Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Life in Africa so far

Life in Africa so far:

Here is a quote I would like to share with you all:

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass but learning how to dance in the rain."

If any of you are going through tough times in your lives try learning how to find joy in your situation. Learn to dance in the midst of the storm and hopefully the storm will pass. 

I am learning lots here in Africa and slowly slowly am beginning to get feel more at home here. My schedule here is becoming much fuller. I am now giving massages to three Sisters, as well as teaching another “gym” class and taking Lingala lessons once a week. One of the Sisters I give a massage to is the funniest Italian Nun I have ever met. Her name is Sister Angela, she is about 70 plus years old and just as wiry as can be. Her shoulders are terribly misaligned so she walks tilting towards her left side. She is always on the move whether it is shooing cats out of the convent or beggars away from the bakery, lifting heavy buckets, working in the garden etc. She is just skin and bones and weighs roughly 90 pounds. I tell her an exercise and two minutes later she forgets it which is really testing my patience. Also my clinic which I have mentioned before is finally all ready to be used but I am now waiting to have “permission” and for the word to get out. hahah. In African standards I am assuming that by the start of summer perhaps. 

The extra gym class I am teaching is just for fitness with the older girls at the boarding school. The girls are not at all athletic. For example we usually run around the terrain one time and they are all panting and complaining at how they are already tired. For the fitness class I had them do pushups but none of them could do it so I taught them women’s pushups of which they could do one of. I got them to do squat jumps with the proper technique which made me laugh quite a lot and I wish you all could have seen them. They would jump about 30 cm off the ground and kick their legs in really funny ways. The whole class was pretty pathetic and amusing at the same time. The next day one of the girls told me her legs were sore from the lunges (we only did 10 lunges) haha. 

People have been asking me, “how is life in Africa?” so I will try to give a little overview of life here.
After 3 months I am beginning to get frustrated with the African ways of doing things. In my first blog I wrote that Africans are hard workers. This is true when it comes to everyday living. Physical labour is necessary to live here. For example one must cut wood and carry coal from the market to start a fire to cook; clothes need to washed by hand which takes a lot of energy and time; collecting water from the well which also takes much energy since one usually has to walk quite a distance etc. etc. Work outside of the everyday living is to a much slower rhythm. The Congolese do not have the same idea of what “efficient” work in the western sense of the word means. For example this clinic that I am opening up has taken so far 3 months and counting. Sometimes Sr. Claire, the nurse in charge, just doesn’t show up to the health centre. When I come asking what I can do today she always has some strange reasons that there is no work for me. Examples are, “I have a meeting,” “it’s a holiday,” “there are no paint or paintbrushes,” “we lost the broom,” “the key to that room is lost,” “the person who was supposed to show up didn’t today,” “I have so many things to do that I can’t explain anything to you today,” “actually, the room we had planned for you is not appropriate because there is a bee hive right by it,” etc. etc. I am learning enormous amounts of patience with Sr. Claire!!! Work goes so slowly here. I could have put together this room in less than a week. Time means NOTHING here. I do find it funny though when people tell in you English, “Time is Money.” Karen who teaches English said that when she oversaw one of the English classes the teacher has written on the board: Time is Money, and all the kids were writing it in their books and saying it out loud very slowly. I find this absolutely ridiculous that they teach this because this saying is the complete polar opposite of Africa. I was working at the bakery one afternoon and was caught off guard when one lady says to me, “Time is Money,” and then I start laughing, and she then says, “well isn’t it right?” She was truly being serious so I tried not to laugh more at her but it was hilarious. Time is Money. Here Time is SLOW. My opinion is that if anything is going to change here in Africa the work ethic needs to change drastically. I am really beginning to get frustrated at how inefficient things are. Time could really be used better here. Oh yes, how could I forget about “time” with the schools I teach at! The students show up whenever they feel like it, sometimes 5 minutes before the class ends. I tell them every class that next class I want them there at 7:30am. It gets really frustrating when you only have 3 girls who show up to gym class because what things are you supposed to do. You can pass around the volleyball in a circle, toss a Frisbee or dribble a basketball (on the deteriorating cement court) only for a certain amount of time until it gets boring. I class tells me that I “apparently” have 20 to 30 students in each of my classes but every week there are only 6 or 9 that show up. Just today though I was absolutely stunned! I showed up for the first time 5 minutes late to class at 7:35am (I am getting a little lazy to come early or on time because none of my students arrive on time…yikes…I am turning slightly African!), and there were NINE!!!! girls waiting for me and they told me that I was late. HAHAH. I was just stunned!!! It gets better though. About 10 minutes later there were TWENTY-SIX girls! I was beaming with joy to have so many students. I quickly took the opportunity to explain a game that required a large amount of people which ended up being “capture the flag,” which they miraculously understood in my French. 
Another thing to add about these girls is that I asked the girls to write down what their dream or aspiration in their life and more than half of them wrote that they want to go to Canada and study. I was quite surprised by this and am still not sure whether the girls wrote this only because I am Canadian. 

Some other things that are beginning to frustrate me are when people, both young and old, are always asking you for things. I know this sounds cruel of me to say that I don’t like it when people ask me for things but after awhile when everywhere you go someone is asking for your shoes, your shirt, bonbons, bread, your volleyball, your bike and of course money it starts to get slightly annoying. This brings me to say a word about the local beggar “Diddo.” He sits outside the bakery all afternoon and will come and ask for bread. The first time I gave him one bread and two minutes later he came back wanting another one. I said to him that I already gave him one and he then complained to me that I am so cruel. Another time one man bought him a bread and a bag full of bonbons. A few minutes later he returned wanting me to take the bonbons and give him money instead. Ahh! This beggar is terrible. Anyways, this is an extreme example of how some Africans can ask to the point of anger.

Other than things going slowly here I am connecting more with the people here. I just started learning Lingala with a lesson once a week which helps a lot in connecting with the people on a different level. When you can speak their language it means a lot to them and they really appreciate you making the effort. It is such a foreign language to me so it is a little challenging but all in all the language itself is very simple and primitive. For example the word “lobi” means yesterday and tomorrow. When you ask people how they are, “sango nini” they ALWAYS respond with “malamu” which means good. I asked one of the Sisters how you say, “ca-va mal” (I am not doing well), and she said it doesn’t exist in Lingala. I found this very interesting because coming from the western world I can see how many things they do not have and it makes me think that they would be unhappy because of these things. People here surprisingly enough find much joy in the little amount that they have and I am now understanding why they do not say they are doing poorly. It is something very beautiful seeing the joy of these people. In Canada when Monday arrives people are moping and complaining about the start of their week and only until Friday are people joyful. Here most of the people in the village go to church and it blows me away every time at the mass to see so many people! Kids are coming in and out of the church everywhere you look. Many times the church is so full that people have to sit outside the church on plastic chairs. I am also amazed at how many people attend daily morning mass. At home when I go to a daily mass there are usually only about 20 or 30 people, but here I think there are probably up to 100 people. These people truly have God at the centre of their lives and I admire this very much. 

I have also been very blessed with my community of volunteer here. There are now 6 of us, 3 Italians, 1 Czech, 1 American and me. The Italians are amazing cooks and I am learning lots from them. I am sharing a room with Clara who is the only one who doesn’t know any English but it is perfectly fine since we both can speak French together (well basic French that is). The Italians really bring a great work ethic here and a very fun spirit to our community. We are building our own Aruopoly which I am pretty excited about. I went for my first run here in Africa with Stefano which was awesome! Everyone stared at us and laughed. I am pretty sure it is the first time they have seen white people running and I am 100% sure it is the first time they have seen a white “girl” running. It felt so good to go running, ahhh…I definitely miss the freedom to go running and I also miss going somewhere and not being noticed.

Well that is all for now. I am sure I have forgotten to mention many things but that is a quick overview. I am trying to write more often! I feel that I am growing lots here and I am so grateful for the opportunities to learn more about myself and how I can challenge myself. Africa is continually capturing my heart. The people here blow me away with their faith in God and their joy. These people have suffered much (with war ravaging through this area just 3 years ago) and I hope to learn more about their history and stories from people.
I hope to keep you all updated on my life here in Africa. I hope you are all well and know that I am always happy to hear from people. 
Peace and Love

Lydia

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Meat Shack

Today I ventured to the “meat shack” (literally) but of course here they call it the Boucherie. I would like to paint a picture of it for you. 
The dirty white shack with a picture of a steak and a cow painted on the outside sits precariously on the uneven red earth. I poke my head in the window where they serve from and ask if they have cow meat (viande de le vache). The man says yes and then asks for how many kilos. I say I have no idea but that I need meat for 6 people. He then motions for me to enter the meat shack. This is where it gets rather interesting. I slowly approach the side door and step inside very hesitantly. In the right hand corner of the shack on the floor lies a full sized cow basically ripped open with the black skin laid out and the insides exposed to many flies. The head lies on the ground still attached to the skin of the body and I can see the red flesh inside the head. To the right of the head lies a hunk skin about the size of a car tire (it might be a little smaller but in my eyes it of course seemed very large). Poking out beneath the black skin I can see the hoofs of this beast as well as a few intestines lying around. After taking in the scene my automatic instinct is that “I want to get as far away from here as possible” maybe even just run out the door right now. But of course I told myself, “all I need to do is buy the meat and leave, and plus this is making a rather interesting cultural experience.” In the left hand corner of the shack stood a tree stump with a machete driven into the side of it and on top laid some flesh from the beast. The Butcher grabbed up a slab of meat from off the ground and told me that it was the best meat from the beast and that he thought 3 kilos would be sufficient (little did I know that 3 kilos was definitely too much). So he chopped off the fatty parts, put it in the token "sache noir" (black plastic bags that every boutique has) and handed it to me. While he was cutting up the meat for me I was in quite a nervous state and felt that I needed to make conversation with the Butcher's wife. So I inquired as to what they do with the cow's head. She then asked if I wanted to buy it and I abruptly said "Non Merci!" very loudly. She said that it is very good with potatoes and you can make good soup with it. I just nodded and said, "ah, oui, okay!" and looked anxiously over to where my meat was being prepared hoping he would hurry up so I could get out of this terrifying shack. Well I finally left and I am happy to say that the meat ended up tasting not too bad...I have had worse. 

A beautiful (cascade) waterfall amidst rolling green hills, tall grass, and sprouting green trees with white bark

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Trip to Bunia Reflections...again

Eating goat meat on Mardi Gras

We arrived in Butembo late at night on Mardi Gras and were welcomed by a community of African Sisters. We entered the dining room where a long table was prepared and a head table as well where we were motioned to sit at. The dinner was a typical array of African food: rice, goat meat, potatoes and spinach. I helped myself to some goat meat which looked rather nice and began to cut through it. My knife was extremely dull and I knew there was no way I could cut through this tough piece of meat. After struggling with the dull knife I had already caught the attention of ALL the African Sisters and one Sister proceeded to stand up, walk over to me and take my knife and exchange it for a sharp one. Slightly embarrassed I take the knife and try again. To no avail I again have troubles with this piece of meat and this time the piece of meat slides off my plate. I quickly glance up to see if anyone noticed me only to see that all the Sisters eyes are watching me with much amusement. Now I am getting more embarrassed. I pick the piece of meat up and put it on my plate and slowly try again. A few seconds pass and one of the Sisters comes up to me and tells me to put the piece of meat on the plate she places in front of me. After I place it on the plate she motions me to take meat from a different pot which apparently is much softer. She then asks Tomas, who was sitting beside me laughing the whole time, to put his meat on the plate also but instead he takes my piece of meat off the plate and says that he will eat it. This is the breaking point where all the Sisters burst into laughter. The whole time they were trying not to laugh at me and finally when Tomas took my butchered piece of rubber meat they just couldn’t hold in their laughter. They probably were thinking that us westerners are a little strange. It was pretty amusing to say the least and a very memorable Mardi Gras!