Thursday, March 09, 2006

Expat bloggers from the Congo

I want to acknowledge a group of people that I have cyber-met recently, and that are all doing some of the things that, had the circumstances been different, I would love to be doing. One of them is Congolese, and all the others are Westerners. These are young and dynamic people, with their hearts on their sleaves, that are among those doing all the needed UN and NGO work that the Congo needs at this point of time. From what I can tell, without meeting them face to face, these are genuinely nice people, and they have warmed my heart, by posting about Congo and its realities, as well as posting pictures of the Congo from all its various aspects, and from inside the poorest villages, to the sprawling metropolis of Kinshasa. They have gone to places where as a spoiled Kinois (that is how you call people from Kinshasa), I would hardly ever think or dare to go to. And they are willing - like only young mindele can - to adapt to the most drastic changes in living conditionsThey sometimes get upset at the latent inefficiencies in work there, and I get on their case, but that s just normal. See I have had the luck to be both from a poor country, the country where they are (hence a "receiver" of support), and in a family of International UN workers (my mother, and 2 uncles), who lived and worked abroad (hence a "giver" of support, like them). I am therefore doubly biased, and that is inevitable. Nevertheless, these are people that I admire, commend, and encourage to continue in their endeavours, both in real life, and on the net:

Timothee Rolin, with the coolest blog, a photoblog that chronicles his daily life in Kinshasa, almost minute by minute. I believe Tim is French, and works for the web division of Radio Okapi, the UN-assisted and Fondation Hirondelle-funded nationwide radio for peace and dialogue in Congo. Tim trains the computer people of Radio Okapi. He is also really cool, and caring... Visit the blog (the picture captions are in french however )

Kim Gjerstad, is the person that Tim replaced at Radio Okapi. Kim is from Canada, with, I believe, Norsk and US descent, and he is awesome fun. Very cool! He now works for the Congo branch of the World Conservation Society, and on his blog, you can see some of the pictures he has taken of some of the most remote, yet heavenly areas of the Congo, that I can just dream to go to one day, like the Ruwenzori volcano range. I am so jealous!!! Anyway, he
made me realize that there is some work to be done to render the touristical facilities more welcoming, without becoming as expensive as safari lodges in Kenya... a lot of work! Kim also speaks lingala, which I still cannot get over. In addition to all this, he is becoming as Cngolese as I am, as he really gets the political inuendos in the discourse that many Westerners miss. Great guy! Congo needs to give him a passport!

Cedric Kalonji, is also a Radio Okapi guy! He works there on computers, and he is also a journalist. He is the Congolese guy, the non-expat of the band, and he is every bit as cool and awesome as the others here, if not more. His ability to be open-minded, and to stand his ground when people accuse him of being unpatriotic, because he dares to show on the net, Congo and Kinshasa as it is. I like him because he almost single-handedly gave me back some hope in the youth of my country (I say almost because I think the same of some other journalists in Radio Okapi, like Francoise Mukuku, Eugene Kabambi, and Nicole Ngaka). He has a mixed "writing and photo" blog, that samples various miscellanous sights and goings-on in Kinshasa, and the DRC. Really someone to commend, and a personal pride for me.

Dorothee, or 007 in Africa, is also a humanitarian worker, but she has not said exactly in what. It seems to be in medical care and phamaceuticals. She also has good political and social analysis of the Congo, and she seems to have genuine care for the people that she works for, even when they sometimes get on her nerves :). We all gave her a hard time for buying a bad luck mask from a local sculptor. She is defiitely someone to meet, read, and encourage

Sahara Sarah, from the USA, is working in humanitarian efforts in the East of the country.... read her blog, it is better than any words I can say. She is an aid worker I believe, and she has a very unique senistivity (within this group) , and she brings a fresh voice to the expat stories of the Congo, and what it really is like, doing humanitarian work in Africa. Plus she is a bit of a globe-trotter, and that is just my weak point. I love world-travelling, and world-travellers. Be careful, though, she is know to be a heartbreaker :).

Elia, from Spain, works in Kinshasa too. She blogs in spanish, but understands english and french. Please visit her blog. She has both a regular blog section, and a photoblog section. She also has a more exhaustive listing of the Aid community in Congo and the Great lakes than I can do here. She alows me to practice my sometimes limbing spanish, and she is runing an experience as to people can send her postcards that reach her door, through the fairly corrupt Postal Authority (OCPT).

And last but not least, Heather, The Salon's very own Congogirl, who is an American health and research professional, who does great work in infectious disease research. She is also quite the Congolese, when it comes to it :). She also helps to tell the story of the Congo, like all the above, with a tidbit of that slight cynicism that only Americans have perfected. A very important voice, with a wide range of knowledge on the realities of this planet, and of work in developping countries. Aside from this very intellectual stuff, she is just plain fun!! I am honored to have her on my team here.

These folks (and others) do very important work, they are genuinely helping my country, within the limitations of their means, without overblownthey ought to be commended. They are human, f course, with all the flaws, and the qualities. But they are definitely good people. They are my newest friends on the net, and hopefully also in real life soon!


Michoko said...

Cool, thaks for the new blogs to discover, Ali !

Black River Eagle said...

I saw Kim Gjerstad's blog the other day and thanks for the tip on Timothee Rolin. Gjerstad's blog looks very interesting but I'm afraid that I am one of those people who take great offence from any white man or white woman who refers to a black man as "boy".

Perhaps Kim can explain why he uses this term so liberally in his writing as apparently other whites in the DRC do that he refers to in his posts. Is this mentality indicative of all Canadians, or only the racists?

I would love the chance for him to explain it to me personally face-to-face, as he would have only one chance to get it right.

N. said...

You forgot to mention Mario ( He isn't in Congo anymore and blogs in French but the archives are nice to look at.

N. said...

Oh yeah..Kim's comments on the "boy" made me frown. Unfortunately it's term people widely use, including black people themselves sometimes. it's still an offensive term.

kim said...

While my post was on my worker, the issue became one of race. I didn't forsee this debate. If you're interested to know, Congo is a racist country. Don't be fooled, it's not white versus black, but African versus African.

I use "boy" because that's the local expression. Where you see a white and black issue, I see a rich and poor one. If my "boy" was Portuguese, Spanish or Mexican, no one would have commented.

There is a similarity with the word "nigger". While I'm asked not to use it, multi million dollar rap stars are allowed unequivocally. If a Congolese says he's got a "boy", is he allowed to use the term?

Let's switch the scenario around. I, a white, do suffer of being a visible minority in Congo. On one side I'm being called a "boss" while on the other, I'm being called a "foreigner" or a "white". I've been hearing these terms thirty times a day for the last four years. It shapes your relationships despite yourself. But then again, being called a "white" is not a racist judgement here. Thus, when I'm being interpelled with an annoying tag like "mondele" in the street by a stranger, I simply snap "Black! What do you want?". I get smiles and respect back, for I am one of them, one who speaks their language.

Using the word "boy" ultimately labels the nature of relationships in Congo. That's why I use it. Because I am the "boss" and he is the "worker". Our relationship is just that. Unfortunately, the word as an historic value, one of apartheid or slavery. This is not the "boy" I refer to.

Some people label me racist, while others, including the Congolese, examplify me as one who integrated Congo. The best way to come to a conclusion on such an issue is to come to Kinshasa. Every culture is different, good or bad, and one is only asked to integrate and adopt local customs.

TheMalau said...

Exilee, what the hell does N. mean? Is it for your middle name (post-nom)? Anyway, if Kim recalls, the first time this all came about, with a post on a friend of his and his domestic worker, I did raise the concern at his blog. That said, I can vouch for Kim that he is not any more racist than the rest of us. I am writing a post about this "boy" thing right now, so people can debate it there.

exMI said...

It is unfortunate that what is a cultural norm in one place is perceived by others as a racist commnet. Taht and there is alwasy the double standard Kim mentioned. It is perfectly acceptable for any black man to call another "nigger" but god help the white man that uses the word.

007 in Africa said...

On an another, totally unrelated subject, it's cool that you feature us all on your blog. I'm flattered :)

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TheMalau said...


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