29 August 2011

Weekly Wrap: August 22-28

  • I had a free day in Dubai so I went exploring the city. Among the things I saw were the world's tallest building, the world's largest mall, the only 7-star hotel in the world, an indoor artificial ski slope, and a ton of other buildings just as impressive. After living in Africa for the last year without much to see I thought this was an ironic first place to visit.
  • I rode the metro in dubai and took buses. I miss and love public transportation.
  • On my first bus ride I sat down and went a little ways before realizing I was in the women's section of the bus. I guess I forgot what country I was in.
  • I have spent most of the week in another country, who's name I won't mention in this blog. It is in the Middle East.
  • Upon arriving here I found it amusing to see people putting on their flak jackets and helmets in the airport parking lot.
  • I don't feel afraid being here at all, but in the back of my mind I keep wondering what car, person, or object is going to blow up as I go around the city.
  • So far I have not made any major cultural mistakes that would warrant someone to yell "Infidel!" at me.
  • I have some pretty cute nephews. One that counts "1, 2, 4, 11, 14" and pees his pants 3 times a day. The other mimics my animal growling sounds and only drinks water out of his sippie cup.

24 August 2011

Weekly Wrap: August 15-21

  • My last week in the Congo was pretty busy. This included a full flight schedule, many visits to the bank, and trying to organize my belongings for the trip home. My last day turned out to be quite annoying, although it didn't bother me too much because I knew I would be leaving the next morning. Although it consisted of 2 flights on the schedule, 2 trips to the bank to sort out account issues and annoying charges that come out of nowhere, being pulled over by the traffic police, airport officials trying to shut down our operations for various reasons, and so much more. Good memories I will take home from the Congo.
  • I also had to say goodbye to friends I will be leaving behind. It is one thing to say goodbye to someone when you are moving to a neighboring state or when you know you'll be back, but definitely different saying goodbye to people on the other side of the planet you are not sure if you'll ever see again.
  • I was a little hesitant to announce my departure date to some of the local workers because I knew they would be asking for expensive gifts before I left. When I told one of my night guards I was leaving at the end of the week he approached me and said he would like me to give him something. I was thinking the worst and then he asked me if I had a picture of myself that I could give him so he could remember me. I was totally caught off guard. He took a chink out of my cynicism that I had been building up in the Congo the past year.
  • On one of my trips to the bank I stepped inside with the bank alarm going off. Piercing sirens and flashing lights. I looked around the crowded bank and no one seemed phased a bit. It had probably been going off all morning.
  • As my bags were getting checked by airport security in Lubumbashi a large religious man came and stood next to me. I have no idea what faith this man belonged to but he was large man with a beard wearing a black robe and big shiny cross necklace and some funny shaped religious hat on his head. As he stood next to me he leaned in towards the security guard checking the luggage and with one hand showed him his passport and with the other hand handed the guard a large wad of cash. As he did this he explained to him that he had a special passport and that his luggage did not need to be checked. These jedi mind tricks did not work on the guard as he pocketed the many and began to search the luggage, to which the religious man began to throw a fit. I never found out what was in the luggage that he did not want to be found.
  • My flight out of Lubumbashi left an hour and a half early without any warning. Luckily I was at the airport 4 hours early.
  • When I made it to Dubai at 1:30am I was almost through all of the security when I got pulled over for a one last random security check. They scanned my bags and then asked me if I had any ammunition in bags. I then realized that the empty bullet shell casing I was bring back as a souvenir was what they were talking about. Apparently that was a no-no and I spent the next hour and a half talking to various customs and police officials. After no explanation or hint as to whether I was in trouble or arrested or anything, they let me go with a warning. I made it to my friends house in Dubai at 4am.
  • The weather on Sunday in Dubai was a high of 110 and a low of 95.

13 August 2011

Weely Wrap: August 8-14

  • I have been trying to memorize some swahili phrases that I can yell while playing ultimate this fall to try and intimidate the other teams. Nitakaa hapa toka leo mpaka kesho!
  • I have had 2 new house mates the last couple of weeks. They are 9 week-old puppies. Their names are Tarzan and Jane and they are both females.
  • A couple of trips to the bank this week. On one trip to the bank the teller asked me if I was a movie star. I asked her if she had seen "The Passion of the Christ". Soon after that exchange another man asked me if I was a member of the Bee Gees. Why does everyone here think I have to be famous?
  • There can be a lot of headaches to working in the Congo. Just little things like some rogue military personnel telling me our 4x4 we use to tow our airplane is not authorized (when in fact it is) and giving us a hard time about it before letting us go. Or the airport tower control office feeling that they should be allowed to transport their personal items on our plane for free or low cost. It is just a power control country that can slowly drive an outsider mad. For me it is just stories to laugh about later.
  • Paul Schiess' Bullet Points are the inspiration to my Weekly Wraps. You should really check those out for a much better read.
  • Here in Congo we have measles and cholera outbreaks all over. Now there is a potential Ebola problem not far from here. It really is sad because thousands of kids are dying and most of the world will never know.
  • Speaking of epidemics, our flight schedule for next week (my last week here) is packed to the max. In the next 5 days we have 7 flights on the schedule already. 6 of them being for Doctors Without Borders responding to the measles epidemic.
  • This time next week I'll be in Dubai on my long journey home to the USA. Comprehension of my time in Congo finishing has not hit me yet.

07 August 2011

Weekly Wrap: August 1-7

  • Kids here in their final year of secondary school received their final grades this week. If they passed they celebrated by covering their heads in white chalk dust and dancing around town blowing whistles.

  • As annoying and infuriating as the traffic police here can be, they still make me laugh quite often. I can't help but think of CHiPs everytime I see the goofy motorcycle cops here.

  • I think one thing I am going to do as soon as I get back Stateside is eat a big bowl of Cap'n Crunch and 2% milk.

  • I am considering moving to Scotland just so I can listen to people talk in that silly accent.

  • I hopped on a MAF flight on Friday. I got on the flight thinking that it might be my last time to fly around Congo before I leave. We were flying low over some ridges and come across this amazing waterfall going over some cliffs. I'm still amazed by the beauty this country has and not many outsiders get to experience it.

  • 90% of my days are consumed with thoughts about ultimate frisbee.

01 August 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 25-31

  • MSF (Doctors Without Borders) has been flying with us a lot lately because of a measles epidemic in the Katanga province. Apparently the local help hired by MSF, to help give out the vaccines, started complaining about not getting paid enough. During their complaints they started threatening to eat expat MSF staff starting with the ones with more meat on their bones. I think MSF got it all sorted out...I think.
  • I went out the gate the other night to check something to find my night guards practicing their break dancing.
  • There is a young woman at the bank here who always wears this low cut shirt. It bothers me every time I see here. The part the bothers me is that she might have as much chest hair as me.
  • I decided last minute that I really needed to Victoria Falls before I left Africa so I took the first chance I got this week when there was a slight break in the work schedule. I left early Thursday morning and got back Sunday afternoon traveling via taxi and bus. It was 40.5 hours round trip travel to spend 42 hours at the Falls. I think it was worth it see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
  • On my taxi drive from Lubumbashi to the Zambian border I got in a nice taxi van with comfortable seats, a mini-television in front, plenty of space. I was excited about a nice quiet comfortable trip to the border. As soon as we pull away from the city the TV goes off and the driver, apparently a passionate evangelist, starts yelling a 30 minute sermon in Swahili to the passengers in the taxi. So I started off my trip with a headache.
  • As I was waiting in line to Bungee jump off the bridge between the Zambia/Zimbabwe border a man approached me and offered me 50 trillion dollars. For a second I thought I was going to be the hero of the world and solve America's debt crisis. Then I realized he was offering me 50 trillion Zimbabwe Dollars.
  • These are the tourists I met at Victoria Falls: 9 incredibly loud drunk Irish med students. A South Korean who has been teaching in Ethiopia for 2 years. An older Australian couple doing a tour of Africa for several months. A girl from Kansas serving in the Peace Corps in Zambia A young English couple which has been driving all the way from London. Their destination is Capetown and they left in December. A young Swiss business man who is also driving from overland from Cairo to Capetown. A Swedish biochemist and his wife on vacation.
  • Currently reading: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild

24 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 18-24

  • Apparently a Congolese government official died this week. Something equivalent to a senator I was told. They flew the body back to Lubumbashi and for some reason the greeting party decided to gather very near to the MAF hangar. The greeting party consisted of 4 motorcycle cops, a couple trucks full of police, a truck full of guys in funny green uniforms, a marching band, 50+ cars, and hundreds of foot traffic. Oh, and an ambulance made a brief appearance and then left, which I thought was a little cruel. Anyways, just utter chaos, but Congolese people just love a good funeral.
  • I think I may have suffered a case of Giardia this week. It grosses me out just to even think about that.
  • I started my first SNERTZ this week. Brutal, but it felt good.
  • I guy shows up to the office at 6pm wanted to send a package on one of our flights. I asked him if he could come back the next day. He said he'd be there in the 7:30-8am in the morning. He shows up at 5:30pm. "Sorry I am a little late". Classic "Congo Time". I will not miss this aspect about Congo.
  • 27 days until I leave Congo. 40 days until I arrive in Boise. But who's counting?

16 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 11-17

Most of this week consisted of "Diamond Mining for Jesus" so I will start with that story. We have had this flight on the schedule for a month. I did not really know what the flight was about, but I did know a few general details, which included the words missionary and diamond mining. So I therefore dubbed the trip as "Diamond Mining for Jesus". There was room on the plane so I was more than happy to go along on this 4-day trip to the center of DRC and see what this whole thing was all about. The trip started off with a bang when our Jesus-loving diamond miners lost their baggage on a connecting flight from Zambia. Since they were short on time, we offered to fly down to Zambia to pick up the bags.

Everything went smoothly in Zambia, as it is an African country that seemingly has things put together, until we went to takeoff from Zambia. Apparently we had missed the part were we needed an additional clearance from the Zambian Air Force to fly in their airspace. After informing the air force that we had flown in their airspace, which they yet to realize, this is what the commander in charge said, "We are going to have to lock you up." He said it so nonchalantly that I almost laughed out loud the moment he said it, which probably would not have been good. We ended up not being locked up but were trapped in their offices for a few hours until our proper clearance came through. Then we were off to Lubumbashi to pick up our passengers.

From Lubumbashi we flew into Lusambo, which is almost smack-dab in the middle of DRC. From there we took a motorized canoe up river on a 2.5 hour ride. The area the diamond-mining missionaries is pretty far out there in the middle of the bush. Just a small village set up around this mine. The purpose of the visit this time was to do some testing on the soil to see if the earth appeared to be rich of areas where you might find diamonds. This testing required lots of trekking through the dense surrounding jungle to put in cables that would produce the test results. I spent a little bit of my own time exploring the area on my own. One of the sad things about Congo is that most of the wildlife has been decimated, either due to the war or starvation of the locals. The villagers there said they had hunted and killed pretty much every animal in the area so I knew I was pretty safe not to run into any killer animals or snakes.

I was pretty skeptical about this project before and throughout the trip. It seemed like a far-fetched idea to do some diamond mining and call it a mission project. However, after spending 4 days and hearing the strategy and the heart behind the man with the plan I think I became a believer in the project. The project has been a long time coming and there seems to have been a lot of preparation. It is a project done for the community and includes the community and will really benefit them in the long run I think. The money made will cover the costs of the mining itself and the rest will get put back into the community (hospitals, schools, roads, churches, etc.). Plus the mining itself will employ many of the locals, who have been without substantial work for many years. So during my trip with the team I could really notice that the locals were excited to have the project and were already very involved. The focus of putting God in the center of the project was very evident as well and had already made an impact of the people's lives there.

Some highlights of the trip were.
  • The boat ride up and down the river. Beautiful large river in the middle of the Congo. Surrounded on every side by think jungle. African grey parrots and other birds flying all around. Amazing. And to do the boat ride in a dugout canoe just makes it so much more better.
  • Trekking through the jungle. They had already been hacking away at the jungle in previous weeks to make some small paths through or else trying to walk through the jungle would have been miserable. Beautiful though just to stop and hardly be able to see any sky because the vegetation is so thick.
  • One day we were there their was a man just digging on his own. He called us over because he had found some diamonds that day. He had a handful of about 20 tiny stones. All diamonds. So crazy to see real raw diamonds freshly plucked from the earth.
  • The night before we left the small village there gathered and sang some songs for us. Everyone in the village joined in from the little kids to the mamas and papas. Everyone singing and dancing and worshiping in the middle of nowhere. Just another surreal experience.