For those of you wondering what the living conditions are like here in the DRC, please let me fill you in. I will begin by saying I have not stopped sweating since we got to Mbandaka. Actually, a cold front did come through on Monday morning and it stayed in the high 70s throughout the day and then it was pleasant (mid 70s) overnight.
Let’s start with Mbandaka itself. An incredible city with incredible resilient people. While the main road through town is paved, most of the streets are dirt roads or rutted, pot hole ridden asphalt streets. There are very few cars and trucks in this part of the country. For the most part people walk almost everywhere. There are bicycles and motorcycles that zigzag in and out of the pedestrian traffic honking as they go. The only taxis in town are bicycle taxis with a piece of cloth covering a board and shielding the passenger’s legs from the back wheel.
Downtown Mbandaka is a dirt road with vendors’ shacks sitting in front of half-finished buildings where business is conducted from the early morning until about 3:00 PM every day. After lunch and a nap many of the vendors are back in their shops selling to the foot traffic once more.
As for our accommodations at the Disciples guest house, it is interesting to say the least. We have bathrooms just like back home. We have plumbing but no running water. We have pails of water to bathe in and to flush the toilets. Yes, we pour cold water from buckets over ourselves to shower/bathe. That first pail of cold water is exhilarating, and then you are used to it. Once you are in sync with the culture of this magical place, this all seems very normal.
There is no electric grid in Mbandaka, even though there are remnants of this seen in light poles and power poles where every once in a while there might be wires connecting two or three in a row.
Because of this lack of electricity, we have a generator that the church turns on for us each evening about 6:00 PM. Sunset is very consistently between 5:40 and 6:00 so it is a bit dim inside the house before the lights come on. And then just as magically, the generator is shut off around 10:00 PM.
The battle to get phones charged (of which only half of the ones our team brought have cell service), laptops and battery power packs is a never ending battle to find a spot on our one power strip, or one of the few plug adapters we have. Adapters you say? Of course this is not the good old USA. The country runs on 220 volt power, not 110.
We get up with the sun, or earlier. Most nights we go to bed dripping in sweat because there is no air conditioning, listening to singing off in the distance. As for Steve, Jacques and I (who are in the annex across the road) the singing is right next door in the adjacent compound. And if you must know it’s not just when we go to sleep. Last night they quit about 11:30 PM and then started up again for about 30 minutes at 3:30 this morning. And every morning the singing starts up again right at 6:00 AM. The most interesting part of this is that it is a church (I don’t know the name) and these are either late night, early morning, or even all night services which I have been told are very common here.
As for drinks in the guest house, in refrigerators we have water, soda pop and beer (a common drink for almost everyone here) that is at its very best cool; but more often than not, luke warm. This has made us all very appreciative of life back home.
Fruits include oranges and tangerines (which are green skinned) are served alongside green lemons and limes. Fresh papaya is on the breakfast table each day and today we had spiny fruit that tasted like a grape with a big seed; sort of like leechies.
Smoke from cooking meals on open fires, burning leaves and trash fills your nose all day. Anytime you are on the street you can add exhaust fumes to that mix. There is no EPA in the DRC to regulate the cleanliness of the air. Are you getting the idea yet?
The food actually is very good. We are eating lots of fish, some pork and chicken and more casaba root than you can imagine. Mashed manioc AKA casaba (I hope I spelled that right?) root, casaba root and masa, fried casaba roots. Fresh baked bread is served at every meal. We have oranges and bananas at each meal as well. The bananas might be fresh, or fried or steamed.
Now don’t take this the wrong way, but I have been dreaming about a good old fashioned fried onion burger all day. In other words, I think we all are trying to remember what a pizza tastes like right now. The food is really good and we are definitely experiencing how the Congolese live day to day. It is an eye-opening experience for all of us. The hospitality we are being shown is in incredible.
The Bonangas’ house staff must be spending hours and hours preparing meals and cleaning up after us in their home. Remember, no refrigerators, so someone has to go to the market every morning. They have breakfast ready for part of us at 6:30 and then the rest of the team at 8:30. A quick turnaround and they are making lunch. The same routine then follows for dinner. We have been blessed with their genuine hospitality.
Oops, lights just went out…….