Thursday, August 30, 2007

Congo Craziness

In Bukavu, we have found, you can buy anything on the side of the road. Pull over at one street corner, and a "mobile forex agent" comes to your window, ready to exchange dollars for Congolese Francs. Mudekereza, our Congolese director, exchanged 10 dollars, and got a wad of Francs in exchange. It's about 5,000 Francs, but I doubt you can get any bills larger than 200, so you end up with lots and lots of small bills, all thoroughly worn out.

On the opposite corner, you can buy gasoline by the bottle! It's around 5 dollars a gallon, but no one seems to buy that much gas. You just buy a quart or so, and you get to bargain for a better price...

Elsewhere, I've seen vendors selling eggs, Kleenex, bread, fish... You name it; they've got it. I guess this would make Bukavu paradise for entrepeneurs.

As for things at the guest house where we're staying: Things aren't quite the way they may seem at first glance. For example, though there is a light switch, it does not mean that the light can actually turn off. And though there is an outlet, it doesn't mean that you can charge anything. There is in fact no power to the phantom outlet. And though there's a shower complete with taps, it doesn't mean there is any water supply. Not to the tap, at least. I'm fortunate that there is a water supply to my toilet. The Davis' room doesn't have that luxury. But they have lights that can turn on and off. And their outlet works. I guess they should put it on the room request: Choose which type of room you prefer, one with water, or working electricity. (Choose only one.)

The manager seemed perplexed that I didn't like the idea that my light wouldn't turn off, but promptly came up with the solution: He'll take out the light bulb. So I requested a candle. Which got me the "Boy, you foreigners are sure demanding" look.

This look is a little different from the "Relax! We Congolese don't care if people drive on the wrong side of a divided road: Can't you see that there are pore potholes on the side where I'm supposed to drive?" look.

We've been spending the morning looking at some properties around the city and meeting with our in-country director to plan the activities for the week. I'll get to start taking pictures of the children at our school in the slums tomorrow, and collecting new information for their sponsors. I also hope to record some songs by them in the next week.

Bukavu really is beautiful. It is on the shore of Lake Kivu, a large freshwater lake. But there are thermal gasses on this side of the lake, so it's unsafe to be in the water. I'm told that the water is beautiful at Goma, a farely short ferry ride from here, but things are unstable there in terms of safety. No need for us to venture in that direction.

Speaking of safety: We have felt completely safe here. (Other than when we're driving against traffic!) I have even been told that it is OK for me to take pictures, as long as I don't take any of the many military vehicles around. Or of the soldiers. So I've been trying to avoid that, which is challenging when you're trying to take pictures of land for ELI and soldiers are squatting on the property. (Squatting as in living illegally, not the other type of squatting.)

Right now, there are children and adults lining up outside the Internet cafe where I am, trying to get my attention and asking for money... I had gone out to talk to the ladies, but they won't take no for an answer. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I rarely simply give money. But here, I don't know where to go to buy them some bread or fruit.

Back to observations of life in Bukavu: Many of the large homes have paint cans threaded over their electric lines. We're told it's to deter thieves from stealing the wires. If someone would cut the wire to steal it, the paint cans will fall and make a commotion.

My ride is here. Got to go. Till another time,

Au revoir!

1 comment:

  1. It sure makes me appreciate the little things! Thank you for writing Adele. It gives me a new perspective on other countries. Peace to you!