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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

5 thoughts on “Day One

  1. Welcome to Africa! Glad your social sponsor took care of your sugar/milk needs! As a recent CLO – Community Liaison Officer, with the critical job of recruiting and assigning social sponsors – I’m glad he/she/they took care of you! There would not typically be coffee filters in the Welcome Kit – just the equipment. If the social sponsor thinks of it, they should leave a few filters when they bring the staples. Those of use who don’t drink coffee….wouldn’t think of it!

    As to the birds you’re seeing – they are a Pied Crow. Took me forever to find them on the internet when we first came to Liberia! All over Africa. “Pied” refers to the white
    “vest” they have. Pied Crows are very smart, and can be taught to talk. There’s a guy in Atlanta who hatches and raises them for sale as pets. He gets about $2,000 per bird.

    And as to the people on the street – be very, very careful both driving and walking. Many are killed every week/month. And car accidents are the #1 way Americans overseas get hurt/killed. They probably referenced it in the SOS class, and it IS a very serious problem. So just be careful! Many people with no driver’s licenses, few road rules, and bad vehicles make a dangerous situation. You’ll probably have a RSO – Regional Security Office – briefing next week with specific details.

    Good Luck! Enjoy your time! Deb

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    • What great information! I have a new respect for the Pied Crows worth $$$ flying around! And yes, our social sponsor has been fantastic – I can only hope I can pay it forward as well as she has! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. The Birds are Pied Crows – all over Africa. They can be taught to talk and are sold in the US for $2000 each as pets – hatched by a guy in Atlanta. As an Embassy person in Liberia, I can tell you that there are many, many deaths on those roads. Be very, very careful! Both driving and walking. We are told that if you hit someone, or get hit – call Post One immediately. The RSO and security will deal with it. Don’t get out of the car, lock the doors, and return to the Embassy compound as soon as possible. Though ambulance/hospital service there may be better than here – it’s very risky! Car/road accidents are the number one/two way Americans get killed overseas. The other is fire. The DOS does not provide paper products in the Welcome kits, just the key equipment. Toilet paper/paper towels etc…are generally provided by the Social Sponsor, at least starter rolls! Welcome to Africa!

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  3. I have been awaiting your post of your arrival. I am looking forward to hearing more about it ! I enjoy your blog. It is like reading a book.

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