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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 15)

By Erin Pohland

NOTE: I wrote this post from Kinshasa on June 30, the Congo’s 51st anniversary of independence from Belgian rule. On November 28, 2011, the Congo will hold its second election since the “end” of its civil war in 2002. Whatever your beliefs, please take a moment to think of or pray for the Congolese people tomorrow, and on December 6, when the election results are scheduled to be read. Election watchers have grave concerns about the potential for election fraud and ensuing violence — regardless of who wins (incumbent president Joseph Kabila or his main challenger, Etienne Tshisekedi).

There has already been substantial election-related violence in a country that can ill afford more death and destruction; the UN recently ranked the Congo as the least developed country in the world. For more information, please read Congo’s Election: That Sinking Feeling. The BBC also provides excellent coverage (or at least better coverage than most American news outlets) through its Africa desk.


~The view from J’s widow, and random white smoke from who knows what!


Hello from Kinshasa-

It’s a hazy day here, but cool, which is a nice change (note that it’s winter here, and the Congolese actually do think it’s cold and dress accordingly. It’s still hot to me.). It’s hard to tell what the haze is about; I suspect that it’s largely due to pollution and the constant trash fires. The other day, when John and I were leaving the embassy, I walked around to the side of the car where Andrew and I were sitting, opposite the road.When I got out of the car, it was just rubble. When I tried to get in after 2 hours at the embassy, there was a trash fire going. Yes, directly beside the car, across the street from the US Embassy. I shouted to John, who didn’t seem fazed. I’m completely shocked that there aren’t exploding cars all over this city.

Speaking of John, I’ve apparently made a very good friend. John has asked me to marry him. Well, more specifically, he said (via text), “I love u so very much cause u are so good and beautyful with sweet heart! If I was young maybe I could marry u!” Yesterday, he told me that he missed me like tea misses sugar. Ahh, John. He’s a very nice guy, the same age as my mom, and I’m happy to have him as a friend. And maybe he’ll get me my exit visa more quickly so I can take Andrew home!

Yesterday was Congo’s 51st anniversary of independence. Americans were advised to stay home, and so I did. J went and got K and S so they could hang out and go swimming. Sadly, K was sick — possibly because she’s been taking her anti-malarial on an empty stomach — so I told her to lay down and I watched the kids. Before they got here, I met J’s neighbors, M and J-P. M is a German woman who speaks impeccable English as well as French. J-P is a former journalist who is from Guinea. Sadly, he doesn’t speak English — just French and German. He did offer to cook me dinner while I’m here; he is apparently a fabulous cook. M is incredibly sweet, offering to take me to the store and getting my number so she could let me know if there are any security warnings or anything I should know. I’m a bit disturbed that the US Embassy here is so lax about security warnings. M told me (confirmed by J) that all Americans are to stay home on Sunday as well, when there is a big meeting of the political opposition here in Kinshasa. There was also a gunfight in Lumbashi yesterday, the President’s home province and where he was celebrating independence day. Lumbashi is far away, and home of most of the mining in the Congo, along with the Katanga province (where John is from). Even with it so far away, there are certainly Americans there, and I’m disturbed that no security warnings were issued. But it’s become very clear that the Embassy here isn’t exactly on top of its game, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

I can’t imagine living here full-time. The power goes out frequently, and certain things — like the washing machine (a euro-style combo washer and dryer that takes 3 hours to do a small load) and the air conditioning don’t come back on automatically. In fact, there are little boxes on the wall in each room where you have to push a black button back in when the power goes off. That apparently restores the power to the appliances in the room that take up more energy, like the wall airconditioners. When I have my phone plugged in, I hear it beep on and off all night as the power goes on and off. The view out of my bedroom window is barbed wire, and J has talked about it not being secure enough and wanting MORE barbed wire. I suppose that if something goes bad here, it goes REALLY bad, and you can’t get enough security. J also told me that you can’t dry your clothes outside here; it’s a dryer or clothing racks inside. Apparently, there is a bug here that lays eggs on your clothes, and if you wear them, worms get into your skin and it’s very painful to have them extracted. I guess Montana will iron any clothes that I may dry outside, and that kills the bugs, but I think I’ll stick with just the washer/dryer for now. Thank goodness I’ll be leaving soon!!

K and I had quite a surprise yesterday — S knows how to swim! Well, sort of — he can go underwater and move forward, although he is afraid to jump in by himself and won’t go out of the shallow end (which are both blessings). Andrew is loving the water, and even loves being splashed in the face by his friend S, although I’m keeping him out of there today. He has a tendency to try to drink the pool (and bath!) water, and I’m somewhat sick of having to change outfits because he has diaper explosions. It’ll be fantastic to get him to a doctor in the US who can accurately diagnose whatever is going on in his little body.

Andrew is so incredibly smart and so sweet. I am completely amazed by the rate at which he learns. Last night, I was making eggs for S (one of the few foods he’ll eat), and Andrew sat on the counter as I cracked the eggs and added salt & pepper. He will let me sit him on the counter while I do something in the kitchen, but ONLY if no cats are in sight. As I tried to figure out the stove, I saw Andrew pull the egg bowl towards him. He took the fork and began stirring the eggs, then grabbed (closed) spice containers and pretended to shake spices into the eggs. He then began stirring again. I’m telling you — my baby boy is a genius!

He also wanted to eat the pizza that we ordered like a big boy. He insisted on having his own full piece, which he ate from like any of us would — holding up the slice to his mouth and taking bites. He did the same to my slice, of course, but given how cute he is, I didn’t mind too much. (Side note: guess how much a small 8 slice pizza cost? If you guessed $30, you’re right!)

We’re having a lazy day at home today, with K and S coming over later to swim and do laundy. I don’t really plan on going anywhere until we leave (ideally on Tuesday), other than the store for more supplies and perhaps to the Market of Thieves. I’d really like to get some more Congolese art, and perhaps some fabric to have made into a shirt for him (which I’d have to iron given the bug situation. I hate ironing, but I think I’d hate worms burrowing into my skin more.). I’m really, really hoping that we get the exit visa on Monday, which will give me time to get to the Maison Shengen to get his transit visa (we need his passport for that, which is at DGM along with mine) and make our planned flight on Tuesday.

Love from Kinshasa-

Erin & Andrew



6 Responses to “Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 15)”
  1. UgaVic says:

    I have to agree with barbara..would be great to get some greetings from Alaska as I think all of us have gotten attached to the two of you:-)

  2. barbara says:

    i don’t want this to end when you leave the Congo. can we have greetings from Alaska too?

  3. Baker's Dozen says:

    This baby has stolen our hearts!

  4. jimzmum says:

    What a sweet, sweet picture. I thought of you all Thursday, and added the both of you to my thanks list. It was nice thinking of you home!

  5. laurie says:

    It’s hard to imagine living with the hazards that people face on a daily basis there.

  6. thatcrowwoman says:

    With each new installment, I remind myself that you’re home in Alaska now.
    What an adventure!

    Littlebird is on her way back to college,
    well-rested and well-fed.
    One more week of classes then a week of exams,
    then she’ll be here for the better part of 5 weeks
    before her final semester of her senior year.
    What an adventure!

    Safe home, all you travelers.

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