I’m going to the garden to eat worms…

It all started with the caterpillars. We went out for a nice dinner for B’s birthday at one of our favourite restaurants in Kinshasa: RE-source. It’s a lovely setting with good food and as an added bonus the chef likes to send over little amuse-bouches which are always delicious.  As predicted, we started off with an appetizer of our own choosing, but he also sent over delicious ginger beignets and veggie fritters. As we waited for our main course he came around again with four plates setting them down in front of each of us.

We looked at the plates. We looked at each other. We looked back at the plates.

“Caterpillars, grubs and crickets,” pronounced one of our dining companions.

Hmmm…

We knew that the menu included a salad with such insect delicacies, but none of us had been brave enough to order it. Apparently, though, the chef had recognized that we might all be brave enough to try it if it was put down in front of us.

IMG_3039

I have to admit I bypassed the crickets on the left, but I ate everything else and, a bit to my shock, it was pretty good. I don’t think the avocado and feta cheese hurt anything as far as my appreciation for the grubs, but they definitely didn’t completely mask the taste.

This foray into insects as dinner started a chain reaction of Congolese food exploration – though for much of it I’ve done more viewing than eating.

In Kinshasa there are no “fast food” restaurants (unless you consider a 15+ minutes for your burger ‘fast’), but there is food that you can acquire and eat on the go. I’ve been fascinated by the street food since we got here, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally ate some.  When I first saw the “egg men” I thought they were carrying raw eggs and I lived in fear of the day I would see one of them drop their pile of egg crates, thereby losing their livelihood for the day.

IMG_3172

It turns out though, that those are boiled eggs with a little jar of hot sauce (pili pili) on the side. For 250 Congolese Francs (about $0.20) you can get an egg with spice either in powdered form (milder) or liquid form (hot!). The vendors carry a little knife with them and after taking an egg out with a plastic sheet (so they are not touching them) they crack it all the way around and peel the shell off revealing a perfect boiled egg (miraculously in my opinion because I always tear the egg and end up with a mess…). Then they add the spice and voila – lunch!

Other options for “fast” food include omelettes made on little stoves along the sidewalk (and I will be eating one of those one day soon because they smell AMAZING), little sausages wrapped in croissant that you can get out of the window of your car as you are stopped at a light (I’ve been sorely tempted to buy one some mornings, but we are not allowed to open our windows while we are driving so, alas, I’m out of luck on this one), and chickwangue (pronounced “chick-wang”) which is, perhaps, the most ubiquitous food in Kinshasa.

Chikwangue is a staple for most people here because it is filling and cheap. It is made from the Yuca root, also know as ‘cassava’ or ‘manioc.’ It is the tuber of a large shrub – tapioca comes from the same plant. Around here, the root is boiled, formed into a “log” of sorts and then wrapped in manioc leaves and sold on the street for about 500 CF ($0.40). In other parts of Africa the manioc is boiled and served hot, almost like polenta or oatmeal, and is called Fu-fu. The leaves are also used – they are ground up and boiled with onions and garlic to make something like creamed spinach (without the cream) called Saka-saka, ngai-ngai, or pondu.

These are the staples of many of the Congolese people, along with plantains and bananas, rice and, if they can afford it, chicken, or fish from the river. We pass stands by the side of the road with fish hanging from strings, fresh from the Congo River. One of the standard fish is called capitaine, a relatively mild white fish. The traditional way of cooking it, called maboke, is in manioc leaves (yes, them again) over a fire with peppers. You can also find fish being grilled street-side.

Unlike many places in Africa there is not really a “cuisine” as such in DRC, just a few dishes, like Maboke, Chikwangue and Pondu, that are considered Congolese (though most of them are eaten all over Africa in some form or another).

We’ve also been enjoying – quite literally – the fruits of our garden.

Last year our avocado tree produced exactly one fruit, so it was hard to appreciate it for more than the shade it provided. This year it has been so prolific I feel like I spend half my time trying to find new recipes to use all the avocados. We also have a maracuja (passion fruit) vine which has been dropping little balls of yumminess into the yard for the last month or so. Our coconut tree also gives us a nut or two every month – though most of the time I don’t have the energy to make my way through the husk, so I give them away. This week, for the first time, we also managed to get a ripe breadfruit off of the tree in our compound (they usually disappear with staff or guards before they get ripe), so last night I made breadfruit fritters. Breadfruit are actually pretty fascinating – called “ulu” in Hawaii – they are considered to be a candidate for curing hunger because they are so fruitful and have so many good health benefits. The fritters were pretty good too – potato-like and extra good with onion jam.

Finally are the foods in Congo that either make me cringe or laugh. I’ve been told that the poce and makokolo (the big fat grubs below ) are “délicieux” but I don’t think I’ll be testing them out before we go. Of course, the Congolese think it is bizarre that we eat raw vegetables, mussels and escargot, so it’s probably only a question of getting used to the idea…but I think I’ll stick to the avocados for now.

IMG_3165

 

Game night

When I imagined life in Kinshasa I pictured the family game nights of my childhood.

On rainy and sub-sub zero temperature days at my family’s cottage (house on a lake for all the non-Canadians out there), and on many evenings, our family gathered round the dining table and played games. As we got older there was also usually a puzzle set up on a different table that two or three people would huddle over, squinting at all white tiles trying to determine whether they fit into a cloud or a snowbank. We had no cable and no internet, so the options were limited. Watch a movie on the VCR (or Beta – my Dad is an early adopter and sometimes he backed the wrong horse…), do a puzzle, or play a game. In my mind’s eye the lights are turned low, there is a fire burning and the darkness outside wraps around the house making all seem cozy and sheltered.

It’s not that I expected cozy nights around the fire in Kin – the fact that it was going to be 90 degrees in the shade many days was one of the things about the Congo that strongly appealed to me, the girl who is always cold. But, I was led to believe that internet would be spotty, or so slow it would be like returning to telephone modems, and cable would be non-existent, or full of things we didn’t want to watch, so I planned accordingly.

I packed puzzles and games and DVDs. I even bought B a beautiful wooden cribbage set for Christmas last year (with an etching of the lake where the cottage is – and where we were married). We requested puzzles for Christmas presents, we asked for recommendations on TV series and movies and we stocked up on games. I thought I’d have hours and hours to read and write and filled boxes with books accordingly.

It is all sitting, unused, in our playroom and on the bookshelves.

The reality of Kin is that most weekends are filled with so much activity that we are too exhausted to play a game or do a puzzle when we get home. Now that we are in rainy season it certainly rains – but rarely for more than an hour or two at a time, so there are no all day sit inside, noses pressed up against the glass, watching the rain and being bored moments here. Clearly there are no -22 degree days to keep us inside, and when it is 95+ we just get in the pool.

IMG_1999

The last month has been no exception – and has, in fact, been busier than earlier months due to the holidays.

First came Halloween. The embassy (or really the CLO (“Community Liaison Officer”)) organized a trunk-or-treat party with games and cookie decorating after the candy grabbing was over. C (and we, if truth be told) had a blast.

There was no traditional door to door trick or treating, but I realized that we have never had a “traditional” Halloween with C. In our old neighborhood in Charlotte there was a Halloween Parade with dozens of small children dressed as princesses, pirates, ghosts and Cindy Lou Who (in the case of C) trailing along behind a fire truck, getting candy from neighbors standing on the street and ending up at the community center for a pizza party.  In D.C. last year we did Halloween on the Hill and wandered around Capitol Hill with good friends. So Halloween in Kinshasa was really not that much different than in the U.S. for us.

The night of Halloween was Oktoberfest at the Symphonie Des Arts – so we left C with a babysitter and went out on the town to witness a large majority of the Kin expat community wearing dirndls and lederhosen made out of the local pagne cloth and dancing the night away to a band brought in from Germany. Schnitzel and sauerkraut – and dozens of other German dishes – were set out in a buffet and beer was flowing as it does only in October at German parties. And, to top of that night, we did the Conga in the Congo.

20151031_202348

  
The next day we headed with a large group out to see the Bonobos – apes that are only found in Congo because they don’t like to swim and won’t cross the Congo River. They are fascinating to watch – incredibly human-like – but their society, which is ruled by a female, apparently has the motto “make love, not war” and they are free to demonstrate that motto in actions rather than words. Luckily the children were more transfixed by the baby Bonobos than the “rumble in the jungle” going on at every turn and we escaped without having to answer any hard questions.

On Veterans Day the kids were in school, but the Embassy was closed, so about 40 people chartered a bus and took a tour of Kinshasa. We visited sites generally off limits, not only to us because of security, but to everyone, including the final resting place of Laurent Kabila (or “Papa Kabila” here), the father of the current president. Papa Kabila became president of the Congo in 1997 when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko (or just “Mobutu”), the dictator of the country for over 30 years, but Papa Kabila was assassinated only 4 years later in January 2001. His mausoleum is impressive, but is generally completely inaccessible. It was a rare insight into a city and country that is not generally a tourist destination in any sense of the word.

After that we had the Marine Corps Ball, then Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s residence – with people in the community bringing their favorite side dishes. Two days after Thanksgiving was the “Kid Power” festival featuring almost a dozen bouncy houses which almost made C faint from excitement when she first saw them. This weekend we have a “Hail & Farewell” party on Friday (when the community welcomes the newest arrivals and says goodbye to the folks headed to their next tour) then C’s “Spectacle de Danse” on Saturday. On  Sunday, as on all Sundays, we’ll have our weekly “cocktail hour” at the compound.

Through all this we have managed to have a couple of game nights with some good friends, and they have been everything I was hoping for and expecting – laughter, mingled with competition, while darkness closes in around us and the A/C glows in the background.

 

Gluttony

glutton_for_punishment_hat-r26f989937ffb4ad1bfaeb82a8781c695_v9wfy_8byvr_324Apparently I am a glutton for punishment.

And, I’m also a bit of a glutton.

My last day being a practicing lawyer was supposed to be this Thursday, April 30.  I was mentally prepared (and both trepidatious and excited) for that day when one of my partners called me about three weeks ago.

Law Partner: “Hey. So, you know that case you are transitioning to me?”

Me: “Yup.”

LP: “Well, it looks like it is scheduled to go to trial June 1.”

Me: “Yup.”

LP: “Don’t suppose you’d like to stick around and help me try it?”

Me: “Um…I’d have to check with B.” (Mentally thinking that B might, literally, kill me if I work for another 6 weeks – particularly work to get ready for a trial…not exactly “part time” work)

LP: “Well, check with him and let me know.  I wasn’t sure if it was cruel to ask you since we all agreed here that you wouldn’t be able to help yourself from saying yes. But, since I could definitely use the help, I figured I’d just be cruel…”

Ah, these people know me too well.

So now I do not have 3 more days of work left, but 43 (or so) more days.  And part of me is thrilled; SO excited to try a case with my wonderful LP and the wonderful client we represent in this case.  And part of me is, like, “WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU!”  Sigh.

DSC_1421

C is shaking her head too…

In this midst of the hand-wringing over my job, B and I have also been continuing our “gluttony” quest of checking off restaurants on the Washingtonian’s List of the 100 Very Best Restaurants.  We’ve hit No. 1 and No. 95, and 15 others in between, with one more (No. 11) scheduled for later in May and a couple of others that we plan to check off before we go.

2015041995001929

I have to admit that I am not sure I agree wholeheartedly with the placement of each of these restaurants on the list – for instance No. 22 was head and shoulders above No. 15 both in terms of food, and service (price too, admittedly, but still…) and No. 95 was better (and way cheaper) than No. 54, but, nevertheless, it’s been a fun (and quite delicious) way to spend our “date” time in D.C.

IMG_0133

It’s also shocking to me given the quantity I feel like we have eaten in this quest that we have not even cracked 1/4 of the 100 restaurants on the list.  But the quest will continue – at least until we roll our way onto a flight to FullSizeRender (13)Kinshasa – so maybe we’ll at least reach the 25 number before we leave.

 

FullSizeRender (11)

 

 

 

 

 

In other exciting news, we found out this morning that we got our housing assignment in Kin – and that we got a house! HOORAY! We will be in a compound with a number of other families with young children, and we will have our own yard (Miller, the Dog, is doing his happy dance) and our own pool. SO EXCITED!

We really are doing our best to enjoy our time left in the D.C. and the U.S., and C and I are about to head out on several cross-country adventures to visit family and friends, but after eight months here we are also itching to get on our way to the D.R.C.

With somewhere to live it feels like the countdown is ON!

A musical interlude

Somewhere in the chaos and rush of wifedom and motherhood I have forgotten how much I love music.

Today I’m alone and I’m not working.  Or, at least, I’m not working in the traditional sense, though I am practicing, as my friend MJ says, the “Home Arts.”  I’m cooking for the feast that we will have with four of our best friends tonight.  Standing rib roast, yorkshire puddings (ask someone British if you don’t know what these are – then do your best to get some…), roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, Pavlova (ditto above – just ask someone Australian or a Kiwi) and some homemade ice cream to round out the gluttony.

I was going to turn on the TV while I cooked, but come on, between the ice cream maker, mixer and being on the other side of the room, I wouldn’t hear a thing. So, instead, I decided to open the long ignored iTunes icon and I chose a playlist I made many years ago – before the aforementioned wifedom and motherhood.  I called the playlist “Awe.”  It contains songs that make me feel fully alive – the kind of songs that make you want to dance around, sing as loud as you can, and not care who sees or hears you.  These songs make me feel FULL. Full of life, and love and wonder.   They are the kind of songs that make me cry from happiness, and sadness, and longing and joy.

Most of these songs are not “hits” for anyone but me.  Somewhat obscure bands like Catherine Wheel, The Lowest of the Low and Bob Mould, plenty of ’80s “alternative” music and (for me) some bizarre additions like The Black Eyed Peas.  There are songs everyone knows too, but together this list just, well, sings to me.

The feeling these songs give me is part of the reason I have “blown up my life” (another gem courtesy of MJ) and decided to follow B to the African jungles (even though they might be concrete jungles primarily).

And listening is reminding me that life is full of Awe, isn’t it? In song, in art, in the goodness of other humans, in just looking out the window and seeing a gorgeous blue sky with passing clouds, in smelling bacon cooking. In so many ways.

I have had a million small and large moments of awe this year – it’s been a good one, 2014.  But my playlist is reminding of how much awe there is to come in 2015.  I can’t wait.

I’ve got to get back to my Choux de Bruxelles now, and Spoon just came on so I need to get up and dance.  For anyone who is curious, the whole list of “AWE” is below.

Happy New Year friends.  I hope 2015 is awe-some – and awe-filled – for all of you.

AWE

Litany (Life Goes On)            Guadalcanal Diary

Can’t Stand It                         Wilco

New Year’s Day                     U2

Dreaming                               Blondie

Judy Staring At The Sun       Catherine Wheel

Blister In The Sun                 Violent Femmes

Sit Down                                 James

But Not Tonight                     Depeche Mode

Forever Young                       Alphaville

Song 2                                    Blur

Hoover Dam                           Sugar

Just Can’t Get Enough          Depeche Mode

Love Is Strange                      Everything But The Girl

Heal                                        Catherine Wheel

Do You Realize?                     The Flaming Lips

Life                                         Our Lady Peace

Obsession                               Animotion

Rosy And Grey                       The Lowest Of The Low

I Turn My Camera On          Spoon

Super Bon Bon                      Soul Coughing

So What’cha Want                The Beastie Boys

Gone Going                             Black Eyed Peas

So Alive                                   Ryan Adams

See a Little Light [*]              Bob Mould

Just Like Heaven                   The Cure

I’m Free                                  The Soup Dragons

This Is The Day                     The The

Every Morning                      Sugar Ray

Thank You                             Led Zeppelin