Friday, April 30, 2010

Telephone

Listened in on the One Million Tee-Shirt Drama conference call. Joined late because our generator is broken and we have no city-power.

It does make me happy to hear so many people from diverse backgrounds being so passionate.

Do you know what I think Jason should do? I think he should drop this whole tee shirt thing (…obviously) and instead use all his marketing expertise to disseminate whatever lessons he actually has learned about aid in the last week to the general public, so the next time someone decides to do a similar Bad Aid project… um… they don’t. Or they pause and think first, at least. Or they ask questions.

It is funny to hear voices of all those people whose writings I have read. I wonder if in the future I’ll hear their voices in my head narrating as I read their writing!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Surefire Cure for Depression/Anxiety in Four Simple Steps:

(1) Find Primus beer fabric (not the one with the half-naked bartenders – the one with the brilliant bold colors and foaming mugs). Draw a picture of a sun dress with thin straps, a princess neckline, and ruffles. Take the fabric and the drawing to Mama Esther. Pick up your new dress a day later.

(2) Grab a car and driver and ride to the outdoor veggie market. When the road is crowded and you hesitate shyly with your hand on the door (normally you would leap right out but it has been a long week!) let your driver in his brown cowboy hat smile kindly and offer to accompany you. Buy lettuce and crisp green apples with your friend at your elbow, watching your back.

(3) Roast walnuts in the toaster oven with butter and brown sugar. Rinse the lettuce, the water flowing smoothly from the tap (oh how wonderful it is to have water from a tap!), warming your fingers. Toss up a salad with blue cheese and apples and candied nuts.

(4) Pull on the dress. Grab the salad. Go have too much wine with girlfriends.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Damn.

While I jumped around and teased and took funny photos and cartwheeled and snickered and giggled with my small street-boy neighbors last weekend, one of my Congolese friends was talking with them, individually, about how they ended up ON THE STREET.

Of the eight pre-teens he talked with, two told him they had been gang-raped by militias. Two of eight two of eight two of eight.

One boy (apparently) said it very quietly at first and my friend had to say “What? What? What?” and this kid had to repeat, repeat, repeat.

I love Goma but sometimes it lulls you into a false sense of security with its physical beauty and then the war is able to sneak up behind you and knock the air from your lungs.

*

What the hell were we doing asking them to tell their stories, anyway?  I'm terrified of doing harm.

Monday, April 26, 2010

This Orphanage in Goma.

I, I, I (this is my blog after all) have been going back and forth all day about posting these photos that I have. I, I, I don’t want to be one of those assholes who travels (TRAVELS!) to Africa (AFRICA!) in order to post photos of little barefoot boys on her blog.

When I, I, I first moved here to Goma, I had no idea what it would be like. (That’s not quite true. I had tons of ideas. They were mostly wrong.) So I (I, I) try on this blog (herein) to explain/document my (my, my) life here.

And part of my life in my neighbors.

And these boys are so lovely. They’ve really gotten the shit end of the stick in a lot of ways. They are not all orphans. Some have a dad or a mom who feels like s/he is too poor to take care of them properly. Some are orphans or demobilized youth. I’ve talked to quite a few of them but not that in depth. Mainly we’ve played together. Like, cartwheels and air-boxing and making funny faces at my camera.

I really, really, really want to post the photos so that I can show you (you, you) how beautiful they are, because I really swear they are beautiful, these little and big boys.

But I just can’t wrap my head around the ethics. Like, between me, me, me, and you, you, you, where do THEY fit in...?

(This man is eighteen. He used to live at the center when he was a kid.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, DELTA ROMEO CHARLIE?! of the Day

Our house is a very very very fine house but it is situated on a street that is not so much “street” as “hardened lava flow”. Your abs get a workout just riding in cars down the road as you struggle to balance upright and your seatbelt cuts into your clavicle with every jerk.


Bounce! Ouch! Bounce bounce bounce! Jerk! Ah!

Now, imagine that you are a member of the government, and you are sitting around pondering how to make this road a better road. What would you come up with?

Maybe paving it? No, too expensive.

Okay, how about smoothing in the holes? Too time consuming?

Okay, okay. How about...?





Can’t you just picture the panel that sat around, discussed, debated, and concluded that speedbumps were necessary?



...

I'm totally not even joking.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Waterspout On Lake Kivu

The sight this morning at 8:10 AM out over Idjwi Island:

The waterspout is cutting right directly at the Congo border with Rwanda. That's what our Congolese colleagues noticed immediately. It's like the natural phenomenon opposite of the rainbow on Easter that bridged the two countries.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Whatever Works

After lunch before heading back to work today I lay out on the hammock and rocked, staring out over the lake where the waves were CRASHING green, and blew bubbles, which is my new THING TO DO, ever since I found some for sale in Kinshasa.

For the second day in a row I saw these two birds flying together, a big brown hawk or kite or something and a little black and white crow, flying in tandem, no question, circling on the same winds, funny friends.

The bubbles spun rainbowy up to the sky and then I had to leave the lake and grab my bags and walk to the office and inside, up the stairs and sit, sit, sit at the computer for the rest of the day until the sun set and I could come home.

*

Our friend was at a meeting today where disenchanted (manipulated) youths were saying shitty things about NGOs in the region and how they are greedy and stingy and they don’t fund projects that are needed needed needed.

After the youths spoke, the local Head of the Assembly stood up. He said that he himself had tried to meet with the Vice President of Canada (who was in Goma this week) about projects that are needed needed needed in his area. But! She had NO TIME for him. Because! She had to hurry hurry hurry to go to the hospital to meet with woman survivors of rape. And that (said the Head) is where all the money goes, to GBV, it all goes to women.

So then the Head paused and frowned. He looked out over his audience. He said, “You are all MEN, you youths who are complaining. For heaven’s sake, stop raping the women! When there is no more rape, then the NGOs will put money back into Wat/San projects and we can build bridges, latrines, and wells. But! As long as you keep raping the women, they will get all the money. So cut it out.”

HA!!!

Whatever works, I guess.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life is Tough in the Field

Do you know what I love??? I LOVE cell phones. And I love Skype. And I don't AT ALL think that Zain and our Satellite Internet Provider are the WORST, the WORST THINGS IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD.

I do LOVE getting all nervous about a job interview (adrenaline! I love it!) to then spend 34 minutes yelling “Can you hear me?” into headphones and a cell phone, and getting no response. No. Response. Whatsoever. Oh! I love love love it!

It’s a SUPER fun time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Are we going to Hell?"

This:
Last night K was multitasking. On the one hand, she was uploading photos of us grinning wearing yellow-and-red lifevests in blue kayaks underneath the orange sun beside the green water of the lake. On the other, she was reading the most recent Oxfam report on escalating cases of rape in North Kivu.

Side by side, both things on her computer, she looked at them, and then she looked at me, and she said, “Are we going to hell?”

This:
Yesterday K & J & I had decided we DESERVED a break because we had had HARD weeks and we had EARNED a trip to Gisenyi to rent kayaks and lie on the beach. We went. It was wonderful. We swam. We lay on our backs in freshly mowed grass and blew bubbles that caught in the wind and whipped into the sky. We bitched about life. We rowed. (There was an incident when we were far out in the lake on the kayaks and military police in a full camouflage motorboat zipped up to us and told us coldly to “GO BACK” but – hey – it’s Rwanda. We should have expected it.) On the whole, it was a beautiful day. Even when it started to rain, we grabbed up our junk and raced inside the fancy Serena hotel, giggling, and ordered hot chocolate and fresh French fries.

Also, this:
In South Kivu, sexual violence is pervasive, affecting women of all ages, ethnicities and marital statuses. Women are attacked everywhere, even in the privacy of their own homes. The sexual assaults are ruthless, with horrific reports of gang rape, sexual slavery, genital trauma, forced rape between victims and rape in the presence of family members. Sexual violence survivors often witness the torture and murder of their children and spouses.
...
The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) killed at least 321 civilians and abducted 250 others, including at least 80 children, during a previously unreported four-day rampage in the Makombo area of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in December 2009.

This:
When I was stuck in Kinshasa last week, thanks to broke-down UNHAS airplanes & bumped MONUC flights, I was feeling very sad and sorry for myself, that I had friends quitting Goma while I was trapped out West, whom I’d not get to bid goodbye. I wrote something of the sort on Facebook whining about MONUC flights and et cetera and a good friend responded “Just be grateful that MONUC is there to protect you at all and that when you eventually travel, you’ll get to do so in an airplane and not on hot dusty roads”. And so I read that, and. I was furious. I wrote back, my fingers so fast that the clicks of the keys swarmed together and the computer was damn near smoking, that I understand that I am crazy privileged but that doesn’t mean I have to wear a hair shirt and beat myself and at the very least it sure doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to feel sad about saying goodbye to people I care about!

It was a snarky comment that she made. But I let it get so far under my skin.

Oh dear.
Because, like K, I do look around at my life here, and look at the stories I hear, and wonder how it could ever be possible to reconcile them.

LRA. FARDC. FDLR. CNDP. Mayi-Mayi. Kimia II. "Amani Leo". PARECO. RDF.

LRAFARDCFDLRCNDPMAYIMAYIKIMIAIIAMANILEOPARECORDFDRCOC.

And in this same area, I enjoy a well-rounded existence consisting of sunbathing, work-work-work, boats, champagne-and-strawberry dinners, gossiping, cappuccinos, more work and more work and more work.

But, hey!
Congolese people who live here also have rounded lives. Anyone who portrays a people as constantly-terrorized caricatures is lying. Like you, like me, also persons born and raised in North Kivu have friends and loved ones and work and fun and gossip and inside jokes and joy and sadness and.

It’s war.

It rips apart families, communities, physical bodies. But human resilience – that remains.

Right?
I’m not trying to justify my choice to spend a Sunday paying to go out into the lake on kayaks but I’m trying to figure out if it’s really despicable in this context or not, OR if it is despicable, on the ruler of despicableness, how despicable it is.

K & J & I could have pooled the money we spent to rent kayaks and paid part of the school fees for an underprivileged kid. But what would that have helped? We believe in aid delivery through systems and professionals, not through money thrown at children. Okay. We could have just sat on the money we have. We could have gone to market and bought a thousand tons of eggplant to invest the money into the local economy, thus depleting the eggplant market and and and. We could have – what?

If we start from the assumption that aid delivery as it is happening in North Kivu is saving lives (it is) and not simply shoring up a corrupt and broken government (um…) then it is justifiable that on our weekend we relax so that during the week we can work even harder alongside our fellow human beings for the greatest common good.

We have to question, always question and question and question and adjust and lobby and advocate and change. But at some point we also have to have faith in our choice to work in aid, in our organizations, and in the collaborative work being done by our colleagues and friends. And that faith allows us to take care of ourselves as well as to immerse ourselves in work.

Right?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes

Friday I awoke at 4:45 a.m. in the muggy hot capital city of Congo, threw my junk in my backpack, was driven to the MONUC air terminal, waited hours, flew to the center of the country, waited many more hours, flew to the East, and waited in the rain for an hour for the car to show.

That night I dreamed of surprise solar eclipses and that the sun was speeding up in the sky baffling scientists.

Saturday I awoke at 11 a.m. and walked – walked! walked! walked! – free and alone to the border crossing, got my passport stamped by an older woman who patiently spoke to me in rudimentary Kiswahili, and WALKED through no-man’s-land to Rwanda, to the beach, met friends there, drank cool white wine, soaked in sun, swam in the lake, read Marie Claire, enjoyed two hot chocolates, listened to the waves, had DEEP conversations, and got a massage at the spa.

Life, o! life.

Back to the Lake

Lake Kivu is beautiful:


My house is in this photo!!! That was SO EXCITING to see:


Oh, Goma, lovely little Goma:


Yup, Goma...




Friday, April 16, 2010

Glee!

Stuck for a six-something hour stopover in Kisangani.

Kisangani, which, when I thought about it (not very often), I pictured in the very lower East of the country, actually turns out to be in the middle center of Congo. (That’s embarrassing. I’ve lived in this country nearly six months.) Flying over, I saw that there are lots of trees here.

One-and-a-half hours to go till my flight.

The MONUC waiting lounge is full of buzzing yellow tube lights in a ceiling full of pipes and metal vents. There are toilets in a bathroom with a broken mirror. There is a bar in a corner that sells grilled cheese sandwiches and cold Fanta.

Like at the Goma airport and at the Kinshasa airport, there is a graveyard for broken and rusty airplanes right off of the runway and outside the waiting room window. The sickened airplanes squat, dribbling metal bolts and looking forlorn.

A US government guy I am randomly acquainted with from my trek into the Virunda Gorilla Jungle turned up at my side about two hours into my wait. He’s on his way in the opposite direction, Goma-to-Kinshasa, ultimately ending his mission and heading home, then to Sudan Somalia wherever. He told me about a volcano in Iceland that has erupted sending up a dust cloud so large it forced the shutdown of airports in six European countries. He talked to me a little bit about the security situation in Kiwanja.

I have my computer and I have the most recent episode of GLEE! (yay!) that a friend somehow managed to find & get to me. I didn’t have any headphones. Luckily my random acquaintance did. So I curled up in one of the hard plastic picnic chairs and he in another and we watched Rachel & Finn & Mr. Shuster belt out showtunes on my computer and I reminded myself again & again that I was not in a context where it was acceptable to sing along, don’t sing along, don’t sing along…

Flight

I’m on a super-turbulent MONUC flight cross-country, Kinshasa to Goma via Kisangani. Bounce! Bounce. Bouncity BOUNCE, bounce. Bounce!!! I would pay someone a lot of money to show up at my side right now with a PEOPLE magazine or an OK! or an IN STYLE. What IS happening to random pop culture chicks & dudes in the States, anyway??? Ergh.

And so, also: I’ve agreed to stay here in-country for another month. Four-and-change more weeks. To work on one specific Big Health Proposal. Why? Oh, why.

1. They want me to stay. That’s never not nice. And
2. I care about the programs. And
3. The lake! And living beside it! And
4. My boss, I heart her, she’s a strong manager and kind. And
5. I heart my friends. And
6. I enjoy working. I don’t enjoy not working. (Even if either way, I’m not getting paid.)

I will be missing the May Market at home in Pittsburgh, which I was dreaming about. It feels like I haven’t been to a May Market since I was a kid, with lemons&peppermintsticks, and grilled mushroom sandwiches and flowersflowersflowers. But. But, okay. By staying here, I will be STAYING in the GAME. There will be more May Markets. But there probably won’t be more Big Health Proposals in Congo.

Experience

[NB: I edited my original post here for niceness. Because just because I THINK something, doesn’t mean I should always necessarily SAY it, at least not IMMEDIATELY, which is a lesson I do attempt, day after day, to learn.]

I remember this: We’re on top of active Nyiragongo. It’s barely five in the morning. We are soaked to the bone – our fingers are wrinkled from the puddles we slept in. Except we didn’t actually sleep, so our eyes are blurry, too. From exhaustion, cold, and shock, our teeth are chattering. The view stretching off to the hills of Rwanda and the wide lake of Congo is something none of us has ever seen. Our ears are filled with the sound of lava bubbles bursting in the glow of the red lake below our feet. And my colleague H pulls out a beaten up dirty plastic Kivu Maji bottle filled to the brim with Amarula. We pass that bottle around. We take big swigs. And then together, we have the courage to leap over the side of the cliff and to begin the sharp decent back to sea level.

I would love to have that bottle back now, and those people around me! Just one big swig before having to face the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis – er, I mean, a phone job-interview – this afternoon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Violet Kir

Last night we sat out on the porch of M’s apartment and drank white wine with violet kir.

(I had never heard of this before. It is my new favorite drink ever.)

We talked about advocacy and badvocacy and debated The Kristof. We ate sharp French cheeses from France and dark chocolate with candied orange peel. There was light rain in the breeze and we got a bit misted but didn’t move inside.

(I was the harshest critic of The Kristof which always seems to be the case but what are you gonna do. The others made some good points, too.)

We talked about journalism and Big Important Letters about Policy Recommendations. It was pleasant. It was all quite interesting and nice.

And we heard acapella singing from a street along the way and we smelled the violets in the wine.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

But!

Our security rules in Kinshasa are stricter than our rules in Goma.

In Goma, we can walk ourselves to the office. As long as it is daylight, we can walk to the coffee shop by the first round-about or past it to the grocery stores. We can walk to the border with Rwanda and cross, and walk through Gisenyi to the beach.

In Kinshasa, we aren’t allowed to walk. Ever.

I’m here through Friday at least, now. On Friday, I will go to the airport and I will stand at the end of the runway and I will stick out my thumb, squeeze shut my eyes, and pray that the MONUC flight deigns to take me on board.

Kinshasa is nice for some things. My colleagues are nice. I like having lunch together with them. It’s nice to get face-time with my boss and to discuss work in person instead of via the crackly cell phone. I like going to my boss’s home for dinner almost every night. I like swimming in the green deep warm swimming pool at our guesthouse. It’s interesting to see this big funny hot loud rusty dusty colorful metallic city.

But.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gah.

So at the museum yesterday I saw Henry Morton Stanley’s old boat. And Stanley used this boat to go up the Congo River. And so I was thinking, “Maybe I too could use this boat to go up the Congo River!” After all, I have climbed an active volcano. I have trekked into the jungle to track gorillas. I know where the boat is kept. And I want to get home to Goma.

UNHAS is having fun canceling all my flights back east. I like my Kinshasa colleagues and there is a pool, but I love my Goma colleagues and there is the lake. And I have so little time left here. (Maybe possibly who knows.) And Kinshasa is hot and the traffic is something out of Dante’s first circle of hell.

Oh I miss the sound of the waves.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Trip to the Museum

This morning, trying to find the National Museum, J (my driver) and I were stopped at a roadblock by FARDC soldiers. They asked us for a small bribe. A small bribe of $125. Again, that’s: One. Two. Five. US dollars. I laughed. Out loud. I scolded them. We drove away. I called M and I ranted. M advised me. We drove back. I scolded more. They explained. We discussed. (This is all going on in French, thank you very much.) Eventually we all realized that, um, I was actually on the wrong road.

So that worked out in the end.

We laughed and shook hands. And I gave a long speech about the importance of museums and allowing visitors access to them. In French. O! my French cousins, you would be so proud.

The museum was very fascinating. Masks, totems, Stanley’s boat, a statue of Leopold. Also: Happy news! I am now engaged to the museum curator’s son.

I haven’t met him yet, but I’m assured by everyone (curator and accompanying guards alike) that that doesn’t matter. My new fiancĂ© is 33. He lives in Belgium and draws comic books. His mother is despairing a bit for grandchildren. Mothers are the same all over. I liked her. She liked me. We had fun in broken-English broken-French wandering through the museum.

(Of course, this is not my first engagement. If I’d said yes to every single proposal I’ve received along the way, I’d have a whole army of men at my beck and call. I could shore-up MONUC or I could invade small countries. Honestly, it might be kind of great.

I do recognize, of course, that this desire men have to marry me has everything to do with my personality and nothing at all to do with my American passport. Nothing to do with the weird myths and legends surrounding the magic of that small blue book that I possess.)

After the museum, the curator and I took a stroll through the park surrounding Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga’s old residence. In his backyard, we saw the graves for the men who built the railroad in the late 19th century. We saw empty, rusting, vine-covered cages that once held Mobutu’s collection of exotic animals, leopards and zebras and eagles. We saw the amphitheater he had constructed and we strolled beneath his ancient trees, where he used to walk, everyday, at noon.

Mobutu, Stanley, Leopold, and the monuments to their insanity. What a world. As I walked past these artifacts of luxury and suffering, I was so lucky to have the kind company and deep historical knowledge of the matchmaking mother by my side.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Shrinking Space

Crazy letters, threatening text messages, thirty-five year old “youth” group members in suits & ties and sticks – they are battering down on our humanitarian space. At least temporarily. We my colleagues and I are leaving the outskirts and coming together in the city of Goma. Probably it is not “youth” acting alone. Maybe it is “youth” being manipulated by politicians. Possibly it is not “youth” at all but CNDP. The threads to tie up the stories that we hear are hopelessly tangled and fraying.

I will get my pizza party. The pizza party I cried about missing last week when my flights changed? – It will most likely be postponed until I get home to Goma.

Thanks, CNDP!

We joke like that. But – we don’t laugh.

There are whispers of a cholera outbreak while there is this lack of access to health centers. When you focus inward on it, there is terrible fear.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Kin

I have had dinner both nights with my lovely boss and her interesting partner. They have cooked and given me French cheeses and wheat breads. When you go out on the balcony in the back of their apartment with a glass of red wine in your hand, you can see the lights of the city stretching for miles, but you can also see Orion and friends winking at you from the sky. Stars and city lights meet at the horizon.

Kinshasa. Kin is HOT. The guesthouse has a swimming pool and air conditioning. (The swimming pool is green and the air conditioning is dependent on the generator working, but there you go.)

When you leave the guesthouse for the office at 7 a.m., the drive takes you 12 minutes tops. When you leave at 7:30 a.m. or later, bring a book. It will take you over an hour. Blink in the morning and the roads meld into parking lots.

In the office, I have been alternating between wearing the white loafers the worker in the airport gave me when my flip-flops snapped and hot pink flowered shoes my boss loaned me. (Oh yes. I've been looking cool.)

I still can’t believe the generosity of that random woman giving me her shoes. As if I were her neighbor, her kin.

(Obviously, it was especially kind since we all know that there is a dire drought of shoes, shoes, shoes in developing countries.)

Soak in strength from the milk of human kindness.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Journeying to Kinshasa

I’ve told you before about my absolute and utter inability to say GOODBYE to people. It is a weird choice for a profession that I have made for myself, given that. I am going to Kinshasa for a week and am coming back Monday. I was supposed to come back Sunday. We were all going to have a pizza dinner down on the lake front. Now I will not be home for the pizza dinner. There will be wine and candles and tasty toppings. I will miss it. By the time I get home to Goma, E will be gone. H will be leaving on vacation. K won’t be there. Nothing will be the same. Sometimes I hate love.

In my next life, I will live in a tiny village on a green rolling hill, where people are born, stay, die, and never leave.

I am in the MONUC air terminal waiting for my UNHAS flight. My face is all splotchy and I long for the anonymity of a big crowded Western airport where I could just sit down by myself and have a nice self-indulgent cry and nobody would care. Goma’s a small town. These people around me all know people who know people whom I know.

Oh well.

There’s the rusting remnants of a crashed airplane over to my right behind razor wire curling like a fern frond. O! Goma. You’re such a weird place.

*

Well, damn.

Just when I’m totally content wallowing in my own complete misery, stupid strangers come along with their stupid beautiful kindnesses and they get me – every time. Every time! My flip flop broke as I walked through security and a woman who works here ran after me, stopped me, and gave me – GAVE ME – her shoes. Asked nothing in return. I hugged her and she laughed. Should I have gifted her with something too? Oh, I don’t know. I will try to find a small and lovely item in Kin to bring back for her, hoping I can find her again. THANK YOU. And the shoes? They fit PERFECTLY.

Okay, FINE, humanity. You’ve won me over again.

I’m excited to see Kinshasa.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monday After Easter

Went out in my boat and saw king fishers, cormorants, and one tiny yellow butterfly winging across the water. Turned around and then around again, and then there’s the beautiful delicate yellow butterfly, lying face down in the water. I tried to save it, but it was clearly dead.

There’s this dead tree atop which a hawk always sits, looking out over his kingdom that includes the lake and our house. Staring down at the dead butterfly on the end of my oar (with which I had tried to rescue it), I heard loud loud cawing. I looked up; a crow had perched in the hawk’s spot and was bragging loudly in celebration, showing off, swaggering gleefully.

Decided I wanted a treat. Rowed into shore and found a chauffeur, W, and we went to the grocery store to get ingredients to make coffee-can ice cream. I paid for my cream, sugar, vanilla flavoring & rock salt, and then the woman with no nose just a cavernous hole in the center of her face followed me to my car begging for food money whatever.

She wouldn’t leave until W hit the gas and we sped away.

P/Easter HERE

I took Ndege-Samaki (my boat) out on Lake Kivu and there spanning from our house all the way over to the green mountains of Rwanda was a brilliant Technicolor rainbow – the first I have seen HERE, despite all the sun and all the rain. A peace bridge, hey? An Easter present.

I tried to dye eggs but the only eggs HERE are brown and the only food coloring I could find was yellow so it wasn’t perfect, but I tried, anyway. I made a little Easter basket for the brown-yellow eggs and added chocolate and cut out paper rabbits for decoration.

Four of my colleaguehousematefriends and I shared dinner and candy and watched Glee projected onto our living room wall. Our two French colleaguehousematefriends, E and V, made crepes. I tried to make a traditional apple-walnut-wine dish (except with pear and almonds, oh well) for H, who celebrates Passover. H made a mushroom onion dish which was delicious. We ate Masisi cheese and sang along to the showtune choir and I fell asleep on our red living room couch, listening to the music, stomach full, HERE beside the lake & beneath the volcano & below the rainbow.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Brief Note About GORILLAS

It was completely worth it.  The money, the ant bites, the wet shoes, the scratches from tripping over cloud forest vines, the deep purple bruises on my back and arms from gripping onto a Hilux on a terrible road.  It was COMPLETELY.  Worth.  It.  All.

Seeing the gorillas is everything that They say it is, when They wax most poetically about it.

I had a thought, just as we were hiking up to the volcano-rock wall separating farms from the entrance to the park.  Here I am, climbing to visit mountain gorillas in Eastern Congo.  Maybe, instead of making millions of mistakes along the way, I have actually made every choice in my life perfectly absolutely right, because, after all: Here I am.

"Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must've done something good."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

GORILLAS.

GORILLAS are the largest living primates.

The DNA of GORILLAS is 98-99% identical to that of humans.

I read an essay by Michael Crichton about going to see GORILLAS in Rwanda.  It was a very good essay.

Mountain GORILLAS (Gorilla beringei beringei) live in the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests of the Virunga volcanos.  Mountain GORILLAS are the darkest colored GORILLAS of all the types of GORILLAS.  They also have the thickest hair.  Researchers discovered that some 800,000 years ago Mountain GORILLAS evolved from Eastern GORILLAS.  No Mountain GORILLA has ever survived captivity.

The word GORILLA is derived from the Greek Gorillai which means "a tribe of hairy women" (unless Wikipedia is lying to me).

GORILLAS move around by knuckle-walking.  GORILLAS all have individual fingerprints.  (Like us!)

GORILLAS live to be between 30 and 50 years old.

GORILLAS use tools in the wild.  GORILLAS are Hominidae.

Threats to GORILLAS include habitat destruction and bushmeat trade.  Other threats include disease and war.

I am celebrating Easter by going to see GORILLAS.

I am going to love the GORILLAS that I get to meet. I already love them, just thinking about them.  LOVE them.  Love.

It's a fucking charmed life I lead.

Maybe, Probably

Maybe I will go see the gorillas this weekend. I hope it doesn't hail on me in the jungle again.

Maybe I will go to the beach in Rwanda.

Next Tuesday, probably (pending ticket acquisition) I will go to Kinshasa for the first time ever. Of the expatriates I know who have been there, 95% hate-hate-hate it and 5% love-love-love it and there is NO in-between. There are no expatriate lukewarm feelings about Kinshasa that I have ever heard. I can't wait to make my own judgment.

It is raining now. For a couple of days after the volcano, whenever we heard rain smacking the earth, my volcano-hiking friends and I got all twitchy with rain-PTSD. But now. We're healing. Pole-pole. It gets better. I'm kind of enjoying the sound of the rain right now, although only a little bit.

Last night was weekly drinks on the terrace. Fresh squeezed strawberry juice, mojitos, rum. Starlight swimmers splashing in the lake.