Update…..

Stats:

Weeks pregnant: 32

Blood pressure: Normal, a bit too low

Hormone levels: I haven’t killed anyone….yet

I am counting down the days till the arrival of our baby girl, being pregnant is a beautiful unique experience but this time it has taken a toll on my body and I am exhausted. Having two kids running around and a husband who is back in Congo doesn’t make it any easier. So even though I try to cherish and enjoy this last pregnancy (there will be no more after this one) I also cant wait for it to be over and to get the reward…my baby girl!

Somebody however will still have to convince Paige (my first daughter) of the following:

  1. No you really do not have a baby in your belly!!!
  2. This baby girl will not be named: ELSA, OLAF or ANNA or any other character name from Frozen or other Disney cartoon.

This week was an exciting week for me as I received my first hardcopy of Knocked up abroad again! Featuring one of my stories; my experience regarding adoption and adoption from my friends’ orphanage; Mwana Villages. IT IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON NOW!! So look no further, this is a great Christmas gift for any mother or father worldwide (yes, the concept of this book Markets well).

Did I mention that we are moving back to Congo!!! My husband is already back in Pointe Noire and just found us a new home. The kids and I will stick around in The Netherlands until after the baby is born and then we will head back to our other home. I am super excited and am enjoying our time here more than ever knowing we will leave again.

My menagere (maid) Christelle and I keep sending eachother pics of our lifes…me of the cold fall weather, and she sends me pics of the hot looking streets in Pointe Noire. We both cant wait to be reunited again! But for now I will continue to enjoy Ikea vs. Orca, Kentucky Fried Chicken vs. KAFCC, fully stocked supermarkets vs. Park ‘n Shop (although I just received some pics of the new and improved Park ‘n Shop, sorry Charlotte I still prefer Albert Heijn) and H&M vs. the Grand Marche and the cold vs. the crazy hot Congo weather!

Bon Weekend!

 

 

The Hormonal Move & a new BOOK!

Yah… so I’ve been a little absent from my blog……so lets recap the last couple of months;

We were going to move to Accra, Ghana…then that didn’t happen. I fell pregnant with our third child and have never experienced the level of morning sickness that i just went through. Finally we were moving “home” Holland that is although nowhere really feels like home anymore. Many changes in a very short period of time … leaving a life and people behind that we loved. Organizing a move whilst constantly being sick from my pregnancy. Saying goodbyes and trying not to throw up was really challenging to say the least.

The people that know me, know that I get EXTREMELY HORMONAL during my pregnancies and therefor in order for me to keep my friendships it is better to lay on the down low whilst being pregnant. That way I reduce the risk of unintentionally hurting people by my (hormonal) comments. This is part of the reason (the other one is simply being to sick) why I havent been blogging.

Going from my first ultrasound in Congo to meeting lice-mothers at the new school of my children has been and still is quite the contrast:

Lice-mothers; My son came home from his first day of school and I asked him how it went. “It was fun and there was this mom who was checking my hair”. Hmmm ok, so after enquiring with the teacher it turned out they were checking for lice. Not only that but if I wanted I could also volunteer to be a lice-mom.  Apparently it is normal to have lice-mothers that check all the kids for lice after the summer break, actually, after every break.

My first ultrasound; was during my medical check in Pointe Noire whilst we were still preparing to move to Ghana (Accra), which is not happening anymore. There was no one available to work the ultrasound machine but Dr. Makaya who was doing our medicals told me he knew how to work the machine if I was ok with that. After having a miscarriage in February I was now desperate to hear a heartbeat so yes I agreed to let Dr. Makaya do it. So him, my children and myself went on a search to find the ultrasound machine, we found it in a dark room in the basement of the clinic and I remember thinking this would only happen in Congo. But he did know how to work it and he found the heartbeat of our little girl who is due in January 2017.

For now we are back in Holland and we are still disorientated, havent found a new routine yet and are finding it hard to pick up our old life…as it doesn’t exist anymore. In the meantime life in Congo and in The Netherlands continues and somehow we need to find our way back to a “normal” life and routine. Our children adapt quite easily although not having a maid or private pool takes some getting used too. But we realize that these are all luxury problems. We will survive 🙂

We will stay put in Holland until the baby is born and after that we will head out for a new adventure….where ever that may be.

Today is an exciting day because it is the first day of our kickstarter campaign to launch a new book that features some of my stories. The book is called: Knocked up Abroad Again and it features stories of 26 women from all over the world and their experiences of giving birth, raising children, adoption and much more. Go check out our kickstarter campaign and help us turn this book into reality: http://knockedupabroad.eu/ksshare/  My story is about adoption and my experience of growing up with a brother and sister that are adopted from Haiti. Then, years later moving to Congo and being on the “other” side of the adoption process.

 

 

once upon an expat

Expat-wives GOT Talent

Interested in Yoga? There are always a few expat wives that are very skilled yoga teachers. To keep us all zen.

Zumba, or Pilates? Again plenty of instructors but my friend and I preferred doing Zumba on the Wii, very fun too! Actually Zumba is a bit 2015, Piloxing is THE new thing here in Pointe Noire.

Baking? Trust me “The bake off” is nothing compared to what some of the women can do here! Especially challenging without supply of “normal” products here in Congo so therefor everything is made fresh and from scratch…unless you cheat which is what I do. My very good friend Betty Crocker helps me to keep up appearances within my expat community. Only sometimes I find myself in the awkward situation that people ask me for the recipe…aargh “well it is a family secret” would be my reply.

rainbow cake

Angie’s amazing rainbow cake

Cooking? Wow, an average potlock here has better food than a Michelin star restaurant! Especially the Asian community here provide you with the most delicious foods and make it look so effortless. These are always reminders of my own inability to cook. So I usually bring drinks to potlock events!

Music lessons? Well you have your local Congolese musicians that will teach you or your children the drums or any other local instruments. Then you have these gems that appear throughout your expat journey…these super talented musicians that offer anything from musical classes to singing or piano lessons.

piano lesson

Kingston with his very talented piano teacher Svetlana

Theater? Again all of the sudden these moms you didn’t expect at all to be actresses, have a natural gift in performing and entertain us by having regular performances.

There are too many talented Expat-wives that I sometimes find it intimidating and really wish I had a specific skill set of my own! You have groups that find local projects to support; they will raise money and build schools or teach local schools about Oral hygiene.

hygiene project

The dental/ hygiene project in Congo!

Then you have the uber-creative ones that are talented in sewing and are using it to train local girls to sew the most amazing clothes, bags etc. One of these groups/ brands is called: African riddim (www.africanriddim.com) hold sales every few months in Pointe Noire and trust me an average H&M-Balmain collection sale is nothing compared to this! Woman fight to get in and righteously so as their items are amazing, unique and one of a kind.

African Riddim

African Riddim

Last but not least… the reason I started writing about talents are the bloggers and writers amongst us. Some of the blogs I come across are so incredibly well written and so fun to read. One particular mom (Canadianexpatmom.com) decided to bundle a selection of stories written by Expat-moms into a book called; Once upon an Expat. Guess what?? It is available now on amazon and trust me it is funny, sad, interesting and educational all in one book….check it out! Oh and all proceeds go to charity, so really why havent you ordered your copy yet? (If you have already purchased it…THANK YOU!)

once upon an expat

Yeah I am in this book!!! Check it out on Amazon now!

Have a great week everyone!

 

Paige at school

High on (Congo) Life

Today is one of those days…..where I absolutely love Congo and living here! Trust me there are also many days where I hate it! But not today, the weather is great and of course hot….very hot!

The kids are on a break from school and currently in the pool with their swimming-instructor. Yes we have a swimming-instructor who comes to our house (Frederique). Not the most reliable person but he is good with the kids and they love him! So currently in the pool are my own two kids, Zache and Krisma.

swimming class

Swimming class

Zache lives in my friend’s orphanage (Mwana Villages) and is a bright little 5 year old. He calls me Maman Cecile, and whenever I hear him say that my heart melts! He can get away with murder at my house and he knows it. I like to spoil him when he comes home with us every Wednesday. My daughter Paige and Zache have a very special bond, he constantly looks out for her and she loves him and makes sure he has enough food and drinks or candy! The two of them are trouble and I wouldn’t want to be a 4/5 year old trying to play with the two of them. He loves to swim and is obsessed with Paw Patrol so we watch the DVD on repeat and of course in French. We have a routine that starts with a peanut butter sandwich and milk before swimming. I made the mistake once of baking pancakes and I have never seen such an angry looking child. So for now we will stick to the peanut butter sandwiches. Sorry for the pancakes Zache!

Zache, Kingston & Paige

Zache, Kingston & Paige

Christelle is my AWESOME maid! She has been with us for 2,5 years. We had two different maids before her and that didn’t work out so well. The first one, Cecile (already confusing to have two Cecile’s in the house) was very sneaky and some things money related went down and I didn’t feel comfortable with her in the house. The second one Justine was more my friend as the whole having “staff” in my house was new to me. This didn’t work out and I still feel guilty about this as she named her baby after my husband. She still shows up every now and then asking me for money. Which I give her… she in return brings me fruit or African fabric. Christelle’s youngest daughter Krisma joins our Wednesday swimming class too. The first time she was terrified of the water but after a few weeks she is loving it.

Paige and Krisma

Paige & Krisma

Christelle also started to join the swimming class and she does it on Fridays with Paige & Frederique. I am glad we get to share this and love watching them improve their swimming every week. Last week Christelle took Paige with her to pick up Krisma from school. When they returned she was holding on to Paige so tight and told me; “I get it Madame, I get it now!” I have been telling Christelle that I find it scary to take Paige to local markets or neighborhoods, as she is blond has blue eyes and everyone wants to touch her, I find it overwhelming sometimes. Christelle, just experienced the same as the whole school wanted to touch Paige. I’m not sure Paige understands, as I am pretty sure she feels more African then we do.

So today is a good day…a great day! African Sunshine, Frederique showing up on time, all the kids happy in the pool and one happy mommy watching it all!

Bon Weekend!

Diarrhea is the new norm….

“Oh yes, that’s a Mango fly” Vicky says, as I am showing her my daughter’s neck where she has this strange little red bump. Hmmm ok, so now what do I do? Do I need to go to the hospital? “No!” she replies; “just put some Vaseline on it, it will suffocate the worm and then after a couple of hours just squeeze it out like you would with a pimple”. My stomach just turned, with the idea of a living creature in my daughters neck…..but…. she was right and it came out just like she told me it would!

This was one of many to come strange bugs or illnesses we would encounter over the next few years.

bug bite

Weird bug bite

Another time; Kingston (my son) comes out of bed with bruises everywhere on his body, whilst me and my husband are inspecting them we notice that I have them too. Turns out we react to the mosquito bites with huge bruises around the bite! Guess our bodies need to adapt to the Congo mosquito! (This has passed and now we have “normal” bites).

tiger mosquito

Tiger mosquito in Congo (in my house)

How to write down all the crazy things that have happened to us and others around us since moving here! My biggest fear before entering this country was Malaria (or as the locals/French say: Palu, Paludisme) those days are long gone! As 75% of my own family have now had malaria and when treated on time it is not that bad! Although in saying this I did almost lost my husband to it last year…..but he survived!

malaria

Kicking Malaria’s ASS (with Coartem of course)

The sick-times seem to come at the same time every year and trust me it goes around. Usually when the rainy season starts or ends. Everyone will get his or her fair share of it! For us it usually involved endless hours of waiting at the private clinic or worse when we are visiting the Western world….upon entering any hospital we raise a red flag coming from Congo.

tuberculosis scare

Tuberculosis scare in Holland!

My friend Juan and I were waiting to pick up our kids from school on a rainy day. I was making fun of him wearing his sunglasses as it was raining…he warned me that his eyes were taken over by the devil and I started laughing even louder…..that was until he showed me his eyes! FUCK! SHIT, is that contagious I ask, as I step back from him. But not to worry…. what comes around goes around, only a month after this encounter it was my turn to have “devil eyes” aka Pink eye! My daughter and I both had a pretty bad case of it. My son was scared of me and I think everyone that saw me was scared of me….I was even scared of me! 

 

 Back in Holland for the summer my son falls down whilst playing and straight away jumps up and starts screaming IM OK, IM OK….REALLY I AM OK! My sisters start laughing at him and I explain to them why he does this….In Congo we go to play yard every day from 5-6PM, this is usually the time of day when “us” mothers are fed up with our kids and at play yard they can run wild while us moms have a chat. In the glory days (since the oil crisis…lots of people have been send home) there would be up to 30 or 40 children at the play yard every day. So I am sure that statistically you can calculate the chances of a child injuring themselves at play yard but without calculations…. there were always one or two children getting injured a day! So here is what happens…..:

  1. Child falls down and depending on the child….starts screaming or crying
  2. All (no, lets rephrase that to most )mothers are “Alert” and a few 2 or 3 will go to the child
  3. Assess injuries, check for blood etc etc
  4. No blood: continue playing
  5. Blood: ok here we go…. from creams, plasters, disinfect sprays and lastly THE RED SPRAY are applied to the child!

My son is terrified of the red spray and let me tell you why, not only does it sting a little, it also colors your skin red (and everything else for that matter) it stays on for days and doesn’t wash off….but it disinfects as no other product! What is it? Good question! I bought mine in a pharmacy around the corner of our house (in Congo) but the description is in Dutch (WTF?) yes in Dutch. It actually says that it should be applied on babies after the umbilical cord is cut off! Or if I translate it: Dry-making-skin-solution! Our miracle spray here!

wounds disinfected

Kingston being disinfected

Us expats have great health insurance-packages and go to private clinics whilst living here. I can write a book on how this works for the locals and trust me it is not pretty! But here’s a little peek into local medicines: Part of their culture is that some still believe that praying for someone when sick is the only cure! Unfortunately it is not and many people die here everyday unnecessary as their lives can be easily spared if taken the proper medications. Pop-up pharmacies… are another problem as these little booths sell the strangest medicine that in general have expired by 5 years or more. People believe that the person selling these medicines have knowledge and will buy whatever they recommend. We do what we can helping our staff when they are ill and have paid for so many meds and surgeries over the past three years that I have lost count. You have the power as an expat to save someone’s life but…..where do you stop? Can you stop? Will it make a difference? This might sound harsh but it is a never ending story there is always someone sick and I cant afford to pay for all of them….or can I? Maybe I don’t want to? This is al part of the very real and hard reality of living this “rich” life in Congo.

Netcare

Netcare, our private clinic in Pointe Noire

And lastly diarrhea, WOW! I have had my fair share of it whilst living here, it really seems to be the new norm for me and when back in Europe I am almost surprised by my “normal poop”! So….on that note….Bon Weekend everyone!

Pile of....

Pile off…….peanut butter!

 

 

 

 

Driving au Congo

Hahaha, where to begin with the driving conditions in Congo! Before we arrived in Congo, we had the option to choose the color of our new car a Totyota something with of course 4 wheel drive. I wanted black as I feel every car should be black. But nooo, actually there was no option it was white or white, so white it was.This didn’t seem very practical to me but oh well its just a color.

streetview

Street view 

I will spare you all the details of all the hardship that went into allowing me to drive in Congo but will share this one; In order for me to drive the company car I had to go and do a self-defense driving course. So I went…a bit nervous not knowing what to expect. I was the only one (from 15 on the list) that showed up that day so it became a private course. It started with a PowerPoint presentation of some of the basics; traffic rules, what to do and what not to do, pretty straightforward. Then the teacher told me I had to watch a 20-minute video whilst he would go out, before leaving me he stressed how very important it was for me to watch the video. OMG THAT VIDEO! It was horrific; I turned it off after a minute, it wasn’t even a video! It was another PowerPoint presentation with pictures of car accidents and casualties, random ones, with a sad song playing in the background. It weren’t even pictures from Congo they were taken in Europe and showed such horrific things that I couldn’t watch it. To be honest I didn’t even understand why anyone would have to witness that. The teacher came back and I lied pretending I had watched it. We went through the course material fast and were finished by 10 AM (the course was meant to go on until 6PM) as the teacher was a bit concerned not knowing what to do with me he wanted to show me something…one of those things where you sit in a car chair and feel the impact of a head on collision. First he strapped me in and put the machine on 10KM an hour impact, which surprisingly is quite an impact. It actually hurt, I was already done with this thing but he wanted to continue…. 15 KM, 20 KM up to 50KM an hour. At this point I refused, I pressed the red stop bottom and quickly unbuckled myself. I had my “certificate” by 11 AM. Yeeeyyy I can now drive in Congo!!!

No words....

No words….

Yes so I can finally drive….that is, if there is gas! You would think a country that has so much oil and gas would have plenty of it! No, not at its gas-stations! So always drive with a full tank if possible or have extra jerrycans filled up as back up or…. wait in line for eternity!

One of many gas-shortages

One of many gas-shortages

Local Gas Station

Local Gas station

Roads

So….. the majority of the roads are challenging to drive on to say the least, but during rainy season….well, that makes driving almost impossible. The amount of potholes and their sizes are unlike anything I have seen before. The trick is to remember where they are, because after the rain the roads turn into rivers and you cannot see the potholes. I usually wait for other cars to go first as the thought of getting stuck terrifies me.

Roads after rain

Roads after rain

The asphalt is done for during rainy season, numerous attempts of the “road workers” repairing the roads but there is simply no point. The road to the school of my children is at the moment the worst, last weekend they repaired the roads and everyone felt like it was Christmas all over again YEEEEYYYYY a new road!……….this lasted one day! Another day of rain and not sure what their asphalt is made off but it just disappeared. One taxi after another gets stuck (taxi’s are a whole new story to write, in PNR they are blue Toyota corolla’s and they move about like ants, everywhere. Every city has their own color taxi…Brazzaville Green, Pointe Noire Blue, Dolisie Red and Nkayi Yellow). The worst part about getting stuck is that no one will help you unless you agree how much you will pay them in advance, seems reasonable but it still sucks.

Truck & Taxi stuck

Truck & Taxi stuck

Driving my husband to work is a route sooo bad that I sometimes have nightmares about it. Seriously I am sure the Dakar rally is easy compared to this, only you don’t get a medal or whatever it is you get at the end! Even though I so feel like I deserve one, after driving that route. It’s a sand/mud road with puddles where the water sometimes comes over the hood of the car. This is my “secret” technique:

Step 1: I slow down before entering the puddle/pool/river

Step 2: I open my window and shout at pedestrians to get out of the way

Step 3: Put the car in first gear

Step 4: Tell myself it will be ok! (15 times)

Step 5: I GOOOOOOOO, I try to keep my eyes open, but my gut tells me to just close them

Step 6: I MADE IT! (this is the part where I feel I deserve a medal but don’t get one)

Step 7: ………usually involves angry Congolese people that didn’t get out of the way to yell at me and I try to look apologetic but feel like such a champion for making it through!

My worst nightmare

My worst nightmare

Safety goggles

A little expat joke going around when driving ……always wear your “safety goggles” read: Sunglasses. This way your argument when avoiding the police is that you didn’t see them, plus they cant see your eyes in order to make eye contact to stop you.

OMG, wait, hold up, you don’t stop for the police? No, in general we (I) do not stop for the police here; I actually step on the gas when seeing the police. In the past I did stop because it’s the police, of course you stop! But every time I got stopped I was informed of a new law-change and I was always doing something wrong, which is equal to paying whatever amount they tell you to. Sometimes its negotiable, sometimes it isn’t. I tried to have conversations with them in the past in French but this never worked out for me. One day, maybe a year ago I was in the car with my son who was sick when I got pulled over by three police woman. I had no intention of stopping but since they blocked my vehicle I decided that stopping was better then to run them over. They started with their intimidation techniques these are skills they master and still have an effect on me every time. I just get better in hiding my fear. They soon realize I refuse to speak French and demand my papers. I give them my papers and desperately try to understand why they pulled me over…even though I know the answer to this question. But this was one of those days were I refused to participate in the Congo-corruption. The police womenstart laughing and walk away with my papers. Nooo! I need my papers back I get out of the car (BAD PLAN, note to self…never get out of car again)…and the rest is me unleashing my anger and frustration towards a whole country that thrives on corruption. My son is still in the back of the car and at this point a crowd has gathered around me as I am still screaming and crying. It is so unfair! You have to understand that I deal with these minor cases of corruption on a daily basis and sometimes I have reached my tolerance for it. They decide to arrest me and take me to the police station! Noooo, no,no,no,no you are not taking me to the police station! I call my husband crying and he sends some people my way to help me out. In the meantime a Congolese man, very well dressed steps out of the building behind me and comes straight for me. I don’t know what to do but he does and he hugs me! Best hug ever! He speaks English and tries to calm me down and wants to know what happened. I explain…he then goes and talks to the Evil lady cops and surprisingly he gets my papers back from them and I can go. What? How? Who are you? Do I need to pay you now? “No Madame, I am a lawyer and I am very sorry this happened to you. They do not represent my country and shouldn’t have taken your papers.”

I go home and am so thankful that this man helped me! Not only to prevent me from being arrested but also I needed to hear the good in him as all the bad was taking over. I tell Christelle (our maid) the story when I come home and she is furious and about to go kick some ass. I have a hard time keeping her in the house and then I realize that she is unleashing the same anger I was, she is sick of the corruption too!

Last Tuesday I sat next to the lawyer on a flight, what a coincidence! He recognized me and I had the opportunity to thank him once again! Although I felt embarrassed when he said; “Remember me? I helped you when the police were about to arrest you and you where crying and screaming in front of my office”.

Bon Weekend!!

 

My job as a teacher!

My first year as an expat I was frequently asked if I could teach English….my reply would be; No, I am not a teacher! In another lifetime I did a Bachelor in Hotel Management and more recently a Masters in The Theory of Constraints, so no I wouldn’t consider myself a teacher…. a trainer yes! But not a teacher. I wrongly assumed that when asked this question, they weren’t asking me if I had a degree in teaching but if I could “just” teach English. So I started teaching other expats from different nationalities and I actually really enjoyed doing this (it earns well to). Turned out I needed this so badly for my own self-esteem. I joke about the fact that I am a house wife with a Masters-degree but somewhere deep down….I miss me being the career driven mom I used to be. I then got the opportunity to work at an English school where my main focus would be teaching corporate/ business English and Customer Services classes to companies based in Congo. This is what I still do and I teach on location too (at the Brazzaville Airport) I LOVE IT!

supermomabroad congo

The two Congo’s from the sky

All my students are Congolese and around the same age as myself (in their thirties). I learn so much from them and the Congolese culture that I sometimes wonder why I even get paid? (Note to my bosses…don’t take this literally!) Last year during the rainy season most students showed up late, when it rains everyone is usually late. At the start of each course we go over some of my expectations (and theirs) and one of mine is that if you arrive late in class you apologize when entering my class and then take a seat (others were regarding; sleeping in class, eating in class, calling in class, taking pictures/video’s of the teacher, going to the bathroom to make phone calls etc etc). I have lowered my expectations when it comes to starting on time. Especially, during the rainy season. As I am aware of the difficulty getting anywhere when streets are flooded and there are no taxi’s to be found. Some arrondisements (neighborhoods) flood completely during the rainy season.

congo rain

Entrance to our neighborhood during the rain

As I was starting a class with only two students we started a chapter on public transport, we follow a British curriculum that includes books written in the UK. The public transport in the UK is obviously very different from the public transport in Congo. As we were going through this chapter some more students showed up and one student apologized for being late and told me it wasn’t his fault but the “runner” fell down? I tried to understand what he meant but couldn’t make any sense of it. When finishing the chapter we discussed the different forms of public transport in Congo. Again this “runner” came up? I had to know what a “runner” was and with help from the other students I finally got the idea. Taxi’s and busses avoid area’s that are flooded heavily as they don’t want to get stuck so they will only go as far as the road takes them. But, if you happen to live in an area that is severely flooded how can you get across the water to where the taxi’s are? Well, you can pay “Runners”! You pay them 50 CFA (which is nothing 0,076 Euro), you have to pay them upfront. Then, you climb on their back and they will walk through the water carrying you. This is at your own risk, if they fall and you get wet it is not their fault and you cannot claim your money back. I was nodding and told my students I understood, they started laughing at my face, as I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Really? I turned to the student that showed up late, he was so happy I finally understood why he was late. His runner fell in the water with him on his back and therefor he had to go home and get changed. Wow!! Here I am teaching about busses, tubes and trains, what a different worlds we live in!

supermomabroad congo rain

Congo Rain Runners (VIP cart)

Another chapter in this for me oh so normal English book….Weddings, a whole chapter on it! My students want to know all about the “American movie weddings” and I want to know all about theirs! Turns out I am the only one married, 15 students in front of me, all are in relationships and some already have children but cant afford to get married. Firstly, the Congolese have many different tribes descending from the old Kingdoms. Some tribes still don’t mix, and parents wouldn’t approve a Bakongo (Brazzaville area) to marry someone from Loango (Pointe Noire area).

supermomabroad king congo

The last King of Loango

Secondly, the Congolese still believe a dowry should be paid to the parents of the bride. By law I believe it is 50.000 CFA (around 75 Euro’s) but in reality they can go up to 1 or 2 million CFA (+/- 3000 Euro’s). Not in cash, but in items like flat screens, DVD players, Ipads, clothing, Jewelry etc.

On average if you have a decent job you make around let’s say 200.000 CFA a month! Some quick math results in: This is impossible! I stare at them in amazement and I can sense from their reactions that they don’t fully support this tradition anymore. So when you decide to get married, there will be an official meeting between the parents and if everyone agrees they start “The List”. This process is long and takes a lot of back and forth and changing and negotiating between both parties. Once the list is done the couple can live together and even start having a family. Slowly the list gets collected and family helps and supports and once everything is ticked of from the list you can finally get married (after 15+ years!). So what happens, I ask, when you break up before this list is completed? Apparently, stupid me, very simple, everything has to be returned! Hmmmm ok? But what if you gave the flatscreen 10 years ago, it decreased in value or what if it is broken? I don’t think this happens often as no one can give me an answer on this. Another reason it takes so long is that the women don’t contribute to the list or any of the payments, even if they have jobs. Their money is for them, to buy clothes, wigs or beauty products. The men pay everything. “That seems a bit unfair?” I say. So, I ask my female students; “If your child is sick and you need to take him to the hospital (where you need to pay in advance otherwise you cant get treatment) will you use your own money?” WOW, I thought they would all say yes, but nooo! Some would pay it and then ask for the money back and only 2 out of the 7 women in my class would pay from their own money without asking for a refund.

bride price dowry

Bride Price Dowry

Almost every class I teach, I walk away learning something new, I cherish this experience.

As for the Customer Service part, we come from different worlds, different cultures and different standards and I am teaching them “my way”. But often when I am at the airport I see my students pulling up a desk, kicking their shoes off and sometimes even taking their wigs off, to have a nap on the table! Before they start the boarding process of the Air France flight, which leaves once a day. These are moments that I realize we have a long way to go if we do it my way! The French people waiting to board don’t seem to notice, or are immune to this behavior. Because you do change your own standards and expectations the longer you live here. You simply have to, or you don’t and you go crazy! TIA or TIC (This is Congo), I LOVE IT!                                                           (as I am sweating my ass off at the Brazzaville airport, waiting to board my TAC flight, because the AC’s stopped working…….in March, its May now!)

Bon Weekend!

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Pointe Noire Airport

 

Mail au Congo

Before we moved to Congo we send out cards to all of our family and friends announcing that we were going to move to Pointe Noire in The Republic of Congo also known as Congo-Brazzaville not to be mistaken with The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or also known as Congo-Khinshasa!

Confusing right? YUP!

When we went to city hall in Breda, The Netherlands, to officially emigrate we bumped into the first problem…computers says no….. kinda problem!

Congo was not in their system?! Ok, at this stage my husband and I had a three page excel document with all the things we still needed to do before moving and this one was suppose to be a quick and easy one. Hmmm, so how do we go from here then? My husband asks, as the lady behind the desk clearly doesn’t know what to do now? Well she says it’s not in the computer… so I can’t change your status. We are standing there staring at her, wondering if she is actually serious about this? But yes she is! We advise her to go and speak with her manager and she agrees (JEEZZ YOU THINK???!!). After a long time of us waiting and a visibly stressed out manager it turned out Congo was in their system just under probably one of the confusing other names, pffff ok another box ticked!

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So our new address…Roc du Tchikobo, in Pointe Noire (I was actually pleasantly surprised we had an address).

My friends send us a package in November but didn’t tell us about it (as it was suppose to be a surprise). In December I went home for the holidays and they asked if we had received a package? Uhm, no we didn’t? I asked for any kind of tracking number and send it on to my husband who would try to locate the package in Congo. Read; send an employee to all possible post offices to see if the package was there. Surprisingly enough they found the package a few weeks after I returned to Congo (February)….but….there is always a but here 😦

We had to pay….of course…as if my friends hadn’t paid enough on sending this package we had to pay another 75.000 CFA to get the package (+/- 115 Euro’s). But I didn’t care I was so happy that the package was tracked and excited to get it!

Our first “mail” in Congo! The box was big and looked awful, all banged up and the smell that came out of the box….. it was sooo bad! After opening the box I soon realized that a bunch of mice (including a dead one) must have had quite the party in our box! Everything food related was eaten = trash, all the presents were eaten by mice and had poop all over it so…. also trash, lastly the cards and drawings made by my friends children were impossible to read and smelled even worse so again…. trash! From this moment on we told everyone back home not to bother sending us anything!

Tchikobo, Congo

April 2014, lots of commotion at my gate! Armand, our security guard came running towards the house he was really excited! All the guards from the houses next to us where there, our gardner Fidel and some other locals I had never seen before. All surrounding this one men with a big Yellow bag…….

I was getting really excited too and tried to calm Armand down, so he could tell me what was happening? Well, he said this is a very special man and he has letters in his bag, he has come to give you one! ……….OMG REALLY? You mean like a mailman? Now I got just as excited as they were, as this was sooo special! My youngest daughter doesn’t even understand the concept of mail as she spend most of her life in Africa!

It is hard to explain our excitement but it almost felt like winning the lottery I guess (although I have never won a lottery). I had to sign four different documents first, but…. then he handed the letter over to me, I felt like I was given something really special……. like a letter from city hall in Breda, The Netherlands stating the adjusted value of our house back home! NOOOOOO, SERIOUSLY OF ALL THE MAIL YOU CAN GET….I GET THIS????? You, city of Breda, didn’t even have Congo in your system, but have somehow figured out a way to send me mail???? Oh man the disappointment, that I had to hide from all the eyes that were still on me and my oh so very special letter! 🙂

I guess my sister in law never got the message not to send us packages as she did send us a package a year later……

My husband received a letter at work stating this was the last attempt for him to pick up some packages at the post office or they would be destroyed (he never received anything prior to this letter). So after work he went by the post office and yes there were two packages from my sister in law; a big box and a smaller envelope. Of course he had to pay to get them, this time it wasn’t so cheap as the last time. My husband took it upon himself to go through all the packages at the post office this time. He found a package with the heart medication that was send via DHL-express for a friend of ours (who had left Congo two months prior) and he also found another package from friends of ours! So all in all a worthy trip to the post office! I must have forgotten our first “package-incident” as again I was super excited especially about the Big box! Before opening them we send a selfie of the packages and us to my sister in law with the biggest smiles on our faces! The envelope had some gifts for the kids in it and then…. I started opening the big box…..hmmmm lots of Avon products? I mean A LOT, 50 plus body lotions, women’s underwear, 50 bottles of perfume, lots of make up? I was confused and excited at the same time. My husband took another picture of me surrounded by all these beauty products and send it to his sister to thank her! Her reply was a question mark?…..hmmmm do you mean you didn’t send this box? NO, she didn’t! But all your details were on the form stuck to the box…..?

I mean even the box was a Budweiser box so we just assumed……lesson learned never assume anything in Congo!

My husband ran to the garbage to take out the other envelope and guess what: They had photocopied the bill from the envelope and instead of 1 kilo added an 8 at the end and stuck it on this random box. So at the post office it seemed logical, all the details were correct, box was around 18 kilo’s it kinda made sense! But I guess they just wanted to make some fast cash by selling of “old” packages! TIA

We kept the package as there is no point in going back and trying to fight this, you pick your battles when you live here. International women’s day was coming up so we distributed beauty-gift-bags to all the Congolese women!

Moi and my box of Avon products

So here we go, one last reminder: DO NOT SEND US ANY MAIL OR PACKAGES AS LONG AS WE LIVE IN CONGO! Merci!!

 

My sweet sweet Merveille

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Me &and her 🙂

On my last meeting with the hospital Director of Mercy ships (beginning of 2014) we discussed the results of my research on board of the ship. They only had two weeks left in Congo and shortly entry of the ship would be forbidden to prevent locals from hiding in the ship hoping to go with them. I asked him if there where any projects left behind in Congo that I could look after. Now that my thesis was out of the way I felt ready to take on a new challenge. Helping Cheryl setting up her dream to open an orphanage was one of them. He mentioned that his wife had been looking after a handicapped girl and was looking for someone to look after her when they would leave. So this is how I got to know this beautiful girl: Merveille, although at the time i didn’t see it like that. I went with some of the crew members of Mercy ships to visit Merveille, Herma (the hospital directors wife) told me she cared for this girl very much and was sad to leave Congo and her behind. When we arrived I was a little confused as I followed the others down a mud road and we then took a side road which was almost impossible to walk on as it had rained heavily the day before. A very narrow passage with an unfinished church on the one side and a pile of rubbish on the other side. The path led to a small opening where hidden out of sight was a small wooden house (in my world we would call this a shed), to them their home. Like many Congolese houses, phone numbers written all over the sides of the house. I assume in lack of paper, or when something happens neighbors would know who to call. Merveille’s mother came out and looked sad and happy at the same time, she welcomed us and got the only three chairs they owned out side so we could sit there. She then got Merveille………………………….

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Merveille at home in Tchimamba

I have grown to love this little girl and find it hard to go back in time but I do remember being scared, shocked, emotional and feeling guilty for feeling all of the above as the others didn’t seem as shocked as I was. I wanted to run! I felt sick to my stomach for feeling this, but could not help thinking I CAN NOT DO THIS! Not even to mention the smell, the smell from the house, the little plot of land and Merveille (who is not potty trained, and does not wear diapers). I used to put Vicks vaporub under my nose whilst changing my children’s diapers, yes i know ridicioulus right? I just don’t deal very well with “smells”. I had to get over myself, and quick, as it would be disrespectful towards all of them for me to hold my nose (even though I so badly wanted to). Herma told the translator that she brought with her to explain to the mother to go and wash Merveille. To watch this child being undressed and washed was an experience I will never forget! I now wash her myself every week and actually quite enjoy doing this. But this first time was something else, she looked like she was about 7 or 8 and was extremely malnourished. She does not have much control over her muscles and therefor her arms and legs are in a awkward position. She cant speak or walk but the smiles she gave us were priceless. After being washed and dressed she was put onto Herma’s lap who gave her some squeezy fruit snacks that she brought with her ( I still give her those Herma, she loves it) and was singing songs to her. They then went on to pray together, I found this hard as to me if felt that God had left this place a long time ago. But they saw this very differently and I admire the way that they believe. This was Herma’s last visit to Merveille and although she was very sad to leave she was thanking me for being there in her prayer and telling me I could do this. She must have felt I needed that encouragement, which I did!

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Merveilles mother on the left, Mamam Rebecca, Merveille & moi

Once home I told my husband about my day and how terrified I was that they all thought I would now continue to care for her. “Babe, if you don’t feel comfortable then maybe you shouldn’t do it”, was his reply. That made me think though, moving to Congo made pretty much everything I did uncomfortable or to say the least you are forced out of your comfort zone. He supported me whichever decision I would take, although Im pretty sure he knew I was going to do this anyway.
Which I did, the first times were horrible, uncomfortable and so incredibly awkward. I don’t speak their language but here I am….another Mundele (white person) that comes along to save Congo/ Africa. This is what I felt like, I would come up with so many reasons not to go but always ended up going and every time felt a little less awkward. The people in their neighborhood started recognizing me, i got into a routine of washing, feeding and singing or dancing to Merveille and it felt good. It never felt rewarding but it felt good enough to continue. With a lot of google translate I managed to understand the full story as to why Merveille is handicapped. She is now 16 (at the time of our first meeting she was 13) and was born healthy. Her mother cherishes this one picture that she has of Merveille from before were she looks happy and healthy.

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Merveille on the right before she got sick

Merveille is the eldest child followed by a another sister who is two years younger. Before Merveille turned 3 she got meningitis, the family didn’t have the means to pay for medical treatment. And when they finally got money from family members and brought her to see a doctor they didn’t recognize the disease and she never got the proper treatment. This felt like a punch in my face as one of my sisters had meningitis when she was three and after months in the hospital she survived with “only” damage to her hearing on one side. Why can life be so unfair? We don’t choose were we are born, but this matters in terms of receiving medical care! The Congolese believed that this was work of the devil and the family became outcasts, not soon after the father disappeared leaving the mom in an almost impossible situation. To take care of a child so severely handicapped, in a country that has no room for the disabled. She found a new husband and had another two children, her new husband treats Merveille as well as he is capable of. Her mother suffers from depression and again lives in a country where you can not be depressed, depression is a luxury, although I never looked at it that way before. All of them; 2 parents, 4 children, 1 dog + endless puppies that come from this one dog all live in this wooden shed where there are two bedrooms (this is an overstatement) lets say two areas where they all sleep. The mom and dad sleep in a single bed on a foam mattress that is probably a 100 years old by the looks of it. The rest of the children sleep in the other bed, which is only a little bigger then the single bed and with the same mattress on it. Because Merveille is very restless when she sleeps and not potty trained they put her on the floor, a concrete floor! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, the handicapped girl sleeps on the floor, the girl that is not potty trained and is always covered in her own feaces has to sleep on the floor. How unfair can life be?
I would bring toys that I thought would be stimulating for Merveille to find out the week after that they had been sold. It took me a while to understand that there was no point in bringing toys for her as they don’t understand the importance of a child needing to be stimulated. Nowadays I bring food and I hired another local to go and help out with her and her family every day. We slowly make progress and there are days where I feel she would be better off dead. I am a problem solver, that is what I do, you tell me your problem and I will offer you 3,4 or 5 solutions. The amount of problems I see when I am there are overwhelming and impossible to solve. Mainly because my motives are so different from theirs. I would like to improve their living conditions and they are surviving. A sudden case of Malaria in the family and the table is gone because they had to sell it in order to get medicine. Where do you stop helping? Is it accepted to stop helping? I am not a humanitarian I used to be extremely driven by my career and never thought I would be in this situation. Where I feel that my help is never enough but I still continue with the “little” help that I can offer them which results mostly in spending time with Merveille and buying things for the family. Why doesn’t it feel good and rewarding when I arrive with bags full of groceries and clothing for them? Do I want to be seen as one of them? Is it because I perfectly portrait the image of the helping Mundele? Is it because I get there in my big 4×4, leaving from my big house (with pool) in the Beverly Hills of Congo? Is it because my husband makes a fortune compared to their salaries, or me working one day a week at an English school and making 5 times the amount that I pay Christelle (my housekeeper)? I don’t know what it is exactly, probably a mix of all the above. My friend Cheryl has the best attitude: One child at the time, or one person at the time! Seems so simple right? Well if you live here it is not, as you see people that could use your help everywhere, and it becomes overwhelming.
So I keep telling myself this and force myself to feel good about it, when I hear Merveille laughing when I walk onto the path towards their home and smell all the smells I actually feel happy! Thank you Herma for introducing me to Merveille!

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Me & her 🙂

Another…Mother-…Blogger

Pffff……. so here I go……. from writing in a journal to writing a blog (yes I know, another mother-blogger)! When we first moved to Congo the idea was to write in a journal so my children later on in life could read back through all the crazy memories we have made since moving here (The Republic of Congo that is). But someone (yes Catriona this was you) gave me the courage to do more with my journal. Which I did and now I am going to be published in a book!!! OMG, yes an actual book!

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So if I am going to be published in a book then obviously I need a blog, that’s my train of thoughts. What else….oh yes a picture, the picture will be published in the book too. So, my passport photo is not suitable, I crinch every time I see it in my passport. It reminds me of a horrible moment stressing to get passport photos taken with two children, in the pouring rain in a dodgy photo booth van parked outside city hall in Breda, The Netherlands. Because I wanted my children to look good on their passport photos, bad idea! As the photographer was getting angrier and angrier with me after two retakes I decided to let it go. The result….three horrible passport pictures that are stuck with us until we get new passports. I did get “author” pictures now yeey, thanks to a great photographer friend!

supermomabroad.com/ Cecile Dash

A blog needs to have a name…supermomabroad.com this will be mine! But let me explain; I don’t want to insinuate that I am a supermom but…….

Every mom that packed up her life and moved to a different country is a SUPERMOM to me! As this is scary, emotional and exhausting but it also requires some pretty serious organizational skills! But apart from a few, every mom can call themselves Supermoms! This starts with giving birth…..fuck that’s hard! So yes if you survived giving birth here is my Supermom cheer to you!

 super-mom

 

Blog statistics

So I guess another valid point is how to create attention to my blog? Sure most friends and family will read my first blog post, or you will pretend to read it! (please do pretend
as its important to me )

But are my stories any different from other people you know? I like to think they are, as the life I am currently living is soooooo different and weird from the one I left behind. So will my blog add value to you? What does that even mean? If you are bored and take your phone to the bathroom to read my blog, does that add value to me? Hmmmm, I guess so?! But lets agree that if my blogs are super boring you will give me feedback or even ask me to write about certain topics. Maybe you always wondered if people in Congo use tampons too? Or you know these container bins you can “donate” your old clothes into to be send to Africa. Where do they go? Well I have seen those bags here and they sell them, not for much but they sure are not getting donated. Oh and no they don’t use tampons here. I have given my maid a box of tampons before and she thought she could clean her ears with them. Trust me this was a bonding moment between me and her when I “showed” her how to use them (as my French is sooo not good enough to explain that).

Anyway lets see how this goes…. and I guess I can always save face by telling myself I wrote this blog for my children.