John’s Kindu Morning Upstream on the Congo

It’s the same routine every morning when Mama T is far off in Kinshasa. These first hours of the morning determine the course of the day.

I wake before dawn with the crowing of neighborhood cocks. Our cacophonous guinea fowls follow. I check the time on my cell phone on the little table at the head of the bed. Flash the head lamp around the mosquito net. It is always a plus if there are no bloated, blue-bellied bugs hanging on the inside of the net.

Sometimes I doze again. Sometimes I pick up the reading that spends the night where I dropped it by my ear. I have learned how to perch my cell phone (which has a small light) on my forehead so I can read. The light is just enough, a dim circle on the text.

By day break, I smell the acrid charcoal smoke from the cooking hearth drifting in through the window screens. Small groups of parrots call as they head off from night roosts along the banks of the Congo River a few hundred meters away. People still speak of the past abundant, big flocks before the international parrot commerce.

Mama Jose’s vivacious greeting to the night-guards as she arrives at our gate tells me it’s time to get up.

Brush teeth, shave, bathe. Always the same moves. Sometimes I call for warm water in the bucket, sometimes I want it cool. Always a slight recoil as I step into our bathroom: the deplorable state of facilities left in this Colonial era building. It must have been a little annex for the servants or an aging mother. Even then, indoor bathrooms were cultural baggage from another world. The facilities age, the plumbing doesn’t work, the septic… I miss our outdoor bathhouse at Epulu overlooking the forest along the river; the outhouse at Red Pond with its view of our northern New York woodlot. Here, the water table is too high and our parcelle too small. No lingering in these unsavory facilities. A few push-ups and sit-ups on the mat. Floss the teeth, and I am out on the porch.

morning coffee in Kindu
Morning coffee on our porch in Kindu.

Next it is coffee. Mama Jose knows that she has to have the hot water in the thermos first thing. Sometimes she makes the coffee for me (must have picked that up from Mama T). I move a chair out to our tiny veranda, take one of the issues of Science brought from Kinshasa, my binoculars, and alternately read and watch the day’s first action over my morning coffee. My focus of attention is our small yard and garden and the view of the canopies of the mango trees beyond our gate.

I know my timing is right when I see the arrival of a certain large solitary carpenter bee. She always arrives from the same direction, checks out the blooms of several potted Commelinaceae on our porch, pauses a second or two over each open bloom. Then she is off, always along the same course around the corner of the house, to her next stop. Text book case of pollinator trap-lining I recall with delight.

I watch the progress on the construction of the bob-tailed weaver nests in the small tree near the door. Just how social or solitary is this species, endemic to the borders of the Middle Congo River? It is not a well published species, but it is abundant in Kindu as in Kisangani. There are so few ornithologists in these parts to report on it.

Every morning there is some surprise that shows up: a migrant spotted flycatcher from Europe nonchalantly hawks insects, seemingly heedless of the long and dangerous migration mandatory in just a month or so. A flock of spine-tailed swifts swoops low across our enclosure on their first morning flight, bringing with them the reassurance that the big forest is still out there, beyond our gate and up the river.

The morning ends at the breakfast table with Christian, Mpaka, sometimes Leon. We plan the day’s activities over bread, avocados and hard-boiled eggs. Mama Jose comes in to clear our plates. As we push our chairs back from table the rest of the day begins.

A good morning is essential, because a day in Kindu is what follows…

the kitchen in Kindu
Mama Jose’s granddaughter in the outdoor kitchen.

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