It hasn't even been a week since we arrived in Mdandaka. I actually don't remember what I wrote in my last post, but checking it would take to long... : ) sorry. Internet is slow – which was to be expected, but the surrounding circumstances are much harsher then I could have dreamed off.
First off: the DRC is expensive. In case you guys plan in visiting, which I highly recommend, as you will have two amazing guides a free place to stay and guaranteed a life changing experience, you should know that this is the most expensive place where you get little for the money you pay, if you want to life remotely like we do in the West. A hotel room for $100 will still not get you electricity, as there is no central system of supply (in a “city” of 200,000 or more inhabitants). There is also no central water supply. Most rooms therefore have a bucket of water for the toilet and your shower. You do get electricity from a generator from 6pm to 23 pm (if all works out, just because the sun goes down at 6).
This week has been overwhelming for me. Moving is never easy, but moving to such a remote place, in the poorest country in the world, while Melaine has been working insane hours to get his project on the road with his visiting colleagues, has been exhausting.
Food is pricy if you want a meal in a restaurant - $ 20 for rice, meat and a beer or a pizza and a beer. Things must be much cheaper on the streets though... you just got to know where to go and how to ask. My french is still not great, but really not helpful as 80 percent of the people here speak Lingala. Mbote is Hello and sago nini is how are you... but i haven't gotten much further yet : )
We tried to find a house which will also be the office and visitor place to stay for the researches this week. I looked at some pretty run down places, and right when I almost lost hope that we would live decently within the next 6 months a little miracle happened... a big house with garden in very good condition (for developing country standards) was found, right across the WWF guys. It has a well from which we can pump water, and a place you can add a generator. I'd love to add solar of course... only that it looks like a tin roof to me, not sure how we will make it happen, but we will try. The kitchen has to be build. There is no gas or electricity, we must use wood or caracole. We could try to fly the gas bottles in from Kinshasa, but that just doesn't sound like a good plan : )
One of the biggest surprises is the remoteness of the town – only an hour flight, but it costs $500 there and back. The fast boat, as I found out yesterday costs $200 and takes 4 days there and back, the cheap boat (only $20) takes 10 days there and back.... access to about anything is difficult here. No refrigerator, not stove, not decent motorcycle, no cars, no solar supplier, no mail.... with 200,000 people.
There is money around though. Our hotel has plenty of fancy functions, and with a bottle of water costing $3 (for 1,5liters) I can only imagine how much they pay for a buffet ....it stands in stark contrast with the very large majority of the poor – the average annual income is $280. In rural areas from $120 -$15 (even though of course they often deal with other things than money). Still poverty is high, yet everyone asks you for a job. These guys want change, but the Elite in power only selects family members to have paid jobs... All day I see women and children carrying woods, making food, washing clothes... they work hard in the heat with high humidity, and while we have a plethora of technology in the West to make life much easier for them all, it just hasn't reached them yet.... hopefully that will change soon : )