Saturday, November 6, 2010

tennis (or, perhaps more generally, recreational activities available to you and everyone else)

By everyone else, I assume you are referring to all the other expats, since very few Congolese indulge in tennis. What I have done "for fun" since my arrival can probably be counted on one hand, busy as work has kept me. Here goes:

1.) Joined expat crew for poker night at the home of an International Refugee Committee employee in Bukavu. Took a bluff too far and lost 20 bucks.

2.) Went dancing at Bukavu nightclub. Watched with amusement as persistent male prostitute tried to chat up a potbellied French male colleague. Performed a spirited twist to "La Bamba," and otherwise attempted to stay on beat to a stream of Congolese tunes, which is not always an easy task.

3.) Feted a costume-less Halloween at a swanky mansion with a bunch of consultants and entrepreneurs in Goma. Shivered the night away after being tossed into the swimming pool fully clothed. Admired the illuminated palm trees while sipping a cocktail.

4.) Swam in Lake Kivu, during a spontaneous day at "the beach," a small but sufficient and completely undeveloped strip of sand 8 kilometers from my base. Enjoyed a picnic lunch of cheese and beer while hundreds of curious village children looked on. Have since learned that swimming in the lake is against our security rules, so count this recreation option out.

5.) Spent several evenings at various Bukavu establishments: lakeside bars with pool tables, Nepenthe-like eatery on balcony perched above the water, pizzerias. Could not understand anything my French colleagues from the main office (both of whom speakin mile-a-minute slang) were saying, yet refrained from getting roaring drunk.

My field experience has been very limited so far by various commitments in Bukavu and Goma, so I can't say for sure what recreation at the base will be like. Security rules are strict; I'm apparently supposed to bring a radio every time I leave this walled compound, even if just for a 30-minute run. But of course I'm not really here to partake in "recreation," at least not in a traditional western sense. Some of my best moments so far have involved trips to the market and exchanges with my field staff. I get some pleasure from my attempts at yoga, which alleviate my burning desire for physical activity at least somewhat, and am looking forward hugely to actual trips to remote villages accessible only on foot, which should begin on Monday with my staff.

I cannot speak for traditional Congolese forms of recreation, if that's what you mean. Soccer is big, and that's about all I know. I can speak for my expatriate colleagues at the base, many of whom fill their weekends with booze, lovers and lots and lots of television. And for me, who is not a huge advocate of any of these things, but who could nonetheless use a lot more quality recreation in her current life.

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