Day 12

Today, I finished sending all of the indicators and various measurements, as well as a 4 page spreadsheet (with A-AA filled out on each) excel file to my boss. I’m currently quite a bit ahead of schedule, so I got to spend the last half of the day working on personal projects – developing the health course for the women here in Brazzaville and getting stuff done for the wedding haha.

 Jenny and I stayed late at work and then caught a taxi back to the house before we met up with a couple of CDC guys working for WHO but based in the US. I learned why we have guards 24 hours a day here in Brazzaville! We got to the house and the taxi driver asked for 7,000! We take a ride frequently from WHO to the house and it’s normally about 2,000, maybe 2,500, so his request was ridiculous. Jenny had me get out of the car since I was closest to our gate and get the guard. Lucky us, I guess it was around the time they were switching off so both of our 2 main guards (Beinvenue and Breece) were there and fully dressed in their uniforms. (Honestly, not much happens for them, so often they have their uniform shirt on, but other pants, etc and don’t look, uh, how shall we say… as professional and intimidating.) Well, as soon as the driver saw our not only one, but two fully uniformed guards, he changed his story to 5,000 which was still ridiculous. Unfortunately, this driver saw two white women, who were speaking English, and thought he’d take advantage. Jenny immediately got out of the car and stood next to me with our backs next to our gate and the guards in front of us. I was standing closer to the back of the car and Jenny was closer to the front. (This will be important in a bit.) Breece, who was standing in front of me, took the 5,000 bill we had and went down the street to get us change since this driver was certainly not going to give us any if we gave him the bill. Well, a few seconds later, the driver gets out of the car and comes around the back and is getting very upset, flailing his arms, and lunging toward me. As soon as we can get past him to the door in our gate, Jenny and I jump inside and close it behind us. It was quite scary. Jenny said this has never happed to her before either, so I guess I’m just happening to be around for a lot of firsts… The guards came in several minutes later having paid him 3,000, which is high, but fine, so we gave them each 1,000 as a thank you. Yes, we ended up paying 5,000 for that ride, but it was worth it since it didn’t all go to the bad man and because we wanted to thank our guards for protecting us in that scary moment.

 We only had about 30 minutes at the house, so we played Chinese Checkers. Not too many people know about the game or know how to play, so we were both very excited the first night I arrived when I noticed it on the table and she was surprised I knew what it was. We just hadn’t had time to play yet. She beat me, but it was close and a lot of fun.

 Then we went to dinner with those 2 US guys, plus a virologist/md from Madagascar. We had a great time chatting about everything public health related. I asked the guy sitting next to me how long he had been here and he said he had 10 days left. I mentioned that I always thought it was funny that people would always give how much time they have left here, even if the answer is 2 or 3 years and he said “Haven’t you noticed?! No one likes it here.” He has a point… there is nothing to do during free time except drink, which is not fun when you don’t drink. It is definitely a place people do not come to for fun… He is also engaged and left his fiancé, so he gave me a few tips for sanity, but basically said it’s going to be awful no matter what and that he was only here for just under 2 months… oh dear.

  After dinner, I was really impressed that rather than splitting the bill 5-ways, which is what usually happens, they had me pay less since I wasn’t drinking. Then we went to a place called “No Stress,” which I think is an interesting name for a bar. I had grapefruit juice and visited with them for awhile, but a few hours in I was starting to go a little crazy. I snuck back upstairs and called Jason. Jenny came out about 10 minutes later and said she was finding me a cab.

 I prayed so hard that entire ride! After what had just happened that evening after work, I wasn’t too anxious to use another random taxi driver (we have 3 regular ones we always try to use), especially since I don’t speak French. It went ok though for the most part. There was one point where a car turned into our lane, which drivers hate here, especially if it means they have to slow down even the tiniest bit. My driver pulled into the other lane (oncoming traffic), rolled down the window, and yelled at the other taxi man for about 5 blocks. Lucky me it was about midnight and the other lane was not busy, but I thought that if I died because of that (him yelling at another driver and not looking at the road) I was going to be very ticked off. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it, but cars here do not have seat belts. (All my family and friends know that I am very passionate about using a seat belt and frequently remind other people, so this has been a scary and unwanted adjustment.) After my driver finished yelling, he pulled in front of the driver and slammed on his brakes. I went half slamming into the seat in front of me and was grateful it was there. After that though, no other instances occurred. He even asked my permission to get gas since he was on empty (yup, I understood that much French) and I gave it. The other taxi drivers at the gas station gave me interesting looks, which was funny. Then I was able to tell him where to turn, stop, etc, and was even able to discuss the fact that he didn’t have change for my, albeit, small bill. I got the guard once again since more French was needed and I was not about to go through the same thing again. The guard paid him with his small bills and we worked it out later. I was very grateful to have a successful drive and a decent taxi man.

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