Monday, November 7, 2011
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
First, we painted and rearranged the Cyber to be more welcoming. The Cyber was due for a coat of paint not only because it’s been a few years, but especially because it is right on the main road where big trucks come by sending dust flying into every crevice. That is to say, the walls were dirty.
The new colors brightened everything up and, since we used all oil paint, we hope that it will be easier to keep these walls clean. Personally, I think the blue and crème color scheme is tranquil and creates a peaceful Internet surfing atmosphere, and it’s not just because they are my favorite colors. Here we are all painting together:
Katie, Dan, Orio, Me, and Clara (before)
Dan, Orio, and Felix (during, almost after)
We also rearranged all the furniture to include a welcome desk which is much friendlier. We used to stand in the back and wait for people to come in, look around, and be confused. This picture is taken from the door and you can see how far away Sr. Alba is:
Now people walk in and there is a friendly face at the desk, so there is much less confusion:
We also got a new specially made table for our 2 photocopier/printers that includes enough space to put down the papers you are coping and we have plans for a defined waiting area with reading material as well as a work table for stapling, collating, etc. Here is the new Cyber:
All this was enough, but then, when we had just started the work at Cyber we were Italian Surprise Attacked. This turned out to be fantastic not only because the Italians could help us finish painting the Cyber, but because they brought us new laptops! Since the theft in April, we have been limping along with the Cyber’s two computers that were fortuitously at home the night of the theft, plus 2 loaners. All 4 of these computers were temperamental and refused to work entirely as they should (and 2 of them were not ours so we had to be extra careful). Now we have 4, yes FOUR, new laptop computers to use for Cyber- that makes SIX total. Like 3 times as many computers as Cyber owned before.
So this is the new Cyber. I was very happy to see these changes implemented before I left because I put so much of my time and heart into working at Cyber and I wanted to see it grow during my time. There is still lots of room for more improvement at Cyber, but I have to leave something for future volunteers!
Monday, September 5, 2011
All of a sudden, I find myself at the end of my time in Congo. It really snuck up on me. Part of that is my fault though, as I was originally scheduled to leave on October 11th. However, after a very difficult few weeks, I decided to leave earlier than planned. My rescheduled flight leaves on September 11th. So now, I have just a few more days left in Congo before going to Rome for a month of reflection. Finally, on October 17th I will fly home and be back in Denver!
I am ready to leave. I am very tired and each day wears on me, so going to Rome early is a relief. I wanted to keep going another month to finish up my commitment, but I keep crashing and having to spend more time in bed recovering from work than actually working, so I am now at peace to leave here. I also have a wonderful opportunity to stay in Rome for a few weeks to reflect on my experience and think about the next steps in my life. I can start to see how Congo has changed me and my future and prepare for whatever I will be doing next…and do all this while taking hot showers and eating gelato.
The library is in good hands with Bolingo who I’ve worked with for several months now and Sr. Esperance, who I have had only a week with, but I have great confidence in her. The Cyber is doing well and will survive, but might have some technical difficulties- but I’m sure someone will arrive to help them; probably someone much more qualified to work on computers than me! I hope to write a few more blogs from Rome on the last updates of my project and life here, so check in again soon for some final reflections on my Congo life.
In closing, I’ll mention a few things that I will and will not miss about Congo.
What I will miss:
- Music at church- even daily mass has a fantastic choir, and Sunday mass is alive with joyful music and church dancing- how many times have you hopped up on the pews and danced for joy? I’m afraid I might find myself out of line come Christmas…
- Cheap avocados- O to be able to make guacamole, curry, soup, egg salad, pie, and so much more for a mere 5 cents per avocado (or FREE from our trees). I will die when I see the prices of avocados in America.
- Fashion- I love pagnes. My suitcase is bursting with African cloth that I’ve made into skirts, and some that I have yet to make into skirts. I hope I don’t find a pattern that is relatively dull here to be too brilliant for the American fashion scene.
- Zooming around town on the back of a motorcycle. It’s terrifying, and yet fun.
- The friendliness, kindness, and generosity of the people. Life is difficult here, and Aru is a very poor place materially, but the joy, patience, and love that people live with had been remarkable to watch and I hope that I can incorporate that attitude into my life in America.
What I will not miss:
- Burning my trash- I have a vague guilty feeling that burning all that plastic is bad for the environment…and what about batteries?
- Cold showers- not even a little bit, not even nostalgically, not at all, will I miss cold showers, in fact I might just not shower until I reach Rome, it’s only 5 days away.
- The rainy season for all the mud…and the dry season for all the dust
- Being followed down the street by children yelling “mondele” (white person). I mean really, you’ve seen white people before…get over it.
- Giant rats in the bakery, cockroaches popping out of shower drains, and un-dead spiders! And termites- giant, flying, termites!! And of course, those pesky mosquitoes that sent me to the hospital for a week.
On that note, I sign off from Congo…but I hope to sign on agian in Rome very soon!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Every now and then we all feel the need to get out of Aru and see something else. Sometimes this ends with a trip to Arua, or Ariwara, or another promenade. This time, we went to visit our friend Orio’s village. Orio works on a variety of projects in construction, painting, chicken feeding, and he was also our sentinel for a few months. During the last few months he has become a very good friend and spends many evenings at our house (he always shows up just in time for dinner) eating, drinking, watching movies, and playing games. He has even lent his voice to our attempts at karaoke. Orio lives nearby in Aru, but he often visits his village, 4 km away to visit his 2 daughters, mother, and other relatives. One Sunday he invited us along to visit his village and meet some of his family.
After an almost pleasant bike ride (I’m trying to be positive, but it was really a mostly not pleasant bike ride with lots of hauling the bike up and down hills) we arrived in Ofa to a grand welcome. Many of Orio’s brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and who knows who else came by to welcome us to their village. There are TONS of kids who live around his house- most of which were happy to see us. A few, including Orio’s 2 year old daughter Mara, cried and ran away when confronted with so many white people. Some of the kids were even courageous enough to come near us and say a few works, but most just watched us from a distance.
After we had settled in and been greeted by half the village, Orio’s sister served us and amazing feast- meat, chicken, eggs, fufu, rice, French fries, salad, pineapple, passion fruit, bananas, and maybe a few other things I’m forgetting. We all ate until we were stuffed.
After lunch we went for a walk around the village. We climbed a few hills and enjoyed the woods and the beautiful views of Aru. We could see the library, convent, church, and many other familiar places from on high. I had seen these hills in the distant almost every day, and it was fantastic to be there looking back at the normal view.
Once our digestion walk was complete we headed back to give out candy to the children (although Mara was still crying at the sight of us), thank everyone- especially Orio’s sister- for welcoming us, and say good-bye. The ride (okay, I walked half way pushing the bike) was a lovely way to end our day.
This visit to the village showed me a different side of Congolese life. Orio’s family lives so simply, there is no technology up there. They live in traditional huts made without modern building materials, and eat food from the land. Even though they do not have much, they shared everything with us, giving us a huge feast and making us feel truly welcome in their home. They actually thanked us for coming to see them, when it is they who gave so much. Orio’s mother doesn’t speak any French, but I could see in her face and in her words that I didn’t understand how happy she was for us to visit. I was so moved to see such simple and real hospitality that truly came from the heart.
In the City
I have seen through both of these villages how the importance of hospitality for the Congolese. This type of hospitality truly comes from the heart. We were made welcome in these homes not only because we were invited, but because our hosts truly wanted us to be welcome and to enjoy our time with them. I am so grateful for these opportunities to visit my friends and to meet new people and see the hearts of the Congolese people.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Every year in August, Italy descends upon a small town in Congo called Aru. They come bearing gifts of cheese, olive oil, and meats and with good intentions to serve the people for a few weeks. When they are here, they eat copious amounts of cheese, olive oil, and meats as well as pasta and drink even more copious amount of coffee. They fill the air with their chattering in Italian and their hand gestures. They talk late into the night (drinking coffee of course) and work all day. They leave joy in their wake with their laughter, singing, and generous donations of candy. The month of August is really like being in Italy, but Africa, and it can be a little overwhelming at times, but mostly it is fun.
Usually us long termers have warning of when this Italian invasion occurs; we have time to plan our defensives and hunker down before they arrive in full Italian force. We also know the names and how long they are staying for before retreating back to Italy. This year we were informed that 4 volunteers were coming on August 3. But wait, August 3rd is still days away…how can I already be writing about this year’s Italian Invasion?
BECAUSE THEY SURPRISE ATTACKED US!!!!
In an inexplicable communication error from Rome, the Italians arrived on July 29, 5 days before their originally scheduled arrival. Imagine my surprise when I innocently opening my email on July 28th and found a message from Rome mentioning that the volunteers were leaving Rome today and would be in Congo…tomorrow. “Tomorrow! But we’re not ready,” thought I. But there was nothing to do about it, the Italian invasion was starting.
Oswaldo, a librarian at the Vatican whom I am hoping can shape up my library a bit,
Valentina, from Rome who will be teaching the sisters a bit of Excel,
Lia, who works for Chanel and speaks excellent French,
Chiara, a nursing student who hopes to spend her life serving after getting her nursing degree,
And Sr. Tina from Como who only speaks Italian thus, I do not know much about her.
Chiara and Sr. Tina will stay for one month and the rest will leave after only 2 weeks. We set them to work right away by painting the Cyber (stay tuned for a Cyber update). Other work on their list after the Cyber is finished is helping in the library, at the farm, and painting any other things that we feel need to be painted.
That’s all for now from Little Italy: Congo addition!