Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to the Naughts

...and happiest new year (decade), everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve/Christmas Diaries

Four (4) hours drive across the border and down Rwanda, from Goma to Kigali. Altitude: Varying dramatically through the green mountains of the Rift Valley.

Plastic Santa faces gilding the checkpoint on the DRC side of the border. Plastic – lovingly decorated – Christmas tree visible behind the copper who stamps my passport. But! Stark as always on the Rwanda side. Not a hint of messy holiday joy. Score one point for Goma! (To counter Gisenyi’s ten-thousand-and-five cumulative points.)

Crossing the border opposite us (heading Gisenyi-to-Goma) is a loaded-down white pick-up truck with something loose under the hood. It doesn’t cough – it doesn’t clang – it jingles. I swear to God. Jingles. Like St. Nick’s sleigh.

Kigali Airport.

The flatscreen TV with fuzzy reception in the waiting lounge is showing an Animal Planet special on small sharks. The vinyl gray creatures are being snatched from the sea by wide nets. They are then swooped up and paraded around for us by beautiful, aging men with sun-damaged skin and sunglasses pushed up to the tops of their shaggy dirty-blond hair. The bouncing camera zooms in gleefully on the yellow eye of a hammerhead. Its eye socket is round. Its pupil is over-enlarged and (the poet in me personifies the creature) panicky.

Merry Christmas little hammerhead shark, wherever you may be.

Forty-five (45) minute flight from Kigali (KGL) to Entebbe (EBB), 0212 miles. Altitude unknown.

Seatmate is trying to talk to me, even though I was clearly reading (and now am clearly typing something desperately important). He’s a tourist, eager to bond. ("Ooh yes, we’re in Africa, oh wow. We’re so bloody adventurous.") I snub him. He gets his revenge – his terrible, terrible revenge – by immediately falling asleep and snoring. Loudly. In my ear.

Two (2) hour flight from EBB to Addis Ababa (ADD), 0757 miles. Altitude: 35,000 feet.

Same Seatmate. Still snoring. Bah humbug.

(There’s the possibility that, after he wakes, Seatmate will write his own blog entry about the mean-spirited woman he was forced to share a row with for two entire flights. If he does, well then, what can I say but "Good for him!" and "Cheers!" to self-indulgent rants, his and my own.)

Addis Airport: The Place of Lost and Found Possessions

The first time I was ever in the Addis Airport was in 2005. My friend E & I were dragging our backpacks and our tired bodies towards the gate when a young man came sprinting after us. He was waving a cardboard tube above his head, a familiar tube. Rolled and stuffed in it (we knew) was the huge intricate painting-on-hide of the saga of the Queen of Sheba that E had purchased for a hefty price in Merkato, and which (we didn’t know) she had accidentally set down (to hold up a white scarf) and forgotten (we were so tired) in an airport gift shop. “Stop! Wait!” the young man called. E and her painting were reunited before we realized they’d been parted.

This time, I forgot my favorite fleece jacket on the plane from Entebbe. By the time I noticed it missing, almost an hour and a half had passed and I was heading back through security for my next flight. But! Christmas miracle! After looking a trillion places and questioning a billion people, I approached two lovely security guards. They, through crackly Amharic on a two-way radio, managed to locate someone who found someone who asked someone to check seat 14C on the Kigali-Entebbe-Addis flight. And they found my fleece for me! While we were waiting for the fellow to sprint across the airport with my fleece, the guards and I shared a nice Christmas Eve conversation, talking about lots of things: Evergreen trees, Congo, chimpanzees, feeding hyenas in Harare, and, always fun, the meanings of our names. (Translated to English their names meant, respectively, “Angel” and “Like”. They taught me the Amharic word for “sheep” because Rachel means “sheep” in some long-dead language Hebrew.)

I told them that my mother had bought me the fleece (she had) because mothers, and the need to respect their gifts, cross cultural boundaries.

But the Other Thing about the Addis Airport is This:

Every time I have been here, I have seen handfuls of couples (eight or nine or twelve on this Christmas flight alone), young, flushed, happy – white – couples, clutching their newly adopted Ethiopian babies to their chests. In the airport, you can watch these new families taking their first family photos, the man and the woman giddy, grinning, while the baby sleeps; kissing the baby all over, his tiny fingers, her hot cheeks, his shut eyelids. I have never been one of those people who sees problems with intercultural adoption. A child needing love is a child needing love, period end of sentence. But I do wonder what it must be like to be a person who works in the Addis Airport, be you the graying man serving coffee at the small restaurant – the rotund woman sweeping the linoleum floors – my two friends, Like and Angel, who found me my fleece – security guards, x-ray checkers, flight attendants. What is it like for you to watch, day-by-day, so many tiny children from your community get onto planes to leave your country, the country of their birth, to be raised in a foreign culture? It seems to me your hearts must slowly crack and break, watching this. Mustn’t they? I think mine would.

Six (6) hour and twenty (20) minute flight from ADD to Roma (FCO), 2779 miles. Altitude: 34,000 feet. Boeing 767-300.

It’s past midnight. Merry Christmas. Even when you are tired, like I am right now, it is important to write. Like a teacher once told me, “A writer is the same as a truck driver: both just have to get behind the wheel and drive...” Oh… screw it. I’m going back to sleep.

Ten (10) hours and fifteen (15) minutes from FCO to DC (IAD), 4495 miles. Altitude: 32,000 feet. Boeing 767-300.

It has been Christmas in Rome for four hours. I’ve slept through most of it. In the bathroom mirror, I saw that my cheek has a round red imprint from the drink indentation in the seat-back tray. I’m only awake now because some jackass keeps hitting the attendant call-button like he is an eight-year-old boy playing ding-dong-ditch. Not so silent night here, miles above the fields of France (where shepherds are presumably watching their flocks).

Here it is Christmas, but across the Atlantic, it is still Christmas Eve. This year, as we fly, chased by the sun, I will get to live through a thirty-one hour long Christmas. Ha! Not many other people will get that.

Dulles Airport, 4:51 PM Goma time, Christmas Day

Chai tea. Change of clothes. $15 ten minute manicure. America, it’s good to see you, too.

(“I live in eastern Congo!” I announced, overly loud, to the manicurist before putting my hands on the table – an excuse for the fact that my nails are dirty and bitten to the quick. That is, um, not something I’m proud of saying. But I was embarrassed to show her my nails – she whose canvas I take such terrible care of! And there’s little chance that she would know that there are men in every fruit market in Goma carrying around three-tiered metal baskets resplendent with a rainbow of nail polishes, ready to kneel on lava rock to paint your toes or stand to paint your nails at your first beckoning.)

Dulles Airport. Still and always, now and forever.

Shockingly - shockingly - the one tiny little United Airlines flight I have to take is delayed, by more than twice the length that the flight will actually last. I hate them. I want to embrace my American heritage and sue them. I want to cry. Luckily for me, the woman behind me began crying. She's become the honorary crier for us at this gate. No one else need cry now, because she's taking care of it for us.

Another woman spontaneously came up to me and handed me a People Magazine. "I've already read it," she said. Ah, human kindness. You win my heart back every time. Okay. I don't truly hate anyone. I'm just. So. Tired.

One (1) hour and one (1) minutes (seriously, that’s what’s on the schedule print-out from the travel agency) from IAD to Pittsburgh (PITT), 0194 miles, arriving at God-knows-when, Christmas Day.

Sleep. Sleeeeeeeeeeep.

Still to come: Forty-five (45) minute drive from PITT to my childhood home, hopefully with my parent’s new puppy snuggling in my lap.

I did ask them to bring her, Liesl, to the airport, so I can meet her as soon as possible. But I'm not sure they will.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Plastic Evergreen Trees

I remember watching a CNN report years ago – I don’t know how long – the end of high school, maybe college – about the epidemic of rape in eastern DR Congo. I remember being horrified, hearing about fistula and a war being carried out against my gender, and I very clearly remember thinking, “Well, God, what a nightmare spot. I will never go there.” Ha.

I’m very sheltered in my life here. There is a lot of horror outside of this city. I’ve heard about it. But at the same time, this is a place where people live lives. I’m the same person here as I was in Kitgum, in DC, in Brattleboro, in Basse Santu Su. My neighbors, who have always lived here-just-here, are people. With families. Who are excited about Christmas coming. There are lots of plastic evergreen trees for sale in little shops in town.

New reports often seem to skim over the humanity (the normality) that exists here as they chase the war monster. Maybe it’s not the fault of the news reports – maybe it’s the fault of us, and our interpretations and our prejudices.

Yes, it’s important to talk about the war and it’s crucial to lend assistance to the people who live here – to give back, or, really, to take less. But I think that sometimes we pile all of our fear on one spot in the world, asking it to carry our terrors for us. This allows us to go about our lives thinking “At least I don’t live there,” like children who personify their fears into monsters in closets, beneath beds; like teenagers who enter darkened movie theaters for two hours to scream themselves silly at horror movies. We watch news reports, we thrill at the fear we feel, and then we think good thoughts about ourselves for being so affected by others’ miseries.

Going home for eight days for Christmas – at holiday parties – I’m going to have to have conversations about misperceptions a lot. Or I’m going to have to lie about where I live. I won’t lie often, but I may lie sometimes. I’m not an ambassador, after all. Nobody has chosen me to be their representative. Many of the people I talk to will just hear what they want to hear, anyway, and forget the rest.

I’ll try not to lie. I will really truly try. I’m privileged enough to live here; I know that I should share the wealth by giving stories to people back home.

But I can’t make any promises.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Weekend Before Christmas

I tried my best to amuse myself today, but nothing I tried was working. I went to go visit the government national park services office, but they were shut. One big grocery store was shut and the other didn’t have change, so I couldn’t get small bills and go back to Virunga outdoor market to buy those used hot-pink jeans that I didn’t buy last time but that I’ve been dreaming about ever since. The art shop in the Heal Africa hospital was open, but the compound gate was locked and no one was around to let my driver and me in. So I ended up back at the house, asking the top-boss here if I could take the car out to the airport and sit and watch the planes take off and land. That was a no-go. There is apparently only one car this weekend, and other people may need to use it and I couldn’t take it so far away unless it was a real, true, total necessity.

So instead, D, our top-boss who I rather adore, let me tag along with her to the house of two of her friends, who have a phenomenal garden full of huge pink flowers and small orchids leading down to a small unpolluted swimming spot. And I swam. And I jumped in off the lava rock. And I gained more confidence and I dove. And the waves were big, not too big, but big enough. I was wonderful. I’ve worn shoes every time I’ve swum as a talisman against the snail disease – I don’t really believe it helps, but someone kindly gave me tons of tips as to how to know if is safe to swim, and the “wear shoes” tip was an afterthought but a concrete action, so I clung onto it. I didn’t wear shoes this time. So many Africans were swimming just across the water. And the snail disease is totally treatable as long as you get tested for it. Swimming was SO FUN. Right now at 6 pm I am jealous of my 2 pm self and wish I were back, balancing my toes on the edge of the lava, lifting my arms, and leaping.


Yesterday was Saturday, so I went back to the little center to teach a lesson. Because they asked for it last time, this time I told the kids the story of Obama. It was pseudo-successful. The kids are at such different levels of English, of age, of confidence, and there are over thirty of them at any one time. It makes for a difficult class. But they are lovely kids, so eager, and I will keep going back for as long as I am helpful. I like knowing that, in my eyes, they will slowly turn from being a faceless mass of kids to a group of individuals in their own rights – some who are friends and some who are needy, like in all classrooms.


Right now it’s turning dark and mosquitoes are buzzing. There are hawks circling one of our avocado trees and a small white pill bottle shining in the moonlight, bouncing on the waves of the lake. The hotel next to us dumps all of their trash into the lake and it gets caught in the little alcove where our house rests. I hate that hotel. (Hotel Linda – NEVER STAY THERE.) I wish there were someone I could call, something I could do to stop them dumping all their trash into our lake (why on Earth don’t they just burn it?!?) but I have no idea who/what. Apparently they have been ordered by the Government to stop a bunch of times, so they’ve bribed the officials and, wipe your hands, the story’s finished!

(Yesterday, as I was being driven to the center, we passed a policeman waving down a truck. The truck didn’t even stop, just braked slightly, and passed 500 Francs out the window to the copper. The copper grinned him on. Wipe your hands, the story’s done. That’s how it goes, here.)

I think there is even toilet waste coming from Hotel Linda. There is brown sludge in our lake. Irresponsible, horrible, wealthy jerks.


Overhead there is earthshine on the moon.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where the earth ends and the sky begins

Saturday morning, and I sit outside with my milk-coffee and my book, watching the lake. Without the rains to wash the sky of dust, you can’t see the mountains on the opposing side, and the lake looks like an ocean. When did this become my life, that I wake up early on the weekend to sit on a veranda overlooking a body of water in central Africa? Really, I don’t know when it happened, how I became this girl. The winds aren’t strong today and the waves lap mildly at the lava rock shores. How can anyone imagine any life other than this? How will I ever be able to return to work in a small fluorescent-lighted office? After this?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dry Season

Last night by 8 pm the sky was pitch black and there wasn't a moon. The stars were hidden by clouds or dust or both. As of right now, it hasn't rained in nearly 40 hours. The dry season is approaching or is maybe already upon us.

Sitting in the living room last night with another colleague, I heard a POP. My colleague and I jumped. It didn't sound like any gunshot I have heard in real life, but it sounded like the way gunshots are often described in novels: like pop-guns, silly and inconsequential-sounding and deadly. After a bit of quiet, I went out to see our guards -- I asked them. Apparently an avacado had falled from a tree and smacked upon their tin roof.

We had a good laugh at my expense.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Goma Glitterati

There are questions about the future of MONUC. Damning reports have come out in the last month from the UN’s own DRC Group of Experts; from Human Rights Watch, who claims MONUC has 1400 civilian deaths on their shoulders from the last eleven months; from the GoDRC, who is worried that the other reports will in turn lead MONUC to interfere further with FARDC.

I’ve felt a little bit of pity whenever I’ve seen MONUC men and women on the street, clutching their guns, in the grocery store, clutching their Christmas chocolates, ever since the first report was leaked a couple of weeks ago.

Not as much pity as for the civilians, though, whose peace they are not keeping.

In MONUC’s defense, how can you be a peacekeeper when there is such unsteady peace? Chess pawns & a lot of questions, that’s what there are here.

Last night I went to the bar DOGA with a handful of colleagues. DOGA is a famous bar amidst the Goma glitterati. It was my first time to go. I was picturing it as more disco-trashy, having heard the stories of the all-night-dancing and the prostitutes. Instead, it is warmer and homier than I expected. With a stone oven for pizza. (And with prostitutes.) With a metal-detecting wand waved over you as you enter and waiters who bring you extra peanuts if you ask really nicely.

I want to make friends with MONUC guys so I can get a ride on one of their helicopters. That probably is not appropriate, though. I want to make friends with the Cessna pilots in the city so I can stow away a hippo-counting mission. I want to get out into the field more and make friends with the women in the villages to join in their dances. Do people dance here, out in the villages? Or has dancing become a casualty of war?


Coming home from DOGA last night, we saw police around. Kabila is here in town, somewhere.

Material Goods

I did not pack correctly for Goma. I packed for a warmer clime and I packed for not realizing other people would wash, dry, and iron my laundry for me (something I should have realized). As a result I’ve been stuck in stupid long flowing skirts all week instead of hipper clothes with sharper lines.

Things that I packed that were good: A penguin doll that my aunt knit for me. A small pillow that I’ve slept with since I was born. Penguin posters to decorate my room. My own fluffy white towel (now missing). Three dozen novels. Red close-toed shoes. A 72-ounce bag of Nestle chocolate chips. A palm-sized hammer/knife/saw/scissors contraption. Two containers of freeze-dried strawberries. My Canon Rebel XS camera. With a fish-eye lens extension.


There are a lot of questions right now about the future of MONUC.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunset Over Lake Kivu

Yeah.  It's pretty much like this every night. 

Monday, December 14, 2009


If it’s not one thing it’s, truly, another. Now that my internal organs are functioning correctly (Thanks, Cipro!), my external organ, my skin, is burnt beet red. And everyone I complain to at home about this doesn’t give me pity, but tells me how much frost they have on the ground and how much they miss sunshine. Cry me a snow bank.

But this is fun: A circle. When I was sick at work last spring, my boss in the DC office of the INGO I work for gave me cough drops. She gave me handfuls, more than I needed, and so many that I had plenty to stuff into my medicine bag when I was packing for Congo. Today at work, my boss here, at the same INGO only across a huge ocean and many miles of land, was sick at work. So I gave my different boss the same cough drops that were given to me at the different office of the same INGO half a year ago. On a different continent under the same sun.

I love shit like that. Circles and the passage of time and the continuity of stories. Circles, make, me, happy!

Serena Sunday

Yesterday I went on vacation for 8 hours. I came back with a wicked sunburn, an empty wallet, and a full belly. With a couple of friends, I drove across the border into Rwanda in the morning and went to a fancy resort hotel (Serena), the meeting place of a handful of random tourists in ridiculous tricked-out tourist-Hummers, Indian MONUC men in gold aviator glasses and mustaches (I think those are required parts of their uniform along with the blue helmets), Indian businessmen, rich Rwandans, various UN employees and the humanitarian aid crowd (me!).

Rooms at the Serena Hotel apparently run something like $200 a night. They have a $20 buffet lunch complete with salad, a cheese platter, and a dessert table. Getting a lounge chair and a big towel down at the beach costs $6 and is completely worth it, because it means you can leave your stuff lying there while you go swim in Lake Kivu. Instead of murky, suspicious looking water dropping off suddenly from algae-covered cooled-lava shores, there is a beach with real sand, and the water stays the perfect depth of five feet for dozens of yards out into the lake. Gas bubbles – bubbles of something – rise from the underwater sand when you scuff at it with your toes. It is both creepy and cool.

After the sun drained us and the rains began, we fled inside to the bar, where I ordered a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate came in a huge glass beer mug and was perfect.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

School Days

Today, full of Ciprofloxacin and so feeling okay, I went to visit an after-school center for children that is run by a friend of a colleague. Man, the kids were cute. Very smart. They were doing presentations – in French – about what they want to be when they grow up. Journalist – Doctor – CEO – Businesswoman – Pastor – President. They asked me questions – in broken English – about myself and my home. “What are the names of your brothers and sisters?” (They reacted with shock when I said I was an only child.) “Are you a bachelor?” (I explained that men are bachelors and I am a bachelorette.) “What state are you from? Who is the governor there?” (That was embarrassing. I guessed that it was Ed Rendell but said that I wasn’t positive.) The kids then went on to recite the countries of Africa, their capitals, and their presidents (heightening my embarrassment over the “governor of Pennsylvania” question). And then at the end, one teenage girl, who was quickly outgrowing the clothes she was wearing, recited a long segment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech, in English.

When people at home picture people in Eastern Congo, they envision starvation and violence and rape. But there’s a lot of normal beautiful life, here, too.

I’m going back next week to do an English lesson. I asked the kids what they want to learn. “Stories.” “Practice with passive and active voices.” “The conditional tense.” “The story of Obama.” I’m excited to research lesson plans.


And right now I am listening to the trumpets playing Taps at the MONUC base two compounds down while the sun spreads orange out over great lake Kivu.


I had a 24-hour bug and at about the 20th hour I broke down and I took Cipro. It’s not good to take Cipro – it’s a super-powerful drug. But it kills any infection almost instantaneously. God bless Ciprofloxacin!

Of course it was a Friday that I got sick, so I missed Friday night festivities. Instead I lay in bed all day and night and watched a Pushing Daisies marathon on my computer.

What was I sick from? Who knows? Back when I used to have to boil and zap my own water clean, I sometimes wouldn’t, and then when I got sick, I could guess why. This time it seems totally unfair.


Oh my GOD. I just looked up Cirpo (C17H18FN3O3) on Wikipedia. Apparently it "kills bacteria by interfering with the enzymes that cause DNA to rewind after being copied, which stops DNA and protein synthesis." Ew!!! What?!?! Oh my GOD.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Things to be Scared Of

When I lived in Senegambia, I was told that it was very off to eat in public. When I questioned why, I was told it was because witches can put spells on you if they see you ingesting food or water – the spells can enter your body with the nutrients. I believed it – not in the witches, per say, but in the beautiful need to respect the cultural norms of your neighbors.

When I lived in Uganda, I asked if I could eat in public or if I had to be wary of witches. I was sort of stared at about the witches and was told that of course I shouldn’t eat in public because not everyone had food. Just as you wouldn’t show off your long thick luxurious hair to a person undergoing severe chemo, you shouldn’t eat in front of someone who can’t afford enough to sustain himself.

Here, I don’t need to ask. I know that I shouldn’t carry my coffee mug the two blocks from home to the office and sip at it intermittently along the way. It’s not kind.

But I wish I were still blind enough to think it is because of witches.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I wonder who you are out there who read this? I know approximately how many of you there are, and I have an idea of where in the world you are (you're diverse!); but I don't know who you are, not at all. And I think that many of you don't know me. But I can't be sure.

The interwebs are a strange world.

Today marks six weeks that I have lived here on the shores of Lake Kivu in the easternmost part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in subSaharan Africa. The first three months of moving to a new post are said to be the hardest. If that is true, then today marks a milestone. Over the hump, and easier from now on. Smooth sailing. Downhill coasting. Do you hear that, rebels, armies, governments? My time here is supposed to be breezy now. So please get your shit together.

Last night I had French class from 7 pm until 8 pm. I worked on a proposal until 11:30 pm (sitting out on chairs by the lake with one of my bosses, pouring over drafts and studies on the little glowing rectangle of my laptop while the stars illuminated one by one overhead). This morning I had French class from 7 am until 8 am. My French is much better than it was six weeks ago.

Now it is 9 am and I am back in the office. Happy Wednesday to you all out there!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday, Monday

My hair is getting longer and my French is getting better.

We had a long -- three hour -- coordination meeting tonight. Lots of security updates and stories about rebel movements that mean something but no one, probably not even the rebel leaders, knows exactly what.

Tomorrow morning: Six a.m. running and then eight a.m. meeting.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I’m trying to figure out how to get to Bujumbura for next weekend to visit my friend Janine; but it’s complicated, because we aren’t allowed (by organizational rules) to travel on roads outside of cities after four PM. So no cars, no buses. I’m going to try to see if there are UN flights going, but those are complicated too, because even if there are flights, and even if you can get a ticket, they can bump you at the last second for a MONUC guy if they so decide. But once I get to Bujumbura I can crash in J’s hotel room; I can gossip with her; I can see the city, which is supposed to be beautiful. It would be great if it would work.

Last night just about everyone in the group house went out to dinner together, but nobody thought to invite me. Which very much hurt my feelings and I spent the morning feeling very badly for myself. Luckily for me, my supervisor, P, had invited me to go with her on an outing today, so I didn’t have long to wallow.

First we went to an area of the city with a lot of shops with basins, mattresses, fabrics, hustle, bustle, and real true life – so unlike the neighborhood we live. It was relieving to remember that Goma is a real true dynamic city with comings and goings and people. And then we went to pick up A, and together we drove to an orphanage on the outskirts of town. P had spent months working to procure, and finally procuring, a load of scabies medicine and we went to douse the boys. They were darling young kids. We had to get them to wash all their clothes (the clothes hadn’t been washed in about years) and burn their old mattresses (P also bought them new mattresses). The older, uninfected children did most of the cleaning work while A wiped the medicine on the infected boys. After washing the clothes, we boiled them, the younger boys peering out of the windows of their hovel, calling to ask if their clothes were dried yet, sometimes sprinting by, naked and brown, giggling, trying to grab a tee shirt or pants. An astounding amount of the orphans and abandoned children spoke some English alongside French and Swahili and who knows what else.

And then tonight my housemate R & I went on a long walk through the city, got caught in a torrential downpour, and kept walking. It was great.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weavings, Grapevines & Ties that Bind

I brushed my hair this morning and then cleaned the brush, pulling the extra strands of hair out of the bristles and letting then go into the wind outside of my door. I wonder how many birds on this continent have built their nests out of my hair? Little kingfisher families with red waves weaved into their homes, my strands cradling their eggs. Me, a part of this African ecosystem!


Apparently at last week’s OCHA humanitarian situation meeting, an incident was brought up about three young ex-pat NGO women jogging in the morning when they were held up at gunpoint and the phone of one was stolen. O rumor mill! In high school hallways and in war zones, how you do like to embellish.


Fantastic happening of the morning: The mama of my first-ever African family skyped me from Senegal. She sent me a photo of my first ever African sister, Ndeye. Ndeye, whom I loved so much as a little two year old, is now a big five year old. She is as beautiful as ever. Her mama, my wonderful friend M, says she is also as curious and strong-willed as she was as a toddler. And now they have a new baby in their family, Mouhamed. I'll always be grateful to them and wish them the happy, spectacular life they deserve.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Spiral Flight

My friend M, who is getting her PhD in etymology (etiology? Whichever one is the study of bugs) entomology, says that the grasshoppers spend their last minutes on this earth attacking our light bulbs because they “have compound eyes made up of simple ocelli that only sense light and can’t form images. They need parallel lines of light in order to move in a straight path so spotlights and porch lights really confuse them. They go into ‘spiral flight’ mode where they will just fly or jump around in circles and they usually end up hitting the lights or flying directly into them.” M ended her lesson with the scientific conclusion, “Crazy, crazy grasshoppers.”


At the start of French class tonight, my teacher asked how I spent my weekend. I told him we celebrated Thanksgiving on Saturday. This led to my attempting to talk about the genocide of the American Indians. In French. Which led to my trying to explain what Reservations are. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to explain what Reservations are in English, but it’s downright impossible. Imagine trying in French. To someone who doesn’t know. He asked if American Indian Reservations were like the Nature Park Reserves here, only with special land for people instead of for the gorillas and the chimpanzees. If we had been speaking English, I wouldn’t have known what to respond. It was an impossible and heartbreaking conversation.

Tomorrow morning we are switching from discussions to studying verbs.


One of the lovely girls with whom I go jogging in the mornings was complaining today that the water has been shut off in her house for over a week and she’s been having to carry buckets from the UN office where her boyfriend works so that she can shower and drink.

And my first thought wasn’t pity, but almost, nearly, envy. Which is insane. I know. But it is sometimes easier to live without than to be so constantly reminded about the division of rich from poor and haves from have-nots and which side of the line you fall on. It’s easy to feel good about yourself for roughing it (generations of PCVs have taught us that). Capturing the rainwater running off of your roof and boiling it to drink is easier in a whole lot of ways than turning on a tap and watching clean water pour out, spiral down the drain, while your neighbors are dying of dysentery, cholera, and typhoid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Day of December

My direct supervisor has been away, so I’ve had a desk – her desk – for the last week. Now that she is back, I am back out on the porch. There’s a terrible noise coming from our next door neighbors today. At first we thought it was an out-of-shape generator and were confused, because city power is on. But it’s a paint compressor.  They are spray-painting bits of airplanes (the sides, a wing) in their back yard, next to where the clothes of the pilots are drying.

I want to go up on an airplane and soar above the green glory of this land.

Today I am annoyed because I think that everybody has a desk except for me, everybody has a steady salary except for me, and everybody gets to go into the field to see programs every week except for me. It’s not true, and it’s not fair of me to be frustrated like this, but I don’t care and I am. Mainly about the field.  I want to go back into the field. I get sick to death of Goma, Goma, Goma, traveling from compound to compound to compound.  And not even on motorcycle taxis.


Afternoon and I am less grumpy. I went to lunch at the cantina in one of the UN office buildings (UNOPS) with some friends. It was fun. I had boiled and salted banana and potato. Delicious. We had strong French press coffee on a balcony overlooking two MONUC quarters (Indian and South African), an FDLR DDR center, and the lake. Our host told us how this entire neighborhood had been wiped away in a day in 2003 when the volcano exploded, except for the remnants of one brick building which we could see in front of us. What now looks like the first floor of that building was at one time the second floor, fifteen feet high. Our entire world is built upon two meters of hardened lava.