Where I’m at: Brazzaville
What I’m doing: getting ready to host our first poker night here! (small crowd…maybe we’re not liked well! (yet?!))
Why I’m posting: because my skin is crawling and because it’s time for a post from post
First off, Go ND! As of yet, I’ve avoided malaria, yellow fever, and African sleeping sickness, but I most definitely have March Madness. Can the Irish win it all this year? For the first time in my lifetime, that’s a legitimate question. I didn’t pick them in any of my pools, but that’s because you shouldn’t mix love with money. PS: That’s exactly the advice they give us when traveling to high AIDS areas.
Secondly, peripheral vision- she be a harsh mistress (to paraphrase our new buddy, Colin). Colleen and I were remarking last night how we’re constantly seeing stuff fly across our field of vision or move in the corner of our view. We might be hyper-attuned to it right now because here, the little things in the corner of your eye could kill you. Now, it’s not really all that dire usually, but trying talking yourself down from that when you live here.
Thus, we’re currently stuck with this sense that everything around us is moving. Partly because people told us to watch out for that, and partly because it is. Especially when it comes to ants. A lot of our colleagues store all of their food – literally all of it – in the freezer or refrigerator so that ants won’t get to it. A lot of you will have inevitably discovered why if you’ve traveled to certain parts of the world. If you leave a knife out with some peanut butter on it, there will be 10,000 ants on it 2 hours later. It’s really unbelievable how they can find that stuff. I have no idea why people call the CIA folks “spooks” because I think “ants” is a lot more descriptive (“oooh, they’re not there!” more like “if there’s something interesting, they’ll find it in 5 minutes”).
Despite knowing this tendency of ants, I somehow tricked myself into believing that the Embassy was an impenetrable fortress. Well, folks, it’s not (except to terrorists and visa applicants). And so having left an opened box of cereal on the corner of my desk over the weekend, I found my office under seige by my antennaed neighbors. Unfortunately, tossing the box did not toss the problem. Thus, throughout the day, little ants kept popping up. Worse, my peripheral vision kept seeing them (or thinking it saw them) everywhere. And then I thought they were in my clothes – ants have a tendency to make us squirm in this way. But dang it all…they were in my clothes! In my socks no less!
And so, I’ve learned harsh lesson #1 here in Congo: every ant is out to get me.
Unfortunately, this morning, we got news of harsh lesson #2: life is short, especially here. In Congo, the average life span of women is under 50; men, just above that. But it’s not always malnutrition or disease. Alcohol-related deaths are a significant issue here, in part because people tend to drink until drunk and in part because walking and driving is really dangerous at night in a place without street lamps and sidewalks. Very sadly, one of our guards died this weekend after drinking too much at a wedding and then walking into the street and being hit by a car. I’m really sad that we’re losing him, not just because he was a young and kind man, but because he was already a friend of mine since we played basketball together. (I actually had to delete and retype that last verb because I had written “play” at first.)
Of course, this isn’t a problem only in Congo, but it is a harsh, early reminder of what we’re here in part to do: make the world a safer place. I’m not sure if that driving feeling that I have each morning of wanting to do something to help improve others’ lives will ever go away, possibly under a crushing amount of work. Perhaps it will; hopefully it won’t.
Anyway, I’m sorry to go out on a sad note for my second post from Brazzaville. Despite the photos you can see on Colleen’s blog (please click the link at the bottom right of the page…I’m having trouble uploading photos), life here isn’t always dreary. Today, in fact, is wonderful. I’m looking out on a beautiful day and a flower garden with red flowers and white butterflies.
Who said it: Henry David Thoreau
Why it’s relevant: living out by a pond without A/C, he knew a thing or two about contemplation and ants
The quote: ”It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”