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Back from Congo - Part 2

Thursday, November 01, 2012

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. I LOVE my job... 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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    1007 days ago
    How brave all these people are! Thank you.
    1973 days ago
    Reading your story about Pierette and her mother humbles me when I think of how easy my life is compared to theirs. It sounds as if they work from sun up to sun down, or "all the hours God gives them" as i've read somewhere.

    Love the pictures of the brightly-coloured clothes. Are the girls in the white blouses with blue collars in a private school, and if so, how expensive are the school fees?

    I always make a charitable donation as part of my childrens' Christmas gift, and try to relate it to something important to our family. Two years ago I bought a sewing machine for a woman in Africa because when I was growing up and my father (who was mentally ill) wasn't working, my mother used to sew for people. Until I was old enough to help, that was often the only money coming into the house. My father was too proud to accept (or even apply for) a disability pension.

    This year part of Dorothy's gift will be a donation to PWRDF (Primate's World Research and Development Fund, an Anglican charity) to support small business development throughmicro-credit to women living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Siobhan is very interested in the Wounded Warriors' Charity, and Ian and Jenn (both dog lovers) will make a donation to the new animal shelter being built here.

    Sorry... I got off on a tangent. The people in your team look really pleasant, and the joy you were feeling shows very clearly in the pictures of you... nice to see pictures of you for a change - love the blouse.

    Take care,
    Gail emoticon
    1977 days ago
    Thanks for sharing!
    1978 days ago
    I knew you would love Africa (Congo). There is such a charm about the Country and Cities and the people are delightful. Thank you for you colorful posts. emoticon Jane
    1980 days ago
  • RAMONA1954
    Claire, thank you for sharing this trip with us! Such wonderful women and young people you have met. I'm so glad you weren't injured worse.
    1986 days ago
    Very interesting blog. I'm glad you have a job that you love. Thanks for sharing!
    1992 days ago
    Absolutely fascinating! Many kudos for what you do for the world! I love your blog and learning about Africa.
    1992 days ago
  • BEWELL48
    Wonderful pictures and dialogue. Thank you for more info on your job. emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1994 days ago
    I really liked your blog and made me feel like I was there with your photos! You are so lucky to have these lifetime experiences through your work which is for charity to people in need. What I see in your photos is beautiful people, struggling, learning, studying and smiling widely no matter the obstacles! A great lesson to all and very inspiring!
    1995 days ago
  • KAREN91
    I love your blogs! They are never too long for me. My coworker at the hospital who comes from the Ivory Coast said she spoke French in school. She spoke a African dialect when she was at home with family. She seems most comfortable with French, accidentally lapses into it at times. She learned Spanish in High school but doesnt use it any more. She speaks excellent English with a accent. She has been here 12 years. I like her alot. Her name is Fatou. I loved your blog pix and it was great to see your happy face! Fatou visited her homeland recently with her kids who had never been there. Their teachers asked them to write about the starvation in Africa but they couldnt because their moms part of Africa is not starving.
    1997 days ago
    Your photos are fabulous!
    1997 days ago
    CLAIRE I was certain i had commented on here but I could not find my comment. The first time i read it i loved it and I am certain I posted. Second time looking at the pictures there are smiles everywhere, There are vivacious children everywhere too. I remember the feeling being with running ,laughing and joyful friends in the school yard. When i look in school yards now I am not seeing anywhere near as much play and interaction. We are so caught up needing so much security we are neglecting our joy. HUGS I loved your joyful, hopeful Blog. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1997 days ago
  • QTEALADY20031
    Claire, this is an all-inspiring blog and I love your pictures. They are awesome. What a wonderful experience for you. Pierrette's mother is amazing at her age to be working in the fields, she puts me to shame. Pierrette is a wonderful woman, I would love to have been at the Mass, the group was preparing for........To see what they have to deal with on a daily basis compared to us is just incredible. Claire you must have such amazing memories of this trip. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel like I am there when you describe your adventures. emoticon June
    1998 days ago
    Pierrette’s Mother is a fantastic 70 year old woman. I meet people on a daily basis that are less than 50 and look older than she does. It is such a treat to not only read your blogs but to feel like I am with you on your trips. Totally awesome job you have.
    1998 days ago
    What an inspiring job you seem to have captured the essence of the people so well.We feel their warmth and their faith and good humour.An outstanding blog Claire !
    1998 days ago
    Outstanding! and so Inspiring... Thank you for sharing your trip with us... I love all the pictures...especially the ones from the women in the literacy classes... they move something inside me that I can't really put into words... Do you mind sharing them with me in a better resolution? I promise I would always give you credit... I would like to post them in my office to give me inspiration on my study hours...
    I'm sorry you fall, but I'm glad it was nothing serious... it's always an adventure to read your blogs... I love it!
    Sending you love as always... emoticon

    PS. Remember the gift you sent me? I received it very soon after you told me I was going to get it... it is unopened (as I was instructed) in my fireplace mantel... any time I see it there, it puts a smile on my face... Can't wait for Thursday to open it!... emoticon
    1998 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/3/2012 10:45:49 PM
  • JENNA54
    Took my breath away Claire. What a great job to have, and what wonderful work you are doing. We must never take for granted what we have, when so many people have so little, and every day is a struggle to put food on the table. To see the happiness in these faces also says so much about where we place our values, and what is truly important in life. Thanks for sharing.
    1998 days ago
    I just love to see your pictures. They are so much full of life!
    1999 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/10/2012 6:56:16 AM
  • CHEEKY1000
    You make me laugh. You always apologize for your long blogs, but frankly, they end much sooner than I want them to.

    The full photo of the children you used in your background oozes joy and the universality of children.

    I'll keep my fingers crossed that you get to go back to Africa for work as you love it so much.

    1999 days ago
    I loved this blog. Your descriptions of some of the people is so wonderful and the pictures so show much joy! Most of the time the pictures we see of that area is the poverty and sadness, which I know is there still. But it was so good to see some pictures of the positives in the area in spite of the hard life many of them have. Thank you so much for showing this side!
    1999 days ago
    Thank you Claire! I love traveling with you. You are an amazing woman.
    1999 days ago
    BEAUTFUL! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1999 days ago
    Oh, how interesting Claire. I can see why you love the work you do. How interesting to meet those wonderful people. The photos are great. So sad about the wild life.
    2000 days ago
    You have such a gift for capturing the personality of the people you photograph! It truly is are so talented! I can't thank you enough for sharing.

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    2000 days ago
    Sounds like you are very happy traveling, even though your job has gone through changes. Lot's of people can't say that, so I'm glad for you. Thanks for sharing your pictures and experiences with us. For many of us it might be the only way we'd see these things.

    Have a great weekend!


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    2000 days ago
    Thank you so much for sharing, wonderful trip.
    lovely photos too ,I love looking at faces and the choir-girls were really sweet.
    Thanks again emoticon
    2000 days ago
  • LINDAK25
    Wonderful pictures. Your blog reminds me of my sister's experiences in Africa. She lived in the Central African Republic in the 1976-78 teaching English as a second language. She was in the Peace Corps. Then her husband's job took him to Angola for six years from 2004-2210. (Both she and her husband are fluent in French and Portuguese which makes it easier for them when they travel.) Angola is beautiful, especially by the ocean. My sister really loved it there. She worked in an orphanage teaching children (and teachers) English. She made many friends there and I know she will return to visit.

    It is so frustrating that many African countries are still suffering from the ravages of war. But every time I see a child's joyful smile, I see hope for the future.
    2000 days ago
  • JACKIE542
    Beautiful Claire, thank you for sharing your trip with us. The people in the Congo should be a big inspiration to us all.
    Very happy all went well! emoticon emoticon
    2000 days ago
  • MIZINA730
    I admire the women in Africa. They spend inordinate hours just getting the necessities to their homes and families. Yet they do it with grace, uncomplainingly. I didn't know that there are so few animals in certain parts of Africa. How sad what war does to nations.

    Thank you for the informative lesson! If they get just a little help, they can do so much with it.

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    2000 days ago
    Simply wonderful, as usual! I'm glad to hear you didn't suffer any serious injury in your fall.
    I am so happy that the women are learning to read! It is inspiring that after working hard during the day they are still determined enough to learn new things.
    It seems kids can have fun doing just about anything. Something we should try to remember how to do as adults!

    2000 days ago
  • BAKER1009
    Yay for part 2! Beautiful pictures! More than that, it's so great to read about all of this, as I know little to nothing about how they live in Congo. Another history lesson from Claire!
    I am so glad you were not seriously hurt when you fell! Poor thing! Hope you are healed up now and don't have any pain in that knee.
    So glad you are home safe and sound now. I do hope that your boss lets you go again one day!
    2000 days ago
    I just love the children photos, Claire! Especially the one that you've put as your background. The same word, joy, came to my mind, too, when I first saw it and I made the same comment. I never think of sadness when I think about Africa. Words like unfairness may come to mind but not sadness. People who live so close to nature can find happiness in simple, everyday things. And that's real, pure joy.
    Thank you for clearing things out about your job. I'm sure your new boss will be really flexible about any other traveling opportunities that might come up. Doesn't he want a happy, productive employee?
    2000 days ago
    Again, Thank you so much. I loved reading about your job.
    The children's smiles make your heart melt, I'm sure. With
    all the adversity they still show the rest of the world that
    life is ajoy. Thanks again for sharing. emoticon emoticon
    2000 days ago
    Beautiful, just beautiful. Your photos really capture much more than just the image. I loved reading about your trip.
    2000 days ago
    I loved the photos of the children! What joy to see their smiling faces! Also enjoyed the photos Pierrette and the scenery. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. One of those smiling faces so reminded me of the African woman who (when I was visiting my much skinnier sister in Capetown) told me with great joy and a beaming smile "You big just like me!" Which was such a wonderfully different attitude that I would ever hear in the US.
    2000 days ago
    You really showed a different side to that part of Africa Claire. It is terrible to hear no wildlife is left there! I love how colorful their clothes are!!
    Glad you enjoyed your trip and accomplished so much while there! Good for you! It does sound like a dream job!! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2000 days ago
    The little girls are adorable. Love the braids in their hair. The boys are just as cute. So glad you are ok after your fall. You need to take hiking boots with you next time. I like your Boss. Seems he is willing to let you help out when needed. What a plus for you!! I'm glad you had a fun and successful trip. Loved all the photos!
    2000 days ago
    Yeah!! It was a great journey! I love the kids, they are so happy and joy radiates from there faces.

    I agree that your trip has so many highlights and stories that are real treasures.

    And I am also very glad that you didn't come across any crocodiles!

    2000 days ago
  • DOODIE59
    Beautiful photos, Claire! Thank you very much! Those women learning to read -- WOW. Can you imagine the wonder of the written word starting to make sense after a life time of not reading??

    Have a great day:)
    2000 days ago
    Wonderful smiles on the children's faces! Sad that the wild animals are gone. Maybe it is weird of me but I hate it when tourists go to the touristy areas and come home not seeing anything of the real life in African countries. It keeps the corrupt dictators in power, I feel...or helps to, anyway.
    I have always been interested in literacy training. Who knows, I might end up doing it after retiring. We will have to talk when I am in Paris, I would love to know more about what you do...and what volunteer opps there might be.
    One day I want to go to Africa...dreaming on here...
    emoticon emoticon
    2000 days ago
    This is such an awesome blog, Claire. The women are so beautiful - and such an inspiration. They work so hard, yet they are learning and growing. Amazing!!
    Your FaceBook friend is absolutely right - the children are truly a picture of joy!! I can almost hear the laughter.
    Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us!! I have been truly blessed by this.
    Love you!!
    2001 days ago
    you and the gift of your blogs are an absolute delight - again - thank you for including us in your life and journeys
    2001 days ago
    BEAUTIFUL emoticon emoticon
    2001 days ago
    My parents were in the Peace Corp - early 70's. I traveled to Senegal, then traveled by taxi to Bathurst - crossing the river on the Lady Wright. I found the people in Africa to be very family oriented, full of laughter and song and even willing to include you into their daily lives, regardless that you didn't know their language.

    Loved the open markets, my folks had a few favorites where they would get fruit and peanut paste from. Spent a month there in 1973, truly a trip of a lifetime.
    2001 days ago
    Thoroughly enjoyed the blog and the JOY is leaping off the pics! THANK YOU!
    Pierette's Mom is something else isn't she? GO MOM. :)

    I just came back recently from a missions trip to Mexico and was so amazed at how joyous the children and the adults were when they had so very little. God is good all the time. I didn't even experience a language barrier as God's "love" brought us together and kept us close during the time we were there.

    Thanks again for sharing Claire.
    2001 days ago
    ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!!!! I JUST HAVE NO WORDS FOR HOW WONDERFUL IT WAS. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon THANKFULLY YOU COULD GO ON AFTER BEING HURT, THANKFULLY ESPECIALLY TO ALL OF US FORTUNATE TO READ YOUR BLOG.
    AGAIN, emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2001 days ago
  • DMF2012
    Thank you once again for a fantastic blog, and for explaining what you do. The pics were fantastic, and my favorite one was the very last one - you! You look so happy and so comfortable. You have my "dream job", and I'm glad you are still able to travel to Africa.
    2001 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    What an awesome blog! Thanks so much for the wonderful pictures, you are right, pure joy on the faces of those boys running toward you, and the girls just like anywhere else in the world, with phones in their hands. What beautiful people that live in the congo. I bet they all get their exercise without ever even thinking about it with the lives they live and yet, they look serene and peaceful and happy. How lucky for you to be able go there and spend time and how exciting it must be for the women to learn how to read no matter the age. What power and freedom it must give them.
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story! emoticon
    2001 days ago
    I love to get lost in your blogs! They really are like mini-vacations! So many beautiful faces and serene smiles! I LOVE the fabrics that the women are wearing! Lovely, bright earthy colors.

    Thank you again Claire! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2001 days ago
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