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!

pointe noire airport

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!

congo-brazzaville

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!!