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 m├ęchant 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.

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.