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A Birthday Gift from Kinshasa

August 11, 2016

Yesterday was my birthday.  It was the third birthday I’ve celebrated here in Congo (not consecutively) and it was, for better or worse, a classic kick in the pants from this city.

First of all, we have had a predictable power situation for more than three months.  I knew when it would be out and on and it has happily followed that routine.  It’s been awesome.  But, Tuesday night, something broke and the power went out across the whole quarter.  It came on sometime in the middle of the night, but in the morning it was turned off again, presumably to fix the problem.  That’s fine.  It came back on around 3:30pm.  But, as per the “schedule” it went off around 4:30, for our routine evening outage.  (It alternates daytime and evenings, power sharing.)  However, after being out for most of the previous 24 hours, our batteries called it quits and we had to turn on the generator.  This normally isn’t a big deal, plus it probably needed run anyway since it has been so long since we’ve used it, but we were about to head out to dinner and leave our sleeping kids to our friend, so his duties also included a quick electrical box tour, as one does here in Kinshasa.

The day of my birthday was fairly normal, the kids and I hung out, watched the Olympics, I ran to the grocery store and left Levi at home (we had two trusted workers here), during that time he made a sweet banner for my birthday, and many cards.  I broke up fights, changed diapers, and even got a little catnap.

After the kids were tucked in bed, it was time for our dinner date.  We hit the road.  There was traffic leaving our neighborhood and we got stuck for ten minutes just getting out.  Okay, fine, that’s actually fairly normal.  We saw the normal route, turning right, was blocked, so we turned left.  That was fine until we rounded the corner, then it, too, was jammed.  Ha ha, oh Kinshasa traffic, we pushed through, another ten or twenty minutes and got onto a back road after seeing the normal route was blocked.  A few hundred feet down the road and that, too, was blocked.  Actually, the entire route, no matter which route we tried, was blocked.  Then, the gas gauge on the car we were using (not ours, because it is having some work done on it) suddenly went from half full to empty.  Ummm, there aren’t gas stations on every corner and we were in a jam, literally.  Cars on all sides, people out everywhere, and there we were.  We made some calls and literally calculated (with our phones, ya’ll) how much gas was probably in the tank, worst-case scenario.  We would be fine, especially if we turned the car off on the downhill and coasted a bit.  Finally, still in a jam, we decided not to go downtown, but to a restaurant closer to where we were that had been recommended.  We were still about half a mile, but that half mile took roughly 45 more minutes.

We finally broke through the final jammed intersection and parked at 10pm, two and a half hours after we left the house.

We were both so tired, after long days and a relatively stressful traffic jam, that dinner was good, we were hungry, but it was almost too late to truly enjoy it.  Thankfully, the restaurant was otherwise empty and the service was quick.  A little over an hour after we arrived, we left full and hoping the traffic had cleared.

It had.  And you know how long it took us to get home?  Twelve minutes.

And that sums up life in Kinshasa.  It’s either 12 minutes or 2.5 hours.  You never know and there is no why.

So, thank you, Kinshasa, for going all out on my birthday.  I certainly feel celebrated….in your own special way.  Hee hee…

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