Sunday, June 17, 2012

What I Learned On My Trip to Congo

Can you believe we've been home for a month?!  We got home on Mother's Day and here it is Father's Day already.  I'll have a long post coming soon about the transition to life with six kids.  But I have to rest up for that!  For now I wanted to wrap up our trip to Kinshasa, put it on the shelf, and move on to our next adventure. 

Even though this was my second trip to Congo (and Brian's 5th time around) there were still some things I wished I'd done differently.  Things I should have packed or left behind.  Things I should have done to make the whole thing a little better.  So here is my list of tips, tricks, and other random thoughts about what I learned on my trip to Congo.

  • The very worst part of the trip for me is the flight over and the flight home.  So if you can survive that part the rest is a breeze. Though you might be like Brian. He loves to fly and prefers to sit next to the window.  
  • After five trips to Kinshasa and many, many hours spent in hot un-air conditioned cabs Brian votes for ground transportation as the worst aspect of the trip.......wait a minute, no, actually throwing up everything but the kitchen sink is the worst. Ground transportation though awful comes in a distant second.  I have to agree. There is something about being sick in a third world country devoid of modern medical facilities that makes illness just that much worse.  Brian said it's the added anxiety of wondering "What will happen if I get so sick that I need a doctor?"
  • With this in mind, be like my friend Britta and bring your own pharmacy! Go to your doctor and get prescriptions for every possible ailment that might be lurking in the Congolese water or food. 
  • About cabs, unless your guide/translator has already hired his uncle or buddy, insist on an air conditioned cab.  It will run you an extra $5-$15 per hr. but it is so worth it.  You will spend lots of time sitting in traffic in cabs.  By the way,  Kinshasa has over 10,000,000+ people and a surprising number of cars, but only five, yes that's right, a total of five stoplights, and they were installed in the past year.  The traffic is well, horrible!
  • St. Anne's is great.  It's clean, safe, comfortable.  It has a nice grounds to walk around, it's right across the street from the Consulate and just down the street from DGM and airline offices.  There is a great, although a bit pricey, market right around the corner, and some very friendly gentlemen selling souvenirs just outside the gate.   The potential problem I see with St. Anne's is it is quickly becoming the "adoption guesthouse".  Could be problems with booking rooms, could effect the quality of the service, could scare off regular guests, could mean they stop accepting folks who are adopting.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Bathroom at St. Anne's

Bare bones, but clean and functional

Don't judge my housekeeping

  • Bring extra cash for souvenirs.  You may never get to visit here again.  I hope for your child's sake you will try, but it might not be possible. 
  • Bring way more small bills than large.  We ended up with only large bills at the end and needed smaller.  Lots of 5's, 10's, and 20's.
  • Don't bring a US made hot pot.  It will pop the breaker in your room, possibly your whole wing and you will have to slump down to the office and admit that it was your fault.  You can buy one at the market around the corner.
  • Be nice to the Filipino gentleman with the ponytail.  He may not look like it, but he is Father (as in the Priest) James.  He is the one that will fix your blown breaker and just about everything else around there. 
  • Why do I need a hot pot?  Well, the food is not award winning fare.  Cup A Soup will seem like nectar of the gods.  However, I did hear that the food has improved since I left and they are posting what they are serving for lunch and dinner so you can actually decide whether you want to eat it or not.  Be forewarned, the fish is very bony and sometimes comes with it's face still attached.
  • Leave your hair dryer, curling iron, straightener, hair spray, makeup, etc, at home.  You are here to bond with your child.  No one cares what you look like.  And it will leave more room to pack extra Cup A Soup!
  • Bring your own towels.  Trust me, don't scrimp on this item.
  • You do not need to bring your own mosquito net.
  • I know someone who brought a box of wine.  Thought that was a pretty good idea.
  • You will probably get sick.  Maybe drinking more wine will prevent that???
  • Definitely bring a sling or some other kind of baby carrier.  Wear your baby!!! Sweaty or not, it is one of the best things you can do for early bonding and attachment.  Every time I put Kat in my sling she snuggled in and was asleep within minutes.  And it is a lifesaver when you are slogging babies up and down stairs all day long.
  • I would have packed more Peanut M&M's.  They are very filling and Brian ate them all by the second day.  Brian says "Absolutely, many large bags!"
  • Go to the market around the corner and try some stuff.  The Simba brand chips are great, so are the fresh french rolls.  The Chicken at the market is very tasty. The local soda's are not. 
  • Except Orange Fanta.  I love Orange Fanta.  Drink lots of it because it doesn't taste the same here at home.  Also try the Pineapple Fanta.  It tasted just like a pineapple Lifesaver.  Yummy!
  • Don't be an "ugly American".  I saw one of those on our trip and I was embarrassed for her and her very nice husband.  Remember, you're the stranger visiting their culture.  Don't come in and act privileged and put out.  Be friendly.  Be humble.  Get to the know the housekeeping staff and kitchen staff, and my favorite, the bar staff.  Learn their names, smile at them.  They are lovely people and really quite happy for you and your children if you give them a chance to see your human side and you get to know theirs.  And give Pappi in the bar a big hug from "Judite's Mama"!

As I've mentioned before, this second trip was much easier than our trip to bring home Manny and JoJo.  I'm sure in part it was because I was more prepared for the stress.  It will be stressful.  I repeat, it will be stressful.  But at the end of the road you are coming home with a child.  Just keep you eye on that goal and nothing else should matter.

If you have any questions about my travel adventures in Congo, please feel free to ask.  You can contact me by email, through the CongoAdopt Yahoo group, or just leave a comment here and I will try to reply to it.  One of my favorite things in the world next to my children is helping other families find their children.  Adoption is the dearest thing to my heart.  Every child deserves a family and if I help play any small part in that happening then I am glad to be of service.
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