Archive for September, 2014

September 30, 2014

A Snatch of Nature


Since the DRC is really no place for tourists right now, we don’t really have the option to explore any of the forests or mountains that make this region so beautiful. Beni is several kilometers away from Virunga National Park and the Rwenzori mountains, which can be seen from Beni on a clear day. We are mostly confined to the town that offers only a few opportunities of repose from city life.  This past weekend I went with Jonathan, his kids, Lauren, and Jessica to an unknown little treasure of a park in Beni called Kwa Contable (I’m not sure if I’m spelling this right). It is several hectors of land that is owned by a wealthy man in Beni who decided to transform it into a park. The park is complete with man-made lakes and beach with boats and fishing, a volleyball net, a herd of cows, huts where it is possible to spend the night, and 24 hour power. It was nice to walk around in nature and not to be followed by a troop of local children. We also sat in a hut and enjoyed some Stoney’s imported from Uganda, a sharp ginger soda that I became fond of when I lived in Kampala. The most memorable moment of the day was when Jonathan ran off the path to what I know now to be a flame tree, pulled down a branch to pick off a bud, bit off the tip, and then sprayed the kids with it! Apparently it is something he learned growing up in Kenya. Of course we all had to try it!Mini Lake

One of the man-made lakes

Walking the foundations

Walking the foundations of a building

Flame Buds

Squirting the juice from a bud of a flame tree


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September 28, 2014

Week of Workshops

This week I jumped into teaching GIS software to the GIS group that has formed at UCBC. For two days I taught them the basics of QGIS and the final day introduced JOSM (Java Open Street Map) Editor and Field Papers. We were able to bring in the test data that the students collected the week before and start analysing it. I also showed the students how I created a base map by tracing a satellite image using JOSM. It is such a cool experience to see the students’ excitement as they are given tools to analyse themes in the community that they were probably already aware of qualitatively, but can now analyse, communicate, and respond to.


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September 21, 2014

Life in Beni

I have been in Beni for a week now. By describing the first few days of my stay in Beni, I thought that I might be able to give an idea of what life is like here.

Pano from Bethel

I live in the Bethel House that is a guesthouse for visiting international staff of UCBC. The picture above is the view from the second floor veranda. The house is cared for by Mama Noelle and Mama Georgette. They are my Congolese Mamas and are wonderful ladies! We hire them to cook for us because there are no stoves or fridges. Everyday they go to the market and get fresh food and cook meals on charcoal stoves. We eat a lot of potatos, plantains, cabbage, red beans, beef, and goat meat. On occasion we have chicken and fish. The tropical fruit here is fantastic and is much better than the stuff we import back home. There are always fresh avocados, pineapples, bananas, mangos, and passion fruit! I find that I eat heavier foods here, but at least it’s all natural.

Beni does not have a city power grid. The few places that have electricity purchase it from businesses that run diesal generators. The hydro poles are extremely half hazard and it is no wonder that there are often power problems. At Bethel house we get power from 6:30pm to 10pm. This means that I have to get into the habit of plugging in my electronics to charge during this time! When I work on the computer I always have my screen brightness on the lowest setting to make the battery last as long as possible. Internet here is entirely through mobile companies. It is expensive and so I have to be careful to do as much work as I can offline. That is difficult though when my work involves online research!

The day after I arrived I joined activities of the GIS group because they were doing their first practical component of the training they had received in ArcGIS and two other data collection applications. It was fantastic for me to jump right in because I was able to see what data collection is like in this context and how it might influence the design of the mapping framework. The group was eight current and former UCBC students who were split up into partners that were each collecting locations and names of amenities in a single quarter. I joined the team that was scouting out hospitals, medical centers, clinics, and pharacies. At most places that we stopped at, we would be offered a seat while we explained what we were doing. Offering a seat and being welcoming to strangers is very much a part of Congolese culture. At one point in the day it started to pour and so we ran to a nearby house and were offered a seat while we waited for the rain to pass. The group went out the next day as well to finish the last quarter of the commune. That time I joined the team who were locating schools. The following day the group met at UCBC to begin analysing the data they had collected. There was only one or two computers with ArcGIS and so I provided them with QGIS. This coming week I will probably lead a few training sessions to teach QGIS, JOSM, and Field Papers. It has already been a full week!

On Saturday I went with Lauren and Jessica into town. Jessica has been a staff at UCBC for a year now and so she introduced us to the various shops along the main road and the large market. It is possible to find all sorts of things at the market. It is made up of rows upon rows of tightly packed stalls. There is a large food section, household wares, random trinkets, and fabric. The fabric section is fun to see. The Congolese are very fashionable and try to look their best. A typical Congolese dress is a matching top and skirt made out of brightly patterned fabric. The shirts are fitted and the skirts are narrow and long but often flare out at the bottom. I wasn’t planning on buying anything but came across a beautiful blue and gold patterned fabric. I will probably get a Congolese style dress made while I am here.

On Sunday I went to a Swahili service at the UCBC church. There is also an English and a French service, but it was fun to experience the Swahili one. Although I didn’t get much from the message, I pulled out my Swahili dictionary and looked up words that I heard the preacher say. Since I took two months of Swahili lessons when I was in Kampala two years ago, the Swahili is coming pretty fast. We’ll see how much I can learn in three months! The church building is still under construction . I say “still” because it was under construction when I was here two years ago. The work is slow because they build as the money becomes available. They are working from the top down; the two towers are done!

Beni architecture is something to comment on. It is typical here that anyone who has wealth builds houses that are far to big, but that still aren’t built to a great level of quality. It makes me cringe. There is a disparity between the scattering of large houses and the more common small wood and mud huts. If I designed a house here it would be small but well made. There is great potential for craftsmanship here since everything is made from local materials.

So hopefully this gives you a picture of Beni! I hope I will have more photos soon as I jump into life here.

– Lise

September 21, 2014

Travel to Beni

My travel companions were Jonathan, Jon, and Lauren. We made it into a two day trip so that we wouldn’t have to be worried about arriving in Beni before nightfall. We stayed the night in Fort Portal at a place called Ruwenzori View. On the way there we took a detour to have dinner at a place Jonathan knew of called Kyaninga Lodge. we had to go a ways down a bumpy dirt road to get there. It was worth it though because the lodge was a beautifully contructed set of buildings high up on the edge of a hill. The area has a view of the Ruwenzori mountains and there are a cluster of crater lakes nearby. Unfortunately we arrived too late to take in much of the view. The building was worth seeing though. It is built out of large timber logs with a steeply sloped straw hatch roof, a feat of contruction for its location. The restaurant area was designed with a few seating areas up in the rafters. We had a delicious dinner of pumpkin soup, roast beef and potatoes, and mango parfait. There is nothing quite like good food in a wonderful atmosphere. Jonathan told us that it was built by the owner who is a carpenter from the US who constructed most of it himself with a team of local tradesmen. I’ve discovered that Africa offers a lot of these secret treasures created by eccentric and yet brilliant people. Kyaninga Lodge reminded me of places like the Harry Lemon outside of Jinja or the Kariba Bush Club in Zambia, both also quite a ways off the beaten track. I got this picture off of the Kyaninga Lodge website because you must see what it looks like!

The next day we passed through Kasindi and were at the border well before noon. We switched our things from the van into two taxis. Leaving Uganda was easy enough but getting into the DRC took a few hours. It took a while to get our stamps and then we had to fill out health forms and received a lecture about Ebola, the symptoms, how it can be contracted, etc. I immediately got to start using my french. I was confused when I thought he was saying to stay away from a sick person’s salt (sel) when he actually meant waste (selle). Finally we were on our way. Overall it was a smooth journey even though it was literally very bumpy. The road is a key access point to the DRC, is only 75km long, and yet remains unpaved. For people here it is the norm and is a part of life. It simply takes longer to get places. We arrived in Beni in the late afternoon and I was dropped off at the guesthouse where I will be staying for the next three months. I enjoyed unpacking my things after being a nomad for two weeks! I slept better that night than in the last two weeks. I think my body knew that I was finally in a place where I would be staying put for a time!

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September 20, 2014

Why Hello Again Kampala!

The flight into Entebbe was smooth. Because the flight was arriving really late, Brittany arranged a driver to pick me up. When I walked out the gate I found him holding up a paper with my name on it. I didn’t arrive at Brittany’s apartment in Kampala until midnight. The next day I took time to visit with EMI folks. I went to a quality craft market with Carey and Sarah in the morning, and then in the afternoon walked over to visit Emily and Paula. It had been so long since I had been there that I needed Brittany to draw me a map! That morning there was a warning published by the US embassy for all US citizens to find a safe place and stay put because there was an antiterrorist operation in Kampala. EMI took it seriously because they said that in the many years of being in Kampala they had never received a warning that sounded so serious. I still felt okay walking around as long as I stayed in the immediate neighbourhood. We decided to eat in though instead of going to Cafe Roma as planned. Carey and Sarah picked up Indian on their way over and we all enjoyed dinner and a movie together. It was an odd feeling to be back but it was wonderful to see everyone again after two years. The next day I went to the church service at Heritage (most people came despite the warning but there was extra security). After church I packed up and then headed over to Shalom Guesthouse to meet the strangers that I would be traveling with to Beni and working with for the next few months. Those strangers would quickly become friends and colleagues!

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September 20, 2014

Louvain-la-Neuve and Leuven

Grand Markt

Stéphanie lives an hour outside of Brussels in Louvain-la-Neuve. It is very much a student town that is only forty years old. It is an interesting town because it was built on top of a valley and so the cars drive beneath the city center. The whole city center is pedestrian and the academic buildings are mixed with shops and restaurants. Since Stephanie had to work during the days, I took one of the afternoons to visit the town of Leuven. Stephanie had recommended I visit the town of Bruges, Leuven, and Nider, but I had to be content to visit only one because I wanted to stay within my stopover budget. Leuven is a really nice city. It is smaller than Brussels but has wonderful historic buildings. It is also a university town that had a vibrant energy. I was confused at first because I thought Louvain and Leuven where different places, but one is just the french spelling and the other the flemish way. Supposedly the university used to be flemish and french until they had conflict and split up. The french part moved out and built what is now Louvain-la-Neuve (the New). The first evening I went to choir practice with Stephanie and the next night to have dinner with her family to celebrate her sister’s birthday. I didn’t mind the social interaction because I was happy to have the chance to practice my french before moving on to african french. Les amies et la famille de Stephanie étaient sympa!

Leuven Town Hall


September 16, 2014


Favourite View

The next person on my itinerary to visit was Stéphanie who I also know from my exchange in Lausanne. Because she wasn’t free until the evening, I decided to arrive early in Brussels, store my bags in a locker for the day, and head out and see some of the city. It was fun to test out my new camera and experiment with more of the settings! From the station I headed toward some spires I saw in the distance and found la grande place where the town hall and the museum are located. There I found an information table and got a map of the city. I decided to follow a path that the map suggested for seeing Art Nouveau architecture. It was a nice way to explore since I really didn’t do any research of the city in advance. My favourite place was the Place d’Albertine because it had an interesting fountain, the statue of the Belgian queen Elisabeth, steps to chill out on, and really nice views.

Fountain StepsChurch Interior Church Old and New Flags Quaint StreetTin-Tin Statue Elisabeth

September 15, 2014

Bulsink Family Reunion

From the 5th to the 6th I stayed in Rotterdam with my friend Anne who I know from my exchange in Switzerland four years ago. We went to the Beergarden with her boyfriend and another friend and had a nice time catching up. The next morning I slept in until eleven (jetlag + stress) and so sadly we didn’t have as much of the day as I would have hoped. We had a nice brunch, walked around some of the shopping areas, and then it was time for me to head to Ede. They kindly drove me all the way there so that I didn’t have to take the train!

I didn’t stay long in Ede because Jacques and Gesina had arranged for me to stay at the Bulsink family reunion. It so happened that I timed my visit very well! We went to a park area where the family had rented a bunkhouse for the weekend. There were a few familiar faces and many unfamiliar faces. I already knew many people from their visits to Canada: the Koelmans, the van Zwets, the Bulsinks, and of course the Ploegers. I met tante Jo for the first time and told her that I was the granddaughter of her sister Jannie. I definitely see the resemblance between all of the Wikkerinks near and far. They had a whole bunch of photo albums to look through. That evening there was a crazy game prepared that involved us teaming up into groups of three or four, running around looking for numbers that were taped all over the place both inside and outside, and performing funny tasks and games. I was on a team with Gemma and her boyfriend and we had to do things like tie our wrists together for the rest of the game, hang a string with a nail from our rear end and try to get it into a beer bottle, and make a joker out of craft materials. I learned that there was something called Bulsink Rules which actually means that most people break the rules! Canadian Wikkerinks beware! This game is coming to you next year!

The next day was very relaxing. We mostly just socialized and played games. I enjoyed playing several rounds of Wizard. I learned that it is Bulsink tradition to go and have pancakes on the last day. Instead of eating out they hired Bram’s Pannenkoeken to come with his bike cart to make them for us right there! There were the options of naturel, appel, kaas, spec, or any combination! I offered up a bottle of Canadian maple syrop for everyone to enjoy. It was a memorable weekend. If any Bulsinks read this and have any good photos, please send them my way!

On Sunday evening I had a change of plans and stayed with my cousin Margreet (daughter of Geerteit) who I had just met that weekend. She and her two boys hosted me at their home in Breda. It worked out well because the next stop on my journey was to be Brussels and so I was already quite far south. The next day it was a simple trainride from Breda to Roosendaal and then Roosendaal to Brussels Centraal. Now it was time to play tourist!

September 12, 2014


For three days I visited my dad’s family in Middelharnis. They live close to the sea and so on one of the days my aunt took me to Ouddorp and we walked along the beach. I enjoyed spending time with my Opa and Oma just sitting having coffee or playing games. On the final day we drove up to Noordwijk to visit my other aunt and uncle and two cousins. We went to a restaurant called the Zeemeeuw (seagull) and shared a delicious meal! On the way home Els and Ron dropped me off at the Rotterdam Central Station to meet up with my friend Anne from my time in Switzerland. It was a lovely start to my trip! RipplesKite buggyJellyfish

Oma en Opa Tantes

September 11, 2014

Back to Congo

I’ve been in Europe for nine days and I fly out tomorrow to Uganda. It’s definitely time I write about the next journey I am about to go on! After a year of planning I am finally heading to Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to partner with UCBC in research related to mapping and urban studies. The goal of my research is to design and implement a digital mapping framework for the university and community of Beni, while at the same time testing what digital tools can offer to promote agency in the real spatial and social condition of a precarious city. You may wonder where this research came from. Two years ago I did an internship with a Christian development organization called Engineering Ministries International in their East Africa office. I lived in Kampala Uganda for four months and for two weeks went on a project trip with a team of architects and engineers to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to complete a master plan for a Christian bilingual university called UCBC (Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo). Living in a developing country definitely changed my perspective as a designer. When I was there I realized that the young generation has an incredible amount of hope and energy for improving conditions in the country, but lack agency. I started wondering what design could offer. Since that trip I considered how I could perform research in the area of community development using design and mapping tools to foster community programs and networks. At the beginning of my research I contacted UCBC out of the blue to see if they would be interested in partnering in this type of work. It turned out that it was good timing for them because they had just launched a new GIS program. This was the beginning of a year of work to prepare for this upcoming trip. There was a lot of planning and learning involved in such a large scale project that was a step away from my expertise. I tackled coding of html, CSS, and JavaScript; I communicated with expert mappers and geographers; I learned about all sorts of data collection and mapping initiatives; I learned the use of different open source tools for data collection; I prepared a plan for how I will run workshops and what the content and purpose of them will be; I researched and purchased equipment such as a portable printer, GPS units, solar chargers, and a portable external battery; I collected a few used GPS devices and smart phones. On top of that I dove into the theory of mapping to determine what the positioning of my work will be in the discourse of mapping and architecture. What a year! I look forward to sharing with you about the trip! I’m going to try to post as often as I can even if it’s just a phrase or a single photograph. I’ll be posting some photos from my short trip to Europe shortly! Best, Lise

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