On the way home I stopped at the Sun Fresh Market to pick up some groceries. I am being very judicious about my purchases, avoiding over processed foods and anything that I can’t use in the next week and a half since I am moving from here. There was a man in the checkout lane next to me who looked about 100 years old. He couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds, including his powder blue jump suit. He stood there waiting patiently as the people ahead of him had run off to find cash since their card was declined. The checker was encouraging him to go pay at customer service since she didn’t know how much longer the vanished customer would be. He just stood there calmly. I thought about how people like him should probably have others bring in their groceries – then I thought about how it’s a great thing, a minor triumph, for him to be able to get out and buy his own. It’s got to be that attitude that has kept him spry. I looked to see what he was buying – two packages of ice cream. Perfect.
As you may have guessed, I am no longer in Kisangani, DRC. I have been back in the states for about three months and I have been too silent here. I will write about my departure from Congo soon – that was a crazy night. I may write about my close call with an airplane that crashed just a few weeks after I flew on it.
I came back after about 25 months in Congo. After about a year in, Kinshasa and Kisangani became very normal to me – home. Flying over that jungle felt more normal to me than flying over the Rockies. It was at times a hard place to be but I am thankful for every day I was able to live there.
People have asked me what I missed from my plate while I was in Congo. I always told them the truth: broccoli and Mexican food. The friends and family back here were on my heart much more often than the foods I missed, however. Now when I think of Congo the same is true and it gives me the encouraging thought that true friendship is universal and with work and time can transcend cultural differences.
While I lived in Africa I got to travel around a fair bit in that enormous place. I’ve also been on the road quite a bit since returning to the USA: to California twice, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Minnesota, and Arizona. I have been calling Kansas City my home during this time. I live a few blocks into Kansas and make frequent trips to Missouri. I have been a fledgling gospel pianist in an African-American church in this historic music town. I have come back from some personal frontiers in Congo to land near Westport, the place where wagon trains set out for the American West that I love so much. I learned to make some killer fajitas and tasted some luscious barbecue. I’ve met some great people here in Kansas City, some of the coolest kids in town. Best of all, I have been able to have some great face time with the one who drew me to this place.
I think I am going to keep the website going through this time of transition. I may change the look of things a bit in awhile. It feels strange to take the picture of Congo off of the banner – since Congo is marked on me now more than ever. Lots of people asked me if I am “done with Africa, like for good?” I am done with my employment with HOPE International and we’re all looking forward to the day when time and circumstances allow me to work for HOPE again, either in the USA or abroad. I can’t make any guarantees that I won’t go live in Africa on short notice again.]]>
It reminds me of the time that someone in my building tried to sell me a leopard head. And was it just this week that someone in the office was telling me that they are astonished that ivory is illegal to import into the USA, “There are so many elephants and sometimes they just die of natural causes… so why shouldn’t we wear ivory bracelets and make carvings?” I haven’t seen any jungle elephants walking through town coughing and sneezing.]]>
I finally took a trip across the Congo River this week. I’ve wanted to go for a long time and we were opening a new community bank on a day that worked with my schedule so I went. The canoes look small from my apartment but they’re really huge. Occasionally I’ll see people pushing one down the street on a large wheeled contraption - they must weigh at least a few tons and they are very stable in the water. It gave me a completely new perspective of canoe travel as we zipped past other boats with 40 or more people lining the sides and merchandise in the middle. The trip takes about five minutes in a motorized boat and up to 30 or 40 minutes when paddled.
Recently we tried to buy life jackets for our staff and the only ones we could find in town were nothing special in terms of quality and had been painted across the back in French “gift from the Belgian Kingdom”. The NGO that was selling their gift wanted $100 a piece. Instead we’re waiting for a couple of high-quality $25 jackets to come from the USA.
In the meantime, I am happy to report to my mother and anyone else who cares that crossing the river in a motorized canoe is pretty darn stable and safe. (It helps to have reasonably good confidence that the motor is in good shape as they don’t keep emergency paddles in the boat. They rely on other motorized boats to come to the rescue.)
It was a cloudy, dry and relatively cool day for the trip and I enjoyed walking from the canoe landing to the church where the community bank meets. There are almost no cars over there and fewer motorcycles than here. People didn’t even seem surprised to see me walking around. A couple of them called me “Pere”. They think I am a priest visiting the local parish. I’m often assumed to be a priest if I am not assumed to be with the United Nations mission. At the loan disbursal I was able to hold a baby for a photograph and she didn’t even cry. About 90% of the babies I’ve held here freak out. I am the abominably snowy-white man so I can’t blame them at all, but this little girl was not phased and I was blessed.
When I was growing up in Arizona we were taught in school to conserve water in that desert. I never took it very seriously. Long showers and playing with the garden hose were standard practices. I remember taking long drinks from the hose.
I’m thinking about water for two reasons. First, I just completed my Saturday morning ritual of filling 15 water cans in my apartment. Fortunately the pump is still working and I don’t have to hire people to haul water cans up and down the stairs. The only problem is that they turn the pump on for just minutes a day and it starts right as I leave for work. By Saturday I’m usually near the bottom of my supply and it’s a good feeling to replenish it. Life gets pretty hard fast without water.
The other reason I’m thinking about water is thanks to a visit to Dr. Adipepe this week. He owns and operates the clinic where our staff receive health care. Lately there have been more complaints than usual and it’s been too long since I’ve seen him so we paid a visit. He might just have the most personality of anyone in the city, maybe anyone I’ve ever met. He laughs uproariously at himself regularly in conversation and his eyes and teeth almost pop out of his face as he does. He’s usually pointing right at me when this happens. He was telling stories and talking up a storm and I started to feel bad about the patients waiting. Sitting behind him was the brand new ultrasound machine he is very proud of. I’m impressed by it and I hope it runs on variable voltage.
As I was expressing some of the staff concerns his reply was in the form of a question, “Have any of your staff died under my care?” “No, they haven’t.” “Well then I rest my case. What do you have to complain about?” I guess he has a point, of sorts. But I quickly replied, “Well doctor, that’s a basic level of customer service I suppose since nobody is dead, but these living staff members deserve a bit more than that don’t you think?”
Staff complain about negative results to Malaria tests when they believe that’s what they have. Dr. Adipepe’s contention is that it’s really more often Typhoid Fever from unsanitary water and people are not in the habit of boiling it. The mosquitoes and Malaria are certainly rampant but I can’t help but think that the doctor has a point. It’s an ongoing conflict that will likely continue and we’ll try to mediate it. As usual, reality probably lies somewhere between the positions people are taking. Unfortunately there aren’t many options for health care here. And then I think about the vast jungle surrounding our city and this place looks like the Mayo Clinic.
Having recently had Typhoid I can’t help but be compelled to pray for people across this nation and around the world who are suffering the pangs of severe illness but lack even the pocket change to get treatment. I think especially of the ones who got sick only because they drank a glass of water from the tap.]]>
Our street is a row of art deco houses from the 1950’s in various states of decay. The Belgians clearly designated it an urban residential street though there’s an old cinema around the corner and we’re one block off of a main thoroughfare: Blvd. Mama Mobutu. Now there are no zoning laws in force, which is good for us since we’re an office in a house. The lack of zoning also has its drawbacks. Our neighbors recently constructed several bamboo awnings in their front yard and opened a bar. They play a Celine Dion CD over and over all afternoon most days.
I know a few fun group games that don’t require many materials and that MIGHT go over with the staff and I’m interested in your suggestions!
Hopefully the retreat will be a time to strengthen our teamwork and camaraderie and to get away from the thick of the city for a day. Our annual audit starts the next day!]]>
Then my coworker and good friend Peter came from Kinshasa for a four-day weekend that we had thanks to some national holidays in Congo. I was just in Kinshasa recently and now I got to have visitors come to Kisangani. Peter started the program here and this was the third time he’s visited since leaving. It’s always interesting to hear about the things he remembers from an intense year in Kisangani. He’s the one person in the world who’s had this job and it’s a blessing that we’ve become great friends. Here are some photos from the visit. The children pictured belong to the office accountant. We went to visit them on Saturday. Sunday we went to a local Catholic Seminary and ran into my friend Issa who is Senegalese and here with the UN. They’re guarding a quarry just next to the seminary that the UN is using.
We needed a second car for our program anyway and we found a small SUV that is serving us well, I wrote about it here a little while ago. Well now the fuel boat from
Ironically, diesel is in good supply.]]>
The river is also slow and even as work has been done to remove river-blocks where government officials try to exact fines and fees for passage through their fiefdoms, few boats are making it this far upriver. It was looking good for awhile and now it’s slowing down. It’s at least a three week journey against the current and there’s no map, the river is not dredged. It’s got to be pretty treacherous.
Airplanes used to come in at least once a day. Most planes were Antonovs, old Russian aircraft that have long been banned in most nations. They are operated on lease from companies that are tied to big Russian mobsters and mercenaries. They have a horrible safety record and crashes are frequent. Planes are old, poorly maintained and overloaded. A recent crash killed everyone aboard the plane and many people in the neighborhood where the plane fell in