Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Having a great time enjoying all things Indian. Yesterday was a culinary delight...Shirley outdid herself. I had dinner plans to see some friends from The News-Press days; so, Shirley made Ragda Patties for us for lunch.  These are potato patties that are fried. The patties get put in a bowl and are covered with a chickpea sauce. This is then topped with a sweet date chutney and a tamarind chutney. The next layer is a nice spicy green chile and coriander chutney that has onions, lime, garlic and salt added. We kept building! Atop that came chopped tomatoes and onions and then, the last layer of topping was sev. (pronounced: save) Sev is a crunchy noodle made with chick pea flour. When all was layered and built up, we mashed it all together and gobbled it down.

The second round was called Bhel Poori and that started with diced boiled potatoes, topped with onions, tomatoes, and the sweet and green chili chutneys from above. We added a layer of puffed rice, sev and poori, which is a chip made from whole wheat flour, rice flour and cream of wheat and then fried. The poori we crumbled up on top and then, again, mashed and mixed it all together.

Apparently, once the chutneys are made, one can modify the meals and tastes quite easily. Later in the day, we went to a new Indian market and I bought a few items to bring home. What was amazing was the number of chutneys one can purchase. And, any sauce is called a "chutney." Wish we had easy access to ethnic foods in Caseville.

We also stopped at Beall's Outlet of my favorite places for a quick stop and shop experience. Found a couple of tops and a Christmas gift.

When I got back to Shirley's house after dinner, I had an email from regarding a hotel reservation I made for the night between my DRC trip and this Florida trip. At one point, my travel plans butted up against each other and I would not have been able to get any rest after the lengthy DRC trip before heading to the airport in Flint to leave for Ft. Myers. So, I decided to stay in Saginaw, wake up and head to the Flint airport the next morning. Tickets were later changed which allowed me to go home, sleep, unpack, repack and head to Flint. Despite calling to cancel, the web folks don't believe I did this. This morning's email asked who I spoke with to cancel my booking. Hmmm...wrote down the date I did this and the number I called but didn't take the person's name. Another lesson learned.

Went for a nice warm walk yesterday morning. Great to be out in the sunshine and wonderful to be able to move comfortably. November 17 and out in shorts and t-shirt: HEAVEN!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kinshasa seems like just yesterday. However, I am in the depths of planning a trip to India and Cambodia, staying with Shirley and Lily who are from Bangalore, India and I am immersed in all things Indian, including a huge array of Indian foods, sweets and drinks. As I try new eats, I mention foods from other countries that I have eaten with glee. These ladies would NOT eat caterpillars...but we are laughing together and they are watching my face as I try items, like the sweet treat called, "barfy." Sounds nasty but very tasty!

Back to Kinshasa....While travelling on the tour and to and from the Embassy and training, we passed traffic robots. These are very innovative and some of them actually worked. These robots were created in the DRC and parallel our traffic lights, except...these are robots. Check out an article and photos by Aljazeera, a news organization. Or, just google, "DRC traffic robots" to see how cool these are. There was no chance to take a photo...traffic is wild in Kinshasa.

At the National Museum, there were a couple of sculptures which had been moved from another area of the city to this park area which used to be the home of President Mobutu's Palace. It is a huge property with a large amphitheater where George Foreman once boxed. This statue represents the horrors of the building of the first railway here by the Congolese. It is difficult to see, but there is a prone body lying in front of these working men. He is dead as so many died while building the railway for the conquerors, who were rich and powerful.

The military statue represents the Belgian Army's defeat of the Germans. Belgium truly imprinted this country with everything from food, arts, and language. Right after WWII, industry arrived and the quality of life for many Congolese improved. This is a very poor country with a fairly low literacy rate. Families must pay a certain amount of money per child for an education and many families cannot afford that. While in the park, which used to be Mobutu's zoo, we passed a toddler...filthy, small pair of almost whole shorts and all alone. A lady I was walking with asked, "Should we tell someone he is all alone?" We talked about it and left the boy alone. Clearly, he knew where he was going. He wasn't crying and he was digging in the dirt. I suggested he might be looking for bugs or worms to eat which is normal in many countries. We continued our walk down the walk way and never saw another Congolese person. No other child, female or male in this huge park. We passed our tour group members...but no one else. He appeared totally alone. I have thought of him often as I decide I have had too much to eat, or I cannot take another bite.

When we stopped by a small street market for a quick look at local "art" I negotiated the purchase of two masks for our wall of masks from around the world. The larger, which I don't have a photo of but will take when I get home, is from the Ngwaka tribe which is an Equatorial group. The smaller mask is Kisai. One of the guides came with me because I knew the only thing I would buy would be masks. I don't speak French and thought I might need help. I was offered many masks but chose the larger one I thought I might like and was given a price which I knew was the start of round one. We came to a reasonable price....most likely more than I needed to pay and I continued on back to the bus. I was seated and we were waiting for a couple more folks to board the bus and the man I had bought the mask from tapped on my window. He had several small masks in his hand and offered me a deal. I laughed...negotiated a lower price and then, took a dollar off of that deal and gave him $3.00. He was clapping his hands as he walked away!

Near the amphitheater at Mobutu's former residence is a cemetery where many who fought in the war are buried. Most were Belgians and Dutch fighters. As you can see, this is not a well kept area. Yet, other parts of this huge estate/now museum are presentable. The photo below is the walkway we were traversing when we say the child all by himself. He was to the left of us digging in the dirt.

I tried very hard, despite wanting to do otherwise, to not take photos of local people. I was told that some people believe taking photos is tantamount to stealing their spirit. I asked the tour guides about this and they appeared unsure.

While at the museum, we had lunch provided by the tour group. Rather interesting...we had cold water, and the largest sub sandwich I have ever seen. The interesting part? We were outside and handed our sandwiches. There were no tables or chairs and we all had backpacks, purses and bags. This is a land of bugs...many were being dive bombed by aggressive mosquitoes and those of us who were not being eaten by these, were trying to sit on the ground and eat. Thankfully, the bugs seemed to enjoy the younger, blonde women the most! On the ground, we experiences what might be sisters to our fire ants but larger and more aggressive. I ate part of my sandwich, put the rest in my purse, picked myself up from the ground and walked away rapidly while fanning myself.

While in the museum, one of the guides played this wooden tambour which was used to send messages in Bwangwa around 1906. It had a deep powerful sound....and when the guide beat harder on it, one could feel the urgency and imagine someone sending a message of impending danger to tribe members.

Monday, November 16, 2015

I am in Ft. Myers, Florida with my friends, Shirley and Bharath, Shirley's sister, Lily is here from Bangalore, India and Shirley, Lily and I have started the process of planning our trip to India and Cambodia which will commence late in April of 2016. Lily has the most incredible photos of sites we may visit...some she has experience with and others she "knows" from living in the region and from stories her friends have shared.

Now...back to Kinshasa!

Before leaving for Ft. Myers, I slept over at Heidi and Chris' house in Davison. Their son, Chase, is studying Africa in social studies and he needed to review for an upcoming quiz. I was able to check out his map and told him to ask his teacher if I could come share photos and stories from my work/visits to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and the DRC. Hope he and the class will have some interest. I was showing Chase where the River Nile splits the Congo and the DRC on his map. I was told, but have not checked, that the Nile is the longest river in the world and the Congo River is the deepest, after the Amazon.

What little industry there is in the Kinshasa area, came during WWII. The country is also known for its minerals and is a huge copper mining area. The majority of their products is imported and I found it interesting, that despite the huge forests, there is no paper production in the country which accounts for the huge cost of printing newspapers. Paper is imported and warehoused.

As the tour guide was rehashing the DRC history, it was mentioned that the former President Patrice Lumumba was murdered and apparently put in a vessel of acid as punishment. We stopped to see a monument in his honor and the visit was a memorable one. We were on one of the major highways...three lanes going each way. The driver pulled the tour van over in the lane closest to oncoming traffic and stopped. Yup...stopped on a major highway with two other lanes of traffic whizzing by us. After no conversation for about five minutes, the tour guide hopped up and popped the door open and said, "Let's go." We disembarked and were hopping down into lane two of the highway! One person was on crutches and everyone was a tad upset. We walked around the front of the van, crossed the other three lanes of traffic to walk up to the statue.

Along this highway, we encountered a miles long community garden. There were men and women sitting near the plants, weeding and picking veggies. A great idea to help feed those in need and apparently, anyone can access this food. Of course, they may need to navigate the incredible traffic to get there!

Not my best photo but, I swear, I was scared to death with this whole process. It was shoot and run!

Later we stopped in front of the Parliament building but this was another site where photos were forbidden. The Parliament consists of two bodies: the Senate and the Assembly.

Our driver was listening to a radio station which broadcasts in Lingala, the language of this area. Interestingly, there is Lingala TV and radio but no newspaper in that language. I, of course, asked why and the last day, a guy from off the street, who came in to the library at the US Embassy indicated that though everyone speaks Lingala, it is not taught in school and people would not know how to read in that language. I thought it fascinating that the print media group couldn't come up with that very reasonable explanation!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

While in Kinshasa, I visited the Mausoleum of Laurent Kabila, a former President of the DRC. We were very carefully told where and how we could take photos and this area was notably vacant. There were no Congolese in sight, except for our tour guides despite this being a "national treasure." There are government buildings near by and there is a serious concern that there may be photos taken, or unsavory individuals might do damage. We were watched carefully by military police.

The burial site for Kabila is in an open air building. Notice the fist to the front left of the photo below. There are five of these fists holding/anchoring the building. The five fists signify the help and assistance given to Kabila as he took control of his country. The five countries that aided him in the take over of the DRC were: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Angola. The actual coffin was down a few steps and covered with their flag. The photo of the flag appears above. A decoration on the upper level includes the lion, the symbol of strength and peace fronds.

These fists are terrifically impressive. NO way to look at these and not know the strength brought to this fight. Kabila's statue appears in front of the mausoleum and we were yelled at when taking a photo of this. Apparently, the government buildings behind the mausoleum and to the left are protected. Fortunately, my camera was not taken!! Interestingly enough, none of the statues I saw as we toured the city and museums had any plaque labeling what one was looking at; nor did they indicate who created the statue.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Interestingly, as we toured the city of Kinshasa, our tour guide pointed out where the Muslims lived. Later, he pointed out the Catholic sector and then, we went through one of the poor sections of town, followed by the rich people's area. Segregation of all sorts occur within the city and folks are not concerned about pointing that out. We passed the oldest church in Kinshasa, which was built in the late 1800's and was established by the Baptists. The building is still being used. We drove along the side of this church, which had broken windows and looked a bit unkempt.  The tour guide said it still holds services every Sunday. One of the other tour members noticed that the church had broken windows, and the guide indicated that, "God doesn't care if windows are whole or not. People still attend and pray there." Loved it.

While discussing the history of the country and Kinshasa, it was mentioned that "ki or kin" is added to various place names and it means, "the." So, Kin means "the" and Shasa means, "sold." "The sold" is an area which had been sold and bought from the Belgians. Kiswahili means, "The Swahili." I understood that there were two languages: Kiswahili and Swahili and that they were sister languages, similar to dialects. Nope...these are the same. For example, kicongo is what one calls the language of, "the Congo." After awhile, I asked that we talk in, "Kianglaise," or the English...which I needed to hear after tiring of hearing French for so long. The translator thought this humorous!!
This is a random photo taken while in the street. I wasn't able to shoot many photos of the shops or places of business because so many people were on the streets. Safety is a concern and I was told that many people believe that when their photos are taken, they lose part of their souls. So, I was extra careful to not shoot many photos of people's daily lives. Sad, because this truly is one of the poorest countries I have seen and I would love for my friends and family to see just how lucky we are. We are truly fortunate in so many ways.  This shot is of a workshop. Tire repair was going on but one of the men was also constructing something out of metal rods. 

I heard several mentions of owls in conversations so asked a bit about why they were so important. It was pointed out that there are night time owls and day time owls. These look alike, but the nighttime owls are called, "hibou" which is also what the secret police are called. Both are lurking around at night...watching. The daytime owl is called chouette and is very passive and apparently, not predatory at all.

We stopped at The National Museum and saw incredible photos and sculptures. Best were indigenous pictures of tribal scaring, ritual circumcision and labial plates. The tribal scaring and ritual circumcision photos were taken of the Kutu, Bolia and Topoke tribes. Labial plate photos were taken of women in the Oriental Provinces, in the area of Kisangani or "the Kisangani." There was a great video of the Katanga women dancing and I swear, their dance looked just like the dances of the Inuits in Alaska. The similarities were greater than the dissimilarities.

At the museum, which was open air and in disarray, was this picture of Jesus created by Dina Ekanga Walo. She created this with small needles, positioned to create this image. There were several of this type and the shadowing was amazing.

Around the corner from the picture of Jesus was a painting called, "Life is a combat." A painting of a man and woman engaged in a fight for life...for decisions, for right. Looked perfect to me...think marriage!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thought I would share a couple of experiences from my Kinshasa visit that still have me laughing every time I think of them. After I  arrived here and I finally had my suitcase in hand, I passed through customs, and then, moved on to have my shot card checked. My seat mate from Paris had warned me about the shot "certification" process and that I watch because this was the first place unsuspecting visitors might be bribed. The man checking my card quickly ran down the shots and looked at me and started grinning. He explained I would have to have a yellow fever shot before entering the country. Or, he indicated, as he furtively looked at me and around and behind himself, that for $50.00, he would let me go without the shot. Otherwise, I would have to go over he waved to a closed door and get a shot NOW. I smiled widely, took my card and pointed to my yellow fever shot which I had taken 8.5 years ago. These shots are good for 10 years. The card had been stamped officially, documenting that the shot had been given in Florida. Poor guy! He KNEW he had made some fast money from this old, white haired lady. I won! He lost! As he waved me on and out, I smiled cheerfully and waved back at him!!

I met "Il Papa" or, "the pope" as he introduced himself to me in the elevator. He was a very short older man with an unusual hat atop his head. At the third floor, he opened the door and held it open and began singing Amazing Grace in Italian. After a couple of minutes of beautiful singing, he shut the door and we again stopped at the sixth floor. He held the door open, looked at me and the other two ladies in the elevator and continued belting out his song. He stopped singing as we continued our ascent and asked if we liked meeting the pope? I suggested I liked his singing but wondered if he sang also in another language, possibly French or Lingala? I also mentioned I had seen the pope (not in reality but on TV) and he laughed.

Another time, in the elevator, one of the hotel staff people began chattering at me in French. I mentioned I didn't speak French but, if he spoke more slowly, I might understand him. He began French 101 with me. He asked me my name and I answered appropriately and he told me his was Freddie. I had to ask him in French what his name was. Then, he asked where I was from and we practiced how to ask that of someone.  I was asked if I liked the hotel and practiced how to say that. I am staying on the 10th floor. To get the language lesson in...we stopped at every floor. This extra special service and friendliness was everywhere here. I would love to see some job descriptions to see if this is just cultural or expected of employees. Last night, while eating with Lidia from the CDC in Atlanta, we both experienced our first person who was either having a bad day or had missed the memo about smiling, helping, and serving guests quickly and efficiently. Both of us commented on this young lady and how she did not fit the rest of the employees' work ethic.

Next post will have photos!
Today was an incredible gift. I was supposed to speak to a group at a Kinshasa University on business and media ethics. It was moved to today so that I could take a Kinshasa tour and see a bit of the city...of 10 million people! This is a relatively short trip with lots of speaking, sharing and training. So, tomorrow, I have two university groups and I have to go somewhere before noon and get my tickets and leave my luggage for my 10:30 p.m. flight. Yup...before noon for late at night. That is how we do it here.

And, speaking of here....a few stories from today. We stopped in the middle of a three lane highway and sat for about 5 minutes. The driver and our tour guides said nothing. Then, the guide hopped up, opened the door and told us to get out. We stepped into the middle highway lane with a ton of cars, with drivers who don't obey any obvious rules, whizzing by us. One woman from the Embassy who is severely handicapped and on crutches had some serious concerns and trouble exiting and we had a young kid on the bus who just jumped out and his mother about puked. The reason for stopping?? There was a statue of an historical perspective and the tour guide wanted us to take a picture of it. the middle of the highway, two tour buses full of people were taking photos. Only about 20 of us...but still, a tad dangerous.

Our first stop was La Gare Central, the central train station. We were told we could only take a photo of one train car...that is the rule. We walk inside and a man in front of us was screaming because the cops had taken his camera. He wasn't with our group but walked in and saw hundreds of cool old train cars from the last 100 or so years and shot a photo. He hadn't heard the rule apparently. He was still making a fuss when we left. Lots of no taking photos in Kinshasa! These were old cars, and the trains weren't running , although there are more modern ones that do and are high speed. The country is refurbishing these and apparently don't want outsiders to see them at work.

This car is the only one we could take.

I loved seeing all of the men carrying huge packages on their heads. This guy must have had 40 or 50 pounds of water bags for sale atop his head.

Interestingly, as we drove around, I saw several men with a pyramid shaped box like package, filled with fresh eggs for sale. Not sure if one buys a level had fewer eggs and lower had many more. Possibly, one buys a dozen and he had packaging elsewhere. The tour guide was busy and I forgot to revisit this.

At the central station there was a huge fountain which wasn't working and at each corner was a huge leopard guarding the side. Leopards here signify justice. Interestingly, the huge plaza had about 50 flagpoles and not one flag flying. There were also no Congolese in this beautiful plaza, except for our tour staff. This lack of locals was seen everywhere we went. No one local at the National Museum or at the Mausoleum of Kabila, a former president. More on the Mausoleum tomorrow!

Saw a young man on the street wearing a shirt that announced, "Sarcasm is one of the services I provide."