"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.14.2006

your love's put me at the top of the world

I've been trying to figure out the last time I didn't take a shower for three days that didn't involve sleeping in a tent, spending days on trails, and paddling down rivers. Can't do it. I don't know that I've ever had to live a normal life (normal is as normal does) without running water. Even in Eregi (western Kenya), we had water in buckets. But my gosh, the things you take for granted.

The water came on for a few hours last night, but it was really cold outside, so I decided to wait until this morning so I wouldn't get sick from wet hair. Big mistake. This morning, the city has water (maybe), but the electricity is out, and my hotel's water system is hooked to the electricity. Natch.

Ewwwww. Anyway, sorry for complaining about something so disgusting. I may have to go to Rwanda this weekend just to get clean. In the "count your blessings" section, however, I am thankful that I am not Mr. Florida, who tried to fly here yesterday, ended up having to spend the night in Entebbe (Uganda) and is now in Bukavu, at the other end of the lake. It can always, always be worse.

So, Goma. It's getting better. There are soldiers everywhere and I definitely want to be out of town before the elections in April, but I managed to find an apartment yesterday and will move in today. I had dinner last night with some very entertaining gentlemen from the various and sundry United Nations missions. Stig is a 60-year-old Norwegian who's been with the World Food Program for way too long. He's been in and out of Goma since 1997 and knows everything about this place. Interesting things I learned from him include that the volcano is in fact smoking, that it will erupt soon, and that last time the big problem was that the lava didn't blow out the top, but instead made fissures all over the city so that, a la apocalypse, there was a big hole beside the runway at the airport with flowing red lava inside. That's right, kids, there are rivers of lava flowing under the streets of Goma, just waiting to pop open.

After telling me all about his evacuation adventures last time that happened (2002), Stig then went on to say that the really scary thing is that the tectonic plate shifted out into the lake last time and that the vulcanologists believe there's a huge pileup of methane gas under the plate. When the next eruption or earthquake happens, it could make that blow up, and Goma would basically cease to exist. (Me: "Um, is there any warning about this kind of thing?" Stig: "Oh, yes, we knew for two months last time.")

Anyway, he's promised to help me in the event of an evacuation, so I feel better about that. I think.

Stig has purchased a DSTV card for the hotel's dining room (he lives there), so he gets to choose what we watch. Last night's prime time viewing was CNN showing Scott McClellan's press conference on Cheney's little shooting problem. Watching him try to explain the situation to a group of reporters who wouldn't know bird shot if it smacked them in the face was really, really entertaining. It doesn't take much when you're in Goma.

Another person who had dinner with us was Olivier, who is a French pilot for an organization that runs humanitarian aid flights. He told me all about Brittany, which is where he's from, and then started getting teased about an event at a nightclub on Saturday. Seems Olivier and Ramon, this other UN guy, were dancing in a club where the Fabulous head of the military police was spending his evening. Well, Olivier was dancing with a girl when he realizes that someone has grabbed his hand and is, um, dancing quite closely behind him. That someone would be Mr. Military Police. My impression from Olivier was that even if he had been gay, which he's not, this would not have been flattering.

Something else funny that I don't think I'll be able to get a photo of, but will try: there's a big roundabout that I go by several times a day and yesterday I finally figured out a billboard there. I'd seen that it said, "Je l'aime. Je le proteger." which means "I love her, I protect her," but I couldn't figure out if it was an ad for insurance or condoms. Yesterday we were stopped near it and I read the small print, which says something to the effect of "Make love, not war."

So on that note, happy Valentine's day, everyone. And remember, even if your v-day isn't ideal, at least you're not in Olivier's shoes.

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