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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 16)

By Erin Pohland

Days 18 and 19

Hi from Kinshasa-

The past few days have been relatively tame, in terms of my typical day in Kinshasa. Yesterday, Andrew and I didn’t leave the apartment — and Andrew didn’t leave my arms. I must admit that as much as I love my son, it gets a bit old to constantly carry him. I would have thought that he would have adjusted to the cats by now, but he hates them just as much as he did on day one (although now, he does the “shoo fly” motion towards them that I taught him last week. They ignore him.).

While K and S were outside swimming yesterday, I noticed a huge cloud of white something floating towards the house. My initial reaction was that it was a fire, because it somewhat looked like smoke. I raced to close all of the windows and tried to figure out what to do — even in this nice neighborhood, houses are very close together. A fire would be disastrous. As it turns out, it was some random cloud of chemicals or something — a strong odor that WASN’T fire wafted towards us. No clue what it was, but it pretty much could be anything here in Kinshasa.

~Andrew learning how to walk with the help of Montana, J’s “domestique.”

S was in 7th heaven here, as I cooked him all of the eggs and spaghetti he could eat (his two favorite foods). Later, he had a meltdown — he wanted to watch a DVD and we couldn’t convey to him that J’s DVD player wasn’t hooked up (the system here is complicated, with a decoder and various other boxes, and it requires scanning through all of the channels and restarting every time the power goes out, so roughly 1,000 times a day). It’s hard; he really doesn’t speak much French, and Lingala is not something that either of us can speak (other than my 3 or 4 words). He has a hard time understanding why when we say no, and it leads to a lot of tears. Adopting an older child is not for the faint of heart.

~Andrew tries on John’s sunglasses in the store

Today was more of the same, with John picking me up first and then K and S. We went to the City Market to stock up on food, and once again, I left with 3 bags of groceries for $141.00. We headed back to the apartment, with K a bit upset because she had hoped to leave today. We decided to make the best of it and ask John to take us to the legendary (for Kinshasa) Market of Thieves. Of course, locals are now calling it “Market of Art,” but the old name is much more apt.

The market is just five or so blocks from J’s apartment. It’s an open air market on a dirt + rubble lot, with the entire front of the market consisting of canvas paintings propped up on rocks. We walked through the paintings and immediately were set upon by the vendors. Things only got worse from there. I felt like my skin was American dollar green instead of white, because every single one of the 100+ vendors came out from behind his table to try to get me to buy their wares. I tried to tell them that I was just looking, but then one would say “I give you….” and put something in my hand. Then they would say, “OK, ten dollar,” or whatever the price would be. I had read — and John confirmed — that we had to barter here, and that you should expect to pay somewhere around 60% of the original asking price. And so it began….

The craftmanship on display at the market was astounding. I bought things for $5 here that would have easily cost $50 in the U.S. (Kind of amazing — a bottle of juice might cost 10 times more here, but a beautiful hand-crafted piece of art is 10 times less.). There was malacite galore –necklaces, bracelets, earrings, carved elephants, bowls, chess sets. Tons of traditional carved masks, and more carved wood than you could imagine — animals, bowls, boxes, serving platters, wall hangings. It was incredible and overwhelming.

I ended up buying far more than I intended to; it was almost impossible to NOT do that! You’d pick something out while 10 other men beg and plead with you to buy something from them (they all claimed to not have jobs and that they needed the money). The price would start out incredibly high — say $80 for a small malachite bowl. I’d come back with something that was about 50% lower, and they would almost always settle for $5 more than what you had quoted. And then while they’re supposedly getting your change, they start trying to sell you something else instead of your change. “Take this, any of this, $5!” And it’s a beautiful hand-carved serving platter, so you think….”why not?”

I bartered for every item except one — a gourd rattle that one of the vendors put in Andrew’s hand. He quoted $5 for it, and I told him $2. He insisted on $5, and I said no and tried to take it out of Andrew’s hand. The baby screamed, and I was stuck. John was mad at me — he was said, “This man a thief! That not worth $5!” I suppose that’s where the name comes from — they are thieves when they try to get you to pay full price!

I ended up buying a lot more than I had intended, as did K. I suspect that’s the entire goal — you’re so overwhelmed and hit from all sides that you end up just buying things because they seem so cheap and it’s all beautiful.

As we left, several vendors ran after us to the car, still trying to sell us their wares. I couldn’t shut my door because of these men, until John called the police (parking attendants!) to come over. He had to do this again with the street children who had their faces pressed against the glass. It’s one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever seen. There are so many children roaming the streets of Kinshasa, barefoot and just skin and bones. They beg for money, and some have learned a bit of English to up their game. I’m honestly not sure how much of it is just a game, but it just makes me so sad to think of Andrew ever having to live like this (which actually wouldn’t happen, given that he’s from Goma. He probably would have died of a malnutrition-related illness instead.). Whenever I have small bills, I give to the children — they pull my heart-strings in a way that the begging adults simply don’t.

The Ugly Americans (D & J) decided to harass Simon into giving more money to get their exit letters today. So, for $100/each, plus $100 for K, they did just that. I wonder how much of that was just them wanting to get D the heck out of the country! My flight is scheduled for Tuesday night, so I’m really hoping to make that flight. Air France doesn’t fly out of here on Wednesdays, so if I can’t leave Tuesday, I’ll be stuck until Thursday. I’m really, really ready to go home. Andrew needs to see an American doctor (one who doesn’t say that my 19 month old that can’t walk and is wearing 6 to 9 month clothes is perfectly normal and healthy), and I need to be in a cat-free environment so he will let me walk around without him attached to my hip. I love that baby more than anything in the world, but the velcro baby act is hard.

Fingers crossed for good news tomorrow — maybe DGM will come through on a Sunday!!

Love and miss you-

Erin & Andrew



6 Responses to “Dispatches from the Congo – A Journey of Love (Part 16)”
  1. jimzmum says:

    Sweet Velcro boy! I remember that phase. I hope you were able to catch that flight!

  2. laurie says:

    Those cats with their long teeth and claws probably look pretty ferocious from his perspective.

  3. Zyxomma says:

    Health and peace, Erin and Andrew.

  4. Elsie says:

    The November issue of the National Geographic has a lengthy article, “Rift in Paradise” that includes a lot of information on the Congo. It brings to life a more detailed background of what Erin faced in her adoption there and from which young Andrew came.

    Fortunately, most of the content of the printed magazine can also be found online. You might want to begin with this stark overview:

    That truly sets the stage for the feature article at which begins thusly:

    “Rift in Paradise—Africa’s Albertine Rift”
    “As the global population soars toward nine billion by 2045, this corner of Africa shows what’s at stake in the decades ahead. The Rift is rich in rainfall, deep lakes, volcanic soil, and biodiversity. It is also one of the most densely populated places on Earth. A desperate competition for land and resources—and between people and wildlife—has erupted here with unspeakable violence. How can the conflict be stopped? Will there be any room left for the wild?”

    Goma is mentioned many times, especially in relation to its being such an incredibly dangerous place to live.

    Photos that illustrate and expand on the article follow at

  5. UgaVic says:

    Although we know you are home I am pulling for good news for you so you can catch that Tuesday flight.
    Also have to agree with above comment that you have to be happy to not being holding a full sized 19 month, given the kitty issues.

  6. Baker's Dozen says:

    When you have to carry Velcro-Boy around all day, be thankful he isn’t the size of a U.S. 19 month old! 🙂
    On the other hand, it will be nice to be able to get him home where you can establish a routine, feed him good food, and watch him grow.
    I love the shades. He looks like a SoCal boy to me!

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