"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.20.2006

I'll never really try and understand

It's getting to the point where about the only thing to do in Goma is to sit and listen to the rain. The long rainy season begins in mid-February here and, despite the fact that they're suffering from a terrible drought a few hundred miles east of here in Kenya, the rains in central Africa are right on schedule. It rains every day, sometimes really hard, and will apparently continue to do so through June. The good thing about that is that it keeps things cool. We are at a high enough altitude to not be miserable in the first place, but the rain holds the temperature in the pleasant 70's and 80's, and with the clouds, you don't have the intense equatorial sun beating down on you all the time. The bad thing about this is that nothing gets dry, and if you don't have a car like yours truly, you get wet. A lot. (What's even more interesting is the fact that with all this rain, there hasn't been city water available for three weeks, except for a few hours last Monday. If you're not rich enough to have a pump to get water from the lake, you're hauling it from the public beach or going without.)

Saturday I was out at the UN mission for a couple of interviews. It started to rain while I was inside, but had let up by the time I got outside and jumped on a motorbike taxi. We were zipping along towards downtown and I hear the beep of another motorbike. It turns out to be my friend Ramon, who told me Tuesday he was going to buy a moto and sure enough. So we had a nice little conversation about that (while speeding down the street) and then my driver took off just as the sky burst open. We got soaked. Had to stop and wait out the rain in a butcher's shop, where there were large carcasses hanging and people crammed inside trying to stay dry. By the time we got to town, I was ready to find a real taxi, faire des courses (run errands), and head home to dry out.

Sunday Camille and Esther were kind enough to come pick me up to go to their church, which turns out to be an Assemblies of God church plant by a church in Kinshasa, the capitol. It was so interesting to see how Americanized the service was – down to the power-point song lyrics projected onto a screen at the front and the sermon Camille preached on The Purpose Driven Life. All the songs were French translations of American worship songs, except for one African song we sang about halfway through the service. I don't doubt the authenticity of the worship there, but I have to say that the African song seemed like the most real of them all – the place just erupted with dancing and ululations and joy. The song is called "Hakuna Mungu Kama Wewe" (There is no God like you) and what you do is sing that same line over and over, but in different languages each time, so that verse one is in Kiswahili, verse two is in Lingala, verse three is in Kikongo, and so on. It was so beautiful.

After church, we waited around for Camille to finish leading a lay peoples' meeting, during which time this little boy demanded that I take a picture of him and his sisters. He knows how cute he is, although his baby sister was scared to death by our white skin.

Then we headed over to C and E's house for a barbeque. A group of Canadians were in town for a "Vision Tour" of central Africa, so C and E wanted to host them. It was a fun time, with lots of fantastic Congolese food, including great samaki (fish) from the lake. The Canadian group had been all over the place in Uganda, Rwanda, and in North Kivu and wanted to talk about everything from the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz to grand plans about how to solve Africa's problems. I don't know, they were really nice, but I have very mixed feelings about people who come to Africa for two weeks and decide that they know what to do about the poverty here. On the one hand, it's great that people become acutely aware of the suffering people here endure. On the other, the money that they spent on their trip could have sent several hundred children to school for a year. The same could be said of me, I suppose. But the thing is, despite all their well-intentioned words about how early childhood education might help cut down on violence in the future, it takes a lot more than an idea like that to understand what is really going on here, and it takes a sustained commitment to support Africans in solving their own problems to make a long term difference.

I was reminded of this late yesterday afternoon while having coffee with my friend Eva. Eva is from Goma, but went to the boarding school in Kenya where all the Baptist MK's go, and went to college in the U.S. to get an international business degree. She is incredibly smart and has lots of ideas about economic development and institution-building – and she understands the eastern Congo in a way that outsiders never will. If it can be done, it's people like her who will make things better here. And it's people like Esther and Camille, who work in a congregation that sings songs like "Seigneur, vous etes plus precieux que l'argent" (Lord, You are More Precious than Silver). That really means something here, just miles from the gold and coltan and diamond mines that drive so much of this conflict. It means even more to sing a song based on Romans 8:38-39, to be able to say with confidence that nothing -- not death, not evil, not a very uncertain future – nothing, can separate us from God's love. I am humbled to be part of their community.

2 Comments:

Anonymous kirstin said...

I just heard a piece on NPR about thousands of people who are living on two little, muddy islands in the middle of a lake in the DRC in order to escape the violence. They aren't able to grow much food in the mud and don't know when they'll be able to go back to their villages. Anyway, I thought of you so I thought I'd share. :)

Monday, February 20, 2006 4:54:00 PM

 
Blogger Brian said...

Amen. Thank you for your clarity.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:50:00 PM

 

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