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.