Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Without authorization

 It’s been a month already since we arrived back in Mbandaka. We moved into the office (which is also our house) right away, even though we did not have running water or electricity in the first weeks. In the meantime a solar system has been installed and we have plenty of voltage to power our lights, computers, cell phones and even a small fridge we have shipped from Kinshasa. As we have a well behind the house, we are able to get water (from 6 meter below) for all our cleaning and washing needs – manually of course (picture soon). The mattresses that we had bought in Kin also arrived last week, and thanks to UNICEF we were able to buy a beautiful light blue mosquito net for $3 (that was given out for free to the people). Life has significantly improved. We even have security guards and a house-keeper, which cooks on the charcoal stoves and cleans the house.

The best part of this upgrade of our living situation is the new family members. We bought a little black and brown puppy of the streets in Kin- Dawa – probably at 4 weeks of age then. He had crazy scary mango-fly worms in him. 20 to be exact, that Melaine had to push out of his little body. We also had to get rid of some feels and ticks, but all his scars are healing well, and now he is the cutest puppy one can imagine. Especially when he  plays with his little sister Ima. A little baby cat, that just joined us a week ago. Barely three weeks old she is still struggling to walk, but already able to lay on her back to play with Dawa – super cute! We also have two chickens for now – Magret and Babara. Hoping to get more soon though. We are building a little chicken house that will be more comfortable for them, and easier for us to find the eggs :  )

I also started working in the garden with Pascal. We already planted the first grains – salad, onion, peppers, parsley and carrots. While attempting to apply the ‘double-digging’ method in the first part of the garden, we discovered huge amounts of garbage underneath the grassy top. As there is no garbage pick-up service, the previous house occupier decided to through all their trash into the yard and covers it with a bit of soil. We of course face the same issues as many products come in cans or in plastic. We had our own incinerator built ($100) and delivered yesterday, out of old oil barrel divided in half and with a BBQ grill inside to drop all the garbage in. We will have to find a different solution for the metal and glass. Things like this really make you wonder what we are doing to our planet.

Bit by bit we will have to dig up all the trash from underneath – Pascal thinks its not too much, and I hope he is right, to find ‘better way’ of disposing of it and healing the soil.

Malembe, Malembe (slowly, slowly) things should become easier, hopefully also finding good, trustworthy people. For now things are still difficult for me. The guy who was supposed to fix the office/house (David the ‘engineer’) stopped working a while back already, even though he has managed to mess up a large part of his work. The wiring for the house is such that with one switch two or three lights turn on at the same time, some turn on but don’t turn off again. All water pipes are leaking and we can’t even use ANY of the sinks, as water goes everywhere, leaving us with brushing our teeth over the toilette. The roof leaks in three different places, the rain water collection ‘system’ has absolutely no filter, leaving us with brownish water in a used tank with a broken tap, unsuitable for the house, yet connected to the pipes. None of the doors handles function probably – either not closing or not opening back up, leaving the person trapped in the bathroom for example. The roof over the outdoor kitchen (which we need as we are only able to  buy charcoal for cooking in Mbandaka) was way to tiny to shelter anyone from the rain (after all we are in the rain forest), and has been replace already with a traditional raffia & bamboo roof, that covers the area from wall to wall.

One must remember that this house was really ‘ready to move in’, so more or less all he was supposed to fix, he didn’t. 90% of the time I checked on the house David was not there, and at least part or sometime all of his hired workers were sitting around waiting. The special ones were sleeping or laying on our coach. When asked if they were comfortable mostly responded with ‘yes’ and continued laying down – all the way stretched out. The plumber litteraly didn’t do anything the first ten days – until I asked for him to be replaced.  No wonder things didn’t get done in the promised two weeks time. After 4 weeks, at the end of May we left for Kin/Euorope/USA,  and just returned a month ago, only to find out David had spend all of the $3,5000 (out of $3,900 that is was supposed to cost) on himself and didn’t pay ANY of the workers. So he asked for an additional $4,000 (more than doubling the price) to finish the job (which I believe he is incapable of finishing anyways). After Melaine and his boss refused, David just this week decided to use is ‘connections’ and take Melaine in front of the Criminal Court. The judge apparently wants to see the work for himself, requesting a per diem of course – the favorite things of all Congolese. The per diem.

Already in Kin we had high officials charging us $200 each for a 30 minute meeting for a necessary visa paper. Never mind that the visa processing itself costs $480 - each. We experienced more first-hand corruption when we tried to take Dawa with us on the plain. When booking the ticket they told us that is wouldn’t be a problem, as we was tiny and weight less than one kilo, just sleeping in his bag.
The first police officer spotted me with Dawa already outside the airport building, following me and of course asking for my ‘authorization papers’. He was the first of about TWENTY people that tried to get ‘payment’ because of the dog. $40 went to the police after a good hour of negotiations. $25 to the airline, $1.50 to the passport guy (just because of our skin, not because of our dog), three hours later  and another 10 people asking us for money, Melaine was stopped in front of the plain – literally being held up by 6-7 airline workers. In tears I was already sitting inside the plain, seeing him through the tiny window being the last one left on the runway trying to negotiate, ultimately almost ready to give up the dog under so much pressure. Finally, about 15 minutes later, one run-way person said something like, ‘if he got this far with the dog why don’t you just let me go. Stop harassing customers!’ … And thanks to the universe that actually helped and they allowed Melaine with Dawa in my purse onto the plain – as the last passengers. Dawa sleeping through the entire ordeal didn’t and the nasty burgers that we were served for food, only waking up when we arrived in Mbandaka.
I want to say that things are easier. And they are. A lot. I love having our own space. Nobody staring at me when I put out buckets for water with my PJs at 7 am, or feeling like a zoo animal every time I sit down to eat. It’s been much better. Even the Mondele (white person) calling on the street has degreased. But now I just want to hide behind those walls.

The cook we have this week for example is not trustworthy with money. So I decided to go shopping for her this morning – with Dawa. Barely arriving at the ‘store’ a guy in civilian clothes asks me about my ‘authorization’ for the dog. I tell him that I am sorry, but I only speak englsih or german. He gets on the phone to tell someone about the woman with the dog without authorization. I just left. Ultimately this is just another asshole trying to get money, but people like him make me not want to leave the house – not even for a 5 minute walk. The African Development Bank – three months after handing the paperwork in – has just vetoed our Honda purchase. So still no car in sight.

I used to make fun of the Mondele hiding behind the big walls, sitting in their fancy cars, only sending their workers to buy things and really keeping away from the community. But now, as sad as I am to admit it, I understand. Life in Mbandaka has become a lot easier, for sure. But it certainly has not become easy.

 ... and some more pics just because

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