mardi, avril 01, 2008

The sad reality

Brazzaville has inconsistent water and electricity services. The sad reality is that sometimes we, as well as everyone in Brazzaville and Congo at large, I believe, only have tap water on occasion.

For example, we do not have any fresh water today with which to cook, bathe, wash out clothes, and so on.

Also, power outages are quite frequent here. One has to save one’s work frequently, because one never knows when a power ou*

(Three hours later)

*tage will occur. Although we cannot really do anything about the electricity, we have to go retrieve water when we completely run out and there is no water from the tap. Once after a full day of work at a conference about the rights of women and children living with HIV/AIDS, we had to rent a (not uncostly) taxi and travel around Brazzaville looking for water.


This is challenging as it is, because water is heavy and difficult to move, but when you are already exhausted from a full day of work, going all over the city just to find water sounds like an even-less-fun prospect. When we were in the midst of the Getting Water Ordeal, Sylvie and another colleague at AZUR said to me, “That’s Africa!”

“That’s Africa!”

This is a phrase that numerous different people have said to me under numerous different challenging conditions; “That’s Africa!” seems to be the way of making a joke out of the very poor sanitation and nutrition conditions of the continent. People do not say “That’s Congo!”, but rather, “That’s Africa!” seemingly indicating that this is an Africa-wide problem, not just something confined to one country or city.

I think in the States this is similar to the sort of funny, sort of tragic saying “That’s so ghetto.” When you have to eat your cereal, without milk, with a fork, that’s so ghetto.

When you have to drive all over your city just looking for water, when you have to build your house out of materials you’ve scavenged from junk piles, when you only eat one meal a day, That’s Africa!

Everyone is a family member

But don’t get me wrong; good things about Africa abound. By far the best thing about Africa has been the people. I seriously don’t think I’ve met one mean-spirited person in all my time here. Everyone seems to be very generous and open-minded, and of the highest personal caliber that one could hope to encounter.

People here have a tradition of thinking of their friends as their family members. So Sylvie is my sister, Ben and Georges are my brothers. Older men are my Papa, older women are Mama. The reason behind this is that one does not want to create a feeling of separation between close friends and family members. Even, say, your cousin would be your sister here, your nieces and nephews are your children. This is probably my favorite thing about Africa – the lack of separation, the great closeness between family, friends, and colleagues here. This tradition, the colors, the richness of the music, my students, my friends and co-workers, these too are Africa, and they are worth a million journeys to this life-changing continent.

I just want to close by saying that AZUR Development is fantastic organization. If you are considering doing so, please allow me to remove all doubt: yes, you should fund them. They run a very tight ship here, and execute their many projects with professionalism and a deep concern for the Congolese and African people they serve.

A significant impact in the lives of poor People

Their training involves up-to-date information and techniques that generate quality-of-life-improving practices that lead to significant changes for Congolese people, from English courses to computer training to HIV/AIDS education to the issuance of community-generated policy recommendations to the government of Congo to address gender inequities in the legal and cultural systems.

Their work is as high-quality as it is comprehensive, and it makes a significant impact in the lives of poor people. It is an honor to work with and for AZUR Development.

Please let me know if you have any questions or require any further information; I can be reached at .

Thanks for reading!

Very best,

Brendan C. Snow
ESL Volunteer Teacher
AZUR Development

Brazzaville, a colorful city

In the coming few days I received a general orientation to Brazzaville. Now, despite what the natives say, Brazzaville is a beautiful city. Folks here frequently point out that it is quite dirty and in many places dilapidated, which it is. People throw trash into the street with no regard for the cleanliness of their city – I’ve seen just about everyone here do it.

No sound waste management

There are also no sound waste management services in the city or laws against such pollution, so take your pick as to who is to blame – the government/incentive structure or the people/culture. The lack of waste management causes a variety of impromptu landfills to spring up all over the city, which makes conditions less aesthetically pleasing and unsanitary.

The civil war also caused serious damage to much of the city, including the downtown city-center area. Major buildings, public and private, were utterly destroyed. It takes so long to build and virtually no time at all to destroy, as anyone from Congo, or any war-ravaged country will tell you. People here are still struggling to overcome the damage caused by the war.

Technicolored city

But despite the dirtiness, the dilapidation, the unpaved roads, etc, Brazzaville is a beautiful city. The city is very colorful – even their trash is technicolored. The buildings have bright, multicolored paint on the outside, often with hand-painted pictures depicting whatever service or product the store is selling. Barbershops have pictures of suave-looking men and women, electronics stores have stereos, televisions, computers, and DVD players, bakeries have pastries painted on their outer walls, and so on. (Funny story – there was one store that depicted a man and woman looking all cool and fashionable on the outside – clearly a barbershop, right? Wrong. It was a bakery, which I only deduced after noticing that the guy in the pictures, in addition to perfectly styled hair, slick clothes and cool sunglasses, was holding in has hand a delicious-looking croissant. Haha, maybe it was a barbershop that became a bakery. The croissants were good.)

Colored clothes
The clothes here are also abundantly bright-colored. Clothing here consists of either western styles of dress – T-shirts, jeans, etc, etc – and infinitely-more-comfortable-looking African dress, which mostly consists of draped or wrapped sheets of light, colorful cloth. The two styles tend not to mix – you never see a guy, say, wearing and African shirt with blue jeans. In the states we don’t really have as colorful clothing, so it is strikingly different in a good way.

All of these effects combine to produce a kaleidoscope of shifting colors and shapes when you are walking down the streets. We just don’t have this in cities in the West, which in my experience tend to be different intonations of the black, grey, and white spectrum. It’s like we forgot to paint our buildings or something. Brazzaville is especially beautiful in the morning and evening, before the weather becomes so cripplingly hot.

Brendan Snow


Hello Friends and Supporters of AZUR Development!

My name is Brendan Snow; I’m the new English as a Second Language teacher here at AZUR. Sylvie has asked me to write a weblog chronicling my time and experiences here so far, and I’ve happily obliged her.

I came here from Boulder, Colorado in the United States, so my trip here was quite long – 48 hours of travel, with something like 15 hours in the Moroccan airport in Casablanca. After what seemed like an eternity of trying (and failing) to get some decent rest on the benched seats in the terminal, my flight for Brazzaville departed. The flight was short and easy, and I finally managed to get that rest I was going for. I traveled with Royal Air Maroc, and had a very good experience; I highly recommend this airline to anyone traveling to Brazzaville.

Arrival in Brazzaville

When I arrived at the gate, Sylvie Niombo, the Executive Director, and Victorine Diaboungana, the Executive Secretary were there waiting for me. After making contact with them, and a series of warm introductions frequented by much laughter, we were finally able to obtain my entry visa. Soon we were on our way into Brazzaville and to my new home.

Safety issues…

The first thing I noticed about the AZUR Development center was the high walls with metal spikes. Of course, my family was a bit concerned about my safety during my time in Africa, especially with the Republic of Congo’s neighbor, the DRC, being engulfed in a civil war. For some reason when I saw the spikes atop the three-meter-high wall any doubts that I had about the safety in Brazzaville vanished.

In fact, we live in a very safe place. I haven’t seen a single armed guard or firearm of any kind since I’ve been here. I am easily able to take strolls around the neighborhood when I so desire, and even the American Embassy has confirmed the relative safety of Brazzaville as a city on numerous occasions.

I was immediately impressed by the center, my home for the next four months. It has definitely been lived in, but it is very clean and inviting. My room is quite spacious, with a bed, a nice window, and even a small sofa! Such luxury should be reserved for princes, not for English teachers. I unpacked my things and got settled.

The next task was to eat. Food was brought to me by Monestrine, the cook here. She is also paid to do some around-the-house stuff, like tidy up and even do my laundry. Monestrine (or Mona) brought me out some delicious beef stew with rice, and Sylvie and I ate outside and enjoyed discussing my travel, the work of AZUR, the English language, and just whatever it is that two people talk about. Soon I met Ben, my co-teacher of English. He is an English teacher (soon to be employed as a Congolese Civil Servant, no less!) who helps me with the Beginners course, as I speak no French, and also just facilitate an understanding of English in the students.

Assertions …

After many assertions of my gratitude for the seemingly limitless generosity of Mona and Sylvie, I asked to be excused to go play catch-up on my sleep. Everyone totally understood my fatigue from the long travel period, and they let me go rest under the protection of my mosquito net, which I did. As I was falling asleep, thinking Made it!, I was surprised at how cozy and safe you feel under a mosquito net. Although it is only a thin membrane of protection, it keeps out all the insects, a most welcome barrier. It is like nothing pesky, annoying, and potentially disease-carrying can come get you in the comfort of your bed while you sleep. The feeling is wonderful, and I was out like a light.

Brendan Snow