On the road again

So, I’m on the road again. After MUCH hemming and hawing, IRC finally gave me the go ahead this afternoon at 2pm to leave. On a flight at 7pm. Talk about last minute.

I’ll be back in my old stomping grounds, Liberia, which I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. My last few months there were less than plesant, and I won’t have Nick there to keep me sane – but I did have some good times, and I hope I won’t be there long enough for the place to really get under my skin. Plus I get to see some good friends and former colleagues, which is nice.

Of course, timing couldn’t have been worse. When I originally agreed to the assignment a month ago I told them I had to be back by the 1st to move. Unfortunately everything was delayed, so now poor Nick has to move into our new house (!) by himself. I packed as much as humanly possible, but feel really badly. I’m super bummed I’m not going to be around!

Anyways, it’s time for flight #2 of 3. The lovely midnight flight from joburg to nairobi. OR Tambo is the place to be this time of night…Here’s to hoping my window seat isn’t comandeered, that I win the armrest war and that I can actually get some sleep.

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Kinshasa

So far my life in Kinshasa has consisted of a) work, b) expensive dinners, c) cockroaches, and d) traffic.

I hit the ground running in terms of work – I arrived in Friday afternoon and went straight to the office (fun, considering I was broiling hot in the sweater and jeans I’d worn to keep warm on the airplane.) We’re working on writing a proposal to USAID for a very large health grant, so several staff from NY and other country programs have come in to help, but none of them arrived until Sunday. So all of the sudden I found myself leading an initial brainstorming meeting with the Health technical team here Saturday – I wasn’t quite prepared for that! It’s been pretty fast paced since then. We are working in partnership with some other organizations on the proposal, so we spent much of the week meeting with their proposal team and writing up inputs for the first draft.

Kinshasa is an insanely expensive city. I thought Liberia or Cote d’Ivoire were expensive, but they’re not even close. I guess it’s a UN Mission/price ratio – the more UN forces you have on the ground, the more expensive things are! I’m sure it’s in part the places we’re going, but dinner and a drink routinely costs at least $30, even for a pizza or pasta. There are some nice restaurants, though – Taj, a really good Indian restaurant, is up on the 8th floor of a building (which you have to get to by riding a very dodgy elevator) and has a great view of the city. In addition to the high cost, you have to bank on at least 2 hours minimum for every meal – tiring when you’ve just spent a gazillion hours in the office.

In the 10 days I’ve been here I’ve stayed in 3 different hotels. I thought I’d be able to move in before everyone else got here and no one would be able to see how much stuff I’d brought (I’m a founding member of over-packers anonymous), but no luck. The first place seemed fine to me (except maybe for the slanted floors in the shower that successfully directed the water away from the drain), but our Admin guy wasn’t happy that they didn’t have a back-up generator so I moved after one night. The next place seemed more posh – right on the main Boulevard and decked out with bordello-red curtains and bedspread – but unfortunately had a major cockroach problem. EW. At first I thought it was just one or two of the little tiny ones. I should have known better. Where there is one there are millions. I spent two nights in the room spraying Doom like a fiend and stomping on the little buggers, but they were fearless. I came back to my brightly-lit room to see one just hanging out on my bed. Yuck. I am pretty sure they were living under the wooden bed frame. Needless to say I slept with the light on – it was a good thing I was exhausted or I never would have gotten any sleep. I changed rooms finally and was lucky that the ground floor room seemed to be roach free, but my colleagues weren’t as lucky. We moved hotels the third time a few days ago – now we’re in this super posh hotel (ok, not actually posh by anything other than DRC standards). Unfortunately, every time I repack in a hurry my bags seem to multiply, so now I had about 11 it felt like…at least I wasn’t the only one. My room is great other than the chain-smoking South Africans in the next room, but hey, they’re not cockroaches.

Traffic is insane here in Kinshasa. We’re probably a 2 minute drive from the office with no traffic, but some days it has taken us over 30. There is one bottleneck in particular just outside the UN compound, about 5 car lengths from our office, where we routinely get stuck. I was told of one day when the staff were coming back to the office and got stuck there for so long they decided to walk to the office. The car they were in apparently only made it in the gates 2 hours later. Ugh. The worst is that it is totally unpredictable. Midday is usually bad, but you never know how bad. And you’d think that Saturday at 11 wouldn’t be the worst traffic time, but we did get stuck for about 30 minutes at one intersection the other night…

So, so far I’m enjoying the work and the people here a lot, and have seen a little bit of the city. I would LOVE to be able to explore the rest of the country, especially the area around Lake Kivu on the border with Rwanda and Burundi, but doesn’t look like I’m going to be venturing too far beyond the hotel and office on this trip. I guess that’s the exotic life of a consultant!

So much for roots…off to DRC!

One of the things that I was looking forward to most about moving to Cape Town was the chance to finally put down some roots. This is not something I would have imagined myself saying a few years ago – I have always had itchy feet and while I imagined having a home someday, that someday always seemed far away. Not sure what it was – stress, age, circumstances, all of the above – but I was very excited about the idea of staying put for awhile when we moved here. And I managed not to travel for a bit…

It’s starting to seem a bit like I’ve put down those really shallow roots – they hold me in one place, but aren’t really all that solid yet and can easily get swept away. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do my job without traveling so much, but with little success so far. So I’ve also been thinking about what else I can do so I don’t have to travel so much – also haven’t gotten very far on that.

Maybe part of the problem isn’t so much the travel or even the work – I most always enjoy it once I get there. I think probably it’s more about the uncertainty. And the unpredictability. In the last month I’ve almost gone to about 3 different countries – Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Georgia – and every one was a last minute, prepare-to-put-your -life-on -hold-and-be-ready-to-leave-in-two-days kind of assignment.  And none of them panned out, for various reasons (the organization I was on a bit with didn’t win the proposal, the proposal was postponed, etc). Makes it a little hard to plan your life when you’re never sure if you’ll be in the country the following week.

So now I think it looks like I’ll be heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)  with the IRC a week from today. They wanted me there sooner, but there is this whole pesky visa thing. And I was literally called about this job for the first time last night. Things move quickly! I’m never sure I’m actually going until I’m on the plane, but this one seems pretty solid. It should be an interesting assignment, writing a $142mm health proposal, and I’ve always wanted to visit DRC. But I am heartbroken to have to leave my little kitten – she’ll be so big when I get back in 3-4 weeks! Not to mention having to cancel classes I was planning to take, etc. Oh well, c’est la vie – at least for now.

Abidjan again

It feels odd. It was almost exactly a year ago that I was here in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire with IRC for a conference. Now I’m back helping their Health team out with a proposal for a couple of weeks.

It’s great to be back – the team here is very welcoming and friendly, but I am totally LOST. I haven’t spoken French since I was here last, and it was pretty poor then!  I am really struggling with the basics – I somehow managed to skip the whole intro French stuff back in the day when I started learning, so I am particularly bad at things like greetings and pleasantries – it probably makes me look unfriendly, but I honestly don’t know what to say when people greet me!

It’s interesting being back with IRC West Africa, seeing so many familiar faces and hearing the gossip of what’s going on in the region and beyond.  In many ways it feels like nothing has changed at all.  But it’s cool to be back as a consultant, working specifically on one project rather than being swamped by a million things at once.

The trip here was long – suffice it to say I ate way too much odd airplane foods at weird times of the night and slept in such a way my neck may never be the same again.  The best thing about the trip was that on my first leg (CPT-Dubai) we flew in an Emirates 777.  It had an awesome lighting system, and when the food service was over and it was time for the passengers to go to sleep the ‘sky’ lit up blue with little pinpricks of starlight!  Very pretty.

Nimba

I’m up in Nimba County this weekend – I’m staying in Ganta, where IRC has its main office, but drove around the county a ton to see a number of our projects.

Nimba is beautiful – different than the hilly Voinjama, but also higher altitude than Monrovia and so less humid and stuffy (though still HOT). It borders with Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, and is the area where the fighting has begun in the recent wars. It’s also where many of the returnees came back into after the war. It’s got tons of rubber plantations, which I think are some of the most beautiful forests ever – they’re these seemingly endless, neat rows of white trees with leafy green canopies, and you can see the small rubber tapping cups attached to most of the trunks. I don’t know enough about rubber tapping yet, but when I do I’ll share – come on, you know you’re dying to know more!

Compared to Lofa County, Nimba has a fabulous road network – still painful by Western standards, but most of the dirt roads are graded so they are just bumpy, not nausea inducing , stop-and-go roller coaster rides. There is even a paved road coming in from Monrovia – though I think I prefer the dirt ones. The pavement is so poorly maintained, it’s worse than Minnesota in summer in terms of potholes! The drivers end up driving on the shoulder/dirt most of the time to avoid them. And of course, they are still drivable during the rains, so they’re not at all top priority to fix…Though the roads were pretty good, it was still a LONG day on Saturday, mainly because our driver, Morris, played his Lionel Ritchie greatest hits tape over and over…and over and over. I had never realized how sappy that guy is! We finally got a reprieve when he switched to Westlife. I think I would have preferred to hear ‘Ballerina Girl’ one more time.

I’m staying in the IRC residence with the Field Coordinator and our Blood Safety volunteer, and blissfully have internet. There is also a goat and two cool cats who live here (Rescue and Bossman). I was told that the compound is where Charles Taylor used to stay when he was here – very very creepy.

No pics from Ganta this time, but will take more next time I’m up here and post!