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.
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.
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.