DSC00046
Originally uploaded by Naphiri.

Housing

I asked my guard on Wednesday of last week to help me find a house or apartment. Now the way this works is that you must (or it’s strongly recommended if you’re new in town) get a “commissioner”. These middlemen will find you many places, negotiate with landlords on your behalf, and then take a month’s worth of rent as payment for their services (plus often charge you a little extra – around US$20-50 even before they’ve shown you anything, sort of as a retainer fee).

The guard said he knew someone and made a plan for all of us to meet on Saturday morning at 9am. This sketchy looking guy shows up at 8:30am on Saturday, asks for the US$20 “retainer fee” and we end up waiting for my driver from the office to come to bring us to the houses/apartments. I thought it strange that I should have such a large entourage of men (the driver, the guard, and the commissioner) but, despite the fact that I told the guard that he wasn’t really needed in this process, he was adamant to join us; thus leading me to believe that he and the commissioner had made some sort of business deal.

So the driver shows up over an hour late, and after playing “catch the escaped goat” with the guard, the commissioner, and some local guys (it had somehow chowed through it’s rope and was wandering around disturbing local traffic), I was grungy beyond belief. I’m proud to say that I was the one who eventually caught the poor beast – hence the filth from head to toe.

The first house matched my own appearance – disturbingly dirty. I asked to see others. The second house was locked up and the landlord could not be reached. The third trip found us face to face with a guy asserting that there were no houses for rent on this property, sorry.

At this point my driver looked ready to explode. He chastised the two amateurs in the backseat for being complete shysters and told me, in English so the others wouldn’t understand, that we should leave them and that he knew someone far more professional, organized, and “propre”. We ditched the two.

After seeing three more places – apartments, I settled on the second one I saw with the second commissioner. He was professional and organized and I definitely felt more secure with him – despite him taking over US$1000 from my pockets for his services (1 month’s rent, remember?). The apartment is cute, not as massive as so many others I saw – which is good as loneliness for me spreads according to the more empty floor space there seems to be.

So at this point you may be saying, “Over US$1000 for one month’s rental? Are you mad?” Well, no. Apparently, according to many of my expat colleagues, this is fairly normal, and actually quite a good deal. (!!!) We’re limited, for security reasons, to the downtown core and areas about 5-10kms from that core… meaning stupid high rental prices. The bonus, and where the “quite a good deal” part comes in is in the included furniture, TV, DVD player, Satellite TV, daily domestic cleaning services, a Chinese restaurant around the corner, and being about a 5-10 minute walk from both work and the center of town.

I move in on September 1st – I can’t tell you how excited I am to have my own space once again (i.e. not staying at a colleague’s who’s expensive artwork and oriental rugs have me terrified of breaking or spilling something – I’m a kind of low-maintenance girl).

Waiting for drivers has become a bit of a bane as there are limited numbers of vehicles, drivers, and even fewer during the weekends. This is one of the primary reasons (besides avoiding destroying US$3000 sculptures around the house) I can’t wait to move to the new place. I’ve now applied for the use of a personal car through work, and will get a Congolese permit by the end of next week – costing me only the relinquishment of my international permit for a week and the sum of about US$37! This means I’ll have more freedom on the weekends if I want to go out, and also more options to take trips out of town on the weekends with friends, should I desire it.

Transport

I wanted to get out from beyond my four walls this weekend. I was invited to dinner in town (I currently stay about 10kms from the city center) with some colleagues and new acquaintances. I’d also made some arrangements for a bunch of local colleagues and I to go dancing immediately afterwards – they would meet us after dinner.

So here how it all started.

My colleague, let’s call him Gerhard, says he’ll pick me up from my place (my colleague’s) around 8pm. He calls at 8:20 to say he’s in a traffic jam and can’t make it to me, can I make it to him? He’s at the “Elf” petrol station by the street “Haute Attention”. I ask my security guard (another one, not the first commissioner’s accomplice) where this is and we head off together around 8:30 towards the Elf. Gerhard by this time is calling me every 5 minutes. As I was to later find out, his car in the traffic jam was being hit by every street kid being denied change – apparently a common problem for us mzungu’s/mundele’s (“whiteys”) – and he was getting pretty stressed out regarding time commitments and the possibility of dents in his car hood. Understandable.

We’re running by this time, and, regardless of the security risks I’ve been informed of, I take a local taxi/minibus to save time and energy. As we’re in the vehicle I realise that I have about 50 francs less than what is required for the trip. The guard generously pays for me in the midst of my embarrassment to have a local subsidize my trip, and we get to the Elf in minutes. I quickly get change for my US$50 bill I have in my wallet, resulting in a rather conspicuous massive wad of francs (approx 460 Congolese francs to the US dollar) being handed to me – a small portion of which then goes to the guard to reimburse for the trip, give him some cash to take a taxi back home, buy a coke, and a little extra for enduring the adventure together.

I look for Gerhard and he’s nowhere to be found. By this time I’m in the middle of a busy local market/night spot with every third drunk man hitting on me, and I’m getting progressively more nervous to be out at night. Gerhard calls and asks where I am. In a stroke of genius I ask my guard if there perhaps is another Elf filling station, at Haute Attention. Yup. We’re at the wrong place.

Now, why, you may ask, did I just not take the easy route and call one of the office drivers – who are supposed to be at our disposal anytime we need them?

Well, in trying to organize the dancing for later that night I was told by one that no cars were available for this evening. As the big boss at the top gets first choice over the cars and drivers, I assumed this was the case tonight. In a fit of frustration, and following Gerhard’s complete exasperation and immediate departure back to the center of town, I call in for a car. Yes, one’s available and on its way. Right. Had I known that from the beginning I would not be standing in the middle of local revelry fearing for my personal safety.

The car comes just as I finish my own coke; we head off, dropping off my guard first, then me at the Greek restaurant afterwards. Gerhard’s there and looking a bit sheepish, and, given my frustration with the events of the evening I rush straight for the waiter – it’s now after 9pm, I haven’t eaten since around noon, and all I want with my mezzo platter is a good stiff drink (thank god, they have J&B!).

After eating I realize that there are still a couple people waiting for news on the dancing events to come. I call one driver who is to go with us and tell him that I couldn’t organize a car for the evening. He offers his personal vehicle, but is apparently currently busy with prayer (?!). He can’t come for another hour. The diners decide to go to a jazz club and I join them after telling the driver to grab the others who are waiting and meet us at the jazz place. Everyone has a great time at the jazz club, I have a wonderful conversation with a French colleague, and then they all plan to go to another club. I give another call to the driver to find that he’s still in the middle of prayers. Right. K. Well, by this time I’m so tired of relying on other drivers and suddenly fearing not having a lift home, so I tell him to forget it and that I’ll go with those who are already with me as I’ll be guaranteed a safe return “chez moi”.

Gerhard and I head back to my place for end of the evening drinks and discussion of the chaos that resulted in us almost not meeting up. And the day ended far more relaxed than it began.

All is well.

Advertisements