Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Congolese Realities" Chickens, Bucket Showers, and the Dark

How do you get 25 screaming Congolese children to let go of your arms, stop dancing around you, and let you walk through the door to your house? That is the problem that I was confronted with yesterday as Emily and I went for our evening walk around town. Every time we go for a walk around our neighborhood we inevitably gain a following of literally dozens of tiny Congolese children who may be cute, but will absolutely not let you go when they have a hold of you. Last night a neighbor who witnessed our plight came to our aid with a newspaper in hand, literally shooing the kids away running around yelling. That being said, the walks we take around our neighborhood have quickly become a highlight of our time here. We have learned basic French phrases and are quick to wish our neighbors “bonsoir!” or “bonjour! Como sa va?” to which they always respond with a grin and returned greeting. Congo is an interesting place because of the variety of different languages spoken, Swahili, French, English, and two other languages are most common, so often they will combine them by saying “Jambo! Como sa va?” (hello in Swahili, how are you in French.) I have also learned this since my stay began: French is a far easier language to learn than Korean. Every day I try to learn a new phrase or few words, and I am enjoying it immensely.

Emily began her work at the local health clinic yesterday, and is eager to get in on all the action she can. I on the other hand have yet to begin my teaching as there are no English classes until next week, so my job has mostly consisted of being excessively friendly with the students here at the University and helping however I can. Some highlights thus far:

The people are incredibly friendly and constantly thanking me for coming to their country, for a country as ravaged by war as the Congo is, you wouldn’t know it by talking to the people.

I went to a three-hour French speaking church on Sunday that was incredible. Upon entering and sitting amongst the hundreds of people packed into a small empty warehouse, a song began, perhaps the most beautiful I have ever heard in my life. It began almost as a whisper, then was picked up by more and more voices until the entire place echoed with the sound of a beautiful African song. I was moved almost instantly to tears, (a completely unexpected reaction,) as the weight and power of these combined voices pressed in on me. Although I had no idea what they were singing about I was sure it was something deeply beautiful.

My friend Noweh has promised me that before I go I will kill a chicken. He will kill one soon to show me the mechanics of the killing operation, but the next chicken is mine! “You just, like this!” Noweh said to me, demonstrating with his hands the sawing motion used in the operation. “You must feel no pity! Do you pity Jon?” “No” I hesitantly said. “I don’t pity.”

Yesterday I was reminded again of the danger of the country when I saw a young boy run over by a motorcycle. The motorcycle hit him and rolled him forward a few feet before finally bumping over him, the boy’s books and things he was carrying flew into the air. The driver just kept going and never looked back, the boy slowly picked himself up, brushed off his pants, picked up his things and kept going. Unbelievable.

“Congolese Realities.” (Spoken with a soft African accent.) This phrase always makes me smile and is usually said by a Congolese person (often Noweh) to break any awkward tension each time something happens that is an inconvenience; like the bag we lost, like the extra money we had to pay the corrupt soldiers at the border, like no electricity but from 7pm to 10pm, the bucket showers we take. Yesterday we all laughed when we were in the car and we noticed the molding coming off from around one of the windows. “Congolese realities” Noweh said with a sigh, as he tried to fix it. The longer I am here the more I am learning to accept and even appreciate these “realities.”

Walking along our dirt streets last night a mother holding her baby came straight towards me. Without saying a word she held her baby up to me. Not knowing what to do I grabbed its hand and said hello; instantly her child opened its eyes and his face lit up in a beautiful smile. His mother did the same, smiling from ear to ear. I am consistently amazed at how little I have to do to make people happy here, something as simple as touching a child’s hand can have an enormous effect.

Thunderstorms. Every morning since I have been here from about 5 to 8am a thunderstorm strikes Beni, making the streets into mud and the metal on the roof sing. The crack of the thunder and the sound of the rain in Africa is unlike I have heard it anywhere, it is a sweet but indescribably powerful melody, sung to the surrounding hills and forests, sung to wake me up each morning.

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