Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The signature exchange

 Our new office/house
Just across the street the german engineer is installing a solar system at the WWF office (also proving that Solar is a great solution for our office :  )

The following posts are possible thanks to our friend Bruno from MSF in Mbandaka ... who also made us delicious Pizza for watching Bayern Muenchen vs. Barcelona tonight! Thank you Bruno!

Not too much going on this last week. We have a variation of the following food EVERY DAY: Rice or Fufu, Makemba (deep fried Plantains), Spinach or Beans, and Fish – Every Day! Breakfast is white bread, powder milk, black tea and either a scrambled egg (fried) or half of an Avocado – Every day – well, I did find a nutella substitute that sweetens up my breakfast : ) (thanks to the south African exporter Yempy) There are Bananas, Pineapple, Mango and Oranges around (meaning that they grow everywhere in the city), but since there are no supermarkets but instead random women (or children) just selling what they have, find or pick, it’s a matter of luck… also to find fruit that is ripe, but not over ripe or all banged up is trickery than expected. Often it is a problem of when they are picked (seldom too early and often too late) and the transport of course, which can be cumbersome and packed in a box with many more … bananas for example.
Apparently the city has exploded in terms of motorized transport over the past 4 years. Back then there were not even cars around. Now we have a plethora of Motorbikes (that are also Taxis), also one kind of normal bike is to be seen everywhere – it’s a Chinese model sold for $100 and equipped with a sitting spot over the back tire – also used for transporting mostly people, often carrying heavy weights with them.
There are quite a few UN cars and some from other NGOs cars on the street as well, but still many people simply walk. Carrying weight is done on the head as often seen all over this continent. Very impressive weights are balanced, seemingly without any effort and even the turn of the head to check out white people, is easily possible for them.
We are still living in hotel L’Epervier and I can announce that the flea war has been won this week. Even better: an end is in sight of our bucket shower and mind-numbing generator living, as we have signed a lease for a house just a few days ago. A large house with garden– six rooms, of which two will be offices and two visitor rooms (for researchers and work visits but also family and friends), two bathrooms and hopefully soon a kitchen.
As mentioned before cooking is done in Mbandaka with wood or coal. We will have to do the same (only that we most likely will hire a ‘cook’ that knows how to handle this kind energy source for cooking : ) This means however that cooking is often done outside, so we don’t smoke out the whole house. For this a wall has been broken through and a cooking area established outside.
Right now there is no water in the house. We have the option to buy unreliable water from the city, but people advised us against it. Instead we will clean the well, install a pump and also collect rainwater - hopefully. It’s not exactly clear how we will do this as we are just now collecting estimates from local engineers to renovate the place, which have given very different opinions on what has to be done and how.
Of course there is no electricity, so we will have to buy a generator and keep our fingers crossed to find a decent company that will install a solar system for us – hopefully soon. As with all products in the DRC solar equipment is expensive and often of poor quality. Heinz, a German engineer (to be seen on the photo with the butterfly eating my nutella) visited Mbandaka last week to install a solar system on the WWF building. He of course imported high quality products from Germany and adviced us to do the same. However, it also took him two years and not all the equipment arrived : / I will discuss the problem of shipping things to the DRC in one of my next posts as I read extensively about the port called Matadi, through which most products have to go before coming here…. WWF advised us to use DHL, even to ship solar panels to forgo the mess in Matadi, but most likely we will not have the time or the budget to have a fancy solar system. In fact right now no money has been transferred into our account and we can only hope that it gets here soon so the work on the house can start, because here the guys need 50% up front to start buying the material….
In a country were Monopolies are the norm and competition is limited (or eliminated), finding good service or products becomes a task in itself. The times of surfeit of choice are over. We can just hope and pray…that we find a decent solar system installer, a ‘normal’ mattress, decent mosquito repellent, or medicine…..Everything seems to be a matter of luck. You just have to trust that life will bring you what you need.
So signatures were exchanges last week, deposit paid and for $1,000 the Woods Hole Research Center officially rents an office, and we will home to home to live in. Now it just has to be made workable and livable… 

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