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!







Sunday, September 19, 2010

Waiting Time: Usually Late


Americans are usually on time! It's a fact. I think I'm late in the United States if I arrive five minutes after the appointed time for a rendez-vous.

Most of the Congolese appointments on my schedule for the first three weeks that I have lived in the country were 20 minutes to one hour behind the desired meeting time.

This morning, Claudia said she would drop by my hotel to pick me up at 10 a.m. and help me navigate the fruit and vegetable market and the grocery store in Brazza.

57 minutes past 10 a.m., and I am still waiting.

As an American, I have learned to bring a book or magazine everywhere I go, because I'm on Congo-time now, but it's still quite disappointing to my culturally punctual mentality to wait and wait. In my culture, it's a sign of disrespect to keep someone waiting for 59 minutes- soon to be an hour, especially since I left a message on Claudia's voicemail.

Maybe I will take a nap. It rained last night and the air is heavy and ripe for sleeping soundly.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Window Life


This is my neighbor's courtyard. I look out the window from the second floor of Hotel Lyon, and this is what I see. I feel somewhat guilty for violating my neighbor's privacy, because they use their courtyard for things such as bathing their children, but I can't help looking out my window. I am posting this photo because the two little girls and their mother can't be identified. The mother is braiding her daughter's hair and sitting on a small stool where she sits to wash dishes and cook the family's meals.


Quality of Life PowerPoint


How should we measure the quality of life?

I gave a PowerPoint presentation to the English Club at Villa Washington on Thursday, September 16, 2010. Critical thinking about quality of life issues is a relevant activity for students learning English in the Congo. Here is a list of the questions they discussed in small groups on Thursday night.

u Does technology change your quality of life?

u What are the indicators of quality of life? How should we measure it worldwide?

u What do you need personally for a great quality of life?

u Describe your quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10.

u How does the environment in Brazzaville affect your quality of life? What can you do to improve the quality of your life in your city or country?

u What should your government do to improve the quality of life for all its citizens?

u What does having children do to your quality of life?

u Can money alone buy quality of life? How much money do you need?

u Will your quality of life get better or worse in the next 10 years? Explain.




Friday, September 17, 2010

Things I Almost Forgot to Mention


I'm becoming used to life here slowly, but small moments in the day highlight my American-ness, such as...

I am shocked when my 25 year-old hotel waiter from Cameroon tells me that he loves me. He's an adorable young man, but I had no idea he would write the message "I Love You" on a page of my legal pad. When I asked my Congolese co-worker, Andy, who lived in America for many years, he explained that men here do such things. Andy told several of his friends that it would be considered sexual harassment in the States. We both laughed at the cultural divide.

Walking to the French Cultural Center on Thursday, I saw a dead dog that had been rotting in the heat for a good long time if smell was any indicator. The dog was on the sidewalk, so I walked in the street.

A student came to talk to me tonight and told me he hadn't eaten in two days. I gave him money and a banana. He fled the DRC for political reasons four years ago. After we finished talking, I did some research on how to apply for refugee status. I don't know how refugees who are truly destitute and struggling in English understand the application process when it took me some time and online research to sort through the steps.

I found the Societe Asia store today and spent time browsing through the aisles of imported goods from China, Singapore, and other Asian countries. I can buy feminine hygiene products and Dove soap produced in- and imported from- China if I so desire. Most Congolese wash their clothes by hand, so laundry detergent for machines is only available in certain shops. I did buy two small bags of OMO laundry powder at Societe Asia because French laundry powder (for a machine) is more expensive than Chinese OMO.

I bought nail polish remover at a small shop run by a Lebanese shopkeeper, and there was no information on the bottle other than polish remover written in French and English and the name Melisa. I wondered what company had produced the nail polish remover. Why was there no ingredient list? I was concerned because information I considered essential on a product's label was missing. Was this product approved for use by anyone?

Meetings and group activities are not always planned in advance, so often lunch doesn't happen until the poorly planned events are finished- which could be at 2:30 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I don't look forward to learning about an important event several hours before I am asked to attend it. My adrenaline and dread levels spike rapidly when I am informed of such meetings or activities, but I am working with my self-awareness tools to change that bodily response. Part of the reason my dread levels shoot up is because the Congolese dress code is much more more formal than my own nation's expectations of attire. I immediately wonder if my dress will be acceptable to the minister of other "expert" I will be meeting in less than one hour. Are my shoes clean? is another question that comes to mind. Watching men in dusty suits cleaning their shoes with napkins multiple times a day on the dirty and sandy streets of Brazzaville where the leather or suede will only be soiled again in no time is a mini-visual of how the country works.

An American mind at work in Brazzaville!





Confessions, Confessions

Confessions from an ELF in Brazzaville
(an e-mail sent to my RELO on September 16, 2010)

Here is a confession from an ELF in Brazzaville regarding testing.


I had prepared a two-page questionnaire in advance to give to the journalists, and it was ready, but I had about 1 hour to find and/or make up a test. I was under the impression we would use a test that is already in place for the Saturday English program, but the ministry gave us less than one day's notice about the testing time and place. I arrived at the embassy at 9 a.m. the morning of the test, which was scheduled for 11 a.m., and had nothing prepared.


My co-worker couldn't find the Saturday English program test, and I was testing over 100 people, so I didn't want to break the budget on photocopying. I call the test I threw together- my less than one hour to prepare test- how reliable can it be? We arrived at the test site 45 minutes late. Such is life. I wish I would have had time to create or find a better test.


I feel relieved after my confession. Thanks for listening.


My RELO's Response


Hahaha. You are on the front lines of English teaching in Africa. It doesn't get any better than this.


Note on Professionalism: I did use various informal assessments in addition to the- how reliable can it be- test to assess the students' levels of English.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What's New?

Brand Spanking New

Crossing and contemplating cultural boundaries and wandering though parallel realities is always a walk on the wild side, opening possibilities in my brain that were invisible only seconds before the encounter.

Qu'est-ce qui est nouveau?

a confident man with 4 or 5 dozen eggs in cardboard cartons balanced on his head who is walking down the hill;

working until 3 p.m. without lunch;

carefully crafting every phrase in French only to make errors despite all my hard work;

speaking and listening to a colonizing European language in a Central African nation with an anything-but European worldview;

watching Congolese music videos filmed in Brazza with amazing hip and shoulder action;

listening to the French news headlines on Congolese television;

a colonizing mother country that isn't the United States;

few Americans;

exhaustion;

and much, much more...





Monday, September 13, 2010

Brazza Days



Things have been a whirlwind of out of the ordinary activity for me the past two days.

On Sunday, I met and drank champagne with President Denis S. Nguesso's brother and received a gift of golden shoes. More about this later.

On Monday I appeared on Congolese television with Congo's Minister of Communication and the American Embassy's Public Affairs Officer. We were sitting in three chairs arranged in a neat line on what looked like a tennis court carpeted with shockingly green artificial turf for the broadcast. The minister gave a quick speech about the importance of the English Language Fellow Program to his country, and then we moved to cocktail hour where we toasted to the success of the program with orange Fanta poured from old-fashioned glass bottles into champagne flukes. My co-worker at the embassy said he saw me live on television.

I realize how important this program is to the journalists and to the ministry. I want this 10 months to be a success, while at the same time mentally processing unexpected novelties of each day, which often arrive in my ear whispering in too rapid French.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Digs in Brazza

Welcome to my first home movie produced in Brazza, which is a very- stress very- unprofessionally filmed tour of my room at the Lyon Hotel.


Keen Kicking Butt Shoes Tribute

Keen on my Keens

I love these shoes (see large tribute photo). I could wear them for the remainder of my time on this planet and be happy. Who needs pinchy-toed girlie shoes when I can have my faithful Keen sandals? I poo-poo the cultural construct that dictates women's dress shoes be uncomfortable, high-heeled, flimsy, unstable, and pink. Bury me in my Keen sandals.

Note: Those are my actual feet breathing free and easy in my new green Keens.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Hillary and Barack




In the Information Resource Center at the United States Embassy in Brazzaville, there are 3 cardboard cutouts: one of President Barack Obama, a second of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a third of Vice President Joe Biden. Barack and Hillary accompanied us on our journey to the French Cultural Center today where they smiled nonstop while greeting young Congolese men and women who came to our booth to learn more about studying at American universities. When the day was done, we folded up Hillary and Barack and put them in the backseat of my co-worker's car. They will be back in the resource center on Monday.




Image Source: Giftapolis


Are you married?

Here is an e-mail message that I received from one of my students this evening written entirely in bold.

Friday 9/10/2010

EVERYDAYSLIFE

Dear Lori;
how is the life?
I'm very glad to meet you, you know,I think together we can.
Please,I'd like to ask you three questions:
1. Are you still here for how many time?
2. Are you married?
3. How many children have you?
As I had talked to you,by chance doesn't exist;God's known one day Lori and Joseph will meet and maybe something should be happen;I like you so much;my willing is God been with you;he shows you the right way to follow for the best future.
Thank you and see you saturdays morning.
Yours Joseph

My thoughts after reading his e-mail:

1 How much time did it take Joseph to write this note in English?

2. I wish I could honestly tell him that I am happily married. Should I lie and tell him I am happily married with four kids?

3. Help!

4. I don't believe in God.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Suckling from the Malnourished in Brazza

A Bony Trio

I saw my first street cat today, and I'm now fairly certain why there are so few street animals living in the capital. The cat I saw was depressingly female with two horrendously dirty mouths suckling on her emaciated teats. I was surprised her dwarfed body had maintained the strength to endure a pregnancy and the live birth of two kittens. The trio was weaving through diners' legs at a small snack shop while I was dodging trash scattered along a major highway. I was on my way to shop at the Total Market- a street market overflowing with toxic black exhaust fumes; photocopy shops; wobbly stacks of not-so-orange oranges; and painfully poor people discussing the day's gossip when I realized that nearly everything in this city appears to my eyes as unfinished, broken, half-dead, never enough and lacking. As much as I try to put a positive spin on the place, and I do consider myself an optimist, it's ugly to my eyes. In addition, I am slightly terrified of how the city will transform into a giant muddy sponge during the rainy season when the temperatures and humidity numbers spike to even more sweat-soaked levels.

Cocktail Hour in Brazza!

I attended an educational fair at the French Cultural Center this afternoon and was surprised at the tightly packed bodies pressing against each other forcing everyone closer to the two counters where liquor and food were being served during cocktail hour. Students are commonly lacking funds and often hungry, but a group of students waiting for lunchtime finger food and wine filled the overheated room in the cultural center with the never enough hum of deprivation echoing through life in sub-Saharan Africa. When I looked down at my feet, I saw empty Coke cans and soiled napkins littering the floor.

I know that all emotions pass, and that tomorrow I will hit the restart button. It's okay to have a blue day as life moves forward.



Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Crunch

I was thinking about Corn Flakes this week, but tonight for dinner I'm enjoying cookies and milk: Amulya orange flavored cream biscuits, which are a product of India, and Président lait entier (whole milk) imported from Casablanca, Morocco. Tomorrow, I'm hosting the thought of hanging out at Hassan Burger, a Lebanese restaurant near my hotel.



Cultural Shuffle

Distel, my embassy lifeline here in the Congo, and I left our meeting with the Minister of Communication today and descended in an elevator where we commented simultaneously on the cultural aspects of elevator etiquette. In the United States, everyone on an elevator instinctually faces the door and stares stoically at a fixed point directly in front of him or her. In the Congo, people stand on the left and right sides of the elevator and face each other making eye contact and interacting socially. When I rode an elevator for the first time in Brazzaville, my American technique didn’t work, so I did the cultural shuffle inside this small box until I adapted appropriately.

When I am tired, my French becomes fragmented, stutters, waffles and trips. My listening skills in particular are affected.

While I was helping Joseph Ngawla with his CV today, I asked him why he only worked for one year at a bake shop in Kinshasa. He said that when the war started in the DRC, the bakery closed its doors in 2001. Joseph is a refugee in Brazzaville who worked for Joseph Kabila's political campaign. He's been unemployed for four years.

I thought about Corn Flakes and Pizza Hut this week. I haven't seen any American restaurants here and Corn Flakes would cost a small fortune.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Talking To Myself in Congo

The cutest thing I heard today was a 22 year-old Congolese student who is studying biology at the only university in the country commenting on how he learns English.

Me: How did you learn English Steve?

You can call me Steve: There is no one to talk English to here, so I talk to myself. I say this in English for example: "This is a cup. I will drink from the cup" to myself.

Today I discovered that the embassy in coordination with the Congolese Ministry of Communication (that’s right, there is only one –s) plans to have some sort of official celebration during the first week of my class. The U.S. Ambassador is scheduled to speak at the grand soiree and several ministers plan to be there too. What shoes am I going to wear? It’s wonderful that the Ministry of Communication (one –s) is proud to have me in the country, but I don’t need a formal event to mark the commencement of educational development for 100 journalists and their teacher. What can I do? Accept the situation gracefully and wear my most formal shoes. But ouch, those shoes pinch my feet.

Since I don't have a kitchen in my hotel room, I now consider myself an opportunistic eater. I take leftovers home and overload my system with calories when the opportunity presents itself.

I navigate through piles of sand, protruding metal wires, uneven pavement, and unexpected black holes in the sidewalks on poorly lit streets at night.

Many of my meetings are cancelled or postponed, but not by me.



Sunday, September 05, 2010

Editorial from Congo's Youth

La Semaine Africaine, Vendredi 3 Septembre 2010
J.p.s.d.c (Jeunesse du parti social démocrate congolais)

Le Congo est malade au plan politique et va très mal au plan économique

Le 12 août 2010, la communauté internationale a célébré la Journée internationale de la jeunesse. A cette occasion, la J.p.s.d.c (Jeunesse du parti social démocrate congolais) a publié une déclaration signée par son secrétaire général, Alain Missié. Dans cette déclaration, la J.p.s.d.c affirme: «Le Congo est malade, au plan politique, et va très mal au plan économique». En voici l’intégralité.

Déclaration de la jeunesse du P.s.d.c à l’occasion de la célébration de la journée internationale de la jeunesse

La communauté internationale célèbre, ce jour 12 août 2010, la Journée internationale de la jeunesse; cette jeunesse qui, à travers le monde, représente l’avenir de l’ensemble de nos pays. En ce qui concerne le Congo, cette célébration revêt un cachet particulier. En effet, celle-ci coïncide avec la célébration, le 15 août, du jubilé relatif à l’anniversaire de l’indépendance de notre pays et du cinquantenaire de la dite indépendance. C’est une occasion appropriée, pour la jeunesse, de jeter un regard sur notre passé, de s’arrêter sur notre présent et de projeter notre avenir. Il est important, à ce sujet, que nous sachions d’où nous venons, ce que nous sommes, aujourd’hui, et où nous allons, C’est, certainement, le moment indiqué de souligner avec force qu’en cette année 2010, le constat que nous faisons est que le Congo va très mal.

Il va très mal, parce que le Congo vient, encore, une fois de plus, de manquer un important rendez-vous, rendez-vous qui devait permettre aux Congolais, après les évènements et les drames douloureux qu’ils ont connus, de dialoguer, de se réconcilier avec eux-mêmes, de vivre dans la paix, dans l’unité et dans la concorde nationale.

Le Congo est malade, au plan politique, parce que, de l’avis de tout le monde, la démocratie est en panne, les lois et règlements de notre pays sont violés par les gouvernants, les médias d’Etat sont confisqués, la mal-gouvernance s’y est installée... On y organise des mascarades électorales. Le refus d’un dialogue politique franc et sincère est total. Il y aurait des projets de révision de la constitution dans le simple dessein de s’accrocher et de demeurer, indéfiniment, au pouvoir.

Le Congo va très mal, parce qu’au plan économique, de pays à revenu intermédiaire qu’il est en fait, le Congo est classé, aujourd’hui, parmi les pays pauvres très endettés, avec 70% de la population qui vit en dessous du seuil de pauvreté, avec moins d’un dollar par jour. Pauvre, le Congo ne l’est pas, mais il est, plutôt, riche et très endetté. Comment peut-on expliquer cela dans un pays disposant d’énormes potentialités et ayant un P.i.b (Produit intérieur brut) par habitant, en 2009, selon les statistiques de la banque centrale, de près de 2.300 dollars américains. Ce qui illustre, clairement, qu’il y a un problème de répartition de la richesse nationale et une forte concentration des richesses entre les mains d’une petite minorité, alors que la grande majorité croupit dans une misère indescriptible.

Il sied de souligner, au plan économique, la persistance et l’aggravation, depuis les années d’indépendance, des antiva-leurs tels que l’impunité, le laxisme, les vols, les détournements, la corruption et autres. Antivaleurs qui placent notre pays sur la voie, non du développement, mais de l’auto-destruction.

Au plan socioculturel; tant à l’éducation, à la santé, à la culture, aux sports qu’aux problèmes du chômage et de l’emploi des jeunes, la situation demeure des plus préoccupantes, au moment où le budget du Congo a atteint des niveaux jamais égalés dans notre histoire, comme celui de 2010, qui s’élève à 2.814 milliards de francs Cfa.

Par ailleurs, la jeunesse du P.s.d.c saisit cette opportunité pour rendre un vibrant hommage au président Barack Obama, président des Etats-Unis, pour son message et ses sages conseils aux jeunes leaders africains. Celui-ci leur a, tout simplement, demandé, pour l’avenir de l’Afrique, de ne pas refaire, dans leurs pays, ce que leurs aînés ont fait. Pour la jeunesse du P.s.d.c, cela voudrait dire que la jeunesse africaine, en général et congolaise, en particulier, doit agir, pour:

- l’amour du pays;

- la lutte contre les antivaleurs;

- la renonciation de la recherche du pouvoir par les armes;

- le respect des lois et règlements de leur pays;

- le respect de la forme républicaine de l’Etat;

- le respect des engagements internationaux tels que les textes de la Cour pénal internationale, la charte africaine de la démocratie, des élections et de la gouvernance, la déclaration de Bamako et autres;

- l’arrêt des mascarades électorales et pour l’organisation d’élections libres, démocratiques et transparentes par une commission dont l’indépendance est reconnue par tous les acteurs politiques;

- la tolérance et l’acceptation du droit à la différence;

- l’instauration du dialogue comme mode de règlement des problèmes dans la gestion de la cité;

- l’instauration d’un véritable Etat de droit;

- l’accès de tous aux médias d’Etat;

- bannir le tribalisme, le favoritisme, la gestion clanique et autres;

- renoncer aux assassinats politiques;

- rejeter la médiocrité et revaloriser l’excellence.

Consciente et convaincue de ce que l’avenir appartient à la jeunesse, la Jeunesse du P.s.d.c lance un appel à tous les jeunes de notre pays, au-delà de leurs choix politiques, pour qu’ils se mobilisent, afin qu’il y ait un sursaut national qui garantira, non pas le bonheur des seuls gouvernants, non pas seulement celui de la jeunesse, mais celui du peuple congolais tout entier. Elle lance, également, un appel pressant à la communauté internationale, pour qu’elle la soutienne dans ce combat certes plein d’écueils, mais noble et exaltant. C’est à ce prix que nous apporterons notre contribution, pour faire de ce pays, qui est très riche, une terre où il fait bon vivre.

Happy To Wait

Among The Privileged


I was looking for my pen when I was at the embassy clubhouse, Villa Washington, until it fell from between the sofa cushions when I leaned forward to reach for a book on the table. After an hour of searching, all I had to do was lean slowly forward. There it was at my feet. Voila le stylo!

I had some difficulty passing through security today at Villa Washington, and I thought of Pema Chödrön’s words when I was frustrated because my embassy badge didn’t do the magic trick I had come to expect. Nobody- and I mean nobody- was there. The courtyard, exercise room, kitchen, and television room were all dead silent while the two security guards suspiciously eyed me and my two plastic sacks of dirty laundry wondering if I was capable of masterminding evil deeds of sabotage and destruction.

“I am exhausted after lugging my laundry and backpack up this hill in the rain. Why won’t they let me into the clubhouse?” were two questions screaming madly inside my head.

Instead of openly expressing my frustration at this curious but unyielding greeting, I opened my umbrella and stepped away from the situation, breathing deeply with my back to the guards. In my retreat of self-awareness, I acknowledged that I am accustomed to a life of privilege. To be denied access to a facility that I was certain I was entitled to enjoy caused emotions to bubble to the surface. When I recalled the long line of Congolese students, each one waiting patiently to individually pass through the guard house and relinquish his or her personal possessions in order to attend English club, I checked my thoughts and told the guard I understood the policies he must follow.

I was happy to wait.

End Note: Once inside, I re-hydrated myself from the embassy-approved filtered water source in the clubhouse kitchen. I must have used the bathroom 5 to 8 times in one afternoon. And, I filled up my three one-liter plastic water bottles for liquid refreshment while in my room. If you haven’t guessed, the tap water in Brazza is not potable.

Wine anyone?

Thought For The Day

Why is there a huge selection of wine- with most of the wine growing regions of France represented- located on the Casino Supermarket shelves in downtown Brazzaville when an average worker who digs a trench in concrete with only a pickax and his own hands earns $3 to $5 each day?

Who can afford to buy these bottles of wine?

The gap between rich and poor is so extreme here I don't know how it continues to exist decade after decade.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Walking Tour of Brazza


Photo: Memorial for Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

There are few Americans here. It’s a fact.

Supposedly, there are about 237 of us in Brazzaville, but I haven’t met any outside of the embassy. I did bump into my neighbor in room 109, Directeur Gérant Jean Albert Placide Kaya, who works with environmental issues for Eco Durable and who also knows about my state: Iowa. That was exciting. Monsieur Kaya gave me a ride to the ATM machine at the Crédit du Congo this afternoon in his SUV. Ex-pats who work for NGOs or embassies usually have their own large, safe vehicles with seatbelts or use a car and driver if they are leaving the workplace for a meeting during working hours. I use taxis, and the taxi drivers sometimes try to overcharge me, but my friends at the hotel protect and bargain for me, haggling for a fair price so I won’t be overcharged.

I have made friends with some of the men who work in the hotel because there aren't many women in the public and work spaces where I have been. At the hotel, there is Carlos in the restaurant where I eat my breakfast. He is 25 years old and from Cameroon. He speaks English to me, and I speak French to him, and he has a lovely smile. We watched Eminem rap videos this morning because I was the only guest in the restaurant and Carlos swayed to my table with the beat of orange juice and coffee on a tray. I forgot how many crumbs pan au chocolat can produce like a buttery rain on the table. Then there is Jacques, who is 47 years old and works at the gate as a guard. While he is working Jacques reads books, and I noticed that one of his books was The Origin of Genesis. We talked a briefly about religion, and he wants to learn about Buddhism. Now I am helping him practice English, although he is very shy and we use French most of the time. Brice works at the desk and saved me from a mean taxi man, so I shared chocolate cookies with him when I returned from my adventure in the city today. I feel that I have protectors here at the hotel, and I am sure that I will miss these big brothers dearly when I depart.

There is still no word on my house yet. I thought I might see my new maison on Friday, but perhaps another day.

I spent this morning working on my syllabus and identifying objectives for my class, and in the afternoon I went for a walking tour of the city. I must admit, I did not know who Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza was until I bumped into his beautifully designed memorial and lushly landscaped city park where I hungrily downed two local yogurts for lunch- one coconut and the other mixed fruit. Pierre was the man who arrived in Central Africa and helped pave the way for colonization. That’s why I didn’t understand why his body had been repatriated to Brazzaville from Algeria in October 2006 in a triumphant and ceremonious return. When compared to the Belgians’ rule in the Congo, Pierre was a more humane, just, kind, and moderate governor-general of the French Congo. That's something to be said for this man in a time of colonial exploitation and cruelty.

End Note: I feel as if the Republic of Congo is the forgotten country. Most Americans are only aware of the DRC and Kinshasa and don't know Brazzaville is on the map. In addition, there aren't many tourists here, and for the average Congolese men and women I am meeting, I am the first American they have encountered. All these things make me want to work all the more to do what I can to help the people of this country!!!!!I

I have so much more to learn about this country, so I hope you look forward to future adventures and discoveries with an American chica in Brazzaville.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Top 5 Friday Plus Two

Things That Made Me Happy Today

1. The first two lines of Charlie et la Chocolaterie:

Bonjour à tous ! Voici l’histoire d’une aventure délicieuse dans un pays merveilleux.

Translation: Hello to all! Here is a story of a delicious adventure in a marvelous country. (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

2. Now that I have stopped taking the drug Malarone to prevent malaria, I don’t feel like vomiting at every meal. It is one of the dry seasons now in Brazza, so I will re-evaluate my decision when the rains come, but as for now, as James Brown likes to sing: I feel good- na, na, na, na, na, na, na.

3. Finding an adapter this afternoon gave me a HUGE sense of accomplishment. Thank you Burotop Boutique.

4. Spending Friday evening with a French speaker (no English) and enjoying myself.

5. Deciding not to judge people (both men and women) who spit openly on the sidewalks left me feeling like a better person. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

End Note: Wearing my brown RX Crocs on the rugged streets of the city kept me in fine shape today. I can't forget gratitude for my Crocs. Would that be number 6? A hot shower at bedtime is lucky number 7.

Beijia Sunflower Magic in the Bathroom

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Arrival

I can’t believe I have been in the country for 4 days, and it is now Thursday, September 2. Where did August go?

When my plane landed at Maya-Maya Airport, it was early evening around 17:45. The sun was retiring into a sky smudged grey and smoky as if a volcano had erupted spitefully raining ash on Brazzaville only days before. The smoke, caused by burning piles of garbage around the city, stung my eyes on the drive to the Hotel Lyon.

When I entered my hotel bathroom on Monday night to take a shower, the giant sunflower showerhead and six mini sunny heads waiting to spa-spray my entire body intimidated this jet lagged American. I imagined turning on the hot water only to be pinned against the opposite wall from the force of a ballistic spray of heat. Beijia was the brand name of my shower, and I had this feeling it had been produced somewhere in Asia. I Googled the name, and soft, tinkling music poured fourth from the website where I discovered that:

“The company [Beijia] is situated in the world famous ceramic capital--- Nanzhuang, Foshan city. It mainly productes sanitary ware, jacuzzi, SPA, processing of many years of experience, leading to series of consummate management system.”

According to the company website, “The self-clean function which we invent perfects peoples's living.”

I appear to be enjoying a product from the Shower Room Series, which I admit is improving my living.

BEIJIA

End Note: Perhaps I could work as a web editor for the company because I think Beijia may need one.

About Me

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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.