Friday, December 28, 2007
It's The Season
We had a busy couple of days around Christmas. It started with a visit to some friends on Sunday. They have one baby and another one coming. There were two other couples, each with their own babies, and then there was ours, so we talked about... babies. All the time while four babies in total were demanding fresh nappies, undivided attention, more toys, less toys, and more breasts (I totally supported that demand).
That evening we drove to my mother-in-law's where we slept over. The next day we celebrated Christmas evening, starting around noon because of the... babies. The following morning we drove to my parent's house to celebrate Christmas with a colossal turkey and enormous amounts of gifts. There were only two babies there – including Wolf – but it still was busy.
On Wednessday we stayed at home, but we wasted the opportunity to sit in the sofa and sip hot coco. Instead we ran around and did things in a desperate effort to get some order in that giant pile of garbage that is our house. I tried to clean up the shed, but the lack of heavy machinery made me stop after a couple of hours. I'll get me some dynamite tomorrow to blast away the biggest piles of rubbish.
By contrast, things were extremely calm when I went to work on Thursday. Most people working in Brussels had taken the rest of the week off. No streams of commuters. No maddening noise of the traffic. Almost empty streets.
It reminded me of that time when I was a little kid and I thought we had sports day. So I showed up in my green trainers, wearing sneakers. But then it became painfully apparent that I was one week too early, and I was the only kid in the school wearing sports clothing (at the time it was not done to wear sports clothing for leasure). Despite my desperate attempts to explain that all my clothes were in the washing machine and that this was the only thing I had to wear, the other kids saw right through my ploy and I was the joke of the day.
I had the same feeling that Thursday morning, asif I was the only person thinking he had to go to work, when all the rest of the country was still lying in bed. That feeling didn't disappear on my work, there were only three of us in our service, out of the twenty or so people that work there normally. Lunch break was eery too, asif we were punished to sit there in a small bunch in the kitchen.
Today there were more people at work, both in the city and at the organisation, but I will be glad when things turn to normal.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
It's been snowing! The whole area is covered in a massive layer of snow of at least three milimeter thick. I must fight back a feeling of panic: we have no snow shoes. Neither of us knows how to ski. We'll starve to death in our house if a helicopter doesn't come to our rescue and drops food parcels.
It is beautiful though, and I'm glad my little boy gets to see snow in his own country. When I was a kid, we had plenty of winters with stacks of snow. We had snow forts and snow fights and snowmen and we'd take the sled to the hill in the middle of the village and slide down for hours and hours. My little sister wouldn't even wait until I'd dragged the sled up the slope. She'd just run up and jump on whatever sled was ready to leave, much to the bemusment of the other children and her parents. But she'd get away with it, thanks to her bambi eyes and her rosy cheeks. Who could resist her? While I plodded up with that heavy wooden sleigh behind me.
Wolf is still too small for all that. And there's no hill in the vicinity of our home. There is an artificial ski slope, with fake snow, but I don't think they allow little children on their sleds. There's also an ice skating rink, so who needs real snow anyway?
To be honest, I don't think that sledding would go well. It's really just a tiny layer of snow. But I'm glad global warming didn't make such wintery scenes a thing of the past all together. Maybe I can still make snowmen with my children, without having to travel to northern Finland.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
A house in the vicinity of Antwerp, Belgium.
2.15 AM, everyone’s asleep. Then, a baby starts to cry.
I get up to soothe him, wondering why he cries. It’s not his usual feeding time yet.
I want to caress him, but my hand touches a gooey lukewarm liquid.
We move to DEFCON-3: Mrs.B takes care of Wolf and runs up to get clean PJs. I’m in charge of the messy pile of blankets, his sleeping bag and other items floating in his bed. Barely ten minutes later, everything’s changed and the baby is properly soothed. We put him back into bed.
DEFCON-4: Same procedure, but we’re running out of sleeping bags here. There’s nothing left but his summer sleeping bag. And we’re clean out of blankets. But while we’re pondering that question and drying off our baby.
SUPER MEGA VOMIT!
This time, he didn’t even puke in his own bed. Luckily, most of it lands on Mrs.B’s PJs – and not on our bed I mean (because changing a double bed is such a drag). But Wolf’s very last sleeping bag is a soaking puddle of sour smelling liquid, with hints of banana. The little guy smiles as he finally got rid of that nasty feeling in his belly.
We declare his bed a total loss and put him in between us – on a towel. Mommy puts on a new pyjama and we all go to bed. After forty minutes of general alert, we’re too tired to notice the smell that lingers in the room.
Tomorrow we go to the baby doctor’s.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Back In Belgium
Yes, I made it back alive. After two weeks of hard work – one on the road and one spent in meetings – we were let off the hook for a couple of hours on Saturday morning. We visited Lola Ya Bonobo, a refugee centre for Bonobos that are liberated from captivity. Bush meat is very popular in Congo, and when the hunters kill the adult Bonobos, they often take the babies and try to sell them on the market. This is highly illegal, but to the Congolese, 'law' is something like the moon landing: they've heard people talk about it but for the rest it doesn't have any practical consequences for their everyday life.
The sanctuary is only a two hour drive from Kinshasa. For us this meant that we were packed like sardines in the back of a jeep, all eight of us (plus someone in the front). We could only spend an hour-and-a-half in the centre, but we got to see quite a lot of Bonobos, some from a close distance. I took a heap of pictures for my brother, who is a Bonobo specialist and will be green with envy when I show them to him.
After a quick lunch – meaning we barely had the time to gulp everything down once we'd finally gotten our meal (I had Cosa Cosa or giant shrimp) – it was time for other monkey business: checking in our luggage. Every time this is an exercise in trying to remain calm despite the typical Congolese – erm – discipline: people climbing over your luggage, people fighting (not just with words), people trying to get in front of others leading to the previous activity, etcetera and so on.
Once we checked in our luggage in the city, we drove to the airport to check ourselves in. Although I must admit that it is easier than two years ago, taking a flight in Kinshasa's Ndjili airport still is a wild and slightly worrying experience.
Our flight was a night flight, with a stop in Youanda (Cameroon). As usual, I had to spent it in Toilet Class – a special class for people whose organisations can't afford an Economy Class ticket. It means your seat is located right next to the bussiest toilet in the plane, with your head right next to the flushing mechanism. So instead of dozing off into 30 minute bouts of sleep, I veered up ever single time I almost fell asleep because some clown or another flushed the toilet. Add to that the many interuptions for obligatory meals (don't pretend to sleep, they'll just shout at you until you confirm in words that you don't want to eat) and loud messages about tax free shopping, and you'll understand why I felt like I spent three weeks in Guantanamo when we finally arrived.
Mrs.B and little Wolf were waiting for me at the airport, so we had a huge hugging session while my colleagues waved their goodbyes. The little guy was very glad to see me, and I was suprised to see how much he'd grown in two weeks time. Back home, my first task was to take a shower, because I smelled like a two-week-old dead elephant. And then to bed...
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Bart In Congo
This is the second time I try to post this, so I hope it passes through. My first attempt was hilarious, but I won't bother with all the work again, so there.
I'm still alive, despite driving 900 km in one week on roads that really don't deserve that name. I've got so much bumps on my bottom that elephants think I got a big ass. But I must admit that the Kasai province in Congo is really beautiful, with tropical rain forests in the north and savannas in the south. I like it so much better than the capital, Kinshasa. People here are very friendly, my right arm hurts from waving at all the children in every village we crossed, and there were thousands of them.
I also have to report that no less than 9 chickens have died beneath the wheels of or jeep. Chickens are really stupid, and our driver drove like mad at times. Another victim was a dog, a very stupid one at that. I suspect its mother was a chicken. Luckily for the poor fella, it didn't end up beneath the wheels, but it did get a mighty scare. The next time it hears a vehicle coming, it'll be up in a tree. The next time will probably be in four months or so, because vehicles are rare here.
I got hit by the runnings twice here, and apart from the bacteria our diet doesn't vary much. It's mostly chicken with rice and 'Foufou', a sticky dough made out of manioc. Although we got 'pilchards' at one place - sardines in tomato sauce. We got it three times in a row, including breakfast. I think I'll skip it now for the next twelve months.
But otherwise I'm fine, I'm back in the capital now. It's bleeding hot and bloody humid here, so we're sweating our way through a strategic workshop. But allow me not to bore you to a painful death with those stories.
So bye for now and don't forget to brush your teeth before you go to sleep.