Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Greetings from Entebbe Airport, Uganda.

I'm at Entebbe Airport. In a few hours my flight - via Istanbul - to Amsterdam leaves. Almost home. The last few days in the Congo I spent in Bukavu and were busy: 1. Preparing my team for another few months in the field (training, simulations, finances, updating material, etc.). These things always take so much more than you think in first instance, 2. Wrapping up the Tuungane 1 evaluation (checking the last piles of paper, inventory of the equipment, etc.), 3. Working with the IRC team on the Tuungane 2's evaluation part (database construction, implementation-of-variations training, etc.), and 4. A lot of meeting people: to write letters of recommendation, to meet people that had just received a baby (one of the Tuungane 1 team members had named their baby "Peter"), obligatory social meetings with high-up-in-the-hierarchy Congolese people (always good to know people, especially in the Congo), etc.

My last evening was very nice: I went for dinner with three people that are dear to me. Vera just posted two pictures on Facebook and I hereby re-post them:

With Vivi (left) I am working closely regarding Tuungane 2. With Julie (right) and Vera (below) I've lived together in IRC's "House 8" for around eight months in 2010; I still have font memories of those months (Julie wrote this brilliant note afterwards).

Let me briefly re-cap the story about that bottle of gin in the picture (the bottle is all for Vera):

> Vera: "Do you have gin & tonic?".
> Waiter: "No. We don't have gin."
> Vera: "Are you sure you don't have gin."
> Waiter: "Yes."
> Vera: "Are you a 100% sure."
> Waiter: "Let me check."

10 minutes later and the waiter is back:

> Waiter: "No we don't have any gin."
> Vera: "Ok. Could you buy it downstairs in the shop."
> Waiter: "I can check but you have to buy the whole bottle then."
> Vera" "Ok."

10 minutes later:

> Waiter: "Yes. There is gin in the shop."
> Vera: "Ok. Here is money please buy it."

10 minutes later and waiter is back with the bottle of gin:

> Vera: "Thanks. A gin & tonic please."
> Waiter: "Sorry. We don't have tonic."

:). You see where I am going. In the end it was gin and maracuja juice for Vera. This experience though is very normal when going out for dinner in Bukavu. For example, it is not uncommon that you order and 15 or 20 minutes later the waiter would come back asking "What did you order again?". This is one of the reasons why the Congo can get under your nails once in a while, but it is also one of the reasons why you love the country.

2 months != no beard.

As promised in a post at the start of my trip, hereby a picture of me after not having shaved for 2 months. Mmm. Some hairs on my face, but you can't call it a beard. So far for being a real man.

A low quality photo btw. Although I'm leaving, my team continues and had need of my camera (I'm back again in April or May). So this picture - and the previous re the shower - were made with my phone.

Btw, I found a 1.5 years old, quite telling picture in my phone. When launching the Tuungane evaluation Raul and me worked: day & night. Here I had an appointment with the rector of the Universite Officiel du Bukavu and of course I had to wait, which meant: laptop out and work.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Rwanda where water comes from the wall.

This morning I crossed the Congo-Rwanda border and took a motorbike to Kamembe Airport for a 30 minute flight to Kigali. Then tomorrow I fly to Entebbe, Uganda. In first instance the plan was to take the buss (cheaper!), but this changed because I am carrying 10-15 kilograms of important paper with me: the data for my disseration and I do not want to take any risk with it. So hand-luggage all the way.

Now I am in Kigali, which means: warm shower, shower, shower! Upon arrival in my room it took only a matter of seconds before I was in the bathroom. But the showerhead-holder had broken! Thus I had to be creative. Thank you coat-hanger. Nothing will keep me away from my warm shower!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sophisticated thoughts in the Congo.

I'm doing my doctorate at Columbia University and have spent many months in the Congo researching displacement, cooperation, conflict, etc. Of course this leads to many brilliant ideas. You're ready?



to the left. Cha. Cha.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Back in Bukavu 1/7. Mweha.

And I am back again from two weeks in the field. We worked and slept in the villages Mweha and Kanenge. There is A LOT to tell, but no time. So hereby six random remarks, and in this and the next six posts 35 pictures with brief comments.

1. In Mweha Desire and Eustache slept in the house of a local notable, and Freddy and me in the house of the chief. After a few days the notable asked for our dirty clothes so they could be washed. Awesome. But to the horror of my team (all graduate students and quite world-wise), not his wife or daughter but he himself started cleaning the clothes. The reaction of my team after me asking why it was so bad: "What kind of example will he be setting for other men!?" :)

2. I'm still not used to people throwing their litter on the ground but I now have at least my team so far not to do this. Nice: During our lab-in-the-field we give, in addition to foufou and sambaza (small fish), a package of biscuits to the players. In Mweha, without me mentioning it, the team told all the people when distributing the biscuits: "Please don't throw the plastic on the floor, but place it in this bag." Ha! Now of course there are no litterbins or anybody to empty those litterbins so now probably the bag (with all the plastic in side) will end up on the ground.

3. The belief in witchcraft is very much present in Eastern Congo. Let me give three examples. 1. Many chiefs when asking about the impact of in-migration on their village say: "Increase in witchcraft". Following them, for example, the Butembo ethnic group - one of the major displaced groups here - has a lot of sorcerers. 2. At a certain point there was thunder & lightning. The chief of Mweha turned pale and told me that he was afraid because sorcerers can keep and save the lightning in their hands when it strikes and then use it the next day to kill somebody. 3. In Kanenge there were an unusual large number of widows. So I asked the chief why this could be the case. He told me it was sorcery - most women in the village were dangerous. Now I've always been saying that women are dangerous, but the chief told me it was because most women in the village poison their husbands. FYI: Ted Miquel has a very interesting paper about how the murder of witches increases when economic shocks hit: here.

4. As you probably know this is not my first time in the DRC. However, this is my first time without being with the International Rescue Committee. The latter has been very helpful over the last three years: providing transport, security, etc. However, for a researcher there are also minuses of being with a big NGO: the security rules are constraining, villagers think you have come to distribute, etc. For example, if I would be with the IRC staying over in villages is out of the question. So, this time, I am “on my own”. As a result, over the last two months I have learned as much as the previous three years together. And it’s also a lot of fun staying in villages.

5. This is something I want to write more about one day: I am of the strong opinion that the international community (read: NGOs and MONUSCO) is helping sustain a culture of dependency and maybe even of learned-helplessnes here in the Congo. Let me give an example. If I go anywhere outside of Bukavu all children shoot “biscuit”. Now this looks rather innocent: MONUSCO cars often pass by and they distribute biscuits. However, I think it’s not innocent at all. It’s the start of dependency, which continues until you’re adult when you don’t have to (or don’t think you can) build schools, water-sources, etc. in your own village but that you’ll have to wait for the NGOs to come and build it for you. After so much time in the field I feel very strongly about this. There is a culture of “donnez-moi” - each and every person asks me to give something. Given Congo's history I'm careful to say that the NGOs and MONUSCO has created this culture, but I’m quite convinced that their not helping much decreasing it.Probably a lot of people will disagree, and I know this warrants a much longer post.

6. To show that although I have been in the field for two weeks without internet I have learned about the most important thing that happened to the human race: we have met another race on another planet: here.

The house on the top-right with the brightly colored windows (3 windows and one door) was where Freddy and I stayed in Mweha. Actually the family stayed in the house but they had a small maissonete with one bed (proper mattress!) and we could use that for a few nights. Ha!

I love being in the field, but it is also very tiring. Often you don’t sleep really well: rats, Freddy keeps hitting me in his sleep (I still think he does it on purpose), etc. In the field you stay with a household so you have to adapt to them: if you sleep in the living room on the floor you wait for the chief of the household to go to bed first. Villagers eat late. Dinner is often not ready before 8 or 9pm so the hours before we are waiting (we talk, I read my Kindle and the guys listen to the radio). Also, I am always together with my team: wake up at 6am together, work together, eat together, socialize together, etc. It’s difficult to get some time on your own. For example if I go for a walk on my own in a matter of minutes there are 20 children walking with me. The picture above, for example, is in Mweha. I try to work but the children keep on looking at me and people keep on walking in to salute the muzungu. Macartan: if I haven’t done too much work done… :)

The guys at work in Mweha – after all the surveys were done in Mweha.

View from our house in Mweha.

A big tree had fallen down (a long time ago) and the top part now hung above a cliff. Result: cool pictures. Btw, for all the pretty women that read this blog: In the field we normally do not have breakfast or lunch so most of my belly is gone.

Back in Bukavu 2/7. Mweha.

We spent 7 days in Mweha - a village located on the main road inbetween Nyabibwe and Minova.

As you might know for our lab-in-the-field (our "games") we need three isolated area to play our games. Normally we confiscate a school or a church and use plastic sheetings to create these. In Mweha this was not possible so we confiscated three shops! Desire played in the public phone booth on the left, Freddy in the pharmacy and Eustache in yet another shop (not on the picture). It worked great.

For the games we need to print pictures: we need three pictures per player and we have 18 of them so this is a total of 54 pictures per village. Back home I bought a Polaroid Pogo printer to you just that: it prints pictures directly from a photo-camera. Because it's the Congo and I knew electricity would be a problem (and also that likely one printer would not survive), I bought a second printer as well and a spare battery. Unfortunately even all this is not sufficient to print the 54 pictures - already after 15 pictures the Pogo printer's battery is flat. Thank you Polaroid. So inbetween printing we need to find an electricity source to charge the batteries. So upon entry in a village one of our first questions is "Is there is a generator in the village?" - don't expect there to be electricity proper. We then buy two liters of petrol and half a liter of oil (around $5 all together) which is then - depending on the type of generator - enough for 5 hours of electricity. This picture is us in Mweha: 2 printers (in the plastic bag), three phones, and my laptop. Normally connected to my laptop are also my Kindle, phone and camera.

Nice story. In Kanenge (after a long search) we found one generator, but it clearly had not been used in months (if not years) - petrol is very expensive. Once we put the oil and petrol in and connected the printers, the family that owned the generators took of the protection of the television and about ten people were present in the expectation to watch TV. When we came back two hours later to change one of the batteries, almost the whole village was present and watching television! Fantastic. So if my research has no impact whatsoever, at least it had one positive external effect. :)

As I wrote before, there is nowhere to get a proper cup of coffee (if you are lucky you find Nescafe). This despite the fact that you break your neck over the coffee beans! Here people are taking off the skin of the coffee beans. After first taking them from the tree - you do that once they are red.

Once the skin is off you dry them for 2 to 3 days in the sun. Unfortunately Eastern Congo is not able to process the coffee beans further (goodbye my nice cup of coffee), so it is sold like this for about $1.7 per kilo and exported (often to Rwanda).

The team with the chiefs of Mweha (fltr): Desire, nyuba kumi, the priest of the village, two more nyumba kumis (below), me, chief of the village and Eustache. Freddy is taking the picture.

Back in Bukavu 3/7. Mweha.

Some random pictures in this post (three are not even from Mweha):

Let's talk about very important signs in the Congo. If you see leafs hanging next to a house like this: STOP. They sell Kasigsi (the local banana liquor). Put some extra whisky and sugar in it "et a votre soif!". Depending on the quality, a litre bottle is around 500 Congolese francs (around $0.50).

This is actually a picture made about a month ago. Now, in contrast to the first few villages, I spent little time with the guys when they are working - and especially when they interact with respondents or game players. That is, I either try not to be present or will sit quietly in a corner at a distance observing my team. There are two reasons for this: 1. The best way to learn is to make mistakes (so I let them make them and discuss the mistakes made with the team in the evening), and 2. Having a Muzungu present might influence the behavior of the respondent. Not only is this common sense, last week Jacobus Cilliers, Oeindrila Dube and Bilal Siddiqi presented an interesting paper at Stanford University providing evidence for this in Sierra Leone.

People use this in their stoves to prepare dinner. Men in the forest set fire to trees, the lady goes there and buys them in (really big) bags full and then sell it at the market. I forgot the prices but one pile is a few hundred Congolese francs (900 Congolese francs is $1). To prepare foufou one pile is sufficient, but for beans you are more likely to need three. The stoves people use are completely inefficient (a lot of heat escapes) and thus unnecessary expensive in use and it's bad for the environment. Maybe somebody should do an evaluation to investigate how more efficient stoves can be diffused in society (here). :)

This is such a common sight in the Congo. Women with (very) heavy packs on their bag: filled with bananas, manioc, etc. I'm at least 1.5 heads taller than the average Congolese women, and (I expect) much stronger, but I'm sure I won't be able to carry this.

And another common sight in the Congo. On the left you see manioc lying outside to dry. Once it is dry, people grind it (the famous picture of Africa of women using those wooden sticks hitting it down into a wooden bowl), then boil it, and you have foufou. The staple food in Congo.

Back in Bukavu 4/7. Mweha -> Kanenge.

After seven days in our first village (Mweha) we left for Kanenga. A gorgeous 4-hour walk with a view on Lake Kivu.

The chief of Mweha sent two of his villagers with us to carry luggage and equipment. In first instance I wanted to say "thanks chief, but that is not necessary". But after an hour or two I was very grateful.

Descending the mountain with breath-taking views of Lake Kivu. Last week I finished reading Stanley's "How I Found Livingstone". Needless to say there is no way our four hours on easy terrain relate to his months and months in the jungle, but I felt myself a bit of a mini-adventurer. :)

Just a beautiful picture.

And another one.

And what do you write on your door today? FYI: this is the door of a house, not a school.

Back in Bukavu 5/7. Kanenge.

We spent 7 days in the village Kanenge, about a 4 hour walk from Mweha. This was a gorgeous walk btw along Lake Kivu.

The nyumba kumi - a person responsible in the village for around 10 households ("nyumba kumi" in Swahili literally means "house ten") - had a lovely buganvilia tree under which we often worked. From left to right: four nyumba kumis, Desire, Freddy and Eustache. The nyumba kumi with whom we stayed (the guy in the blue t-shirt) had two wifes, each living in a different house. So, Desire and Eustache stayed over in one house and Freddy and me slept in the other.

Game day in Kanenge (the players are outside of the church). As said before we bought plastic covers so that we only have to confiscate a church and we have our location set up for the games: three areas where games can be played in private, and one area where a game can be played in public - i.e. with the chief and several notables present when the player is playing (currently taking place on the right). Also notice the lovely Columbia sign. My dear University. :)

You wake up at 6am. You feel annoyed because it is cold and have not slept very well because of the rats. But then... Any day is fantastic if it starts with a view like this while brushing your teeth.

So I try to be all cool here eating sugercane. For 200 Congolese francs (a little more than $0.20) you buy a two-meter cane, cut it in pieces with a machette, take of the skin with your teeth and suck on what is inside. Well that is how the locals do it - I am just posing here. In contrast, I take of the skin with a machette and then use my pocketknive to make small pieces on which I then suck. The guys make fun of me.


Two more notes on Kanenge:

1. Kanenge was really not that far away from the big road close to Nyabibwe (a 3 hour walk). Despite this there was no market. Also, the last time a white person had visited the village was in 1989 - a priest came to check on a school that his paroish was building (and he didn't stay over in the village at night). Now imagine the faces of these villagers (especially children) when after 23 years a white guys arrives in the village and actually stays over for several nights. But incredible no? This village is only a few hours away from a big road. If you look at the map of the Congo 99% of all Congolese villages are located in much more isolated areas.

2. Kanenge doesn't have a nearby river and none of its robinets worked so we had to wash in Lake Kivu. That's not bad at all - the sun often shines. One day I went for a swim and also planned to do some bathing afterwards. Because I wasn't in the mood for wet clothes I went to an isolated area, took of all my clothes and while naked did some lovely swimming. Until a villager passed by and saw the muzungu swimming... Within 10 minutes there were at least 30 more villagers bluntly staring at me. Now try to get out of the water. :)

Back in Bukavu 6/7. Kanenge -> Nyabibwe.

Work on the last day in Kanenge went smooth, so instead of staying over another night we already walked to Nyabibwe - the bigger city nearby from where we would take public transport back to Bukavu.

Nyabibwe in the background. The city is the capital of the groupement Mbinga Nord. It is now known for the large number of displaced people that fled from the Haut Plateau and - because of many casserite mines nearby - for the miners, prostitutes and soldiers. It's a bit the Sodom and Gomorrah of the territory Kalehe.

We stayed over with a friend of a friend who is a miner for casserite in a mine nearby Nyabibwe (his house in the picture above). We already visited him and Nyabibwe a few days earlier and after a lot of paperwork and the necessary approvals by the SEASCAM (Congo's ministry of mining. We promised we were no journalists and we would make no pictures), the local authorities (we knew them well after working in the area for two weeks so no problems here) and the owners of the mine (it is a cooperative, and the friend of a friend helped here), I visited a casserite mine. Ha! Unfortunately no pictures.

Because of the large number of displaced people the UNHCR is very much present in Nyabibwe. The photo shows a repatriation camp. Refugees from Rwanda (especially Hutu) who decide that they want to return home go here. They then stay several nights in this camp until the UNHCR picks them up by truck and brings them to Rwanda.

It is always nice to see how the presence of UN organizations spills over in other domains. Here a primary school in Nyabibwe is using a UNHCR plastic cover as ceiling cover.

I know childish but fun. Of these three shops in Nyabibwe only one is called "The Light" (the shop in the middle). It was also only this shop where the light did not work. :)

Back in Bukavu 7/7. Kanenge -> Bukavu.

After spending a night in Nyabibwe our team split up. Eustache and Desire left for Bukavu, me and Freddy took a motorbike at 630am and left for Minova. Once in Minova we took a public minibus that brought us to Goma. Reason to be in Goma? A meeting regarding Voix des Kivus.

Luckily we left Kanenge the day before our Goma trip. Kanenge is surrounded on three sides by mountains, and on the fourth side by Lake Kivu. So to get to Nyabibwe we had to climb 3 hours up the mountain.

We did have amazing views!

After a good, several-hour meeting regarding Voix des Kivus, it was time to go back to Bukavu. I had tried small speedboats from Goma, and also bigger boats during the day, but I had never tried the big boats that cross Lake Kivu at night. Curiousity of course forced me to try. In brief: fantastic! The person I met in Goma paid for the boattrip and we had comfortable seats (see picture), and even a bed. For the first time in 2 weeks I had a bed for myself (although not the room) and there were no rats running around. Ha! How I slept! The boat left at 17h00 and arrived the next day at 7h00 in Bukavu.

At 7h00 boats come in from the Idjwi (an enormous island in Lake Kivu) with sand to be used for construction in Bukavu.

Our boat - the "Akonkwa 2" - leaves again for Goma.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to build a house.

Once in a new village many displaced stay in a host family. When it's clear - after several weeks or even months - that the security situation does not improve at home, they often build their own houses. You want to know how? There we go:

1. Find long, thick tree branches;
2. With your machete make holes in the ground - often in the form of a circle or a rectangle;
3. Put the tree branches inside the holes and fill the holes;
4. Find long but thinner tree branches, and banana skin (not the leaf);
5. Create the wall-frame by connecting horizontally the thinner branches to the vertical thicker branches by making use of the banana skin;
6. In a similar way create the frame of the roof;
7. Now fill up the walls. Create something cement-y by mixing sand plus water plus clay plus small rocks;
8. Find straw (or banana leafs) to cover the roof-frame.

And done!

Building a house like this can take as little as several days. The picture below is one of these houses - built by a displaced family from Bunyakiri on a piece of land the village chief gave them for rent. As you can see, it's located on the very outskirts of the village.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Random pics 1/6

There is too much to tell and too little time - I'm leaving tomorrow morning again for the field. So hereby 10 random remarks and three pictures, and in the next five posts another 25 pictures with brief notes. Ready?

1. It doesn't happen often that a white person stays in the village so when we arrived in Cibandja the chief of the village and the chief of the sous-village in which we would work started arguing where the muzungu with his team would sleep. In the end we slept in the house of the chief of Cibandja, but as a compromise we would eat at least one night at the other chief's house. Let's just say we ate very well as each chief tried to outdo the other.

2. The chief and his wife talk with each other at night when they are in bed (we slept in the living room which was separated from the bedroom with a sheet of plastic, so we could hear everything). Why did this caught my attention (I would do the same)? The reason is that in the Congo relations between man and women are a bit different then we are used to, and I've never seen a sign of affection between man and wife in public here. To put it bluntly, men sit in front of their hut or drink if they have money, and the women work. [Btw. The third evening the chief wasn't there. So I asked his wife: "Where is the chief?" Answer: "Oh, he is with his other wife."]

3. Fun. I'm a white guy and to a villager whatever the white guy does is interesting. Now I'm a rather particular guy because it happens once in a while that in the afternoon I just stare in front of me for 10 minutes contemplating my research. So imagine this. After those 10 minutes there is a group of maybe 20 villagers standing next to me all looking in front of them, being completely curious where the muzungu is looking at. It's a lovely sight. [It reminds me of a Donald Duck comic in which a group of people are all looking up into the sky, only to have a person leaving the group that has his neck in bandages (and therefore can't look down).]

4. All mothers all over the world are the same. Just before leaving Cibandja the wife of the chief quickly put a large amount of peanuts in our pockets. "For on the road", she said. [She, btw, was very happy we were staying in her house because it meant that the chief (who has three wifes) was spending more time in her house.]

5. When in the Congo don’t leave clothes on the floor. You think your sweater is warm and comfortable, so do animals.

6. And don’t clean your shoes by kicking it against a wall. It's very well possible you shoe goes through the wall.

7. There are bird of prey here in the Congo (not sure exactly which one). At a certain point we heard a chicken making a lot of noise, we then saw it dissappearing into the air. Caught by a bird. Awesome.

8. Do your interviews while cleaning peanuts! People feel much more comfortable.

9. How to define a household? An often used definition is "People that share the same cooking pot in the last month". However, this doesn't really work in polygamous societies. For example the head of the household has three wifes, each living in a different house. If you visit one of these wifes, the household would be that wife with her kids and the head of the household. But actually the household as a unit is more likely to be the head of the household with all his three wifes and the kids of each of these wifes. So for our work in the Congo we adjusted the definition to take this into account. Now it is "people that share the same cooking pot with the head of the household in the last month". From UNHCR and other reports I know that in the Congo hosting relationships are important - i.e. displaced people living in host families. However, in our data we find remarkably little hosting families. It took a few days in the field to find out why, but the reason is that often the displaced do not share the cooking pot with the head of the (hosting) household. Now our definition of a household also takes this into account. I love research.

10. So Neelan left a week or two ago and being a proper academic he did not only take the key to his hotelroom with him, he also left his trousers and a sweater. Neelan argues that it is "something to remember me by". I think it is to get back at me for him having to carry my luggage from Kigali to Bukavu. :)

For our game day we need accomodation. Strategy: Occupy a church for a day. Use plastic covers (we bought them) to create three isolated areas where the games can be played in private. And we're ready to go. In the picture the players are to the right.

During the afternoon we have a brief lunch. Desire and me with the important people (among others the chief) of the village.


Random pics 2/6

There is too much to tell and too little time - I'm leaving tomorrow morning again for the field. So hereby a lot of random pictures with brief notes.

And the start of another game day. Introducing the team, and explaining to the players what my disseration is about (of course not in such a way that it will influence their behaviour during the games).

Eustache at work.

Desire at work.

And Freddy at work. A super team!

Very interesting. Around 2pm we take some time off to have lunch. Earlier that morning we gave money to the wife of the chief and then she and two or three more women prepare food (often foufou and sambaza - small fish from Lake Kivu) for around twenty to thirty people. As you might know, for our games we try to understand clustering: do some people cooperate more with some than with others - for example, natives versus displaced, one ethnic group versus another, etc. When it comes to eating there clearly is clustering taking place: the group on the far-right are all natives, the four on the left and front-right are displaced people.