Sunday, December 25, 2005
For those of you living under a meter and a half of snow, here are some tropical pictures of my trip to Niger a couple of weeks ago to warm you up a bit.
If you want proof that Niger is a warm country: they grow bananas in their own gardens, something you rarely see in Belgium.
A friend of mine invited me to visit a workshop were the artisans make leather the old way. The tubs are used to process the raw hides and turn them into leather by removing the hairs and treating them with a number of foul smelling liquids.
This is the end result: coloured goat or sheep skins.
He looks stern, but this salesman at the Petit Marché (little market) was very friendly and insisted that I took his photograph. Most people here don't like their pictures to be taken or demand money in return.
The Niger river at sunset with fishermen in their 'pirogues'.
In the evening, people gather at the terrace of the Grand Hotel to eat 'brochettes', while the bats gather over the river to eat insects.
We visited a silver smith's shop, where he and his apprentices turn plain sheets into beautiful works of art.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Jingle Balls, Jingle Balls…
The deed is done. Our tomcats are tomcats no more. Their jingly bits are no longer jingling. That’s right folks, we had them castrated. There was little choice in the matter, we have two tomcats in an apartment (although a rather large one), so the risk that they would start spraying to mark their territory was very real. When tomcats spray, the smell is awful, so it was a matter of self protection. In the age old battle between the interests of furniture and cats, the furniture won again.
We took Snijeg and Macka to the vet on Monday morning. They weren’t eager to go – very understandably – and Snijeg even managed to creep under the small pillow in his transport box. His attempt was in vain, the vet spotted him at once. I left them there and headed for work, while MLF (my lovely fiancée) went to take them home in the evening.
The poor things were visibly eager to get home, clawing through the bars of their transport cages wanting to get out. They went through the ordeal without any problems, but it took a while for the anaesthetics to wear off. They also had some trouble walking around, as they were a bit stiff between the hind legs. Even jumping onto the sofa was too difficult, we had to give them a (careful) push.
The next day, it was as if nothing had happened. They are as playful and as mischievous as ever, happily destroying our furniture, plants, kitchen utensils and so on. I guess it will take a few weeks before the hormones wear out.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday tooo meeeeee...
Yes, that's right folks. I'm a year older, none the wiser and still a child at heart. Oh, who am I kidding, I'm getting old very fast. On the way between 30 and 40 I'm almost half way through, or 34 to be precise.
And if that was not depressing enough, I've 'celebrated' my birthday in Congo, very far away from my loved one. Boooohooohooooo! Snif!
Actually, I celebrated it one night early, we got so pissed that I felt a bit ill the whole day. On top of that, I had to lead a seminar with fifteen local NGO's. Yep, I definitely found the hidden location of the Birthday Hell.
I had a hippy Barthday, all right!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Child care at maximum velocity
It was the driver who noticed them, a father crying, holding his son in his arms. The child was about five years old and unconsious, lying limp in his fathers arms. They had to get to the hospital quickly. Not self-evident in Kinshasa, especially if you don't have transport yourself. And not at all if you're poor, like these people evidently were.
Our jeep stopped and the father quickly scrambled inside. I took his bag and he installed himself on the benches on the side of the cargo hold, facing me. We were five at that moment in the big jeep: a staff member of our partner organisation and the driver, my two colleagues and myself.
I was very worried about the child, that didn't move at all. I moved closer to check his pulse. I had trouble finding it, because I'm not a trained specialist, because the child's pulse was very weak and because it's bloody difficult to even find the pulse of a full grown elephant in a vehicule that speeds like a fighter plane trough Kinshasa's busy traffic. Our driver drove like mad in the best of circumstances, but now he went absolutely crazy. I still wonder how many people we killed trying to save that child.
Despite the speed, the ride to the hospital seemed endless. The father told us his sun fainted because he didn't get a transfusion. The father didn't have enough money on him, so her in Congo you'll rather die than get assistance. He raced home but then his sun fainted.
I got worried more and more, because the child's pulse was weakening even further. I had trouble feeling anything at all. His breathing was shallow too, and I started to worry that I would have to give him mouth-to-mouth.
Finally we arrived at the hospital. The guys in front wanted to take off immediately, but I jumped out together with my colleague to help the father pass the bureaucracy at the ER. Yes, that's right. Even when you're dying here, that's no excuse not to fill in the proper forms!
We payed for the boy's treatment, it was about 6 US dollar. When we were doing the formalities, the child started to move and wail. I felt so releived!
We left them a couple of minutes later, when we lost them in the middle of a flock of medical students who were going to diagnose and treat the kid.
Everyone working here will tell you we were mad at taking charge of them. If the kid would have died in our care, we would be in serious trouble. 'Serious' in the sense of mad crowds clubbing us to death because we 'caused' the death of a child. No explaining there. But I'll be damned if I let a child die because it would be the prudent thing to do. I don't do what I do to let children die, even if it means taking those risks.
Anyway, at such a moment you just try to help. But I must admit I felt a shock later, in the evening, when I mesmorised on the whole experience.
Monday, December 12, 2005
The weekend's passed and I'm still alive, big success! It started to rain like it can only rain in the tropics and it's really humid. This creates an additional challenge, because the electrical wires here are burried only a couple of centimetres/inches below the ground. And they're very bad quality. So when the soil's wet, you run a serious risk of getting electrocuted.
This is just great, I worked for eight years in the Balkans, with landmines lying around everywhere. I was very prudent, which is testified by the fact that I still have two legs and my 'cohones' are still in working order. But now I still can't walk on any grassy/muddy patch of ground without wondering if I'll die or not.
That does it, I'm going to become an accountant! And a bloody boring one at that!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
So what's better than having a nice cold beer after some three hours of trains and eight hours of plane?
Getting cought in a bar fight of course! Well, it wasn't really a bar fight, we were just having a drink in the pub opposite the place where we stay, when we got caught in a strange situation. A guy was running through the street, clutching a brown bag in front of his chest, while he was being chased by two others. He was completely pannicking and we he saw us sitting there, he sought refuge. Before I knew what was going on I was lying on the grass with chair and everything, while a whole crowd started to battle it out. I bravely crawled away from underneath the mass and tactically observed the problems from a safer distance. I still don't know what was going on, but some guards from the nearby villas intervened and calmed everyone down. I don't know if that guy stole something or what he did, but I'm glad he didn't get beat up or killed.
People can get very violent very fast here, so I better watch out the coming days.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Off to Congo
You know the drill; you’ll be able to follow my brave explorations in this unknown corner of the world through Haloscan (the comments below this post), IF and when I’m able to access the internet there. If not, see you after the 18th of December.
Two birthdays and a wedding
I know I landed in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport a week ago, but it feels like I didn’t even touch the ground since then. It’s been one big rush from one place to the other ever since to arrange things for my trip to Congo and to organise the wedding. My (girlfriend) fiancée was totally panicking when she called me two days after I’d left the country because the place where our wedding party was going to take place would be sold. Given the difficulties to find such a place here in Belgium (“first find the place, after that start looking for a wife”) that was a serious bummer, as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote.
But it seems that everything will be all right now. We found a new place, we pre-ordered a tent for 200 to 250 people (we have very big families and lots of friends, especially when there are free drinks and meals to be had) and we arranged staples of food. I’m not going to divulge any details here; we want it to be a big surprise for everyone.
We also had to find a bunch of gifts for the coming festivities, starting with my mother’s birthday (4th of December) and the commemorative celebration in honour of my very own arrival on this cute little planet. It was almost 34 years ago, on the 14th of December 1971, that the Mother Ship dropped me off. But since I’ll be on a business trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo until the 18th, we celebrated both our birthdays together yesterday. There was cake, which is not really my piece of cake, and delicious fish rolls (flounder) with a creamy sauce with mussels and shrimp. My sister made the mashed potatoes, so they were too dry. She is a strict follower of my father in this regard. But all in all it was extremely delicious and I bunkered enough food to last me a fortnight.
Today, we registered our wedding day. The 20th of May next year I will leave my youth behind, for good. Farewell to those wild years of booze, women (blah blah blah), liquor, partying all night long, drinking too much and waking up next morning with a head full of spiky blow-fish with the hick-ups. From now on, I will be a respectable member of society. And to celebrate this, we drank gallons of beer yesterday evening. So sorry for the smelly breath and the beer-farts that accompany this post.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Freezing my ass off
The blazing heat of Niger already is a long lost memory. These days it’s cold here in Belgium. Not Nordic –20°C but dry and sunny so rather enjoyable cold. No, it’s the real North Sea humid –5°C bone chilling grey skies cold. It’s that kind of cold that no amount of warm clothing seems to be able to block. You just freeze, no matter what you do.
In our flat in downtown Antwerp, this means we switched to the winter mode. We only have two gas stoves in our apartment, one in the living room and one in the big room next to our bedroom. Add to that an electrical heater in the bathroom, which is by no means capable of dealing with any serious drop in temperatures. It takes roughly an hour to heat up the bathroom above freezing point.
Morning, evening and bathing rituals therefore take a bit of time and physical stamina. In the morning, I jump out of bed, rip my clothes from the floor – I know, I should hang them up – and race for the bathroom. There, the timer started the electrical heater 15 minutes earlier, but that is not enough to make the bathroom comfortably warm. From there, I haste my way to the living room to light the gas stove. Luckily, it’s powerful enough to heat the room in ten minutes or so. Still, I insist on dressing in the bathroom. It builds character you know, facing the cold bare-skinned.
The most painful thing however is going to the toilet during the winter, especially to ‘do big business’. Because there is no heating whatsoever in the toilet or even in the vicinity. The floor below us is uninhabited, and we live right under the roof, so no help there from any old folks burning their entire pensions in their central heating. And the window is a mere symbolic It’s freaking cold in there and apparently the toilet seat has it’s own liquid-nitrogen-cooler. Oh, this dreadful feeling when your bed-warmed butt-cheeks touch this freezing piece of plastic…