Friday, October 31, 2008
At first I had a slight fever and nothing else. I didn't feel anything else. Laura and I were not sure if I had malaria, but then we decided to test the theory of malaria. I took medicine for it. That morning I started to feel a lot better, but it got worse before.
Earlier that night I was battling diarrhea, so I went to the bathroom. On the way back I thought I was going to vomit, but was able to hold it off. I tried to walk back to the bedroom, but I was so disoriented from the fever I couldn't walk straight. Eventually I got my bearings and was able to get back to bed. I felt better when I lay down and I felt much better when I woke up.
I haven't much in the way of Malaria symptoms in the past two days, but the medicine has knocked me out of commission. It has made me very tired and given me an upset stomach.
The good news is that I am feeling better now. I hope this is my only bout of malaria ever. Just keep your finger crossed. Happy Halloween!!!!!
MABOKE by the locals in Lingala, to make ourselves an albeit very flat
Dido, our somewhat eccentric chef, was quite aghast that the pumpkin
had no nose, but Seba, the driver, was quick to point out that it had
no ears, beard, or body either!
The skin of the maboke was so thick Adam had to use the *boning saw*
to get through it!
Taken from African Silences, by Peter Matthiessen
“The city on the Zaire River (formerly the Congo) seems haunted by the corruption ad brutality of its days as Leopoldville, seat of power of the cruel and terrible King of the Belgians, whose ”Congo Free State,“ with its murderous abuse of conscripted labor (the Zairois estimate that ten million people died in the period between 1880 and 1910) continued the depopulation of this shadowed country that the terrible days of slaving had begun. The Belgian Congo colonial administration, though less brutal, continued the exploitation of the country while doing nothing to educate the people for the transition that was already inevitable, and when independence came at last, in 1960, there was no bureaucratic structure to maintain order. The consequence was anarchy and chaos, including the murder of the legitimate prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, the only leader with a national following, followed by installation of a puppet colonel who would dutifully endorse a further exploitation of the country’s resources.
The saying ”Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“ is bitterly true in the former Belgian Congo. Some privileged blacks now share the booty with the whites (in 1972, Zaire imported more Mercedes automobiles than any country in the world) , but as in the colonial days the land is being ransacked by foreign investors, and whole forests will fall for the enrichment of a few, with no thought whatever for the people or the future. To a degree unusual even in modern Africa, graft and corruption are a way of life...”
Certainly I have spent less time in Kinshasa itself, but I have spent enough time in Congo as a whole to feel like Matthiessen’s sentiments seem no less true today. Certainly my visits to various and plentiful officials have confirmed this to be true.
There are parts of this book that I do not like, especially the writer’s apparent disregard for certain species he has the privilege of meeting (such as the mountain gorilla) and his treatment of Dr. Dian Fossey (who he continually and derogatorily addresses as “Miss Fossey“) cannot be described as anything but harsh and cruel.
But some of his descriptions are spot on, and his adventures through the bush, so familiar to me, are still extremely amusing. I will definitely quote him more in the future, and his charming portrayal of John and Terese Hart (who I’ve linked to before at their blog Bonobos in Congo ) make me want to meet my southerly Mondele neighbours all the more!
Alright, I’m on laptop reserve power - back to work!
I felt a little sour about it, not only because Adam was sick or because of our intervening BS, but because the grass had offered us a great obfuscation from neighbour’s ogling.
Regardless, all of the tall grass across the street was shorn close and neat, and I inquired later in the day about it to Polycarpe.
“They’re widening to road, to ease the way of trucks,“ he said.
I laughed, without even wondering if it would be misinterpreted, and quickly said, ”But there is only ONE truck in Aketi! It is the only truck or car here!“
Polycarpe laughed and said, ”Yes, yes it is the only one!“
Adam said, in English, with my translation, ”Where does the road go?“
”To the beach,“ replied Polycarpe.
Adam continued, ”So the one vehicle in all of Aketi will go to the beach, and come back, and for that they are widening the road?“
We all laughed. Polycarpe, wise and older in age than most of the other project staff, really *gets* it -- he can sometimes be riled up and frustrated by Congo’s xenophobia. But he also gets the absolute ridiculousness of hiring 5 men to widen the road to aide one truck. We all laughed for a long time about it -- I think it was needed, after the last two days.
Tomorrow, after Cleve arrives sometime today from Buta, we thought about talking of renting a different house.
Until then, we shall continue watching them enlarge our road!
Our owner of the house, here presumably working for the same cause and yet with completely different methods.
I’ve been reading this book, African Silences, and, while some of its wildlife descriptions are lacking, it zeroes in on the real social problems of Congo with ease. Amazingly too, it was written in 1978, and I don’t see that a whole lot has changed here since then.
It’s easy to see here how to have nots dominate the “haves” here. I’ve witnessed it during the past few nights, attempting to keep my distance at the same time to stay uninvolved.
I’d laughed at first, watching the staff here prepare for FS’s arrival. His room was unlocked by the only man in Aketi who has keys to it - it is a trove that is apparently full of electronics and candles and jam (a rarity here) and packs of spaghetti and fancy coffee from Kinshasa. And onions. Don’t ask me why.
Out of the room FS’s ManFriend pulls all of his clothes, clean-looking, from inside drawers and he brings them out into the hot day and washes them all, hanging them each delicately on the line.
Dido then irons them all while Bea is getting her hair done in the yard. I chuckle to myself -- and text Cleve who is still in Buta. He laughs too, giving me the Lingala equivalent of “The Big Cheese.”
It isn’t until FS’s incredibly late arrival and I am woken from a sound sleep by chimp screaming that I realize the dark side to that Congolese power and charisma -- a cruelty; demanding and petty and impatient. If FS believes I’d ever let a man like that care for chimpanzees, he has another thing coming.
He has woken up Polycarpe, our house pappa here, who takes as good care of us as he takes of baby Mangé (who clings to his side daily and nightly) and demanded that he relinquish his bedroom, and his bed, and wake up the chimpanzee and have him do the same.
Mangé is, of course, screaming at the outrage of being woken at nearly midnight. FS is requesting that Polycarpe make him stop screaming. While he and his equally rotund friend gorge on food from fancy flowered pots that I have yet to have seen in this house nor be offered food from, he commands Polycarpe to sleep, with the chimpanzee, out in the dining room.
FS and his friend have already consumed three Primuses (a local beer), a luxury for us at $3 a bottle, and they are merrily eating while poor Dido runs around trying to meet their needs and Polycarpe tries to calm baby Mangé.
FS does not introduce me to his spherical friend. And feeling helpless to assist Polycarpe in his troubles in the dining room, I head back to the bedroom to check on Adam.
The next morning is no different. While Adam and I must wait until we give money to someone to go to the market to get our tea and bread, there are already cups and coffee out on the front veranda for FS and his friends, who have multiplied during the night. There are now a constant stream of men on the veranda, buttoned down, grim faced, yet I am introduced to none of them. I fear that if I intervene and insert myself into their politics, that I will be hopelessly swallowed in them.
RoundMan emerges from Polycarpe’s room, towels in hand -- there is a direct door into the bathroom from that room and he has been in the bathroom for an hour, bathing, despite the other 4 people in the house that might need to use the bathroom.
He calls for Dido brusquely, and shoves the towels in his face, saying “Wash these,” using informal French, with the obvious tone meaning as much as his choice of conjugation. He then shoves his leather loafers at Dido and says, “Polish these.”
There are no pleases, no thank yous. This is Congo.
Of course, RoundMan has left the bathroom without unlocking the main door - the one that does *not* go through his/Polycarpe’s bedroom. Ergo, despite being empty, the bathroom is thoroughly locked. He does this several more times during the course of only 2 days.
We are consciously not involved in the affairs over the next two days -- every once in a while we will emerge to see a new collection of gents on the veranda, smoking and sitting wide-legged, somewhat humorous considering that they are sitting in flimsy white plastic chairs.
There is ubiquitous Primus too, drunk from clean, clear actually-glass glasses. Also a rarity here, but how can a dignified man drink a beer without a mysteriously clean fancy glass here?
Thankfully, Adam’s malaria gave me a good excuse to retreat into our bedroom.
But as I excused myself to head off to bed late last night and passed a new collection of gentlemen, FS and RoundMan among them, pouring Johnny Walker Red Label into the same clear glasses over FS’s fancy coffee table - embedded with real ivory and with legs carved to look like elephants - I wondered how two people, FS and myself, could ever work towards the same goal?
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I feel so much better now, by the light of morning.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The internet felt like a drug on Sunday. As easy as it was to disconnect, it was hard not to get immediate responses to various emails and sundries. If we are ever to maintain our 100MB bandwidth limit, though, concessions must be made.
The real outcome of the fall of Goma is unknown to us. I worry about the sanctuary in Bukavu.
But closer to home, Adam is sick, has a fever of 103º, and I’m hoping that it’s malaria.
I can’t believe I’m saying something like that -- “I hope it’s malaria”
Because if so, the first stage of treatments we gave him for malaria earlier today will kick in tonight and he’ll be better by the morning. His fever has persisted through most of the day, despite constant doses of Tylenol.
So if he’s better by morning, I’ll at least be assured that he has something treatable, instead of some unknown malady that I am powerless to control or remedy.
Powerlessness. It’s a common theme here, as pervasive as the thick morning fog.
I said to Adam earlier that a big part of culturally acclimating to life in most of Africa involves relinquishing control. Bikes break down, authorities demand an audience, bribes are solicited -- and there isn’t anything that someone can do about it. If anything, the inconvenience of the stress itself is less taxing that the exasperation that comes with the fight against the powerlessness.
But right now, it feels scary. Not because Goma is unstable. Goma is always unstable, and while part of me worries the other part of me is cynically nonplussed.
Adam being sick is another problem altogether, larger, in a sense -- less grand but far closer to home -- yet the rational part of me tells me to wait until the morning to worry.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
But of course, there are always funny things that you say by accident.
Here are some funny examples -- my incorrect translation followed by the actual word I was trying to say:
“Ooo, please wash these clothes, they are salty! [dirty]”
“Is this water noisy? [boiled]”
“Let’s have soup today, because I want to eat him! [I want him to eat]”
Someone should also let me know if the videos made it to YouTube.
Hope you’re all okay!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
“Other people will be praying to God tomorrow --
We are praying to Information - our scriptures are written in 1s and 0s”
Now we just must cross our fingers that Seba can fix the generator during the day today!
Friday, October 24, 2008
The idea behind the thought had been that whatever animal you study will probably be the animal you’d hallucinate in a white mosquito net. But in his malarial state, anything he said probably would have made no sense.
It’s appropriate to say in the rainy season, but when it rains, it pours. Not only is Cleve terribly sick, but the generator fizzled out tonight. I think Adam and I ended up going to be at 7:30. It definitely left me with a feeling of well-restedness this morning (it’s Saturday at 8:35 am now) but it’s still a bit lame.
Malaria is a tough illness here -- it’s allegedly treated with a variety of over-the-counter medications, though calling them over-the-counter implies that there are any drugs here that are UNDER the counter.
All the malaria drugs have here some sort of “catchy” name that involves DOX (for Doxycycline) or QUINE (for the Quinine in most of the ingredients), but their efficacy is completely unknown. Additionally, they’re often stored in damp, hot warehouses, so basically, you never know what you’re going to get. At least Forrest Gump knew that anything he chose would be delicious and chocolatey.
Malaria is neither of the two.
Cleve had taken a drug recommended by the guys here by the name of MALADOX. It’s manufactured in India, and, we’ve determined through painful trial and obvious error, that it does nothing for us whiteys.
One wonders, when reading the label, how anyone ever subjected themselves to such a complete lack of knowledge about what they were putting in their bodies!?
These are exact excerpts from the instructions inside the box:
“What is MALADOX?
MALADOX is an antimalarial drug. Sulfadoxine is an ultra long acting sulfonamide. In combination with pyrimethamine the effect is supra-additive. It may be employed as a clinical curative. Another advantage of the drug combination is that the development of resistance is retarded.
How does MALADOX work?
MALADOX action is based on a differential requirement between host and parasite for nucleic acid precursors involved in growth as it selectively inhibits plasmodial dihydrofolate malaria.
For whom is MALADOX not suitable?
MALADOX is contra-indicated to patients with severe renal impairment, severe liver parenchymal damage, blood dyscrasias, hypersensitivity to components, megaloblastic anaemia due to folate deficiency.
What are the adverse reactions of MALADOX?
Impaired renal or hepatic function, folate deficiency, severe allergy or bronchial asthma, G6PD deficiency has been observed for long term / high dosage
How does MALADOX interact with other drugs?
Increased effect of warfarin and thiopentone. Pulmonary eosinophilia and agranulocytosis in combination with dapsone. Increased toxicity of methotrexate.”
Seriously? I worked in a lab and I don’t understand most of that.
And of course there’s also “Store in a dark place below 25ºC”. I don’t think such a place exists here.
The hardest part of it all, of course, is having to listen to Cleve suffer. I can imagine what he’s going through to some extent, despite never having had malaria, and am just trying to do everything I can to make his days easier.
There is also the knowledge that all of us have that there is really no easy solution to sickness here. American doctors would have no idea what to do with a real virulent case of malaria if Cleve got taken home, and doctors here may know their stuff but hospitals are far from hygienic and no place for someone with a weakened immune system.
So there’s really no other option than toughing it out.
I’m sure, statistically, that either Adam or I will get malaria while we’re here. I can only hope that this second medicine that Cleve is taking will prove to be more useful.
she's about the same ago as Django and a female like Kathe, but is
very pensive and introspective and not quick to warm up to new people.
Finally, after two days at the sanctuary, Bolungwa decides that maybe,
just maybe, Adam is okay.
And he's thrilled to be accepted!
reciprocate! I took my hair down and Django decided that he would
also like to participate!
It get a little dicey when you wonder if you'll still have your hair
at the end of the day, but I figured that Adam could always intervene
if need be.
obsessed with staring at my breasts (and showing them to all of the
Thank god I was wearing a sports bra with a shirt over it, but it
didn't stop her from being INCREDIBLY persistent!
to talk to on the phone yesterday (Thursday). It was so nice to hear
her voice, though it was annoying to need to sit on the front stoop to
get reception, which of course attracted a crowd of looky-loos who
just wanted to stare at me, no matter what my activity.
couldn't drink from a bottle, but once he got the sucking action down,
it clearly calmed and soothed him!
Disclaimer: chimps shown here are orphans, not pets, in a sanctuary
environment designed to minimize any additional trauma. Chimps do not
make good pets.
with. We estimate Kathe to be around 4 or 5. She was kept as a
village pet and tormented by the local kids. She's still extremely
friendly, but possessive about food. Additionally, she is missing
most of her upper teeth. The people in the village said that they
took a hot knife and popped them from her gums.
I'm amazed she still has such a nice temperament, though she can be a
bit much when you're tired!
accustomed to our presence. He's still slightly wary, but he's so
young that in the wild he wouldn't have spent much time away from his
mother anyway. I estimate that he's probably 6 months old, and Cleve
rescued him from the people who were trying to sell him after his
mother was killed nearly 3 months ago. He's so young to have already
had such a tough life!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I finally, finally, finally got to go to the sanctuary to see the other three chimps. And what an amazing trip it was!
We were all moderately healthy - at last! Cleve’s malaria seemed quelled by a night of Maladox. My cough seemed just residual. We all felt good. And Adam had a chimp-pee-free shirt to wear.
Cleve was still a little woozy so he took the motorbike with Seba and Adam and I walked the distance to the sanctuary. Cleve had warned us, but I don’t think we understood fully that children in the village, marveling at our novelty, would follow us down the street much like the Pied Piper. Most of the children were actually quite sweet and funny, making whooping noises and laughing. We heard very few cries of “Mondele” on the way there - (the Lingala word for “whitey”). NO requests for money, which, considering our time on the road and in Buta, is just amazing.
By the time we finally got to the sanctuary, we probably had 100 children following us. It was sort of funny but at the same time I’ll be far more content when the children grow more accustomed to our presence.
Cleve took photos of us, coming in with our bevy of children, which I think might be impractical to post within entries considering our bandwidth limitations, but if I don’t remember that all of the photos I’ve posted thus far are over there on the righthand top of the blog.
I’ve got a couple photos that will be emailed as entries to the blog, too.
Anyway, we cross over the security border of the sanctuary and start to pant-hoot in anticipation of meeting the chimps. And right on schedule there they are!
There are three chimps living in our little makeshift forest sanctuary right now - Kathe, a female I estimate to be around 4 or 5, Bolungwa - a female who is probably under 2, and Django Mayanga, who I’d guess is probably a year to a year and a half.
Kathe is the really rambunctious one - very friendly, very playful, often naughty and definitely very strong. She’s also toothless on top - her previous “owners” - the village who kept her as a pet - decided that she didn’t really “need” those top teeth and popped them out with a hot poker.
Bolungwa is pensive, quiet and sweet. She’s second in the hierarchy and very attached to the caregivers and slow to welcome new people. She always looks like she’s mulling over some very important question, but her temperament is still lovely.
Django, the youngest and the lowest on the totem pole, always seems to be where you’re not expecting him. He’s very selective about being held but when he comes to you, he’ll want affection immediately. He’s a lot like Gari, the last orphan we took in in Goma while I was still there -- he’s a bit nervous and sucks on his bottom lip, or sometimes puts his mouth around your arm and sort of sucks/bites.
Cleve calls him a little vampire, because he kept sucking on Cleve’s neck!
Of course he had to explain fully to the Congolese staff what exactly a “vampire” was, because they had absolutely NO idea.
I will say too that spending time with the chimps made me wonder how my own kids were doing - Gari - Kanabiro - Shege - Yongesa. And I missed them terribly.
Playing with these new kids was great, though. Kathe had an obsession with looking down my shirt and trying to grab my breasts; she doesn’t have a lot of interaction with women and I guess she was curious! But it was definitely something to keep guard of - not only did she try to make me inadvertently flash everyone at the sanctuary, but then she’d proceed to nuzzle my butt or put her face in my crotch or try to take off my pants!
At least buy me dinner first!
It was wonderful time. The caregivers out there are doing a supremely good job - the chimps look happy and well-fed. They get the chance to spend the days in the trees - and actually eat fruit from the trees too!
Boyoma, their intended sanctuary near Kisangani, only barely has a road right now, so I hope that we can stay until it’s at a state that chimpanzees can live there!
With regard to logistics like that, Cleve being sick is actually giving me a chance to manage the day-to-day expenses and issues. It feels good to have a grasp on the goings on, though I’m sure it’ll wear on me the longer I have to do it ;)
The next step, once Cleve is healed, is to sit down and figure out exactly where I plan to take my samples from. Until then, chimpanzees!
The following are some recent extracts from my journal:
October 21, 2008
This has been by far the best day I have had in a long time. Laura still has a bit of a cough, so she reluctantly decides to stay home, but I walk to the sanctuary with Adam, Seba and Jojo. I greet folks as we pass with ‘Yambi’s and ‘Mbote’s, which Adam quickly picks up on. Polycarpe has completely renovated Monganzulu … the road has been cleared, and they have built a mud hut. It looks great! I panthoot my arrival from a distance, and the chimps race out to greet us. Kathe and Adam really hit it off, with Kathe wasting no time playing her favorite game with him --- King of the Mountain on top of his head! She also frequently sticks her butt in his face. I get some great films and photos. While Kathe romps, swings and spins on us, Django Mayango hangs about on the sidelines, repeatedly approaching cautiously and planting on us his bite/kiss greet, or slapping at us jealously. Bolungwa as usual stays in the background, watching us untrustingly. Django urinates on Adam’s Beatles t-shirt, hitting poor old George Harrison straight in the face. ‘You could have at least have pissed on a living Beatle!’ Adam jokingly chides him. Somehow I manage to break a stool and then a bench, on the latter occasion ending up on my back with a post sticking dangerously up between my legs. Kathe and Django swarm over me. Django knocks off my glasses and Kathe gets a hold of them, but I somehow manage to get them back intact. Adam swings Kathe round and round and she guffaws with laugher.. The chimps look so great, and healthy, and happy! I tip everyone generously and will work on the salaries this afternoon. I feel better than I have in many many months!!!! When we get back, I share my photos with Adam and Laura and Adam makes a great report to Laura on the healthiness and liveliness of the chimps. Laura will accompany us tomorrow, and she can’t wait. I think we may finally have come over the crest of the hill.
October 22, 2008
When Seba and Dido were at the Aketi market today around 10:30, a female merchant told them that she was selling chimp meat, and would they like to buy some? Around 14:45, I send Seba on the motorbike to the market, where he is able to photo A SMOKED CHIMPANZEE CARCASS. It is fairly obvious that it is chimp meat, though it is just some ribs and several small pinkish chunks of flesh. The ribs are long and the meat is red. The merchant hoped that Seba would buy the meat. She wanted 2000 francs (roughly $4) for the ribs and ‘petites morceaux’ (in comparison, according to Adam a chicken sells here for roughly $5). The vendor says that the carcass arrived yesterday from the Yoko Forest, brought by the hunter. She is not mad at Seba when he says we do not buy chimpanzees. She tells Seba that a new chimp carcass arrives every 2 or 3 days, usually from the Yoko or Bongolu Forests.
As we are sitting out in the backyard next to groggy Mangé, Laura and then Adam manage to come and join us without any reaction from the sleeping chimpanzee baby. Mangé wakes up with no screams, and rambles around on the blanket in his solitary play (sometimes accompanied by his rocking/humping). After all the dire warnings from the workers that feeding Mangé milk from a bottle would surely never work, that the ‘biberon’ is too big for his mouth, and that poor Mangé would surely dribble the milk all over his chin, Laura easily manages to coax Mangé to totter over on his wobbly little legs. LO AND BEHOLD, he accepts the bottle from Laura, eagerly slurping down the milk after a few tentative and ill-advised chews. He then retires to his blanket emitting a series of contented belches. A new friendship has been formed! Congrats to Laura, Mangé and Mr. Polycarpe (Polycarpe has been patiently wearing the orphan around his neck for the last 2 and a half months, a ‘veritable maman de subsitition’!)
Mangé is now totally relaxed around all of us, but it will probably be a while before we can hold him in our arms.
Now, time for malaria medicine!!!
Despite my dizziness, it has been a very pleasant afternoon out back. Adam is reading a Star Wars book and Laura is working on a needlepoint. And ‘un peu de frottage’ against the canvas and towel for Bebe Mangé!
And I become more and more aware that he might be secretly unhappy, because he is, indeed, only here for me. I am glad that he and Cleve went to see the chimps two days ago and that he got a chance to play with Kathe, because it is definitely the creation of joy like that in another being - listening to a chimpanzee laugh - that makes some of the other accompanying hardships a lot easier.
And Congo is harder than a lot of other African countries I’ve lived in. Between the bribery (see entry) and bureaucracy (see entry) and the French, it asks a lot of you, and, as Cleve says, “makes you old.”
Honestly, our house here is nice. The people inhabiting it are nice (including us) and we’ve got a good routine going. We all spend about $4 in total and have fresh bread and tea/coffee for breakfast. Dido is a good cook, and sometimes makes us some exciting meals, like our tomato/banana soup from lunch yesterday. We run the generator at night and recharge all of our crutch-electronic devices. We do actually HAVE a toilet, AND a bathtub!
But the toilet doesn’t actually flush - you pour water from a huge barrel down into the bowl until finally your deposits vanish. The bathtub is pretty dirty and doesn’t have a plug for the drain, so the only option is really to stand in it to bathe with your icy cold, freezing water. Yesterday I took a “bath” during an inopportune time, so the cold water wasn’t refreshing, and the bathroom, honestly smelled like a dump.
(It could be worse - it could always be worse - like in Buta where we squatted on the ground over a porcelain hole in the floor and you tried to pee/etc without getting any splashback or missing the hole. And then got to shower in the SAME ROOM! Woo!)
Or the nights where you feel like if you ate one more bean you just might die.
Wondering, in the evening, why spaghetti is a splurge? Why is it $2 a packet?
Overall I feel extremely happy. I’m preparing to start my research and collections -- Cleve is hoping for a group trip to Yoko before he leaves in mid-November. I feel like I can continue to do great things for the chimps here - already Mange is drinking milk from a bottle instead of eating banana and sweetened-condensed-milk-slop from a bowl on the floor like a dog.
But a big part of my overall hopes and aspirations involve Adam’s happiness, so I will continue to look for ways to improve that.
We had a great time playing with all three of them. I think Jango and Bolingua are starting to warm up to me. As last time, Cathy was still a hoot and was playing with Laura and I non-stop. Laura finally got Cathy to calm down and was grooming her. I think this was the first time the chimps got to play with a female care-giver. All of the guys who work there are great, but they are guys and no how to play with the chimps. Cleve planned to be there for only 20 minutes but ended up staying with us for three hours. Time flies when you are having fun.
We took many pictures and videos. We don't know if we can post them right away on the blog since we have limited transfer every month. If we don't upload it now, we will when we get a chance. We are watching them now and having a great time. Dito just made us dinner and we are about to sit down to eat. I will write again soon.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Everything runs on Africa Time - Pole pole in Swahili -- Mpola mpola in Lugandan --Malembe malembe in Lingala - so if you’re on a tight schedule, you’re due to be stressed and/or disappointed.
A big part of our repose here is getting baby Mange to acclimate to our presence. He’s very mother-bonded to Polycarpe right now - his mother of the past 2 months. He’s honestly the youngest chimpanzee I have ever seen that was confiscated and survived. He might be less than 6 months, but I’d rather have someone better versed in chimps this young to make the final determination.
He’s got some definitely funny quirks, which I attribute to his young orphaning and subsequent confiscation. When he is alone or scared, he lies as flat as possible and stays very quiet, and pulls himself forward with one arm while staying as flat as possible. While it’s funny to watch, it also feels horribly sad that it was ever necessary.
I’m hoping within 2 months that he can be integrated with the other chimpanzees from the sanctuary - Django, Bolungwa and Kathe. They are currently about 15 minutes from here with 2 caregivers and get a lot of playtime in the trees.
Mange, is, I think, still too young to play with the others. He’s still about the size of a loaf of fresh bread. In the interim, Polycarpe is doing a great job of mothering him, but I don’t envy the constant attention required in such a job. I have vivid memories of sitting on the toilet, two chimpanzees on my lap, trying to negotiate a wipe. It’s not easy.
Mange has upgraded from sitting on the veranda and rocking, sometimes screaming when Polycarpe leaves him alone to now wandering through the house looking for him and screaming/momma calling. I nearly tripped over him this morning coming from the bathroom!
Polycarpe needed to go to the hospital to visit his mother yesterday, so we took over Chimp Momma duty. Mange also knows Dido from feeding time, so we had Dido sit with him until he fell asleep. Once he was asleep, Cleve and I crawled over to keep him company so that Dido could do his daily tasks.
Once he woke up, he seemed content with our presence. He sat on his bed and clutched his towel, occasionally rocking and humping it, which is his typical behavior. When he would start looking for Polycarpe, I’d distract him with a little food - some tomato soup he’d been given from our lunch. When that was all gone, and he was clearly still hungry, we decided to try something new.
We’d been told by the guys here after we bought a baby bottle for Mange that “it simply wouldn’t work” and that he couldn’t use it. It was frustrating because firstly, the bottle had been hard to find and secondly, expensive! as everything is here in Aketi when it’s a bit more unusual or rare.
I had Adam grab the bottle and put some milk powder and water in it, and he shook it up and brought it over. Mange was hungry enough, I think, to try most anything, and he definitely start off trying to chew the nipple instead of suck it. Previous to this, they’ve been giving him mashed-up food on a plate and he eats it, lying flat on his belly, sort of like a dog. I don’t like it much, but there wasn’t an alternative.
He doesn’t have real canine teeth yet so the nipple was doing fine, and I kept making the sucky face at him to try and help him out. And then, finally, he got it! Sucking up the milk, with that contented slurpy sound. I was so proud. And of course, Cleve was photo and video-ing. Even he is sometimes obsessive about taking photos, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that one day I can look back on it all in perfect digital preservation.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I’m still a bit sick so I didn’t go -- I know it might be overcautious but I’d rather be over cautious than infect the chimps unwittingly.
We’re all going through the photos now, and everyone just seems relieved to see that the chimps are doing so well.
I can’t wait to go over and meet them! Maybe tomorrow? I hope so!!
I asked Adam how it went, and he said,
“I got peed on by a chimp, and it was GREAT!!”
Monday, October 20, 2008
The Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation has been very generous additionally by offering to give us that 100MB a month, in addition to the use of the BGAN so we want to make the most of it.
Uploading photos and downloading emails and posting blog entries for a week takes about 15 MB, so Adam and I have decided that we’ll use the BGAN every Sunday and not really in between. Blog entries will still be staggered and will reflect the time they were written, not posted, but there will only be updates on Sunday.
I also had to get a new cellphone SIM card because there are no Vodacom towers in Aketi. So here is my new number:
We’re 6 hours ahead of the East Coast, too.
Remember please not to send me huge emails, because I just simply won’t download them.
Anyway, see you all on Sunday!
I wonder, living in Congo, where democracy went wrong here. Since I have arrived here exactly two weeks ago (to Congo itself), I have been to see 3 DGMs (the supposed primary immigration officials) and I have been forcibly summoned to 3 other offices for “security registration.”
Is it because I am a terrorist? Is it because I am here, allegedly for the diamonds? You would imagine that a country would appreciate the immigration of people offering to help defend their natural resources.
And yet, constantly, there is the same routine of being mandated to visit some official who has a withered, weathered picture of Joseph Kabila behind him, a hard look in his eye and a menacing frown. And an open hand.
You must have a folder made at each of these offices, that has all of your information, but also photocopies of all your documents and a photo of you, all of which you must supply.
Each of these meetings has the subtle undertone of extortion and exploitation. It’s all about The Game. The official must look very angry, and make you nervous, and make you believe that you may be thrown in jail or some-such -- and then you, shaking, hand over a large amount of money to “make the problem go away.”
Today, we were accused of not conforming to the law, on purpose. Mr. Prunyface, the official who glared at us from across his desk, demanded that we travel 250km by going BACK to Buta -- today -- right away, because we had broken the law by not seeing a particular official before our departure.
He’d sent us a SECOND INVITATION this very morning with its wrinkled, type-written and tiny menace. It was sort of hard not to laugh, despite being frustrated, considering that it demanded the attention of RESPONSABLE SMOOTH. Of course, it was referencing the person in charge of our NGO (Wasmoeth) but it was definitely funny. Even funnier than our previous invitation.
Mr. Prunyface could barely be heard - he chose to speak extremely quietly, on purpose, and had a thick childish lisp that made him almost unintelligible. But not being able to hear him - which in and of itself makes a person nervous - all the while being accused of breaking the law - or being told that we had purposefully failed to see a gentleman in Buta that we must see.
When, in fact, we had seen 3 officials in Buta. But apparently, one of them “is leaving” so he didn’t count. Now, when we were actually in Buta, the replacement for this official wasn’t even there. He was in a different city altogether, far away.
One wonders why there have to be so many offices at all. Each office claims to be the primary office for the security of Congo, and its people, and registration of immigrants. You must have a folder at each of these offices, too. And pay an administration cost for each of these folders, and then there is an awkward part of each meeting where you know that they are waiting for a bribe - which, in our case - is a bribe that will never come.
These are the sentinels - the watchmen of Congo. They are entrusted with its safety. But in comes the age-old question - Who is watching the Watchmen?
Congo is being sold to the highest bidder. Immigrants come through with the intention of logging and mining and exploiting Congo - but they give the officials a little “pot du vin” and are welcomed in like friends. People, like us, here for protection and conservation, who don’t have infinite resources to throw around, are treated like criminals.
Polycarpe, our wonderful friend and colleague here, came with us to our meeting with Mr. Prunyface and tried to say, as deferentially as possible, that if the Congolese continued to be so xenophobic and treat their visitors so poorly, that no one would ever come in to help.
At which point Mr. Prunyface threw poor Polycarpe out of his office.
I feel like I’ve handled myself extremely well thus far in our bureaucratic meetings, masking my frustration and disdain for their embedded corruption and pointlessness. I’ve learned not to look nervous, and to play a little innocent and a bit dumb, but I think it helps that I’m a woman and that I smile a lot. Really, the last thing I feel like doing is smiling.
No one is monitoring any of these field stations of “security” so they are essentially free to run their offices as they see fit. These individual men, given the charge of “security” tend to go wild with power and money. But where are the checks and balances?
I guess more importantly too, will the utter frustration of even coming to a new city in Congo undermine any attempts at international aide to get the country back on its feet?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
five day ride from Kisangani to Buta to Aketi. The ride left us very
tired and sore. We did rest in Buta for a couple of days, leaving the
entire time of the trip to be 7 or 8 days. Its hard to keep track of
time. During the journey though, we got to see the people who live in
the country side of Congo and the jungle. Almost everyone we met was
very friendly. It was because they wanted money or they were amazed
to see white people. There was a lot of mud. Also everything we
owned got soaking wet. There were many times when the motorcycles
would break down and we would have to wait for the drivers to fix
A couple of times we stopped on the side of the road and slept in the
tent. The first stop after the first day was so nice. Especially
after the first day of riding on a motorcycle on bad road and having
my balls smashed against the seat. Laura and I took a bath by pouring
cold water on ourselves and it felt so good. The second night we
slept in a mud hut. Supposedly it was a hotel. It was also raining
all the time and it was so muddy.
All of this can could have been avoided if people would have paid
attention and gotten us on a plane from the UN that was going from
Kisangani to Aketi and had nine empty seats.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The company I have here - not just Cleve and Adam, but Seba and Polycarpe and even Dido is a constant joy. Valuable yes for scientific feedback and local knowledge, but also the happiness you get when smiling at someone out of the corner of your eye -- it’s something I promise myself not to take for granted.
Our routine is settling in here at the Aketi house. It’s quite a nice house -- indeed a Belgian house with a few remnants of its history remaining. The soldiers ransacked it during the war, convinced the Belgians had hid diamonds and gold in the walls and the ceilings. It is still in mostly good shape, and Adam and I have a nice room in the front with a big window. And of course, a little twin bed, that I think we are actually getting accustomed to sleeping on together.
We put a shelf from the living room in our room and unpacked most of our things. I wish we’d bought more fun books to read, but it’ll encourage me to work on my thesis more.
There is a nice living room and dining room in the house, and a front porch and a back porch. The living room has comfy couches, too, which is a nice change from the back of a motorcycle to sit on.
There is a single bathroom out on the back porch, with a real porcelain toilet and bathtub. The bathtub has definitely seen better days, but I think after a proper scrubbing it will be a lot more sit-and-bathable.
We have a generator that we tend to only turn on at night. We then rush like hyenas to the powerstrip, plugging in everything we can think of. Power! Courant! It’s precious. We tend to never turn it on during the day, and just extend the batteries of our various laptops and devices as far as can be managed.
The funny thing about Aketi is that, since it’s so remote and isolated from nearby towns thanks to the deplorable conditions of the roads and the abandonment of the Belgian railroad, things that exist here for sale all have an artificially inflated price.
Beers are $3 a piece, and sodas are $2. Every beer that comes here comes on the back of someone’s bike, which is a real eye-opener, too, because every empty bottle goes back to the distributor the same way!
There are no large mattresses for sale here - how would they get here? It’s really quite funny, if you think about it!
We just have one chimp at the house here - a male baby Mange - who is still too young to be integrated with the other three who are already at a temporary “sanctuary” in the forest about 15 minutes from here, living with 2 caregivers and their wives, feeding in the forest naturally and also being provisioned.
Two nights ago we splurged on 2 beers a piece, and 1 for Mr. Polycarpe, and turned on the generator and we plugged in the laptops and played music and danced around and had rousing conversations about anything.
Sometimes it’s these times that I come to appreciate the most - times where it feels like there is no responsibility and we can just enjoy the night. We played Bob Marley for Polycarpe, which he loved, and I just felt warm and happy.
I hope for more nights like these in the future!
Finally, a little BGAN for internet connection.
Finally, a little respite.
It feels great to be here. I’m a little sick, so I won’t go to see most of the chimps until I’m well.
The police already came by to register us, promising if we didn’t feel like going to the office that he’d take our passports and “promise to return them on Monday” Ha!
Thankfully, Polycarpe got them to go away.
I’m so glad to be sitting and have nothing to do today. Blog entries to write! Memories to record! Naps to take!
A couple of times we stopped on the side of the road and slept in the tent. The first stop after the first day was so nice. Especially after the first day of riding on a motorcycle on bad road and having my balls smashed against the seat. Laura and I took a bath by pouring cold water on ourselves and it felt so good. The second night we slept in a mud hut. Supposedly it was a hotel. It was also raining all the time and it was so muddy.
All of this can could have been avoided if people would have paid attention and gotten us on a plane from the UN that was going from Kisangani to Aketi and had nine empty seats.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
It made me especially happy then to be able to help arrange a movie night while we were in Buta at our friend David’s house. David has a “large” television, and a generator, and I’d brought the IMAX film: “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees” on DVD.
It’s a film I got when I was working at the Jane Goodall Institute in Maryland, and I don’t imagine I ever thought it would make it this far! But how amazing that it had a French language track! It meant that the kids could watch it and understand how important it was, and of course they laughed too at the footage of baby chimps at play.
I sat in the dark and watched their illuminated faces, fixated on the screen, excitedly asking questions about everything they saw.
And you really know it’s all worth it.
In fact, everywhere you go you see houses of the Good Reverend Diamond. Cleve took pictures that he’s offered to let me use -- an abundance of signs that advertise JUIF NOIR -- Black Jew -- and a crudish painting of a diamond. It’s big business, and I think, as a result, Buta’s officials at the very least get a bit of an inflated sense of self, or at least of self-importance.
Buta, however, does not get a lot of whites, so riding around on the back of a motorcycle, one almost feels like the queen or the pope, without the popemobile or the bulletproof glass. Schoolgirls erupt into Beatles-Fangirl-like screams, sometimes falling to the ground. Everyone is yelling, “Mondele! Mondele!” (Lingala for “whitey” like the swahili word, “Mzungu”)
All the while, you sit primly on the back of the bike, giving them the pageant wave, and smiling as though you mean it. What you wouldn’t pay, sometimes, to just blend in.
Mama Cecile’s house was a nice change -- we actually had a double bed to sleep in and good food to eat. Cleve got us some Primus - Congolese beer - which I actually like quite a lot though others might disagree. It felt good too to just exhale and take it all in. A million people stopped by to pay us visits - I’m not even sure now who they all were but word spreads fast when there are two new whiteys in town.
It shouldn’t have surprised us, then, when the assistant to the DGM came by to insist that we go and register ourselves at his office at once. We made an appointment and were off.
Congolese love their paperwork, and there’s this pretense that it’s somehow official as they write your name on a blank sheet of paper with a pen that they borrowed from someone else in the office, because the office only HAD one pen.
They look at your very sternly, and try to intimidate you and make you long to give them your money just to make the meeting go by quicker. Meanwhile, there is a goat bleating in the lobby.
In perspective, it really is quite laughable, though one must not laugh. It is, again, part of The Game.
We had slight problems because Cleve’s research permits did not have the NEW flag on them, so they were made BEFORE the edits to the constitution and were therefore somehow inherently invalid. Gotta have that stripe of red to commemorate all of the blood spilled here, you know.
They also demand photocopies of all of your documents, color copies of your passport and visa, but they do not actually have a photocopy machine so it is up to you to go to the café and expensively scan and print these things, and then bring them over.
In addition, of course, to the $20 per person charge for “administration fees.” I asked for a receipt for this cost, yet, somehow, I never got it.
We thought we were done with our official visits that night, when a man came by and very sternly gave us Official Invitations™ to a Very Official Meeting™ with a different government agency... at 10 am the following morning, which effectively put the kibosh on our plans to leave at 6 am for Aketi.
We called Cleve’s friend, a very high-up official in Buta, to see if this meeting was, in fact, necessary and not just another ploy to take more money from us. He assured us after calling the chief of the office that it would be very quick, very simple, and only cost us $10 a person.
Ha! He should have also told us that the road was paved after 6km.
We arrive at this lovely old Belgian building which is pretty bombed out. A very old man up front takes our names and our professions, and we are escorted back to a very official office that just happens to have only 3 walls. But, as a result, a very lovely view of the outdoors!
The wind on our backs, we sit down and are schmoozed by this extremely drunk official who always seems to squint with one eye. It makes it difficult to gauge whether he is winking at you, or contemplating stabbing you with his friend’s pen.
He explains to us that his office is in charge of the security of all of Congo, and it is very important work, and he is protecting the country and of course, (lastly) us. We are then handed an extremely long list of questions which includes gems like:
What village do you live in?
What is your tribe?
Is your tribe patriarchal or matriarchal?
To whom do you confide all of your most intimate secrets?
He is very confused when we tell him that we do not have a tribe, and that yes, New York is very large but it does not have any villages. It also includes who our possessions should go to if we die, what our religions are, and who we voted for in the last election.
Though much of it seems innocuous, there are certainly some questions that he seems to take more seriously, and slants his squinty eye at us accusingly. He wants to know what jobs we had, and why we left them, and what we want to do overall. There is a personality survey on the back, where he asks Adam accusingly whether or not he is driven to anger easily.
There is a section about our ability to give public demonstrations and speeches, and of course, what is the AMOUNT of our loyalty, not to DRCongo, but to JOSEPH KABILA its PRESIDENT. It left me wondering for sure whether we were at an interview or an inquisition.
We are again asked to proffer photocopies of all of our documentation, and to stamp our thumbprint so many times that I wonder if my thumb will ever be clean. Every page must be signed and dated, and we must guarantee that we are not lying on any page.
He is also suspicious of all of the time I spent in Uganda. How long had it been since I left? And did I KNOW that Uganda is menacing Congo? Am I spy? Really, it was not to be believed.
We also needed to provide photos, which Adam had also printed at the Cybercafé in town. We didn’t have any scissors, so Drunk Official offered to cut them with a tiny broken razor and ruler. As he cut my photos, he started slobbering a bit, saying that he was going to keep one of my photos, as a remembrance of me, and hold it close to his heart, and think of me.
It was extremely, extremely creepy.
Oh, and we also had to pay him $20 a person, not $10, because our paperwork was “special” --
Another registration fee. At least we got a receipt.
At the end of the meeting, we were called into the big boss’ office, which did in fact have four walls, where he grilled us about the phonecall he’d received from the higher authority, our friend.
As a woman, negotiation is easier here because no one really takes you seriously anyway. So you smile and laugh a little and play a bit dumb, and no one suspects a thing.
We did decide, however, upon leaving the meeting that we’d leave Aketi right away.
And we did, thankfully, after a blitz of packing and preparation! Another entry for the trip from Buta to Aketi. My battery is about to die.
We’d planned to leave early in the morning on Thursday but had received the invitation from the government office “requesting” our presence at this 10 am meeting. So when we actually left, it was close to 2pm already.
I’d forgotten the aches of the bike already, but there was a bit of excitement in the air because here we all were, going together -- Une Voyage Ensemble!
Cleve was taking video of us all going along, too. It was a real adventure.
Of course, we come to a place where I don’t see Adam OR Cleve behind me, so Matthew (the driver) and I decided to stop. I waited forever until finally, Adam came by.
But Cleve was still missing, and we wondered what had happened. Here we’d fled, like thieves in the night, through back roads out of Buta, just trying to get away from the endless invitations to additional registrations. And we’d escaped! But not all together!?
Finally, a different motorbike driver came by and let us know - the messages of the road - that Cleve’s bike had broken down, and that Cleve was resting in a village while Seba (his driver) went back to Buta for the part.
Go back to fetch Cleve or continue on? It was a tough decision, and there was no cellphone reception, and what do you do when you’re given the choice of continuing on out of a bad town or leaving a “fallen” comrade behind?
We did end up leaving, but I sent another message along the road to Cleve, letting him know we’d await him in the next big town.
The road was a bit better than the road from Kisangani, but it was still quite bumpy and rough. My driver at least knew at this point that I would need to rest and walk occasionally -- so it wasn’t as taxing. But when it began to pour, and we realized that all of our rainjackets were strapped to the luggage bikes far ahead!
We stopped in a tiny village and hid under their insufficient rain cover, and I managed to find Adam’s rainjacket in the one bag we had with us, but not mine. It still wasn’t really a place to stay, so I insisted, courageously/stupidly, that we should continue on.
Of course, the roads that had previously been hard and rough were now soft and watery, which only made them more dangerous. Unlike the trip from Kisangani to Buta where tiny villages were scattered along the route often, the road to Aketi was much more remote and villages were few and far between.
One could only hope, squinting through the pouring, thundering, overwhelming rain that a tiny village could be seen. The forest would feel like it was pulling away, and thinning from its dense green thickness and I would just say to myself “village, village, village, please let it be a village.”
Finally, it was, and it was, in fact, the village where the first two luggage bikes had also chosen to stop. No sign of Cleve, but plenty of mud!
We wanted to pitch our tent and just get warm - I’d had no rain protection and I was pretty cold, and the ground was pretty muddy so the villagers insisted that we pitch our tent inside this round open-sided house. It still amuses me, the idea of putting our house inside another house.
It felt once again like we were committing sorcery -- in the 2 foot space between the walls of the round house and the thatched roof we saw a million faces. It was sort of like one of those horror films where you’re surrounded by ghosts - except all you could really see in the dark were the reflections in the whites of the villagers’ eyes.
I crawled into the tent immediately and took off all of my wet clothes to warm up and passed them out to Adam to dry off, not realizing of course that this left me without clothes inside the tent, nude, and sort of stuck! There was one point in the night where, desperate to pee, I just held it until morning. I cannot imagine the faces of people seeing a naked whitey peeing in the bushes.
But the night still passed without incident, though with plenty of rain. Early in the morning once again, we headed out on our way to Aketi. With still no sign of Cleve.
We did, however, see a villager who looked just like Gary Coleman! Incessantly curious, she continued to hang within three feet of us, smiling her Gary Coleman smile but saying and doing nothing else. The thought of her face still makes us chuckle.
The road was saturated with water, though this was not the worst of our problems. Several trees had fallen across the road at different points, and because it was still early they had not really been tended to. Upon arrival of two whites, anyone who had been working would immediately stop and insist that we pay them to continue. It was, indeed, a bit of a scam.
We also saw a fair amount of primate bushmeat, which I’d of course seen photos of previously, but it still burns in your mind, images of bikes dangling with limp, dead guenons or baboons hanging slack-jawed from sticks like freshly caught fish.
The road once again felt endless - bumpy and muddy and wild - but the glimmering light of our final arrival in Aketi - and the knowledge afterwards that we would not have to travel further - kept us going. Motorcycle breakdowns were frequent too, but a welcome respite from the road. I’m not even sure how the chain of my driver’s bike stayed on at all, considering how often it seemed to fall off.
Additionally, there was a new terror -- imagine, if you would, for a minute:
It is pouring rain, dark with drops, and you’re covered in mud. Your bike stops in front of an old railroad bridge that seems precariously balanced on the slippery muddy slopes on either side. The original wood under the tracks themselves has long since deteriorated, and has been replaced with moldy, slippery, thin tree trunks. Over these trunks have been nailed long, sodden wooden planks, cracking at the joints and never more than 2 feet wide. It’s on these planks that people cross with motorcycles, or bicycles laden with items. You can hear them creak and haw with each new step.
You must cross this bridge, on foot, counting each step carefully and hoping that the bottom of your shoes are not as muddy as you know that they are. All you can feel is the beating of your own heart and the constant dripping of water on your face and head. You can hear the rushing of the water beneath you, wild with the rainy season. And you know, somewhere down there (as told to you earlier the day before), that there are crocodiles down there too.
It is not a bridge crossing I care to repeat. Sure, Indiana Jones would have survived with more surety, but I haven’t got his resources.
The final arrival at Aketi was so joyous - despite my pain and road-weariness, seeing the welcome sign just filled me with energy again. It’s so easy to get discouraged when you are seemingly defeated by such a small distance - 130km total is a miniscule in the US - only 78 miles - a distance you could drive in an hour on good roads. But to feel like you continue to move forward, and continue to be in pain, and each village looks seemingly the same enables this irrational fear that you will, in fact, never reach your destination.
And yet here we are!
Our original plans of traveling frequently to Buta to use the internet café are squelched, possibly to be reconsidered during the dry season. And Kisangani during Christmas seems even more remote. I cannot imagine choosing to make that journey again.
Note: Amazingly, 5 “short” hours after our arrival in Aketi, Cleve also arrived -- tired, muddy, but happy to have made it. He’d had a restless night in a small village outside of Buta ridden with bedbugs, but was otherwise fine.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
four-day harrowing motorcycle journey through the wilds of Northern
Congo. But sadly, we are caught a bit off-guard currently, having
arrived in Buta only today!
Our laptops are charging, our spirits are refreshing, and right now, I
think our minds just arent in it. Plus, this French keyboard sucks
ass. It takes forever to zrite anything.
We do have amazing stories though -- and an amazing matching mystery
rash!! Photos to come!!
But be rest assured that we are alive, finally bathed and getting to
sleep in a real live bed!
Lots of love to all -- and more news tomorrow.
At one point I got off of my bike only to discover that my cheap raingear from Outdoor World had ripped all the way up my right leg and into my crotch and that I was, in fact, standing pantsless in the middle of the jungle. Or should I say ... in the bush?
Adam changed rainpants with me, leaving him with pants-pseudo-skirt to wear. If it hadn’t been blue and plastic, it might have been sort of cool and Neo-from-the-Matrix-esque. Alas.
We did make it to Buta, finally, after a police check that seemed to last forever as the rain poured down on us. You’d think they’d be a bit speedier because of the rain, but no. Thankfully no bribes were exchanged and we did finally make it to Mister Cash, the home of Cleve in Buta! Yay!
Olivier took video of our soggy, mud-sodden arrival and Cleve took a photo, which I posted already. I’d never been so glad to be anywhere, and it was amazing to think that it had been over a year since I’d seen Cleve last. But he was wearing the shirt I’d gotten him at the Duke Primate Research Center, and it made me smile.
The journey wasn’t over by any stretch, but we knew we’d be at least a day in Buta, and the knowledge that I could sleep in the following day and NOT sit on a motorbike was a gift!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Boom! Bike breakdown. Adam’s driver discovered that he had water in his engine from one of the many puddles we’d gone through. They’d originally thought it would be a quick and easy problem, but when 2 hours had passed and the bike seemed to be being taken apart instead of put back together, we realized it might be a bigger issue.
It is always slightly alarming when you go over to check on your bike drivers and they are sitting, looking worried, and there are 1000 wires hanging from the sides of the bike. It wouldn’t usually bode well.
We were only 80km from Buta, but we decided to stay in this tiny 3 hut village for the night. Had we left for Buta then at 4:30, most of the journey would have been at night and Adam’s driver didn’t drive so well during the day, let alone during the night. Nothing is scarier than being told to dismount from a bike to get through the mud, getting off, then having the bike drive away, taking its headlight with it. There you are, left alone, in the dark, in a field of mud in the middle of jungley forest. Not too safe feeling!
So we pitched our tent, and felt like sorcerers as the entire village watched us create a lime-green home from a teeny black bag.
It was nice to get away from the bugs and the stares, but the ground was pretty hard to sleep on. There were two tiny puppies in the village to snuggle -- ratty, flea-invested and hollow -- but it was a nice connection. The old grandmother kept saying to me in Lingala that she needed a doctor and could I help? I felt bad to say no, but there was really nothing I could have done.
It was nice too to sleep under the clear moonlight -- we’d be woken every once in a while by the sound of the skinnier dog eating the bugs who were attracted to the glow of our green tent.
We mounted the bikes again after putting on our old dirty, muddy smelly clothes and also put on our rain jackets and rain pants. The road through Banalia was quick because our next step was to load the bikes onto these huge dugout canoes to be taken across a large river.
We’d been told there would be canoes to take us across “swamps” -- I’m not sure who would call this a swamp, but it was really quite astonishingly large.
While we waited for the bags to be taken off the back of the bikes yet again, the DGM (a local official) came by and asked us to come into his office. I thought we were heading there to pay for the boat ride but instead he took our passports, and proceeded with the basic immigrations rundown. He claimed to known Michel, our project manager, and we talked like friends.
Then, he told us that it would cost us each $30 for “administration fees” because he and his comrade had had to write our names on paper. It’s a typical scam, which I’ll write more about in my entry on bribery, but it’s all about intimidating you out of your money.
I told him that I’d call Michel to ask if $30 per person was the correct price, and his face gave it all away. As Cleve and I call it, it’s typical of “the game” -- so I knew that I wasn’t going to be forking over $60. He didn’t know it yet, so we talked a little more, continually telling him that I’d call Michel to check.
Eventually, he succumbed and said, “Well, you can give me a little ‘sugar’ .... if you want to.”
Literally translated, by the way. It’s one of those ridiculous pretenses, because who EVER *wants* to give a bribe? We still gave him $20 and went on our way.
The boat ride was a bit nervewracking because it was so low to the ground. But I felt like the day was promising, because this DGM guy had said, “Oh, the road from here to Buta is MUCH better than the road from Kisangani to here. After 6 km, it’s paved!!”
Ha! What a huge joke! We only managed to make it to Akole on Saturday. The roads were terrible, and muddy, and terribly muddy. There would be periods where you could see nothing but mud ahead -- seas of mud, and water, and gulches of water and branches and leaves. The mud was like quicksand -- one wrong step and you’d be sucked down to your knees.
There was no paving now. Vestiges of pavement from a road long since gone sometimes, a road from thirty or fourty years ago. The drivers were experts at navigating the terrain -- my impulse would have always been to avoid the water puddles, but if water was pooling, it meant the ground underneath was too solid to absorb it.
We finally got to a small town -- Akole -- where the first two drivers had already stopped with our bags, and they’d procured us lodging in a small “hotel.”
Another single bed, no light, but a tiny window. The door didn’t have a lock, but it did have this very heavy car part to hold the door closed. A bed is a bed is a bed, sometimes (even if we think in retrospect that there were bedbugs or mites in it) and even the brief respite was welcome.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
You’d think with a butt like mine that a long motorcycle ride wouldn’t be a problem. Ample cushioning! But no, you’d be wrong. I have pain in places that I didn’t even know existed! What a journey it was -- what an adventure. What an experience that I can live without being repeated.
We left on a Friday long ago. Four motorbikes were hired, though it felt like setting up a Rube Goldberg contraption in order to actually get on the road.
They hadn’t bought gas yet, even though we were supposed to have left already. They couldn’t port us over the bridge because they didn’t have the proper papers. But when we went to the location outside of Kisangani, they weren’t actually there, or ready. We received a phonecall saying that they finally had the gas, but were at the bridge, not allowed to cross carrying the gas. Then we had to send the car back to fetch them. What a spectacle!
Finally we were on the road. I’d imagine that a trip via motorbike over long distances in the USA is a bit different -- the road is paved, smooth, and the bike seat might be a bit squishier.
Surely it’s something I never thought about, but might have had I known. Squatting on the back of a motorbike alone is taxing on the legs and the thighs and the butt, but (but but) -- going over bumps and mud and hills and twigs and frogs and whatevers -- wow. It’s a whole new level.
The first day might have been the hardest too. I was still “enjoying” my time of the month, and the shockwaves through the whole of my body every time we hit a crag in the road was almost unbearable.
We’d left by 10 am and the total distance between Kisangani and Buta is about 400km. Banalia, a town on the way, is about 120km from Kisangani. We got to Banalia the first night around 7pm. I kept asking “Il y a combien des kilometres maintenant?” -- it’s a point where you feel so desperate and so alone and I’d kept riding to the point of tears merely for the sake of continuing on.
Despite remembering what an awful, tearful time it was, waging through the night on the back of my bike into the mud and brush, unable to see or think about anything except lying down, or going home, it still continues to be a revelation. And something I appreciate.
If anything, it helps to know that even when you reach your breaking point, and there is mud caked in your mouth and on your hands, and cascades of pain through your lower body, and tears streaming down your face and twigs in your hair, and you think to yourself, I simply cannot continue...
... you can. And knowing that even the limits you superimpose on yourself can be breached is a gift in and of itself.
We did finally reach Banalia, and found lodging in an old Belgian-built church. The rooms were small and sparse (including the bed, which was a tiny twin!) but to take off our muddy clothes and flop onto something non-moto-related was heavenly. (No puns intended.)
There was no bathroom in the room, just a floor-shower with a big bucket of cold water, but Adam and I sat together on the floor, and poured cold water on each other in the dark. And laughed.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I’ve become so nonchalant; today there was screaming in the streets! Whistling, yelling, and Adam sat up suddenly, wondering what was going on.
“Bah,” said I, “it’s just a parade going by or some excitement over a football match.”
And, believe it or not, there were people protesting in the streets! Against the UN! They’re accusing them of “selling our country to the rebels.” If they only realized it was their own leaders. Well, in some part.
This hotel - Le Chalet - is extraordinarily nice. I’ve already started feeling at home here, though I’m really very eager to get to Aketi and see the chimps and settle in.
Tomorrow’s ride stands to be a real challenge, and a real adventure. It has been raining for 2 days straight, so the roads are bound to be mud-filled. It might take us three days instead of two, since we’re only intending to go 120km of the 500km total tomorrow, stopping right before the first “swamp” -- or, super thin but deep watery place that a boat takes us across. According to different sources, this boat is either $5 for a motorcycle and $1 for a person, or $10 per bike.
See, this is the “game” -- And isn’t it fun?
Daniel took us today to buy helmets for the ride, which was a great gesture. He surprised us today by telling us his actual age - 68 - surprisingly mostly because he is SO spry! You’d never imagine he was that old!
But I do take a great comfort in feeling like he is treating us like he is an excited father -- eager to share, but also to protect.
I’m channeling my parents in imagining how happy they will be to know that I have my very own helmet! Thick and red - just like my own head!
I now know that a good portion of my tiredness and malaise yesterday was due to certain womanly and monthly-elements, which will definitely make the ride tomorrow more “interesting” for lack of a better adjective!
But I’m excited nonetheless. Cleve and I have decided to do faecal FTA swabs and GPS coords for each chimp Adam & I pass tomorrow. He said the last time he came through it was like “chimp highway” -- so we shall see. It’ll be a great indicator of where these kids are coming from.
Cross your fingers for a weekend with no rain! Fat chance ;)
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
We're at Daniel's house -- who I didn't speak much about but should have. He's a fantastic employee of the NGO as well, has been taking supremely good care of us and offering us especially wonderful company.
Adam was flipping through Daniel's television and found a pre-recorded French-dubbed version of Monday Night Football.
Sometimes, the world is just funny.
There's always an acclimation period. It's not about the language, or the jetlag. Or maybe not about any of these things singly. I'm settling back into my old routines for sure -- much to the chagrin I'm sure of my parents, but I swear -- Gin & Tonic keeps the mosquitoes away!
I haven't eaten anything super exciting (to answer Rachel's question). Vegetarian options in Mzungu establishments are generally limited to spaghetti napolitaine and Champignons on Toast (mushrooms). Both of which I enjoy, so I've had no problems.
Our hotel in Kisangani is actually really nice. I'm completely unused to hotels having air conditioning but again, it's a lot hotter here than I'm used to. Muggier, a bit more humid, but after seeing this lush, untouched jungle this morning I can really see why.
We saw the beginnings of the road that Daniel is building to the shore to get to the new chimp sanctuary's island -- it's a gorgeous road, very well-constructed and durable, but I'm also a bit torn about it - it cuts through pristine jungle-y forest, and already locals are using the road to burrow deeper in the forest, clear-cutting areas for living and farming already! It's like leaving an open vein in a drug addict -- the road will help bring construction materials out to the sanctuary, but at what cost?
There are always so many more than 2 sides to the coin out here. I used to have a firm belief that you COULDN'T help the people and help the primates at the same time -- they were two opposing needs. I guess it was the influence of Geza (Teleki) at GWU.
But the more time I spend here, the more I realize that you can't think of things like that -- being disdainful of the misuse of the environment here would only be hypocrisy. Think of all the natural resources we squandered in North America before we started caring about Whole Foods Market and recycling. I feel like a better approach would be "Learn from our mistakes," though this is rarely a tactic employed by the conservationist here.
People are simply trying to survive, the same as any animal would in a similar situation.
At the hotel, there are 3 stray cats who "live" there but aren't fed, and beg from the whiteys at the tables at dinner. And they'll eat anything! Anything! Bread, french fries, cole slaw, hot peppers -- I may complain about the overpopulation of the human race, but bravo for us for managing to eek out a living in such rough, varied climates.
Currently, I'm trying to boost myself up for the next leg of our trip -- from Kisangani to Aketi. We'd originally planned to fly with Aviation Sans Frontiers, but they're closing their doors now that the UN is no longer funding them, and all of the flights before their last day (the 19th) are completely booked.
As an alternative, we'll be going by motorbike, which, according to Cleve, is a difficult journey that will leave our butts sore and our spirits dampened. He calls it "Bushmeat Highway". I'll admit the adventuresome spark that is hidden deep within my pure exhaustion at the moment sees it as a great opportunity of something to do once ;) But at the same time, it will definitely be an adventure in the Reality Television Show vein as well I'm sure.
I'm sure there were other things I wanted to write about. I should mention that being umbrella'ed under a bigger NGO has made certain tasks extremely easy, to the point of incredulity. We were ushered like rockstars to the airport in Kinshasa, and guided through the check-in process by a series of people who asked information of us, went away, and came back with everything we needed. We haven't been custom-searched once since arriving. It has cost us, of course (an entry on bribery to come), but the ease is a welcome change.
When we arrived at Kisangani, other gents went off to collect our bags with our bag tags, and amazingly, they were all there! My anxiety about flying locally in Congo was not without merit (the takeoff time in Kinshasa seemed *excessively* long) but we'd made it. Daniel was there to pick us up and was friends with the immigration officer, so we went to the head of the line and were through the airport, no muss, no fuss.
I will definitely take more photos tonight and tomorrow, but expect little contact in the next few days. We head off to Aketi allegedly on Friday and will arrive there on Sunday. Or maybe to Buta on Sunday!
I'm not even sure, but right now, I am too tired to care.
There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that we got to Kisangani okay. We met up with Daniel. He is from Belgium. He is very nice and had people help up in both Kinshasa and Kisangani when we were getting on and off the plane. He had us setup in nice hotel and he is helping us to get to Aketi. We are having a great time in here in Kisangani.
The bad news is that it looks like the only way we are getting to Aketi is by motorcycle. This would be a two day ride and we would have to camp out for one night, and that is if the motorcycles don't break down. Daniel is helping us with getting the bikes, so we might be here for a few days. I am not complaining though. This hotel is great.
Daniel, Laura and I had dinner last night. We talked with him about the chimps, Africa and all the great things he has done in his life. He has a lot more life than his age. We ate, drank and talked all evening.
Today we took a look at the road that is being built to the future site of the sanctuary. We had a chance to see the building of the road and the forest in Kisangani. The forests of Kisangani are so beautiful. They are pretty much untouched. The forests are tropical, exotic and breathtaking. It's a memory that will cherish for the rest of my life.