Thursday, December 31, 2009
A few things I have discovered here in Aru: the beer here is awful, when you want to buy a chicken there is no way to buy it dead, when you give a kid a tennis ball he will ask for candy and stalk your house making creepy Gollum voices until you have to give in and the average number of kids in a family is 8. The amount of children here is overwhelming. I especially notice them at Sunday mass when they wander in throughout the mass, oh yes and get in trouble by the Church Sergeant! They wear a boy scout kind of neck tie and patrol during mass to make sure people are behaving. For example it is not uncommon to see The Sergeant with his oval shaped withered head and drooping frown grab a child by his arm and make him stand up or even worse force the innocent child to be removed from his band of rambunctious comrades and stand next to the Sergeant with eyes constantly forward at the alter. Poor children! I would be petrified of this guy if I was them.
I was also able to help with the malnourished children on the morning of Christmas Eve where I counted pills and gave out bonbons and biscuits. It was quite a sight seeing all the tiny little babies being weighed and measured. They were so cute! The mothers here are all so young and radiant with their babies, coming in with them nestled against their backs with their colourful skirts (they are called panyes here). Unfortunately there is not always joy in their situation especially when it is difficult to get enough food for their families which is reflected in their tiny helpless babies with their skinny legs and bloated stomachs. It was saddening for me. Their mouths just devoured the bonbons they were given as if this little bit of sugar is what will keep them going.
After seeing this suffering in the mothers faces I experienced complete joy when I went to the Vigil Mass. It was if there were no troubles, no pain, no suffering, no hardships at all but the joy of Christ living in each person there. It was truly inspiring and made my heart rejoice in thanksgiving to our great God who never disappoints.
In regards to the Mass it was something very unique. I don’t think I have ever seen Altar Servers dance around the altar ever in my life and not only dance but dance with rhythm and style and majesty. It was something else! I also have never heard so much screaming, singing, whistling, clapping, dancing, or high pitch shrill noises in a Church in my life. I am pretty sure I was smiling the entire time. Wow! Africans really know how to show their joy for God. They truly put their whole selves into the Liturgy. I think for the taking the collection at mass it takes about 15 minutes because practically every person stands up and processes to the money boxes. It is pretty amazing how giving these people are when they have so little. The mass lasted only 2 and a half hours, I really thought it was going to be 3. Then once the priest left the Church turned into a disco hall; everyone was dancing, singing, playing drums. It was a lot of fun! After mass we went to the Sister’s place where they gave each of us a panye with St. Bakhita on it. St. Bakhita was from Sudan and was a Canossian Sister. She has a really interesting story and I recommend reading about her life if you have a chance. She was taken as a slave when she was a young girl and then finally was freed and of course much more. Of course more dancing was involved in the giving of our gifts which is always fun. Then our volunteer community had a wonderful Christmas dinner together which consisted of: noodles, fried plantane (a type of banana), eggs and potatoes I think. It was all really delicious and for desert chocolate pudding and fruit salad. Oh and I cannot forget to mention our amazing African beer from Uganda! It is probably the worst beer I have ever tasted and it was a sacrifice to try and drink it all. After our delicious meal we had shared our gifts. We decided we would have a “free gift giving” Christmas where you could give a gift if your heart desired it. It was a very simple Christmas but I feel like I received more than I ever have. I would like to describe one of my gifts I received from Tomas the other volunteer in our community here. It was a Skippy peanut butter jar filled with water, banana peels and old tea bags and then inside was plastic bag. The smell was absolutely awful and so I had to open it up outside. Tomas told me that I needed to open up the bag and so I proceeded in opening up the plastic bag to find toilet paper wrapped with layers and layers of Scotch tape only to find 2 more bags and more scotch tape, until finally in the last bag did I discover a little carved turtle. It was the most creative gift and it reminded me of something my Dad would give me. Tomas has his own unique sense of humour and his way of giving is not the common superficial way of doing things. Karen also got a carved turtle which was wrapped in the skin of an avocado so now all 3 of us have our own turtles to form a “community.”
I will continue later…I wish everyone a very blessed Christmas season and of course many wishes for the New Year!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
We had two visitors from Rome, Sr. Angela who is in charge of VOICA and Diggy who helps train the volunteers in Rome. And sure of enough they came bearing many gifts, most importantly my back pack with all my clothes as well as a parcel from my family that arrived in Rome the day after I left for Congo. Interestingly enough I realized that when I had “more” things I became more self-absorbed and returned to my old self where I would spend so much time thinking about my appearance. Before when all I had were a few things I was more free of these tendencies and one could say that I was even slightly more joyful. This was a really good lesson for me to learn: that having more does not mean you will be more happy. Living uncomfortably teaches you to be thankful for the little things in life that I have taken for granted, and this does not just mean clothing. I am thankful for my toilet at home that flushes with the push of a handle, a shower that can give me hot water, electricity that is always available as well as internet. But this does not mean I was not thankful for the things that I received. I was especially thankful for a pair of Chaco waterproof sandals since wearing Birkenstocks in the rainy season here is not very enjoyable. I was also thankful to be reunited with my glow in the dark Frisbee which I am excited to put to use here since it gets dark every evening here, as well as 2 volleyballs my mom sent. The volleyballs have been greatly appreciated by the kids here since they have no volleyball. My classes have been successful thus far since the girls are very keen to learn this new sport. I have managed to explain the rules decently in my French and once you explain things then you just need to get them to practice which isn’t so bad, well maybe I am exaggerating; it is difficult to practice volleyball skills with 2 balls and 16 girls, no net and no court just the red African dirt, oh and not to mention when some of the girls show up wearing skirts. The other difficulties teaching young girls in a foreign language is that you are prone to be made fun of. One class of girls kept repeating “comme ca” over and over again until I had to throw a few punches (not literally, don’t worry).
During the mornings for the past week I have been helping with the handing out of mosquito nets to every family in the town here. This was a good opportunity for me to really see the people of Aru. There was a constant flow of people coming to get their precious nets. This is a really great thing for the people here since Malaria is one of the most common diseases here. These nets were so precious that it caused the apparently friendly natured people here to break out in violence, cheating techniques, lying and bribery. I enjoyed my work here where I was able to practice my French, and especially my counting skills in French.
An exciting adventure that I would love to share with you all is my bus ride to Uganda to the National Wildlife Park with 50 girls from the boarding school here. We were told that the bus would leave at 6:30am and that we should be ready at 6:15am. So of course us obedient (and naïve) people were promptly ready at the appropriate time. At 10:15am the bus arrived! When I refer to “African time” it really is above and beyond anything I have experienced. Apparently the bus got held up at the frontier crossing entering Congo. All the kids were just hanging around like this was no a big deal at all, like a natural everyday occurrence. I played a game of basketball with some of the girls while we waited and took some fun photos as well. The girls adore taking pictures of themselves and posing like they’re models, it was really cute. After about 4 hours on the bus listening to 4 Christian African music videos from the 60s on repeat on a fuzzy t.v. screen I was overjoyed when we arrived! The only problem was that we weren’t allowed into the National Park for some reason that my limited French was not able to understand. I think it had something to do with having proper documents and money or something, haha. So….instead we took a “promenade” (what they call a simple walk here), over the Nile River. I was quite disappointed we couldn’t go into the Park because it is one of the best in Uganda where you can see lions, zebras, elephants and giraffes and all the cool animals that you always expect to see in Africa. Us volunteers will go back again I am sure of so it’s not so bad. On our promenade we did see a hippopotamus poke its big nose out of the water a few times. All I managed to see where his nostrils followed by a loud snorting noise. We also saw some huge monkeys climbing in the trees. They were so majestic and moved along the tiny branches so smoothly it was almost like a dance. After our promenade we had a big picnic lunch of goat meat, potatoes, egg and bread. The girls here can eat soooo much! I was amazed! Teenage girls at home are all so conscious about their body image that they are too shy to eat a lot in front of people. I had a lot of fun with the girls just hanging out eating goat meat, sipping some Fanta and having some really deep conversations in French (I wish). Some of the girls finally built up enough courage to touch my hair. Once they touched it they really couldn’t let go and I enjoyed having my hair played with put into some fun hair does. The day was a great experience. The greatest part though was the bus ride home where for the last hour of the bus ride the girls sang their teenage hearts out and shook their musical shakers (not sure the name for them) until my head was throbbing. Despite my massive headache I was amazed by the amount of joy a simple bus ride and walk along the Nile River was for them. They don’t have many opportunities for outings and when they do have an opportunity they take so much joy in it and treasure every moment. I was thinking that if this was a field trip with some Canadian school girls there were have been endless complaining about not being able to see the animals, the length of the journey, the bumpy road (I forgot to mention the roads in Congo which do not deserve to be called roads and have the same motion as clothes going through the washing machine. My head smashed into the window various times), the annoying repetitive music and much more I am sure. What I learnt from this trip is that with little one can be happy and that joy is found when it is shared with others. Relationships are really the most important thing.
Continuation to come…
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Most of this week actually hasn’t been so much fun.We are having 2 visitors coming to stay in the VOICA volunteer house which means that two rooms and the whole house needs to be cleaned. Before Karen and I arrived, Tomas our other community member was here by himself, and lets put it nicely, when a single guy is alone in a house he isn’t going to care to make it “tidy.” I have learnt lots in regards to cleaning. I have learnt that you can’t let the insects get the best of you. You need to be stronger than them and you also need to be okay with living with them. I also have learnt that I can only make the house less dirty, not necessarily “clean.” The red dirt is constantly getting into every room and bugs find their way no matter how much you try to get them out of prevent them from getting in. In regards to insects I would like to share with you all my wonderful encounters this week. I am sure you will be thinking, how could Lydia survive this because she is the one is always asking someone to come and get any kind of bug out of her room, isn’t that right Dad?
So here it goes: I found a gecko above my bed, a spider in my shirt while eating lunch, a GIANT scarab beetle in my closet, a jumping insect in my shower, a preying mantis the size of my hand infront of my door, little bugs in my oatmeal, and just the other day I saw a large bird eating the biggests frog I have ever seen in my garden...this was really disgusting. And of course there are spiders which I am slowly beginning to accept and maybe, just maybe will I begin to love them, hahah.
The food here is good, but it’s nothing special. The vegetables we eat here consist of: eggplants, carrots, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, spinach and just the other day we discovered avocado. The fruits here are amazing: mangoes, papayas, passionfruit, bananas. The main meal consists of either rice, potatoes, pasta or egg. And for all of those who have lived with me it will be to great relief for you all to know that I eat peanut butter on my bread every morning here with bananas. And it is super tasty peanut butter which makes me happy every morning. I have also eaten locusts which was pretty cool. They weren’t too bad at all...it’s all mental. But when Sister Angela began to hold the little locust in her hand and say “les yeux, les yeux” and wiggle the head with the wee little black eyes I decided against going for more. Sister Angela is quite a character. She has the most weathered skin I have ever seen. She is from Italy and is probably in her 70’s. She has Scoliosis and when she found out I was a “Physiotherapist”which I denied many times, she didn’t seem to care and proceeded to tell me all about her pain and her shoulders etc. She is hilarious. If I am walking anywhere in her vicinity she will wave and call me over and ask me what other exercises she can do. I can never escape her, haha, but she is super great!
Since my bag still hasn’t arrived yet I have been borrowing clothes from people here. It’s amazing how when you come with nothing you receive so much and especially here where people really don’t have much. I received a skirt from a young girl around 18 years old named Helene. She used to live in Uganda so her English is very good. My wardrobe is quite an assortment of brightly coloured clothes that are mostly too small or too big for me. The one pair of pants that I wore on the plane are called my skirt-pants because they are like pants but they are ballooning and sort of like a skirt. They are hard to explain, but anyways I wear them a lot because they keep the bugs out and they are breezy. Well my friend Helene tells me that when the people here saw me wearing these skirt-pants they were all laughing at me. Well thanks people of Aru. I thought they were laughing at my accent or the fact that I just was out of place, but no all along they were simply laughing at my skirt-pants. The good thing is that my skirt-pants are scaring away the local boys here. Karen has already been asked my many men to marry her where as me on the other hand have received no such offers. Praise the Lord for my skirt-pants and my height.
On Saturdays Tomas, Karen and I help at the boulangerie, or bakery, in the afternoons. This bakery was started by a past volunteer from Italy who was a baker named Lucca and they call the bread pain de Lucca. It is very tasty and we get it for free every morning for breakfast. It’s quite difficult to calculate prices in Ugandan shillings or Congolese Francs in French and count and multiply in French but I am getting a hang of it slowly. Saturday evening was my first power outage. At the beginning of December the rainy season usually ends but the rain is still sticking around. It rained so hard and the lightning here is the brightest I have ever seen. I feel as though if I looked at it directly it would blind me. So Tomas, Karen and I spent our Saturday night telling stories in the dark. This Sunday I attended my first “fete” for 3 new lay Canossians who are starting their mission with the Canossians. There was lots of good food and CAKE. I haven’t had a sweet desert since Rome so this was nice. The cake was carried in a procession of dancing towards the guest which was pretty cool. Then after eating music of course! It was a lot of fun, although the dance we did was kind of boring. Everyone just kind swung their arms and swayed to the music while going around in a circle for like 10 minutes or more. But when there’s music it seems to get everyone here excited. After my first fete I played basketball with Sister Marie Jean and some of the boarding school girls and Tomas and Karen as well. The basketball court here has been ruined by the rain so it is difficult to dribble the ball. “Carrying,” “traveling,” are not really rules here along with other things which I found interesting in the way they play. It was a lot of fun. We are going to play every Sunday afternoon.
Annyways, that is all for now! I am at peace here. The Sisters here are really great and our community of volunteers are awesome. I will update my next one soon and hopefully one or two photos. I would also love to hear from you all if you have a chance; it is always great to hear from people
A tout a l'heure
Monday, December 7, 2009
There truly is much beauty here in Aru. The Eucyliptus trees blowing in the wind, the smell of Gloria flowers, the sound of crickets and fluttering butterflies, and the distant rhythm of the drum. I wake up to the sound of the beating drum and either fall asleep to the sound of crickets or rain bouncing off the tin roof. Lightning flashes brighly across the night sky frequently here and it reminds me that I truly am in the Congo, which has the most lighting storms in the world. The stars here glitter so brightly that they almost look unreal. The constellations jump out and stun you as you crank your neck all the way back to absorb their entirity. I truly am in a different world here. For one, I have seen more insects in 1 day than I have in my entire life. To wear a watch here is not considered a good thing. What I considered to be corn rows, or African style braiding is far beyond this. Hair can be braided in the most elaborate patterns I have ever seen. The Congolese traditional hair style for women looks like antennas sticking off their heads. I am astounded by the way women can carry kilos and kilos of wood, coal, fruits, vegetables and much more on their heads. I am surprised to see more cars here than I thought I would. Also the roads here in Congo are non-existent. When leaving the roads of Uganda all of a sudden they completely disappear into a washboard road of red earth. Karen and I took our first bike ride today after much effort. We found one bike that was functional, and then found another one which needed alot of work. We took off one brake pad since it was actually keeping the tire from spinning. Then after this we had to pump both tires and the find an appropriate wrench to change the height of the seat. Finally we managed to venture out on our first bike ride with one squeky bike and the other without any brakes at all. It was a lot of fun! First I almost got hit by a car because my feet werent fast enough the stop my bike. Second, my front tire slipped on a garbage bag on the dirt road and I fell of my bike. And third, we managed to take the wrong dirt road and then encountered some little boys whose only English words consisted of I will kill you. It was a really great way to see other parts of Aru and pass by different huts, and shops and see different landscapes. I am excited to be able to bike around and get places.
My first Sunday mass here in Aru was very different. The mass lasted almost 2 hours and was so full of people that there were people outside with chairs. The music during the mass is so joyful and everyone sings along and claps and sways. I wish I could speak Lingala though so I could sing a long. I wore my first African skirt to mass which kept coming loose during the mass which made me feel even more out of place. At the end of the mass, the chief head of police for all of DRC spoke to the congregation saying how he is proud to be Catholic and that if he could be anywhere to share this, it would be Aru.
I have made friends so far with one of the girls at the hostel who studies under the light of the volunteer house. I shared a Haribo candy and gave her a skirt which she really really appreciated. I also made friends with 3 mothers who saw me painting. We got talking of course and they wanted to know how I got my curly hair the way it is. I told them it is natural but that I put a little hair gel in. Then they immediately wanted this hair gel so we walked together to my house and I gave them my bottle. Their hair though was the traditional Congolese hair style that looks like antennas and I was in awe of it as well. One of the girls is 24 and has 2 little babies, which were cuddled against her back the way the do here.
So far everything is very enjoyable here, except for the fact that I have seen more insects here than in my entire life. I am not much of an insect lover so it has been a little challenging. I hope to keep you all updated as much as I can. I will upload a few photos soon.
Greetings to you all!!!
Friday, December 4, 2009
I am finally here in Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo and am blown away by the beauty of the place. I will sum up Aru in one word, colour. The green of the trees and palm branches and bushes is a green I have never seen before which stunned me as I stood in awe. The flowers here are also the brightest flowers I have ever seen and the sky the biggest and bluest I have ever seen. The people also are the friendliest and most joyful people I have ever met.
My travels to arrive here have been very exciting and eye opening. I flew my Rome to Addis Abbaba and then to Kampala. In Kampala I discovered that my backpack was lost, and of course it has all my clothes, hahaha, just awesome. One of the Canossian Sisters from Kampala picked up Karen and I and then dropped us off at a hotel for the night. We ate a wonderful Ugandan meal with delicious roasted chicken and chapatti bread, similar to crepes but thicker, and some tasty beans and spicy vegetables. We then explored our first African market and I bought my first African skirt, since I dont know when my clothes will arrive. I felt like a glow stick walking through the market since Karen and I were the only white people. It was a little awkward. The next morning at 5am we departed to the bus station to go to Arua. On the way to the bus station we drove through the slums of Kampala which was my first experience seeing real poverty. To see poverty for yourself is much different than seeing it in films or in photographs or even someone telling their experience. Seeing children sleeping on dirt floor with 6 other people in a tiny shack really causes one to say to oneself that this should not happen. A child should not have to endure that. I also saw a young man flat on his back on the sidewalk and a couple was standing over him. I have no idea if he was alive or not. This caused my heart to stop. I just pray that he was not dead.
The bus ride was a very interesting experience. For 8 hours I bumped along on a bus, stopping at small villages along the way where at every stop children, women and young men would swarm to the windows selling meat on a stick, bananas, peanuts, fish, rice cakes, mangoes, passion fruit and water. Since I was by the window they would see that I was white, or mzungo, and all stare at me and beg me to buy from them. I felt bad for them, since all day they just wait for busses to come and stop in their village so they can sell the fruit of their labour. The scenary was amazing and so varied as we travelled all day long. The trees changed in some areas to tall green ones, and then when we went through the West Nile region the trees were closer together and then savanna, and then hills, and then savanna with rocky outcrops. We crossed the Nile River which was heart stopping, seeing the white rapids and the lucious green vegetation surrounding it as well as one man pushing his boat down the river. And then we saw 2 baboons and a tiny little white monkey which could fit in my hands. Throughout the journey there were the straw huts scattered all over, and the people in these villages seem to not do much but simply sit under the shade of trees and eat fruits. In some areas you could see the people carrying heavy bushels of leaves on their heads to build their huts and walking long distances. The people here amaze my by how tough they are to work under the hot sun, walking up hills and carrying heavy buckets on their heads. I am very glad I took the bus and could see different villages and scenary.
I will continue on to Aru shortly