The Great Congolese Caper - Day 5 - Kinshasa and Surrounding Areas

Posted in Family , OldBlog with tags Mireille -

Kinshasa - Day 4

Bad habits I’m already allowing my daughter to develop, because, hey, she’s under a lot of stress just hanging out with me. I hope I’m not setting myself up for bad things later: * Drinking soda - this is a big no-no for the sub-40ers in our household, but Mireille has already had soda every day I’ve been with her. She likes it. * Not brushing her teeth - it’s difficult enough to get her to open her mouth for me, much less brush. She has finally started using the toothbrush herself, but she does a terrible job at brushing… * Holding her until she sleeps - I’m pretty sure I broke my boys of this habit prior to them being 30 months old. I actually think it could be developmental progress in that she’s regressing to a more infant state. My guess is that she didn’t get a lot of personal attention as an infant, and perhaps craves it now. I’m happy to provide it, though it is frustrating at times to try to set her down and sneak away before she wakes up. Raising a two year old is hard!

Today started out fairly badly again in that I just cannot seem to get to sleep at a reasonable time! Despite only getting 2 hours the night before plus a 2 hour nap, I still could not fall asleep until after 4:00 AM local time (9:00 Central, coincidentally). I imagine by the time I leave I will have adjusted better to the time change - just in time to screw it up again. At least there I will have full access to my modern diversions and drugs.

Mireille got up around 7:30, thankfully, so I managed to get around 3 hours of sleep. As I sit here at 8:30 PM watching her sleep, I don’t feel any fatigue. I’m worried I may start hallucinating soon, though. Hopefully tonight improves.

After brushing our teeth, we sat down for a quick breakfast. Today I tried to make toast in a frying pan. It didn’t work too badly. So I had some peanut butter toast, Mireille had just buttered toast, and we both had cereal. Mireille also tried some applesauce, but didn’t like it. Breakfast is really not her thing…

The plan for the day was to meet Papa John and go to see the Lola Ya Bonobo preserve. After the rough couple of nights of sleep, I considered calling it off and just doing something around the hotel. I didn’t, and I am glad that I made that decision.

After breakfast, Mireille and I sat outside to chill while we waited for Papa John. It was a steamy one today, even by 8:00 when we got out there. Our neighbor had already left for the US Embassy to file his I600, the main purpose for his trip. After a few minutes, a group of people, two white people and two black, approached us. The white couple was probably in their early 60s and the woman was carrying a black child. Initially I thought it was Blanche, the next door neighbor’s child. I figured that they were watching her as he had mentioned something to the effect of his agency providing nanny care while going on “adult trips.” Turns out it wasn’t Blanche, it was some other 1 year old that the white couple were fostering. They are permanent residents and missionaries in Congo. Their work centers around adoption and they were at the hotel to meet up with some family. Maybe they were just looking for families that were there and talking with them, I’m not sure, but I had a nice conversation with them before Papa John showed up.

While Papa John entertained the missionaries, Mireille and I went into the room and got ready for the day. I briefly thought about shorts as Papa John was wearing them, but decided against it in the end and am happy I did. Both Papa John and Mireille got bit by mosquitoes on their ankles, but my pants prevented me from suffering the same fate.

The Lola Ya Bonobo Center is several miles south of the city. The drive there was crazy as expected. On the way through town, Papa John stopped at a local supermarket to get a water and some snacks. He bought us some fried meat and potato things that he called subrimas (I think I’m getting that wrong) which originated in India - these were the local version, and they were delicious. He bought two each for him and myself and one for Mireille. In the end, Mireille ate two and I ate one, though I could have eaten a lot more of them - they were delicious!

It took at least an hour to get to the Bonobos. At one point we transitioned from the city to the country and it was noticeable. The road, previously paved, turned to dirt, and there were farms lining both sides of it. The people there all seemed to be working very hard, digging sand from the creek or planting vegetables. Once on this road it still took another 20 minutes or so, despite the fact that we probably only traveled 5 miles on it. I was nervous at several points, but never as much as when we had to go high up on the left side of the road because the right side was completely washed out. I swear his car only had half a wheel on each side on the road!

Against all odds, we arrived at the Bonobo sanctuary unharmed. We parked, the only car in the “lot” and walked toward the entrance when Papa John told some folks doing some work in the area something in French. When I asked him, he told me that he told them to tell any young punks that tried to wash his car while he was in there to not even bother, otherwise they were going to do it for free. Amusingly, when we left, somebody had washed his car and was standing there waiting for him to pay him. He just got in the car and started to drive away, slowing briefly to roll down his window and shout at the kid. He said he is a “teacher.” How is he supposed to keep his car clean on this road!??!

The bonobo exhibit was very cool, though nothing near as cool as the trip to the exhibit. Seeing the country and large sections of the city is very interesting and eye opening.

We stayed at the Bonobos for about an hour. I purchased tickets for Papa John and myself (Mireille was free) for $15 (total). That gave us access to a French speaking guide, Marseille, a skinny, young Congolese man who clearly loved what he was doing. The tour was pretty short. We walked down a path, stopping a few times to observe some bonobos in their areas. They had 4 different areas with bonobos - two family areas and two areas for younger bonobos. All of them slept indoors on hammocks. There was a lot of good information about how they only live in DRC because they can’t swim and they are surrounded by water where they live. The sanctuary gets all of their bonobos as orphans as people in that part of the DRC shoot adult bonobos to eat, which I found pretty disgusting. All told there are 71 bonobos at the sanctuary. One interesting tidbit, the bonobos entire hierarchy is based on sex, which they like a lot. They use it for pleasure or for showing dominance. And they don’t discriminate against who they have sex with, which Papa John found pretty amusing!

While we were walking on the trail, Papa John started chatting up Marseilles, at one point he exchanged phone information with him. One thing I’ve noticed a lot of is cell phone use in this country. Papa John says that many Congolese actually have 2 cell phones for when one of their networks is not working. It is also the reason many businesses list two phone numbers in advertisements. Anyway, it was interesting to see him at work and is likely one of the reasons he is an excellent guide.

On the way to the youth bonobo areas we saw three pallets of vegetables set out which we were told was the bonobos lunch. Papa John didn’t know the word for cucumber, so I told him. While we were walking away, I noticed him practicing the word several times, which also struck me as how he is able to be so conversant in so many languages. Very impressive!

We spent about another 20 minutes observing the youth bonobos in two separate groups. Each area had one or more caregivers to socialize with them since none of them had mothers. I found it very interesting that they had women there who were supposed to socialize with these animals like a daycare center. None of the women appeared very engaged - I’m not sure how long they sit in the pen with them, but it seemed like something they just do. The bonobos would occasionally interact with them, but the older ones mainly ignored their caregiver, who carried a bamboo switch to dissuade any of them that got any funny ideas.

After the bonobos, we went back out on the country “road” but stopped short and headed south to the Mal Valle Lake (may not be correct). This is a lake that is owned apparently by the Catholic church. It was quite beautiful down there and very peaceful. You couldn’t even hear a car or anything - the only thing we could hear were the water, birds, and the guys burning extra bamboo nearby. We got a little lunch with the flies and Papa John and I had a beer - I finally got to have a Tembo and it lived up to the hype. Here, Papa John once again showed his worth as he literally knew everybody at the lake. I’m not even sure it was open as the gate was locked when we got there, but a honk and a wave from him and they opened it up and let us in!

On the way back I had Papa John take me to ShopRite so I could get some more bananas and some oil to hopefully improve my cooking. I’d been trying to cook with margarine, which is all they have here, and it’s terrible. I spent about $2 to get half a liter of vegetable oil and it makes a big difference! While I was there, I also stopped at the pharmacy to get something to help me sleep a little better. While explaining that I would like Tylenol (they don’t have it), one of the pharmacy techs took one look at Mireille and gave me a couple of free samples for some medicated lotion for her extremely dry skin. That was a little embarrassing.

Mireille took a little nap in the car on the ride back, which sort of sucked because I couldn’t use the time for showering. She didn’t get a lot of sleep, though, so she was a little cranky. One thing I’ve noticed is that she poops a little after noon most days (that I’ve known her, anyway). When she has to, she gets very cranky, then wants to be held for no apparent reason. Once she’s done, she turns into one of the sweetest little girls you could imagine.

A little later in the afternoon, back at the hotel now, I was sitting outside when the neighbor came out and started talking. He asked if I wanted to share a beer with him. Never one to back down from a beer, I happily accepted and went in to get my last beer from the fridge. I feel bad for Andrew - he’s had a VERY rough week. While his daughter, Blanche, is very interactive and sweet at times, many other times she is very difficult to deal with. She cried almost the entire day that day, apparently, and wouldn’t let him do anything to try to comfort her. She just wanted to sit on the bed and cry. I hope it gets better for him.

With oil now in hand, I fried up a passable steak and rice supper, which is apparently Mireille’s favorite meal. She sort of picks at her breakfast and lunch most days, but the last two days she’s completely shoveled down her supper.

Mireille is now full 2 year old, blabbering Lingala phrases rapidly and smiling and dancing. Oh, and she loves goldfish crackers, but only to dump them on the floor then to put (most of) them back in the bag, then repeat. That’s really her favorite game, from what I can tell. This pretty much is what happened until bed time around 8:00. It wasn’t too difficult to put her to sleep - it was a bit difficult to actually put her in bed and have her stay there, however. All in all I think it took like 20 minutes to get her to sleep and stay in the bed, which isn’t so big a deal - what else do I have to do? Oh, I think King Tuna is on Nat Geo again - better get right on that! I wonder if tuna.com pulls in the biggest haul yet again.

Amusing Papa John stories from the day:

As I’m finding is usual, I had a very interesting and insightful day with Papa John. Some of these stories may be elsewhere in my post, but I am so enthralled with this guy that I think it deserves to be written twice.

On our way to the Bonobo Reserve, Papa John told me about his girlfriend. She was texting and calling him but he wasn’t calling. He said he is done with her, she only wants his money! He says, “Congolese women, all they want is your money. Are American women like that?” I told him there are some, of course, and we call them “Gold Diggers.” I figure I did my part to educate this man for the next tourists!

We have yet to go somewhere where Papa John didn’t know either everybody there, or at least one person. At the Bonobo Reserve, we had a tour guide that he didn’t know. John spent most of his walking time getting to know the guy and exchanging phone numbers. He’s definitely a student of his craft.

The other stories I have for the day are probably not suitable for the written word, but as always, buy me a beer sometime and I’ll happily share!

Written by Brandon Grady
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