Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cow slaughter on the way to class

I am on my way walking towards the terrain at 7:30am to teach my gym class as usual when I notice 4 men holding some sort of animal beneath one of the trees bordering the terrain. As I get closer I realize that it is a full grown cow being held by all 4 legs. There is one man skinning the cow with a machete and people are walking by barely even glancing at this rather grotesque scene. One of my students was with me as we walked by and she found it funny how I found this scene so strange and rather amusing. I told her how at home I go to the supermarket and I buy my meat already packaged and cleaned which she found very surprising. Yes, this is one big cultural difference between Africa and North America. I then continued on my way to the terrain to teach my class where only 5 girls showed up to. During the class I would look over and see the machete coming down hard and loud on the head of the head of the beast and every time I saw and heard the noise I would say, “pauvre vache.” Poor Cow! As I leave the terrain I pass by again and the men are in the process of pulling out all the intestines. They manipulate the intestines quickly and with ease as the steam rises from the recently terminated beating heart. It is a gruesome sight: the legs lying on a bed of branches, the gaping rib cage revealing the heart and intestines and four large men with bloody hands and machetes. I am pretty sure the meat was for a “fete” of some sort, but could they not have chosen a proper place to slaughter a full on cow rather than between the high school, the playing field and the main meeting hall. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Africans really are savage-like”, which I know sounds very racist but in fact it is more of their way to survive. If you are not able to live off the land and work the land you will find many difficulties. Our volunteer house here is not at all embracing the “Congolese way of life.” We have a fridge, electricity, a gas stove, a strong house with windows made of glass, running water and toilets. Many of the people here live in round houses made of mud and wood and straw roofs. The doors of the huts have a piece of cloth that hangs in front and each room is separated by cloth that hangs from the wooden beams of the roof. One has to go to the market many more times without a refrigerator and to cook it takes much more time when you have to cook over a fire. All in all, the Congolese living conditions require much more endurance than us North Americans and the ability to embrace what the earth provides and work the land. This is a little bit off topic from my cow slaughtering experience but just thought I would share a little more.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Here I am in my African attire ready for the "Teachers Day" procession where all the schools of Aru march to the beat of the African drum around the "grand terrain" holding a sign with their school's name which all takes roughly 4 hours. I found the whole fete rather pointless but none the less culturally interesting and of course very draining (I got THE worst sun burn on my back!!)


Here is our neighbour preparing a "termite gateau" which involves smashing the termites with a rock along with some green onions and other things and then boiling it in oil. It does not resemble or smell anything at all like the cakes I know but this is truly a "cake" for the Congolese.

We ate some fried termites in oil and salt which were surpringly not bad once you got past the sight of them. They taste a little like meat and have a crunch to them. During the rainy season they are everywhere and the Congolese eat them all the time. One of the Italian Sisters who has been in Congo for 50 years plucked a flying termite from the air, pulled off the wings and ate it live!!! 

Joy found in the little things

It is the little things each day that inspire me. Every morning I hear the same guy yelling after me as I head towards the health clinic, “Italien, Italien, Italien,” and every morning I shout back at him, “Je suis Canadienne.” At the health centre every morning my friend Ornelly runs towards me shouting, “Lydia, Lydia” and wraps her arms around my legs and squeals with joy. Then there are the mammas and their malnourished babies whom I see every morning. I greet them with “Mbote” and ask them how they are, “Sango nini,” with which they always respond with “Malamu,” meaning “good” (well actually Malamu has many meanings). Some days I give them bread which means the world to them or peanuts and candies. I simply sit and try to speak Lingala with them and hold their fragile babies. This is one of my favourite parts of the day where I feel that I am slowly connecting and living with the people. Then there are my students who whenever they see me greet me and ask me how I’m doing. I really have enjoyed getting to know the young girls here and I am going to be sad when I have to leave. One time I somehow got on the topic of my family and I mentioned I had a brother their age. They all wanted to know about him and so I described my brother and they were swooing (ya that’s right Paul, you have Congolese girls swooning for you!) and getting all excited. One girl then said in her terrible English, “Paul is MINE,” with so much drama in her voice, wow, it was hilarious. They also LOVE to dance. Sometimes in the morning there is a prayer session happening next to where we play and during the entire class the girls and singing and clapping and dancing to the beat of the drum. These girls may not be capable to playing any kind of sport well but they are capable of singing and dancing which is rooted in their culture. Yep these girls are pretty special. I am pretty sure that in Canada when you tell your kids to run two laps around the track you won’t turn around and see your students stuffing their faces with mangoes. There are some great advantages to teaching here in Congo such as witnessing sights like this or being attacked by biting ants while you play football or your students eating termites live from the ground. There are also my students at Ecole Maternelle (aged 3 to 6) who call me “Educatrice Lydia,” and run after me whenever they see me and begin to stroke my arms or pull on them, one time so hard that my pants almost got ripped off me. They look so cute and innocent but when you get past the cute smiles they can be very violent and aggressive little buggers. There are many other little things that bring me joy here such as  seeing people in the  morning walking their goats on ropes  down the road,  having  a branch of your avocado tree break with 50 avocadoes and then having them ripen all at the same time, going for  runs in the morning and seeing the sun rise blaze across the sky in  beauty beyond words, and of course the termites that swarm by our lights in the evening and make a good snack (not joking). 

Africa has revealed God’s love to me in so many ways. In the smiles of the mammas, in the scurrying feet of the little children, in the insects who cross my playing field in armies, in the babies who cling to my arms and legs, in the eyes of the mammas when they look to the heavens to thank God, in the gentle greetings and soft eyes of my patients, in the courage, faith and witness of the Sisters here, in the excitement of the young girls I teach and their unceasing cheerfulness they carry with them and of course in the rain that thunders from the heavens and gives colour to the earth and the plants, and the wind that sings a song of freedom and peace, a song that soothes the soul, caresses the body and invigorates and refreshes it.
The rain here is of God. It rushes in with force I have never experienced before. The roads bleed red, the people run, the sound deafens. I have never seen Congolese rush or run anywhere except when the rains come. The streets are flooded with barefoot, panye clad people of all ages running or biking hastily with white smiles glowing through the downfall. Everyone is enjoying themselves despite the mud and chaos and as a bystander one could say that the rain could be some sort of community fun fair.

Africa has also shared its spirit with me. Yes, Africa does have a spirit and I believe that anyone who visits this continent will experience this spirit in some form or the other. It is the people who carry this spirit within them. It is not locked away but is free as a bird and it moves in them. I can see it in their eyes, in the way they pray, sing and praise God. It is as though time has no power over them. What brings forth this free-spirit within them I ask myself? What captures them? Perhaps it is the sun that rises with majesty and casts as spell or perhaps it is the earth that sings a lullaby, a rhythm that vibrates in one’s bones. 
Perhaps this spirit is found when all is stripped away and we are left only with ourselves. And when we have God what else do we need? We are at peace and our spirit moves freely within us. I find in North America we tend to wear many masks and can easily lose ourselves to the distractions this material world tempts us with. When luxuries, securities, selfish desires are removed we enter a state of vulnerability and it is in this vulnerable state where we are broken and formed into a new creation that can bear much fruit. This reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis that a friend shared with me. He writes: 

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."  
C.S. Lewis

When our hearts are broken and we love others recklessly our selfish desires melt away and we truly begin to see ourselves in a new light, the light of a new creation, the creation that God intended for us. But when we are trapped, as Lewis writes, by our selfish desires we bring much suffering upon ourselves. It is a saddening how much suffering we bring upon ourselves in North America that can be prevented. I think of the many people who suffer from divorce, depression, eating disorders, disillusion, betrayal, self-dejection etc. It is as though we have imprisoned ourselves. This reminds me of my experience at the prison here in Aru on Easter where the literal prison walls were broken down by the faith in the Resurrected Christ. I felt it and saw it in their eyes that with God in their hearts they were free men and women. The people here in Congo, and maybe in other countries of Africa, have their faith to hold them up. They don’t have much, perhaps a tiny hut with a bed, a few pots to cook with, a lamp and one pair of clothes and maybe a radio. I sincerely believe that having less is better than having more. How much freedom can be found when we live each day only for God, without hesitation about what we’re wearing, the way we look in public, what people will think about what we’re doing with our lives, and how far up the ladder of career success we are. It is ridiculous how much these preoccupations take away from our inner beauty. 
We can learn much from the African people who live without self-inflicted pain and carry with them everywhere a free-spirit that cannot be taken from them no matter what harsh struggles and suffering they have to endure (which they encounter unfortunately each and everyday due to lack of basic human rights that the rest of the world are able to appreciate). They are able to carry this free-spirit always with them because they have completely abandoned themselves to God. 
Thank you all for sharing my journey with me thus far. I also have been uploading photos on flickr as well.