Monday, April 18, 2011

Bonding: Day 1

It’s 7:47 pm and I am ready to crash. What a day.

Taylor and I woke up at 6ish because the oldest son of the family we'll be staying with for our "bonding week," and a family friend, were coming to meet with us at 7. They got there at about 8:00, talked with Ed for a little bit, just about what to expect for the week and such, and then we were on our way. We packed a backpack of a change of clothes, clean water, and toilet paper (in case we have to use the squatty potty!). We walked up to the main road where the taxis are, and instead of taking a taxi car, we took a taxi BUS. Something I’ve learned in Congo: Congolese people are not claustrophobic. Seriously, they shove people into those busses like it’s a clown car. Luckily, there wasn’t anyone in there when we got in. We picked up a few on the way, but they didn’t have to pack people in. I was a little nervous about the bus, just for that reason, but our first taxi bus experience was a good one.

We got to where we were being let out, walked down the road a ways, and were finally at Wasso’s house. (Yes, Wasso passed away, but it is a family name. His wife is still Mama Wasso, and his oldest son now goes by the name Wasso.)  As we were walking to the house, we got a lot of “muzungu!” calls, and a lot of “goot… morning…”.

We got into the yard and were greeted by the family. They brought us inside and gave us a Fanta Orange and we sat and chatted for a bit. There was a man named Herman there who spoke fluent English. He was Baba Wasso’s brother’s father-in-law (understand?). He talked to us for a few, then got us started. He led me out to an area I would call a kitchen, but I don’t think that’s what it actually was. It was more of an area next to the house that was covered with tarp for shade. It had a coal stove that sat on the ground, and a small fire pit with big rocks around it to put pots on. That’s where we made lunch, while Taylor went to play games. That’s the Congolese way, I guess. Women do the work, men play the games.

They started by getting me a kikwimbe. Basically, just a big piece of cloth that ties around your waist like a towel, and it pretty much served as an apron. It was there to keep my clothes clean. They sat me down in a chair and handed me a bowl of tiny dried up fish. My job was to pull the heads off of them. Lovely. But I did it. I had little girls surrounding me watching me the whole time, close enough to be daring, but not close enough to where I could reach them. They were pretty scared of me at first; like they weren’t sure if I was real or not. Yes, my skin is really white, and no, it won’t rub off on you. One of the older of the girls came over and took a fish body from the bowl I was putting them in and gestured to me that I should try it. I said that she should first, and she did. The whole thing, right in her mouth. So of course, I did, too. Not great. Ever had fish jerky, bones still included? I have. It’s all about the experience.

I ended up cooking the fish, making a tomato sauce to put them in, pulling rocks out of rice, stirring the sombe, cutting onions, sorting beans, and observing in the making of bugali. These ladies work HARD. And they do some things I could never imagine (aside from eating fish jerky). While I was stirring the sombe, she came over to check it and told me it was finished. So I put the spoon down, and she just grabs the skillet with her bare hands and sets it aside! BARE HANDS. Who needs oven mitts? Then after she moved it, she reached down and pulled out some pieces of charcoal, no problem. The same charcoal I was just cooking the sombe on. Unbelievable.

The food we made turned out to be edible, and we had lunch. Taylor didn’t touch the fish, but he had rice and sombe with some fresh Cayenne pepper cut into chunks. I ended up eating the fish, which wasn’t horrible, but not really something I’d choose to eat. 

After lunch it was time for me to go. Taylor was able to stay, but I was supposed to go back home to meet women from Tracy’s Heart. Today was the day we got to give them clothes for their kids and blankets to keep them warm at night. Wasso (the son) and I start making our way back to get a taxi. Instead of taking me back up the road we came down that morning, he took me behind the house and we hiked up the mountain through people’s yards. It was quite the hike. He was very concerned the whole time that I was too tired, but I made it. It actually was a nice hike. We finally got up to the main road and we start walking toward the taxis. He stops and talks to one taxi driver, telling him where we need to go, and finally tells him no. We walk a little further and stop at another taxi. But no, not a normal taxi. Oh yes, a taxi bus, completely full. So of course, we got in. “This is Congo,” Wasso kept telling me. Yes it is. After being stopped in Congolese traffic for thirty minutes, hitting my shins HARD on the seat in front of me, and sweating like a man, the clown car finally got me to where I needed to be. Phew.

I got to the building where we were going to be handing out clothes and found Brenda and Elizabeth there with a lady already inside. Five women came today to get clothes for their kiddos, and we could hardly help the last few. We had hardly any little boy’s clothes to give them at all, but we were able to get blankets and clothes for the girls a little older. We gave them dolls for their youngest girls and toy cars for their boys, they each got a little purse that Elizabeth had made in the states, and they each got a little bit of jewelry. They left happy and can’t wait to come back again next month when we have more for them for choose from. I’m just sad I have to miss that time. We went home after we finished with the ladies and I felt so filthy. I immediately jumped in the shower, and when I got out, I found the Bairds had come over for dinner. We had a nice evening with them, and as soon as they left, I got into bed and started writing this. And now my turn is up.  I shared my side of day one, and I’m not sure I’d be able to do Taylor’s story justice. I’m just going to let him tell you.  Here he goes!

Ahh, today.  Started off early, finally got to jam into one of those crowded busses, though we were blessed enough not to be crowded in. We got up the “thief circle,” as I will call it, and walked down the windy road to Wasso’s house, Bonnie getting checked out, and me staring people down for checking Bonnie out. But, it was a pretty good start to the day.

Well, it started off with the customary greeting with a Fanta in the living room. Herman took Bonnie out to go cooking, and I sat there in the house alone for a little bit. Then Wasso came in and said “We have a new job out here, come see.” He took me around the left side of the house and started naming things. This new task was very important for our communication, but was not at all what I was expecting.  After naming a few things and talking as much as we could, he said he had a game he wanted to show me. 

So we went and played Checkers. Or so I thought. Until during the middle of the game, the Congolese rules were introduced to me. Like, you can jump backwards, as well as forwards when you are not “kinged” (which really does throw off your strategy if you’ve ever played any serious checkers). And when you are “kinged”, not only can you move diagonally all the way across the board, but you can jump any person at any point along the way, and a “kinged” checker piece can only be taken by another “kinged” checker piece. As one might guess, this was slightly frustrating for the under-competitive spirit that I have. Haha. Then we play some American style checkers and I showed him who is boss, but we both got bored with that, so the next few hours were spent language learning. 

Learning numbers 1-10 in another language is not as easy as it sounds, especially when that language is fundamentally phonetically different. But it was not only me language learning, for some reason there was a desire to learn Spanish. 1-5 successfully slaughtered today. To keep it interesting, not only for me, but for all the gracious participants, lots of children (amazed at a muzungu), some women (doing hair the WHOLE day), and one man (being very patient), we mixed in some games. I would say their numbers and they would repeat after me correcting me as we go, starting small and eventually after about two hours, we worked up to ten.  After a couple repetitions through the numbers that I knew, I would teach them the Spanish numbers, they would play a schoolyard game, and also sang a song about how Swahili is the language of Africa, which I will get on video.

It was lunchtime and Wasso and Bonnie left.  After a little more time with the hair ladies, I went over to the kitchen and smashed sombe. It’s like taking spinach, lightly cooking it for just a moment, not even to the point where it wilts, and them smashing it, added some garlic, some chive type stuff, and lots more smashing. They were adding wood to the fire to try to get more fire going so they could cook the meat, and it was not successful, so I went over, and using my cub scout skills, I got a nice little blaze going. They cheered and laughed and did so even harder when I stood up and declared myself “Bwana Moto”, which means “Lord of Fire”! (Up to this point, I have had others (including my wife) refer to me as “Bwana Fujo”, which means “Lord of Chaos”.)

It was back to the hair ladies for a little more counting practice, and Wasso returned. Wasso escorted Bonnie home, then came back, so it was quite a long time. By the time he returned, he looked at the sky and told me it was going to rain, and told me I had to go. So he escorted me up to a bus (which I was very wary of), and didn’t want to buckle up in case I had to tuck and roll.

Then I went to a soccer game, which are every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at five. Before the game there was a downpour and even a heavy rain from a clear blue sky. It was crazy.  I got to score a goal, but we still lost 2-1. I made another friend named Patrick, who actually lives just up the road from us, and invited me over for a Coke.  I met his whole family, but graciously denied the Coke as I needed to be home in time for dinner. Turns out he goes to church next door to us and he escorted me home.

It’s the end of the day now, and I’m going to bed. Goodnight, and God continue to bless.

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