Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Random things.

  1. After a seven-hour bus ride from Bukavu to Kigali I am now in Shocolate: a very romantic place to drink a good cup of coffee in Rwanda’s capital. Of course, I’m sitting alone and behind my laptop. ;)

  2. What is development? Answer: An IRC expat helping a local employee with uploading a picture to Facebook.

  3. When you ask a Congolese “Comment allez-vous?” you will consistently get back “Une peu bien”. In the Netherlands people say by default “I’m good”. Here by default people say “I’m a little bit ok”. Interesting! Why? Is this because conditions are so much different in the Netherlands and Congo? Is this cultural?

  4. When you are a white and in the Congo expect to hear people scream “muzungu” at you many times a day – especially when in the field. Both children and adults will shout this at you. Muzungu means ‘white person’ in Swahili – a word that is now also related to having a wealthy status. It gets annoying to hear people shout the same thing at you tens of times a day. Several MONUSCO soldiers in Maniema got so tired of it that they created t-shirts saying “My name is NOT muzungu”. Nice!

  5. Another thing you have to get used to when you are white and in the Congo is the famous words “Donnez-moi…!” (“Give me…!”). People consistently use these words. For example, last Friday I came back from Kalehe Centre and police officers stopped me to check the motorbike’s insurance. I think I was using one of the few bikes in the Congo that is actually properly insured, and thus after the five police officers sequentially looked with stern faces at the documents (surprisingly, this time they did not held my passport upside down), they knew they had nothing they could do with me. So: “Give us a Primus!” It seems these words are completely ingrained in Congolese society now: children, police officers, random people on the street will use these words. Why this culture of asking? Is it the NGOs that have created a culture like this?

  6. As you know, religion (and especially the Catholic Church) is hyper important in Africa. However, a friend of mine recently got married and his wife was clearly visibly pregnant. I asked him how this is possible because the Church forbids intercourse before marriage. He told that in his tribe (the Mashi), but also many other tribes in Congo, it is normal to first make sure that she can get pregnant because this would avoid that you would have to split later. Interesting! This seems a clear case where local customs beats the Church customs. Of course being a (read: try to be) proper academic, I asked a bit further around and this isn't necessarily the case. Some argued this was not true and that the story only nicely fitted my friend because he got his wife pregnant before marriage. Anyhow, interesting!

  7. A long time ago I posted a blog asking why including "security" in the name of MONUC lead to the name MONUSCO and not MONUSC. See among others the reaction by Alex Engewete here. Of course, I wasn’t very serious with this post. I know it is quite common to have “CO” in abbreviations in the Congo. Also, I actually don’t care too much about the name, but more about what they do. But well, when on the bike in Maniema it occured to me. When in the field people often shout “MONUC” because for many villagers very much everything that looks foreign or is in a white car is MONUC. However, in Maniema when children were shooting at me I was not able to distinguish whether they were screaming: “Mo-ney”, “Mor-ning”, or “MO-NUC”. So, did the Security Council move on purpose from a two to a three syllables word. Are they trying to make life more complicated for Congolese villagers?

  8. I’m not sure I ever told this story, but it’s a fun one. About a year ago I was with one of our evaluation teams in Katudu – a small village in the territoire Walungu of Sud Kivu. We would sleep that night in the village so before going to bed we were invited by the chief to drink a beer. I wanted to show off that I could count to ten in Swahili and started: “moja, mbili, tatu, ine, tano, sita, saba, munane, kenda, kuma”. After people making fun of me, the evening continued fantastically with lots of beer. The next morning one of the evaluators told me “Peter you still owe me $20”. I seemed that everybody had understood I wanted to have ten beers! I am happy I can’t count to more in Swahili! :)

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