Books · Congo

accustomed earth

It’s winter in Congo. After a week here,  I’ve settled into a nice familiar routine. I get up around 6:30 or 7 every morning, much to my stunned and my parent’s pleasant surprise. I let the Congostyle puppy outside to do his business, and in between pure squeals of joy at being watched and cared for, he manages to do what he needs to do. Then I shower, and beautiful, perfect mornings like today, I can take a warm shower. It is SO nice to have a warm shower when you know the cold bucket shower alternative, crouching on the wet cold tile, dousing yourself with a plastic cup, freezing, and not feeling totally clean because you only get a cupful of water at a time over your body. When we have electricity, I run into the shower and scrub as if I was taking my last shower for all time. I wash my hair carefully, rinse it twice, scrub my face, soap up twice, rinse twice, scrub my feet, enjoy every drop of warm perfect water. Small things, people. Small things.

Then I take the terrible puppy out again. He looks  and behaves like a live dustmop/vacuum. He is so dusty, because he rolls around on the sand in the school yard, like the nasty little bugger he is, and he picks up everything that he walks by. Rocks, leaves, shrubs, plastic bags, bottle caps, torn pieces of paper. I knew he’d escaped the kitchen and been in my room briefly before I woke up because there were two rocks, deposited next to my mattress.

After that I head to La Citronelle, the one cafe in Pointe-Noire. It’s gorgeous and perfect, they have lovely croissants and pains au chocolats, financiers (like rectangular madeleines, crispy on the outside, and made with cake mixture luxuriously laced with almond powder), and good decent coffee. Right now I’m reading Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Another displaced soul who writes about identity and belonging, but does it to a level of beauty and mastery that one can only gaze at from afar. If only. It’s a really good book, and I’m enjoying every word of it. She’s dad’s favorite author, and I have to somehow break the news to him that I spilled one drop of coffee on page 15 this morning. I’ll have lead into that very carefully. He loves his books.

My next stop is usually the internet cafe with the awesome connection that I’m sitting at right now, where I put up a blog post, check my email, and surf around for about an hour at the student discount rate before heading over to dad’s office and helping out with administration, finance tracking, databases, English classes, anything he needs help with. I’ll usually do that until about 4 or 5 and then we’ll hang out, watch a movie or go to dinner.

Last night I went to the beach to grab a drink with a friend. The air was sticky and wet with sea foam. As we sat by the windy table on the edge of the patio over the beach, my glasses got covered in a layer of humid gunk, and our table progressively coated itself in humidity. On the horizon, ten of the hundreds of oil rigs were burning like ominous torches, pinning the black of the night against the black of the ocean, burning away the black gold that we see no proof of on the ground and in the everyday life of the common Congolese.

Dinner was grilled fish and plantain in the cite, and if you’ve had a chance to view my Trinidad video, the last bit where Kathy is driving me through Curepe is exactly what this was like. This is my earliest memory of home, accustomed earth. The bustling cite, your feet dusty with sand, in perennial sandals, sitting on a hard wood bench, eating grilled meat in the darkness, surrounded by laughing and talking people, the taxis swishing by, honking, fumes bellowing behing them, oil and gas-lit stands selling anything, hawkers selling tissue papers, glasses, flashlights, loud N’dombolo music blaring from three different outdoor bars. Life, occupying every available inch of space there is, and beating out, even in dusty, dark streets, until the wee hours of the morning.

My brother has been obsessed with pool since he got to Pointe Noire, and plays on the smallest lilliputian pool table you can imagine. Snooker maybe?  We watched the unbelievable results of the 2-o win of the US against Spain, currently the best team in the world. Frank, our taxi driver is convinced that this is a sign the US is going to win the  next World Cup and is due to Obama being president of the US. I tell you, Obama has a lot of love going to him from Africa. 

Today is shaping up to be interesting. It’s the last day of the school year so there’s a huge party planned starting at noon and taking up all afternoon. In fact, I probably  need to get off my behind and head over to help out. It’s grey and overcast outside, maybe in the sixties for you Farenheit people out there. For the rest of the world, it would be a cool 25 ‘C.

I don’t even know why I rambled on for so long.


Oh…random TV moment. I was watching an African morning show before I left the house, and this lovely well-spoken girl host was reviewing Star Trek and talking about how Spok and Kirk are basically a perfect team because together they make a very balanced individual, Spok being left-brained and Kirk being right-brained. Anyway, she was describing Vulcans and their logic, rational thinking, and the guy next to her, muttered under his breath, while nodding his head intently, “like men”. He then proceeded to equate right-brained with emotional and feminine qualities.


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