Day One

Where to start?

Kinshasa is both entirely expected, and entirely unexpected.

I’m sitting on our balcony on the tenth floor of our temporary apartment. I have a beautiful view of the Congo River (or Flueve Congo). It is wide, and brown and, frankly, given its place in literature and history, a little awe inspiring to me. I can see whitecaps along the shore, though from my distance I cannot tell whether they are from waves or rapids.


There are flocks of crow-like birds flying around and cawing – all black, but for a wide white band about their neck and chest. It unexpectedly cool out. Much nicer than it was when we left D.C. in the sweltering and humid heat of late July. I’m sitting outside, but I have a sweater on, and my feet are a bit chilly. I’m looking at the pool in the complex and thinking I have no desire to be anywhere near it until the sun gets on this side of the building.


Horns honk in the distance, and earlier I heard a rooster crow, but for a city of 7-12 million people (estimates are wildly divergent) it is unexpectedly quiet. Last night we could hear the odd dog bark, but the sound of traffic was almost non-existent. Not at all what I expected after our drive into town from the airport, which was expectedly chaotic. It wasn’t so much about the traffic on the drive, but about the pedestrians. The main road didn’t appear to have streetlights to speak of, so it was virtually pitch dark save the oncoming and surrounding headlights, but there were pedestrians everywhere. And they crossed this busy road (think 4 lane mid-level highway) everywhere. They’d suddenly be right in front of our car trotting across the road and pausing between gaps in the concrete median (think 12-24” of concrete barriers) before trotting across in front of the oncoming traffic. Watching, it seemed to me that there must be multiple fatalities on a given night. But, in the same way I can never believe that there aren’t dozens of head on crashes on the twisty-turny roads in the English countryside where there never seems to be room for one car, let alone two, I suspect I’d be wrong about that if I could find a way to check.

This morning I jerry-rigged a filter out of a paper towel for the supplied coffee pot (seriously DOS folks, you give me a coffee pot and no filters? Not nice) and used the bag of coffee I brought with me, and the milk and sugar supplied by our amazing “social sponsor,” and now I’m sitting outside absorbing as much of this new view as I can, and I really couldn’t ask for anything more (expect maybe internet so I could actually post this…).**

B left for work at 7 a.m. dressed in a suit and probably not only still jet lagged, but also incredibly nervous. He looked like a diplomat though. Polished and poised.

C is sleeping like she is home; the full sleep of a child who has been in transit, but now feels safe.


And I am sitting here on this lovely balcony overlooking an abandoned building, a busy intersection and the Fleuve Congo, patting dry unexpected tears of wonder and joy that this is my life.

** Obviously we now have internet.  It is SLOW, but no slower than it was in 1994 when I moved to North Carolina!

Six days, Seven years and Fifteen hundred pounds…

In seven days C and I will wake up to our last day in D.C.  B will have left the day before, but he will only be going to New York for “consultations” (this is an oft-used word in the FS which has yet to be fully explained to me).  C and I, and Miller, the Dog, will be flying to Brussels and will wait for B there before we all travel together to Kinshasa.  Seven days loom both long and short.  We have been sure to plan lots of visits, dinners out, time with family and friends, and in the midst of all of that a pack-out, move out and a last day of school. I have no doubt that it will feel like a long time while we are in the middle of it, but I also know that seven days from now I’ll be sitting here (well, not here, but at some hotel…) and wondering how the last seven days went by so quickly.

Seven months ago I was just finishing up my year with the Firm.  I was working out my plans for telecommuting and planning all the extra time I’d have to go to the movies (the theater is across the street after all – super easy, right?!), read, write, sew and get organized.  Suddenly, here we are, at the end of July and I haven’t seen a single movie (at least during the day at the theater across the street), I’m still reading the same book I started at about that time, the shirt I’m making isn’t finished yet, and, well…organized…maybe, maybe not, depending on your definition.  Those months loomed ahead of me with days and days of promising fun, and, don’t get me wrong, they have been full of fun, but not in the way I had “planned.”

Seven years ago B and I were newly married.  We celebrated our anniversary on Sunday with a lovely dinner, some champagne and a bottle of wine that was a wedding present (which we couldn’t bear to possibly ruin by subjecting it to shipment to Africa).  Those seven years have seemed both interminably long and like we turned off the music and stopped dancing only a few hours ago.  My journalism professor, Wiley Hilburn, once wrote in my journal that “time is inexorable” and those words pop into my head unbidden at moments like this.  Moments when I am fully aware of the speed and slowness with which time moves.

Our pack-out is today, so we’ve been packing like it’s our job (well, I guess it is my job…).  Last week, B spent the week at Crashbang (so now you can take your pick as to who will tie your tourniquet).  I spent the week packing, and more importantly, completing our consumables shipment.  The total volume of our shipment was only 1,560 lbs…a mere 60 lbs past 3/4 of a ton.  Technically I did the majority of the shopping for the consumables at BJ’s, where the movers came to pack.  I arrived when the store opened with my very detailed list (honed over several months of aimless-ish wandering through the aisles) and managed to fill a flat cart and two regular carts (which, of course, are much larger than “regular” when you are shopping at BJ’s).  This was in addition to all the food and shampoo and toothpaste etc.  I’ve been hoarding for months. 

And so, in a few hours we’ll be back to the sterile corporate apartment we walked into last August and all that will be left will be to savor our last few days stateside with our family and friends while we listen for the last few notes of the fat lady’s song. 

And this time next week we’ll be beginning our final descent into Kinshasa and waiting anxiously to hear the first few notes of the new song of our lives in Africa. 

That’s a lot of food!

Ok, bear with me here – I’m trying out posting from my iPhone since I’m not sure when I’ll have access to a computer once we hit Kinshasa next Wednesday. I’ve got a much longer post coming with more details on our timeline/pack out etc…but as I’m sitting here waiting for B I figured I’d give you all a taste of what our consumables pack-out looked like last week. Our food/toiletries and other consumables (items we will consume in Kin) are on their way to Africa and they weigh…drum roll…

One thousand five hundred and forty pounds. Yup.  1,540. 

That’s a LOT of food. 
Here’s what that looks like: 

In words that is four personally packed containers, one full flat and two full carts from BJ’s and various and sundry personal boxes and bags from Harris Teeter, Target, Trader Joe’s and speciality stores from Charlotte to Canada. 

Now the guessing game begins as to how long it will take to get to us…and, once it does, how long it will last. 

Luckily we still have almost 1,000 pounds we can send later…

Past, present and future

Amos Bronson Alcott, who was a pretty cool dude in his own right, and was the father of Louisa May (which makes him doubly cool), once said “The less routine, the more life.”

This idea – that routine is the death knell of excitement and living – was one of the main reasons I was willing to leave our home, family and friends and set off on this great adventure.

My theory was that the reason it seems like time moves faster the older you get is that you stop having new experiences.  Life becomes routine after you’ve crossed off all the “required” experiences: going to school, going to college, getting a job, dating, marrying, having kids.  After that every day is the same: get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed – do it all over again then next day.  Once or twice a year you get to take a vacation, but, at least while your kids are young, that is more stressful than work and you long to get back to the routine when your kids sleep in their own bed and at a reasonable hour.

I figured if I shook the routine up enough (you know, move to Africa) then time would slow down again and I’d get more life by living in the moment of all these new experiences.

A funny thing seems to be happening though – the new experiences are happening at breakneck speed, but I’m spending the whole time either reminiscing about the past, or worrying about the future.  In other words, I’m living less in the moment than I think I was when I was mired in all the deadly boring “routine.”

Case in point.  In the past two months, C and I have spent a good bit of time traveling to visit friends and family.  We’ve traveled over 3,500 miles since May.  We’ve seen several dozen of B’s family members (most in the same place, but still…) and half a dozen of mine – in two different places.  I’ve done “girls” weekend in New York and have checked off a large number of visits with assorted friends both here and along the way.

IMG1098Two of my favorite places in the world were the stopping points on our most recent trip, yet I spent a good bit of time in both those places with my face pointed toward a computer screen finalizing our consumables list, scanning in our important documents, and arguing with the airlines about how to get Miller on a plane to Kinshasa.

I’ve spent a weekend in New York, a week in Maine, a week in Michigan, a week in Canada, and on our drive we stopped by the town where my parents landed in 1970 when they moved to Canada, and in the city where I went to elementary school.  We drove along streets where I got lost in the past remembering games of Red Rover and the Wonder Woman Club.  We visited several of my high school friends. We ate (or at least I ate) every “favorite” food I thought I might not get for the next two years.

So the last few months have not been particularly routine, but several times I realized that I was not really enjoying the experiences (new and old) and my life, because I was too busy worrying about how many jars of pasta sauce we should bring with us in our consumables, or thinking about how much a Coke and a candy bar used to cost at the corner store in my old neighborhood ($0.26 each).

All of this has made me realize that the danger of this new life of ours is the risk of always looking forward – to the next bid, the next post, the next shipment – or always looking back – to the last post, old friends, or to the things you can’t see, visit or eat – and not, instead, looking around – to the amazing experiences being offered to us at every turn.

We’ve lived in D.C. for 10 months now.  I swore I would see a Supreme Court argument, visit the National Archives, go up the Washington Monument – and yet I haven’t done any of it, because I’ve spent a good bit of time here – in this amazing city – thinking about “there” – Kinshasa – and what it will be like when we get there.

So what will happen when I get there? Will I spend all my time thinking about here, D.C.? About Leland and Muskoka, where I had the privilege of spending the last two weeks? About my past? Or about my future and where our next post might be?

Perhaps my goal needs to be to embrace the routine along with the adventure. Maybe a little routine gives our brains the rest they need to stop and look around.  Cause you know what another cool (and righteous) dude once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


Family trip in Maine


Michigan wine tasting tour. Part IV…


Moose anyone?


Our first home in Canada.


B visiting with his brothers.


Cousins in Maine


Girls Weekend – Sushi in NYC!


Visit the Newseum. Check.


Broadway Play. Check.


Popeye’s friend chicken, red beans & rice, onion rings and Cajun sparkle. Check.