5 June 2012

Inside a Congolese Home.

It’s always a fun time when you’re invited to a Congolese home. Here's a peek from some of our favorite visits this year.

Homes vary in size and rental cost. I know very few Congolese families who own their own house. Once we visited a friend who lives with her family of four in what I can only describe as reminiscent of a cattle stall. No windows, no floor, one small room poorly made out of concrete. There wasn't even space for furniture. She pays $50 a month. For a house with 2 bedrooms and a living area, the going rate is $150 to $300 a month. This doesn't necessarily include a kitchen or bathroom.

Compare this to what many expats pay for their apartments. $1,000 a month is a very good deal. Some friends pay (read: their NGOs pay) up to $5,000 a month.

No one has reliable electricity or water. Even the nicest house we’ve ever visited (below) isn’t connected to electricity.

In order for this family to tap in to the closest power line, they would have to pay for 100 meters of cable, which costs about $375 (this is more than the average yearly income). After you’re connected, you pay about $10 a month and you might get a few days of electricity out of that.

For the average family, indoor plumbing in nonexistent. All water is carried in and most have little washing stations set up like this one.

Sometimes you can pay to have water pumped to an outdoor spigot. But this costs more than electricity. Five families may split the cost and pay around $7 a month per family. And then they still need to haul water from the shared source, which may or may not be dry.

Since DRC is still lacking in the road department. Houses are located off a skeleton of main roads. You need to bump over some pretty treacherous terrain to get where you’re going. I rank this among Adam's best skills. Somewhere between his expertise at the nose flute and his ability to twist his ankle at least once a month.

And then sometimes after you've reached your destination, you still need to trek a bit. (I always imagine Charlotte hiking through some national park in Virginia and saying, "Yeah this is lovely, but where's all the pretty trash?")

Most houses share the same parcel of land, or dirt really. There can be as many as 5 grouped together, behind the same wall. Everyone’s behind a wall here. Even if you don’t have any belongings to protect. With everyone living together, most things are communal. Even potty time.

Food is prepared outdoors over charcoal.

Standard fare for guests is chicken or goat with aubergine, pondu, bitekuteku, fufu, plantains and pili-pili on the side. There’s always pili-pili on the side!

Our family's enthusiasm for Congolese food is quite a spectrum. Charlotte can't get enough. This weekend when our host served her, Charlotte felt like she was being stingy with her share of aubergines and yelled, "Non, beaucoup!" She then devoured the goat as if it was her favorite food. Except she kept nodding and yelling, "Yum! Chicken!"

Adam loves this type of meal too, but is a little less enthusiastic about goat. He says -and I quote- "Sometimes it's a little too much like eating earlobes." I have to confess, I often do the dance of taking as little as I can and then feeding it to the nearest baby with an open mouth. But as long as I live I'll probably say Congolese chicken is the best in the world. And Congolese hosting is hard to beat too.


  1. This is a valuable report; it is sobering yet hopeful as it shows what people want and need. Thank you, Sarah!

  2. Congolese chicken is the best, but I think I agree with you on the rest :-)

  3. Hi to Adam and Sarah !! Greetings from Romania !! :o)

  4. Dear Jill and Sarah, thanks for writing such an interesting account o life in the Congo....


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