Sunday, August 14, 2011

getting comfortable

As we get settled here in Kinshasa, we are constantly amazed by how comfortable our life here is. We've moved a few steps up from Peace Corps and though we don't have everything we had in South Africa (like a microwave), we have to filter our water and bleach our fruits and veggies, and sometimes the water or power go out, things are just a million times easier. It's bizarre because we suddenly find ourselves with lots of free time in the evenings and don't really know what to do with it. Here's just a few examples of what's changed...

We don't have to wash our clothes by hand. We've got a washer and dryer and our housekeeper usually does our laundry for us anyway.

When we wash the dishes, our non-stick pots and pans get clean in about one hundredth the time of our dishes in South Africa and we can wash them under hot water coming straight out of the tap.

We can buy alcohol and bring it home without worrying about concealing it.

We can also buy as much as we want of anything because we don't have to carry it on taxis.

We eat salad which we never really did in South Africa mostly because of the annoyance of carrying vegetables home from the grocery store. We also eat lots more fruit because of the same reason.

We can take a hot shower anytime we want. We can go number 2 in the middle of the night if we have to without risking the bad folks lurking in the night.

We can look at as many pictures and videos and download as much as we want on the internet (with the exception of tv shows and movies).

We can walk around our beautiful jungley school compound, see parrots, and enjoy nature.

We can swim in the pool that is a less than 5 minute walk from our house or play just about any sport with the teachers, aid workers, missionaries, etc.

We've got neighbors all around us who are always up for a beer and a chat.

We've got all of these things and yet we still live in Africa. This morning, we walked down to a busy intersection a couple kilometers from the school where there is a small market of sorts, just people selling food and things on the side of the road. We bought some fruits and veggies, and James bought himself a new pair of our favorite African (well really Chinese I'm sure) flip flops since he left his last pair in South Africa. It was nice to get out and see more of the area around the school, and not just from a car driving by it. In some ways, Kinshasa is a scary city, but walking around near the school, you don't feel like that at all. It feels like a much smaller place than a city of 10 million, and it was nice to finally feel a bit more grounded here and less wrapped up in all those conveniences I described above.

Friday, August 5, 2011

enter the congo

Thanks to all for blog title ideas. I decided to go with one of James' since it is supposedly his blog too though he wouldn't offer ideas until I put it out there to the world. So thanks for motivating him :)

We arrived safely in Kinshasa on Sunday after very different length trips. James' had a four hour direct flight from Jo'burg while I had a longer trek via Addis. I spent over 36 hours on airplanes in less than two weeks. Not fun. But it was wonderful getting to spend time with friends and family in Virginia and Maine and to see our beautiful kitty.

We also haven't written since our whirlwind July began. The first week of July we finished up the last of the school libraries and attended our final farewell function. It was nice to hear everyone's speeches and to present them with our silly gifts (as well as to receive some very nice heartfelt gifts from the schools. Some of the middle school girls came and did traditional dance (both Shangaan and Tswana styles of dance), and one of the principals' daughters came and sang some wonderful songs. The highlight of the whole day was the bus ride home with the middle school girls dancing like crazy to house music the entire time.

Then we attended the Pan-African Reading for All Conference in Gaborone, Botswana. It was a great experience for us as well as the principals/teacher who came with us since they got to experience another country with a very slightly different culture as well as connect with a lot of academics and some NGOs. Our presentation went really well, and people seemed very interested in the work we were doing. Overall it was a very useful and fun week.

We only got to return to the village briefly after the conference, but our host mom prepared a wonderful farewell luncheon before we said our tearful goodbyes. It was challenging to leave after two wonderful, exhausting, and rewarding years in Jericho. (Now I can say the name because we don't live there anymore.)

We've jumped into everything here though the first week has been mostly taking care of logistics. We've been to just about every expat shopping destination in Kinshasa and resigned ourselves to the fact we'll be doing our shopping at grocery stores rather than markets since that's the norm for expats here. The good thing is that our taste in food is on the cheaper side anyway so we won't fall prey to the often exorbitant prices here as often as most.

It's a big, hectic city and we're just now starting to figure out how to get around, but it will be interesting when we take our first solo trip out into the city. We've been getting back into French as we keep getting called upon by other new teachers to help with negotiations and anything that needs explaining in French.

The campus and our house is beautiful. We've got more than enough space and are still enjoying the luxury of indoor plumbing. Air conditioning is nice but not as necessary yet since it isn't too hot this time of year. Our gardener (yep, we have a gardener...and a housekeeper) is planning to get started on a vegetable garden soon. There's also a swimming pool on campus, and I'm going to start swimming for exercise in the next couple of days.

Next week, we'll be preparing for school to start and then on the 15th, things will begin for real. For now though, we're enjoying relatively leisurely days and nights in the Congo.