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

2.27.2006

bang the drum slowly


Here are some pictures of the drumming and dancing yesterday at Karibu. I don't usually go for watching this kind of thing, but the American church group I ended up having lunch with loved it. More on them later, because their church is doing something really cool. Anyway, these pictures are for the two coolest drummers in Westlake! Love y'all!

2.25.2006

perfect poetry

"How can I face such slaughter and be cold?
How can I turn from Africa and live?"

Derek Walcott, "A Far Cry from Africa"

thanks for the ride and i'll see you around


This is the scariest millipede I've ever seen. It appeared on the floor in my entry hall last night while I was cooking dinner. Scary!!!

I am headed to Kigali on Monday to meet some American missionaries who are, see if you can keep up with this, the parents of a woman who attends a church pastored by some friends of my parents/my father's former co-worker whose daughter used to baby-sit us. They are super-nice and have offered me a place to stay in Kigali. I will only be there for a couple of days, but need a break from Congo for a little bit. It's exhausting having to negotiate over every single transaction in every day. That and I am out of things to read in English. National Geographic Adventurer's February edition was interesting the first ten times, but I am really looking forward to picking up something new at the great Ikirezi Bookshop in Kigali, and to tracking down some kitchen stuff at reasonable prices.

So that's to say, I may not be blogging for a couple of days, but don't worry, I'm fine. Thanks so much for your prayers and sweet notes and text messages! I love hearing from y'all and knowing that I am so lucky to have such great friends and family!

2.24.2006

somebody else one time said it better i think dylan, but it may have been young

Not much going on here. I wrote up a nice blog entry, but my iPod is refusing to be a flash drive this week, so that will have to wait. In its place, a few odds and ends:

Thanks to Kirstin and my daddy for both pointing out this NPR story on Congo from last week. The area they're talking about is considerably south of here, but the story gives a really good idea of how bad it is for millions of Congolese. There's another good story on southeastern Congo here.

There are so many beautiful flowers chez moi. I love bougainvillea and it is blooming all over the place, along with the last of the jacarandas and lots of other things I can't identify. Yesterday I went for a walk and the yellow flower in the picture above was in the path. For a minute I thought I was in Hawaii. But no.

Another thing that's interesting is all the birds. I don't know a lot about birds, but I've had a field guide on my wishlist for awhile and I keep talking myself out of buying it before every trip to Africa. But now I'm really wishing I had one, because of this guy. He's always on my lawn, making a really loud sound, or he'll jump out from behind a bush and scare me half to death. In the Ex-Roommate and my's grand tradition, I am, of course, calling him Steve. If anyone knows what Steve is, or where I might figure that out, I'd be eternally grateful. I realize it's not a great shot, but you should be able to zoom in if you're on a better computer than I am.

2.23.2006

pretty soon we learn to fly


This is what it looks like when there is a volcano blowing smoke in your backyard. I took this picture outside the gates of my apartment. Yikes!

Yesterday it rained, but then the sun came out and the normally hazy air over Goma was much clearer than normal - you could see the volcano, all the surrounding mountains, and the tiny little islands that are all over the lake. It was really beautiful. Until I realized that those weren't clouds. This place is beyond belief sometimes - on top of a nasty war, bad and non-existent government, and extremes of poverty and wealth, there's the constant threat of a catastrophic natural disaster - many observers expect Goma to one day be wiped off the map by the gases that will be released the next time the tectonic plates shift.

Speaking of natural disasters waiting to happen, Santino has a blog!

2.22.2006

there's only 2 things I want when I'm back in my doublewide


I am missing Texas sunsets. Because we're so close to the equator here in Goma, the sun rises and sets at the same time every day – around 6:30 in both the morning and the evening. There are twelve solid hours of daylight and of dark year-round, and night comes really quickly. There just isn't much of a twilight hour. Since it's not safe to be on the roads after dark, unless I'm at a friend's home for dinner, that means I get home pretty early every night.

Now that I can use my computer, evenings are a little less boring. Sometimes. My apartment has a generator, but when it's on (meaning the regular electricity is off), you can't charge anything that needs an adaptor. My battery only lasts about an hour without power, but then there are days like today when the electricity is on and everything is fine and I can hook up my iPod and use my laptop as a stereo while transcribing interviews or reading articles downloaded at the internet place. So between cooking dinner, cleaning up, and doing all that, evenings go by pretty quickly.

After eight years of traveling to Africa, I have finally acquired my first-ever set of third world cookware and the obligatory "cutlery-on-a-spinning-wheel" set. At Esther's advice, I also got a frying pan with Teflon. She was so right – it wouldn't have been worth the effort to get the cheaper one. Because of the scarcity of goods (think about wartime economies), things in Goma are really, really expensive, even for locals – this set of five pots with lids that would have been 50 cents in the markets in Kinshasa was $9 here. A basic loaf of bread costs 60 cents, which is hard for people in a city with 90% unemployment in the formal sector and where a huge number of people try to survive on FORTY CENTS per day.

Anyway, now that the kitchen is equipped, I've started cooking most evenings. Finally managed to find some spices, which helped a lot. I am sticking to simple things – soups and pasta sauces and grilled sandwiches so far, but I may branch out into something more complicated as time goes on. It just takes so long to cook dinner, especially if we're running off the generator and power is limited. When that happens, every lightbulb is dimmer and my hotplate takes a lot longer to heat up – it took 45 minutes to boil water the other evening. But I am so glad to have a kitchen and to be able to cook that it's worth the trouble. Here are some pictures of one of my recent culinary triumphs, tomato soup with improvised croutons made of broken pieces of bread. Of course I'm using paper plates as much as possible to cut down on the dishwashing!

Goma is a little tense today. I'm not really sure what's going on, but MONUC is very active. There was a convoy leaving town as I was coming in, and while I was at the research institute's library reading, I hear a noise, look up, and see a South African APC. On top of that, I haven't been feeling very well the last couple of days. It's allergies and all the volcanic dust I breathe in every day, I'm sure. My head feels like it could explode.

In other news, I think I may have a Congolese reader or two. I am on a computer I've never used and my blog's url is in the history. That's a little disconcerting.

2.21.2006

la politique c'est pas bon

So, for what it's worth (in my view, not much), as of Saturday, Congo officially has a new constitution and a new flag. That news passed almost unnoticed here in the Kivus, where what happens in Kinshasa has very little to do with daily survival. And if it doesn't have to do with daily survival, most people really don't care.

Anyway, the constitution does a number of interesting things. It lowers the minimum age to be president to 33. This was done so that the current president can legally be the president. It creates 16 new provinces, because more is always better. And because managing a country the size of Western Europe in ten administrative units was a bit of a challenge.

And finally, lest you think African politics are all that different from American politics, the new DR Congolese constitution bans same-sex marriage. I can't imagine that was really a concern here. Politicians using a nearly irrelevant social issues to get votes for their real agendas? Shocking!

2.20.2006

I'll never really try and understand

It's getting to the point where about the only thing to do in Goma is to sit and listen to the rain. The long rainy season begins in mid-February here and, despite the fact that they're suffering from a terrible drought a few hundred miles east of here in Kenya, the rains in central Africa are right on schedule. It rains every day, sometimes really hard, and will apparently continue to do so through June. The good thing about that is that it keeps things cool. We are at a high enough altitude to not be miserable in the first place, but the rain holds the temperature in the pleasant 70's and 80's, and with the clouds, you don't have the intense equatorial sun beating down on you all the time. The bad thing about this is that nothing gets dry, and if you don't have a car like yours truly, you get wet. A lot. (What's even more interesting is the fact that with all this rain, there hasn't been city water available for three weeks, except for a few hours last Monday. If you're not rich enough to have a pump to get water from the lake, you're hauling it from the public beach or going without.)

Saturday I was out at the UN mission for a couple of interviews. It started to rain while I was inside, but had let up by the time I got outside and jumped on a motorbike taxi. We were zipping along towards downtown and I hear the beep of another motorbike. It turns out to be my friend Ramon, who told me Tuesday he was going to buy a moto and sure enough. So we had a nice little conversation about that (while speeding down the street) and then my driver took off just as the sky burst open. We got soaked. Had to stop and wait out the rain in a butcher's shop, where there were large carcasses hanging and people crammed inside trying to stay dry. By the time we got to town, I was ready to find a real taxi, faire des courses (run errands), and head home to dry out.

Sunday Camille and Esther were kind enough to come pick me up to go to their church, which turns out to be an Assemblies of God church plant by a church in Kinshasa, the capitol. It was so interesting to see how Americanized the service was – down to the power-point song lyrics projected onto a screen at the front and the sermon Camille preached on The Purpose Driven Life. All the songs were French translations of American worship songs, except for one African song we sang about halfway through the service. I don't doubt the authenticity of the worship there, but I have to say that the African song seemed like the most real of them all – the place just erupted with dancing and ululations and joy. The song is called "Hakuna Mungu Kama Wewe" (There is no God like you) and what you do is sing that same line over and over, but in different languages each time, so that verse one is in Kiswahili, verse two is in Lingala, verse three is in Kikongo, and so on. It was so beautiful.

After church, we waited around for Camille to finish leading a lay peoples' meeting, during which time this little boy demanded that I take a picture of him and his sisters. He knows how cute he is, although his baby sister was scared to death by our white skin.

Then we headed over to C and E's house for a barbeque. A group of Canadians were in town for a "Vision Tour" of central Africa, so C and E wanted to host them. It was a fun time, with lots of fantastic Congolese food, including great samaki (fish) from the lake. The Canadian group had been all over the place in Uganda, Rwanda, and in North Kivu and wanted to talk about everything from the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz to grand plans about how to solve Africa's problems. I don't know, they were really nice, but I have very mixed feelings about people who come to Africa for two weeks and decide that they know what to do about the poverty here. On the one hand, it's great that people become acutely aware of the suffering people here endure. On the other, the money that they spent on their trip could have sent several hundred children to school for a year. The same could be said of me, I suppose. But the thing is, despite all their well-intentioned words about how early childhood education might help cut down on violence in the future, it takes a lot more than an idea like that to understand what is really going on here, and it takes a sustained commitment to support Africans in solving their own problems to make a long term difference.

I was reminded of this late yesterday afternoon while having coffee with my friend Eva. Eva is from Goma, but went to the boarding school in Kenya where all the Baptist MK's go, and went to college in the U.S. to get an international business degree. She is incredibly smart and has lots of ideas about economic development and institution-building – and she understands the eastern Congo in a way that outsiders never will. If it can be done, it's people like her who will make things better here. And it's people like Esther and Camille, who work in a congregation that sings songs like "Seigneur, vous etes plus precieux que l'argent" (Lord, You are More Precious than Silver). That really means something here, just miles from the gold and coltan and diamond mines that drive so much of this conflict. It means even more to sing a song based on Romans 8:38-39, to be able to say with confidence that nothing -- not death, not evil, not a very uncertain future – nothing, can separate us from God's love. I am humbled to be part of their community.

2.18.2006

i've got roots growing down to the water

So today I went back to Gisenyi. Twice. After going yesterday to pick up the FedEx package that would not come. Nothing happens in Africa unless you go to the place where it should happen, so I'd imagine they hadn't even thought about sending it from Kigali until I got there yesterday.

Anyway, while I was waiting, this long line of teenage boys walks by. They were wearing kerchiefs and khakis and were singing songs about unity and working together. And every single one of them was carrying a sapling. And I stood there on the main drag in Gisenyi and thought about how ten years ago, they would have been in militias and isn't it nice that now teenage Rwandan boys can do something productive like planting trees on a Saturday morning.

And then an armored personnel carrier with a soldier manning the machine gun rumbled by. So much for my high ideas.

In other news, I am pleased as punch about Project Runway and, having viewed the final collections, think Santino's is the best, but that Daniel might win.

And Holly Hollman is such a rock star.

a fate that has ways of providing

1,200 people die every day in the DR Congo. That's like having the World Trade Center collapse three times a week. In an environment where the simple task of survival consumes all of most people's days, it's not surprising that people do whatever they can to earn money and to ensure that their children can eat for another day.

So this means that I have to get used to being noticed and remembered while just going about everyday tasks. Because by virtue of the fact that I am 1) here and 2) not Congolese, I am a potential source of income. Yesterday I walked out of my apartment to go to an interview to be greeted by Fidel. Fidel is someone I met once, a year ago. He was the "fixer" for the American reporters I met last summer. And he had come to see if I could give him a job. And on top of that, wasn't I supposed to be here in June, not February?

Now. This was disconcerting for me on several levels. How did he find me? He just said that the taxi driver who took the reporters and me to the border in August saw me at the internet cafe. But that had to mean that someone else was aware of where I'm living. Creepy. Qnd then, despite the fact that I never said I'd be here in June, he clearly was planning to find me when I arrived.

The other thing is that, unlike reporters from fancy newspapers with expense accounts, I'm not really in the position to be employing anyone. I'd be glad to give Fidel a job, but I don't really need a translator and I'm having no trouble setting up all the interviews I can handle on my own. And I can't really afford to pay him, either. I feel bad. I know people need jobs, but I am not in the same boat as the aid workers who are very well compensated for the hassle of living here. And I had to tell Fidel that I would take his number, but that I didn't know that I would need any help for my project.

This morning somebody else was waiting to ask for a job. He, at least, didn't know me, and didn't walk away looking wounded like Fidel did.

Getting used to the social networks that make a city of 1/2 million seem like a small town is a challenge. But then there are sweet moments, like the other day when I walked into the other internet place where my friend Aime works. I met Aime last summer when she helped me shop for fabric. We saw each other and she just smiled and greeted me before saying, "You were supposed to be back in January." It's good to have friends, and humbling to know that a near stranger would remember such a detail. I am blessed.

2.17.2006

take the good you take the bad

Some facts of life here in Goma:

1. If you don't want to pay an arm and a leg for something, you have to cross the border into Rwanda. Today Mr. Florida and I went to pick up my FedEx package (it wasn't there) and to get some stuff in the market. But LOOK where we ate lunch - the FedEx agent works out of a video store inside! And do you see that "poulet kentaki" at the bottom of the sign - that would be "Kentucky chicken", the way you ask for it fried around here. Of course, no one is eating chicken anywhere in Africa anymore after bird flu made it to Nigeria. It literally stopped being on the menus the day after the BBC reported it.

2. Changing money on the black market is the only way to not get ripped off. Yesterday was my first ever lifetime black market money exchange, outside the Goma market, with my friend Nicole. Here's a picture of the contraband cash. It's so sketch - you have to stand on the street with these shady guys and talk about exchange rates, then turn around and buy tomatoes from the market women.



3. Sorry, Attorney, there's no "Vache Qui Rit" cheese, but I did get some Rafiki cheese from the local joint. And that is one smiling cow with a pacifier around its neck.

whatever i believed in this is all i have to show

What kind of person rapes a seven-year-old? This is the question I've been pondering for the last 24 hours or so. But to explain how I ended up spending yesterday helping interview survivors of the unspeakable violence in the countryside here, I should probably back up.

Mr. Florida finally made it to Goma on Tuesday, after taking the scenic route with the UN flight. Anyway, someone he randomly met in Kinshasa had some friends here, a couple named Camille and Esther, who went to college in Los Angeles and are missionaries supported by a church there. Camille and Esther are Congolese, but they are not from Goma and life here is just as much an adventure for them as it is for me. They are super-nice and are letting Mr. Florida live with them, and have also offered to let me live at their wonderful home next month when they are back in the U.S. Esther has been incredibly kind to me, inviting me over for dinner and taking me shopping for kitchen supplies. I am so thankful for their friendship. And, plus, this Sunday Camille is preaching on The Purpose-Driven Life en francais at their church. I am, as you can imagine, very intrigued by the prospect.

Anyway, part of what Esther is doing here is thinking about ways her church in America can help with the violence perpetrated against women and girls here in the eastern Congo. Long story short; the regular army, the rebel forces, and the various armed factions in the region live off the land because they aren't paid regular salaries. They loot from villages, but sometimes they first demand protection money. If a family can't pay (which of course most can't), their homes are burned, their things are taken, and the girls and women are raped. Another particularly heinous practice that is unfortunately common among one particular rebel group (the one led by the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide) is to take young girls and make them soldiers' "wives." These girls are as young as 6 years old, and, as my friend Nicole pointed out, they can't cook or clean or grow goods to sell in the market, so there's only one reason these awful men want "wives."

Some of these women and girls end up living in the forest for years. Yesterday, I joined Esther, Nicole, and Mr. Florida in videotaping interviews of some of these survivors. One woman who is my age had been taken in the forest and had her arm broken by the time she managed to escape -- she was found by some Christians out in the forest. She has four children and no idea how she will provide for them now. Another woman has a health problem that would be so simply solved in the west, but here she had to make her way to Goma, and now must wait for a doctor to come from Bukavu, all for the simple services of an ob/gyn. The picture at left is of these womens' children, who were completely absorbed by Mr. Florida and the camcorder.

Walking out of a hospital that specializes in treating these women, Esther stopped to say hello to a little girl, probably about 8 years old. She smiled and had a nice conversation and then went on her way as Esther told us that she is a victim. Then, later at the house before lunch, we looked at the tape of the interview they had done before I arrived with Chantalle, who is 13, and who was abducted when she was 7, lived with the rebels for 6 years, and has finally managed to escape with her baby. She told her story with no expression on her face and she seems numb.

We sat at lunch in stunned silence. I couldn't help but think about the GA's and the teenagers at church. These girls are exactly their ages, with all the hopes and dreams and fears that come along with growing up, but their childhoods, and probably their lives, have been destroyed by men who are beyond evil. As Nicole pointed out, how will they live the rest of their lives? How will they raise their children if they have been so traumatized as to have had to shut down their capacity to feel or to show emotion? And how will they ever get better in a place where there are so few social services, almost no counseling services, and where, if they become depressed and can't get out of bed, everyone else is too busy trying to survive to help them?

I'm wondering what it would look like to be able to provide comprehensive serivces to women and girls who are victims of rape in the eastern Congo. There are lots of groups working on this, but the number of victims is in the tens of thousands. What would it look like? Because now that I know, really know, that this is going on, I can't just stand by. I've looked into the eyes of children who've known more suffering than anyone can bear, and those eyes are going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

2.16.2006

of late i've had some thought of moving in

Things in Goma are so much better. For me, at least. Thank-you so much all y'all who wrote and called and texted and left comments this week with so much encouragement. I am settled in, have made some really good friends, and am starting to really have fun. My interviews are off and running and going well, so that's exciting. AND the water is running in Goma for the first time since Saturday morning, so everyone is in a better mood.

So, Tuesday started nice and early with running errands and a stop at the Yesu Ni Jibu (Jesus is the Answer) Supermarket to stock up on water, candles, and all the other essentials of housekeeping in Goma. After that my taxi took me out to my apartment, which is on the far western side of town at the Hotel Karibu. The Karibu is an old hotel; it used to be one of the nicest in Congo. It's down the road from one of Mobutu's old houses and is right on the lake. The buildings are all whitewashed and there are extensive gardens, a nice little dock, a pool, the only tennis courts in Goma, and more birds and lizards than you can imagine.

My apartment is great, very secure and sunny. Here's a little tour of my home sweet third world home:



The front door and a nice little garden.











The lovely kitchen. There's also a little fridge (think what you had in your freshman dorm) and a sink.









The living room, as viewed from the entry hall





.

Looking back at the kitchen from the living room.











The bedroom, looking out toward the back.









And the absolutely essential closet space.

i wish there were a cash machine blue and green here

Why, why, WHY did I let myself look at Wilco World to check out the spring tour schedule? They're playing the Ryman, my very favorite place to see a show, on the 17th of March. And I am approximately 10,000 miles away.

What I wouldn't give for iTunes to work over here. Or for some new music. Anything.

2.15.2006

it's a lonely, lonely feeling when your valentine was wrong

Grafitti, Goma style:

roses have been hard to find

The good internet place is not working today and this typewriter ain't right, so just some pretty pictures today. I am settled in an apartment and much happier, but the pictorial tour will have to wait until tomorrow. Or the next day. Goma still has no water, but my apts have a pump. With this whole lake, you'd think they could figure something out...




Sunset over Lake Kivu, view from Rwanda





view from the dock at my apartment in Goma. Oh, yeah I live on the lake!

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.

2.13.2006

saints don't bother

Nothing is more boring than a weekend in the middle-of-nowhere Africa. Sunday was incredibly dull; I slept late, then it rained harder than anything I've ever seen, and all there was to do was sit around and read and watch BBC World play the same thing over and over and over again. There hasn't been any running water in all of Goma since Saturday, so you can imagine how disgusting things are getting.

Goma is more tense than it was the last time I was here and I am concerned about the safety situation. There are soldiers in the streets (from different armies) and the UN runs patrols pretty frequently. Since I left Austin two weeks ago, 70,000 people have become refugees in the Kivu provinces (where I am). Both rebel armies and the national army are running wild in the countryside, looting and raping and causing lots of trouble. I don't think they'll do anything in Goma; the UN mission is pretty strong here, but I've already been told that it is a very bad idea to go to Bunia, which is 1/3 of my project, because there's open fighting up there.

But, seriously, there are, like, troop movements in the streets. A car full of soldiers will race down the middle of traffic towards some unknown destination and everyone gets out of the way. Meanwhile Mr. Florida went to Bukavu since he couldn't get a flight to Goma, so still no sign of him.

I honestly don't know what to do. I have never felt this ill-at-ease in Africa before. Walking down the street is not fun like it is elsewhere; people are suspicious and I get the feeling that if something went wrong, I would be in serious danger. There are a couple of other academics around, but they are men and it's kindof different for them.

I've written to the Advisor to see what she thinks. I don't want to overreact or quit, but I also am not willing to take undue risks in the name of political science. In the meantime, I would really appreciate your prayers, for my safety and for making good decisions about what risks to take and when it's time to let go.

I'm also hunting for an apartment and having a horrible time with that; if you don't want to pay $1200/month, it's kindof a challenge. Prayers are very much appreciated!

grace and peace

Phil Strickland passed away after his long battle with cancer. I am sitting here in an internet cafe in Goma crying. Phil lived an amazing life and spoke the truth to power even (especially) when those in power didn't want to hear it. We are lucky to have his legacy going before us.

2.11.2006

steel guitar and settle down

I made it into Congo just fine. Hopefully my luggage will still be at the hotel when I get back; otherwise, this will be a short trip. Anyway, the border was no trouble at all since, unlike at the southern end of the lake, the border guards here are paid regular salaries. A customs guy wanted a bribe, but he asked my driver if I was English, driver said yes, I pretended not to speak any French or Swahili, and Mr. Customs kept pointing at my bag and saying, "Close, close." He meant "open," of course, but I just kept saying, "It is closed" and he gave up. My driver laughed all the way to the hotel over that one.

So, after heading to the Hotel Nyira and being shown to the exact same room I stayed in last summer, here I am in Goma. At the moment I'm sitting in a cyber cafe down the street from the "Dallas Super Dancing Club" which looks approximately like Dallas in Austin. Don't think I'll be stopping there any time soon.

Goma seems sadder this time. I don't know; maybe it's just me and just the weight of the last week of travel and being worn out. But I really do think there's something different in the air. The skies are clearer today, so the Nyira volcano is looming to the northeast, just threatening to erupt and destroy lives again like it did three years ago. On the other side of Nyira, there are 55,000 internally displaced persons (internal refugees) and who knows how many rebels and armies fighting. People look more frightened and worried than they did last summer. I don't know if it's just the people I see or if the recent disturbances have the city worried that it's all about to start up again.

Thanks so much for all your prayers and encouraging notes these last few days. The enormity of this task has really hit me this week and it's been a little discouraging. I am thankful to have so many good friends.

In other news, I cannot be-lieve that Kara is still in, but hooray for Chloe. Nick is a better designer than Kara and she just doesn't deserve to be in the final three. We'll see. Actually, Blogging Project Runway cheated by having spies at the Fashion Week shows last week, so you can probably figure it out yourself. Or by reading the NYT article. Except that they do a decoy show!

(Picture shamelessly stolen off the web, but this is what Nyira looks like. It's not smoking at the moment. You have to be careful about pulling out your camera on the streets here.)

2.10.2006

found that i had only paper wings

Well, Mr. Florida did not get onto the MONUC flight this morning, so I'm in Gisenyi for another day. Gisenyi is a pretty little town by the lake, but there's nothing to do but sit around and watch tv and/or go out on the deck and, over the sounds of Reba covers of Crystal Gayle songs, listen to this very intense young British couple talk about literary theory and feminism (a conversation just unfortunately overheard, verbatim: Her: "You never read my essay on feminine representations in music." Him: "You never gave it to me." Her: "Yes, I did. I left it lying about for ages.").

I'm ready to get to the Congo.

But, that said, I guess it's interesting to see what scraps of American culture make their way to Africa. Digital satellite television has really changed the way things work here. It used to be that if you were lucky enough to have a TV in your hotel, you got the local channel and maybe something more interesting (eg, the BBC or CNN International). But now there's just everything. I watched Mean Girls on MNet this afternoon, and Gilmore Girls (episode one of season five, the one where she leaves for Europe with Emily) last night. And then, of all the stupid things to make me homesick, Hope Floats came on the other night. Such a bad movie, but it has an okay soundtrack (Whiskeytown, Gillian Welch, Lyle Lovett) and it's set in Smithville, which isn't too far from Austin. A girl I knew in college married the Smithville baseball coach.

Tonight is the beginning of the Olympics, but no one here will be watching, first, because it will be really late to fit with U.S. tv schedules, and second, because the all-important finals of the Africa Cup of Nations will be on and skiing is much less interesting than soccer. Egypt vs. Cote d'Ivoire, in Cairo. Woo-hoo.

Sorry to be so down today, but I clearly need something to do. I may go ahead and just cross into Congo by myself tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers.

2.08.2006

big city turn me loose and set me free


So it's almost time to go into the Congo, but I'm trying to wait on Mr. Florida (another grad student) to fly in there from Kinshasa so someone can come meet me at the border. As much fun as it would be to just show up, I really would prefer not to have to walk.

So, today I had a choice: stay in Kigali, the closest thing Rwanda has to a big city (no mall or supermarket, but there's a five-star hotel and most of the things you really need are available there), or travel three hours over the mountains and head to the lake.

Hello, I'm a Texas girl! Clearly the lake won out. Because my luggage is officially too much to get onto an African bus (it's expanding, I don't know why), I took a taxi over the mountains through northwestern Rwanda. It is such a lovely drive. You head up the hills from Kigali, then the road just runs along the ridgeline for quite awhile before running back down the mountains and through the valleys. About halfway here, you come around a corner and are suddenly in Ruhengeri, a town that sits under five volcanoes. It's really dramatic and quite beautiful; I will get some pictures when Steve the Lawyer and I go gorilla tracking there in a month or two.

After that, we drove for another hour and passed a UNHCR refugee camp. It's a sad place, tents covered with green tarps and sickly children sitting in the mud. Then it was on to Gisenyi, which is this pretty little town on the DRC border and on the shores of Lake Kivu. My hotel is on the lake and has a pretty little beach, though whether you want to swim is questionable given the levels of methane gas in the water. When the Nyiragongo volcano in Congo erupted four years ago, it drove all these gases into the lake, making it deadly to swim in some places. That said, plenty of people were out today, so it probably is okay here.

It's so strange to be in a place that's so beautiful and to know that just three miles away it's a totally different story. You can see the hills of the DRC and the serenity is interupted once an hour or so when the relief flights take off and land at the Goma airport. So that's how it is. I am trying not to be bored and hoping for a smooth border crossing on Friday. Please say a prayer for that.

a world gone blind where there's no more time

Yesterday morning Susanna and I went over to the Kigali Genocide Center and Memorial. It's a ways out of the center of town, so we took moto-taxis over and caused quite the stir on the little dirt road that leads up to the center. It's set on a pretty hillside overlooking the valley that runs between it and the city center. The memorial itself is beautifully put together and a very moving memorial to the 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans who were killed in 1994. It has an outside portion, this map of the world with Rwanda at the center, and then a really well-done exhibit inside which addresses Rwandan history, some very controversial questions about ethnicity and motivations, the history of genocide worldwide, and the impact of losing so many people on Rwanda's future.

I love it when buildings echo the sense of their purpose. For example, Liebskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin is designed in the shape of an exploded star of David. When you're inside, it's very disorienting and you don't know which way is north or south or where you came in. This represents the Holocaust's disruption of Jewish and German history and the sense that nothing will ever be the same again. The Kigali memorial is designed such that you walk through in a circle, and it feels like you're making your way down a spiral - much as a genocide is a spiral of madness. When you reach the center of the spiral, there are three darkened rooms. The first one has clothes found in mass graves in Kigali - soccer shirts and jeans and the simple cotton cloth that women all over Africa use as skirts, baby carriers, picnic cloths, and bedding. The second room is full of skulls and bones of the victims. Rwanda is very concerned that there never be an opportunity for anyone to say that the genocide didn't happen, so having physical proof that people were killed is an important component of many memorials here.

The third room, however, is the one that I found most powerful. Inside are these little metal clotheslines on which hang thousands of photographs of victims. Many survivors have donated the only pictures they had of their loved ones to the center. Some are formal portraits, but most are the snapshots like all of us have - children on the first day of school, brides in their wedding gowns, a young couple standing in the backyard with their arms around the wife's pregnant belly, nuns at a church, teenagers laughing. That's what we miss on the news: the people who died in this tragedy were not savages in the jungle, but rather were mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and people who loved and lived very normal lives in a normal place where something awful happened.

The other heartbreaking part of the museum is the exhibit on "Our lost future," which is about the children. There I read about children like Channelle, a little girl who could easily have been one of the GA's. She liked chocolate for a treat and milk to drink. Her favorite song was called, "My Native Land Which God Chose for Me." And here, in her native land, she was hacked to death with a machete when she was eight years old.

You walk out of the museum and it's hard to understand how people keep living their lives after going through something so horrible. Susanna stayed behind to meet a friend, so I started heading down that dirt road alone, looking for a taxi. Kigali is like Asheville - you are always either walking up or down a hill, and I was glad to be going down for once. But then up the road came a huge group of children from a primary school down the hill. Kids were walking home for lunch, but the first group spotted me coming and ran up, eager to practice their French. They had clearly had a lesson on formal greetings and all wanted to try it out. I have no idea how many children shook my hand and said, "Bonjour, mademoiselle" - maybe a hundred from the ages of four to twelve. We all laughed and smiled and went on our way and I remembered that this is why we can't give up on Africa - it is too beautiful, and people are too good, and the children who weren't part of the tragedies of the past are the ones who will make things better, because they're able to laugh together under the high noonday equatorial sun.

2.07.2006

there are stars in the southern sky

One of the things I failed to mention about yesterday's wacky journey through the hinterland was that at some point we crossed the Equator. There wasn't a sign like in Kenya, but according to the map, we did. Ex-officemate Matt, I can't beileve I'm putting this on my blog, but, well, Bart Simpson was right. Or maybe it was Lisa. At any rate, the toilets do flush the other direction.

I was going to post a picture of the scary birds in Uganda here, but you'll have to use your imagination because the connection is not working on the camera today. Trust me when I say that you did not want to be parked under that tree.

And my famous-historian professor who is not one of my favorite people got in some trouble in New Haven this weekend. Yikes.

In other news, I might be on the road to being a real academic. In the past few weeks, I've been asked to 1) review a book on the DRC for publication, 2) submit a paper to a DRC-specific conference, and 3) consult on a film about the DRC. My film career was sadly short-lived since the filmmaker (the girl who did that soup thing that the Chronicle is always mentioning) is going to do something on slavery in west Africa instead. But still. It's pretty cool that people think you have something to contribute. Now if only that were true...

I am being eaten alive by mosquitos, so I'll write about visiting the genocide memorial tomorrow. Suffice it to say it was a downer.

2.06.2006

never much money but i always kept some faith

John Danforth is so cool.

straight from the Texas hill country, natural-born highway junkie

You know, I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, and there aren't many experiences about which I've said, "Never Again." There are some (skydiving, eating ostrich) that I'm glad to have done once but won't do again, but aside from that, there are just a very few things that I won't ever do again and that I regret having gotten involved with in the first place (among them the D.A.).

Today's nine-hour bus ride from Kampala to Kigali is one of the former. I'm glad I did it, it's a good life experience to have under the belt, but that will be the last time I ever, EVER ride that far in a supposedly air-conditioned coach with fifty other miserable human beings. It's just too far. Rwandan customs searched every single one of our bags at the border (what were they looking for? I never did figure it out.). And then, just when we were al-mo-st th-er-e, there was a loud noise and people behind me started shouting. Because one of the bus windows had shattered after some children threw a rock at it. We stopped while they pushed the glass out onto the highway (yes, you read that right), then got back on the bus for a much more ventilated ride into Kigali. Here's a picture of that excitement.

It's nice to be back in Kigali. No one ever believes that Rwanda is one of the lovliest places I've seen, but it's so beautiful with the mountains and everyone is so friendly. And really, the ride wasn't that bad. (I mean, they showed Chuck Norris Delta Force movies with no sound for most of the route. Have you seen the Chuck Norris Facts page? The Secret Agent Man told me about this last fall and it is wacky.) I could tell we were getting closer to Rwanda when the land got more and more cultivated (this is one of the most population-dense places on earth) and the quality of the cattle improved markedly. Tutsi herders have been breeding longhorn cattle for centuries and their stock is some of the best anywhere.

So I will wait here a couple of days to pick up the FedEx package with my blood sugar monitor in it that the Cotton Palace Princess was so sweet to send since I apparently lost it at Dulles. My hotel is nice and safe - but it's on the site of the old Diplomat Hotel, which is the one in Hotel Rwanda that they go to first (where he empties the safe and saves his family), so that's a little creepy. There are reminders of what this place went through everywhere, but I am reminded of Albert Schweitzer's call to "Remind yourself occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the site" and I'm thinking that maybe it's good to be a little ill-at-ease here.

I am planning to just take it easy before heading into the craziness that is the DRC later this week. Met a girl from New York on the bus today who speaks no French and got a little overwhelmed at the bus park tonight, so I think we are going to go see some of the genocide memorials tomorrow. I miss y'all.

2.05.2006

if you run into Jesus, maybe he can help us out

Lest we think that we're the only country in the world that has these issues, I just about choked on my Coke Light when I saw this headline in today's paper.

But actually, the take in this piece on church-state issues and the upcoming Ugandan elections was pretty good. All the pastors they interviewed for the article said that it's dangerous to endorse a candidate as God's representative because political parties aren't interested in the same things as the church is interested in, and essentially argued that no political party is going to be a perfect representation of a Christian view of things.

Very interesting. Looks like Uganda's ministers could teach an important lesson to some of our pastors in the U.S. of A.

out where dreams come true

Fun things in and around Kampala:
  1. Last night I was on a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) going to dinner and I started seeing these huge birds everywhere. It turns out that they are cranes, and some of them are taller than me. A little disconcerting. The crane is the mascot of Uganda's national soccer team.
  2. Speaking of soccer, the Africa Cup is in full swing here. You pass by any restaurant or bar here and people are pressed up against the glass/fence, watching the televisions inside and cheering for their teams.
  3. The place I ate at last night, Mamma Mia, has really good pizza. They also had children's pizzas that you could get in the shape of a lion, rhino, bul, fish, hippo, or lots of other animals. On the grownup menu, you could order about 40 different pizzas, including the "Clinton since 1998" (wurstel and ham) and the "Hillary since 1998" (pineapple, carrots, and sweet corn). I stuck with cheese.
  4. The Happiness Hotel in Kigali is completely booked! I am so bummed about not getting to stay at this crazy guesthouse near the Presbyterian mission. Last time I was there, there were Belgian psychoanalysts, off-shoot Mormon missionaries, and a busload of Japanese tourists.
  5. Kampala has a growing middle class that, like most middle classes, is obsessed with frivoloty. Today in the paper's style section, there were all kinds of columns about dating and redecorating your kitchen, which seems normal to us but is really strange to find in countries wiht high poverty rates. The funny thing about all the advice columns, though, is that unlike at home, here they're primarily aimed at men. It's all about, like, "How do I get my girl to understand that football is important?" and such.
  6. One very interesting thing to see here is the actual, day-to-day effects of Uganda's anti-HIV/AIDS campaign. Uganda is the only country in Africa with a declining infection rate, thanks primarily to the president and first lady's decision ten years ago to promote the ABC campaign - Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom. People talk about it everywhere - it's on the radio, on billboards, in the paper, and on t-shirts. And that seems to be the trick - dealing with the issue head-on has resulted in some success in fighting the disease.
  7. The radio station everyone listens to here (in taxis, in the internet cafe) is like all-Delilah, all-the-time. I am having a hard time maintaining my composure when I hop into a taxi to the strains of "Somewhere Out There."
  8. My hotel, however, pumps sports talk radio into the hallways 24 hours a day. Awesome. I can't tell you how glad I am not to have to wonder about the results of motocross racing in Moldova before going to sleep at night.
  9. I can't believe Andrae is out on Project Runway. Did he weep like a little girl? How can Kara still be in?

2.04.2006

goona take some time to do some things we never had

Well, after three days on a plane and spending most of the last twenty-four hours sleeping off the trip, I've finally found a decent internet cafe here in Kampala. Here's an update on my trip thus far:

We arrived Friday morning around 7:55 (due to the flight taking off an hour late from Heathrow because of de-icing, which seems really crazy now that I'm in 85 degree equatorial heat). I had a window seat and it was really one of the prettiest descents I've ever seen. Uganda has lots of mountains and hills that run right up to the edge of Lake Victoria, and yesterday morning, the sun was rising over the mist on those hills and reflecting off the lake. It was lovely. Then we arrived at Entebbe, 40 miles from Kampala and the site of a terrible hijacking a few decades back. It's right on the edge of Lake Victoria, which is the second-largest lake in the world. I'd seen Lake Victoria from a gulf in Kenya before, but the view from Entebbe is really spectacular - it's a lot more like an ocean than a lake. Really lovely. I'll be back there to raft the source of the Nile before it's over and will try to post pictures then.

Anyway, my hotel shuttle was right there to pick me up and my driver was fun to talk to. He pointed out all the sites and told me about what's going on in town. Since then, I've been picking up a few last-minute things and sleeping a lot. It's getting to the point where every African capital feels like every other African capital, but Kampala is really pretty and they've got everything you need. (Seriously. I saw Pantene in the grocery store today.) It's really hot and really beautiful with the hills and lots of gardens in the midst of the general chaos of every African city. East African schools run on a February-December calendar, with the equivalent of our summer vacation from December to now, so everyone's busy getting ready for the start of a new school year on Monday. I went to a bookstore today that was packed with parents buying books and school supplies for their kids. The uniform stores looked busy, too.

It's also election season, so there are posters and signs and radio ads for candidates everywhere. We were behind a bus with an ad on its window yesterday (see the picture at right) and it took me forever to figure out that M7 stands for Museveni, the current president of Uganda. Uganda has a difficult political history. It's interesting that a lot of people don't believe the elections will be free and fair, but they're all more than happy to say so without fear of persecution.

My plan for tomorrow (Sunday) is just to relax and get ready for the long ride to Kigali on Monday, before going on to the Congo on Wednesday or Thursday. I'd appreciate your prayers for safe travel and not-too-crowded buses.

In other news, can you believe Lance and Sheryl broke up? It must be important if it's the headline in the Statesman. Far more important is this article, in which Suzii will remind you that the gambling interests in Texas are always trying the same old thing, every session.

2.02.2006

slip right through your hands

Yay, my phone is okay, no charge for getting it to be better, thanks to some lovely people who don't like Texas very much. I don't think it's fair to base one's perception of 20 million people on the performance of one (even if he is king of the world), but then again, at lunch when C was touting the advantages of dual citizenship and her ability to traipse off to Pyongyang or Havana whenever she wants, I said, "What do you mean, I don't have dual citizenship? I'm from Texas." Anyway I'm thankful for their help and am now killing time while my ipod charges until it's time to go back to Heathrow, so here's some fun look-sees for today:
  1. Pink Dome's capitions on the W./Cuellar picture. Hands down the best one is, "I wish I knew how to quit you..."
  2. My thoughts on the State of the Union? Nada. Didn't watch it. Was too busy with the send-off dinner. Our bet was that the featured gallery guest would be a Hispanic mother who lost her son in Iraq and who is married to a miner and who got a tax cut and started a successful small business. But apparently the president didn't highlight anyone, except for a Pakistani immigrant who went to fight in Iraq? They really can find anyone to fit a demographic need.
  3. Ooooh, UIL realignment day. Yes, you do care. Where's Westlake? Seriously, I can't find them on the list.
  4. Floydada basketball is doing awesome. They were #1 in Class 2A and are now #3.
  5. Jenny Lewis's Rabbit Fur Coat - I listened to it last week and forgot to blog about it. It's good, not great, the Watson Twins' tracks are the best, and the title track is hopelessly hokey. Although I think it's a bit harsh to call her the Linda Ronstadt of our generation.

london calling punxsutawney phil

Well, I made it to London safe and sound. The flight was half empty, which was a good thing because my seat's light was stuck on and the video system was stuck off the whole flight. They had me move across the aisle, where there were three empty, dark seats and Capote was playing. My normal, no-fail anti-jeg lag measures didn't work altogether due to the fact that I packed my bag wrong and therefore my earplugs and tylenol pm were not there. Got to London at 10 with about two hours sleep, had no problems at British immigration, and met my friend Camilla for lunch at a cute little place in the shadow of St. Paul's. (No, Kathryn, there wasn't a little old lady feeding the birds for tuppence a bag. Sorry.) Camilla lives the most interesting life of anyone I know and it was fun to catch up.

And now I'm at Victoria Station, wondering how I'll recharge my iPod when the USB ports aren't working and it's going to be a challenge to find a power outlet at Heathrow. Also the added problem that my phone is locked up and I may have to buy a new one ... long story involving something called a PUK. Ugh.

But, everything else is fine and I'm excited to know that by this time tomorrow I'll be in Africa. Where it's not snowing and 25 degrees like it is here. I need a cup of tea.

2.01.2006

time to think about letting go

Some fun pictures from dinner at Lauriol Plaza last night:




The whole crew (almost)











jp and me









hello, cotton palace!









the yalie contingent










stephen and me

times i even forget to be blue

Well, today is the day. Off to London tonight, a ten hour layover and lunch with an old friend there tomorrow, then to Entebbe. If all goes according to plan, the hotel shuttle should be waiting to pick me up at the airport to go to Kampala, where I'll spend the weekend figuring out the banking issue and getting some extra passport pages at the U.S. embassy (yep, my passport is officially full), before heading off to Kigali early next week and then onto the Congo late next week. I'm excited to get to see Uganda; I've never been there before. And I'm sure the scenery between Kampala and Kigali is beautiful, which is good, because ten hours is a loooooonnnngg time to be on an African bus.

I totally missed the State of the Union last night due to a little dinner party (more on that in a bit), but got back to the Cotton Palace Princess's lovely home just in time for the Democratic response. All I have to say about that is that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's eyebrow is something else. And also that if the D's think they can win elections by having their representatives mention their past missionary service and saying "values" a lot, they've got another think coming.

And, yahoo, it's signing day! Hope Mack gets to take a vacation here soon. Vince certainly earned him one.