Thursday, December 23, 2010

Toubab Dialaw

Beach Time in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal

The author of this blog is on holiday in West Africa until January 9, 2011. She urges you to ring in the new year with joy, tickles, laughter and a big splash, which is just where this little girl is headed.

Photo: December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

ELF Disclaimer

I am an independent free-thinking woman; therefore, I would like to state the following:


"This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellows' own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State."

I have announced this once in a previous blog entry, and I will proclaim it loudly and clearly a second time.

Join me on my wild ride of ideas independent from any entity of mind control.

Thank you and visit again soon!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Press Conference on December 14, 2010

The Congolese Minister of Communication stole my students away to be the backdrop for his interview in the library. We all turned off our cell phones. He wanted the students to look busy at their computer stations while he gave his interview to the national television reporters. Forty-five minutes later, they were allowed to return to the work they were doing with me: crafting their curriculum vitae in English.

Books for Africa in Brazza

The 2010-2011 English Language Fellow
Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

Liberating Knowledge in Brazzaville

The political diplomacy team left the embassy on an overcast October Brazzaville afternoon with the mission of literary liberation in mind. Hundreds of boxes of Books for Africa textbooks, novels, and training manuals stacked five feet high lay in wait silently collecting dust in the embassy warehouse.

It was time for these books to see the light of day.

When the team- Public Affairs Officer Shayna Cram, IRC Clerk Nzounza Prude Esperance, Audio Visual Specialist Serguei-Bracy Ndinga-Momo, and English Language Fellow Lori Runkle arrived at the warehouse- they surveyed the weighty stacks of potential learning and began to organize, unpack, sort and label. Five boxes stuffed with writing manuals and speech materials were labeled with masking tape for delivery to the Ministry of Communication. Six boxes were destined for the Villa Washington English Program. Science books were headed for bookshelves in Congo’s National Lab, and assorted college level publications found a new home at Marien Ngouabi University.

According to Public Diplomacy Program Coordinator, Lejuste Moukoubouka, “Young people in the Congo don’t have the right resources. Books are outdated. People hunger for knowledge, but they don’t have the proper resources. The fact that students can have access to these materials will enable them to learn competitively with the rest of the world.”

“In the states, we take books for granted. Here they mean so much,” said Cram about the Books for Africa shipment she was unpacking in the warehouse in Brazzaville.

The public diplomacy team helped spread the written word throughout Brazzaville in partnership with Minneapolis-based Books for Africa. Their shared goal was to help end the book famine in Africa. Opening every box was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

snap, crackle, pop drops

December 12, 2010

Soak the drenched in December:
Thirsty or not-drink again-
more self possesed than sunlight.

Thunder cracks slippery colorless clouds
open like a Primus.

Moist jingle bells
pop and drop


liquid life
into the mouth
of Brazza City.

Dots on the Map of Living

Beauty, Simply Beauty

This orchid that I saw today tops the list of beauty in my life in Brazzaville. Thanks to nature for breathing room and variations on the color purple.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Accidental iPod Score: Paul Snell

"He's leaving on that midnight train to Georgia" rocks my morning with Gladys Knight and the Pips hip-swaying my body left, right, smooth and easy Friday here I come. Life is good when Gladys keeps it real and creamy. Her mood is made for slow dancing romance, and I have to thank my good buddy Paul Snell for accidentally downloading his entire music collection into iTunes and erasing all my music.

New music to explore.
New adventures to uncover.
Life is good again.
Thank you universe.

"I feel a song in my heart," and I will sing along with Gladys feeling every pulse of life around me. Rainy season in Brazza: Down it comes unstoppable, persistent, cool and wet. Accompanied by Gladys Knight and the Pips, I quite like it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Lost in Translation on the CV

My students have been working on their curriculum vitae. As they work, they use an online dictionary/translation program to convert ideas from French to English, which may not always give the best interpretation of their thought process in clear English.


Extensive knowledge of Xerox, copying machine, brain scanner



Monday, December 06, 2010

Toilet Bowl Flooded My Bathroom Blues

I am awake later than usual because our apartment complex hadn't had water for the past three days. Today, water began its dreamy flow to the parched at around four in the afternoon. After I showered, I set to work filling my black garbage can with what I call security water for dry days. There was a knock on my door. My neighbor arrived for coffee, and while we were chatting on the couch, I heard the splish-splash of an overloaded garbage can while noticing H2O winding its way through my bedroom and spilling into the sitting room where we were engrossed in a conversation about German sausage.

Get the broom and squeegie. Flooded the house again.

When will I learn? And that's my toilet minus the seat. The seat fell off about the time I moved into the apartment. A toilet seat is not essential to one's bathroom experience, and I feel better off without it because it habitually pinched my bottom for the one or two days it was still attached to the actual toilet.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thanks CNN

Daphne Sashin from CNN contacted me about writing an iReport on Brazzaville for the CNN web site. I enjoyed working with Daphne online and want to thank her for all the support she gave me in uploading photos and ensuring that my story appeared on the CNN site.

Thanks so much Daphne!

Here is the link to my story:

Brazzaville: The Forgotten Nation

Palm Wine Sunday Sun

Being calmly exhausted from a day spent with spiritually enriching people is the best! Packing six people from four nations into a stormy sky-blue compact car imported from France for a trip to the Congolese countryside is a sure way to get to know your neighbor. French and English, English and French, the linguistic ping pong ball warming the ears and delighting the mind. A few legs fell asleep in the backseat, ants marching up calves stinging as they went, but to be with people who spiritually fed me teaspoons full of mini-nirvana was a day well spent. [If I manufactured a breakfast cereal, I think I would call it Mini-Nirvana!]

In Congo, people don't consider being alone to be joyful. Interdependence is the norm. Interacting socially, helping a neighbor or friend, and participating in community life is how it goes. To state the obvious: Life is tough here, and no one can exist as an independent entity.

As an American who held the values of independence and individuality so close to my heart, I have done my share of cultural adjusting after my arrival in Brazzaville in late August 2010. Let's just say, I am not as independent as I once was, and I am learning to enjoy the Congolese outlook on life.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Homework for Rainy Season

My students have opened Yahoo accounts, and I send them short assignments via e-mail such as this one from November 25, 2010.

2. Answer this question and e-mail your answer to me:

Do you like the rainy season?

Bienvenu Gerdan LOUZOLO responded as follows.

About the second homework, I dislike the rainy season.Because its prevent me to move. With the bad state of our city it's not possible to work. with the rain many person with bad behaviors find an opportunity to throw away their garbage.

What do you mean about people who behave badly throwing away their garbage? I don’t understand because I am American. Can you explain it to me in more detail?

hello Lori, About garbage, there is some of congolese population living especially in popular quarters who wait for rains to throw it away on streets to be carry by waters. It is the reality of Brazzaville during the rains season. Brazzaville doesn't get an available service to pick up garbage. It's one of a great problem whom face our city. I hope you have understood my idea.

Good by and pass a wonderful weekend.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Food Security in Congo

Congo imports the majority of its food products, so I decided to open my eyes concerning what I have been eating for the past two days. The geographical sources of my nutrition surprised me!

Breakfast 5:32 a.m. on December 3, 2010

Nescafé – Prepared by Nestle Côte-d'Ivoire

Milgro – full cream milk powder

Manufactured by:


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Manufactured by:



Snack at 1:57 p.m.

Nutro Digestives – product of Oman – whole wheat, flour and bran

Manufactured by:

Al Sallan Food Industries Co. SAOG, Sultanate of Oman

For: Strategic Foods International Co. L.L.C.

Dubai, UAE

Every one loves Nutro!

Mambo chocolat au lait made in Cameroon

Dinner on December 2, 2010 included:

Chtoura Garden chick-pea dip (hummus tahini)

Manufactured by Alfa Interfood

Chtoura, Lebanon

Polo Star sardines

Made in Indonesia but manufactured in Luanda, Angola

And my mayonnaise was manufactured in Belgium, my ketchup in France, and my Ceres fruit juices are labeled South African.

My palate is on a trip around the world while here I sit in Congo.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Poked by a Loaf of Bread

I buy my bread at La Mie Doree on Avenue Fach in the centre ville of Brazzaville. The woman who takes my money always warns me to be careful because the bread might stick me with its sharp points. The end of this loaf reminds me of my cat Seymour. He is back home in Iowa cuddled somewhere warm in the house avoiding the December chill.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Gold Digger

This homework assignment from Alexis Ngolo, a student in my English for Journalists class in Brazzaville, Congo was too lovely to go unnoticed in my Yahoo mailbox. I want to present his story to the world. Thank you Alexis for working so hard in my class and for giving such sage advice. The entry is untouched and unedited from the original.

Tue, November 30, 2010 4:45:19 PM
Yahoo Mail
Subject: a letter from your student

Please teacher good afternoon
I come forward in the name of Alexis Ngolo. I'm your student in the cnrtv. I work for Radio called Radio Brazzaville.
I have one story for you about a golddigger who stamped one man on this week end. My bozom friend and me we took place in the fast food restaurant and in the dancing bar. At the dancing bar we met on man with a girl . We were far from this couple. A golddigger stamped this boy blood. when she constated that his compagnion spended hall his money she droped him like a hot patato and said before leavind: I'm sick and tired for you. this boy was look and some and snappy dressers. The power boy screamed out because he spended all his money and had not a great time. My friend and me both we advised this boy who was very very disappointed. He was thank goodness fo that. Accordingto my mind it's the cower many love. It also the consequences for man who is a ladie's man or womanizer for man who run after ladies. When he made decisions to leave the dancing bar he all but missed out his bag. We remind him to take it. On the way to home we had heart that he stopped for cigarettes. My opinion is the following if you meet a girl some where before making a proposal or taking a date you must know her character and her behaviour. Your studient Alexis Ngolo.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Firestarter: Failure

If you live in Brazzaville, and you want to light your gas stove, I would not recommend these matches. Simba is not as virile and roaring as he may seem- let me tell you!

Firestarter: Success

The combination of a reliable box of Le Boxeur matches and a fast moving football lighter were my solution to the dawn crisis of lighting my gas stove to make the ever-important morning cup of instant Nescafé with Milgro powdered milk and white sugar. Getting the human engine started with caffeine...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thinking About Soul Mates

Soul mates are about work, not play. The word “soul” opens a gigantic can of karma. While dating and light relationships are all about fun and playfulness, soul mates are all about deep emotional support, trust and faith. When you choose to go deeper with someone, you’re opening yourself up — you become emotionally vulnerable. Susan Strong, San Mateo-based astrologer and metaphysical counselor jokes, “Sometimes our soul mates become our cross to bear. You marry someone who is your soul mate and, over time, you realize you’re connected not just through chemistry, but because you are there to help each other.”

To love someone and be loved is a deeply spiritual state. [I never thought about it like this before, while at the same time realizing there is no assurance that a soul mate is for life. Just learning from the other person is the gift.]

Maybe I am ready to work now!
Thinking about Eternity while living in the present- the human condition.

Monday, November 15, 2010

for mom take II

for mom

"When we do make a genuine connection with another person, it's a heart connection. We can touch another heart, another life, only with our own heart and life. We may be the ones to benefit most; you never know what will happen or who will end up liberating whom. When we reach out, we're offering to let go of our own preconceptions about "who I am," "who you are," and what could or should happen. A meeting of minds or hearts is never about just one person; it's like a chemical reaction, an alchemy that can transform both." —Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

They are discussing Ponlop Rinpoche's Rebel Buddha at the Tricycle Book Club! I think I want to read this book.

Check It Out

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wandering Mind: Unhappy Mind

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Killingsworth and Gilbert write. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

"Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to 'be here now,'" Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind." This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn't going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain's default mode of operation. "Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities," says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. "This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the non-present."

"Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness," Killingsworth says. "In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged."

Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Harvard University. The original article was written by Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer.

Journal Reference: Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel T. Gilbert. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.

Science, 2010; 330 (6006): 932 DOI: 10.1126/science.1192439

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rising UP, turning mistakes into gold: That's me!

Just where to put all your faith and where will it go? Eddie Veddar, Rise Up

UniVerse- A United Nations of Poetry:

Amadou Lamine SALL

Amantes D'Aurores

déjà le poème s'essouffle et les mots s'esquivent
la plume danse des arabesques saoule de son vin noir
les voyelles sont distraites
et les consonnes rétives errent en procession
sur le vide de la page qui bâille

English Version

Already the poem is out of breath and the words are slipping away
The pen, inebriated by the black wine, is dancing arabesques
The vowels are distracted
And the stubborn consonants are wandering in procession
On the emptiness of the yawning page (7-11)

Commentary on Life: The renewal of new beginnings in Buddhist philosophy is fundamental to a life well lived for me, so I pick up my pen to compose a new poem. All words and opportunities- both past and present - are waiting to be remolded into artistic visions of grace and harmony on the chosen medium. Opportunities, arrows, words, and vague memories of past lives recycle continuously into new shapes and colors zinging through the pink cotton candy of our minds. This process is what gives life surprise and joy! and its sweetness too of course.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Sordid Onion Breath

Chinese Keys

I am having one of those days that seem to happen here more often than once a week. I just found out the keyboards attached to the computers in the Ministry Library might have Chinese characters- but despite that obstacle to updating journalists’ technical skills- the first stumbling block is to have the Minister of Communication (minus the s) and the American Ambassador inaugurate the library so we can go inside. The doors to the library are now locked until said inauguration hoo-ha takes place. My supervisor is coming from South Africa today, but nobody told me when he plans to show up: Surprise it will be! I tried to call my contact at the ministry, but his phone has been off all day, and I want to pull someone else’s hair out of his head, preferably the guy who sent Chinese keyboards to Brazzaville. AGH!

To top this off, I have sordid onion breath from my avocado and onion sandwich.

The Dollar is King in Kinshasa: Counterfeit?

Dear Universe- Divine and Otherwise,

My mom had a minor stroke on a day I don’t know exactly in October because I am on the continent of Africa- Brazzaville to be exact- and she is in Iowa. I only found out via e-mail from my sister. I spoke to her this morning, November 8, because lucky for me- at 4:40 in the morning Brazza time- my phone decided to put a call through, which allowed me to imbibe her timid voice into my ears before she ate her cookies and drifted off to sleep at around 21:40 Iowa time. I don't know how every moment was in synch, because usually something goes wrong here to derail well crafted plans, but my ZAIN telephone service worked. I talked to her for about 7 entirely wonderful minutes. What a relief. When family is not balanced, I am not balanced.

Crossing the River

I am trying to cross the river to Kinshasa on Friday to take my GRE subject test in literature at the CALI English Language Institute. The Wikitravel site warns that “Kinshasa's infrastructure is largely dysfunctional” but then so is Brazzaville’s infrastructure. Fellow Americans who are not under the protection of the embassy tell horror stories about DRC immigration. A welcome to the country is initiated by officials shaking people down for money. In order to prevent this obstacle to one’s destination, a fixer or an expediter on both sides of the Congo is paid to help naïve Americans and Europeans navigate the corruption that is part of everyday life here. I’ve heard it’s not supposed to be so bad on the Brazza side, but corruption, like rust, rots the spine of this nation until water and electricity are sporadic and the gap between rich and poor yawns outrageously grotesque. I wonder what the holiday experience will be like when I depart from Brazza’s Maya-Maya Airport for Dakar, Senegal at Christmas time. I will worry about that voyage in December- for now- it's the Kinshasa trip that requires my time and attention.

People are kidnapped in Kinshasa; the taxis unmarked; and the drivers potential thieves I am told. As a single woman, I want to take all manner of precautions while visiting, so as not to be driven to a remote location by a taxi driver and robbed. Carrying cash is another problem. Credit cards are not widely accepted in Kinshasa or Brazza, and the minimal bandwidth problem means that even if they are accepted, there may be no connection to open the credit access lines for a customer at the cash machine. Carrying large amounts of cash is not my preferred method of travel, but may be my only choice.

As this is a society that operates mainly on personal connections and word of mouth, I have asked everyone I know about their travel experience to this emaciated capital city. I have e-mails flying in all directions regarding lodging and public transportation. I don’t want to disappear into the dysfunctional infrastructure or have my valuables vanish with me into the crowd of nearly eleven million that is the city.

I am also planning to visit CALI, an English Language School, while I am there. When I called the director of CALI, he said that the car is broken down, so Cyril, a teacher, can’t pick me up. That’s the other important defining characteristic you should know about the two Congos, things break and don’t get fixed. My apartment complex has been out of water due to a pump repair since Thursday. It’s amazing how little water one really needs. Makes me feel like a water hog in the States, but darn, I miss water in the pipes flowing out the facet on to my naked body- sometimes warm and sometimes cold- but water nevertheless.

Friday, November 05, 2010

candle light eye candy

Inviting Julia and Philip into my electricity-free apartment and enjoying the companionship of a language exchange in the dark, punctuated by flickers of orange flares from the candle lodged in the NesCafe tin was a completely normal evening. Oh Brazza!!

Eye Candy

I was comparing notes with Andrew, a former student from Zimbabwe, who lives with his family in the U.K.

Being black in rural England

Being white in Congo-Brazzaville

We decided it’s like being the wrong variety of eye candy- orange jellybeans in a bag of cherry.

Sometimes, I think people enjoy being with me because I am an odd sort of status symbol, like an expensive car or a golf club membership. This feels awkward and uncomfortable. I had the benefit of blending when I lived in Lithuania at least until I opened my mouth. But most of the time, I love the Congolese friends who surround me daily and the missionary community members who have embraced me as SIL.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

champing mosquitoes, water, and miss lory

The mosquitoes of Brazzaville go champ, champ, champ, champ, champ.

If someone is eager or anxious to do something, they are said to be champing at the bit, (not chomping at the bit. nor chomping on the bit).
CHAMPING: Repetitious, strong opening and closing action of the mouth which produces sounds when the teeth hit together. Champing in swine may be a threat signal, but also is performed by boars during courtship and mating. Definition from Hurnik et al., 1995. 
- The Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Behavior

Cited on:

The generator is up and running I am told, but no water for a few days. Despite what you may think, this makes me happy because I saw the shiny green paint on the new water system.

Water Outage
To:SIL Community

Wed, November 3, 2010 2:52:42 PM - Water Outage

Hello everyone,

Rock asked me to inform you that starting tomorrow there will be no water for several days. The plan is to run the pump this evening so that center can fill containers with enough water for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday.

Water may run early tomorrow (Thursday) morning, but then workers will come to drain and clean/repair the underground reservoir and fix the problem with equipment that moves water from the reservoir to the center buildings.

If you there's no water running this evening, you should probably draw water from the reservoir to fill your containers.


Re: TH Classes
From: Franck
To: miss lory

hi miss lory!
sorry about the late, there was no electricity and the generator had broken down. but it is fine now. you know, it happens all the time here. there are electricity shortages almost every day. but whe you have a generator it is ok. it may be difficult for you because it hasn't been a long time since you came here, you may be having a hard time adjusting, but you will see, in time, you will get used to congolese life. i know what you're going through cause i've also been trough it. i used to live in france before. and when i came back here, it was horrible but now it is ok. i mean i know how to handle this life.
thank you for the details you gave me. by now i know which tele congo office you are talking about. i'll do my best to make time so i can come.
enjoy the rest of your day and remember you will get used to congolese life so don't panic when there is no electricity or when you have an appointment with someone and he or she doesn't show up at the appointed time. and please buy a generator.

--- En date de : Mar 2.11.10, Raingirl a écrit :

Objet: Re : TH class
Date: Mardi 2 novembre 2010, 21h14

Hi Franck,

It is the new building (green with mirrors) that was built by the Chinese that is about 15-20 minutes from the city center. The television studio is there. Hope that helps.


Tue, November 2, 2010 10:38:13 AM
Subject: Re : TH class

Good afternoon Miss Lory!
i've just got your message and i'm very happy to read it. i'm going to do my best to make time so i can come and attend your first class. however i need a little information. are you talking about tele congo office which is located on the outskirts of the town, in a area called "kombo" to be precise?
thank you for your time!

--- En date de : Mar 2.11.10, Raingirl a écrit :

Objet: TH class
Date: Mardi 2 novembre 2010, 15h49

Hello Franck,
I spent the afternoon at Tele Congo today. My first Thursday class begins at 9:30 am until 12 pm. The afternoon class is from 2 pm until 4:30 pm. You are welcome to come Thursday.

Sent: Tue, November 2, 2010 12:02:25 PM
Subject: Re: email for ELF

Hello Franck and Debra,
I found the email. Frank, my classes start this week, but I am really organizing everything. If you want to start next week, that would work too. I am running this morning. Please email again for details.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Etcetera of the Mind

Books, Books and More Books

Lan Samantha Chang, “Hunger: A Novella and Stories”

Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun

The Elephant’s Journey, by Jose Saramago

Room, by Emma Donoghue

The book [Diaghilev: A Life by S. Scheijen] concludes with a letter from Nouvel to Stravinsky: “He was a pagan, and a Dionysian pagan… He died in love and beauty, under the tender smile of those gods whom all his life he passionately served and worshipped. And I think Christ cannot but love such a man.” - NYT Book Review, Oct 26, 2010

Questions of the Day

Has anyone hot ever ice or roller-skated through your dreams- day or otherwise?

Defensive pessimism- what does this term mean to you?

Lucky Writers


"A wasted writer is one who spends his [or her] life pursuing false work in the hope of hiding from his [or her] own secrets. The luckiest writers cannot hide from them."

Lan Samantha Chang, All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost

Monday, November 01, 2010

Scandal Loves Your Appetites

New Chapter: November Rains

My ankle is my Achilles’ heal. I scratch it with pleasure sinking my nails into the inflamed patch of flesh that is the source of my irritation. Why the back of my ankles? Is this cherry chocolate cheesecake territory for mosquitoes? After one week in the country, I made a conscious decision to stop taking my malaria medication. The medication- Malarone- caused blisters in my mouth and an upset stomach most of the time even when I took the pill before bed. After making the decision to live a drug-free life, I experienced a few moments of terror when I imagined the worse. Each mosquito bite that appeared on my elbow or lower leg became the one that unleashed the infectious disease into my bloodstream pumping eventual fever and bone crushing pain from my liver and red blood cells onward.

I have never been a person who falls sick easily. Ills that affect others on first exposure wilt when they meet my immune system’s security guards. But the fact is, I could be infected with this dormant parasite waiting patiently until a moment of weakness descends upon my army of immunity. This is a risk I am willing to take, but I talked to a fellow book club member recently whose brother nearly died of cerebral malaria. I know from living in Kenya that this strain of the parasite is no laughing matter. The student told me that she spent her days running from pharmacy to pharmacy in Brazzaville trying to find the medication that her brother needed for his survival. The doctor pronounced him to be a lost cause, but she refused to release his life into the greedy hands of the afterlife. Slowly, slowly he began to emerge from a foggy coma, resurrected from death by a sister’s persistence and faith.

Now that rainy season entered stage left like a villain in a silent movie- overdramatic and black- mosquito larvae incubate and hatch wriggling in millions of stagnant pools pocketing the city. Who will care for me if my fever spikes to a deadly number? Once again, I will have no control over my life if and when delirium descends.

Yesterday was a hot- like sticking my face 20 centimeters from a preheated oven door- and only getting hotter. I soaked through my clothes at least five times, maybe as many as seven or eight, but I stopped counting after five. Soaking through my clothes is a bit like wetting my pants. I’m standing in front of coworkers and friends with patches of perspiration all over my body experiencing a bra full of moisture. And, my jogging bra often doesn’t dry out, remaining damp for the remainder of the day. There’s nothing I can do about my less than crisp appearance because my body is a fountain celebrating the season of rain, sun, and humidity.

All through the night, the rainy season dumped relief on sweaty people tangled in their sheets in the form of wind and rain- and more rain and wind. I woke at 5:45 this morning to waving banana leaves and the drone of drops propelled through the air by the force of the new month: November. I could only speculate on what the weather was doing to the Internet service across the city including the embassy’s computers. Would I find havoc and lethargy online when I returned to work on Tuesday? Booting up my own personal computer and trying to initiate a connection led to this message: “This computer was unable to join the Airport Network you selected.” No surprise there. Rain nurtures new vegetation and cripples Internet connections and speed in Brazzaville. No sign of stopping.

I have yet to find a permanent place to land. I plan to move into a small apartment in the city center on Wednesday, but until then, I am living in a room with an attached bathroom and access to a community kitchen. For some reason, my room is connected to a city power line that is not providing me with utilities, while my neighbors’ lights shine brightly on. I can only hope that morning will bring electricity to my dwelling as well, but like so many other things in this country, the outcome of light or dark is out of my hands. Understanding the Congolese electricity grid would be an overwhelming challenge for a trained professional, let alone an English Language Fellow from Iowa. I worry that trained professionals are not in charge of the dysfunctional grid because so much hiring here is based on nepotism and personal relationships-not actual knowledge of electricity- but as I said before, this is out of my hands. There are benefits of not having electricity, but I still want its unceasing presence. When there is no electricity, the intensity to produce, create, appear efficient is diminished, and I can fully relax into the moment. I find my self-awareness increases because I can hear my inner voice explaining what it needs to maintain a vibrant equilibrium. Life slows down and I can relax into the here and now. This condition of calm, balanced inefficiency; however, is alien and scorned by American culture- therefore, my American self looks at the inept fluorescent light stick longingly.

Reading on a Sunday

“…awkward, engorged with desire and then dead.” Is that the human condition? From the NYT Book Review, “Obsession” - Oct. 26, 2010

From the NYT Book Review, “They Did What?” - Oct. 26, 2010

“Scandal loves your appetites,” she writes, “all of them, the more voracious the better.” In this book, the competing drives that result in scandal don’t live in some neuro-chemical haze; they’re corporal… “fermenting in every social being’s gut”; all of us fall prey to self-destructive desires that are “deviously tunneling for freedom.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Plateau de Quinze Ans

It is 3 in the morning, and I am awake listening to the sound of my generator, which is like the hum of a small compact car with some sort of deficiency in the muffler. I have my door open inviting malaria-carrying mosquitoes to enter, and I wonder what in the heck I am doing here in the heart of darkness. If I want water to run in my tap, I must plug in my le suppressor. Sorry, I don’t know the name of the small water pump in English or know if I spelled it correctly in French, but that is what it sounds like to my ear when I ask my security guard for water. He was nowhere to be found tonight, so I used my flashlight to locate the outlet and became the water-maker myself. I suppose I should learn the intricacies of le group (the generator-can’t find the local word for it – le group- in the dictionary either), but I will save that learning opportunity for another day.

I have insomnia and plan to clean my kitchen. Using soap that is poudre main express for hand washable clothes and my broom, I swab the kitchen’s deck raising the scent of the washer and dryer, which of course I don’t have. The roach on my trash seems to be in slow motion, too lethargic to run if I chose to squash it, which I don’t. I’m blasting U2, It’s a Beautiful Day, on my computer, (but of course it’s not because there is a full moon outside) but my guard- who is supposed to protect me- is nowhere to be found. I can’t really blame him. He’s painfully thin, and I think he has some sort of stomach bug. Last night when my friend Tom was leaving in his overly grandiose Land Cruiser, Armand poked his head out of the toilet in the back of the house to let us know why he wasn’t opening the gate. Hell, I am American. I am not going to wait around for a sick man on the toilet to open my security gate. I did it myself and watched the back end of Tom’s Land Cruiser disappear down a street devoid of electricity feeling jealous of the car’s huge tires and powerful ego worthy of a round of pomp and circumstance.

I can’t run my air conditioner and le suppressor at the same time, so the decaying morbid humidity is enveloping my body as U2 plays on. I am Africating as Matt would say- perspiring uncontrollably down my back and underarms.

Nearly 4 a.m. now. I am looking around my kitchen thinking, “What wouldn’t I do for two sets of industrial strength plastic shelving units available at Walmart. Then, my mind strays to Walmart in general, something I don’t think an average Congolese person is capable of imagining because it does not exist in this country. To have so much merchandise in one location seems almost impossible to me to after being here for only two months. Small shops are the heart of commerce here. Alimentation shacks (translation nutrition shops), petit hardware stores, miniature stalls selling fruits and vegetables, hole in the wall bars and grills and such- that’s commercial life here.

It is now 6 a.m. and time to move toward the working world. The church bells of the grand Catholic edifice on the corner tell me morning is banging into existence. I wonder if the doughnut lady on the corner is boiling oil and scenting the air with fried bread and fat- such a plump and pleasing combination.

Two common brown birds are peering into my window asking for bread. Preening feathers and parading the morning light on their wings, they chirp a chorus of forgiveness and light, two things lacking in my life.

Let me tell you about the hood- otherwise known as Plateau de Quinze Ans (field of 15 years). In order to establish cell phone service today in my old neighborhood, which I ditched after one week of misery, I had to leave my housing compound and walk down the alley to a place where a neighbor had discarded a decaying bag of garbage that smelled like stink-puke rot. I tried not to stand too close and sent text messages as rapidly as possible or composed them in advance of the despised bag or odor. That’s one reason I disliked the hood.

Another reason I disliked the hood was because many of the homes surrounding mine did not have water, so the inhabitants were forced to use large orange plastic cans of drinking water. My home didn’t have drinking water either, but it did have city water stored underground in a large cistern that I used for showers and cooking. When I walked through the potholes and dirt of my former neighborhood, people would toss their used water into the street and remnants of spinach or toothpaste foam then coated my shoes. I had my neighbors’ very personal lives sticking to my to the belly of my Crocs and Keen sandals, and this happened each morning.

In addition, my neighbors in the house next door looked unemployed and frustrated, mingling around the dirt courtyard with nothing to do and a whole lot of frustration on their hands. I caught the grandmother beating her three or four year-old grandson with a long thin switch that would leave an unforgettable sting. She slapped at the boy’s hand and upper arm while he cringed, trying to disappear into the doorframe of the house. Hearing a child sobbing a cry for help was my alarm clock for the workday.

The short Muslim Senegalese shopkeeper who sold lovely woman’s clothing wanted to marry me, but I had to decline his offer.

When I woke up on day seven of my stay in Plateau de Quinze Ans, a church choir from the Catholic Church of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ blasted me into the living world with their songs. I crawled out of bed to pee to discover my water reservoir was empty and there would be no toilet flushing. Later I learned the water pump itself was broken. No gas for the generator meant no electricity, and that's when I decided to move.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Status Updates

White Things

A seven year-old boy balancing a hoe on his shoulder with dirt smeared across his face looked at me yesterday and started laughing. I thought being white might have something to do with his pleasant hysteria. The joy of his laughter was contagious, so I looked into his eyes and let the ha, ha pour from me too. We must have maintained eye contact as my sneakers cruised over five or six sidewalk squares.

A man working on the fifth floor of a building hung sloppily over the balcony shouting "Bienvenue Le Blanche" waving his hands and smiling frantically at me. I smiled when I saw his joy, and I thought "I am the white!"

A Congolese soldier walked me to my friend's place on a sultry Brazza night because I was lost, and I knew no one would touch us. The kind of respect he commanded was total (probably because he shoots people.) Can't touch this! And I have a friend who is former French Foreign Legion. Where else in the world?

I went to the embassy post office to mail a letter to my mom, and my colleague who works there told me to buy stamps online: He didn't have any on hand. Such is life in Brazza. And the mosquito bite on my ankle sure does itch. Ankles are one of the worst places for such bites, don't you think?

I was cursed in three text messages by an unknown man who wished me méchant because he accidently sent me his 1,500 CFA phone credit (I think). When my friend helped me delete the messages, he crossed himself in the Catholic fashion as did I. Better ways to start the morning... I wish for one.

The refugees in front of the embassy this October 2010 were not happy with the U.S. or the UNHCR.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blast Off

I had no Internet connection today at work, but my office chair is the most comfortable chair my butt/lower back has ever experienced. It looks like a chair in a NASA spaceship, and one day I too will blast off in my chair. I want to take the chair to America with me, but that is probably not feasible.

My iPod ear bud broke, so I couldn’t hear music on the left side of my head, but I borrowed the Information Resource Center’s mother of all bulky headphones, and the sound was divine. Paul Simon la, la-ing to me in a chair designed to massage my spine is quite comfortable.

I got angry, until I took a moment to reflect upon the interconnections linking me to the problem, and I wasn’t angry anymore. I understood that we all make mistakes, and we are all part of the solution. There's not a human being who isn't flawed.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Friday, October 01, 2010

Dreaming of High Speed

Downloading the first episode of the new season of Glee from iTunes. Glee is a primetime television weakness. The download originally had 40 hours remaining last night. This morning, that number was slashed to 12. Progress on whatever level is progress here at the Leon Hotel, home of low bandwidth and a cranky manager, but Andrew, my former student, sent me this link:


I suppose Congo doesn’t qualify for SEACOM’s services. It’s that kind of country. We have less than minimum wage laborers painstakingly digging trenches for fiber optic cables with their hands and a shovel. Congo is the digital divide.

SEACOM’s advertising claim makes my mouth water.

SEACOM's enormous capacity will enable high definition TV, peer to peer networks, IPTV, and surging Internet demand.

Thursday Evening English Club

Saving Soap - Measuring Time

I wish I would have thought of this idea from the first day I arrived in Congo, but fortunately the inspiration came to me mid-September. That's why you only see 13 circles of soap in the photo- 2 more and I would have constructed a pyramid.

Every day Juliette, the maid at my hotel, delivers one disk of soap. And every day, like a surly pack rat preparing for a soap famine, I drop the disks in a pile on a bathroom shelf hidden from her view by a bag of cotton balls.

Counting time...

Note: The color of the packaging is not consistently the same color red. I would describe some labels as a muted red and other lables as notice me- I'm a Flower of the Evening- orange.

Inconsistency is the consistency of Congo.

Mr. President and the Traffic Jam

Who is Footing the Bill?

Yesterday, the manager of the hotel where I have been staying since my arrival in Brazzaville on August 30, 2010 informed me through Carlos, an English-speaking waiter from Cameroon, that she had not received payment for my stay. The manager was solemn and stern, and I could imagine her pounding on my door with an immediate eviction notice in one hand and an armed policeman in the other. I explained that the Ministry of Communication was responsible for my lodging and gave her the Minister’s direct cell phone number in addition to the phone numbers of two of my immediate supervisors at the embassy. A letter with the ministry seal promising to foot the bill was my final proof of good standing and reputable credit.

Somehow the letter I gave Jackson, who works at the front desk of the Hotel Leon, regarding payment of my hotel bill by the Ministry- the letter that my embassy supervisor had given to me that I couldn’t photocopy myself because I don’t have embassy photocopy privileges- was not given to the hotel manager.

This didn’t surprise me.

Due to the situation, I explained to my embassy supervisors that it would be highly beneficial for me if I could obtain another copy. Handing it directly to the manager was my new method of delivery when I returned to the hotel because I have the distinct impression I am at the top of her list of least desirable people.

She knows where I live.

Now, I will wait to see if the bill is paid.

Attempting to remedy my housing situation required about an hour of my time this morning. If the Internet connection had been less sluggish, I could have reduced that time to 30 minutes, but I work at a low bandwidth embassy. And when I went into work this morning, I was not able to use my computer because the electrician had to drill a hole in the wall to fix the malfunctioning overhead lights. When that was done, the computer technician updated my computer. I did manage to do lesson planning standing up tucked into a corner of the office avoiding the cleaning woman’s broom as she swept up the dust and wood chips from the electrician’s drilling operation.

After work, which ends at 12:30 on Friday afternoon, the taxi driver informed me that the reason for the snarled traffic jam delaying our progress was due to the president. Armed soldiers loitered on corner after corner as we crawled along. “What’s he doing today?” I wondered to myself. “Did he decide to go on a shopping spree in the center of the city, although there is not much to buy? Was he out for a Friday afternoon drive in his Porsche, visiting a lovely lady?” I would probably never know.

Turning on my computer after work is a highlight of my day, and today I couldn't wait to see if I could watch new episodes of my favorite television show Glee on only to discover that it is not legal for to stream video into France. Because even though I live in the Congo, the server I use is based in Paris. But I realized it would be impossible anyway. Congo is a low bandwidth country!

Another day in Brazzaville.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Do You Want?

Mating Games

The fine line between proving yourself to a potential mate (I am kind. I am trustworthy. I won't hurt you purposefully. I have respect for myself and others. I smile at little children.) and wanting to spend quality time with him naked between the sheets is best walked carefully.

The Madonna/Whore complex is a perpetual conundrum for human beings. Most animals I see don't have problems with this contradiction of behaviors and terms.

Why are people so weird?

It Rained

"If I were running the world I would have it rain only between 2 and 5 a.m. Anyone who was out then ought to get wet." William Lyon Phelps

Has the rainy season arrived? A downpour lasting about 4 minutes on September 29 launched the event.

"I believe in running through the rain and crashing into the person you love and having your lips bleed on each other." Billy Bob Thornton

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reflections from September 25, 2010

Dressing in finery and smelling of expensive French cologne is quite fashionable anywhere in the world, but what is each one of us doing to make the world a better place?

I shook hands with the Minister of Telecommunications in the Leon Hotel yesterday. Why does the Minister of Telecommunications need a bodyguard? Is telecommunications a high-risk job?

Waiting is part of Congolese life. How long one has to wait is the question.

50-year old Nigerian telecommunications conference attendee, Andi, at the Leon Hotel:

Andi: “Can I call you Lori-Baby?”

Lori: “I prefer Lori.”

Ain’t nobody calling me Lori-Baby!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Things that would not happen in the United States...

unless strange and unusual circumstances decided to meet and mingle.

My Facebook chat feature is wacky. I am off/on just like the electricity here. I finally made friends with my television temporarily. Each time the electricity would fail, my television would fail. I am 50% certain I have figured out the problem, but until I did, I got up at least 10 times tonight to push buttons when my television connections dissolved after power outages and for other mysterious reasons.

Today, I let things get to me.

Seeing a Caution: Wet Floor sign this afternoon made me laugh. Where else could I be in the city but in the U.S. Embassy? There is no notification of six-foot deep holes on every other sidewalk, but I won't slip on wet floors. That's comforting.

I want to take a photo of the blood transfusion center before I leave Brazza, but I don't want to visit there.

My shower was cold this morning and tonight. I went to talk to the man who works at the hotel desk this evening, and it should be working in 20 minutes, maybe.

I worked hard today to acquire a list of journalists who had attended a training, only to discover it was the wrong training, but later unearthed the correct list for the correct training. Now, there are three lists. Synthesis and I must magically create a master list.

I am the registrar, class scheduler in addition to the teacher for my course. I am many departments in one!

I made this typo in an e-mail to a friend tonight, a typo that I rather like:

I am going to sign off for the night because I can't charge my computer and watch tv at the same time. I chose tv tonight. My battery is running love.

I hope your battery is running love as well!

About Me

My photo

What do I do? That’s a question with more depth than the deceiving three-word construction would lead us to believe.

I live on planet earth with other folks, and I’m involved in the field of education and learning. I’m a life-long learner with a passion for knowledge and the process of bending bits of ideas into new constructions of beauty.