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Originally uploaded by Naphiri.

The apartment saga.

I finally moved into my new apartment at the beginning of this month. Yes, I know I said that I’d have it by September, but you see things don’t always go according to plan in a country lacking a government or any form of legal infrastructure.

“Je suis désolée, Madame, sois gentille. Elle ont des enfants!” I was told by the landlord that I couldn’t move in on the first of September given that the previous tenant hadn’t yet moved out. Apparently this tenant was suffering from the same problems I experience each time I go on flights for missions – that of being bumped off in favor of soldiers being reposted, flights being cancelled, and any other variety of logistics issues. I told her that as soon as possible I’d take the apartment. September 23rd was the earliest the tenant could vacate.

As I was being sent on another mission to South Kivu right around this time (my first was to Equateur province), I told the landlord that I’d be running late in getting into the apartment – probably around the 3rd of October. In a slight diplomatic oversight, the landlord then expressed her “brilliant” ideas of getting someone to rent the apartment for the last week of September.

No.

Not an option. I told her that I’d send my assistant on the 1st of the month with money and if he didn’t have the keys at that point there’d be hell raised. She complied. My assistant called on the 2nd to say he had the keys firmly in hand.

I moved in when I got back from S. Kivu. In the meantime I’d been staying with another colleague whose apartment was literally a construction zone in progress. So, forgetting the various missions that had me in and out of different hotels each night in assorted small villages, this means that in less than 3 months of being in the Congo I moved no less than 3 times.

The apartment was far from perfect. Beyond the fact that the non-functional tap in the bathroom forces me to brush my teeth in the kitchen (I’m thinking to install a mirror above the sink now!), there is no laundry machine as promised, cleaning services cost me per month, as does the “free” promised satellite TV.

Okay, now don’t start assuming I’m spoiled. I mean, most of the time I spend in the bush talking to refugees after having only a cold bucket bath once a week, twice if I’m lucky enough to be in a town with some water. I jump in and out of shaky fishing boats to hear stories from survivors of rape and torture while knee-deep in mud. I seldom have electricity to run my laptop to write, never mind television. I get mosquito bites despite bed netting, resulting in malaria (only once so far – thankfully!). I damage my body on long rocky roads while riding in convoys bringing people home (I think I’m going to lose the toenail on my right foot). And while on these convoys you’d think you could grab some food en route. Nope. Get used to stale bread and water that you remembered to bring baby. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find some rice and beans in the final town where we’ll arrive tonight at 9pm.

I work my ass off.

All I want at the end of a day, or a mission, is a comfy couch, clean clothes, a shower, and some mind-numbing MNet TV from South Africa, or even CNN/BBC if I’m feeling like my brain’s not already partially fried from the day.

So I adapt.

I’ve come to terms with the extra comfort costs. I have a semi-comfy couch (though it sinks unnervingly at the back), 3 English channels of satellite (for which I still pay an extra $20 per month), a shower (that works most of the time), a clothes washing service (for which I also pay), and the Chinese buffet each Tuesday night.

A buffet well-earned.

I spoke to my boss the other night over a plate of noodles and sweet and sour pork. He expressed considerably happiness over my work progress. Earlier last month he wrote the most glowing reference letter for my future work applications – the most incredible reference letter I’ve ever seen. He casually mentioned while nibbling on some garlic green beans that, “well, that’s it for the year then!” I asked what he meant. As it was explained to me, at the end of this year I will have completed 3 missions taking me to 3 of the 4 directions on the compass, and in the country. This was the plan for 2007. I basically not only completed the work for this year, but also next year, in less than 4 months.

Crist, no wonder I’m exhausted.

I often wondered why people seemed so floored when I was in the field and they’d ask me how many months I’d take to make a publication. “Months?” I’d ask. “Try days.” Blank incredulous stares. And all this while writing stories for the website at the same time.

After South Kivu I was asked to write a mission report. I’d never done this so I threw together a chronological account of activities. Apparently this was not appropriate. After getting a quick lesson in proper format from my boss I redrafted the document by the end of the day. That night he couldn’t believe the speed. “Shh!” I said. “Don’t let anyone know or there’ll be more expectations of me!” Yes, I work fast and well.

I thank the insane years spent in Journalism school while holding down one part-time and one full-time job at the same time for that skill.

So while worrying about my job prospects at the end of my contract it seems the work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Geneva sent through a message last week basically stating that I should have “no concerns regarding future prospects,” as sent to the Representative and copied to me. “After her demonstration of sincere commitment and support to cover the absence of (a colleague) at such a short notice, we will do out best to propose her to other Op who needs good PI/MI/Reporting Officer whenever she is released from DRC.”

Nice.

And so I head off on Friday (tomorrow! YAY!!!) for a very well-earned short vacation to Canada and South Africa to visit family, friends and lovers with nothing but security in the knowledge that the broken toenails, malaria suffering, water shortages, electricity non-existence, and hours of working late in the office and in the mud have actually meant something to someone.

Bon voyage Naphiri.

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