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

3.31.2006

something 'bout the southland in the springtime

If I were at home, I'd be here:


Once in your life, go see the Cherry Blossom Festival. It's so beautiful.
(picture taken last april at the tidal basin.)

won't you buy me a mercedes benz

A depressing quote from a guy I know who works for the International Crisis Group. It's true.

On continuing insecurity in DR Congo:
“You can buy a Kalashnikov in eastern Congo for less than 30 dollars.”
Jason Stearns, Crisis Group Senior Analyst ARD Radio (Germany), 23 March 2006

the life of service

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.

rot your brain

Fun things I watched on tv in Kinsahsa:

Arabic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?! This is a contestant. He was pretty dumb.
You should see Arabic Regis.


Awesome local medical drama


I (heart) the CCM channel!

take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently

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.

Kinshasa wasn't all bad. I got some great fabrics at Utexafrica (Wonderful Taxi Driver John could not understand why I thought that was a great name – in French it stands for African Textile Factory). I picked up three pagnes (6-yard pieces of printed wax fabric) there, including a very special gift for the Bibi "Bwana Ain't Fupi" B. Let's just say that her CBF is going to be extra-special.

And the grocery stores have everything, including STRAWBERRIES. For $7. Which was actually cheaper than buying lunch. They were really good.

Seeing a red miata zipping through town with the top down was also pretty funny. And it made me sad.

Thursday morning Wonderful Taxi Driver John picked me up at 6:30 to drive to Ndjili. He had a tape that his brother in Dallas had sent – old school southern gospel. So my last glimpses of Kinshasa came with the sound of "I'll Fly Away." We passed the Lumumba statue listening to "Put Your Hand in the Hand," Wonderful Taxi Driver John put on his MONUC badge (he works there part time) to ward off the bad people at the airport, and I managed to get my passport back from a man who claimed to be a "Protocol Officer" and not pay anyone bribes. The plane ride back was Something Else – sat with Larry from the Bronx who was headed to look for diamonds (Really.) and Conservation John who came to Zaire with his wife in 1971 to work on their dissertations and basically never left. Conservation John wanted to meet Mr. Florida and to put us in touch with some of his contacts here in Goma, so we all ended up at Doga (a restaurant/club that's the big expat hangout here) talking about land tenure and German zoologists who train commando forces to protect the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. A fitting end to the Kinshasa trip.

The best part about Kinshasa was getting to see my friends Tom and Christine and their adorable children. Tom was my boss in Cameroon the summer after undergrad. I've been lucky to have great bosses at almost every job I've ever had, but Tom and I just clicked in a way that made the experience in Cameroon so much fun. Most expats in Africa either completely hate it here and do their best to get out after a year or two, or they adore it so much that they "go native," marry a local, and stay forever. I'm not either one, and neither are Tom and Christine. We are all fascinated by this place, but also see what a mess it will be until the leadership decides to make things better. Christine, Tom's Australian wife, is just great, and their kids have grown up so much in the last six years. The last time I saw them, their daughter was 3 years old - we sat on the front porch one night while she named all the stars in the sky after people she knew. Now she's nine and quite the hostess with helping her mom entertain. It was really fun to have dinner at their home twice while I was in Kinshasa, and to get to watch the rest of Capote Wednesday night – they have Netflix! (By the way, Capote was soooooooo much better than Crash. I had seen the first half on the plane, but fell asleep during the second half. But what an amazing character study and exploration of the use of others' suffering for selfish ends. But I digress.) It was great. They've invited me back and offered one of the kids' rooms as a free place to stay, so I might go back to Kinshasa in May. Maybe.

There actually is one reason I might go back, but an explanation of that will have to wait. Suffice it to say, I have a potential job offer for the first part of the summer, it would be crazy-interesting, and it might even pay well. We'll see. For now, I'm glad to be back in Goma. I am planning to stick around for the visit of a very important visitor on Tuesday and will hopefully get to Kampala after that. Thanks for your prayers!

3.29.2006

been watching waaayy too much television

"Tuck said it to Winnie the summer she turned 15: 'You don't have to live forever. You just have to live.' And she did." - Tuck Everlasting

Let me just say that you have not lived until you have watched Congolese Contemporary Christian Music television.

3.28.2006

you make me feel like a river

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.






If you look closely at the right side of this picture, you can see the wreck of a boat that tried to pass. It's just a metal shell now.






Check out those rapids - this would be AWESOME to raft if someone would set it up. And could guarantee that political stability wouldn't mean you risked your life in more ways than one.


On the other side of the two islands, you can see Congo-Brazzaville. John pointed out that there has never been a bridge between the countries, because their leaders don't trust each other. It's hard to blame them - Brazzaville has coups so regularly you could almost set a clock. But it's also silly, as you have two major capital cities sitting a mile across the river from one another with no easy access between the two.

Come to think, is there anywhere else in the world that two capitals are this close together?

I can't see Texas from here...

...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.

starving in a land of plenty

Here's a depressing story about the Congo in this week's Time.

3.27.2006

kinshasa la poubelle

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 did not make me any less suspicious of Victor, who claimed to be my taxi from the hotel. When I asked him how much it would be into town, he said, "You can pay at reception." It was dark, and I didn't really have much of a choice, so I got in the car. And Victor calmed my suspicions some when he prevented a theif from coming anywhere near the car in an attempt to rob me. But it seems that this may just have been because he wanted to be sure I had money for him. We weren't halfway into town before he pulled into a gas station and demanded $100. I telephoned the hotel, had the manager fuss at him, and we finally got to the hotel, where I paid him $50 at the front desk.

Thus began my introduction to lovely Kinshasa, a huge city of ten million people that is mostly known for its corruption, greed, and dishonesty. The hotel is nice, which is good, because this city is not safe. These are the beautiful flowers that they left in my room yesterday (and I LOVE that they left them by a plastic placemat with a map of Africa on it!). But the minute you step out the door, it's unbelievably bad. Everywhere you go here, everyone asks you for "l'assistance" or a "sigrette" (no idea how to spell that), the euphemisms for bribes. It is unbelievable. Due to the debrouillez-vous (help yourself) mandate of the Mobutu era, people just have a different code of what constitutes morally acceptable behavior in the name of survival. I am getting around most of it by pretending that I think they are asking for a cigarette and then saying I don't smoke. It's hard to keep a straight face when you see the looks of disgust on soldiers' faces, though.

Kinshasa also has the unfortunate privilege of being one of the most expensive cities in the world. American diplomats living here have a higher cost-of-living allowance than they would in Tokyo. You can't get anywhere in a taxi for less than $10, the cheapest thing in the restaurants is at least $15, and we're not even going to discuss how much I paid at the grocery store for water, bread, cheese, and diet coke. That said, there are so many diplomats and businesspeople here that Kinshasa has a huge market in luxury goods. If you can afford it, you can buy almost anything here. My taxi driver this afternoon (not my normal guy) told me that he has a patron who deals in diamonds. I was like, "I don't even want to know about it." Ugh.

After my introduction to the city, I had my doubts, but the hotel's taxi driver I hired to take me around to my interview and errands yesterday is just great. John is from the east, has a brother who lives in Dallas, learned English by listening to the BBC, came to Kinshasa in 1974 to see Foreman fight Ali, and, as he put it, never left. After my interview, he took me to see the stadium where the fight took place. I asked him if he'd gotten to see the concerts that surrounded the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" and he said, "Yes, but the only one I remember is James Brown." It was a great little tour. John thought it was a bad idea to get out of the car to take pictures ("They will think you are a spy"), so he slowed down long enough for me to take these. So cool! It's where the rumble in the jungle happened! Madness!


(And if you haven't seen When We Were Kings, it's time.)

After that, John had an appointment to take someone to the airport, so I had lunch and got a ride with his friend Joseph, who was just as nice a driver. Joseph found out that it was my first time in Kinshasa and decided I needed to see all the government ministries and ambassadors' homes along the riverside. It's really lovely, although a bit disconcerting when you reach the end of the road and there's a tank sitting there.

(This photo is the new stadium, built by the Chinese. John told me that he thought it would be nice if the Americans left a present like the Chinese left a parliament building and a stadium, and the Belgians left a military camp. I asked what would be a good souvineer, and he said, maybe a hospital, maybe a university.)

But John also pointed out the mausoleum of Laurent Desire Kabila, known as Kabila-pere, the father of the current president who took over the country in 1997 and who died under mysterious circumstances a few years later. I wanted to get out and see it, so John parked the car, talked us past the security checkpoints, and took me to see it. I couldn't take pictures, so all I can say is WOW. And WOW. Something else. Entirely. That's Kabila in the picture at the stadium above. There are statues of him all over town. He looks like a Buddha.

After that, I was invited to dinner at the home of my old boss Tom and his wife Christine. Tom was my boss in Cameroon and he and I get along just great. I will write more about that tomorrow; it was so great to see familiar faces and be in a real home. I'm stuck in Kinshasa until Thursday. Awesome. I can't wait to spend 6 dollars on a bottle of water again...

feel so broke up i wanna go home

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.

I may have to wait a day or two to post again, but definitely will write much more about this place and my awesome taxi drivers.

3.25.2006

and she loooovvves this picture

It's my baby sister's golden birthday!
Happy birthday, darlin'!!! It was great talking to you this morning!
Miss you so much – have fun at Maudie's tonight!

you understand now why you came this way

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.

Sunday I leave Goma for the next week or so. I'm going to Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, to visit some friends and do an interview, then on to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to meet Melissa's sister Stephanie who's a missionary there, and catch My Brother (If-We're-Talking-to-Congolese-Immigration) who's been sweet enough to drag some stuff from my parents all the way to central Africa before he heads back home. After that, it will be on to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to catch a bus back to Goma. You could call it the Spring Break 2006 K-K-Kapitals Tour of Central Africa, but that seems more than a bit tasteless. N'est-ce pas?

I am very excited to be getting a break from Goma. Kinshasa is supposed to be a crazy city; I'm hoping to get to see the sites in the midst of the madness, including the Congo River and the stadium where the Rumble in the Jungle took place. I'm also staying at a nice hotel with a pool and air conditioning(!) and get free internet access at the American Cultural Center – yahoo! Kampala is a pleasant city and I'm looking forward to a couple of days in a place where 1) they speak English, and 2) there's a great bookstore with books in English. And Kigali, well, Kigali is Kigali.

I'd appreciate your prayers for safe travel, and also that I'll be able to find a way to get to Kampala – there must be a direct flight, but won't be able to confirm this before arriving in Kinshasa. As for the Goma-Kinshasa segment, I'll be flying on CAA, one of the 40 Congolese airlines that were banned from traveling to the EU this week. That's right, forty. Not that most of these companies are trying to fly to Europe anyway, but it seems that the EU has a problem with "All air carriers certified by the authorities with responsibility for regulatory oversight of Democratic Republic of Congo" and is only allowing one carrier to operate one specific aircraft (like, the actual plane) in Europe. They did the same thing to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, and Equatorial Guinea.

Thus there are no other options, and it's up to personal scientific investigation to figure out the safest way to go. I started with recommendations from Judy, a missionary friend who grew up in Congo, then narrowing it down a bit further to airlines that actually have websites (meaning they at least have enough money to maintain that portion of their operations). After that, I started paying attention to flights take off, and, based on the look of their planes, CAA seems to have the newest planes of any of the airlines that fly out of Goma. Their ticketing agents are also a lot nicer than the surly ones in the fancier office at Hewa Bora. And plus my friend Nicole flew CAA a few weeks ago, and given her connections, she'd know which one is best. So CAA it is. At 2:30 on Sunday, we fly from here to Kisangani, which is the actual heart of darkness at the end of the navigable part of the Congo River and which I've always wanted to visit, then will theoretically be in Kinshasa by 5:30. Kinshasa Ndjili Airport is supposed to be one of the great adventures in travel - apparently I will not escape without being asked for multiple bribes, and, if I were checking luggage, it would take 2 hours to get my bags.

Yep, this is going to be fun.

3.24.2006

oh no, here we go!

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!

sashay, chantez

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:
Then it really started raining, so I was stuck there for an hour. Topics of discussion: Texas, the St. Patrick's Day party several of us went to, dancing (which involved them blasting "In the Club" over the sounds system), my hair ("Can I touch it?" said Gisele, third from left in the picture.), and needing to have another dress made for my birthday. If Da Ellie's going to make it, we probably should've ordered it a week ago.

waitin' on the ribbons and the bows

This is my cute new little handbag from Amohoro. Love it!

this really is madness

I was wrong. So wrong. Ouch. At least it's good for Texas. And Memphis is still in.

3.23.2006

if learning is living

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.

all we are is islands in stream

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.

Oh. Happy. Day.

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.

rugby is stupid

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.

Now, I'm certainly not the sharpest tack on the old bulletin board, especially when it comes to sports played in countries that have national cricket teams, but where I come from, the winner of a tournament has to play in the tournament championship game. Then again, it's France.

Given that, plus the fact that I was harassed all night about how much better rugby is than American football, I've concluded that any game in which you're required to throw the ball in the opposite direction from that towards which you're trying to advance, and in which the game is only stopped when one of the players is, to quote a commentator, "spewing blood" (and even then he didn't leave the game), doesn’t make sense. Period.

3.22.2006

on a train bound for nowhere

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."

Ooooh, did he pick the wrong Baptist girl to whom to say that! I was so tired already, though, and was trying to be polite, so I told him that I thought the reason that American politics are stable is that the U.S. (theoretically) believes that everyone should have the same rights, and should be subject to the same laws, whether they are Christian or not, whether they are the president or the poorest person. I think he was a little surprised that I didn't think it would help Congo much to be a theocracy, but whatever.

It was nice to arrive in Kigali and check into the Umubano Hotel, which, if you ever read about the genocide, used to be the Meridian. If you've read The Zanzibar Chest, you'll remember that the author hot-wired several cars from the parking lot of the Meridian to use when he was covering the genocide for Reuters in 1994. My 6th floor room had a lovely view of the parking lot, and of the hills surrounding the administrative quarter of Kigali (these pictures are above and left). In the lobby, I ran into a friend from Goma who works for the UN; they drove me into the city center to do some shopping, then I was really happy to just hang out for the evening. It's amazing how much living in a difficult place wears you down. My UN friend had been on R&R for 2 weeks and looked so much more relaxed than the last time I had seen her. Anyway, it was nice to get away to a place where the toughest choice to make was whether to watch Bush make a speech on Iraq on CNN or to watch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle on MNet (like that was a choice at all. I'd never seen H&K - that Wilson Phillips scene is the funniest thing I've seen in awhile.).

Tuesday morning I got up, had breakfast at the ridiculous buffet at the Umubano, and headed out to do a little shopping at a cute little shop called Amahoro ava Hejuru. Amahoro is the Rwandan branch of Amani ya Juu, where my friend Melissa worked when she was a missionary in Nairobi. "Amani ya juu" means "a higher peace" in Kiswahili; "Amahoro ava Hejuru" is the Kinyarwanda translation. The workshops are supported by American missionaries and exist to help women improve their lives through developing sewing skills, and the skills associated with running a small business. And they make gorgeous stuff, including handbags, jewlery, table linens, and wall hangings. It was interesting to see how different the items at Amahoro are than those at Amani in Nairobi. There's definitely a distinct central African style of fabric and design.

When I walked into Amahoro yesterday, a woman was sitting on the floor working on this gorgeous quilt - with no quilting hoop to hold the fabric taught. It's pretty incredible. I asked her when she would be finished and she said less than a month. I may have to stop back by the next time I'm in Kigali to check on her progress.

I'd left a taxi waiting outside the gates and as soon as I got in the car, Patrick, the driver (who was, like many Rwandans, born in exile in Goma) put on a mix CD that turned out to be all country songs! The first track was "The Gambler" by Kenny Rodgers. We drove along for a little while and he finally said, "I really like this song, but please can you explain to me what it means?" What followed was quite possibly the most entertaining conversation I've ever had in Africa - it is really hard to explain that song when you don't know how to talk about gambling in French! The rest of the CD was a trip - lots of Dolly Parton and Don Williams.

After running one more errand, Patrick took me back to the hotel to pick up my things, and he also asked if I could make him another country CD as that was the only one he had and he was getting tired of it. Patrick is used to rich foreigners with MP3's stored in their laptops, that's for sure - he had a box of blank CD-R's in the car! So I went to make a mix tape of "music that Texans like" before he took me to the bus terminal. It was SO tempting to have some fun with this list, knowing that future tourists and policy types would be listening to my music down the line. So I tried to strike a balance with some Alabama and Randy Travis mixed in with Lyle Lovett, Kelly Willis, and Chip & Carrie. We listened to the CD on the way to the bus station and Patrick's eyes absolutely lit up when he heard George Strait's "Heartland," and he turned to me and said, "I really like this." I wonder what happened when he listened to Conway Twitty's "Don't Call Him a Cowboy." And I wonder what lucky American tourist will get to explain the meaning of Sammy Kershaw's "Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer"?

The bus ride back to Goma was long and painful. About an hour into it, a theological debate started, and it didn't let up until we reached the border. It was partly in Kinyarwanda, and I was trying my best to drown it out with music, but from what I gathered, the debate was basically on all the questions of Christian doctrine. I heard something about the nature of God (man, woman, or neither?), Catholics vs. Protestants, the authority of Rome, the different Protestant sects, and finally (of course), someone asked "What about the Holy Spirit?). All of this was at top volume, because Congolese like their discussions loud, and two hours of this on a windy road was a little more than I could take. Then the customs guy on the Congolese side of the border decided to harass me (probably because I locked my bag so he couldn't just peruse its contents at his leisure), found a CD-R in my bag, and accused me of trying to smuggle political materials across the border. I just looked at him and said, "What's the problem? It's just music" and he finally let me go. I arrived home to find the place crawling with soldiers, locked myself in the house, and got some sleep.

3.20.2006

saints don't bother

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.

I got off the bike and walked away a bit. A couple of guys kindof followed me, but they weren't about to try anything - it was broad daylight and we were ten yards from the police station. My driver just had this really sad look on his face and I wanted to wait for him so I could pay him, but I couldn't take my wallet out. This went on for a couple minutes more, then he was finally able to get away. He just pulled up beside me, said, "Hurry," and we took off. When we passed the stadium, you could see thousands of moto-taxis lined up inside. I asked him what was going on, but my driver spoke so quickly that I didn't catch it all. Apparently the mayor owns all the taxis and had required them to come to a meeting. When I got into town, I stopped by the internet cafe that my friends run and asked them what was going on. He said something about a general coming to visit and that they were trying to shut down moto traffic in the city. And also that the president is supposedly coming to Goma sometime soon. I don't know, and I had to run to make a three hour bus ride through the mountains.

That's all to say, it was scary, but I'm okay. I'm worried about Goma, but maybe this was just a one-time thing. The American guys I know are trying to figure out what is happening, and I just happened to run into a MONUC contact from Goma at the hotel here in Kigali, who'll learn what's up when she gets back there tonight. For now, I am glad to be safe at a nice hotel in Kigali. I need some sanity.

3.18.2006

new music weekend

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.

Other new music I've been enjoying lately:

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.

madness!

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:

=========
Points: 25
Overall Rank: 23,853
Percentile: 98th
Rank Change: +14,894
=========

congo news

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.

My friend Jason has a nice piece on exactly how bad things could get in North Kivu if someone doesn't do something soon.

3.17.2006

even among these rocks

"Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will."

T.S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday"



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.

5 am, march 16, Jesus on the radio

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.

tagg-a-riffic

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 jobs I’ve had:
4 movies I could watch over and over again:
  • High Fidelity
  • The Muppet Movie
  • Say Anything
  • Raising Arizona
4 places I’ve lived:
  • Floydada, Texas
  • Franklin, Tennessee
  • Waco, Texas
  • New Haven, Connecticut

4 TV shows I love:

4 favorite books:
  • North Toward Home by Willie Morris
  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Call of Stories by Robert Coles

4 places I have vacationed:

  • Naples, Italy
  • Diani Beach, Kenya
  • Destin, Florida
  • Pasadena, California
4 websites I read every day:

4 favorite foods when NOT dieting:

  • chips & salsa
  • enchiladas
  • that raspberry chocolate chile thing at El Chile
  • baby bell

4 favorite foods when dieting:

  • caesar salad
  • tomato soup
  • fresh green beans
  • tilapia from Lake Kivu

3.16.2006

but i still believe

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.

One big struggle, she pointed out, is getting Americans to understand that they don't have to be on the ground in Africa in order for God to be working in people's lives. What I see at Heal Africa, and in so many other places, is just that: there are so many committed Congolese Christian doctors and pastors and teachers and others who can do what needs to be done here. What they need is support - of money and of stuff - to show people God's love by providing for their most basic needs. So while the Onion is of course mocking, it's interesting to me that a missionary made almost the same point yesterday.

run devil run

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.

That said, here are some of my key predictions:
  • Texas will lose in the Sweet Sixteen to West Virginia. Oh, come on. They were ranked too high from the get-go.
  • The Aggies will surprise Syracuse, but won't be able to hold off LSU. LSU will not surprise Duke and anyone who tells you they will is a victim of wishful thinking.
  • The Oakland region will have the most surprises. I think Indiana will be one of them.
  • Arizona over Villanova. You have to pick one 8 or 9 seed to take down a top seed, and that's mine.
  • Final Four? Duke, Connecticut, Memphis, and Boston College, with Memphis taking out Duke to meet UConn in the finals. Memphis has been on fire from the beginning, but they're not good enough to beat UConn.

So there it is, all a matter of public record. Send me your gloating emails as soon as results start coming in.

who do you think you're changing?

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.

3.15.2006

don't take your hat off son, you'll end up miles from here

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.

Please keep the people of the Texas Panhandle in your prayers - a lot of those small towns were already in serious economic decline and the loss of land and cattle will hurt badly. As far as I know, we've been lucky so far. It gives a whole new meaning to "I'm a sky with no clouds, just trying to rain," doesn't it?

et tu, brute?

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.

If you look at this map, you can see several of the volcanoes in the Virunga chain - they're the large red circles on the green area, which is Virunga National Park. Only two, the westernmost ones, are active. In these pictures, you can see Nyira (with the smoke), Mikeno (with the jagged ridgeline), and Karisimbi (obscured by the trees). Karisimbi is the highest point in Rwanda and I think Congo - the boundary goes over the peak. Dian Fossey had her gorilla research center on the other side of Karisimbi's slopes.

It's so sad what's happened here, because it's such a lovely setting. Well, apart from the lava flows and choking gas that seem to arrive at the worst possible times. I was reading last night about the disaster that was Goma after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when over 1 million people (including most of the genocidaires) took refuge here. In the middle of the cholera outbreak and massive human suffering, the volcano started spewing ash and gas, meaning that the air turned black. And it just keeps getting worse. At the moment, there's a semi-credible rumor that a rebel leader is planning an attack on Goma. Who or what he might attack is anyone's guess - he hates the governor, which is making me very glad that I decided to stay in my sunny apartment by the lake rather than moving to Camille and Ester's house next door to the governor's mansion.

3.13.2006

this is really bad

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.

oh, great light of the world, fill up my soul

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.

So these pictures are from the gardens around my apartment. The northern end of Lake Kivu is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been – it reminds me of Switzerland with mountains surrounding a clear blue lake. In the colonial era, the Kivus, especially the areas around what is today Goma (in the DRC) and Gisenyi (in Rwanda), became a combination playground/investment opportunity for the Belgians. The high altitude means that malaria is less of a problem here, and the weather is really pleasant. It rarely gets above 80 degrees, and there's a long rainy season (February-April), a long dry season (May-September), and short rainy season (October-December), and a short dry season (January) that tend to be very regular rather than being subject to droughts and flooding like elsewhere. Because the cities are built at the base of the seven extinct Virunga volcanoes and the two active volcanoes in Congo, the soil here is some of the richest in the world. That plus the climate means that things grow – quickly! In a good year, farmers will have three harvests of the same crop. This is especially true on the Masisi plain to the northwest of Goma, which is why that land is so contested (see Mr. Florida's dissertation in a few years for more – much more – on that).

It also means that you can take a cutting from any plant, stick it in the ground, and it will take root and grow into a new plant. I've seen this elsewhere in tropical climates but never seen things grow as quickly as they do here. So here are some of the beautiful flowers in the gardens at Karibu, some of which have been pruned back and grown again since I arrived. Karibu is one of the rare green spots in Goma proper; because of the lava flow, much of the land that could support agriculture in the center of town is now solid rock, meaning that people can no longer feed their families from their gardens.

This combination of climate and soil made the Lake Kivu area very attractive to the Belgian colonists, especially since their country is so small that aristocrats couldn't give land to all of their children. The Kivus became a place where a lot of the second sons of wealthy Belgians came to try their fortunes at growing coffee or pyrethrum (a flower that makes a natural insecticide). Goma and Gisenyi were the center of economic, financial, and social life for the Belgians (and many others) who came to exploit the territory's riches. You can still see the relics of that era in the grand boulevards that are Goma's main street and Gisenyi's lakefront drive, the roundabouts that obviously used to have beautifully-maintained gardens, and in the wide verandas of some of the older homes, hotels, and shops. On the Goma side, most of this is now buried under lava and the vestiges of ten years of war, refugees, and a total lack of government maintenance or control. Given the geologic situation, it's not likely that much of that will change. Even the mayor says that Goma should move, or else it will probably be destroyed the next time Nyira erupts.

(Oddly enough, my friend Emmanuel told me yesterday that the original colonial settlers of the region picked Goma's location because there was another lava flow to the west. They assumed that subsequent eruptions would follow a similar course, and so built the town directly on top of the domed chambers that fill with lava and split open during an eruption. Oops.)

Of course, the Belgians were probably the worst of the European colonizers in Africa. King Leopold used the Congo as personal property to be looted until Belgium took over the territory due to an outcry in Europe over human rights abuses in the territory that was pointed out by some late-19th century British missionaries and an American diplomat. Belgian rule, however, was just as harsh and the colonial administration did almost nothing to train any Congolese to run an independent state, and instead actively tried to keep the population from becoming too educated so they wouldn't overthrow colonial rule (there were almost no university graduates in the country at independence, in contrast to British and French colonies which had at least trained civil servants and other bureaucrats to run their countries). If you'd like to know more about the mess that King Leopold and those who followed him made (which I would argue created the legacy of bad governance that continues today), Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost is a great, well-written, engaging work of history. If you're interested in learning more about the history of the Kivus in a good memoir, check out Rosamund Halsey Carr's Land of a Thousand Hills.

Eh, eh, eh, classe, en francais!

Things I learned how to say in five years of French class:
What time will the flight arrive?
Where is the foreign exchange bureau?
I have nothing to declare.
Where is the nearest pastry shop/butcher/florist?
I will have the escargot with burgundy sauce, please.
A double-mocha latte with soy milk and a touch of peppermint, quickly.
Thank-you for your kind invitation to the coffee shop/gallery opening/event to which one must wear all black.
I did/had/would/should/will/must/shall/would have/should have/could have/must have/shall have gone to the Sorbonne.
It is necessary that I find a textbook to purchase for my French class.
What was your score on the mathematics exam?
What a charming home/garden/museum/abstract sculpture/guillotine replica.
Modern art is like Sartre's Being and Nothingness - at once profound and an empty void.
Is that a Monet/Chagall/Picasso/Rodin? What brilliant use of light/color/texture/marble.
But a sense of ennui is a mark of genius, no?
Yes, $135 seems perfectly reasonable for a scarf of such exquisite taste and design.
Well, that may be true, but I would remind you that Texas is bigger than France.

Things that, given my current situation, would have been more useful to have learned how to say in five years of French class:
You are charging me triple because I am a foreigner.
There is no possibility that a kilo of rice/moto-taxi ride to my apartment/yard of fabric costs $1.
I do not want to buy dried fish/tomato paste mixed with palm oil/unidentifiable meat.
Because I do not have the first idea about how to prepare it.
There certainly is not a tax on bringing plastic dinnerware over the border from Rwanda.
That fee did not exist the last time I was in this airport/internet café/international aid organization office/border post/hotel.
My name is not mzungu ("white person").
Were those refugees/rebel armies/funeral guests/gunshots?
So that is what it looks like when a lava flow goes through your living room.
No, I do not want toys shaped like UN helicopters.
No, I cannot buy all of your friends a Fanta.
Must we all listen to the same Shaggy/Coolio/Celine Dion/Phil Collins tape over and over at top volume for the six-hour duration of this bus ride?
Yes, it certainly is exciting to make a hairpin turn around a pothole that is larger than the bus on the side of a cliff overlooking this scenic ravine.
No, I did not see the large apes in the road that our bus narrowly missed.
Because my eyes were closed in prayer.
Yes, I understand that Congolese suffer very much.
No, I do not want to buy your motorbike taxi.
Do you actually own this motorbike taxi?
Would I be traveling by motorbike taxi if I could afford to purchase one?
No, I cannot give you my phone number so that you may contact me when you come to Texas.
I cannot marry you because we just met three minutes ago.
I don't even know your name.
I have a husband/fiancée/boyfriend.
No, I don't think he would be okay with me having another boyfriend "just for the Congo."
No, you cannot have my father's phone number to discuss my bride price.
How would you ship the cattle/goats to America?
That would be very expensive.
No, my father would not pay the shipping costs.
No, in the United States it's quite normal to not have children at age 27.
27 is not old!


Swahili was slightly more useful in these respects, but even that didn't really prepare me for the reality of translation issues here. Maybe I should publish a phrasebook for these sorts of practical needs. Looking back over the list (and over my week), it's clear that I need a vacation. Goma is exhausting.

all you have to do is call my name

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.

Anyway, on to the show – I cannot be-lieve that Lane and Zach are engaged. No way. Didn't the GG's learn their lesson from Jess's too-early, too-little-dating experience? And I am so sorry that I won't get to see Mrs. Kim's reaction! Someone please tivo or tape that episode!

3.10.2006

political science and christian higher education

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.

Anyway, something for those of us searching for higher education jobs to think about.

oh they tell me of an uncloudy day

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?

Here is a really cool NASA satellite image of Lake Kivu. Goma is at the northern end, on the border with Rwanda, but you could see how it kindof doesn't make sense that there's a border there (the border is the superimposed black line you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the shot). Thank-you, Berlin Conference of 1884-85. The pointless maneuvering that began there created the preconditions for most of the problems in the Lake Kivu region today.

there's something 'bout the southland in the springtime

Ten Things About Which I am Trying Not to Think:
1. Spring Break.
2. Josie's enchiladas at Maudie's.
3. Guero's queso.
4. Real bbq.
5. SXSW.
6. KEXP's SXSW interview lineup.
7. The fact that Tapes 'n Tapes is finally going to have their really big breakthrough at their SXSW show at Latitude 30 next Friday at 1am. You should go. Or catch them with KEXP on Wednesday at 7 in the ACL studios. Or on Friday afternoon at Antone's, or Thursday at Red 7. They rock and they'll get signed after this, so go be hip and say you saw them before they got big.
8. Bluebonnets
9. Earthquakes.
10. Steven Curtis Chapman.

Texas week of spring break starts today. Having been in school for way too long, I've had some interesting spring break experiences, and a few really lame ones. They were (in chronological order):
1997 - College group mission trip to Erie, PA. Would have been lame except the group was so much fun and we went to Niagara Falls
1998 - Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge in San Francisco. Awesome. We went to Chinatown. We saw the Golden Gate Bridge. We went to the beautiful Muir Woods. We saw Sarah McLachlan at Tower. And we built a bunch of houses for some really cool families.
1999 - Phoenix and Tucson - to see if we liked Dr. Betsey's then boyfriend/now husband, see Nogales, and get a feel for the laid-back Arizona vibe she couldn't stop talking about. Such fun. And we like him. Although there are still some lingering questions about his musical taste. :)
2000 - Destin with the best friends and lots of Ole Miss sorority girls. This was back in the day when Baylor wouldn't let us have spring break at the same time as UT and A&M because those public school kids might be a bad influence. Unfortunately had to work on senior thesis for a lot of the time. Supplemented by a lovely trip to Athens to see the Parthenon and oh, yeah, do Model UN, a few weeks later.
2001 - London and England with my sister, and then off to Scotland after she had to go back to Baylor - Yale's awesome 2-week spring breaks made it possible. Great trip except for the nasty little argument we had outside the Wedgwood/Waterford shoppe in Stratford-upon-Avon. :)
2002 - DC and Franklin. Had to write my master's thesis and make a decision about PhD programs. It was cold.
2003 - Berlin. Also cold, but such a great city and so much fun to see friends who live there. Best museums anywhere, unbelievably safe, and the history - wow! Also interesting to be in Germany the week the Iraq war started. Came back early for Paige's wedding, which was so much fun because everyone was there.
2004 - Tokyo with Skip. Last-minute, three-day trip on Skip's mummy's free passes for family and friends. Our Lost in Translation tour de Tokyo was amazing. We arrived on Tuesday, left on Friday, flew all night, got to L.A. and it was Friday morning again. Trip was made even better when I got stuck in Denver on the way back, was told to wait in a field at exit whatever, sat in the Applebee's near the field watching March Madness for 3 hours, and got to ride back to Austin with the youth from their ski trip 22 hours overnight. Have never been so tired in my life. Supplemented with a trip to L.A. and San Diego to be on the Price is Right, trade Japan pics with Skip, and, natch, go to Disneyland a couple of weeks later.
2005 - The "Girls Gone Wild/Spring Break College Station" spring break. G the Librarian and I went to visit our friend E, who's stuck in grad school in Aggieland. Tried to also tour the Bluebell factory, but they require reservations during Texas week, so we settled for ice cream at 10am instead. Then back to SXSW, which was totally worth it.

So here we are, year 10 of higher education, and I'm in Goma. Maybe we should actually count it in a couple of weeks when I go to Kinshasa. Visa renewal, seeing my old boss, finally getting a picture of the "Rumble in the Jungle" stadium - sounds like spring break to me!

Maybe it's time to get a real job. Or to take a poll. What's more lame? Spring break '02 (master's thesis) or Kinshasa '06? You can vote in the comments section. Commenting on Texas in Africa is SO EASY - you do not have to register and can be as anonymous as you choose.

you ain't eminem

If the Aggies play basketball as well as they dance, they so make it to the second round in my bracket.

3.09.2006

life like no other - wo-ah!

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.

Here's what the shirts say, left-to-right:
  1. "Saddle Up, Y'all: Livin' the Great Adventure since 1994,"
  2. front: "Will you be here ... at my wedding?" back: "I heart SCC and Truett Chapel, My Hiding Place."
  3. "I've Got a Trail To Blaze"
  4. front: "I wll abandon homework" back "for the sake of SCC."
  5. "SCC = Heaven in the Real World"

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.

rise up to heaven and come back down on me

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.

There are so many things that happen here that I wish I could take a picture of – the site of thousands of women headed to the stadium is one of them, but unfortunately the stadium is across the street from the police station and taking pictures there would almost guarantee getting arrested and/or losing my camera. Women get with their groups of friends, family, or mutuelles (mutual aid societies), sew up matching dresses, and march behind a flag. I would have liked to have gone to the ceremony, but my friend Aime had to work and it would not have been a good idea to go alone. (Aime stared at me in total disbelief when I told her that we don't celebrate International Women's Day in the good 'ole U-S-of-A. ("Mais c'est mondiale," ("But it's worldwide."), she said.) Come to think, Aime stares at me in disbelief a lot. She also watches everything I do on the computer – you try to explain the Berlitz German coast guard video!)

It turned out to be a good thing that we weren't in the stadium, though, because after two hours, the sky dropped out. After waiting for it to subside for another hour, I gave up and went home. It rained THE REST OF THE DAY, so the plan for tennis with Anna (Emannuel's girlfriend from Tanzania who's in town this week. Time to make a chart to explain the relationships between all the interantional aid workers?) was completely out. What a boring holiday – I should've gone to Rwanda.

The only good thing was that in the three hours at the internet café, I had time to download the new Neko Case album with a stupid title, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Is it an homage to YHF? The initials of her last four boyfriends? A reference to an obscure Canadian/Polish folk tale? Do we care?). The reviews on it are mixed, but I really like it so far, especially the gospel overtones on "John Saw that Number." Case's voice is totally unique – I will never forget the first time we heard her at ACL a couple of years ago – everyone I was with said, "Wow." You can hear a few tracks here.

i got nothing more to say

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.

In other news, apparently there was an earthquake in the Kivus yesterday morning. I didn't feel it at all and it's not in the news, but it woke up a friend in South Kivu bright and early. It's just awesome living on the edge of two tectonic plates that are trying to split apart and take Goma with them.

3.08.2006

grace and peace

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.

I've been wondering ever since what Toure thought about that, but, really, who cares? The music speaks for itself. It completes a circle in a way - Toure, who was actually born in Timbuktu, took the blues from the American south that came out of the songs slaves brought from Africa, took the blues guitar back to west Africa, fused it with the desert music that developed in the intervening three centuries, and created something beautiful. After reading an obituary, the BBC reporter last night was audibly sad, and closed her broadcast with the haunting sounds of my favorite Ali Farka Toure song, "Cousins," off his 1999 Niafunke album. He plays the guitar and starts reminiscing about how he's had friendship, love, and life and that he carries these memories with him.

primary colors

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.

And my co-building committee member is in the runoff against Ronnie Earle's kid for the state rep seat for southwestern Travis county.

Now the real fun begins...

I've been running nearly all my life far and fast as I can

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.

Good news for those of us stuck in remote locations – you can now actually get episodes of Project Runway on iTunes. Or you could just wait until Bravo re-airs all the episodes in November. Whatever. Even better news, there are apparently all kinds of PR products for sale, including one with Andrae's infamous quote concerning his chiffon, and the usual Café Press lineup of What Would Santino Do? Products. Woo-hoo!

Whatever happens with the final episode, tonight would normally mark the conclusion of my interest in reality television for the year. Except. It was bound to happen eventually. One of my friends is a contestant on The Apprentice. Sure enough – the great and powerful Ploz sent an email with her profile yesterday. Last spring at some Baylor hoo-hah, R'd mentioned that the casting agents were interested in hiring a Baylor grad, and I said, "oh, you should totally try out." There was a rumor about another Baylor grad taking a break from his mundane job to be a production assistant for the show, but I guess she beat him out. Pretty cool.

When we lived downstairs from the Fijis, R across the courtyard in the condo upstairs from my roommate's sister's fiancée and his brother. We were on Mortar Board together as well. R was the first woman to join the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, and is a leader in representing young alumni. She is also just a really nice person and a natural leader and I have no doubt that she'll go far in whatever she decides to do with her life. That said, I think her standards and integrity are too high for her to win on the show. She's a darn good attorney, but she's not mean, and she won't stab someone in the back to get what she wants, which are unfortunately traits that I associate with the Donald. Wish I could be watching.

3.07.2006

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many fears while we also sorrow with the poor

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.

Guess what everyone chooses?

Fighters here are rational actors, so of course they pick the internationally-backed demobilization payout over getting paid less than $150 by the government for the year if they're lucky. The army does not always get its food supplies either, meaning that the choice to stay in the force means you will more likely than not have to support yourself and your family "off the land," a euphemism for the looting that often occurs where the army is camped.

But, Congo being what it is and MONUC being what it is, there are bound to be flaws in the process. And sure enough, this month the army actually did get paid, but they only received 90% of their salaries. Why? Because about 3,000 soldiers chose to enter the brassage process of demobilization, giving their unit names and correctly identifying their commanders when they turned themselves in to MONUC. So, quite rationally and according to plan, their salaries were removed from the FARDC payroll for the month. Turns out, though, that quite a number of those 3,000 were not actually soldiers, so the payroll and rations fell short. I'm telling you, everything – even a United Nations demobilization program – is an opportunity for revenue generation here. Unbelievable, and yet not so much. If only there were a way to apply such creativity and ingenuity to legitimate revenue-generation schemes, Goma's economy might improve.

people laugh and love and dream they fight they hate to die

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...

Anyway, they invited me to dinner at this Indian food restaurant, where I met UK Ben, who works for the same organization as Damien. Here's the conversation that ensued:

UK Ben, "So what university are you at?"
Me: "The University of Texas
UK Ben: "In Austin."
Me: "Wow, that's impressive. Most foreigners don’t know that."
UK Ben: "I'm really into music. Is Calexico from Austin?"
Me: "No, Tucson, but they played Austin twice last year."
UK Ben: "What about Wilco?"
Me: "Um, yeah, we're all obsessed."
UK Ben: "Tweedy's a god."
Me: "We're going to get along just fine."

You have no idea how cool it is to find someone with decent taste in music in the middle of Africa. Much as I do enjoy African music, most of the stuff coming out of the Congo these days is really, really, really, really, really, really repetitive Lingala. And the expats, being 99% European, generally listen to Britpop/techno/dance garbage. The last thing I expected to spend two and half hours talking about over Indian food in Goma was the Jayhawks and Son Volt and what Wilco played in England and Pitchfork versus the Brit indie rock websites, but there you go. I'm afraid we were rather rude to the other eleven people at the table, but, well, good taste won out over cultural sensitivity.

3.06.2006

stupid technology

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.

3.04.2006

good-night old broke-down cars

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!

On top of that, today we figured out how to hook my laptop into the network at my preferred internet cafe in Goma, meaning that, among other things, I don't have to remember all my passwords anymore, AND - iTunes! Hopefully. We'll see if it works. I'm trying to decide what to attempt to download first.

In other news, I went to the market to buy fabric this morning. My friend Aime is taking me to her couturier (the actual word for seamstresses here. Amie looked at me blankly and said, "You don't have couture in the U.S.?" Me: "Not exactly.") to have them sewn into something.

I also found the most gorgeous turquoise and brown fabric this morning, but it was $40 for six yards. Aime says that's correct, because it's from Ghana and the fabric from there is of top quality. I'll have to think about it, but it's really lovely and I would actually wear it at home.

3.03.2006

what you can do about this mess

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.

Friends often ask me for recommendations as to where to donate money to help in Africa and/or with the HIV/AIDS crisis. I am often hesitant to make concrete recommendations, because some organizations use a lot of their budget for overhead and fundraising. But this is one group that I have no qualms about and will definitely be donating to in the future. The doctor is the foundation's president, but he takes no salary from it. After seven years of working only on volunteer labor, they have just hired their first employee to manage their international programs, but she and the doctor share a stated intention of working themselves out of a job. Their focus is on helping already-competent health workers gain credibility and legitimacy so that they will be able to win grants and support from larger organizations.

So, if reading all this depressing stuff about the eastern Congo has you thinking about what you could do, I can't think of anything better than supporting Global Strategies, and/or the organization with which they partner here in Goma, DOCS.

DOCS, supported by Heal Africa, is a local NGO run by Congolese doctors that exists to serve people affected by war, rape, and the volcano here in Goma. DOCS runs a hospital for rape victims who require medical attention. A post-rape preventive course of anti-retroviral drugs and antibiotics to prevent HIV and other STD's takes 30 days to complete. Recovery from fistula surgery takes three months, and often victims require more than one surgery to repair the tears, so DOCS provides temporary housing for these women and girls for as long as they need to stay. These women and girls also need counseling and support for job training to help them have a future – they are often cast out of their homes by their husbands or are justifiably terrified to return to their homes and therefore need a way to support themselves and their children. DOCS provides all of these things, along with spiritual support and unconditional love in the name of Christ. At the moment, their youngest patient is three and their oldest is over eighty. They also have training programs for doctors, nurses, and community health workers, and support medical residents, all in order to train health professionals to work in rural areas in the eastern Congo. They do wonderful work and will not waste a penny in serving our sisters in Christ whose lives have been destroyed by this terrible war.

To give to Global Strategies, you can visit their website here. DOCS has a website and is supported in North America by Heal Africa. You can donate to their work here.

good-bye to texas aggie dignity

Want to see some Aggie basketball players doing something really stupid? Oh, my!

Update: oh, wow, they've got a whole repetoire.

this is just disgusting

Ew! EW!! EW!!! Actually-an-Actuary and I used to go have lunch there from time to time, but I think those outings will have to be confined to the Texas Chili Parlor in the future. The only rats there are the gambling lobbyists.

fit to print

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.

Last night we got word of an army mutiny against MONUC north of here in Ituri. I will definitely not be going to Ituri as planned; it looks like the violence will only get worse up there between now and the elections.

Speaking of, the elections have been delayed until June 18. Under the constitution, the elections have to be held by June 30. Despite the ubiquitous presence of Independent Electoral Commission vehicles and lots of pressure from the west to have an election, I wouldn't bet on it happening by the deadline. For once, I'll be glad if I'm wrong.

3.02.2006

texas is as close as I've been

Happy Texas Independence Day!!!!

In honor of not being there, today's focus is on all the things that are wonderful about Texas and on nexs from the Lone Star State:
  1. Recruiting is going great!
  2. Leininger is finally getting attention for the unethical, if legal, way he tries to purchase legislation every session. I don't care if it's legal, it's wrong for one individual to be able to give three million dollars to candidates in an attempt to get your pet legislation passed. No matter which side of the aisle you're on.
  3. One of my former students was elected vice-president of the UT student body. He's a good kid, and was the one responsible for finding me that awesome "Texans for Kerry" button last fall.
  4. 4. The Supreme Court heard arguments on Texas' 2003 redistricting fiasco. Here's hoping the justices will restore a measure of representation to Austin residents, who haven't had a single Congressman representing our city since. It doesn't sound like that will happen, though.
  5. 5. Today I learned that Don Williams was born in Floydada. Who knew? That explains so much!
  6. You should check out Texas Bob's selection of March 2 e-cards, guaranteed to embarrass your co-workers with a loud "yee-haw" when opened. If you're not going to a great March 2 party, that is.