Friday, March 7, 2008

speedy update

Alright, since I don't want to go to sleep (no surprises there), I'll write an update for all you interested parties.
Today was the first day of my long weekend, and it was altogether a rather pleasant day, even though the seven year old I live with did throw his dirty underwear at me and refused to tell me guten nacht when his mom asked him to. But if that's the worst thing that happens all day, there's really nothing to complain about! I slept in a bit, and then was fairly productive: laundry, emails, reading, translating. Translating is slow going, but I decided that at least for now, until I get more proficient with the vocabulary of international conflict and globalization, the best thing is to type up the whole chapter and paste it into google to get the basic picture. Then I'm working out the details and funny wordings with an online dictionary. Then, as time allows, I'm going back through with an eye for vocab, trying to get a feel for the German version of the information so that I'll sort of be able to follow class. It's a pretty entertaining process, actually, but it does take hours. I'm having a great time with the vocabulary though. For instance, did you know that sowjetunion is NOT the German phrase for "when pigs fly," but is actually the name of the Former Eastern European super power? Yup. 'Tis true. :) See? With homework this fun, who needs hobbies!

There is an older Swiss woman named Sylvia in my literature class who had a coffee factory in the Congo from the 1960s until the 1990s, when they lost everything (again) and were forced to return to Europe. Yesterday we were talking about Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the girl who was scheduled to present didn't show up. My teacher used the opportunity to ask Sylvia all kinds of questions about her experiences in the Congo, and it was tremendously interesting!! She has some terrible stories, though. Really heartwrenching. For instance, she lived in the eastern part of the country, relatively close to Rwanda and Burundi. When there were conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi (which began decades before the 1994 genocide), they felt the affects of it. She said in '71 or '72, one day she told her driver she needed to go to the city (Kinshasa?) to get milk for her children, because the shipment of powdered milk hadn't come in yet. He said he couldn't take her, but her father-in-law's driver could take her. She didn't understand why he was refusing, but the other driver seemed to understand, and they were just going to switch. But as she went out to the car, an Italian teacher from Kinshasa came in the gate, crying and a mess and said Sylvia had to stay and talk to her. She had been teaching that morning, and all the Tutsi girls were missing from class, so she asked the other girls if the Tutsi were having a feast that day. The girls had giggled and said "we have shot them this night." And they had. The teacher waited at Syliva's house for her things and went home to Italy and never went back to Africa.

In 1994, Sylvia had hostages camped outside their gate--"refugees," technically, but really part of the human shield of hostages that were being forced to stay there surrounding the militant insurgents in the middle. Each day there were people dead on the road who had tried to return home the night before. She said there was a very very old couple camped right in front of their gate, directly in front of it so that they had to move to let the car out. One day the old man said "Ich danke Ihnnen so, so viele!" He and his wife were old enough that they had learned German when they were little children when the Germans were colonizing that part of the continent.

Interesting, huh? Sorry for the awful stories. These are all things I read about in class, but it's different to hear it from a person who was right there to see it. The past suddenly jumps to the very present and very relevant when you meet someone like that.

Well, that wasn't so speedy afterall. Off to bed I go!


  1. Would you please translate the German phrase for those of us who don't know any German. Thanks Stephanie.


  2. It seems to me that in my day, if I didn't know a word, I was told to "look it up." :) But ok: Guten nacht is good night, and the old man said "thank you so, so much!" and he actually said some other stuff that I couldn't remember or spell either.

    And while I'm modifying the post, the city they were by couldn't have been Kinshasa. That's on the other side of the country.

  3. Well, I did have the "thank you" part because of what I have heard from you.

  4. well, see? you're practically fluent!