first through the Phillie customs line (a gift in itself).  I sped through the gates and caught an earlier flight to Pittsburgh.  When we'd reached an altitude of 10,000 feet, I called my parents from the airplane telephone, to ask them to pick me up sooner than later at baggage claim.  I hung up the phone, I caught my breath, and I mused.

At that point, I decided that I was simply not allowed to be afraid of flying anymore.  I had been afraid, and that was okay; but that time was over.  So few people in the world get to see the view I just had seen.  It was ridiculous, ludicrous, and unfair of me to continue humoring my neuroses.  I knew the statistics.  Flying is very safe.  You're more likely to get killed by a donkey than blah blah blah.  I was simply no longer allowed to be afraid.  I owed it to all the people who would never be lucky enough to experience what I had just experienced, to barrel through the clouds from a front-row seat in a sixty-ton machine, to watch metal float on air and come to rest on earth.  I owed it to that kid from my high school who died, because he had really loved flying, and it was no sort of legacy for him if his death made someone fear what he had loved.

This isn't to say I stopped being afraid immediately.  But I stopped telling my seatmates how scared I was.  And I forced myself to stop dwelling on my fear.  Instead I did Will Shortz crossword puzzles or read magazines.  I stopped asking to see the pilots (which was lucky, because 14 months later 9/11 happened, and I would have had to stop anyway).  I know you can't overcome all fears just by telling yourself to, but that's what I did, and eventually it worked.  I love flying now.  I ask for window seats.  I love the little houses and the little cars and the clouds.  And if I start feeling my heartbeats speed up, I shut my eyes and picture those two lovely pilots, who welcomed a strange girl into their cockpit just to prove how safe and fun flying is, and I remember that spectacular view.  And then I'm fine.    

In conclusion:
  • I will always love British Airways. 
  • I am no longer afraid of flying
  • Before I enter planes, I still tap the outside for luck.  (There's nothing wrong with a little luck.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Things That Scare Me (part 1)

1. Living under security restriction.  (What will this mean? Can I not go to tea at my neighbor's home? Can I not wander through town, stumble upon a dance party, & join in? Can I not walk to the tailor's or to the grocery store after work?  What will it mean to be living within a community that I can't really join?)

2. CO2 gases.  (Also, apparently, CH4).

3. Little African airplanes.  (It has been pointed out to me multiple times that this should be #1.)

So much time, so little to do. Oops, reverse that.

I need to get typhoid but I don't have health insurance.

So how do I take pills to give myself typhoid if I don't have insurance to afford them?

Once I take the pills, then I will have health insurance.  But first I must take the pills.

I'm so confused.

Friday, October 9, 2009

1°40'S, 29°13'E

Goma is a city (town? market town? city?) in Nord-Kivu, Eastern DRC.   It's situated on the northern shore of Lake Kivu and ten miles south of Nyiragongo volcano.  29.3 square miles large.  Population: 249,862. 

View it in Google maps!

Yesterday I was asked if it is a "civilized" area that I am moving to.  (The full question was "So is it civilized, or do people live in, like, grass-huts, there?")  I stuttered a bit and then went dead silent before I figured out a way to respond.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One of my favorite memories as a kid...

I was probably about seven, we were living on the Eastern Shore, and it was past my bedtime.  I was dead asleep in bed, and then my mother shook me awake.  Bleary-eyed, I stumbled at her beckoning out to the Upper Porch, and stared at the beautiful nightmare through the windows.  It was a hurricane, Alberto or Gilbert or Keith... maybe Joan.  The rain pounded sideways and the trees bent their top branches to the ground.  It was weird, but I still couldn't understand why I had had to drag my tired little body out of bed.

"Isn't this amazing, Ray?" my mother said. 

Yes, I guessed that it probably was, or at least would be if my brain would stop buzzing and my eyelids would stop being so terribly heavy.

"Your grandmum woke me up one night when I was about your age to see a hurricane just like this," my mother said.

When she said that, suddenly -- everything was clear.  I blinked my eyes and stopped being confused.  I realized that I was a part of a pattern, part of the excitement.

By being a witness to the storm, I was an integral part of it. 

I felt crucial, and loved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Scene: Family Gathering

Generic Friend-of-the-Family: Are you still living in DC, Rachel?
Me: Yes, for now, although I'm moving to DR Congo next month.
GFotF: Where?  To Konga?  Where's that?
Me: No, to... Congo.  DR Congo.
GFotF: Not the one in Africa?
Me: Um, yes...
GFotF: Ergh.  [GFotF physically recoils.]  Isn't that a dangerous place?
Me: I, um.  I don't know, it's a... place.  It's just... a place.
GFotF: What?
Me: I mean, there are communities there...
GFotF: You know, my nephew and his wife worked at an orphanage in Tanzania for a month in 2007.  And then they traveled around.  I should put you in touch with them.
Me: Oh.  Yes.  Sure, that would be great.  Thanks.


Another Generic Friend-of-the-Family: Are you still living in DC, Rachel?
Me: Yes.