you know now why you came this far
What I love most about Africa is the stars.
It's a crazy week in Goma. Trying to schedule last-minute interviews, make arrangements for the long journey through Kigali and Kampala and London and Washington and finally home, and say good-bye to friends. I'm learning that "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer to the question, "When will you be back?" Last time I had an answer ("January") and the first thing Aime said when I showed up in February was, "You're late." This time I just don't have an answer.
On top of that, The Other Diplomat is here because her current boss (my old boss) realized that the story they get from the official sources about what's going on here is very different from the story you get from people who are actually from here. So I'm happy to take her around to meet friends while I say good-bye.
Last night Dr. Doug called to invite us to join the group at Lyn's for birthday cake for a couple of the students. It was actual birthday cake, with frosting and everything, and Lyn broke out her stash of Reese's peanut butter cups and licorice and it was a fun party at their outdoor living room by the lake. It was fun even considering the course the conversation took. Somehow we got from Hillary Clinton's viability as a presidential candidate to explaining to Dr. L. that there are people in the U.S. who think the use of birth control is morally wrong. This was beyond comprehension for him and Lyn, but it seems that Dr. Doug believes that Christians shouldn't use birth control because it's an affront to God's sovereignty and he defended that position.
So that was a fun conversation. As you might imagine. What I love about Lyn and Dr. L. is that they are deeply grounded in their faith, but they are also deeply grounded in the reality of life here. So Lyn has no qualms about arguing that providing access to family planning services is the most compassionate, Christ-like thing we can do for women in rural areas whose bodies are exhausted and who cannot bear to watch another child die from malnutrition and disease. Or that giving a PEP kit to a ten-year-old rape victim is the first step in healing her body and spirit in the way Jesus healed, even when (and perhaps especially because) that kit includes the morning-after pill. The simple choices we get to make in an individualistic, peaceful society have almost nothing to do with the reality of Congo. And I actually don't believe our choices are as simple as Dr. Doug believes they are.
We left the Lusi's around 9:30, which is when they turn off their generator. The dry season is starting here, so the wind is high and the skies are getting clearer. The lake sounded like the ocean all through dinner – you can hear it "lapping with low sounds by the shore," as Yeats would put it – and the stars were unbelievably bright. The students wanted to see the Southern Cross, so I helped them pick it out in the great sweep of the Milky Way.
I came home and stood outside for a long time, looking at the cross, thinking about sovereignty and faith and calling and Lubbock's teen pregnancy rate (which was my primary argument against Dr. Doug's support of abstinence-only education) and wondered what it all means, how it all fits together, how an internship six years ago and a crazy conversation with an advisor involving the statement, "I can't actually go do research in the eastern Congo – can I?" and all those dinners with the fundamentalists and the heavens declaring the glory of God in these warm stars – how all of that can somehow lead to a totally unpredictable dinner, and even more, can somehow form a calling, a career, and a life. "What business had I ever to set my heart on Africa?" asked Karen Blixen. Albert Schweitzer said he came to make his life his argument. Me, I'm still waiting to figure it out.
In the meantime, I'm thankful for those stars.