Guest post by Sandra Basgall, Catholic Relief Services for Central Africa
I have been here a week now. I went from 16 hours plane
sitting to 3 days of regional meeting sitting and so was really glad when the weekend
came. One of the last
tips I received before I left the States was to see if anywhere they served a
fish called capitaine. This was someone
who had eaten it 40 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo and still
remembered it with fondness. Imagine my
surprise at the Thursday evening dinner during the regional meetings that the
restaurant served capitaine. I, of
course, ordered it. It was cooked in a
banana leaf pouch with a lovely sauce and it was truly wonderful. I will have it again, many times.
At CRS CARO (Central African Regional Office), most of the major management positions are held by women. I think it sets a very interesting flavor and there seems to be a lot of collaboration and support. The regional director is an African-American woman who was three years in the Peace Corps in the Gabon and is married to a Senegalese. She has been RD for the last five years. Although we service seven other countries, the DRC is the largest in terms of program dollars, and they have the largest country program, also directed by a woman, an American. There is a real hodgepodge of other nationalities here, and it is interesting to learn where long-term Congolese CRS people have served.
I am still in temporary housing, but it is a nice efficiency and other CRS staff lives in the compound. They clean it every day. Today I left a pile of dirty clothes with a $5 note and they will wash, dry, and iron them for me.
I went this morning to see a 3-bedroom house in a compound near work. It is very nice and modern and there is a lovely swimming pool. It includes a refrigerator, TV, and washer and dryer and comes furnished. CRS is in the process of negotiating for it and I could be settled in sometime next week. It is really quite luxurious! They are also looking for household help. I told them I wanted a mature woman with children as I would like to support a woman-headed household.
Things are expensive as there is a large UN presence here and they really run the cost of living up. I had to buy a can opener yesterday and it cost me $14. We took a colleague out to dinner last night for her birthday to a South African-Portuguese chain and it was about $20 for a sandwich, fries, and a beer. They use US dollars for everything, but they have to be in mint condition. I have three $100 bills they have already rejected. The ATM spits out new US bills! If the change is less than US$5, they give you change in the dirtiest, falling-apart Congolese franc you have ever seen.
It will probably be a couple of months before my 3-year visa comes through, so I will not be allowed to travel, except in DRC, until then. And who knows when I will get my driver’s license? I start my French lessons soon, but it is amazing what French I remember from two years in high school. There are frustrations, but they are mixed with really wonderful things.
I spent 10 days before Thanksgiving weekend in Baltimore getting an orientation, and that was useful for the meetings I just sat through as they were about our new year and what we planned to do. I already gave some feedback on a small Rwanda micro-finance proposal and know I will be inundated once everyone knows I am here. I think this position is the best of all worlds for me in that I will travel to all the projects and operate like a consultant, but I have colleagues and I will be able to see what happens with my recommendations. I will also be able to do a lot of training and teaching.
Originally from the United States, but currently living in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sandra Basgall works for Catholic Relief Services for Central Africa as their Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor. She has provided similar services to government agencies, NGOs/PVDOs, the United Nations, and educational institutions throughout the world. Organizations for which she has worked include UNESCO, the International Rescue Committee, BRAC Bangladesh, the Jamaican-Dominican Republic Integrated Rural Development Project, Pan American Health Organization, Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, and USAID. She has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Iowa and the School for International Training.
She has extensive experience working, living, and traveling in many cultures and countries include Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Northern Caucasus States of Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya, Russia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Mexico, Burundi, Rwanda, France, Denmark, Panama, Trinidad-Tobago, Jamaica, to name a few—and in various states in the United States.