14 June 2013

Settling in

I am slowly starting to get a grip on the rhythm of my new life.  Work-wise, that means attending UN cluster meetings (and I cannot fully explain how geekily giddy that makes me) and starting to meet donors.  I’ve been introduced to new proposal formats, evaluation criteria, and reporting schedules.  This all might sound about as fun as watching paint dry, but I’m actually really loving it – learning, writing (once I get used to the French keyboard, that is), most of all finally contributing.  I’m sure I’ll soon wish I had more free time, but right now I can’t wait for it to pick up steam. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be so bad if work waited a bit for my French to catch up.  Corresponding with donors and the like isn’t terrible (thank all that’s holy for Google Translate).  In person meetings, however, are another matter entirely.  This is particularly true during the security briefings that seem to preface each and every meeting, regardless of participants or topic, from the UN to my local parish.  When your French is a poor as mine, these briefings gain new levels of drama. 

'Toute rest calme'.  Okay - that sounds good.  All quiet on the Orientale front.
'Sa minibus estat abondonée'.  Wait, what?  Where did the minibus come from?
'Les traces de trois personnes...'  Traces?  What kind of traces?  Of what people?  The people from the minibus?  How is that calme?!
'MONUSCO répondu à la situation avec la acción'.  Really?  Those poor people in the minibus are totally screwed.  At least it wasn't the FARDC.
'17100 des personnes déplacées vont à la plage'.  IDPs on the beach?  That can't possibly be right; it sounds like a rejected MTV reality show.  Are these new IDPs? I refuse to believe there were that many people in the minibus.  You're just messing with me at this point.

It's a bit like watching an episode of Law & Order during a thunderstorm.  My favourite example of this came when everyone was abuzz over something involving rebels and the provincial governor (who is, by all accounts, remarkably  efficient and corrupt, even if you aren't grading on the Congolese curve).  Every report on the subject kept mentioning cobra and mata.  Relying overmuch on my Spanish, I jumped to the conclusion that a rebel group tried to kill the governor Kill Bill-style, putting ricin letters to shame.  With a little digging, however (because English-speaking media could not have possibly ignored such a story, even here), it turned out that the commander of the rebel group in question uses the nom de guerre Col. Cobra Matata, and that they were actually engaged in peace negotiations.  I have never been so glad that I didn't ask a follow-up in my life.
Our compound, from the hammock.  Life here is so difficult.

Of course, there have been some instances when the language barrier has not presented a problem.  My driving test comes to mind.  Even if I didn't fully understand the detailed explanation of the engine maintenance required for our (British-made) 4x4s offered by our Chief du Flotte as we drove out of town, I'm fairly sure the panic in my eyes was universal when he told me I had to get back to the office.  Happily, I managed to make it, all while playing frogger with the motorbikes and potholes that could swallow a Fiat.  They now make me drive nearly ever weekend for practice.  I'm feeling slightly better about the whole endeavor, though I do still turn on the windshield wipers every time I want to make a turn.