Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pleasant parting thoughts

Well, embarrassed as I am to admit it, it turns out I don't have a maggot living in my bum. And it turns out that this is definitely BAD NEWS. What I have is a very, very badly infected abscess, and in hindsight I can’t help but wonder what possessed me to write a post about my ailment in the first place. Having an unusual tropical disease is one thing to write home about, but when it turns out that it's simply a misdiagnosed boil – probably inflicted by that incredibly stealthy travelling fungus I mentioned – a boil that became an angry fiend the day I tried to extract it from my body – flying wildly in the face of all medical advice – in short, a self-inflicted ordeal, then it becomes a rather more embarrassing story altogether.

So now my bum is the colour of a ripe tomato and the consistency of a rock, I’m unable to sit down since the old-fashioned Belgian doctor I went to pulled out a razor blade and cut through my skin (no anaesthetic, needless to say), I've had two penicillin injections, and I'm on a horse's dose of antibiotics for the third time this year. Welcome to Africa.

I’m told that abscesses are a natural defensive reaction caused by white blood cells flooding to the area and healthy cells building some kind of protective wall. Since most of my knowledge of human biology is based on those cartoons I used to watch as a kid where white blood cells were depicted as friendly guys in a carpenter’s uniform rushing around the body to fix things, I now have visions of these guys busily knocking and drilling away inside me while singing, “C’est la vie! C’est la vie!” (I watched the French version).

I suppose I should be grateful that my body is reacting so swiftly and thoroughly. I suppose I should be grateful that this is by far the single most protracted and unwavering pain I've ever suffered. And I should definitely be grateful that I can afford proper medical care – read what one traditional Congolese doctor did to this unfortunate soul.

Tomorrow we’re off to Malawi for the holidays. I desperately welcome the change of scene, although I can’t quite face sitting in an aeroplane for 2 days (we’re going via Ethiopia).

Meanwhile, just to distract you from my embarrassing ailments, here’s another pleasant parting thought. Do you remember Mama Cat? Well, last month Mama Cat had another litter of adorable kittens (five). And on Monday, Mama Cat was found missing in action. Turns out Mama Cat made a nice Sunday brunch for our neighbours the Police. Nice, eh? And this was after I made a total fuss when one of our guards inadvertently dropped a sofa on one of the kittens, almost killing it in the process – they must have thought I was mad to care so much.

So off I go to feed the kittens. Good night!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reality bites - part II

Warning: This post is not for anyone with a weak stomach.

Some of you may have read Fred’s recent post about a nightmare encounter with a slow, writhing maggot which had elected residence in his upper arm. He tried to elicit my sympathy and concern at the time, but I must admit that apart from suggesting a plethora of creams and lotions from my vast (but invariably expired) first aid kit, I wasn’t wildly alarmed.

Plenty more gruesome pictures from where these came from:

You see, I’d had my own all-absorbing selection of unusual African ailments recently, starting with some kind of travelling fungus that went from my thigh to my arm to the inside of my nose (making it swell up and redden in a caricature of drunkenness, and causing much hilarity at work), and finally to my eye where it died a slow and ugly death (slow, protracted swelling followed by explosion of white puss – hey I warned you!).

So when Fred came home with his tale of writhing maggots I was mildly relieved that the episode was over, but thought little more of it. What I didn’t do was immediately instruct our trusted housekeeper to turn up the iron and blast our clothes with it. And that’s why today you find me utterly unable to sit down without a shot of excruciating pain running up my spine, followed by a dull, throbbing soreness in parts of my body whose existence I never consciously acknowledged before.

Yes, that’s right, my own personal (and clearly intellectually superior) maggot has elected as its favoured place of residence…the soft, cushiony flesh of my left bum cheek.

Picture from

Now you’d think that between the research Fred did, his own experience, and the comments left by various friendly souls on his post, I’d be able to zap the beast quite effortlessly. Ha, but this bugger is particularly resilient! So far he’s survived smothering by Vaseline twice (all I got for my efforts was a baffled, hurt look from our churchgoing housekeeper when she saw the Vaseline pot on my bedside table yesterday morning), drowning in 90o rubbing alcohol, suffocation with cello tape, and two different people trying to squeeze it out with varying degrees of violence.

To the point where I’m beginning to wonder if there really is a live organism in there at all, or if my aggressive administrations have simply turned what was a harmless boil or cyst into a swollen, throbbing, angry, red, infection. All I can say is OUCH! So my question is, are tumbu flies meant to hurt this much?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Les chaussettes de l'Archiduchesse

Un peu d’humour pour alléger le ton.

On dit que la langue française est compliquée, que dire de l'anglais...?

"Trois sorcières regardent trois montres Swatch. Quelle sorcière regarde quelle montre Swatch?"

Et maintenant en anglais:
"Three witches watch three Swatch watches. Which witch watches which Swatch watch?"

Maintenant pour les spécialistes :
"Trois sorcières suédoises et transsexuelles regardent les boutons de trois montres Swatch suisses. Quelle sorcière suédoise transsexuelle regarde quel bouton de quelle montre Swatch suisse?"

Et en anglais (accrochez-vous!):
"Three Swedish switched witches watch three Swiss Swatch watch switches. Which Swedish switched witch watches which Swiss Swatch watch switch?"

Elles peuvent aller se rhabiller nos chaussettes sèches de l'archiduchesse!!!

Friday, December 15, 2006



Rwandan children looking in, taken in February during a short visit from Goma

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tit for tat

Yesterday evening I had an hour to spare before dinner with some friends, and I thought I’d do a quick post about a funny story that happened to us recently. A nice change from the focus of my recent posts about the news in DRC, something a bit more personal and cheerful, I thought. Ha!

I then got distracted reading the news online, particularly an article discussing French involvement in the Rwandan genocide. Yesterday, two Rwandan women who had sought refuge in the French camps during the 1994 genocide testified against their French ‘saviours’; one said she had been raped by a French soldier, and the other said a French soldier looked on as she was raped by a Rwandan man.

These are only two of a string of testimonies heard by the Rwandan Commission of Independent Enquiry since April when it started investigating French involvement in the Rwandan genocide. Some of the more damning testimonies were made by ex-Interahamwe militia returned from the DRC after years of exile, who said they had been trained and armed by the French.

The controversy is essentially about ‘Opération Turquoise’, a military operation run by the French from June to August 2004. In an interview with RFI, the operation’s commander Christophe Boisbouvier assured that France had been mandated by the UN and remained impartial throughout the operation. He said that the Hutus received no ammunition from the French, and that the only fighting between France and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) occurred immediately outside the “secure humanitarian zone” and was marginal.

Boisbouvier then went on to allege that the RPF could have intervened sooner to stop the genocide.

To the charge that the French troops helped the ‘génocidaires’ to escape, Boisbouvier said that on the contrary they tried to stop them from escaping but that at the time they only had 150 soldiers and couldn’t do much. About the charges of crimes against humanity made against some of those soldiers he says that the accusations are a political manipulation. « L’Opération Turquoise a été complètement conforme au mandat de l’ONU et réalisée dans un esprit humain de la part d’exécutants remarquables. »

To add to the controversy, France’s leading anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière recently issued international arrest warrants against nine of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s key aides, and in an incendiary report recommended that the President himself face trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The accusation is that he ordered the shooting down on 6 April 1994 of the plane that was being used by the then President Habyarimana, an event which the judge says triggered the genocide. “The final order to attack the Presidential plane was given by Paul Kagame himself during a meeting held in Mulindi on March 31st 1994,” the report charges. The judge had been seized in 1998 by the parents of the French pilots who died when the plane crashed.

Paul Kagame responded angrily that there was absolutely no foundation to the judge’s allegations, and that he would never accept to face trial on the indictment of a country which was seriously implicated in the Rwandan genocide, not even to prove his innocence. Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Murigande subsequently told Reuters that “the French are trying to appease their conscience for their role in the genocide and are now trying to find someone else to hold responsible for their acts here.” And Rwanda recalled its Ambassador in Paris, broke off all diplomatic ties with France, while in Kigali 25,000 people demonstrated against France.

Judge Bruguière says he has some seventy pages worth of documentary evidence proving Kagame’s guilt. On BBC Hard Talk last week, Kagame responded that those were seventy pages worth of trash, based on the testimony of people indicted by the Tanzania-based ICTR, people whom the Tribunal has not been able to bring to justice because they enjoy France’s protection. He said the French judge was trying to pin the genocide on the assassination of Habyarimana, when in fact there were months of preparation: “they bought arms, they trained the people, they got arms from France, money paid by the French government to the government of Habyarimana to prepare for the genocide,” none of which has anything to do with bringing down a plane, he believes.

When the BBC’s man Stephen Sackur confronted Kagame with the challenge that Rwanda could not move on until the real responsibility for the assassination of the President of Rwanda in 1994 was established, Kagame’s response was, “I’m not responsible for Habyarimana’s death, and I don’t care”. Rwanda is moving on irrespective of not knowing who killed Habyarimana, he said, because Habyarimana’s death is inconsequential compared to losing one million people to genocide – a genocide in which France is indicted, he added.

More damaging to Judge Bruguière’s report than Kagame’s unsurprising response is the accusation by Emmanuel Ruzigana, one of two key witnesses quoted in the report, who wrote a letter to the magistrate to complain that his testimony had been distorted. He said he had been read a text which he was asked to confirm or deny. He added that sometimes he didn’t understand the question.

On BBC Hard Talk Kagame asks why Judge Bruguière doesn’t investigate the involvement of French officers and government officials in the Rwandan genocide. He says it is public knowledge that the French authorities were actively involved in the killing of one million people in Rwanda: “they supplied arms, they fought against those who were trying to stop the genocide, they supported a President who was leading a section of his people to kill another section of the people, they trained the militia who committed the genocide…” So, will the Rwandans indict the French authorities, asks Sackur? Kagame is adamant: If a French judge can indict the Rwandan Head of State, why can’t the Rwandan judges indict, say, the current French Prime Minister, who at the time was the Foreign Minister’s Director of Cabinet? “We will play on the same field with France. What [the French] did to us, we will do to them,” said Kagame in an interview with i-TELE.

The Commission of Independent Enquiry resumed its public hearings yesterday, and will eventually take a position on a possible procedure against France in front of the International Court of Justice. The saga promises to be riveting; let’s hope it sheds a bit more light one way or the other on this murky part of France’s history.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The carrot, the stick and the missing man

This morning, the Congolese woke up with a new, democratically-elected president, the country’s fourth ever president, but the first to be elected by universal suffrage. Yesterday was Joseph Kabila’s big day. Unfortunately, our personal invitation to his swearing in ceremony having most certainly been lost in the post, we missed the whole thing. We also failed dismally to watch any of it on television, which is rather less excusable.

Today I have been asking my Congolese friends and colleagues about their impressions of the President’s speech. Most roll their eyes: “Empty politician promises,” they say. And indeed, it seems that Kabila may have bitten off rather more than any President – even with the unquenchable energy of a thirty-five year old – can chew: re-establishing the state, unity and national cohesion, functional institutions that preserve the balance of powers, an independent judiciary to “fight against the power of money and friendship”, public administration reform, reenergising the Congolese youth, and a programme of action that spans roads, agriculture, education, water, electricity, health, habitat, the fight against poverty, social injustice and child protection.

Wow, and I thought my to-do list was unmanageable!

Most roll their eyes, but some were inspired. Particularly with the second half of Kabila’s speech, which sounded tough and uncompromising. He called an end to the ‘recess’ (« à partir d’aujourd’hui, je mets fin à la récréation pour que tous les Congolais se remettent au travail dans la tranquillité »), promised to fight impunity and corruption and said that the prison doors were open to anyone who broke the law. In this respect, today’s issue of the Congolese newspaper Le Potentiel raises the question of the UN report on Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and the investigation by the Lutundula (parliamentary) Commission. So, Mr President, will your prisons soon welcome the 17 senior politicians and corporate bosses who have been accused by of fraud, theft and other charges with respect to illegal mining?

The most entertaining pondering of the day, however, is where is Jean-Pierre Bemba? He didn’t attend his rival’s ceremony yesterday. Sore loser? Exhaustion? Some of his supporters say he didn’t want to steal the President’s limelight – allow me to be a tad sceptical. Some, including the international press, say he is in Portugal, taking a long overdue break with his wife and kids. Others, including several local radio stations, say he is in Equateur province, nursing his wounds. Meanwhile, I heard that Kudura Kasongo, the President’s spokesman, made a faux-pas by audibly muttering something to the effect of, “Bemba can just stay in Equateur and attend to his potatoes.” Woops!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Belated birthday in the blogosphere

It appears that yesterday last year was my first ever post. Common practice amongst bloggers seems to be that on the one-year anniversary of their blog they celebrate by sharing their stats: average hits per day, number of posts written per week, number of comments received, favourite picture, favourite post, etc. This is on the basis of the, um, eight blogs I check regularly. Ahem.

It says something that until a few days ago I didn’t have a clue how to check stats. And of course it says something that I missed Nayembi’s birthday altogether. My schizophrenia about blogging is exposed: is this simply a convenient way of sending news and photos to friends and family, is it some kind of semi-private journal for posterity (i.e. the illusion that some bored grandchild of mine will one day want to read about my life), or am I secretly hoping to be allowed in the big pool with the big kids whose blogs all link to one another, who have several dozen regular subscribers, and who sometimes get quoted by online news sites?

It’s a strange addiction this blogging business. There are times when my mind starts to compose a post at the slightest occurrence, and I have to force myself away or you’d end up with an hour-by-hour account of my day. There are times when I’m vaguely conscious that I haven’t posted anything in over a week, and I only drag myself to the computer and force myself to think something up out of some obscure sense of obligation. There are times when I get cross at myself for staying up late to post an entry, and there are times when I regret all the clever things I’d thought of posting but never found the time. I’m horrified at the idea that anyone other than my forgiving family and closest friends ever reads my insignificant words, but on the rare occurrences when a stranger or fellow blogger posted a comment I lit up with embarrassed delight.

And last week I sheepishly asked my mentor (after months of merciless teasing about his own Internet hobbies) to show me how to set up Statcounter so that I too could find out how many people read Nayembi. One week of statistics confirm that I’m not really in the ‘big boy’ league, but at least it means I can be unapologetic about rambling on about my life (you reap what you sow, you’ll tell me). Amongst other things I found out that Nayembi was worth $1,693.62. So I think I’ll stick to the day job and let Fred attend to our cyberpopularity for now (Extra Extra is worth $12,419.88).