Hello dear Sparkfriends,
JOY. A friend of mine who had seen this picture on my Facebook page said it was ‘full of tangible JOY’. I was so glad she wrote that, as I feel many people think of sadness when they think of Africa. Of course there are very sad aspects (wars, droughts, famines...). But I never smile and laugh as much as when I visit Africa. How could I react when I saw these children running towards me in Mouyondzi with excitement and big smiles? Of course I smiled back, and laughed back!
Energy and creativity are two other things that stroke me again during this trip. These young girls were practicing songs and dances for the Sunday mass and they were having a fantastic time!
This picture makes me laugh because it is such a good example of a big change I have seen this time: some people we met took pictures (actually mostly videos) of me with their phone! It was so funny: I was as exotic to them as they were to me! (Well, I didn't mind when it was young girls like these, but when it was our taxi driver it wasn't so much fun, I have to admit!)
Let me show you what always brings a big smile on my face: literacy classes. I mentioned them in my blogs on Burundi last year, and it was just as moving this time in Congo. This was an ‘all women’ class of farmers in Mouyondzi. It takes courage and humility to learn to read and write after a certain age and with such a tiring life.
The lady in the middle on the picture above, beautifully dressed in her best clothes, is called Pierrette. We spent a couple of hours with her after the class. I was so glad when I started interviewing her and could tell we had most likely found our ‘hero’.
Here is Pierrette at home next to her stand on which she sells all kinds of things to the neighborhood (the young man on the right is her son, Bertran, and the man in the middle is a neighbor). Can you see the kitten on the bottom right? :) He looks like he is holding the door!
Here is a closer view of some things Pierrette sells on her stand: smoked fish and cassava starch.
After we visited her house and met her son, Pierrette took us to her field outside Mouyondzi. She works in her field 5 days a week (it is an especially busy time at the moment as it is the rain season). She wakes up very early to prepare breakfast, then goes to church for the 6am service (6 days a week!) mostly attended by women farmers, then walks to her field. It took us about 30-40 minutes to reach it after we left the car, but we drove for a big part of the journey. She walks all the way.
(Copyright: Richard Hanson)
At some point, we took our shoes off and crossed a small river. We had so much fun!
I just laughed all the time, the water was wonderfully cold and it was slippery because of some flat stones in the river’s bed.
Here you can see Richard putting his shoes back on (seating on the case he puts his lenses in... a land rover can drive on it without breaking it!). Next to him is Christian, who decided not to put his shoes back on for the rest of the walk, feeling more comfortable bare feet. And at the back is Pierrette, patiently waiting for us.
Pierrette’s mother was another wonderful encounter. She worked in her field about 10 minutes away from her daughter’s. Don’t you think she has a beautiful serene face? She is in her mid-70s, suffers from rheumatisms and high blood pressure, but she is in her field 8 to 10 hours a day 5 days a week!
As we were walking back after spending some time with Pierrette in her field (like many of her neighbors she was planting cassava cuttings), I fell on the path. There were tiny rolling rocks, it was a bit steep, and I had pumps on! (I know, that is very silly, but I usually never walk more than a few steps when I am in Africa and I need to look a bit smart!) It could have been disastrous, and sending us all home if I had needed medical care... no trustworthy hospital in that part of Congo! But I got away with a superficial cut on my skin and a big black bruise on my knee. Phew! I was glad Richard had his first aid box with him as mine was in my suitcase at the hotel!!!
My linen trousers had a huge hole in them at knee level. Amazingly, our next meeting was with Madeleine, who owns a tailor shop in Mouyondzi! I had had a lovely interview with her early that morning and had told her we would visit her in her shop to take some pictures of her. I am very glad to say she did a great job with my trousers so that I could wear them again during the trip!
Her apprentices were so cute with their matching uniforms!
Now, what about the river we were going to cross in a canoe? Well, we didn’t. It had been raining a lot for days when we got there and it wasn’t possible to cross in a canoe as the stream was very strong. We crossed the river at a different point:
We could tell the stream was very strong even then, so I was glad we weren’t in a canoe. What about crocodiles? Well, no crocodiles! And no wild animal at all... antelopes, elephants, panthers... they are all gone. As Albert, a middle age teacher, explained to me, modern weapons used for hunting have destroyed the wild life in the south of Congo. This is why there are parks to protect wild life in touristy areas of Africa, but the south of Congo, very poor and still badly damaged by the civil war (1997-2000), is anything but touristy: the only Westerner we met was a monk.
Albert said he last saw an elephant when he was 10. The elephant was crossing the schoolyard.
But let’s end with hope and children...
Following my previous blog on Congo, several of you who haven’t been reading my blogs for very long have asked me what my job is. I work for an international charity working in over 200 countries. Until recently, I was the Francophone Communications Officer: I helped our offices in French-speaking countries to better communicate on their projects in order to get funding. I did an average of 2 ‘big’ trips a year (Mali, Senegal, Cameroon, Burundi, Haiti, etc). It was my ‘dream job’.
But earlier this year, my charity went through a major restructuring and I lost my job. I applied to one of the new jobs which was created then and was accepted. I am now a facilitator in Europe, North Africa and the Middle-East. So, this trip I did to Congo was part of my ‘old’ job: our English office asked me to do it for them and luckily my new boss accepted. He made it clear it was a ‘one off’... but added with a smile we would reassess the situation if I am asked to go to Africa again as I love it so much!
Can you tell? :)
Thank you so much for reading this llllllong blog! And thank you for all your comments on my previous blog. I have been very busy but will write to each of you.