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The Map on the Right

September 21, 2014
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I updated the “Where are we now?” map in the right-hand panel of the website—->   (if you’re reading this in your email, click on the link that takes you to the webpage to see)

The little man icon is now in California, and the little woman icon is in DRC- a small change marking the newest big transition chez nous.

Update - "Where are we now?"

As of last month, Jamie has officially said au revoir to the DRC and is back in California, and, after a few wonderful weeks of vacation in CA, I’ve headed back to DRC for a few final months.

In late August, Jamie wrapped up his position, wrote up his handover notes, packed up a giant metal trunk full of huge masks and wood carvings, and enjoyed one final Bukavu HHH regressive run farewell tour.

Farewell HHH Party

Then, the two of us boarded the California-bound business class flight that we upgraded to using frequent flier miles.

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Flying home in business class was certainly the way to end Jamie’s DRC stint with a bang.  Not only did the seats recline all the way flat, the meal was served with a linen tablecloth and wine pairings, and dessert was an ice cream sundae bar with choice of about a dozen different toppings.

Business class, notice the fresh roses in the backgrouns

To make things even more exclusive, our seats were located in the “business class only” upper deck of the plane, meaning that we got to walk up the roped off stairs when boarding, while all the economy class pions continued on in the lower deck to their measly, pay-for-alcohol-even-though-it’s-an-international-flight seats.  (But really, no offense to the pions.  That’s where we are every other time we fly).

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Jamie plans to work with his dad on renovating his family’s country house, and eventually start looking for a CA-based engineering job, probably much closer to his academic background than what he worked on in DRC.

I plan to stay in the DRC for a few more months to wrap up some of the exciting work activities that I’m in the middle of right now, and then make my way back to the good old US of A to join Jamie probably the beginning of next year.  (I’ve been saying for 3 years now that I’m going to leave DRC… this time may actually be for real).

But before temporarily parting ways, Jamie and I spent 3 glorious weeks together in California- from Palm Springs, to San Diego, to Hollywood and the Bay area- catching up with family and friends, catching up on piles of mail, catching up on new movies and music, catching up on shopping, and getting some much needed sleep.

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Bordeaux reunion in Palm Springs

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Brian and Diana’s wedding in Piedmont

We also started looking at houses, trying to get an idea of where we might want to live when I’m back and we want to unpack all of our wedding presents that have been in storage, and hang up our huge tribal masks.

Until then, we’ll have a few months of long-distance, relying on the fickle internet gods to be able to communicate.  It won’t be easy, but we’ve done it before.

And for all our friends and family who have missed our shining, smiley faces over the past few years, you now have at least one of them back home!

OMG…I just pooped a worm

April 6, 2014
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Living where we do, many people fear things that are very unlikely – like being kidnapped, or having the lovely Lake Kivu explode in a methane ball of flame.  However, we’ve found that it’s the little stuff that gets ya.

Here is a brief summary of some our favorites so far.

OMG… I just pooped a worm (Ascariasis)

Intestinal worms (in this case, ascaris), which are not uncommon, are transferred mainly by eating unwashed produce (or produced washed with contaminated water).

These little beauties live inside your intestines, often without any side effects, until one day they get so abundant that they start to make you sleepy and sluggish and you take some de-worming medicine like Albendozol; or, you take some de-worming medicine as a regular precaution (advised every 6 months here in Bukavu). But, until you’ve killed them with medicine, it’s rare to see them come out alive.

My particular worm experience was special.

The day after a big HHH party and some heavy drinking, I sat down on the toilet, and feeling something funny, proceeded to watch as a long pink worm wriggled its way out.  And trust me, as uncomfortable as you may be reading this, it was way more uncomfortable experiencing it.

Not surprisingly, I freaked out.

“Katie, you have to come and see this,” I called into the kitchen.

“I don’t want to look at your poop, Jamie,” she replied, and continued prepping dinner.

“No, really.  Come and see this.”  It must have been the cold dread she heard in my voice that convinced her.

Katie wasn’t fazed, however, to see the angry 6 inch worm that had previously been living inside of me thrashing about in the toilet bowl.  She ran to the bedroom, untangled a wire hanger, fished the angry worm out of the toilet, and plopped it into a jar.  She then videotaped it and bestowed upon it the name of, “Peter the Worm”.  Don’t ask why.  Katie, when naming animals and insects, goes on pure instinct.

After the initial shock, we began to research what to do after one poops a worm.  After doing a quick Google, we found a helpful post entitled “OMG… I just pooped a worm”.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Everyone, meet Peter

Everyone, meet Peter

Rotten eggs anyone? (Giardiasis)

Giardia, or ‘beaver fever’ as it’s also know, can, in addition to its common symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, give you frequent recurring burps that smell of rotten eggs.

My particular experience was void of the pooping and vomiting part, which was nice, but was however full of the most awful smelling burps, ever.  Like make-the-person-next-to-you-want-to-vomit bad.  Like, there’s a green cloud of noxious rotten egg gas surrounding my head.

While this may have been manageable had I been on my own (they go away after treatment or sufficient time), my symptoms started just before getting on a plane to Madagascar from Nairobi.  I don’t hesitate in saying that it was likely the worst plane ride for many a fellow passengers, and definitely me.

Giardia bug

Giardia bug

Acid Bugs

Acid bugs, aka “Nairobi flies”, are small crawling insects that look like ants with part of their bodies colored red.  They are not particularly large, scary looking or aggressive. But, it’s their unassuming presence that often gets people.

Acid bugs don’t bite; it’s only when they are squished that they excrete an acid that for most people will leave behind a painful acid rash. While we were working in Kinshasa, a colleague of Katie’s inadvertely brushed off an acid bug that was tickling his face, right under his eye.  Luckily none of the acid got in his eye, but he was left with what looked like a pretty shiner from a bar fight for several weeks after.

While fortunately neither Katie nor I have ever squished an acid bug we’ve seen several of them crawling around on our back porch.  It may be just a matter of time…

Acid Bug

Acid Bug

Malaria

Katie and I took anti-malarial prophylaxis during our time in Kinshasa. Given the high number of mosquitoes, especially in our apartment (during one evening’s killing-spree we counted over 100), combined with the elevated risk that these mosquitoes were carriers of the parasite, it was worth it to us.

However, in Bukavu there are relatively few mosquitoes and the likelihood that they carry the malaria parasite is small.  So, we decided to stop taking the prophylaxis.

I got malaria a few weeks ago, and although it wasn’t as bad as some of the horror stories that I heard from other people when describing their first time, it certainly wasn’t pleasant.  I was sick for a few days with a headache, fever at times, stomach pain, and fatigue.  I started a 3 day regiment of medicine which quickly cleared everything up.

Looking on the bright side, I’ve heard that once you’ve had malaria, if ever you get it again, the symptoms aren’t as bad…

Mango Flies

Mango flies are bugs that burrow themselves into the cotton of clothes that are hung outside to dry.  Then once you then put on your freshly laundered clothing article, the mango fly moves onto you and lays its eggs underneath your skin without you knowing it.  If not treated the mango fly eggs will eventually hatch out of your skin and are an infection risk.

We’ve know people who have had mango fly eggs laid under their skin.  A non-ironed pair of underpants was the culprit…

Mango Fly

Mango Fly

If identified in time, mango fly eggs can be relatively easily removed surgically.  But prevention is easier, just iron your clothes before you wear them (which most everyone here does).

Doesn’t that make you appreciate laundry machines like never before?

Super Vivid Mode

December 8, 2013
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A big change has happened recently…

We’ve changed the name of this blog.

It used to be titled “Les aventures de Katie et Jamie“, a reference to the series of comic books Les aventures de Tintin, featuring a young Belgian adventurer who travels the world, including a trip to the Congo in a book released in the 1930s.  However, I think that few, if any, of the folks who came across this site managed to pick up on that obscure reference, and I fear that our title ended up coming off as though we had forgotten the letter ‘d’ in a rather cliche sounding travel blog.

So, after some reflection, and some inspiration searching for new title names, two things caught my eye…

Inspiration #1

One was an special setting on my new(-ish) camera called ‘super vivid mode’.  Pop that baby into super vivid mode setting and photos come out intensely colorful.  Often to my eye, super vivid mode captured a scene truer to the way that I was actually seeing it in real life than did in regular mode.  Other times, it made the scene even more intensely saturated than real life.  Either way, super vivid mode instantly became my favorite photo setting.

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Regular Mode – Beach chairs in Morondava, Madagascar

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Super Vivid Mode – Beach chairs in Morondava, Madagascar

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Regular Mode – Fishing Boat in Morondava, Madagascar

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Super Vivid Mode – Fishing Boat in Morondava, Madagascar

Inspiration #2

The other thing that caught my eye was a quote about travel and being away from home

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I’ve never actually read any Terry Pratchett, but this quote struck a chord for me.

The first thing that struck me was the ‘extra colors’ part- the idea that travel changes the way we see things, making our experiences more vivid.  I thought about super vivid mode on my camera, and how sometimes I feel like my life has been set on super vivid mode the past few years, and how much I appreciate that.

Sometimes it’s the good things that seem more intense and colorful. Like when the cheese aisle at the supermarket at home starts to look like a dairy version of Willy’s Wonka’s magical candy garden.  Or when I travel somewhere with internet faster than the synapses can fire in my brain.

Sometimes it’s just seeing the gritty side of things I’d normally take for granted at home, like assisting at my cat’s hysterectomy which took place on the plastic table on my porch (look out for that whole saga as a future post), or bonding with the turkeys that would become Thanksgiving dinner.

Either way, living in this form of super vivid mode is rarely boring.

Announcements

And so, with these two inspirations in mind, this brings us to the two announcements for this post:

#1 The name of this blog is now officially “Super Vivid Mode”, with the goal of sharing and highlighting some of those extra colors that Jamie and I see living away from home.

#2 We’ve decided to extend (yet again) our stay in Congo, probably until spring/summer of next year.  This is no longer the newest news anymore, but the decision was based partly on a new position that I accepted (same organization), and partly in order to keep things super vivid for a little while longer.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – and Gold?

April 21, 2013

A few months ago, I went into the field for my first real mission.  It was a technical evaluation to determine the feasibility of different water and sanitation (WASH) projects, and it was fascinating.

But beyond getting my first real taste of field work in my new position, one of the most interesting things that I learned was the effect gold mining has on water and hygiene within rural communities, and the very limited effect humanitarian aid can have in the absence of a functioning system of government.

English: Crystaline Gold

GOLD!

One of the places that I went was a gold mining town called Misisi.  The discovery of gold in Misisi transformed it from a small village to a bustling center of close to 40,000 people (nobody really knows exactly how many).  People come from far a wide to either try their luck, or to offer services to those searching for gold.

People mine for gold everywhere, from simple panning of riverbeds to spraying hillsides with high powered hoses (hydraulic mining).  Even the center of town was full of small plots staked out by one person or another.  Stories of immense riches are commonplace, and in town it is not uncommon to see a group of men (it was an all-male trade from what I saw) in a corner shop with a case of beer surrounded by friends, some perhaps genuine, but others very likely paid hourly, celebrating what must have been a particularly lucrative day.

Unfortunately, behind the success stories, there was a much darker side of desperation, despair, and lawlessness in a free-for-all community where anything goes.

In an effort to help the local community, WASH humanitarian actors have tried to intervene several times, though with little lasting success.

During my trip, I saw protected water springs that had been destroyed when gold was found in the vicinity.  I saw the ruins of a particularly impressive water distribution system that used to take water from a spring 15 km away and delivered it to 24 public tapstands through the town- the supply pipes had been broken and the water diverted by gold miners who wanted the water for themselves.

Water is still collected by some residents, but the water points are mostly monopolized by people who have made it their business to fill up 20 liter jugs and then resell them in town.

People waiting at a protected spring just outside of town

People waiting at a protected spring just outside of town

The streets are lined with trash and the smell of human waste frequently assaults the senses as you walk around.  Water borne diseases are abundant and the area is a serious concern as a future hotbed for cholera.

Little rivers have run dry and the larger rivers run brown with sediment.

Gold mining area along side a creek bed

Gold mining area along side a creek bed

According to a local chief, for the last decade, since the mining trade exploded, the fish of the river are no longer good to eat.  Women and children bear the brunt of the difficulties as they are the most vulnerable and tasks related to water and hygiene almost always fall on their shoulders.

I found it to be such a disturbing example of one side of human nature, of an individualistic mentality and a complete disregard for others.

But, on the other hand, who can blame them?  In a reality where people live off of only a few dollars a day, coupled with a mentality of “take what you can now because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” maybe it’s not all that surprising that the prospect of making up to $300 in a day leads to some poor decisions.

To me, the real issue is lack of an authority with the power to do anything about it.  And until there is, no amount of humanitarian aid will have any real impact there.

Since this first field experience I’ve gotten to experience several others.  And during these subsequent interventions I felt like our program was able to have a real and positive impact on other communities with which we were working.

However, my experience in Misisi will remain with me as a clear example of how humanitarian interventions are limited in their capacity, and that without the presence of a capable government, long-lasting change for the better will be difficult to come by.

Three Vacations in Six Months

April 2, 2013

The end of 2012 and start of 2013 included a whirlwind of AMAZING vacations for me and Jamie.  And even though the good old US of A was not on the agenda this time, we were still able to meet up with some incredible friends and family members who flew across oceans and continents to meet up with us.

It took a while for me to sort through and upload all the photos, but here they are in a flying three-punch combo attack!!

October 2012- Mediterranean Cruise!

Rob and Jan were incredibly kind to invite us to join them on a 10-day cruise through the Mediterranean Sea.  Our ports of call were Venice, Naples and Rome, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Corfu, Olympia, Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini, Greece; and Kusadasi/Ephesus, Turkey.  We also ate our weights in cruise food, and I cried (tears of joy) in Naples when I ate the pizza.

(click below to check out the photo album)

Modes of transportation in Santorini, Greece: donkeys and a cruise ship

Modes of transportation in Santorini, Greece: donkeys and a cruise ship

December 2012/January 2013 – Holidays in Morocco!

At one point, we were nine Californians in Morocco.  Not only did we meet up with Tom, Renee and Tina for Christmas and New Year’s in beautiful Morocco, but we accidentally (on purpose) ran into Lianne and Paul, who had Lianne’s parent’s in tow, as well.  We saw the beaches at Essaouira, the snake-charmers in Marrakech, and joined together for a rousing round of “Sally the Camel Has 3 Humps” in the Sahara desert on New Year’s Eve, even though none of our camels were named Sally and none had more than one hump.

(click below to check out the photo album)

Detail of architecture in Marrakech

Detail of architecture in Marrakech

February 2013 – Honeymoon (not ours…) in Botswana and South Africa!

Most recently, we crashed the African portion of Eric and Lisa’s honeymoon (but don’t worry, the newlyweds got 2 whole nights of romantic alone-time before we arrived).  We cheated death on the precipitous edge of Victoria Falls in Zambia, saw a menagerie of wild animals in Chobe park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, introduced our non-American travel companions to the joy of s’mores around the campfire, and fell deeper in love than ever with the amazing and multi-faceted city of Cape Town in South Africa.

(click below to check out the photo album)

Birthday Sunset in Botswana, Okavango Delta

Birthday Sunset in Botswana, Okavango Delta

Or, for the particularly adventurous, click below for the long version of the southern Africa trip (a full 160 photos instead of a measly 40 in the Facebook album above)

On the edge of Victoria Falls, a 350 foot drop behind us

The Nuns That Have It All – Ice Cream, Wine, and Soccer in Murhesa

March 24, 2013
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I’ve heard of once-upon-a-time stories of weary pilgrims seeking respite amongst hospitable nuns in peaceful monasteries, out of touch from the turmoil of the secular world…

I had always assumed that this was a thing of the Middle Ages, something that must have petered out sometime around Shakespeare…

But in Congo, an elaborate system of convents and monasteries fill the gaps where there is no Motel 6, welcoming visitors with a bed and a warm plate of fufu.

One such place wins the prize in my book certainly for most industrious, if not for most beautiful as well.

About 45 minutes north of Bukavu, a sisterhood of nuns live in a lovely convent in the village of Murhesa, flanked by three or so monasteries and a seminary school.  The whole saintly compound is set within manicured gardens, along with a basketball court and several large green soccer fields, and surrounded by acres and acres of agricultural fields.

We’ve gone a few times to Murhesa to check out the grounds.  We’ve a couple times joined a group of friends that goes every weekend to play soccer, and gone trail running up and down the valleys behind the monastery.  We may even plan a Hash run there in the near future.

But while the monasteries are certainly very nice, the nuns at the convent really take the cake, in a manner of speaking.

Because they make and sell their own ice cream.  And it’s delicious.

Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, pistachio, chocolate chip… last time they even had vanilla with chunks of pink guava in it.

Though there may be some historical nun-ice cream link that I just don’t know about, I tend to think instead that these ladies are kind of just a group of luxury-loving gourmands.  Ice cream is not the only indulgence in their little shop.

One entire wall of the shop is populated by shelves of their own fruit wines- cherry, pineapple, guava, honey… there’s even one called Amour en cage (Caged Love), which the sister in the shop says is a type of fruit, but I’m not 100% convinced.

The widows of the front counter display an array of colored and scented candles, some shaped like stars, some with pressed flowers decorating the sides.  The fridge in the back of the shop holds yogurt, cheese, and (rumor has it) foie gras.  And if you ask very nicely, they even have a hidden basket of sugar cookies, each one a different heart, star, or flower shape.

It makes me wonder- do these pious sisters indulge in the culinary realm as a way to make up for their life-long temperance in other realms?  Do they just find joy in the thought of providing the tangible ingredients for others’ romantic evenings? (I mean, wine, candles, ice cream… Caged Love?!)

I can’t really say, and I don’t know if the nuns would ever tell.  It’s probably better that way.

(click thumbnails below for photo slideshow)

Shoeless Joe Jackson & the Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden: Tales from the Hash House Harriers

February 5, 2013

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The Constitution of the Hash House Harriers is recorded on a club registration card dated 1950:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members

  • To get rid of weekend hangovers

  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer

  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

In some circles, the Hash House Harriers, or the Hash for short, is also known as a drinking club with a running problem.  And with around 2,000 chapters and counting in 185 countries, its rich history and stringent traditions are only expanding to reach ever more hashers.

Including me and Jamie.  We’re hooked.

The idea is this:

The Hash is a non-competitive running and social club, with a hint of scavenger hunt and a underlying twist of fraternity hazing.  The group meets regularly for runs organized in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds” game, where a couple of runners go out before the rest of the group and mark a running trail with bits of paper, chalk or, in Congo, handfuls of cassava flour.

But instead of anything straightforward, these runners, or “hares”, set a trail full of checkpoints, false trails, river crossings, dead ends and other tricks to keep the other runners on their toes.

The social element of the club is just as, if not more important than the athleticism part.  The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialise, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter, which often include drinking games, songs, mismatched socks, awards and mutual chastisement.

Hash christenings

One of the highest honors that a hasher can earn is to be given a Hash name, usually in reference to a particularly notorious escapade, a personality trait, or their physical appearance.  In Kinshasa, hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant one.

The christening ceremony takes place after a run, when the nameless hasher is called by the Master of Ceremonies to kneel in the middle of the groups’ circle, at which time beer is poured over his or her head, to help slough off their everyday name, and the new Hash name is announced.

I can tell you right now that the day I got my Hash name- The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden- was one of the proudest days of my life  (or at least one of the proudest days of my life in Kinshasa).

I was named after a signature cocktail that I had invented for a celebration of the 100th Hash run in Kinshasa, using fresh ingredients from the head hasher’s garden.  In homage to the garden from which these ingredients came, I named the cocktail “The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden”.  It was such a success, that I was subsequently named after it.

The christening of The Bounty of Paul's Fertile Garden

The christening of The Bounty of Paul’s Fertile Garden

Jamie’s naming came not long after my own, and my eyes misted over with pride as beer was poured over his head and he was henceforth declared Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Whereas I earned my Hash name for having done something amazing, Jamie was named after an incident when he showed up for the run with everything he needed, except for his shoes (no one really knows where the “Joe Jackson” part came from).

The christening of Shoeless Joe Jackson

The christening of Shoeless Joe Jackson

The Mother Hash

In Kinshasa, the traffic-y, tree-less, dirty, aggressive chaos of a giant Congolese city often became overbearing.

But the every-other-Sunday Hash took us out of the indoors, outside of the downtown, through villages and fields and knee-deep creeks, among squealing barefoot kids that would join us for an entire 10 kilometers and hardly break a sweat.  It was one of the handful of things that helped us maintain a grasp on sanity that year.

Ironically.

Since it’s kind of a nutso group to be a part of in the first place, what with the secret codes and costumes, the bawdy traditional songs and Hash name christenings.  It’s almost a little… well, cult-ish, as one friend described it.

Be that as it may, it was our cult.

And it was awesome.

We met some amazing friends and saw parts of the city and outside the city that we would have never seen otherwise.  At the same time, despite the drinking games and silly songs, the Hash really motivated us to challenge ourselves athletically, to push through 6-7 miles of overgrown and hilly trails, something I would have never thought myself capable of.

Leaving our mother Hash behind when we left Kinshasa left an empty space in my heart.

Bukavu Hash House Harriers

And when we arrived in Bukavu last year, despite the stunning and verdant scenery, there was no Hash House Harriers to be found.  Jamie and I played around with the idea of starting a new chapter… but the amount of responsibility that this would bring to rest on our shoulders was a daunting idea.

Luckily, someone more courageous than us was not afraid to follow the call of duty, and the first ever Bukavu Hash House Harriers took place this past weekend with great success. I’m still a little sore from the 7 kms of hills, and a bit dizzy from the 65 children that ended up running with us, but I’m definitely still smiling about it.

On on!!

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