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.

10 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: July 4-10

  • Last week was Congo's Independence Day. Ironically, my friends from the Belgian School left the Congo for the summer. This week was the American Independence Day. Symbolically, I moved out of the house with my British roommate. USA.
  • While on the way to the airport for a flight we came to a road block, in which soldiers were saying the airport was closed. It was closed because the president had left from the airport earlier in the morning but they would not open up the airport until the president's car had exited from the airport as well. So basically they closed down the airport for VIP car.
  • I have been trying to figure out all week how to put bed sheets on a water bed.
  • We pulled up to the hangar in the middle of the day to find 5 naked military soldiers taking bucket baths on the side of the military hangar which is next to ours.
  • 44 degrees the other morning. I was freezing my buns off. This does not bode well for winter in Idaho.
  • I got pulled over by the traffic police again. After a lot of wasted time and much arguing over an infraction resulted in me paying $8 for a $50 fine. I think I might hug the first police over I see when I get back to the US.
  • This morning's church service concluded by the pastor asking the congregation to give "a big crap offering". Those "L"s can be tricky to pronounce when English isn't your first language.
  • Currently reading: "Blood River" by Tim Butcher

06 July 2011

Weekly Wrap: June 27-July 3

  • The plan was to arrive in Uganda Monday and leave Friday. We were doing an engine swap on our plane. We had a loaner engine in our plane and needed to put a new one in. However, the engine got stuck in Belgium somehow while it was shipping so we had to wait an extra week for the engine. Another week in Uganda so I can't complain.

  • Walked around downtown Kampala. Big city. Big buildings. Lots of people.

  • Saw some kids playing Ultimate in a small grass field next to where I was staying. Upon closer observation I noticed they were doing Ultimate drills. Awesome! I just sat and watched for awhile. I was impressed with the skill level and the fact that they were playing ultimate instead of soccer.

  • We ate dinner several times at a restaurant called Coffee At Last. It was great food and the price was very reasonable. It was quite a luxury from Congo. We went there so often that we became friends with the owner. It was a perfect place because we could sit on the balcony overlooking the street and be entertained by the things of Africa.

  • Another long flight home Saturday flying at 14,500 feet with our oxygen masks on. Kind of weird to fly a long flight on an airplane that didn't have an engine in it 2 days prior.

  • After arriving home in Lubumbashi, I went straight from the airport to a little animal park. Met up with some friends and walked around with the animals.

Currently reading: "The Shack" by William P. Young

Weekly Wrap: June 20-26

  • I got up bright and early to fly our airplane to Uganda with my coworker Nate. Our aircraft have to have a maintenace inspection every 200 hours of flight time. We do not have the proper tooling and facilities here to do the maintenance so we fly to another one of our bases in Uganda. It was about a 6-7 hour flight up. Barrels of fun.

  • Flying in the Congo during the dry season is not much fun because of the dust, smoke, and pollution that is in the air. You can hardly see the ground. I though Uganda would be different, but is we flew in over Lake Victoria, one of the largest lakes in the world, it was quite disappointing. The pollution in the air was just horrible. It is quite a shame because the terrain on the ground is quite beautiful.

  • Met some MAF pilots and families living and working in East DR Congo and Uganda. It was nice to meet some fellow MAFers working in other parts of Africa and see some of the work they are doing there.

  • I was put to work in the hangar doing some small maintenance items on the plane. I am not a maintenance guy at all so I felt like I was more of a liability. But I think I helped out a little. Took off the tires and greased the bearings and changed out the breaks. Took off some paneling on the wings and landing gear. Put together some new airplane jacks. Repainted the prop.

  • Uganda is one of those crazy places with millions of motorcycle taxis everywhere. They are called "Boda Bodas". They are all weaving in and out of traffic or carrying ridiculously large loads. We nearly killed one Boda Boda driver as he was driving too fast down a dirt road and swerved to avoid us but couldn't avoid the tree stump. His two child passengers were alright, but the driver busted up his knee. We took him to a clinic and paid for his medical bills even though we were not at fault. He showed his gratitude by calling the next day to say that he would be calling the police to demand more money from us. Cool.

  • The whole week I was singing the song, "Boda boda boda boda boda everywhere!" in my head.

  • Spent a day with my UN friend from Lubumbashi who was passing through Entebbe on his way home for leave. It was good to see him one last time. We went bowling in a mall, which seems like an insane idea when you living in Lubumbashi.

  • I went white-water rafting on the Nile River on the weekend. I had been hoping I would get the chance to do this while I was in Uganda and I am so glad I did. The river was just amazingly beautiful. Spent 5-6 hours on the water. There was mostly Class 4 rapids. A couple Class 5 rapids that we missed because of the wimpy tourists I had on my boat. 2 Class 6 rapids that we avoided thankfully. Rapids were tons of fun but enjoyed just floating in the river on the slow parts and just taking in the idea that I was on the Nile River in Africa!

  • I think I had a serious case of culture shock on the 1.5 hour bus ride to the Nile River. I sat in front of 6 American college girls. "Like OMG, I totally want to take a baby goat home with me!". I had forgotten that this crazy species of humans still exist.

Currently reading: "The African Dream: The diaries of the revolutionary war in the congo" by Che Guevara

Weekly Wrap: June 13-19

My attempt at bring more proactive in updating my blog by offering weekly highlights. A few weeks old due to lack of computer and internet.

  • We flew a baby chimp back to Lubumbashi on one of our flights. It had been bought off some hunters and is being taking to a Chimpanzee sanctuary. So now I can say that I helped save a baby chimp in Africa.

  • Went to the "Bush Camp" restaurant in town for Tim's birthday. One of the nicer places in town that is full of African decor. Good food too. I think I will go back someday.

  • Lunar Eclipse. I think everything seems more amazing when you experience it in the Congo and this was no exception.

  • Political campaigning season here. Lots of politicians flying around the province campaigning for people's votes. Often there is a mini-parade with banners and a marching band waiting for some political figure as he steps of a plane. It is all quite ridiculous and humorous at the same time. I am still not quite sure what their jobs are, other than eating lots of food and making lots of money. Crazy place.

  • Went to a concert at the French Cultural Center in town. Some girl and her band down from Kinshasa. She was apparently pretty popular and the place was packed. I showed up late and felt really awkward when there was a crowd of people trying to get in and the security guard sees me and my other white friend and personally escorts us in. The perks of being white? Awkward. I did enjoy myself once inside though. Awesome group. I even bought her CD and got a picture with her backstage. Silly.

  • We had a good-bye party for my friend who works with the UN and will be moving to Kinshasa after he takes leave. The party was at my house and we had a huge bonfire in the front yard. Lots of laughs and dancing with good friends.

  • Another good-bye party the following day for the volunteers who have been helping out with my roommate's street kids project (Kimibilio). So we had a bbq at a river just outside town with the Kimbilio kids and the volunteers. Good group of people.

  • Observation of the week is that I noticed a lot of the people who work for MSF, who we fly for, are smokers. Just seems ironic and confusing. Seems like strange example to have as you are trying to solve the health issues in Africa.

30 May 2011


Most people probably don't ever think twice about electricity. It is something you always have right? Not here in the Congo. I've been trying to decide how often the power has been on during my 9 months here. I'm gonna go with 50%. The way it works at my house is that we are supposed to have 2 days with the power on and then one day off. This program is run by the electrical company here. Apparently the transformer in my neighborhood is not big enough to run everyone so it needs a day off so it doesn't explode or something. It is different in each neighborhood.

The electrical company is really good at making sure the power is off on our day off, but not so good about making sure it stays on on our day on. It'll often go off for half a day on when of the days we are supposed to have it or just go off and on constantly throughout the day. Sometimes lines will get cut or there will be some other technical problem and we will be out for several days. The longest I have gone without power at my house has been 5 days. That was fun. I am actually blessed here because my coworkers living in Kinshasa, the capital city, have it worse than me and have been without power for several weeks now and there are not many indications that it will return anytime soon. I do have a generator at my house, which will power the whole house, but it is expensive to use so I try not to use it too often. I will usually run it every third evening on our days off so I'm not depressed in a dark house getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

It has become a way of life now. The food in the fridge gets stinky every 3rd day. Have to make sure to run the water pump when we have power so we have water in the tanks. Try to make sure we have fuel on hand in the garage in case we really need/want to use the generator. We do have a solar panel that charges a battery, which we can then use to power our internet. But the battery only last for a couple hours before it needs to be charged again. I think this is going to be one of the areas I will suffer culture shock when I return back to the US. Not having to plan my day around power outages. Weird.

Risking it all

Here is some video about transport in the Congo. I haven't been able to watch all of it because the internet here is too slow, but I've been told it is interesting. Check it out if you have the time.


18 May 2011

Neighborhood Noise

I spent the last few days home sick paralyzed by body aches and fatigue. A lot of time spent in bed or on the couch not being able to sleep, but only listening to the sounds of the world outside. My neighborhood is much like the Congolese people that inhabit it, Loud. This was not a new discovery for me, but having lots of time laying on my back at home allowed me to take in all these noises.

First of all, the night guard/gardener and his family live right behind my house, which is about 20 feet from my bedroom window. I'm not really sure how many children he has. I'm guessing maybe 5, but it sounds like 20. This is a noisy family. There is a lot of yelling that goes on, which I'm never quite sure if it is an argument or just a typical Congolese conversation. Occasionally the baby is crying. At least one or two times a day one of children is yelling for his father, who is definitely out of earshot range. "PAPA! PAPA! PAPA!" (repeat 20x as loud as you can). The latest development in the family is now they have 2 goats in their yard. My roommate and I were trying to decide why he has goats. We think that maybe one of his sons is getting married and it is a gift for the bride's family. If that is the case then I hope the wedding is soon because I am tired of listening to those goats.

Another exciting noise coming from my neighborhood is the church directly behind my garage. This church isn't nearly as bad as some of the churches around the neighborhood, but it does have it's moments. The first night of my sickness I was awoken by a 2am choir practice. Sure it wasn't terrible music, but it was 2 in the morning. They occasionally do this for some reason. It seems hard to believe that 2am is the only time the choir can get together for practice. This is actually quite normal for a lot of the Congolese churches, which there are a lot of. The churches here don't only have your typical Sunday morning services. They seem to have several services a week at every odd hour of the day. I have been driving home at 3 in the morning and seen church services going on. They also seem to hold the belief that the louder the church is, the better God will hear you. There is also the Muslims a few blocks away that announce their call to prayer every morning at 5am. I occasionally wake up to that as well.

There are kids everywhere here so there is always the sounds of kids playing. They are building a school on the property right next to my house so currently it is the sound of construction but in a few months it'll be the sound of children screaming. A group of kids are often playing soccer on my street so you will often here their screams of laughter and playfulness. If there is ever a club soccer match on TV you will know whether we are winning or losing by listening to the neighborhood noise.

Overall there is a just a general buzz of neighborhood noise here in Congo. It is very interesting to hear all the sounds and try to distinguish all of them. Everything is so lively here and out in the open for everyone to listen to. The other fascinating thing to me is that I can sit on my porch and look out at my big yard and hear all of these noises yet I cannot see where they come from because I am surrounded by tall walls.

17 April 2011

Year of the Beard

One year of growing a beard. 2011. Quite possibly one of the top 5 best decisions of my life. I mean, seriously, what's better than combing food crumbs out of your beard after a good meal. I've been at this for 107 days. I thought maybe after a couple months I'd grow fond of it, but in actuality, I have to resist the urge to grab every sharp object I see so I don't hack it all off in one fell swoop. I'd like to say that large beards are common and my struggle is internal. But no. The external forces are powerful, especially those from the Congolese. Apparently these vocal inhabitants of Congo have a great appreciation of history of Christianity, including the western image of Jesus Christ. My swahili knowledge is not extensive, but there are a few words I can understand as I walk down the street: Mzungu (white person) and Jesu (Jesus). If I hear those words mixed in a sentence followed by some laughing, giggling, and pointing I am pretty sure I'm the center of the conversation. Fortunately I'm the most talked about person in every 50ft radius I'm in.

One year of my life and for what? I guess because I can. A way to make small group of people (not including the entire country of Congo) smile and laugh. A way to practice self-control. A story to tell when it's all over. I still have 258 more days to think of some other benefits. Cheers to the year I will not attract the ladies with the overgrowth of hair on my face.

11 April 2011


Ok. So. Last month I did the vacation thing here in the Africa. I'm not really sure what people think of when they think about "vacation in Africa". Probably safaris, pyramids, or swimming with great white sharks. Whatever, not the point of this blog post. For me, I'm usually on the budget program when it comes to vacation. I don't like to spend money, I like to go somewhere where I can swim a lot, and throw in something adventurous.

So after considering my options I decided on Zanzibar! If you don't know where that is, it is a little island just off the coast of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. It is a touristy place with a lot of history because it used to be the hub of the East Africa slave trade. It is where all the african slaves would get sent to board ships to India and other countries back in the day. It also has beautiful pristine white sandy beaches and warm ocean water to swim in. It is also relatively cheap place to vacation. So I've got all my criteria. Ocean to swim in, cheap vacation spot, and for adventure I decided I was going to ride my motorcycle there! Just a nice 2600 mile roundtrip through Africa wilderness. I was a little nervous about the trip but I was all geared up and ready to go until a week before when I had some bike problems riding in some back roads of Congo. So it was a no-go for the motorcycle, but I had the backup plan of taking the bus, which turned out to be an adventure in itself.

The day came for departure. Bus is supposed to leave at noon. We get there at 11. Oh yeah, I'm doing this trip with my friend Pierre, who is from Belgian and is teaching here in Lubumbashi. So yeah, we get there at 11 and sign in and sit and wait. Noon comes around and they announce we are not leaving today because the border is closed. We will leave tomorrow they say. Apparently there was some new facility at the border that just opened and the Zambian and DRC president were there that day to have a commissioning for the facility so they had the close the whole border down. Just a perfect example of African silliness. So we show up the next morning ready to go and of course we wait around until the bus finally departs 2 hours late. The president was having a political rally downtown that day so we drove through crowds of people as we were leaving the city. It was a crazy site with the streets packed with people, marching bands, and people carrying banners and what not. I could already tell this trip was going to be crazy.

So I'll spoil the ending and say that Zanzibar was an amazing place and I had a great time there. The only downfall of the vacation was the bus ride. I took the bus because it was 1/6th the cost of flying. They said it would be a 2 day trip on the bus. I can handle that. What they forgot to mention that the bus a dumpster on wheels that somehow what at amazing ridiculous speeds and hardly ever stopped for pee breaks or food. No A/C, no toilet, no clean comfy seat, no food, no English. I guess that is why it was cheap. Anyways, we left Lubumbashi at 10:30am. It took us a couple hours to cross the border into Zambia. Drove through the night through Zambia. Got to the Tanzanian border at dawn. Spent a couple hours at that border. Drove through Tanzania all day and arrived around midnight or 1am. Total time: 37 hours on the bus. The ride had a lot of low points, but there were a few highs like driving through this beautiful mountain road in Tanzania with beautiful terrain. Only to have it spoiled by the lady sitting next to me lean across me to throw her trash out the widow like everyone else on the bus. I couldn't understand these people being surrounded by such beauty and just throwing trash at it. Oh Africa.

So we arrive in Dar Es Salaam late and take a taxi to our hostel, which is cheap. I am amazed by Dar Es Salaam already at this point because it is huge with tall buildings and feels like a big city in America. We go find a burger stand that is open late and get some food after a grueling bus trip. Even that late at night I was already getting the Islamic vibe, which was interesting because I had been in a city that was dominantly Islamic, which is the case with Dar Es Salaam. Next morning we wake up for a second time (1st time for the blaring Call to Prayer outside hostel) and find our way to the docks to take a ferry to our final destination. Zanzibar! The ferry ride is a 2 hour trip to the island. It felt so good to be on a boat out in the ocean. The water was just an amazing blue.

Then we finally arrive on Zanzibar. It is basically Africa's version of Hawaii. It was pretty sweet. The main town on the island is called Stonetown. It is a sweet city because it has these narrow alleyways through 3 or 4-story buildings that look ancient. The only way to get through most of the town is by foot or moped so you feel like you are in Italy or somewhere like that. Stonetown also included cheap hotels, great restaurants, nice beach, great juice,and the local fishermen do nightly seafood bbq at dusk by the beach. Delicious. Zanzibar is also known for it's spices. So I did a spice tour like a good little tourist. But it was definitely worth my time walking through all the spice farms and seeing some of the historical points of the slave trade.

After a couple days in Stonetown we headed to the North of the island. The entire island is basically pristine beaches, but we heard the beaches in the north had better swimming. Found a nice cheap hotel/resort on the beach. Amazing beach with turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches. Basically just lounged on the beach for a few days and had good food and drinks at the restaurant 20 feet from the water. We decided to do a snorkeling trip one day, which was maybe the best decision of the trip. Took a boat trip on this sweet old wooden dhow out to some reefs offshore. Some some dolphins along the way and the snorkeling was amazing. I think I saw every fish from "Finding Nemo" except the shark. Came back and had a nice hour long body massage on the beach. Paradise.

Spent a week on the island before deciding to head home. Pierre had to get back for classes so he elected to fly home, so I decided to brave the bus home on my own. Met up with some friends of friends in Dar Es Salaam that let me stay with them for one night and figured out the bus schedule for me. That was super helpful to not have to stress about that and get a good rest before a long long trip.

So got on the bus and left Dar Es Salaam at 6am. The beginning of the trip was awesome because we drove through a couple national parks in Tanzania and I got to see my first wildlife. I saw giraffes, elephants, zebra, gazelle, and baboons. We were flying by on a bus though so we didn't get to stop and have a proper look. We were hoping to get to the Zambian border before dark because the border is closed at night but we didn't make it so we had to sleep at the border. I decided to sleep on the bus rather than trying to find a hotel, which would probably have been the same quality as the bus. Probably got bitten by 100 mosquitoes, but thankfully no malaria. They told me we'd leave at 9 the next morning. Like an idiot, I believed them. 9am turned into 12pm. 12pm turned into 2pm. 2pm turned into "stop asking". The bus didn't have very many passengers going the rest of the way so the whole next day they were cramming the bus full of goods to take back to DRC. They spent all day doing this. Literally shoving things into any little space they could. By the time they told the passengers to get on board there was no room for our luggage. We had to hold our bags on our laps and there was absolutely no leg room because the bus crew was all spread out in the aisles. Typical African bus filled to the max. So we let off into Zambia at 5pm after spending over 20 hours at the border.

We drove through the night through Zambia and I wasn't able to move a muscle the entire time. Finally we came to the DRC border, which I though would never come. Spent a few hours there because the bus didn't have all it's proper paperwork. Despite being sleep deprived I was in good spirits though because I was able to get food and the end of the trip was in sight. An hour and a half after leaving the border I arrived home in Lubumbashi. 55 hours after leaving Dar Es Salaam. 55 hours on that wonderful bus! Honestly though, I was happy I took the bus as horrible as it was. It is just a great memory and story to tell. It was the adventure I was looking for in my vacation. Great great vacation.

25 March 2011

Kinshasa in the Time Machine

Well now that it is the end of March I thought it'd be a good time to write about a trip I did in the beginning of January... better late than never. That is what "they" say right? Ok, moving on.

So I currently work in Lubumbashi, which is the very southeast part of DRC. Our base here, however falls into the 'West DRC' program so while we have a couple of pilots and planes here we also have other teammates within our program serving in Kinshasa, which is over 1500 kms away. Every year the program has what we call a Family Conference. It is a time where we stop working and spend a week together, families included, and just enjoy a time of fellowship, learning and activities. So I got to travel to Kinshasa for this conference in January and get to meet the rest of my MAF team members, who I had not met yet. It was fun to meet everyone and their families and see what life was like for them in Kinshasa, which is a huge city and can be very tense and chaotic at times. For the conference they brought a small team from the USA to lead us in a Bible study and music, which was very good. It was nice to be led by Americans to have taste of church from back home. We also did some other recreational activities around the city. Swimming. Softball. Visiting a lake and bonobos sanctuary. Good food and games. The conference was great to attend and it was great to spend time with others serving in the same way as me.

The other thing that I have to mention about this trip was that is was a kind of homecoming for me. I spent 4 years of my childhood (ages 4-8) in Kinshasa and I had not been back there since my family was evacuated from DRC 18 years ago. So I was quite excited to return to this place where I had created some memories as a kid. I wasn't sure how much I would remember because I was young when I left and it had been a long time since then, but I was surprised as some memories flooded back. The conference was held at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK), where I attended school for K-2nd grades. It was surreal to walk around the campus and remember so many memories.

The steps where I stood when I had my picture taken on my first day of school ever. The concrete block where I vividly remember being delirious with a fever and laying down and watching ants crawl across the ground before I puked all over. The bamboo trees where I used to find ladybugs during recess. The playground I slipped and cut my chin open. The tennis courts where my parents used to play. The cubbie boxes in my kindergarten classroom. The soccer fields where I watched my brothers play. The pool with the diving bored and slide that my and my brothers and sister spent hours playing. The softball field where I was dubbed "Le petit Americain". The field with the huge trees where my dad used to fly his remote control airplane around. The jungle path we walked through to get to the houses on the bottom campus. The circular driveway where we did our halloween parade.

There were just tons of more memories that would just come to me as I walked around. Things I would have never thought of again if I hadn't visited. I also got stay with one of the MAF families living in Kinshasa that happened to be living in my old house. Again it was another surreal experience. Seeing the house where I grew up and played. My old room where my bunk bed used to be. The living room where we watched videos sent from relatives in the USA. Where we celebrated Christmas. The kitchen where I sat on the counter looking through catalogs circling the things I might want for Christmas. The yard with the banana trees and the small hill where we would ride our bikes down. The place where our trampoline had been, but was not sadly filled in. The old swingset. The backyard patio where my Mark and Kris blew things up with gunpowder. Just walking down the street and around the neighborhood where me and my brothers and the other missionary kids spent hours of our lives playing and exploring the depths of our imagination. I even saw the street down road from my house, which used to be in a reoccurring nightmare I had as a child. So many things that had been forgotten with time. Beautiful trip and beautiful memories.

18 February 2011

Africa is Ginormous

I heard a comment the other day relating to the size of Africa. It reminded me of this map I saw awhile back that shows how big Africa is in comparison to some of the world's larger countries. Africa is a big place!

15 February 2011


This day of the year is often characterized as a solemn day for me. It was 4 years ago this day my mother passed away after a long struggle with a neurological disorder. Definitely the most difficult thing I have had to go through in my life so far. It was hard to see someone I cherished so much go through what she did. I was blessed to have had her as a mother and I look forward to the day when I will be able to embrace her once again.

In the last few months there has been several people around me as well that have lost ones they loved. I just want to recognize those people because they are just as important as my mother.

A national worker I work with everyday here lost his mother.

A friend from college lost his father.

My pastor here lost his mother.

My house helper here has lost a relative.

The president of DRC has lost a couple relatives.

An MAF pilot in Indonesia has passed and left behind a wife and child.

I lost a new Congolese friend, Josue, who was even a closer friend to my roommate.

I am sure there are others that I have forgotten or not heard of and their lives were just has precious as the rest. It is sad to see people go, but it is great to remember the time spent with them and the impact they made in your life. Love you Mom!