Sunday, September 2, 2012

Things I miss...

Though we've made some attempt to make this a Congo blog, we've suffered for lack of material since our lives are mostly absorbed by school and other boring things.  Hence, the lack of posts...

Thinking about South Africa usually makes me want to post, and now that it's been over a year since we left South Africa and we are planning a brief trip back, I've been thinking a lot about the things I miss.  When we left, we were definitely ready for something new, but with a year's perspective, it's become clear that South Africa is a (but not the only) place I will always call home.  So here are some of the things that I really miss about Mzansi:

Speaking South African - Spending some time in the UK this summer I got a bit more perspective on what popular South African expressions are really Britishisms, but I occasionally still pepper my speech with SAisms.  Just the other day I was speaking French to a little girl and added in an "ne?" at the end of my sentence.  I wonder what she thought I meant.  I also love figuring out connections between languages and was happy to learn the other day that the word for dance (bina) is the same in Lingala and Setswana.

House music - As I wrote about previously,  South African house music has gone from annoying to nostalgic for me.  Every time we go see a Congolese artist (and Congolese music is awesome), I secretly want to run home and flip on "Jika Ma Jika".

My friends - Though we've met some wonderful people here, our friends in Jericho are some of my favorite people in the world.  I can't wait to see them soon, and I'm thankful for Facebook and relatively cheap phone calls to be able to keep in touch with some of them.

The kids - Recently I saw a photo of some of my favorite students...who I taught in 4th, 5th, and 6th grade...after completing a life skills program in 7th grade.  These are some of the most silly, creative, and bright kids I know, and I can't wait to see how they have grown.

TV - I told James that we have to watch "Rhythm City", our favorite soapie, while we are in SA even though we'll only be there for a few days, and I wasn't kidding.  I love South African TV, commercials and all.

Cheap food - We're planning a grocery shopping trip while we're there.  Even with Shoprite here, things remain expensive, and it's a great chance to stock up on chakalaka, peanut butter, and other deliciousness.

On the Congo front, we went to FIKIN (the Kinshasa fair) a few weeks ago.  They have bumper cars and other more dangerous rides that were all imported in 1970 or so and who knows if they've been fixed since.  The bumper cars were fun but probably really dangerous.  We didn't partake in anything where we would have to leave the ground.  I also had cotton candy (something I never found in South Africa despite its wonderfulness) on a bamboo stick.  It was delicious.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

One of the perks of living in the midst of a botanical garden is the fruit. We grew pretty accustomed to being able to pick fruit off the trees in our yard in South Africa, and here we are similarly blessed, but with quite a different selection of fruit. In South Africa, we had oranges, lemons, figs, guavas, grapes, mulberries, papayas, mangoes, and peaches. We also an avocado tree that failed to produce fruit and banana plants that never made it to ripeness before the first frost came. We successfully mooched quite a few pomegranates off of our neighbors. Here, though the area we have to work with is much larger, we don't have the gardening whiz Mma SB to plant trees so our selection is more limited. There's plenty of mango trees though as well as avocado (that actually produce quite a lot of fruit), starfruit, guava, papaya, banana, and passion fruit (which actually is a vine not a tree). We like to go on fruit gleaning missions and are generally successful though James often has to climb a tree, and I almost always get bitten by mosquitoes and/or black flies in the process.

So with less fruit freely available, I haven't really had the chance to do much canning here as of yet. In South Africa, I didn't do as much as I had hoped, but we were pretty successful in canning peaches, orange marmalade, and mulberry jam. I made my first attempt with starfruit jam the other day, and it turned out pretty well even though I could not find an authoritative recipe. I kind of just threw the pectin and sugar in there and saw what happened. I think I'll use a tad less sugar next time.

So the fruit gleaning and jam making have been part of our spring break activities. Having a week off and deciding not to travel has been great. We've done almost everything that we had wanted to do and not gotten around to yet. We bought a wicker couch for our porch and a blender, we traveled to the beautiful Kisantu botanical gardens about 2 hours out of town, we wove our way through the monstrous grand marche, we walked down to the ancient anthropology museum at the bottom of the hill we live on and touched Mobutu's chair/throne, and we took care of the details for our trip to Gabon during our second spring break. Overall, it's been a great week and a great chance to get to explore.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Learning New Things

Despite not being able to write about the Congo because I don't think I'm learning much new about this city, country, or continent of late, I have been learning quite a lot of new things in my own little corner of the world.

I learned what the word 'sinicized' meant this week. One of my favorite parts of teaching ESL is helping my 9th and 10th graders to wrap their heads around the college level textbook they use for AP World History. The 10th graders in general have an easier time as they've been doing it for longer and seem to be used to the text as well as better able to use their knowledge of French cognates to figure things out. For the 9th graders, it's been a challenge but one they are starting to excel at. We were working on comprehension strategies and summarizing when one of the students came across the word sinicized. Usually, I'm pretty good at getting them to figure out what the word means for context clues, but I was lost on this one. Looking it up in the dictionary, though, I had an aha moment. I shared with them that the prefix sino- means Chinese, and they figured out within seconds that it means to become more Chinese (in the context, it was about nomadic people settling down and adopting Chinese culture so it was quite the appropriate word).

I have been learning to use Photoshop. Photoshop has always seemed somewhat daunting to me as its tools are not like any other program I've used before. The whole idea of layers didn't make sense to me. Generally, I've opened it and then quickly closed it again because I don't even want to try and figure it out. My starting to understand it began with doing an after school photojournalism club with one of the other teachers. He was teaching the kids how to use it so I figured I would try as well. Then, we've been putting the yearbook together, and of the pages were made in Photoshop so I had to figure out how to tweak them. In the final hours of working on the yearbook, I even made some pages myself that kids did not get done in time for the deadline. I can say now that I no longer harbor a fear of Photoshop and can actually do a lot with it.

Finally, I've been learning to be a swim coach. One of the teachers who was coaching the swim team left the school, and I was not particularly surprised when the other coach approached me to help since I'm just about the only teacher who swims laps on a regular basis. I agreed to help out despite my definitely not seeing myself as coach material. I was never the greatest swimmer - well, I guess my form has always been fine, but my speed was the problem. Though I placed a few times in breaststroke, I can't remember if I was 13 or 14 when I quit the swim team. It's been a long time. At least I had some context for a swim practice somewhere in the back of my mind, and the other coach is a great mentor, but it's been on the whole far outside of my comfort zone. This past week, the other coach was not able to attend practice one day (we practice 2-3 times a week not everyday), and I think I pretty successfully handled the whole thing from deciding what the practice would entail to actually making sure the kids did it. It's been fun so far and given me a chance to reexamine what I'm capable of. Plus, we get to go to a swim meet in Morocco in May so that will be quite another opportunity to step out of my box.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


It's been quite a while since we updated the blog mostly because it's a bit of a challenge to think of what to write. Our lives here, though generally pleasant and comfortable, aren't particularly interesting. I do not really feel like I have much insight into life in Kinshasa beyond what I read in the news online or the general observations that just about any outsider would make about this place. So I have been holding back from writing. I cannot think of anything I feel like is worth sharing. My brother Thom says I should write about teaching, and another teacher expressed similar sentiments to me recently when I explained my trepidation about writing about my life here. He said that writing about the elite students that we work with could be a fascinating blog in and of itself. Yet, I shy away from writing anything too personal on the internet about people whose permission I don't have, and I don't really want my students searching out this blog so I'd never ask for permission. Plus, I seem incapable of focusing my attention on the uniqueness of my students' experiences as I am always getting wrapped up in their inability to use commas appropriately.

So should we just put this blog to rest? I don't think I'm quite ready for that just yet, but I'm still not sure what my goal should be in writing. I have been thinking about this issue lately as I have been reading quite a lot and questioning my own lack of inspiration for writing. I know that I can write, but why is it that I have nothing that I want to write about? And why is it that I seem to have an almost moral opposition to the romanticization and fictionalization of reality. My nitpickiness which probably comes from my grandfather makes me wary beyond belief of writing anything that is not 100% accurate. I also take this out on James as I have quite a proclivity for correcting and clarifying. So, I am still trying to figure out how it is possible to write about my experiences in a captivating way while preserving accuracy.

As I continue to try to sort these issues out, I will attempt to update more, but who knows how it will all work out. For now, I will look out my window and ponder the jungle in my backyard, one part of Kinshasa that I know rather well.