En Afrique!

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Where I’m at: Brazzaville!!! Finally!!!

What I’m doing: already sinking (happily) in a pool of work…or at least settling into life here

Why I’m posting: to catch everyone up on our arrival in our new home


Well, well, well. We finally made it. Months and months of planning. Months and eternities of French study. Months and seemingly lifetimes of saying goodbyes. And finally, DOS has deemed us ready to start work in Brazzaville with the political and economic sections!

Now, mindful of my recent “cyber security awareness certification,” I won’t post too many specifics on what I’m doing at work. Bah…you wouldn’t want to know anyway. But from time to time, and if the moment here has passed, I’ll try to provide some insight into what it’s like to be a US diplomat in a small African country.

For now, my goal is to catch you up on what it’s like to live in a small African country. But first, what it’s like to travel here:

– So we departed Washington DC a week ago, on Monday. We boarded a long flight with way too many bags (for fear that our other stuff would never arrive!), headed for a day with friends Mike and Rachel in Paris (Mike & Michelle and Joe & Rachel…no worries…a distinct couple rather than bizarro Good Time Charlie’s). There was something very, very surreal to the non-chalant way in which we handed off our car, turned in our keys, and just walked out of our apartment, never to return again, and in fact, moving to Congo. The whole trip I kept thinking, “We must have done something wrong because that just felt like ‘one day becomes the next’ to me.”

– Arrived early in the morning to Paris, where Colleen and I had never before visited. So early, in fact, that the cab ride into the city was totally dark, thus clouding some of the Parisien ambience with the familiarity of cover of night. Also, our cab driver was east Asian and didn’t speak any French or English…so it didn’t feel like Paris. At least, not until spending the day on the boulevards, at the cafes ($8 for a coke! Ooh la la!), seeing les Champs d’Elysees, l”Arc de Triomphe, and le Tour Eifel, and then spending an evening at a dinner party in the DCM’s house which had a salon where I swear I could hear echoes of Voltaire or Rousseau. Awesome experience. Cool city. Expensive everything-but-cheesewinebread-but-I-could-live-on-cheesewinebread. Definitely a possible 2nd tour option. THEN you’ll all visit us!

– And the next morning, we took the metro to the airport and boarded a plane to Brazzaville. I could immediately tell we were leaving one world and entering another when we went to board. We waited outside the gate where it seemed we would walk down the jetway (with its free newspapers and air of cheese) to our plane. Except our jetway led to a runway where we crammed in a bus with 150 Brazzavillians (albeit rich ones) in which we waited for 45 minutes before being allowed to board our plane. The change was on.

– Arriving late Wednesday in Brazzaville, the air immediately hit us. I already forget the smell, but it’s the smell you get whenever you go to a different place and a smell I recalled from landing in Uganda. In this case, it was a kind of perverse “Welcome home.”

– And then the settling in began. Or rather for me, the sprint began. A couple of my colleagues had been anxiously awaiting our arrival because (as I soon found out) we’re spread very thin here at the embassy. A lot of us are on our first tours, but more importantly, there aren’t actually a lot of us. That said, it’s been apparent for sometime and was again very apparent upon arrival that these folks are doing an amazing job, though are stretched very thin. So now, thanks to my 165 lbs of presence, we’re not as thin, though still not all that bulky.

– And so while work has been frantic – so frantic that posting as until now been impossible – life is adjusting slowly. Our house is big and relatively bug free (the occasional gecko just adds charm), though the power in the city is so bad that we pretty much have to use the generator 100% of the time that we’re at home, unless we don’t want to use AC, tv, stoves, washers, or anything else. So I graciously thank all of you tax payers for not only our salary, but also keeping us in fuel for the generator so that we can cook hot meals in a cool house.

– Beyond that, folks have been great at including us so far. Some parties, dinners, and meeting lots of other ex-pats (either at a soiree or a pool party on the weekend, etc.). We’re feeling very welcomed. And each bit of welcome replaces a bit of hesitation and fear. Thus, we’re thankful.

– And also thus, those are my first impressions of life here. The city faces a lot of the problems any developing nation has, poverty, litter, etc. Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that, but things may also be improving. I suppose in some sense, that’s my job here. So who knows…maybe by the time we leave, our stove will use city power and there will be a city trash collector coming by once/week. One can dream! (PS: The power has gone out 3 times while I’ve been writing this. Easier to dream in the dark I guess)

Thanks for sticking with us! Keep reading. I’ll get pictures up when I can, though slow connections make it difficult. See Colleen’s blog for some early photos of Paris and our house.


Who said it: uhh…”Zen”?! But courtesy of my Aunt Paula

Why it’s relevant: As I said…one day turned to the next and suddenly we were in Brazzaville. And because we’re all taking things one day at a time, for different and varied reasons.

The quote: “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

  1. Awesome post, DeMark! Glad to hear you made it safely and are getting settled in. Tell Colleen that Rach and I say hello and looking forward to your next post!

    Take care buddy,


  2. Think you should write a book of your adventures….hopefully something cheerier than Heart of Darkness. A different take on the area. Always glad for another post. Going to attempt mailing something this weekend to test the system. Let me know if there’s anything you would like added. Guess a chocolate Easter Bunny is not going to make it, huh? What is Joe H. doing up at 4AM reading your blog?

    • Mom, you’re right…Joe shouldn’t be up at 4am. But when you’re as dedicated to America’s children as him, you’re always on the clock. Also, he blogs about Albert Pujols late at night, which is…weird 🙂

      We’ll be good and we’ll be safe. Except the kitchen sink broke this morning! That’s all of ’em!

  3. Demark,
    Glad you made it safely. I love the blog posts, its like reading a book, you should make one with all your posts when you are grey and old. 🙂

    • Kate, thanks so much for reading! How are the little ones and the one big one?! I hope you’re all well. Let me know what you’re up to also. Miss you!

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