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Tag Archives: Africa Travel

R is for Rwanda vs. DR Congo

Driving through Nyungwe Forest National Park on the best road I've ever seen in Africa.

Driving through Nyungwe Forest National Park on the best road I’ve ever seen in Africa.

#AtoZChallenge  April 2015 – Back to Africa

The journey to our educational mission in East Congo is six hours long–six hours driving through Rwanda. So even though the Democratic Republic of the Congo is our destination, most of my sight-seeing is in another African nation. Initially I think this is great.

We named our organization Future Hope Africa, not Future Hope Congo for a reason. The Hope we represent does not recognize national boundaries. On my first trip to the Congo to meet my new sons, friends told us that the DRC is not only physically in the heart of Africa. “As it goes in the Congo, so it goes in all Africa,” they said.

On this trip, I’ve landed not in the heart but in the left lung, where people breathe easier.

Rwanda seems bursting with hope. Everywhere is construction–roads and homes and businesses–building today for tomorrow, even in the mountains, this “Switzerland of Africa” they call it. Terraced hillsides full of agriculture line the roads as far as the eye can see, except in the national park.

I see all this cultivation and I am jealous for my Congo, where the mountains grow rebels. Why are these nations so different?

Perhaps when a country rises from depths, from times so bad–not bad–no, evil–such that the whole country must wake up and say “We are better than that. That is not who we are. That will not be our legacy for our children’s children.” Then one voice joins as the nation.

And the world? When the shame of the world that looked the other way as Hutu’s murdered Tutsi’s and even moderate Hutu’s by the hundreds of thousands finally moves from guilt to action, the world doing what it can where the conflict originated–perhaps that makes the difference. Perhaps it makes the work easier in a country where the lingua franca is English?

Like Future Hope Africa on our page (linked here).

Like Future Hope Africa on our page (linked here).

It is never too little too late when people hope for a better tomorrow. –Dr. Kristin King

Despite the work of the Panzi Foundation, the Oscar nominated documentary “Virunga” and the world’s notice of Dr. Denis Mukwege (“The Man Who Mends Women” ), most of the world’s blind eye is now for the leftovers from that very genocide. The rebels in the East Congo mountains, the atrocities continue, the families torn asunder.

My heart is broken.

Tears roll down my cheeks in the mountains of Rwanda.

What must our driver, Papa Justin, think of this strange white woman who takes so many photos, scribbles notes constantly, asks about the flora, and warns (via translation) she will scream with delight if she sees a monkey–what must he think as she sits beside him and weeps fat tears that drip to her shirt?

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 
 

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Q is for Questioning Africa Travel

IMG_0016(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Are you going on a safari? Aren’t you afraid of Ebola? You used to live there didn’t you?

No. No. And no.

Tell people you’re going to Africa and all sort of questions will come your way. Add to it the fact that you’re going to the Congo, and even your best friend will question your decision (which she did BTW). So much so that it’s hard not to start questioning yourself.

Isn’t it dangerous? Isn’t that one of the places where there’s fighting? Have you checked with the State Department? What does your husband think?

Any place can be dangerous, and yes there are still rebels (fairly far away though). I don’t have to stay up to date with travel.gov because, believe me, I’ve got several people sending me every bit of bad news that’s coming out of central Africa. My husband? Well, he’s concerned, signed off on it, and praying a lot recently.

Every question, though, is an opportunity to get the word out about our education center. An open invitation to talk about our cause and encourage folks to think about how they can make a difference wherever their hearts lead them–even right at home.

I can’t say I don’t do silly things and sometimes act without thinking, but traveling to Africa is not one of those things. My mind, my heart, and my soul were fully engaged and already focused on the return trip plans.

The hardest questions were those from my sons. Why do you have to go, Mommy? Why can’t you take me with you?

Perhaps next time my silly-side will find a better hat-photo-op. Cause nothing says “doing fine in Africa” like sporting a huge sieve on your head–even little people can see that.

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 20, 2015 in A to Z Blog, East Congo, Travel

 

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N is for Nutrition – What I Ate in Africa

(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Congo Dinner

White ugali, fresh mikeke fish with onions and peppers, green peas, and fried plantains.

In two weeks we eat a lot without really noting what all the meals are–unless you’re traveling in Africa. Then, if you’re like me, you take photos of almost every meal. Later I think, Wow. I ate so much, and so much better than I do at home. Nutritious greens, fresh meat, onions, peppers–the list goes on and on. Our hosts took great care of our mission team.

Since you probably don’t want to see every meal, this post is more of an overview. The hot water carafe greeted me every morning, the largest such I’ve ever seen or used outside a hotel. Seriously, the carafe is about 18 inches tall seems to keep the water piping. I want to take one home.From there

Lunch on the go--we select a stick of roasted goat and corn on the cob.

Lunch on the go–we select a stick of roasted goat and corn on the cob.

breakfast includes bread sliced from round loaves, or rectangular, peanut butter to spread, maybe a little sweet white cream spread (the nutella like stuff went quickly with the children in-house for the holiday). Some days we have an egg scramble, once with a local hot sausage (sliced like tiny pepperoni) or other times with East Congo cheese from Goma. Left overs from dinner the night before were often set out a well.

Beignets were a special treat for someone like me who, being from the South (USA), appreciates anything deep-fried. And if it’s sweet, even better! I teased my non-sweet-toothed friend that they just needed some Krispy Kreme icing–when in fact they were so perfect the way they were that I dedicated another entire blog to my Beignet Diet (here.)

Usually, though, the staple starches are fried plantain bananas and ugali. Plantains are not a sweet fruit like I typically think of for a banana. These are dense, similar to potatoes that must be cooked to be eaten. The ugali (which means “dough” in Swahili) is a fine ground cassava flour boiled in water to a thick paste which could be shaped when hot and hold form.

To me ugali has little flavor, which is fine since we eat it with a bite of spiced greens or well seasoned fish, goat or other meat. This dough is dear to me because I remember my youngest sons gobbling it up when we adopted them in Kinshasa. They are the reason I know that in Lingala (another national language, more common to south DRC and the capital) this food is called foo-foo.

Snack bag of the red peanuts, round and about half the size of their cocktail cousins.

Snack bag of the red peanuts, round and about half the size of their cocktail cousins.

The greens are made from so many different plant leaves, I have a hard time keeping up. Chopped onions seems to be cooked in, but there is one special ingredient I begin to recognize from sight. If I see it in the greens, I know these will be ones I like better. “What is the tiny kernel?” I ask. Turns out my favorite flavoring is coarse ground peanuts–the local variety that is a red nut and quite small to begin.

Seeing that we eat most everything with gusto, our hosts diversify and purchase vegetables we’ve never seen before. Life on the lake also means lots of fish, and we even have fresh tilapia one day. “I know that one,” I say. Even more familiar, though, is chicken, but I avoid the area where feathers are plucked.

A few of our Princesses come by the house one evening after a youth dinner and see me eating a bit of ugali with a bite of greens. To Bintu they exclaim, “She eats _____.”

“She seems to like it.”

“It is so strange.”

Creamed mushrooms, thin-sliced steak, and boiled potatoes with herbs

Creamed mushrooms, thin-sliced steak, and boiled potatoes with herbs

Bintu explains to me what they are saying and says back to them, “Yes, of course she eats this. I told you, she is my sister!”

They are all so animated, I blush. How glad I am to be caught eating local though those weren’t my favorite greens. Even a meal of something different can be both an adventure and a blessing.

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Roasted meat (?), rice and quartered "egg plant" which was green and the size of a fig.

Roasted meat (?), rice and quartered “egg plant” which was green and the size of a fig.

 

Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 
 

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J is for Jambo!

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.50.01 PM(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Language in Africa can both unite and divide at the same time. I saw this in action in East Congo and neighboring Rwanda.

It’s terrific when a lingua franca (i.e. bridge language or language of trade) crosses barriers. Take “Jambo” for instance.  I learn to say this to folks outside our education center. It’s basically “hello” in Swahili and will serve you well in lots of places across Africa (i.e.Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi, Somalia, and the Comoro Islands.) Even though Swahili isn’t the language of Ethiopia, I clearly remember people using it there as well. I suspect the greeting is common across many more countries.

Inside Future Hope Africa’s center, I use the French greeting “Bonjour.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was once part of the Belgian Congo (also Zaire) which established French as the country’s language of interaction with the western world. Within the country, though, it draws a dividing line between those who are educated, and those who are not. And how well someone speaks French can give an employer, or anyone else, a measure of the person’s level of education.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 10.51.48 PMIf you’re a local and happen to speak English very well, you might be Rwandan. Since the town in which we’re located is right on the border. Crossing in and out of the 2 countries the languages create a demarkation as clear as the river–an impediment that may be crossed with the right effort and know how. However, many folks from East Congo fled the over-flooding genocide of the 90’s to places where English was spoken, and a good number of others have studied English. Again, it’s a mark of education.

But if you think you can come as an aid worker with your French and reach people, you might be wrong. For example, one young woman who came to our education center out of curiosity ran away when she was greeted and asked a question in French. Later she explained that she was “ashamed” because she could not understand what she was being asked. After hearing about her, I switched to using “Jambo” the most. We want to make connections across the world and draw people in rather than drive them away.

Poignant to me, we interviewed two newly sponsored students (about 4th and 5th grade/year) in French so we could send their sponsoring family a video thank-you-get-to-know-you. When we asked their parents if they would like to say a few words, they were all eagerness…except that they could not speak French, only Swahili.

That’s when it really struck me how language can even divide a family. What does a mother feel when she does not understand what her child is saying? In this case, I think it was hope, because those French words in combination with the funds to continue school could mean a better tomorrow for her daughter.

Then, with my soul-sister’s family, I tackled another langauge. I always thought Swahili was Bintu’s first language, the one she used at home growing up. Turns out I was right and wrong. Her family’s group language is Mashi and fairly wide-spread in the area I visited. When I used this with her family, they laughed and laughed to hear this local tongue from mine. Rather than separating us, though, they embraced my efforts and nodded with understanding at how Bintu and I became family.

Visit Future Hope Africa for more information about our mission.

Visit Future Hope Africa for more information about our mission.

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 

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I is for Insects – Malaria and Meds

(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Lifecycle of the Malaria Parasite from Nature.com

Life cycle of the Malaria Parasite from Nature.com

While everyone back home was worried over ebola during our trip, insects were my primary concern, specifically mosquitoes. Malaria killed 70 times more people in Africa last year than Ebola although the former preventable if we just got rid of most of the mosquitoes that carry it the way we have in the US. I’m digressing, though, and don’t want to get on a soapbox.

Mosquitoes come in various shapes and sizes, and all sorts of rumors abound about these insects. I’ve heard the large ones are female and don’t bite. Was told the buzzing one that gave me a terrible night’s sleep wasn’t the right kind. How did that parasite get under my blanket and why is s/he so intent on scoring blood from my ear lobe?

We prepared the best way we knew how with medication to prevent malaria. Start taking it before the trip as directed, best at same time each day during the trip, and keep taking it two weeks after homecoming. It takes at least that long to let go of the worry that you’ll begin to show the flu-like symptoms.

Jaime's bites were always more red than this, but it does show what her skin looked like. (Photo: LOLO FROM TAHITI on flickr)

Jaime’s bites were always more red than this, but it does show what her skin looked like. (Photo: LOLO FROM TAHITI on flickr)

My niece is a mosquito magnet and slightly allergic. Once when she was small and spent about 30 minutes playing outside with the hose, she came in with dozens of welts from bites just on her short arms and legs. Outside at the same time, I had none. So I wanted her to have the best anti-malarial, malarone, which is more expensive but only needed 2 days before, 7 days after, and doesn’t make your skin sun sensitive.

My husband took piles of doxycycline during his army deployments with no (known) ill effect, and mefloquine was my choice on one previous Africa trip. Mefloquine gave me weird dreams, though, and according to my doctor, makes some people homicidal. Seriously? Still, you only have to take that one once a week.

For myself this trip, doxycycline was the choice with its proven track record for my system. Sure I was more likely to get sun damaged skin, but preventing that is old school. Medication wise, I also traveled with loperamide (in case the fruit or such struck me wrong) and ciprofloxacin (in case sickness really takes over). We also had up to date vaccinations for yellow fever, hep a, hep b, typhoid, and even rabies. That pup might be a stray, even so, you know I’m going to try to pet the cutie.

Back to insects. Although mosquitoes are the worst, there are others to think about. Perhaps to distract yourself, contemplate the Top 10 Deadliest Insects and note that the TseTse fly is a African native as is the Saifu (African ant). Seen those green grainy videos of ants attacking someone in their sleep? Probably was one of these. Made me grateful for our clean accommodations in my friends’ home. Note to self, no camping in Africa for me.

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2015 in A to Z Blog, East Congo, Travel

 

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H is for Hairy Situation in East Congo

Everyone wanted in, boys and girls alike.

Everyone wanted in, boys and girls alike.

(A to Z Blogs April 2015 – Back to Africa)

Have you ever wanted to touch someone’s hair? Maybe even a stranger’s hair? Ever want to squish those dreadlocks in both hands? Press your flat hand all the way down in an Afro? Run silky lengths through your fingers?

Many of us are more tactile in our experience of the world. Others of us are just plain curious. My best friend is both and recently told me how often she’s wanted to touch the hair of people with whom it’s perhaps not the most appropriate thing to do. Especially hair that is ethnically different from her own. I reassured her that she is in no way alone.

Take a shy, quiet, downward glancing group of children who have arrived early at our education center in East Congo. Introduce them to two white strangers (i.e. my niece Jaime and me).

How can you break the ice? Or get them to break a smile?

The teacher asks loudly, “Who wants to play with Mama Jaime’s hair?”

This ice breaker turned out to work with adults too!

This ice breaker turned out to work with adults too!

All hands go up. Smiles break out everywhere. New children come in the door and want to join in.

Jaime’s Native American heritage and the fact that her hair goes down to the back of her thighs make this a phenomenon she is used to. Folks are always asking to touch her hair. In the crowded fabric market in East Congo, though, strangers were slipping through the crowd and caressing her tresses on the sly.

How does she feel about that? “Awkward.”

About the children? Their enthusiasm was over the top for the whole trip, and Jaime was all smiles.

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

 

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B is for Birds That Wake Us

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 4.24.35 PMWe sleep in a guest room on solid wooden bunk beds, my niece and I. The need for the cooler night air circulating overrides the fear of mosquitos who might carry malaria or Dengue fever among other diseases. Of course the window has an intact screen to keep most of the bugs out.

What the screen won’t contain is the birdsong, bright and strong to wake us. At first I smile at the unfamiliar chorus of calls. Then I see that I’m supposed to have another hour+ before I rise.

As if they know what I want and think no one should sleep past 5:30, they become louder. Have they turned their heads to face the window? They are joined by what must be a Great Dane-sized bird who would serve very well at the local fire station to signal emergencies. Closing the window stifles them just enough, and I roll back over before the heat wakes me again.

During the day I’m delighted by the various birds, some similar enough that I think I can identify their bird family, but different enough in plumage that I’m not quite sure. That one looks to be the cousin of the robin red breast, except this guy’s beak is 3 inches long. The squawky one is built like a blue jay with a Batman mask and shades of gray coloring as if he is a black-and-white photograph of his American kin.

IMG_0654I discover though, it’s the smallest birds that are the loudest. I search the branches of high-five palm trees and two-story flower bushes for these little guys. Is that a mouse-tit I see? Some kind of finch? I love for my large camera with the zoom lens. The next time I will bring my heaviest, best photographic equipment. I will make a “Birds of Bukavu” book, I think. I wish. My soul-sister, Bintu, keeps me so busy this trip even though it’s Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I know the time will get away from me when I come again.

But I will come again. How can I not?

The most easily recognizable bird is the raven, same as the ones I’ve moved away from in Maryland, same strong profile, same dark sleek feathers…except…this one appears to wear a wife-beater T-shirt.

What do I know?

Maybe that’s what this Baltimore Raven is wearing under his jersey too.

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 Kristin King is an author, publisher and co-founder of the nonprofit Future Hope Africa which is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is from Kentucky (USA) and lives as an expat in Holland.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.42.04 PM

 

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