The Great Congolese Caper - Day 3 - Kinshasa

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Kinshasa - Day 2

After a rough night night, I managed to get up and get myself together by 9:00, when Papa John was schedule to show up so we could go grocery shopping. By the time he showed up, though, it was 10:30. Traffic… Common problem in Kinshasa! By then, we took off to ShopRite, a local, modern supermarket, where I purchased my groceries for the week. It was a little nerve wracking buying groceries for the week, let me tell you. Normally Jenny takes care of that kind of thing! I was very surprised at the selection, though. I managed to buy some fruit (bananas and grapes), eggs, butter, milk (which they store warm - weird), bread, sardines (Papa John insisted), cookies, and rice. Apparently a lot of the Congolese diet consists of rice dishes. Either that or “Foo-foo,” something I just learned of today from my new friend Andrew!

After I had showered and was ready to start my day, I met my next door neighbor, Andrew, who got in last night after I had already fallen asleep. His trip sounded WAY worse than mine. He’s from Denver. From there he flew through Chicago, then London, then Istanbul, and finally Kinshasa! Something like 30 hours! He did have some good stories to tell from his flight, however, where he actually engaged some Congolese in conversation, and was able to lay out on a complete row of seats, something I didn’t have the luxury of as all of my flights were FULL! Andrew and his wife already have two boys but always wanted to adopt. Andrew and his wife are 3 years into the process, but have much further to go, as he is in country to file his I600 paperwork, which I applaud them for. I’m sure I’ll hear more from Andrew as the week goes on as he and I already have a lot in common - we’re both in Congo meeting our adoptive daughters for the first time, by ourselves without our wives!

After returning, Papa John sat on the patio while I put the groceries away, anxiously awaiting the delivery of Mireille. They were supposed to show up at 11:00 - I think they finally did around 12:15. Natasha, the owner of the foster homes, and Elisa, her foster mother, delivered Mireille. She is SO BIG! I can’t believe how heavy she is. Papa John was very impressed at how big she was! She sat on Natasha’s lap for awhile. I tried to interact with her, tried to tickle her and talk with her, but she wouldn’t have it - very serious. At one point she went to Elisa and cuddled up with her for quite awhile. At some point later, Papa John took control and told Elisa to give her to me - Mireille screamed! She screamed very loudly. I stayed calm, walked her around, tried to distract her. I took her around the hotel lot - showed her the falcon that they have for a pet (pretty cool, I think), showed her the swimming pool, just walked her around. After about 5 minutes of crying, she settled down and was fine, though very serious.

After Elisa and Natasha left (while I was showing Mireille around), we went into the hotel room and just hung out. Papa John and I went to try to buy her some formula and a bottle, which is what Natasha said she uses. I’m pretty sure something got lost in translation there, because she didn’t want to have anything to do with that bottle. We also weren’t able to find the formula that Elisa uses, so we are going to use what she has first then see if she will drink regular milk (which, did I mention they store warm here?).

Oh, driving in Congo is very interesting indeed! Actually I wasn’t as appalled as I think Papa John thought I would be as I’ve experienced that style of driving in Mexico and Costa Rica, but it is still interesting to say the least. Lots of horn using! But, since they are such a law abiding country, kids absolutely cannot ride in the front seat! I don’t know - I found it amusing that they bothered to ensure that kids couldn’t ride in the front seat, but they had very few other protections in the vehicular arena.

I was finally able to get Mireille to eat a banana and a few cereal things that Jenny sent. She wouldn’t touch the bottle, but I think a lot of that has to do with her still being very uncomfortable. She also managed to shit herself, so I changed my first girl-baby diaper - Achievement Unlocked!

At around 3:00, Papa John suggested we go see the river and he would buy me a beer. I was able to buy beer at the grocery store, but they only had Primus, which is brewed in Kinshasa. Papa John really wanted me to try Tembo, which is brewed in his province of Katanga, one of the richest areas of the country. In fact, that is the area where the Uranium was obtained to build the bomb dropped on Japan in WWII.

Anyway, we traveled to the River. The drive was as exciting as always. This time, though, we took this one road that was definitely “local,” It was a mud road and had not been graded, maybe ever. Papa John mentioned that he really needed a 4x4 - he was right! This road was terrible!

We stopped at a restaurant that had a pool and a bar. It was very nice. Papa John negotiated us a table which they brought out from somewhere and setup. He then ordered us some beers and a Fanta for Mireille, which she loved (don’t tell Jenny). It was a very nice afternoon just hanging out on the river, watching the laborers dig up stone for concrete, observing the local animals (lizards and a python, which was caged). Mireille snacked on plantains and a little meat that PJ ordered for us - otherwise she just gulped down the Fanta that he ordered for her. It was a lovely afternoon - lots of interesting conversation.

On the way back from the restaurant, we traveled through the diplomat area, a very swanky area with guarded yards and nice streets. Many ambassadors live in that area. I even saw a number of people jogging for exercise.

Uh oh - as I type, Mireille is sleeping in the bed next to me. She is OUT! Rough day, and way off of her schedule. When getting instruction from Elisa I was told that she is not complicated at all, and that’s exactly what I’m finding. She is very content, doesn’t fuss much, doesn’t move around much. I REALLY wish I could get her to smile, though - she’s so serious… Anyway, the reason I say uh-oh is because my neighbor’s daughter, Blanche, is up. She was sleeping when we got back tonight as well and he said she is having a very hard time adjusting to him. I’m not sure whether I am pleased that Mireille is quick to adjust or not. It could be that she does not attach well to people, or it could just mean that she accepts change readily. I don’t know - adoption is a worrisome exercise, for sure!

That’s more or less it for today, other than my ruminations on Papa John, which are included in the director’s cut, some of which are included below, but others that you may have to ask me about after buying me a beer. I’m hopeful Mireille will sleep well for the night - I should probably go to sleep in case she wakes up in the middle of the night. I’m tired enough, anyway. I probably won’t, though, and will go into bonus time writing out the last couple of days as well as some of my interesting conversations with Papa John.

Interesting Papa John Stories of the day

Papa John is one very interesting man. I haven’t yet written of my encounter last night with him, so some of this might seem repetitive as I go back and write of my experiences after the fact. He is a very amazing individual from what I can tell. He speaks English very well, though he is not happy with how poorly he perceives his English to be. Besides English which is his “worst” language, he speaks 14 others! His primary languages are French and Swahili. He knows Lingala OK, but doesn’t find it to be a very important language. Swahili is spoken in like 5 African nations, while Lingala is only spoken in part of two (Kinshasa and Brazzaville across the river).

Papa John is 65 years old, but doesn’t look it. He has 5 children. A 31 year old daughter who just got married last weekend (he showed me the pictures), and 4 boys, the youngest of which is 19. All four of his boys live with him and don’t yet have jobs.

Papa John comes from the Katanga province and was born to a Zambian father and Congolese mother. He actually fought in the Katanga/Congo civil war in the 60s as a very young boy. He moved to Kinshasa in 1971 when he came here to watch the Rumble in the Jungle. He even drove me past the hotel where the fighters stayed. Definitely an event in his life.

Papa John makes his living on adoption. He pulls down $100 a day as a driver/guide/bodyguard (which I’ve found to be well worth the money). When he’s not doing that, which is often lately, he arranges for trips to orphanages where he delivers food and helps families to keep in touch with their adoptive children.

I think the funniest story about Papa John for the evening was when we were talking to Andrew, my neighbor. Andrew has obviously done more homework than I have for this adoption. He was talking about asking the foster mom to teach him how to make foo foo, a dish that apparently a lot of Congolese eat. I asked Papa John about it when Andrew was around and he said something to the effect of, “it is smelling like shit.” He prefers rice! I later found out from him that foo foo is a starch that is utilized like rice, but it’s made of corn meal and some other plant (casava?). They are mixed then boiled. He thinks people should make concrete out of it instead, but then only if they wanted their concrete to smell like shit.

Written by Brandon Grady
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