Thursday, August 18, 2011

Visiting the Heart of Africa

Promenade to Ofa

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

A few weeks after our visit to Ofa, we were invited to celebrate the First Communion of a Parishoner on a Sunday afternoon. Elena, me and two sisters went to their house in the city of Aru, not too far from where we live. This family was different from Orio’s simple village family in many ways, but the culture of welcoming and generosity shone through the same. This family lives in a modern house in the city and is very well off as the mother is director of a local primary school and the father is a government official. But just like Orio’s village, the house is full of children running around so that it is hard to identify brothers, sisters, or cousins- it’s all just one big family living together and sharing everything. We were most sincerely welcomed by everyone. These city children were much more used to seeing white people, so we had a very nice time playing with them. After visiting for a bit, we were served a lovely feast of many dishes.

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

Italian Invasion: Surprise Attack!!

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? 


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.

 Now that the original shock has worn off, the Italy invasion is quite pleasant.  There are 5 people (4 volunteers and a sister from Italy to lead them) willing to do any work that we tell them to do.  They brought whole suitcases full of nothing but cheese, meat, and other delicious Italian foods.  There are some communication difficulties, but mosty we are getting along very well and I am looking forward to getting to know the new volunteers more.  A quick introduction:

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!