I took a group portrait after church yesterday… a wonderful group of good folks. This is where I have been attending most often, Church of the Nazarene in Mangobo 2. The church is really looking good these days, a lot of adobe bricks have been added and the interior is getting it’s smooth mud finish. There’s a new built in pulpit. Those vents above the door are helpful to release the heat generated by all of the singing, dancing, drumming and preaching.
Monthly Archive for January, 2007
One great thing about Congo is that you can be loud here if you want to. It’s like America that way, maybe even more so in some circumstances. Those who have cars often drive loudly too, sometimes to the point of being seriously offensive. They cut everyone off: other cars, motorcycles, bikes, pushcarts and pedestrians. The roads are crowded with everything but cars and when a crazed driver comes barreling through, everyone else has no choice but to dive out of the way. I’m not sure but I think it’s also socially accepted, or at least people are used to it.
I like to do the unexpected, the opposite. I like to yield to others on the road whenever I can, almost excessively so. Before you condemn me for tooting my own horn here, my reasons are not purely altruistic. Of course my motivation is partly that I want to avoid crashing into anything or anyone. That would not be a day to write home about. But mostly I enjoy the looks on people’s faces when someone is courteous behind the wheel. Often I have to make open-hand gestures to say, “oh no, after you” with a nod and a big smile and only then will pedestrians cross in front of me while I am waiting to make a left hand turn or pull through an intersection. They usually have an astonished and curious look on their faces. I see it about three times as they triple-take in my direction.
I’m not often in a hurry. The city is small. The urban roads are treacherous and safety is so important here. Almost no intersections are controlled. It’s a game of chicken and I’m one patient chicken.
I secretly hope that someday long after I have moved away, people will sit around the dinner table and muse… “Remember when that funny looking white guy lived here and he didn’t run people off of the road? What a wierdo.”
They tell me that some years it doesn’t really occur. Nobody can guess exactly how long it will last. Both your best friend and your worst enemy, it’s the dry season. It’s been bone dry here for about three weeks now and in some ways it feels like a different town. Everything is suddenly covered in a layer of dust. Without air conditioning in my office I always have the window open and I feel like I am breathing 50% dirt, especially when a truck drives by and churns up an enormous cloud of it. All over town lips are chapped, eyes are red and itchy, everyone’s complaining about the soreness in their throat and the hacking cough.
On the other hand the air isn’t so heavy and damp. Our jeep doesn’t get stuck in the dust nearly as bad as it gets stuck in the mud. The rain can really slow the economy in a place like this where people travel by bicycle taxi, so dry weather is good for the economy and good for microfinance. I can climb eight flights of stairs and hardly break a sweat, because sweat actually does its job now. It evaporates and cools me off! It’s like an extended flashback to the famous dry heat of Phoenix, Arizona - my home village.
They tell me that one of these days the skies will open up again and we’ll be pounded with rain, day after day. This dry, dusty diversion will become a memory. Swampy days are never too far away in the rain forest.
Ok, I admit it… I am addicted to factoids. I like a good statistic. (Some even say I misquote them too often, but that’s half the fun right?) I like to learn at least a little about a lot of things. Someday I’m probably going to go to graduate school and learn about one subject in considerable depth. I can see it now… I’ll be studying something quite dense in a library and looking up to spy the titles on spines of books down the aisles nearby… history, cooking, biology, biographies, photography, cultural anthropology… the list goes on.
Without further ado, here are some annotated Congo factoids for you:
- It’s estimated 80% of Congo’s 63 million citizens live in rural settings, many of which are fairly inaccessible. This means that most of these factoids are educated guesses collected on the web (USA CIA Factbook).
- The median age in DR Congo is 16 years old. That means that fully half of the population is too young to drive legally in the USA. In other words, it’s like a constant baby-boom generation.
- Depending on who you ask, there are between 200 and 500 distinct culture and language groups. This diversity plays an important role in many facets of Congo’s story. In many ways it’s very beneficial since nearby nations with only two large groups have seen devastating ethnic violence (Rwanda, Burundi). While war in Congo was sparked by such conflict in the region and there are wider culture tensions, Congo is not beset by deep racial hatred.
- Congo is a little less than 25% the size of the entire USA and often compared to the portion east of the Mississippi. She borders 9 other countries: Angola, The Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, The Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia. The only countries to border more other nations are Brazil at 10 and both Russia and China at 14 each.
- Yes there are two neighboring countries called Congo. On the Atlantic side there was a large, organized kingdom of the Kongo. The French and the Belgians literally raced (in their respective ships) to claim Kongo as a colony and the French won by just hours. They claimed most of the South Atlantic coastal region and the evil Belgian King Leopold scooped out the interior, initially calling it his own private possession. The former French Congo is in better shape by many accounts. Name confusion is understandable because the former Belgian Congo (The Democratic Republic of..) was changed to Zaire by the evil dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and changed back again after he was finally deposed (by another pretty much evil guy).
- The estimated annual government budget is $700 million and I expect that’s heavily subsidized externally. The annual foreign aid received is in excess of 2 billion, or at least three times the government’s entire budget.
- The average birthrate in Congo is between six and seven children to each woman and the infant mortality rate is nearly one in ten.
- The literacy rate is officially 65% of the population over age 15. The curious thing is that there are very few books here. I never see people reading anything. I wish there were more books around. And if there are few books in the cities, then there must be even fewer in the villages.