It was already hot this morning before we left the apartment for work at 8:00 AM. As we sang and prayed to start the day at the office, I noticed that the fan wasn’t oscillating anywhere near my general direction. It was one of those days when you can’t help but notice the direction and general behavior of fans. But by around 10:00 AM the sky started to cloud up and the heat broke, the temperature dropping several degrees. The flowers around the office were bathed by intermittent showers.
One nice thing about my office here is that it has a great big casement window that I open up every morning and it gives me air-flow, the smell of anything burning nearby, and the occasional cool, fresh breeze. Through the window I can also see the tree on the other side of the street and occasionally my eye catches movement up in its branches. If I look long enough I can usually pick out the form of a small child slowly moving down a limb toward one of the few remaining fruits and I can hear his friends cheering him on. Sometimes a truck rumbles by and the men sitting on top cruise right along the top of our wall. Sitting atop a large truck not only provides transport, but a unique view of town. There are many big walls here for protection and privacy. Those guys are getting to peek over every wall the truck rumbles past.
Just as we were getting ready to leave and disburse a new loan to one of our community banks we got word that some tax men were here to see us. (I’m expecting each of the local government offices to arrive in turn to try to take a slice of the new guy. Still, it grates on the nerves when they turn up.) These guys were surprised to see Peter in the office with me and he quickly set them straight. The issue that they brought had been cleared up months ago and by their boss no less. They are sneaky but their arguments do not often check out in the end. We are always working to ensure that we are in compliance with all of the tax codes. But the tax codes are not always easy to find until someone is pointing out your most grave error in a photocopied book they’ve laid before you on your desk.
Finally the tax folks were gone and we got on the road to our disbursal out in a nearby rural commune. Kisangani is made up of several sectors called communes. Once we turned off the main road it was clear that we were driving into a neighborhood that didn’t often see cars. The roads are really footpaths and the area is not mapped out in gridlines like the Belgian parts of town. The houses are almost all made of stick and mud construction with banana leaf and palm frond roofs. As we passed the children playing together in their yards were waving, smiling and shouting “MONUC!” which through their accents sounds almost like your neighbor in America shouting, “Morning!”
The UN is known by it’s French acronym MONUC here. This is the first time that I have witnessed the UN in action. They rise above local laws, labor codes, traffic cops. They are effectively a global trump card. Without their presence, things would undoubtedly be much less stable. There are a lot of diamonds here and it seems that diamonds often fund political instability. So MONUC watches over the city and the nation. They keep the peace. They are also able to take very long lunch breaks. Who is to tell them not to?
The loan disbursal ceremony was a wonderful time. The members of the Mwangaza Community Bank have built their own small bamboo structure to house their meetings. The rains had brought much cooler air with a little breeze. Everyone had brought out their own chair from their living room and the group looked quite comfortable as we approached. I told the group that since I’d grown up in the country, I felt quite comfortable with this fine group in the rural area.
-Pete with one of the Mamas of Bank Mwangaza.
There were many very dignified and gracious older mamas in this group. Everyone seemed to be wearing their most colorful African dress. This group has even come up with their own songs and cheers. They sang one song about how their group is like Noah’s ark, taking them away from the flood and on to better days. It was great to share in the laughter and joy that this group exuded.
I love the little moments like these that make Congo great fun. I was delighted when I noticed pineapples growing nearby and I got to take a close look at a pineapple plant for the first time. I could hardly keep from chuckling when six or seven ducklings walked right through the gathering during the serious speeches and no one even reacted. The group’s president made a very nice speech that he’d typed on an old fashioned typewriter. And then it was wonderful to be introduced to the mama in the group who has among them all saved the most in her HOPE savings account. She was bashful when the others told us that she is saving to buy a home for her family.
In these moments of joy it is easy to look past the poverty that is pervasive here. I suppose it’s a good thing. Poverty drains the life out of people and it can get everyone, present comapany included, depressed. We must not ignore it but always respond by praying (and working) for daily bread. As we said our goodbyes and began to drive away I noticed a small child with a distended belly and that was a powerful reminder of poverty’s grip. Often when children are severely malnourished the abdomen becomes large and hard. The child may be eating but s/he is not getting adequate healthy nutrition. We continue to pray and work for daily bread. God is faithful and will hear the cry of the afflicted.