Thursday, April 7, 2011

Back in the Congo,

After arriving yesterday evening, today I had my first day back in the Congo. Why am here this time?

There are three main reasons. First and most important is the evaluation of TUUNGANE. Raul and me left the country more than three months ago, so it was time for one of us to go back to make sure the quality is high and stays high. Second, TUUNGANE 2 is about to start and our Columbia University team is leading the evaluation again. As a result we are now building the research design. Third, after 1.5 years, Voix des Kivus is coming to an end – at least on the grant that we received from USAID. In upcoming days we’ll launch a final evaluation, and of course there are still a million of small things that have to be rounded up.

Random things:

  • I’m back for only three weeks so my schedule is completely overloaded. And because I want to visit all four evaluation sites (only reachable by plane), I have a very tight (and completely unrealistic) flight schedule. To illustrate this, my first flight (this Friday from Bukavu to Kindu with a World Food Program’s UNHAS plane) was just cancelled. Of course.
  • About a month ago IRC’s TUUNGANE team moved to another bigger office. They now have a complete house just for themselves. Inside the evaluation team now has its own office. Lovely! Next time I’m taking Columbia University’s “Go Lions!” flags along from to decorate the walls.
  • I wasn’t much in the mood to go back to the DRC. Due to other trips – Netherlands Ireland, San Francisco, Germany – I spent less than two months in New York City. After being gone from home for nine months, this was too short! However, once I was in the buss heading to the Congolese border with people shooting at each other and Congolese music booming out of the speakers, I got a smile on my face again. I’m back!
  • So I gained weight over the last three months – bit too much work, bad eating habits, etc. You know it. The fun thing in the Congo is that it is a compliment to make this very clear to you. So today the cleaning lady said “You gained weight”, the professor we work with here (he himself has quite the belly) said “You start looking like a professor”, and one of the drivers said “you look like a person from there (meaning people are fat in the United States)”. This time I will not spend much time in the field. This used to be my panacea: fat-up in NYC and then go into the field and live off foufou. Unfortunately, this time will mainly be eating in big cities in those ex-pat places: so, more bad food. Also, those 0.7 liter Primus bottles do not help.
  • Question: How do you know you’re back in Africa? Answer: If you ask the driver of the buss going from Kigali to the Congo border how much longer it still is, and he replies “twenty more minutes” for two hours!

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