Today was my first full day in Brazzaville. It’s only 11:20am and it’s already been packed full of errands and seeing the town. I drove with my roommate and her driver to drop her off at work – she actually works in the same building I’ll be in, even though she’s with USAID. After that, the driver, who only speaks French, ran me on my errands. It’s quite interesting to try and run errands, explain where you need to go, etc when you don’t have a language in common… We went to the ATM since Republic of Congo is a cash-only society. There’s one exception to this – one French grocery store will accept a credit card, but that’s the only one in all of Brazzaville. Second, we picked up a local phone – this was interesting since there were dozens to pick from and again, I don’t know the language. Third, we went to the French grocery store. (I say we because the driver goes into all the places with me for my safety). Fourth, I went to the pharmacy to find mosquito repellent that can be sprayed on the skin. Fifth, we went to a small street market where I picked up vegetables. Then we hit a few small stores in search of a mirror. Lastly, he took me to the big local market, which was a bit overwhelming, but not awful. I am terrified of being robbed while I’m here as I’ve heard so many horror stories, so big crowds where people are pushing you constantly make me a bit nervous. I have to compliment the people though – my driver forgot to lock the car while we were at the large market and when we got back to the car and noticed this, I was really impressed that all of my bags, my purse, etc, was still there. Thank heavens!
Today was also the first (and I’m sure probably not the last) nerve-racking experience I have had here… while we were walking away from the small street market to our car (about 8-10 feet away), I was approached by a young man wanting money. (Overall, the people here do not beg. This was the first one.) I ignored him and got into the car, but just as I got in and while I was putting my wallet away in my purse (which had been left in the car), he opened my door and started yelling at me demanding money (I assume). I quickly grabbed the door, pulled it shut, and pushed the lock down, but he continued to scream at the driver and I. My driver pulled away and this young man jumped in front of the car. My driver said a couple other things and police man began approaching us and the young man moved out of the way, so we took off. I’m grateful my mind stayed logical and acted quickly, but I won’t lie, inside, I was a bit scared there for a bit.
I made my own dinner – chickpeas, tomato, green pepper, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Nothing fancy, but it was decent. Preparing meals here is very funny since the electricity is hit or miss, which means the stove, oven, and refrigerator are not very reliable, so you have to eat canned or bagged items most times, and produce must be eaten fairly quickly or it will spoil in the hot humid heat.
After Jenny came back and had dinner, we sat in the living room and chatted. Jenny and I decided that we’re going to ask Mama Valerie (who does our laundry and cleaning) to also act as our cook on Tuesdays and Thursdays when she comes. Mama Valerie has more time to go to the market and has been wanting to learn new dishes besides Congolese food, so this may work out well… guess we’ll see. Jenny and I are going to come up with and translate recipes into French this weekend, but Mama Valerie will cook the dishes she knows (Congolese) for us on Thursday.
Also, tonight the head of UN security came by. I’m not sure how it all works, but my work stuff, security, etc is over seen by the UN. While I am technically working for WHO, my security badge for WHO, was received through filling out applications to be an employee of the UN. Anyway, because of this, my accommodations have to be inspected to make sure that there is no security risk. If there is, they move me to another location. Of course it passed, so everything turned out fine. Another interesting thing to note about security is that we all have to go through a briefing and adhere to certain rules regardless of race (the Congolese have to do it too), sex, age, etc. Plus, they make a very detailed evacuation plan in case something does happen. I’m grateful, at least I know they’re very thorough.
Here is a VIDEO of Kinshasa to go with the picture above: http://youtu.be/6_c7BlAkHks