If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments here!
How is the weather?
Either hot and wet or hot and dry. The rainy season lasts from about May - November and you will be arriving at its height, so bring good rain gear and a rain-proof tent. The dry season is very dry, bring good water bottles, and polar bar water purifier tablets if you can (I boil my water). It can get chilly at nights at this time. The dry season is usually easier on my health, and the roads are a lot easier to travel!
How are the people?
It is a mix; they can be so generous and sweet, and also so greedy (mainly in the towns). There is a lot of resentment and jealousy towards whites, more than i have seen in other countries. A lot of aggressive begging (but not as much in smaller villages). The Congolese also love loud and noisy debates, and that is just something to get used to. But they also love having foreigners here, and we have some friends who would give you the shirts off their backs.
How dangerous is it? (This might sound lame, but I would like to know)
Well, these things can change with outbreaks of war, etc;, but I have rarely if ever felt physically threatened here (except at Bili a few times, where we had elephant-poaching soldiers harrassing us in the town); it is not dangerous like in the Virungas, for example. The worst thing I have to deal with is harassment by corrupt officials (it gets very annoying), but nowadays a phone call from Michel usually puts an end to that quickly. We have a lot of friends looking out for us...
But it is Congo, and things can always change. During the civil war, I have heard that the soldiers were a nightmare. So it always good to keep up on current events in Kinshasa. But Hans, sunny and I will help you do that.
How is the food? The water?
I like the food, but for a vegetarian the diet can get a little boring after a while: manioc roots and leaves, beans and rice, gourds, fumbwa(white forest leaf) and mushrooms. But I just found some potatoes in Buta, which has livened up my diet considerably. The water is fine when you boil it.
How is the mansion?
Comfy, for Congo. And very secure, although people steal things from the yard (like my rain gauge).
What do people do for a living?
In Aketi and Bili, mostly work the fields: manioc, corn, etc. And hunt and fish. But emanating from Buta is a rapidly-expanding diamond and gold industry.
What languages are spoken besides Swahili and French?
Lingala (the lengua franca), and in Aketi and Buta, Kibenza and Kiboa. There are some Azande (as at Bili) who speak Kizande towards the North. Kiswahili is actually not so common here
How often can I get on the Internet?
Through the began (which maybe Hans will let me leave with you) --- if for some reason that doesn't work, you can take a trip to Buta (a days motorbike ride) and use Zefas cybercafe (where i am now).
How is the town?
It is basically the crumbling ruins of an old Belgian train station town, with people sort of inhabiting the decaying mansions without actually maintaining them. The people are pretty friendly, especially since Michel and Polycarpe come from there. It is a hell of a lot more calm than Bili!
How is the bathing situation?
There is a bath tub with a big barrel of cold water beside it and a scoop.
What things should we bring with us beside the obvious?
I will work on a list. Bring antibiotic pills (though you can buy them here), malaria medicine, and maybe dec against filaria (ask your doctor). And lots of good books!
What is the shopping situation? (Like street market) What can we buy?
No problem with foods, and medicines aren't a problem for me. But forget anything like quality AA batteries or really quality anything. But flashlights, lighters, etc are available
What are some of the important customs?
Let me think on that one. It is an almost socialistic society, which can be good, ie. People look out for one another and for you, but also bad: jealousy of anyone who 'rises above' and, say, gets a higher salary. The latter is a very bad problem and you have to be very careful not to 'play favorites'.
How is the phone situation?
You can use your cell phone in Aketi and Buta, but not anywhere else. This may change soon (ie. More towers will be built).
How often do you talk to the locals?
Well? Considering i live with 6 of them, most of the time. But yes, i do go out and talk with folks about our work, and spend a lot of time with people near the sanctuary.
What is the best way to travel?
Motorbike, or bicycle for shorter distances.