something 'bout the southland in the springtime
"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)
A depressing quote from a guy I know who works for the International Crisis Group. It's true.
One of the teenagers from Wilton has the "Sermon of the Week" for CBF. Check it out here. I'm so proud of Matt - he's a great kid, as you'll be able to tell from the sermon, which he preached at youth-led worship.
I (heart) the CCM channel!
My last days in Kinshasa weren't so bad. The place wears you down quickly, though. Wednesday Wonderful Taxi Driver John had to go to his other job (see below), so he had his friend José pick me up at the Cultural Center. That's right. José. José is Kinois, born and raised in the Congolese capital, and doesn't appear to speak any Spanish. I don't know. Anyway, he's just as nice as Wonderful Taxi Driver John, although José's car was hot-wired. No, really. There were no keys. He had taken me to Kabila's mausoleum the other day, and yesterday took me to the Academie des Beaux Artes (Academy of Fine Arts), the professional art school here. The professors there have two galleries in which they sell sculpture, ceramics, and paintings. There was some lovely stuff there – I splurged on this painting, which will look so cute in my living room.
So I finally got to really see the Congo River, which is, sadly, a lifetime dream. John drove me out to what he called a "township" to a place just by the water. We could see the rapids that make navigation from the Atlantic to Kinshasa impossible. And all the space where you see rocks and grass is covered by the river during the high season, which is November.
...but I can see the Congo River at sunset. That's the other Congo on the far side of the river. And I met a Texan in the hotel lobby tonight.
Here's a depressing story about the Congo in this week's Time.
My flight on Sunday was supposed to leave Goma at 2:30, so, as Tom put it, we left right on time at 4:15. Here's a lovely picture of the remarkable variety of goods that were unloaded at Mbuji-Mayi, where we sat for an hour. That's corrugated aluminum sheeting, which was apparently on top of the mattresses and various bags of grain and boxes of medicine. The airline used the first-class cabin as a cargo hold - it was really somethin'. Anyway, we waited at Mbuji-Mayi for another hour, which would have been okay, except it meant that we arrived in Kinshasa after dark, which is Not A Good Thing. After carrying someone else's child down the stairs off the airplane (hey, she weighed less than her mother's suitcase!), I actually made it through the airport with no trouble whatsoever. My hotel was supposed to send a taxi to wait for me, and had said it would be $50 to ride into town.
This is what hell looks like. Kinshasa. The Congo river is in the distance but you can't really see it through the smog. I would write more, but internet access is 1 dollar per 4 minutes. Kin is actually more expensive than Tokyo, even if you aren't an expat.
The generator at Karibu is broken and there's some problem with the power supply lines that run from the Ruzizi dam at Bukavu (the city at the southern end of Lake Kivu). So at night now, it is really dark. Really dark. This makes things like cooking dinner a bit of a challenge, but it also means that you can see every star in the sky. The other night I came home from a party late, walked out on the back porch, and, there, clear as day, right on the southeastern horizon, was the Southern Cross. I'd never seen it before - it's obvious why early navigators relied on it. So beautiful.
It occurs to me that this dress matches my cute boots perfectly. Oh, it's going to rock to go to Two Ton Tuesdays this summer!
FINALLY got my turquoise dress back yesterday. Da Ellie, the dressmaker responsible for this creation promised to have it done in four days, but that was three weeks ago. But it was worth the wait – the dress is great. Anyway, after picking it up in the middle of the rain yesterday, I wore it over to a grocery store where several friends work. They could not stop laughing – here we are in our model poses:
Well, I finally learned why there are soldiers all over the place at my apartment. Seems the Minister of Education is in town for a seminar, staying at the hotel, and, apparently, unfortunately, thoroughly enjoyed watching my tennis lesson yesterday. (Have I mentioned that I'm taking tennis lessons? Right. I'm taking tennis lessons from a guy named Salama. Entirely in French and Swahili - it's a hoot.) Now. All I have to say about that is that if you're the Minister of Education of a country the size of western Europe with as many problems as this one has, and the most entertaining thing you can find to do during your coffee break is watch me play tennis for an hour on Wednesday afternoon, you're very much in need of something better to do.
Sunday I got to talk to my parents. I'm afraid to know how much the bill for that 45-minute conversation will be, but it sure was nice to hear their voices. During that conversation, Daddy said I am not posting enough pictures of the lake when I blog about how beautiful it is all the time. So here you go:
These are some pictures from Rwanda that I took on the bus-ride-from-the-tenth-circle the other day. I really like this view of Nyira volcano from Rwanda. Nyira is entirely in Congo, but you really only get the idea of just how big it is when you see it from northwestern Rwanda. You can also see a little rise just to the right (it almost looks like part of the plateau on the right side of the volcano) that is the Nyamuragira volcano, also active, also in Congo. What a great place to pack several million people into.
Finally, this is a shot from closer to Ruhengeri, a city to the west of here. In the background you can see Sabinyo volcano and, to the right, I think Gahinga but it could be Visoke. Neither of them are active; the area is home to Rwanda's famous mountain gorillas. I totally didn't mean for there to be people or trees in the shot, but it turned out kindof cool. Plus it gives you an idea of how fast those drivers go on the downhill slopes.
When shopping in the few grocery stores in Goma that cater to Westerners, you have to adopt a sort of Soviet mentality. Just because something is there this week doesn't mean that it will be there ever again, so you'd better stock up just in case. So, Saturday while searching through Trameco in vain for a jar of peanut butter when I came across several jars of SALSA, of course I bought two. They cost $4 apiece, but who cares? The fact that salsa should not be 1) manufactured by Pringles, 2) in Belgium? So what? It's been 58 days since I left Austin, there's no chili powder within 3,000 miles of Goma, and I don't care.
The other night I ended up watching television (television! It's been, like, six weeks.) at my friend Junior's house with a very interesting group of people. We were watching a rugby match between England and Ireland, which was the championship game in something called the Six Nations ("It's like your Super Bowl," said Bitter Newcastle Mike. (To be fair, Mike was already annoyed with me for asking why England's team mascot isn't something more intimidating than a rose. I guess if you're playing leprechauns, it doesn't matter.)). That may be, but in the Super Bowl, the winner of the game is the winner of the season. Not so here. Despite the fact that Ireland crushed England with a last minute field goal, France was the winner of the Six Nations.
My trip to Kigali was nice, although I was really worn down by the time I arrived in the city. After the unpleasantness of Monday morning, a three hour ride through Rwanda's mountains was not exactly what I needed. On top of that, one of my seatmates really, really wanted to talk about Congolese politics and how Congo could improve its political system to be more like America. After a loooooonnnng discussion, he finally declared that the reason that American politics are better is that, "You have a Christian nation."
Well, there's nothing like a little mob violence first thing in the morning to get your day off to a great start. I woke up early this morning to catch a bus to Kigali to deal with some issues and whatnot. Aside from the fact that it was SO early, everything was normal - the guard found a moto-taxi, negotiated him down to a reasonable price, made me practice my Lingala, and sent me on my merry way. But when we were heading into town, traffic was really, really heavy. I thought maybe this is normal because I never go into the city so early and it was rush hour for the matatus, but, no. We got to the hospital (which is near the stadium), and all of a sudden a group of men had surrounded us and were yelling at my driver to stop. One of the guys grabbed the key to the moto, turned it off, and the rest of them started demanding that my driver give them money.
It's raining. Again. So today seemed like a good day to write about some cool new music Steve the Lawyer (No, not that one. Not the other one, either. That one.) suggested I check out. Brothers & Sisters are an Austin band (if they had just one more member they could be a neuftet!) and I guess one of the guys is Steve's roommate's ex-roommate. Domestic details aside, Brothers and Sisters has just put out a self-titled CD, and while it's not available to download online, they have several MP3's on their Myspace site. The album got a good review from the Chronicle as well. Of the tracks they have up on their site, I really like "Old Love Letters" and "Without You." They are clearly hugely influenced by Neil Young, but somehow manage to create something unique out of that influence, unlike a million other bands. Check it out if you get the chance.
And Be Here to Love Me, the wonderful documentary about Townes van Zandt's life and music, is finally out on DVD. If you are at all interested in roots music, you should definitely Netflix this one - read more impressions of the film here.
Who's awesome? Oh, yeah ... that'd be me! Only 7 wrong picks in the 1st round, and 5 of those don't matter anyway (darn you, Oklahoma!). This is my overall ranking on Yahoo - and unlike certain history PhD candidates, I only fill out one bracket:
Congo done got the bird flu. Luckily (?), the province where it's been discovered is a long way from here and I haven't eaten chicken here at all. What a mess this is going to be, especially for the women in the market whose entire livelihood depends on their ability to sell poultry.
"Teach us to care and not to care
It feels like there's nothing to write about today. After six weeks, the suffering and the constant negotiation over every aspect of life is wearing me down. I can't imagine what it's like for the people who live with this for their entire lives - I can easily "escape" for a weekend... and for the rest of my life. People here are stuck with the consequences of a century of greed, bad decisions, and selfishness on the part of the rest of the world. I just finished reading Shake Hands with the Devil, which is Lt. General Romeo Dallaire's account of his experiences as the commander of the UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda in 1993-94. Dallaire repeatedly begged the international community to do something to stop the genocide in Rwanda and was ignored and used as a pawn in larger political games. He refers to the international response to the refugee flow into Goma -- where an estimated 1 million people, many of them participants in the genocide took shelter -- as "too much, too late," which is exactly right. Having done nothing to help in Rwanda, international aid agencies and governments flooded into Goma (too late to stop a cholera epidemic), but they focused too much aid in Goma and not enough in Rwanda. Meanwhile, the leaders of the genocide were quickly able to take over the refugee camps and organized the militias that still terrorize the region today. The world's active decision not to respond to the 1994 Rwandan genocide is a direct cause of the suffering and deaths of 4 million Congolese that has happened since 1998, and for the 1,200 people who die every single day in the eastern part of the country. And every single one of those people has a name.
Who called Syracuse making an early exit at the hands of the Aggies? Oh, yeah! It was obvious, y'all: anyone who lip syncs as well as Chris Walker had to make it to the second round.
Emily tagged me, like, a month ago, and since I'm waiting for a painfully slow download, today seemed like a good day to finally fill it out.
4 TV shows I love:
4 places I have vacationed:
4 favorite foods when NOT dieting:
4 favorite foods when dieting:
The Onion mocks American missionaries who come to Africa in a pretty funny parody, but it's interesting that I was having a conversation yesterday with a missionary from Seattle who works with Heal Africa, mainly by helping them to raise support back in the states. She grew up as a missionary kid in Congo and knows the region and people very well. We were talking about the church and Congo's needs and she just turned to me and said, "People don't understand that the way of doing missions in Africa has to change, and really already has changed, just like everything else." She went on to point out that it's hard for American churches to realize just how Christianized Africa is -- and that missionaries working here are usually working with the children and grandchildren of those who converted forty years ago.
Tourney time! Of all the things I'm missing this week, getting to watch the first two rounds of the tournament while recovering from being out 'til 3 at SXSW the night before is right up there. The big question, though, is whether a bracket filled out in the eastern Congo will do better or worse than the one from two years ago that Skip and I filled out in an internet cafe in Tokyo late one night. The key, as the doctor long maintained, is to separate your emotions from your bracket decisions. It doesn't matter if you want to see Utah State make a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight; rationality suggests that that isn't going to happen. Ever.
So there it is, all a matter of public record. Send me your gloating emails as soon as results start coming in.
Beliefnet has a great piece this week on how modern-day American evanglicals have strayed from their strict separationist views of the appropriate relationship between church and state. Unlike certain other histories that take liberties with logic and twist facts to support an already-decided upon view of the world. Waldman's article is balanced, historically well-informed, and, plus, it involves the story of a 400-pound cheese wheel.
The fires in the Texas Panhandle are getting under control, but they're still burning and high winds are expected today - not at all a good thing. The Amarillo Globe-News has some incredible pictures of the devastation - and the heroic acts that saved towns - including this one from McLean taken by Henry Bargas.
Last night in Goma was super-clear, so you could see all three of the volcanoes near Goma. Over the weekend, I visited the cartographer's office to order some maps. This guy is incredible - he has hundreds of maps of Congo's provinces, districts, and cities and towns in blueprint form. You select a map and he then colors it in by hand. Unbelievable. Now I finally have some really good maps of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Goma, which will make The Advisor much happier.
There are really bad wildfires around my mom's hometown of Groom. The Amarillo Globe News has some pictures here and a story specifically about the Groom fire here. "Near the border of Gray and Donley counties" is exactly where the farm is, although the towns that were evacuated are all on the other side of I-40. Please say a prayer for everyone there.
I realized that I haven't posted many pictures lately; sorry about that. It's often really awkward to take out a camera here, and you can be arrested if you snap a shot in the presence of police or military personnel (official or otherwise), which pretty much rules out most public areas in Goma.
Things I learned how to say in five years of French class:
I love the Gilmore Girls Podcast! Whoever they are, this couple named David and Alicia are way more obsessed with the show than we are. No, really. We usually remember that we're talking about a tv show and characters … after awhile. Despite the fact that they've apparently only been watching for three seasons, David and Alicia know everything and think about patterns in the show and watch the show multiple times to prepare for their podcast, where they give the play-by-play of every new episode, available for FREE on iTunes and their website. Actually, Alicia analyzes the show's history. David mostly just comments on how cute Rory looks doing whatever she was up to that week. Totally wonderful – this is the first time I've listened to a non-musical podcast. I love that technology makes it possible for me to keep up with my favorite program.
Very interesting piece on teaching at Christian universities in Inside Higher Ed. I think the extent to which entirely open and honest discussion is permitted varies greatly professor-to-professor and institution-to-institution. My own experience as a student in political science at a Christian university suggests that discussion on controversial issues is often shut down -- but that it usually happens more because of the students and less because of the faculty. No matter what happens, you get into these issues that have well-defined positions in many churches (eg, the view of many, many conservative evangelicals that free-market capitalism and strong national defense is ordained by God), and when students or professors have decided that there's a "Christian" side to an issue, it's very hard to actually talk about it.
Lake Kivu at sunset last night was so lovely - the winds were high and the water was very choppy as the sun turned pink in the west. Very rare that we actually see a sunset. Of course I didn't have my camera, but here's a picture of how clear the lake is on a calm day. Due to the buildup of methane gas under the tectonic plate in the lake (that scientists think will eventually kill all 2 million people living in the lake basin unless someone spends millions of dollars to vent the lake), there are no crocodiles or hippos in Lake Kivu, unlike the rest of Africa's Great Lakes region. Lucky us?
Ten Things About Which I am Trying Not to Think:
If the Aggies play basketball as well as they dance, they so make it to the second round in my bracket.
My darling little sister and her friends have way too much free time to put this much forethought into their close encounters with the CCM superstar kind at chapel. My apologies to those of you who don't understand why this is so funny. You had to be at Centrifuge '92, camp in '93 (That Shining Season: The Great Adventure), or, sad to admit, at the Starwood show in '94 where the Newsboys opened and we got to meet them because youth minister #3½'s girlfriend was their publicist and were such the rock star sixteen-year-olds.
As my sister's friend put it, the only thing they were missing was $20 from their moms to buy t-shirts. To wear as witnesses to school on Monday, of course.
Wednesday was SO boring in Goma. Apparently, the rest of the world celebrates March 8 as International Women's Day, so businesses were closed, there was no hope of interviewing anyone, and the men were left at home while their wives and daughters headed to Goma's stadium. It took 20 minutes to find a moto-taxi to get into the middle of town – a process that usually takes about 30 seconds.
Chloe won! Thanks for all of the (very) early morning text messages letting me know! So awesome - her final collection was not the best, but she is so sweet and will fit in much better at Banana Republic than the other two. I'm definitely going to check out her shop in Houston on the annual-trip-to-Houston-to-remember-why-it's-better-to-just-avoid-Houston this fall.
The big news on the BBC last night (I now have a short-wave radio, which makes evenings so much more interesting!) was the death of Ali Farka Toure. If you've never listened to Toure's music, now would be a great time to start. He singlehandedly created a genre that earned him the name "Father of the Desert Blues" as well as a couple of Grammys, including one for In the Heart of the Moon a few weeks ago. He had fans from all over the place. Last year on one of the late-night talk shows, I saw an interview about Sahara with Matthew McCounaughey, who mentioned that he'd traipsed out into the desert to find Toure and listen to him jam and how cool it was.
Sorry to those of you who don't care about Texas politics, but yesterday was primary day in Texas. DeLay won his primary, which will make the November race in his district really, really interesting. In state politics, Grusendorf lost. This is great news for Texas voters who are interested in finding a real solution to our problems financing our public education system. His loss was also a blow to Leininger's attempts to buy off government in Austin.
Tonight is the season finale of Project Runway! Having seen only photos of the collections, I think Santino will probably win if they gauge it only off of the final shows. If the judging is mostly about the whole season, it'll be Daniel, much as I would love to see Chloe win.
A lot of people will tell you that the first step to solving Congo's problems in the east involves finding a way to regularize, professionalize, and, most importantly, regularly pay and supply the national army. The army is called the FARDC, which sounds like a condo development in Reston but is actually the French acronym for "Army Forces of the DR Congo." In an attempt to create a united military force, part of the 2002 Sun City (the one in South Africa, not the Del Webb community) peace agreement calls for the integration of troops from the various rebel forces into the national army, along with the demobilization of both rebels and national army troops. So, troops who leave their units in this province are not treated as deserters (as they would be elsewhere in Congo), but instead are given a choice: they can join the national army, with a salary for a regular soldier of $12/month, which is only sometimes actually disbursed, or they can choose to demobilize, which starts a process of entering MONUC camps for retraining and weapons collection. A soldier who chooses to demobilize is given an initial payment of $110 and then $25/month for the next twelve months.
Very nice, laid-back weekend, in an expatriate-aid-workers-are-the-new-colonists kind of way. I was supposed to go to a party at the Red Cross house on Saturday night but didn't have a ride and was feeling a little sick, so I just stayed in, slept through church, and woke up feeling much better on Sunday afternoon. I went for a run that ended by the tennis courts at Karibu, where my friends Marc, Emmanuel, and Damien were playing tennis with a bunch of Damien's colleagues. Somehow I got talked into being Marc's partner in mixed doubles, which was interesting given that it's been, oh, six years since I'd been on a court. Thank goodness for those Baylor lessons and all those afternoons Lauren and I would go goof around on the Penland courts. If only my backhand were what it used to be...
Blogger was off-line for most of my internet time today, so no new posts. Sorry about that. I had a great weekend, though - details of that tomorrow.
One thing I forgot to mention the other day is the best purchase I made in Kigali - a new pillow. Much as I love the Karibu, and as comfortable as my apartment is, the pillows on my bed are made of really, really solid foam and have the approximate texture of rocks. Except that's not really fair to some rocks on which I've had a very pleasant nap. Plus one of them is covered in Hello Kitty fabric, which freaks me out. Anyway, I was so excited at T2000 when I saw an actual, soft pillow imported from Japan. It turned out to be two pillows, but I am in so much less pain that I really don't care. Yay!
So it turns out that the doctor I interviewed on Tuesday night is apparently the person who actually coined the terms "HIV" and "AIDS" in San Francisco in the early 1980's. I can't stress enough how remarkable this guy is – his commitment to serving the people most neglected in the global AIDS epidemic is entirely driven by his belief that Christ calls us to help the poor and marginalized. His foundation is fantastic – they provide HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, treatment, and health care worker training among refugees and internally displaced persons in some of the world's darkest corners – with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic, with rape victims in the eastern Congo, and with Liberians who have been living as refugees in Ghana for fifteen years.
It's been a busy week in eastern Congo. The BBC has a great, simple explanation of the conflict here; definitely check it out if you get the chance.