Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The month that Italy came to me

Finally after a one month hiatus I have found the time to update everyone on my experience here in Congo. So if you didn’t know for the entire month of August I was living in a community of only Italians. Also if you didn’t know I spent the month of July as well as August in the village of Ariwara which is 50km north of Aru (where I spent the past 7 months). Each summer there are short term volunteers from Italy who come to Aru and this year it was the first time to have a group stay in Ariwara. I was very nervous for the arrival of 10 Italians and I was also hoping that at least one of them spoke English. Luckily when the group arrived I quickly came to learn that one girl spoke a few words in English! Phweff! and another girl could speak French. So all is well so far! Since the Canossians Daughters of Charity are an Italian order all the Sisters speak Italian therefore I have been surrounded by much Italian for the past 8 months (with the Sisters and of course the 3 Italians in our volunteer community). I really surprised myself by how fast I picked up Italian; after the first week I could speak in sentences and communicate decently. After our 3.5 weeks together I was sharing and speaking in Italian with much more ease.
Our project for the month of August was painting the hospital, the one which I have been working at. I have to admit painting is one of my least favourite things to do. After massaging people all morning and then craning my neck towards to ceiling with paintbrush in hand my body was in desperate need of a massage and a vacation. We ended up painting 3 large rooms which entitled much work: cleaning, dusting, washing and painting. If it wasn’t for the dynamism of this group with their energy and joy I wouldn’t have found much satisfaction from our work. It was a blessing in disguise to rest with a new group of young people with enthusiasm to experience Africa, joy to be with children all day long, desire to learn, be challenged and share with one another. Despite the language barrier, which I am not going to lie at times was very difficult for me, I was able to communicate and share my experience so far in Africa. I wish I could have been able to share more because I could see in each one of the volunteers a sense of yearning for a purpose in their lives. In Italy as well as in North America it is difficult to find God and to find a purpose in one’s life. The month spent in Ariwara was filled with many opportunities to play with the children here who would come to the elementary school where we were living in the afternoon everyday to play with us. One very memorable experience for me was after the morning mass at the parish where when we walked back to the school we were followed by close to 60 plus kids who waited outside the school wanting to play with us. I jumped on this opportunity to arrange some group games at the field close by. I wish all of you who are reading this could have been there to experience the joy that was present in this moment. There I was instructing in half Lingala and French to what felt like 100 kids how to play piggy in the middle, British bulldog, touch tag and to finish a game of soccer. Then on returning home I asked all the kids to sing a song in Lingala, so of course they all start in chorus singing the church song “Kembo Tata” “Glory to God” and we all ran and sang and danced together. This moment will always be in my heart. Simply playing, running, throwing a ball brings more joy than you could think. If I could stay in Africa and play with kids all day my life would be filled with an abundance of joy. Another experience I want to share is when both the groups from Aru and Ariwara came together and went on a trip to the village of Watsa about a 5 hours drive away. We arrived in the evening at the parish there where a little old missionary Italian priest lived. He had spent close to 40 or more years alone as a missionary priest. The moment we arrived we were surrounded by swarms and swarms of kids. Here in Watsa the parish has a program for the street kids here where they have a place for them to stay. I again jumped to the opportunity and brought out the volleyball and stated playing with the kids and of course the Italian guys started a game of soccer. We played together on the field until the sun went down. That night we all slept together on wood tables that we pushed together. I don’t think I slept more than half an hour since I had no pillow and the hard wood was aching against my back and hips. It’s always good to embrace a little suffering, especially knowing that the villagers here will go to bed sleeping on the floor with maybe a bamboo mat and a blanket. To finish off the month of August with this enthusiastic group of young people we spent my birthday all together in Ariwara. The group from Aru came to visit Ariwara and the work we had completed and at the same we could celebrate my birthday together. It was a very memorable day starting with a trip to the market where I came across a panye (the African fabric) with St. Cecilia on it who is my Confirmation Saint and which is extremely rare to find here since the Saints here consist usually of African saints. Then I came across a little girl selling green apples which added even more joy since I adore apples. When we returned back to the house, well the school actually, my friend Bienvenue was waiting with a cake for me. To prepare a cake for the Congolese is something very expensive so I was overcome by her generous gift. It was the heaviest cake I have ever held; I think she added close to 10 eggs in it haha. Little surprise blessings kept coming as the day went on and I felt as though God was constantly at my side the entire day. After we ate lunch, Clara brought out the most amazing brownies ever! mamma mia, bellissima! After we ate lunch the group of volunteers in Ariwara gave me a gift of the 50th anniversary of independence for Congo panye which was something I wanted to buy. Then Stefano presented gifts from my community which consisted of things which Karen had brought with her from the U.S. such as Fructus hair gel, oatmeal and Bengal Spice tea (I think of you Kim every time I drink it). Then Stefano brought out his digital camera and showed me a picture of him and Sr. Daniela next to a beautiful wooden easel which he said is waiting for me in Aru. I was blown away by this gift since it has been something that I had been wanting for awhile but I never told anyone. It is made out of beautiful red wood and hand made by Stefano with the help of one of the carpenters here. I just hope I can somehow manage to take it home with which will probably cause difficulty because of the size of it and the shape. In the afternoon the group from Aru left and our group in Ariwara took a beautiful promenade to the “swimming pool” here. Yes, there is a swimming pool here and is very natural, let’s just say it’s like a big pond. I didn’t have the courage to go swimming in it, so I have a feeling I am going to have to wait until I return home to go swimming. Then in the evening we watched movie and drank citronella tea and ate the birthday cake of Bienvenue and I have to say that this birthday was one that I will treasure forever in my memory.
As the month came to end and the volunteers were preparing to go back home I was overcome with many emotions. The talk of returning home caused me really to become homesick, but on the other hand all the volunteers were saying to me how I am so lucky to be able to stay here since they know when they return back to Italy where their lives will not be satisfying. Okay, so I am able to stay in Africa and have the satisfaction of helping people, playing with kids whenever I want and living in a place where I can find much joy and peace but in reality why is it not possible to find this peace, joy, satisfaction and meaning in one’s life back in Italy or in my case Canada? I have been thinking a lot about my return home and how my life will be different because of what I have learnt from this experience. I have been changed here in ways that I needed for my life. I left Canada desiring to learn how to give more of myself, how to stretch and reach my potential. I have reached a point now where I feel that I have been challenged enough and now I am beginning to feel tired. I need now encouragement to continually give of myself. I think of Blessed Mother Teresa who continually gave of herself to the poor and I am amazed at her strength and endurance. This leads me to dwell on the words of St. Paul, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Romans 5: 3-4