Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A classic Congolese departure.

Hard to believe my time in Congo is already at an end. It went by so quickly. I did look into the possibility to extend my stay (and cancel my flight to Mali), but it would have cost far too much; the tickets were non-refundable. In retrospect, I’m glad I kept with the original itinerary. Two and a half weeks is hardly long – especially when you’re trying to learn a dance – but I was beginning to feel the need to move on. Have a change of scenery. Perhaps it was the lack of electricity. Perhaps it was the less-than-ideal control over my diet. Perhaps it was the nuances of cultural clashes (read below) that had exhausted my patience and understanding.

Still, I would miss Congo.

Manasset was kind enough to accompany me to the airport. We woke up at 4am. Catching a taxi is a bit challenging at this hour. There is no such thing as a radio taxi, and consigning one in advance would have been a fortune. So, we stood in the relatively empty streets of Bakongo at 4:30am, waving at every taxi that flew by. Most were loaded with people, bleary-eyed and heading to work. (Taxi’s in Congo, you see, often operate as buses. They follow a certain route and you can get on and off as you please for about 100 CFA.) Finally, we caught a lucky break with an empty taxi that was cruising around, looking for more passengers.

For breakfast, we briefly stopped in an alley populated with people. The area, as it turns out, was where bread was made. Distributors had already arrived to pick up their daily supply. Women spread out blankets on the sidewalk and piled them high with avocados and oranges. I grabbed a loaf and an avocado, then we resumed our progress to the airport.

Manasset and I said our goodbyes in the mostly empty airport. It’s a new facility, which made it seem all the more cavernous at 5am.

Security was amusing. The people were nice enough, but I was solicited twice for bribes. One simply asked if I had any Congo CFA. This was within the realm of normalcy, since it is apparently illegal to export the currency. I had already given the last of my bills to Manasset.

The second encounter gave me a chuckle. A guard who spoke English reasonably well started the conversation by asking where I stayed, what did I do, where am I from, etc. He said he hoped I had a nice stay in Congo and that I am welcome. And then: “So… do you have anything for me?”

“Any what?” I played dumb.

“Any … you know… appreciation. Some money, maybe?”

“Oh. No.” I smiled.

This was my favorite part: the look of surprise on his face. He was genuinely taken aback. “Really? Nothing at all? Are you sure?

“Quite sure,” I returned with a laugh.

“Okay... Well, uh, good day.”

It remains unclear if he didn’t expect me to defy his nominal authority so directly, or if he simply had not been denied before. Or he was trying on asking for bribes and was simply new to the whole process. My guess would be the last, given his overt friendliness and meek request for a payoff. He needs to work on his intimidation factor. Actually, he shouldn’t, because I don’t condone corruption. It gets old, real fast.

At least I can check off being asked for a bribe from my list of Essential Things To Do In Africa.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dance performance in Congo.

The auspicious day arrived: my dance performance.

It was a crazy process to get to this point. The constant dancing, reviewing videos, studying the rhythms, asking about the history of the dances, watching dance troupe performances… I’ve hardly had a moment to myself. This has been a good and a bad thing, but for now I’ll think of it as a good thing.

Everyone needed to freshen up for the big show. Pierrick got a fresh haircut and shave. I… got my hair braided. It turned into something of a community activity, all of us sitting around, pruning one another.

The result was surprisingly good. I will likely cut my hair when I return home, but I will keep the success of this braiding in mind for the future.

My performance was intended to showcase the work I had done while in Congo. I thought this would have been more targeted to the local community. Instead, the decision was made to stage it outside of the city, near the rapids of the Congo River. This meant a procession of dancers, drummers, and children carrying drums and dance props, all streaming out of the neighborhood. We hailed a couple taxis, piled in (we were squeezing five into the back seat), and departed for the river.

While it was disappointing to lose the personal, community aspect of the performance, the aesthetics of location made up for the loss. There was also a spiritual component: visiting the Congo River, touching its waters, communing with the spirit of the river and the land. (I elected to not go swimming; I’m sure the ancestors of the river would forgive my intense fear of schistosomiasis. I waded in, spoke a silent prayer of thanks to earth and the universe, and then promptly got out and toweled off.)

Then it was time to get dressed. Goga furnished the costumes. The braided skirt accessory is a ceremonial adornment called a “raffia.” I later bought one of my own, a souvenir to bring back from the Congo.

I will upload video of the performance when I get home.

Afterwards, it was time for a quick swim to wash off. I opted out. Goga got a little silly and asked for a picture.

What is Africa without a little naked fun?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dear Brazzaville: I Am Not Jesus.

Seriously: I am not Jesus. Being white and having a beard does not mean you are.

I know it is done in jest and good fun, but it's getting old. Whenever I go anywhere in the city, I am followed by catcalls of "Jesu! Jesu!" This would not be such a burden if they did not get offended when I offer know reply. I think it would take the patience of someone like Jesus Christ to handle the relentless calls for attention by an entire city.

Tomorrow I will try out putting my hair in dreds. If that does not work, I think it's about time to don a bandana for any outdoor excursion. The headgear diminishes the resemblance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A day in Brazzaville.

The week started off with a genuine kick in the ass: two-hours of African dancing with Goga, my dance instructor. When you dance African with 100% effort, it’s a friggin’ aerobic workout. I’m glad I did Insanity for the past two months, feeling prepared to handle the energy output required for the dance. He is constantly pleased with my passion, my fast learning, my desire for a challenge, and my base skill as a dancer. I think it’s fun for him, working with someone so eager to study African and executing it well.

We always draw a crowd during our sessions. The rhythmic thumping of a drum accompaniment serves to advertise the commencement of our rehearsal. We spent a little over an hour running through the dances for last time and refining the movements.

Shirtless and dripping with sweat, he beams a smile at me and says something in French. “He wants to know if you finished,” a bystander translates. (The person’s name is Master Cool, as a random aside. What he did to deserve the epithet, perhaps I will never know.)

“No! Press on! More! Kassa-kassa!” I shout. (It means “energy” in Lari.) Goga’s face lights up and he shouts back, “Kassa-kassa!” shaking his fists in front of him as if ready for a fight. “Kassa-kassa!” I return one last time, then we’re on to more dancing.

Lunch of bread+avocado, plus many bananas and oranges. And a couple blocks of chocolate.

Accidentally napped for an hour. Then it’s off to my drum lesson. My teacher was pleased with how quickly I’d pick up the rhythms. It is clear, however, that drums are less intuitive than dance for me. My mild dyslexia gets in the way, so that about a minute into maintaining a rhythm, my hands get confused and mix everything up. Then I have to stop and reset.

We will do a performance of my work before I leave. When I spoke with Goga later in the evening, he said he is so happy working with me. Said he was willing to work for a discount because I bring such energy to the lesson. Also, that I would be ready to tour by the end of our time together. Some of that is probably blowing sunshine up my ass – there’s no way I could compete with the professional-caliber African dancers out there – but boy howdy it sure does feel good.


At my request, we visited a supermarket downtown. It really was like a supermarket, albeit a small one by American standards. Wandering through the aisles, I reminisced of home. Normally I despise supermarkets, i.e. Walmart, and all that they stand for, but I’ve even come to miss these paragons of capitalism from the States. There is something comforting about the wide range of available foods, from jams and dark chocolate to crackers and frozen dinners. All with fancy packaging. When your normal source of salt comes in a small plastic pouch of plastic wrap, it is surprisingly pleasant to see a container properly labeled “Salt.” Or “sal,” as they say. (I think.)

I ate cheese for the first time in 2.5 months. A gouda chevre. Tears came to my eyes, so overwhelmed was I with emotion at the explosion of dairy flavor in my mouth.


Later that evening…

Journaling with a handful of children perched around me, whispering in Lari and French. It’s about 8:30 pm; the compound is dark for lack of electricity. Drawn to the soft glow of my laptop like moths to a lamp, they crowd around the chair. All I’m doing is journaling. It’s not particularly interesting, yet they are fascinated with the process. (They did get quite excited when I showed them the photo from Friday of me with Pierrick, Manaset, Spirit, & co.) Listening to Zoe Keating, which reminds me of home. I feel much more centered today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A dream come true?

Jean, tied up in an all-day workshop, encouraged me to find someone to keep me company during the day. I pinged Pierrick, who offered to pick me up in downtown and hang out. I met him and his friends, who then whisked me off to Bakongo, their neighborhood. Bakongo is only a couple kilometers outside of downtown and is the artistic hub of Brazzaville. It houses the Marche Totale, a sprawling flea/farmers market that is famous in the city. You can buy just about anything there, you just need to wade through the endless procession of knockoff handbags, shoes, and clothing.

We sat down for drinks at an outdoor café/restaurant. There are many of these such cafes around, typically just a covered space with plastic tables and seating.

Hanging out at these places appears to be a national pastime of Congo. As I’ve come to discover, there are people that just spend their entire day sitting in the shade, shooting the shit with whomever happens to join them. They are not independently wealthy or inept, they’re probably just unemployed and have nothing else to do. It’s interesting to observe the hobbies of a people that have intermittent electricity access and cannot afford books, computers, TV, etc. I imagine that passing time without spending money can be quite challenging.

Back to my story. We are soon joined by a small gang of other friends. Fortunately, one in the midst, Manaset, speaks English almost fluently and was friendly and eager to translate. With his aid, we talked about Congo, its people, native languages, musicians, drums, etc.

Pierrick then asks me if I’m ready to learn drums. I wasn’t sure if I understood him correctly.

“Your drum lessons. Ready?”

Uh. Yes. Absolutely. Abso-freakin-lutely. Then we’re off to the more residential part of Bakongo, an area populated by compounds surrounded with tall concrete walls. This has been a common style of urban planning in Africa. Being intensely family-oriented, people often elect to live in compounds with their extended family. The walls are presumably to ward off thieves, judging from the barbs or broken glass that adorn the top.

We arrive at a compound and enter into a space that could have been Mr. Miyagi’s had he been African. A couple of trees, drums lining one side, and a wide, cleared space at its center to accommodate dancing.

Pretty soon I’m into my first drum lesson, learning how to play the ngoma (a ~4-ft tall drum with diameter of maybe 12”). It is the traditional drum of Congolese dance.

I spent three or four hours there, learning from my teacher (he was the seated man in the far right of the picture), and watching a dancer’s rehearsal. The rehearsal interrupted my lesson, but I was okay with it because I was treated to a showing of many different Congolese dances. (Each dance is determined by the rhythm and has a story behind it; for example, Assombi is an energetic dance originally performed in preparation for war.) I even worked in some video, which I hope to eventually post for private viewing. The highlight was the dance instructor, a rather haggard man of probably 50 or 60 years, a many whose time in the African sun has not aged him favorably. No number of years could prevent this man from dancing. When he demonstrated for his pupils, he did so full-out, moving with a finesse and grace that lived just beneath the surface of his apparently decrepit frame.

By the conclusion of the evening, we had established a plan. I would move in with Manaset and his family, who live in the neighborhood, and take lessons every day in drum and dance from local artists.

This may be a dream come true.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dancing in Brazzaville: a validation.

Sometimes I wonder if mosquitos can laugh. The way they seem to ignore my bug net, the way they will float around my ear, just to let me know they’re there – somewhere. It must be them mocking me.

Overnight, I got bites on practically every inch of my index finger. It’s swollen to the point that I cannot bend it into a fist.

Later that night, we went out dancing. Joined by Jean and his friend, we met up with Pierrick and a few of his friends. Pierrick is the person Muisi-kongo, my dance instructor, put me in touch with. I was surprised that Pierrick would bring his friends so far out – halfway to Talangai, which is a long trek – but he’s cool like that.

Went into this bar that was deserted, save for the staff and one woman dancing on the floor. Afro-pop music was pumping through the loudspeakers. The entire space felt like a meat locker, with its ten-something A/C units working full-blast. It was a little saddening to see them so grossly overestimate demand. Hope springs eternal, right?

Me and a few of the others got to dancing. It was my first time catching a groove in the Congo, and I’d say I wasn’t too shabby. We were all solo dancing, but playing off one another endlessly. This is the kind of club dancing I can enjoy – one where its interactive. It reminded me of soloing at a blues venue. They immediately picked up on my movements and would mimic it or engage in a call-and-response. Way fun. Pierrick seemed really impressed with my movement.

After an hour or so, we parted ways. I wanted to go back home, but Jean pushed for another bar stop. We picked another – this one with outdoor patio seating surrounding a central dance floor. The seating was packed, the dance floor was empty. Something about being exposed in the round like that makes it very difficult to start the dance pack. You feel like you’re on display. Satisfied with my dance experience, I sat back and nursed a beer while the company chatted intermittently in French.

When it was finally time to go, I got up and happened to be waiting by the door. Out of sight for most, I grooved a bit to the song playing. Maybe 30 seconds tops. Then we’re out the door, but just moments later I’m accosted by a tall man, speaking assertively to me in French. “Uh… uh… no… parlez vouz François …” I was worried I had done something wrong.

Jean translated: “He says he’s extremely pleased by your dancing. You move like a traditional African dancer. He wants to know how you learned to dance so well.”

I returned home and soon went to bed, a smile from ear to ear plastered on my face.

Safe in Brazzaville.

I'm safe in Brazzaville. My friend, Jean (pronounced "John"), whom I met through CouchSurfing, works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which helps protect gorillas and chimpanzees in the national parks. He's going to give me more info about visiting them. He's super cool, kind, speaks English fluently, and his family is welcoming. I love meeting new people. Their toilet is a hole in the ground, but I'm not complaining: it beats shelling out $150+ / night to be cloistered in a hotel with no real connection to its culture.

More details to come...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I am just so pleased with myself. Showed up at 9am with a battle plan in place. The key was to get something in writing from the manager (Mr. Thomas). Knowing that he would likely keep putting it off – as any busy person is liable to do – I drafted the letter for him. In essence, an unofficial report of the events that transpired. With that kind of document in my possession, I have proof of their blunder and can use that as leverage to reach the complaints board.

It took a long time to reach him. Three and a half hours of waiting, repeated questioning of underlings, and ultimately my own resourcefulness of personally contacting his mobile number to reach the guy.

He read it over and gave his signature. Not sure if I read him correctly, but I think he was impressed by my proactive and street-wise behavior. Expressed his sympathies again, promised he would write his official report, and sent me on my way to board. He said he investigated who called me the other night and lied about the manager being unavailable, and will take appropriate actions to reprimand him.

Grabbed another stash of chocolate (I think amounting to about 1kg – yeah, I don’t know if there’ll be more again) and trail mix to tide me over through lunch.

Waiting on the tarmac, about to board, I was surprised to see Thomas striding out in my direction. He was holding something in his hand. He walked up to me and handed a new ticket stub. “Here. I upgraded your flight. Again, please accept my sincerest apologies and hope you will fly again with ASky. I am filing my report with my manager right now; you will receive a copy by the time you land in Brazzaville.”

Signed, sealed, delivered, you’re mine, bitches.

Well, maybe. It means they’re taking me seriously. That’s a step in the right direction.

For now, I’m deeply pleased with myself. And positively giddy about flying first class. Champagne, capacious seating, and courteous attention.

Cheers to me.

Don't read this if you ate recently...

Disclaimer: this post speaks frankly about human bodily functions.

It’s about 11:30pm, a long day finally over. I go out to make use of the outhouse. Jean had warned me that it was “sober,” (he meant Spartan/basic/etc.) which translates to a hole in the ground.

Not any big surprise. It’s better than what I saw in Lagos – a drain in the wall. Not even a hole, so you also have to deal with the urine spatter. I don’t even know what they do about excrement – I timed it to avoid having to find out.

Glancing down while relieving myself, I notice something funny: my urine was fizzing. Since “effervescent” is not a common adjective associated with pee, I took a deep breath and bent over for closer investigation.

Maggots. (Cue the screeching strings background music.) Lots and lots of maggots. Covering every inch of non-organic material in the hole.

I think the only redeeming aspect of this photo is the juxtaposition with a beaming, anthropomorphized orange.

This picture was actually taken the next day; so staggered was I by the sight that I couldn’t rally for an immediate photo op. Too bad, because the first time I looked there was also a C or D dry-cell alkaline battery. It raises the question: who the hell changes their batteries in the toilet? Or, who is taking such a prolonged dump that they bring spare batteries for their flashlight?

Lost In Translation

Immigration could have gone better. I made it to the point where they inspect my documents, visa, etc. I thought everything is in order. The guy starts speaking to me in French. I shrug my shoulders and apologize, “Pardon, no parlevouz François.” He gives me a look, calls over a large uniformed woman. They started talking in French, occasionally pointing at me. Five minutes of conversation later, the woman turns to me and says, “Wait. Here.” She points at the row of seats nearby. Really? That’s all you have to say for five minutes of deliberation? There must have been more to the discussion than that...

Turns out I was supposed to supply an invitation letter. Never saw that in any of the documents regarding immigration to Congo… You’d think that would have come up when I applied for my visa. I suppose it’s understandable; they don’t want non-French speaking visitors wandering around the city and getting impossibly lost. (I think I’d be able to fend for myself, but whatever.)

Fortunately, Jean (my CS friend) was at the airport and came to my rescue. He smoothed things over with the authorities, serving as my advocate. Clearly, he was my invitation; we just forgot to write the letter.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Looking on the brighter side of life.

Being stranded in Togo has not been an entirely unqualified disaster. There have been some fantastic moments to buoy my spirits and carry me through this rough patch.

First: chocolate. I had the foresight to buy 200g at the duty-free shop.

Oh. My. God. I almost cried.

I’ve enjoyed access to chocolate throughout my time in Africa, thanks the stroke of genius that made me pack a large stash. However, the chocolate has always been enjoyed (and shared) in small portions. There is something to be said for relishing a sense of abundance. I venture to guess it was this facet that brought on the waves of emotion: in the face of uncertainty and frustration, a notion of security.

Second: food. The hotel they sent me to is decidedly upscale, particularly for African standards. Meals are in three courses. For example, my lunch today was: (1) avocado with shredded lettuce, hard-boiled egg, and onion; (2) some cut of beef with a mouth-watering sauce plus steamed carrots; and (3) cantaloupe-like melon. And always, as much bread as I wish. French bread. With a hard crust. That doesn’t taste like cake. I just can’t stop eating it. It’s so. Freaking. Delicious.

Third: a hot shower. The first one I’ve had in two months.

Fourth: two new friends. Fellows likewise stranded by ASky’s incompetence, we commiserated over our misfortunes and bonded through a mutual disdain for the airline carrier. Cecelia and Eli. They are both tremendously friendly, inquisitive, and delightful conversation partners. They were also the only two other English-speaking persons in our party. We ended up chatting for hours over lunch and dinner, discussing Nigerian politics, African life, entrepreneurial spirit, and, of course, how we would chew out the management team of ASky. Eli is staying in Kinshasa, a booming DCR city just across the river from Brazza. I may get to meet up with him during my stay in the Congo.

Fifth: fast internet. Oh my god. I’ve missed you so much. Watching videos on YouTube? Hell yes.

Sixth: alone time. My first opportunity to have privacy. My first chance to not be surrounded by people and compelled to socialize. It’s giving me a battery recharge that I didn’t realize I needed until I found myself staying inside the hotel room all the time, despite a bustling city outside worth exploring.

Morons. I've got morons on my team.

Warning: expletives contained herein.

Fuck ASky. (It’s a subsidiary of Ethiopian Air.) First, my flight leaves late from Lagos. They don’t inform us that it will be late, however. At least in the US, there’s that little info window that says “DELAYED.” In Lagos, there is no one standing around to keep you apprised of flight information. You’re expected to just sit there and wait until someone shows up.

The flight was delayed by an hour, which concerned me because I had about an hour-long layover in Lome, Togo. Not to worry, they assured me, the flight out of Lome will be held until you can board.

My flight to Brazzaville did, in fact, wait around until after I landed. It did not, however, allow me to board. “Overbooked,” they told me, waving me aside. Oh, right, of course. Overbooked.

Welcome to Africa.

They don’t go around looking for volunteers to give up their seat; instead, they just decide that I’m the unfortunate one to not get to arrive in Brazzaville on time. Nothing can be done. Don’t complain, you’ll just slow the process down further. They usher me to a side room and tell me to wait with a handful of other passengers stranded for the ineptitude of ASky.

Of course, the flight stuck around long enough for my bag to board. I pleaded with them to retrieve my bag, my only source of fresh clothes. This did not achieve any results.

People seem really good at taking important documents from you (without much explanation), walking away, and then returning after an indeterminate time with no improvement in the situation. It’s stressful, giving up critical documents such as your baggage claim ticket, not sure if they will return. It’s also upsetting to try to keep track of all your important documents that are floating around in the bureaucratic ether.

I had to fight for every little accommodation, often to no avail. Want to call my friend that was kind enough to pick me up from the Brazza airport? That’s your own problem, bucko – buy a Togo SIM card and credit. Want a bottle of water because you’re thirsty? Pay for it. Need deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste? Go buy it yourself.

They were quick to ship us off to a hotel, where we were cloistered overnight. The lack of a contact number was infuriating. There I was, stuck in a bizarrely upscale hotel, pacing back and forth in my room fuming. Outside, Afro-pop blared over massive amps at a nearby corner store, mixed with the steady roar of motorbikes streaming by. I couldn’t call anyone, wouldn’t know who to call if I could, and didn’t know when I’d even find out about my replacement flight.

The worst, however, is dealing with bureaucracy in a place where you don’t speak their language. It’s a fucking nightmare. When shit goes wrong and you’re facing injustice, it’s bloody enraging to not be able to express yourself. It makes you want to resort to more primitive – physical – means to communicate when verbal means break down. You want to grab a person by the arms and shake them violently to get them to appreciate your plight.

I received a call later that evening, telling me that there was no flight to Brazzaville the next day (Monday). The earliest flight was Tuesday. I said how upset I was, that I would not tolerate this, that I demanded compensation. The guy said he could not do anything about it. I asked for his boss. He said his boss was away at a meeting in Washington. What was his number? Didn’t leave one. When will he be back? Don’t know.

Fuck. The “let me talk to your boss” stratagem was deflected with ease.

It struck me: this is why you always pack clean underwear in your carry-on. You never know when they will royally screw you and leave you without a clear pair for several days.

When this happens, you immediately run through the list of items packed in your checked bag. Books? Damn. Shampoo/soap? Damn. Cell phone charger? Double-damn. Socks, boxers, a new shirt? Damn. More batteries for my water purifier? Damn. Damn. Damn.

It’s a good thing I took my laptop as a carryon. (I’ve never actually packed my laptop in checked bag, but I still appreciated this fact.) Otherwise, I’d be bored out of my skull, sitting around all day waiting for something to happen.

Not surprisingly, all the business about the boss was a lie. I went to the airport this (Monday) morning and spoke with the terminal director. Gave him a piece of my mind. Expressed my rage and indignation. This was more than inconvenient – this was unacceptable suppressive treatment. He was sympathetic, which I appreciated. He got confirmation that my bag was safe in Brazza. Then I heard his side of the story, which shocked me even more.

It would have been easy for me to catch the flight to Brazza. In fact, the booking coordinator had been instructed to boot anyone that could be more easily re-routed. He did this to accommodate several other Brazza-bound passengers on the same flight as me, yet did not do it for me. Maybe because I’m American. Maybe because I didn’t scream loud enough. (It’s difficult when you know they don’t understand you.)

The event amounts to more than an inconvenience, a couple lost days spent in dirty, smelly clothes. It signifies an unacceptable level of unprofessionalism. It signifies a failure to uphold their part of a contract, a contract I bought for $1,700 fucking dollars to get around Africa in a reliable manner. It signifies a blundering company that doesn’t know how to efficiently handle complications.

Perhaps the worst: it amounts to a lost cultural moment: today (Aug 15) marks the Independence Day for Congo. I chose to travel to Brazza during this time window so I could experience this special event. Opportunities like this generally do not align so perfectly during travel. And now that opportunity was blown.

I’m going for blood. I was shaking with frustration last night. I have a strong case for how this was a major breach of contract, a failure on their part to adequately handle the situation, a loss of value to my trip, and poor treatment on my part as a customer. Additionally, ASky is a fledgling operation of only two years, so they are likely concerned about consumer relations. I hope so, anyway, because my treatment thus far indicates otherwise. They are new company contracted with Ethiopian Air, which does have a positive reputation; this treatment would tarnish the image they’re trying to set. I bought my ticket with Ethiopian Air, so I should get the same quality of service.

I demanded that they refund flight and pay $500/day for expenses and lost time. It’s two days off my itinerary, seven hours (and counting) spent waiting around for ASky to get their act together, and untold stress to fight for my right as a paying customer. Otherwise I will sing up such a shitstorm on their heads and push for as much bad publicity as possible.

The manager wasn’t able to acquiesce to these demands, citing a lack of authority. He did promise to write up a report and submit it to his higher-up. He suggested I do the same, and offered his contact information. I am skeptical this will go far, so tomorrow I will return to the office and demand he write the report before I leave. Otherwise I could very well be SOL – once they get me out of Lome, I won’t be their problem anymore. But if I have a letter from the manager, things change: I have documentation from within their organization that they screwed up. Fortunately, my flight to Brazza leaves at 1pm tomorrow, so I’ll go in early and kick up more dust.

It’s a fine line to walk between causing a stir and being patient. I recognize there is a limit on authority of managers. I understand there are procedures that must be followed. I am better off with a sympathetic manager on my side to support my case than a begrudging one. I also understand that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, that they will try to brush me off or say they can’t do anything. I also understand that I’m in a foreign country, which puts me at a disadvantage.

I think I’ve handled myself quite well. Acted respectfully when needed, raised my voice sometimes, and relentlessly demanded documentation. Today I received written confirmation that they screwed up the baggage and flight situation. (Plus $125 in incidental expenses, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what I want from them.) I’m keeping receipts of all my purchases. My travel insurance should also help out.

I’m on the warpath. We’ll see how far I get. I really want to gut these fuckers. Planning to do more research tonight about consumer rights and options for litigation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Backdated entries.

Uploaded my adventures from Calabar...

If you haven't already, read them. They're worthwhile; I put a lot of time into them. Plus, lots of pictures!


For the first time yesterday, Gmail loaded in the standard version.

orly? (Oh, really?) Internetz, you waited until the day before I leave to free me from the quagmire experience using Gmail HTML?

If you haven't, try using the HTML version some time. Except that every time you load a new page, instead of it loading in half a second, imagine that it takes 10-30 seconds to load.

Now, the standard version loads without a hitch. Oy.

Better late than never.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rainy day.

A quiet day in the world of Anam. The constant rain kept us house-bound for all of Saturday. We found ways to liven things up, though.

It’s entertaining to observe the way other animals cope with the weather. This chicken, for example, took shelter under the cooking table stationed outside the house. He doesn’t look particularly pleased.

Over the past many weekends, I will sometimes kick back to enjoy an episode of This American Life. A favorite side-activity is to make toys and shapes out of colorful pipe cleaners. I now have a large bag filled with assorted fun things, but they’re surprisingly hard to distribute. When we visit a town, we’ll quickly amass a mob of 90+ children. Have you ever tried to distribute toys to that many children? Especially in Nigeria, where the concept of queues is laughable: it’s impossible. You hand out on gift and it’s quickly ripped apart by the tide of grabby hands desperate to acquire the item. And when you don’t speak their language, it’s not exactly easy to convey that there is enough to go around for everyone.

Anyway, I now spring on chances to give away the gifts to smaller groups of kids wandering Ebenebe (the area in which we live). One such opportunity happened today, as a band of four siblings took shelter from the rain on the front porch.

Yeah, I’m white. Get over it.

(If you’re wondering why I was wearing a headlamp, it’s because the power was out and I had been reading – it was a cloudy afternoon around 4pm.)

The food situation has improved (at last)! After a shopping trip to Onitsha, we are again stocked with bread, peanut butter, vegetables, etc. I think the peanut butter makes a big difference for me: it opens up a lot of options for snacking.

The culinary creativity of the other interns – particularly Julia, Stacy, and Sarah – continues to impress me. Today, Julia and Stacy crafted several batches of bread. This one had orange zest filling. They also made cinnamon rolls, sans buttery cream awesomeness. (It was still delicious. Anything can beat the processed, sugary cake they pass for bread in Nigeria.)

Mmm. Dough.

Watched three movies today. Yep: highly productive.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Meal fail.

Breakfast: two eggs on toast. oatmeal.

Snack: small cup of yogurt drink (v. sugary)

Lunch: two bites of rice deep-fried in palm oil, and... oatmeal.

Snack: yogurt drink, two slices of bread with thin peanut butter spread (I'm out now)

Dinner: deep-fried sweet potato chips, and... oatmeal.

What I see in this daily intake: starch, starch, starch, protein, sugar oil, oil, sugar, starch, oil, starchoil, oil, sugar, protein, oil, oil, starch.

Fuck. Sometimes I'm surprised by how closely my diet is tied to my mood, because this makes me depressed. My only reliable sources of protein are a yogurt drink that's loaded with sugar, peanut butter that's loaded with sugar, and oatmeal. I can't do insanity on this kind of diet. I skipped today as well... Major fail. I can't give up... Even though oatmeal is more balanced, it's hard to eat three times per day and not feel insecure about food and sad about the present state of things. (And remember, we're talking instant oatmeal with cinnamon and a little sugar -- no delicious fruits or creative additions.)

... bleh. What a shitty food day. What a shitty mood day because of the food day. Yesterday was a mental fart day. Today I just felt physically enervated. I could've loaded up on calories if I actually ate the lunch they served, but... I really didn't want more oil. I'm so goddam sick of the oil. Oil oil oil.

Bad day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nigerian recycling.

Here's sustainability for you: reuse! Apparently the Nigerians have it down pat.

Not really, but it's nice to imagine. I've been staring at these ground nut bottles for eight weeks. Usually they're in generically-labeled peanut jars, but the Smirnoff bottle strikes me as so amusing right now. It is quite common to see creative repurposing of bottles, jars, containers, bags, etc., to sell local goods.

Apologies for no new posts in the last few days. We went on an excursion to Calabar last weekend. It was a blast, but the travel was more exhausting than I expected. Been feeling under the weather this week, both physically and mentally. Hopefully the funk will break soon and I find the focus to recap the last many days.

UPS and CSR Reporting

At least some corporations are doing their duty...