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.

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