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!

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YAY! Nick has a new job!

In December Nick was called in for interviews with two different regional airlines.  Airline interviews are MUCH more intense than my regular interviews, and Nick spent days and days prepping for technical exams and simulator sessions.

Right before Christmas, he finally got word from South African Airways Express (fondly referred to as SAX) that they wanted him to start early in 2009.  After some nervous weeks of not hearing anything more (ah the joys of everything closing over Christmas!) the other day they finally called him up and confirmed that he would start ground training in Johannesburg February 1.

He’ll spend the month of Feb up in Joburg for technical ground school on how to operate the CRJ, the jet he will  be flying, and refresher training on things like Dangerous Goods and Crew Resource Management that he has to do every year.  It will be really intense.  Then he’ll travel to Madrid for two weeks in March to do his simulator training, then a few weeks doing “line training”, which basically means on-the-job training.  After that he’ll be a full-fledged co-pilot.

And the best part – he was able to get a Cape Town basing, so we won’t be moving again any time soon!  Yippee!

Work

Ah, it is SO wonderful to have fast, FREE internet!  Seriously, I thought I was going to lose it the other day at our house.  It seems that we’re in the middle of an internet hole on our block – if you literally head a block in either direction supposedly the coverage is better, but we are back in the stone ages in our little cottage.  We bought this fancy 3G pay as you go modem (that is pretty high-tech here), but we get about 56kbs on most days…ouch.

I’m up in Johannesburg for a work meeting this week.  Work??  you might ask.  No, I haven’t gotten a new full-time job yet, and honestly am still not planning on it.  I’ve been trying (sort of half-heartedly) to set myself up as a consultant here, and was put in touch with this organization back in September.  They do a lot of high-level dialogues and consensus-building work on Zimbabwe issues, particularly trying to influence SA Government policy.  They’re also branching out into work in other parts of the region. 

I was brough on initially to help pull together a proposal, and have been helping out with writing policy papers, proposals, editing research papers, helping with strategic planning, etc. since then.  Its not rocket science, but it is interesting to learn about a new region (I’ve never worked at all on Southern Africa, so there is a lot to learn).  I’m also meeting a lot of interesting and important people, though usually I have to be told after meeting people just who exactly they are and why they are so important (like I said, I am pretty ignorant of the region still, and I am terrible at names!).  But its a good way to connect while keeping my feet in the work world and still having time to take classes, write, and generally explore all sorts of things.

It’s nice to be up in Joburg again.  I still have good memories of living up here after we left Sudan, and we have quite a few good friends here.  Summer is the rainy season in Joburg, unlike Cape Town where it is dry – there are massive thunderstorms in the afternoons, and everything is so green!  It’s great to be away from the wind in Cape Town, too, although we have had some pretty spectacular days lately.  And I’m sure I’ll get my fill of rain with Cape Town winter coming.  But there is nothing like a good summer storm – just the smell in the air and as the rain hits the hot sidewalks…mmmm.

Reasons to celebrate

I’ve been meaning to invite people over to our house forever, but it has taken us a long time to really settle into our place.  We’ve been here since October, and the house is just now starting to feel like home.  Part of the reason is that we had to start from scratch in terms of furniture – I got rid of most of my stuff back in the States, and Nick has been living on contract for the last several years.  More importantly, I was wary of really nesting yet – I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.  We knew we wanted to be based in Cape Town, but the decision really came down to whether Nick was able to get a job posted here.  The interviews ended up taking a long time, and I just wasn’t convinced that we wouldn’t have to move to Joburg in a couple of months!  So I haven’t had my artwork and other little homey touches that I’ve collected sent from Mpls yet.

When Nick got offered a position with SA Express based out of Cape Town a week or so ago, I figured it was a great excuse for a party!  He’ll be heading to Joburg for training for 2 months or so, so it was also a going away party.  So bunch of friends from Somerset West came through to our side of the mountain to help us celebrate a very belated house warming/yay we get to stay in Cape Town/congrats on Nick’s new job/farewell to Nick – lots of reasons to celebrate!  I wasn’t really sure who would come, since for some reason 40 minutes away seems like a serious schlep, but nearly everyone turned out.  The weather cooperated, and the wind managed to leave at least a few of our candles lit.  Good thing one of the frequent summer cold fronts didn’t pass through – our place is tiny and without being able to open our doors and use the patio it would have been a very cozy party indeed!  Fang (aka rent-a-cat) entertained the guests with his tinfoil ball antics and then promptly conked out on the bed, furring up everything he comes in contact with.  We tried to get as many different kinds of beer as we could find for our guests to sample – there aren’t really many micro-brews here in SA and people usually stick to their standards, but we’ve found a few good ones!  It was great to see everyone again.