Monday, November 7, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
First, we painted and rearranged the Cyber to be more welcoming. The Cyber was due for a coat of paint not only because it’s been a few years, but especially because it is right on the main road where big trucks come by sending dust flying into every crevice. That is to say, the walls were dirty.
The new colors brightened everything up and, since we used all oil paint, we hope that it will be easier to keep these walls clean. Personally, I think the blue and crème color scheme is tranquil and creates a peaceful Internet surfing atmosphere, and it’s not just because they are my favorite colors. Here we are all painting together:
Katie, Dan, Orio, Me, and Clara (before)
Dan, Orio, and Felix (during, almost after)
We also rearranged all the furniture to include a welcome desk which is much friendlier. We used to stand in the back and wait for people to come in, look around, and be confused. This picture is taken from the door and you can see how far away Sr. Alba is:
Now people walk in and there is a friendly face at the desk, so there is much less confusion:
We also got a new specially made table for our 2 photocopier/printers that includes enough space to put down the papers you are coping and we have plans for a defined waiting area with reading material as well as a work table for stapling, collating, etc. Here is the new Cyber:
All this was enough, but then, when we had just started the work at Cyber we were Italian Surprise Attacked. This turned out to be fantastic not only because the Italians could help us finish painting the Cyber, but because they brought us new laptops! Since the theft in April, we have been limping along with the Cyber’s two computers that were fortuitously at home the night of the theft, plus 2 loaners. All 4 of these computers were temperamental and refused to work entirely as they should (and 2 of them were not ours so we had to be extra careful). Now we have 4, yes FOUR, new laptop computers to use for Cyber- that makes SIX total. Like 3 times as many computers as Cyber owned before.
So this is the new Cyber. I was very happy to see these changes implemented before I left because I put so much of my time and heart into working at Cyber and I wanted to see it grow during my time. There is still lots of room for more improvement at Cyber, but I have to leave something for future volunteers!
Monday, September 5, 2011
All of a sudden, I find myself at the end of my time in Congo. It really snuck up on me. Part of that is my fault though, as I was originally scheduled to leave on October 11th. However, after a very difficult few weeks, I decided to leave earlier than planned. My rescheduled flight leaves on September 11th. So now, I have just a few more days left in Congo before going to Rome for a month of reflection. Finally, on October 17th I will fly home and be back in Denver!
I am ready to leave. I am very tired and each day wears on me, so going to Rome early is a relief. I wanted to keep going another month to finish up my commitment, but I keep crashing and having to spend more time in bed recovering from work than actually working, so I am now at peace to leave here. I also have a wonderful opportunity to stay in Rome for a few weeks to reflect on my experience and think about the next steps in my life. I can start to see how Congo has changed me and my future and prepare for whatever I will be doing next…and do all this while taking hot showers and eating gelato.
The library is in good hands with Bolingo who I’ve worked with for several months now and Sr. Esperance, who I have had only a week with, but I have great confidence in her. The Cyber is doing well and will survive, but might have some technical difficulties- but I’m sure someone will arrive to help them; probably someone much more qualified to work on computers than me! I hope to write a few more blogs from Rome on the last updates of my project and life here, so check in again soon for some final reflections on my Congo life.
In closing, I’ll mention a few things that I will and will not miss about Congo.
What I will miss:
- Music at church- even daily mass has a fantastic choir, and Sunday mass is alive with joyful music and church dancing- how many times have you hopped up on the pews and danced for joy? I’m afraid I might find myself out of line come Christmas…
- Cheap avocados- O to be able to make guacamole, curry, soup, egg salad, pie, and so much more for a mere 5 cents per avocado (or FREE from our trees). I will die when I see the prices of avocados in America.
- Fashion- I love pagnes. My suitcase is bursting with African cloth that I’ve made into skirts, and some that I have yet to make into skirts. I hope I don’t find a pattern that is relatively dull here to be too brilliant for the American fashion scene.
- Zooming around town on the back of a motorcycle. It’s terrifying, and yet fun.
- The friendliness, kindness, and generosity of the people. Life is difficult here, and Aru is a very poor place materially, but the joy, patience, and love that people live with had been remarkable to watch and I hope that I can incorporate that attitude into my life in America.
What I will not miss:
- Burning my trash- I have a vague guilty feeling that burning all that plastic is bad for the environment…and what about batteries?
- Cold showers- not even a little bit, not even nostalgically, not at all, will I miss cold showers, in fact I might just not shower until I reach Rome, it’s only 5 days away.
- The rainy season for all the mud…and the dry season for all the dust
- Being followed down the street by children yelling “mondele” (white person). I mean really, you’ve seen white people before…get over it.
- Giant rats in the bakery, cockroaches popping out of shower drains, and un-dead spiders! And termites- giant, flying, termites!! And of course, those pesky mosquitoes that sent me to the hospital for a week.
On that note, I sign off from Congo…but I hope to sign on agian in Rome very soon!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Every now and then we all feel the need to get out of Aru and see something else. Sometimes this ends with a trip to Arua, or Ariwara, or another promenade. This time, we went to visit our friend Orio’s village. Orio works on a variety of projects in construction, painting, chicken feeding, and he was also our sentinel for a few months. During the last few months he has become a very good friend and spends many evenings at our house (he always shows up just in time for dinner) eating, drinking, watching movies, and playing games. He has even lent his voice to our attempts at karaoke. Orio lives nearby in Aru, but he often visits his village, 4 km away to visit his 2 daughters, mother, and other relatives. One Sunday he invited us along to visit his village and meet some of his family.
After an almost pleasant bike ride (I’m trying to be positive, but it was really a mostly not pleasant bike ride with lots of hauling the bike up and down hills) we arrived in Ofa to a grand welcome. Many of Orio’s brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and who knows who else came by to welcome us to their village. There are TONS of kids who live around his house- most of which were happy to see us. A few, including Orio’s 2 year old daughter Mara, cried and ran away when confronted with so many white people. Some of the kids were even courageous enough to come near us and say a few works, but most just watched us from a distance.
After we had settled in and been greeted by half the village, Orio’s sister served us and amazing feast- meat, chicken, eggs, fufu, rice, French fries, salad, pineapple, passion fruit, bananas, and maybe a few other things I’m forgetting. We all ate until we were stuffed.
After lunch we went for a walk around the village. We climbed a few hills and enjoyed the woods and the beautiful views of Aru. We could see the library, convent, church, and many other familiar places from on high. I had seen these hills in the distant almost every day, and it was fantastic to be there looking back at the normal view.
Once our digestion walk was complete we headed back to give out candy to the children (although Mara was still crying at the sight of us), thank everyone- especially Orio’s sister- for welcoming us, and say good-bye. The ride (okay, I walked half way pushing the bike) was a lovely way to end our day.
This visit to the village showed me a different side of Congolese life. Orio’s family lives so simply, there is no technology up there. They live in traditional huts made without modern building materials, and eat food from the land. Even though they do not have much, they shared everything with us, giving us a huge feast and making us feel truly welcome in their home. They actually thanked us for coming to see them, when it is they who gave so much. Orio’s mother doesn’t speak any French, but I could see in her face and in her words that I didn’t understand how happy she was for us to visit. I was so moved to see such simple and real hospitality that truly came from the heart.
In the City
I have seen through both of these villages how the importance of hospitality for the Congolese. This type of hospitality truly comes from the heart. We were made welcome in these homes not only because we were invited, but because our hosts truly wanted us to be welcome and to enjoy our time with them. I am so grateful for these opportunities to visit my friends and to meet new people and see the hearts of the Congolese people.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Every year in August, Italy descends upon a small town in Congo called Aru. They come bearing gifts of cheese, olive oil, and meats and with good intentions to serve the people for a few weeks. When they are here, they eat copious amounts of cheese, olive oil, and meats as well as pasta and drink even more copious amount of coffee. They fill the air with their chattering in Italian and their hand gestures. They talk late into the night (drinking coffee of course) and work all day. They leave joy in their wake with their laughter, singing, and generous donations of candy. The month of August is really like being in Italy, but Africa, and it can be a little overwhelming at times, but mostly it is fun.
Usually us long termers have warning of when this Italian invasion occurs; we have time to plan our defensives and hunker down before they arrive in full Italian force. We also know the names and how long they are staying for before retreating back to Italy. This year we were informed that 4 volunteers were coming on August 3. But wait, August 3rd is still days away…how can I already be writing about this year’s Italian Invasion?
BECAUSE THEY SURPRISE ATTACKED US!!!!
In an inexplicable communication error from Rome, the Italians arrived on July 29, 5 days before their originally scheduled arrival. Imagine my surprise when I innocently opening my email on July 28th and found a message from Rome mentioning that the volunteers were leaving Rome today and would be in Congo…tomorrow. “Tomorrow! But we’re not ready,” thought I. But there was nothing to do about it, the Italian invasion was starting.
Oswaldo, a librarian at the Vatican whom I am hoping can shape up my library a bit,
Valentina, from Rome who will be teaching the sisters a bit of Excel,
Lia, who works for Chanel and speaks excellent French,
Chiara, a nursing student who hopes to spend her life serving after getting her nursing degree,
And Sr. Tina from Como who only speaks Italian thus, I do not know much about her.
Chiara and Sr. Tina will stay for one month and the rest will leave after only 2 weeks. We set them to work right away by painting the Cyber (stay tuned for a Cyber update). Other work on their list after the Cyber is finished is helping in the library, at the farm, and painting any other things that we feel need to be painted.
That’s all for now from Little Italy: Congo addition!
Thursday, July 21, 2011
My mother was born on July 5. As a result she has had the occasional 4th of July birthday party (including this year). I was born 10 days later on July 15th, a date that is a bit out of reach of a 4th of July theme…until this year, that is. This year, my community hosted an awesome 4th of July/Canada Day party for my birthday. But why? Why didn’t we celebrate Canada Day and 4th of July on July 1st and 4th? And why are we celebrating Canada Day in the first place?
It’s been so long since I’ve written I have quite a lot of news. First, is that we have 2 new volunteers. Dan from Canada arrived June 19th, and Enzo from Italy arrived June 29. So now we are 6 volunteers representing 4 different countries. Very international…and a little difficult to communicate in our non-native community language of French, but we are getting along.
So now you know about Dan and you can see why we were celebrated Canada Day…on July 15th.
June 30th to July 4th was going to be a HUGE party weekend, full of independence fun. June 30th is Congo’s Independence Day, so no one had to work. There is a big parade where every school and group in Aru goes marching past assembled dignitaries (including UN and Ugandan representatives), as well as everyone who feels like going to the parade. On July 1st, Dan was planning to spread Canadian tradition by celebrating Canada Day with some of our friends. And for the past month, Katie and I had been planning a gigantic, awesome, 4th of July party- with burgers, s’mores and fire workers.
But fear not: I have returned and I am better than ever! The biggest downside (other than an African hospital, but no need to go into details there) was that I single handily ruined the national parties of 2/3 of North America!
Katie and I were determined not to be held back from spreading the joy of the 4th by a little malaria. Very quickly the perfect rescheduling date emerged: July 15th, my 25th birthday. Canada hopped on the rescheduling bandwagon and the birthday party for me, USA, and Canada was on.
Told in pictures
Katie and I bought half of a cow for burgers, a ton of potatoes for potato salad and Obama gum as party favors and Dan provided a case of beer. Clara, Katie, and Dan decorated in Red, White and Blue (good thing Canada shares the color scheme minus the blue). Since we have no BBQ, Clara and Enzo built a fire in our fire pit to cook the burgers over a real fire:
Our guests started to arrive and the beer flowed and we broke out the Guess Who? to play (very popular in Katie’s English class):
There was a lively game of twister: the first time for all our Congolese friends, and let me tell you, twister was very well received. I do believe they will be back to our house for more twister in the future:
After dinner we had disco dance party featuring the best of America music…we even tried to teach some line dancing:
Then there was the cake dance and my birthday cake- pineapple upside down cake:
After 4 hours of America/Canada/Karen party we began to wind down as people had to go off to bed (Saturday is just another work day in Congo, so Friday is not a weekend…it’s like having a big party of Wednesday night). We finished the party by giving out Obama Gum- yes, the American president is featured on gum here. Overall, it was a great party with wonderful friends, good food, and very fun times
Happy Birthday Canada, America, and Me!!!!!
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
*Warning* Do not read this post if you have an irrational fear of cockroaches and/or things that crawl out of shower drains
First, some good news: we have a new volunteer with us! After 2 months of just me, Katie, and Clara, Elena from Romania has joined. Elena has lived in Rome the past 11 years and is a dental hygienist. She arrived on Monday with Katie and me (we were returning from our vacation in Kampala, more to follow on that). She will be here for 3 months and then join a group of dentists volunteering in Uganda in August. We are very excited to have a new person here with us.
Now, when a new volunteer comes, we usually clean their room before they arrive to make them feel welcome. We decided to give Elena Matteo’s old room, which no one had really been in since Matteo left in mid-February. So, last week, I decided to start the clean-up. Unfortunately, the windows had been left open, so the room was covered in a thick film of dirt and grit. After sweeping about 5 times it was nearly clean so I turned my attention to the bathroom. In retrospect, I should have just stopped with the sweeping and let someone else take on the bathroom…but oh well.
On entering the bathroom, I noticed immediately an abundance of cockroach corpses in the shower- 15 to be exact. Plus 4 in the sink. I thought it was gross, but they were dead, so it could be worse. Well, I went to sweep them out and turns out a couple were still kicking, but I quickly disposed of them. With all the corpses out of the way in the shower, I thought it might be a good idea to run the water from the shower faucet to wash away all the cockroach limbs and general grime. So I opened the tap and let it run for a minute. Then, to my utter horror, I watched as 1…2…3…8 cockroaches popped out of the shower drain! EIGHT!!!! The first two weren't so bad, but then, they just kept coming!! All I could do was stand and watching in jaw dropping, stomach turning, horror as Matteo’s bathroom turned into a scene from a horror movie. I think I stood frozen for a good 5 minutes as I watched the cockroaches scrambling to get out of the shower. I mean, I’ve had experience with things crawling out of my shower drain before (see my previous post on the resuscitated spider), but eight cockroaches popping out after sweeping away 15 was just a bit much for me. I had brought a bottle of bleach with me to clean, so I dumped about half of it all over the shower and all the cockroaches were belly up (literally) a few minutes later. I swept them outside, then locked the door and let Clara do the rest of the cleaning.
And for all those of you who wonder how cockroaches enter the house…VERY big cockroaches can pop out of very small holes…I’ve seen it.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Are we going to be ready? Yes!
Will we have electricity, bathrooms, computers, and a few other necessities? No!
Will we have books, a few tables and chairs, a half finished building, and 2 willing librarians? Yes!
Ready or not, we’re going to open and I am very excited.
Right now the entrance, office, and children’s room are all ready:
The first reading room is almost ready, it still needs some paint, but it will be done soon. In fact, here is a picture of our local librarian painting:
And there are a few almost bookcases not quite yet ready for the books (poor books have been in boxes for a year now):
In just over 1 month we have a TON of work to do and a very, very small budget. We need to finish a few small construction details, install windows, clean, set-up bookcases, arrange and label the books, and do a million small tasks to get everything ready to open. It’s a lot of work, but I’m ready to get the library open and I know it will be worth it when we have our big opening party May 8.
I must admit that it is terrifying to be in charge of setting up this library, especially with such limited resources. But even though the reality of what we have now does not match the vision in my head for the library, I am so excited- and ready- to finally be opening the library. I will be more than busy over the next month with getting everything ready. At the moment the library resembles more of a construction site/boys locker room than a temple of learning. (The construction crew change their clothes in the computer room and leave their nasty work clothes there…I’ve told them starting May 1, I will burn everything that I find in there that is not a part of the library. They laughed. I also told them to stop leaving their tools in the computer room, so they took them over to the first readying room, rather than one of the unfinished rooms. Sigh.). With a little bit of concentrated effort in my spare time (like when I’m not configuring wireless networks and setting up servers in the Cyber, but that’s another story) I think the library will be “ready”- that is to say open- on May 8!
Meet the new librarian:
2 weeks ago we found a local boy, Bolingo who is interested in being the librarian. He was working on the construction crew for the road and fencing around the library and asked if he could be the librarian. The first few time we kind of laughed, but he was persistent, so we thought, why not? Let’s give him a change! Bolingo just graduated from high school with a state diploma (a big deal in Aru) last year and, at this time, is unable to continue his studies. He started working construction, but his real interest lies more in studying. In the last few weeks he has eagerly been learning all he can about libraries. I am very happy to have found young person interested in this work who I can train over the next few months.
As for the rest of the library?
Until further notice, all work has stopped on the other parts of the library. What is left of the funds will be going towards getting the first rooms open, hopefully there is enough to achieve that and the rest will come in time. And once the building is done, we still need LOTS more books.
But the Important thing is that the Library is opening!
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The other day there was a spider in my shower. I assumed it was dead because it did not move all day. Usually spiders (or cockroaches, or hoppy bugs, or whatever else is alive in my bathroom) jump when I fill up my bucket of water to flush the toilet (our toilets don’t flush so you have to throw a bucket of water down). All day, the spider stayed put as water wooshed into the bucket right next to it. So imagine my surprise when I went to pick him up and throw him away that he jumped to life and nimbly ran across the shower. Since I was about to take a shower anyway I figured I would drown him, so I opened up the tap and washed him away. It took a bit of time with him struggling to get out, but eventually his legs crumpled up and he washed down the drain. This time I was sure he was dead. So imagine my surprise when I looked down 5 minutes later in the middle of my shower and see a soggy spider crawling out of the drain. Apparently 5 minutes of water washing down the drain was NOT enough to do away with this hardy fellow. Well, enough is enough, so I got a flip-flop and stepped on him. Several times. And then again. Then I washed him down the drain again. This time, as far as I know, he stayed down. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that this spider exited the drain once more once I had left the room, so believe me when I tell you that I was looking around for him all night. I was not going to be surprised if he was lurking in my bed- maybe even with a bunch of angry spider friends that I had tried to kill before in the past year and a half. I haven’t seen him since, but you never know…
Thursday, March 10, 2011
But why season of hope?
During lent, we can increase hope in first God, and then ourselves. Jesus is the center of this season; it is during this time each year that we prepare ourselves for The Resurrection: by remembering Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter and by preparing ourselves for our own resurrection with Jesus in concrete ways. During Lent, we contemplate the life and death of Jesus. There are many somber, painful, and sad moments during Lent, but even these, or really, especially these moments give us hope- because we can look up and see the Resurrection. We can see the wonders of God and all the reasons to hope in Him. We are able to refocus our lives centering on the Resurrection and remember our reason for living: Eternal Life. We hope in Jesus Christ and we hope in Eternal Life, that is why we live.
Once we have increased our hope in Jesus and His Resurrection, and by consequence our own hope of Eternal Life, we can increase hope in ourselves. If we really try during Lent, we can find that we are able to change our lives: we are able to give our lives to Jesus. We can do more, try harder, and even change a little. We can learn and grow and that gives us hope to learn and grow more. 6 weeks is not overwhelming, like a New Year’s Resolution: this year I will change this forever. It’s just 6 weeks to try something new, give more, live without. But at the end of these “just 6 weeks” we can find that we have changed our habits into something better, or that we enjoy giving more, or that we can live without- and it’s not so hard, in fact, it’s good. We can also learn that we really love chocolate cake and now we can indulge with a true appreciation of just how much we enjoy it. When Easter is celebrated, we can be filled with hope that we changed ourselves- just a little bit- for the better during this Lent. And that gives us hope to continue, and this hope grows so we can continue to become the person that God created us to be.
Lent comes every year the same, every year is a new chance to add something to our lives- even if we add by taking away. Every year gives us hope in Jesus, in Eternal Life, and in ourselves to be and to do what God is asking us in this life.
At the beginning of Lent today, I am filled with hope. I know that many of my ideas of how I will spend Lent will not work out the way I think, and I will change differently than the ideals in my head, but I also know that I will emerge at Easter full of Hope: in Jesus and in life. And this hope does not disappoint.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Whoa, what happened?! It’s been like 3 months! I could tell you I’ve been super busy and I haven’t had a minute to type out a blog or that I’ve been so into living in Congo I’ve given up computers (except that I work at a Cyber café, so that’s not really going to happen). The truth is, I just lost inspiration. I have some nice blog topics all picked out and some even started, but I just couldn’t find the inspiration to write. I would think occasionally of updating, but I just couldn’t do it. I’m not way busy, I haven’t given up computers, but I did have a 3 month case of writer’s block. I’m getting better now, so here I am attempting to blog again.
There have been many, many changes. When I abandoned all my loyal readers, we were 7 people celebrating Thanksgiving with disturbingly fresh Turkey. Since then Lydia has returned to Canada, Clara returned to Italy for one month vacation and came back again, and Stefano, Maria, and Matteo returned to Italy for good. We had some Italian visitors for Christmas- 2 of Sterfano’s friends came for 10 days. Then my parents came for 3 days in Aru and a 10 day Safari in Tanzania. After all these changes, Clara, Katie, and I are starting to build our new, 3 person, girl-power community and adjusting to changes in working and living. I’m still working at Cyber and a bit at the bakery plus a little more on the library. Things are much quieter (minus Italian men- also less smokey) and I’m looking forward to some stability in the community after over 6 months of constant change. Truly, the community has not been stable for more than one month since I left for home in June. Although it would be nice to have a fourth person (especially a guy with considerable computer skills who loves to sing karaoke), I’m very happy with stability for the moment.
I’m the head of the Geek Squad now. When Matteo left I looked around and suddenly realized I’m the number one Geek in town. Katie and I think it’s hilarious we are the Congo Geek Squad- although we can both use computers, there is no way Best Buy would hire us. Even so, we want to make Geek Squad t-shirts, and maybe even get badges. If you’ve ever dreamed of being on Geek Squad but lack the actually technological skills necessary…come to Congo! Our standards are much lower.
The library construction has been underway for just over 1 year now, and we are nearing some stage of completion. I’ve tried to be very patient, but I really want to see this thing up and running. I’m getting worried I’ll have to leave before it’s even open! The front rooms are almost done- the children’s classroom, the reception area and book storage, plus the first study room. We are putting all of our resources into finishing these rooms so that we can open on a limited basis and then we will finish the 2nd study room and community/class room later when funding permits. Our community is undertaking the painting ourselves (the Congolese painter was charging an exorbitant rate waaaay outside our budget) so now 2 afternoons a week we go on over to the library and paint away. It’s actually a nice way for us to build our new community by working together and it is helping the library get to the point where it can open. I’m still entering books into the catalogue, very, very slowly. We are still looking for French language books- especially textbooks and nonfiction resources, so if you know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone at all that might have access to French books let me know!
You all know about the recent political unrest against the establishment in Tunisia, Egypt, etc. that is spreading across Africa and the Middle East? Well, stay tuned for bakery news.
That’s a basic outline of life in Aru at the moment. I do feel like I will be blogging more often now so check back again soon…maybe there will even be pictures next time!