What has been capturing my attention

Reading

*My friend Eric Massanari is a chaplain at a retirement center in Kansas. He recently wrote about an interaction with a resident here.

*Another friend, Rachel Miller Jacobs, is an associate professor of Christian formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) wrote an powerful reflection on Psalm 146 here.

*The book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. You can find my review here.

*Reflections about Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite man working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN and human rights violations. He was kidnapped on March 12 with his colleague, Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their bodies were found earlier this week. From Mennonite press and from mainstream media.

 

Watching

*The “George Gently” series on Acorn. I love British mysteries!

*The Trevor Noah stand-up special on Netflix. His impression of Nelson Mandela is riveting. Warning: some language.

*The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer and activist James Baldwin. I saw this in a full movie theater where everyone was silently engaged with the film. Very powerful film and necessary viewing for everyone.

 

Pondering

*We placed this sign in our front yard about a month ago and I am pondering how I can support local refugees. I’ve been reading D.L. Mayfield’s blog and she offers many suggestions for developing friendships and supporting refugees. Also, her book Assimilate or Die is excellent and you can read my review here. (You can read the backstory about the signs here).

Glad You are Our Neighbor Sign

*Lent. I’ve been reading Paula Huston’s book, Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for daily reflections. I’ve also been participating in the Lectio Divina Lent study with Abbey of the Arts.

We are quickly approaching Palm Sunday (April 8) and Easter (April 16). I am enjoying my gospel lectionary study as well. Here are my reflections for Lent 2 and Lent 4.

Celebrating

*Kevin and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary this weekend. This photo was taken a few years ago at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia when we celebrated his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with Kevin’s family. I love this photo of us.Kev and June at Peggy's Cove

 

What is captivating you?

Last full day in Congo

It is my last full day in Kinshasa, DR Congo.  I’ve been here for 14 days with Nina and Nancy, visiting various non-government organizations (NGO), many of them church related, around the city and we are visiting one more project. I am tired—physically, mentally, emotionally—and am not interested in learning about one more project.

Our host, Suzanne, drives beyond several cement block buildings surrounded by vegetable gardens. She pulls up to a small building where an older woman is waiting for us. She is wearing a yellow and black cotton wrap skirt with both a matching top and a jauntily tied head scarf. She looks like many of the Congolese women I have met and seen during the trip.

Suzanne Lind and Maman Nzeba at the Disciples Sewing Centre. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

Suzanne greets the woman with the air kisses offered three times as the women touch the other’s face with their own face. She introduces Maman Nzeba, the director of the Disciples Sewing Centre, a sewing project raising funds to send to NGOs working in eastern Congo where war between Congo and Rwanda continues. I perk up at hearing “sewing project” and my fatigue lifts.

Maman Nzeba leads us to three rooms where two women are in the middle of sewing tasks: one is at the cutting table with larger scissor shears cutting fabric and the other is at the ironing board pressing fabric. As I enter I recognize this space—not the exact space but the accouterments of a sewing studio. I have my own room with the finished attic dedicated for sewing, including my own cutting table made by my husband and father-in-law, an ironing board and iron, sewing machine, spools of thread in a plethora of colors stacked against the wall, and piles of fabrics in various stages of completed fabrics.

Maman Nzeba in the sewing room with clothing and dolls either made-to-order for clients or for sale. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

I move around the Congolese sewing room noting their sewing tools, finished projects available for sale, and the vibrant, colorful fabric. Finally, for the first time in two weeks I feel at home and at ease in Kinshasa. I feel connected to this space and these women because of our mutual love for sewing.

Maman Nzemba, the seamstresses, Suzanne, Nancy, and me in the sewing room. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

As Suzanne concludes the visit, Pastor Nina offers a blessing for this project. Just as we turn I say, “Wait, please translate my blessing: And may your needles always remain threaded.”  Both Nina and Suzanne quizzically look at me yet Suzanne translates for me. The women listen to her and then start laughing, “Merci, merci, maman” as they hug me good-bye.

In the car Nina turns to me and says, “I had no idea where you were going with that but it worked for them!” I smile and look out the window as Suzanne drives away from the cement buildings.

 

Getting (sewing) schooled in the Congo

The instructor at Bondeko sewing school. Photo by JMD.

On Monday, May 7, Nancy, Nina, and I visit the Bondeko sewing school, sponsored by the Bondeko Mennonite church in Kinshasa.  (I wrote about it before my trip here: http://wp.me/p1DCBi-4Q) I am looking forward to this visit—I know about sewing. Plus, I have the gifts my sister Julie and I made for the school and I am ready to give them to the women.

Nancy and I arrive first (Nina is staying with another family) and we are welcomed into the classroom with two young women students and one instructor. The instructor is wearing a beautiful halter dress with ruffles down the front which she sewed herself. She is a walking advertisement for her sewing skills.

The room is small, with three cement walls and one wall of windows that looks out onto the busy street. Crowded into the room are five hand-cranked sewing machines, tables, and plastic lawn chairs. Most of the tables are pushed aside to make room for us, their visitors and Nancy and I wait for Nina’s arrival.

The professional sewing room with one of the seamstresses. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

Next door is a similar room with two sewing machines with fabrics, notions, and pictures of various women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing designs. This space is the professional room where people come to order clothing or to get alterations.

Marie-Jeanne, president of the Bondeko sewing school and one of our hosts.

Marie–Jeanne, president of the sewing school, is adjusting the tension on the machines while the bobbins are acting funky, and it appears that one can only sew one seam at a time then re-thread the machine and fiddle with bobbin before sewing again. The machines are old, black Singer machines with gold lettering and decorations. And, I marvel at Marie-Jeanne’s patience with them because I would’ve been swearing at my machine (and at myself) if I had to fiddle with my sewing machine this much.

Bondeko sewing classroom Photo by JMD

The two students are working on assignments from the instructor. When they finished one part of the assignment—sewing a collar—they gave it to the instructor, she looked at it, and without feedback, give them the next assignment. It’s very different from my grandmother and great-grandmother teaching me to sew.

After Nina and Izir (our translator) arrives, we receive a history of the school, a demonstration by the students, and then they offer us an opportunity to sew on the machines. I volunteer, thinking this will be easy, but I am quickly disabused of this idea! It is tough to crank the side wheel to get the machine going, get the fabric under the needle and sew a straight seam. The women had a good laugh at my clumsiness and the instructor helped me with the wheel. Both Nancy and Nina took turns and each did fine—I’m assuming they learned from my awkwardness (and not, perhaps, that they are more coordinated than me!).

Here I am getting (sewing) schooled. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

Nina offered a blessing for the school, the instructors, and the students. Then I talked and this is what I said:

“It is traditional for the older women to teach the younger women to sew and my grandmother and great-grandmother taught my sister Julie and me to sew. They showed us how to thread a needle, tie a knot at the end of the thread, and how to take out my stitches when I made a mistake, which was a lot! (The women laugh at this).

My great-grandmother and grandmother died many years ago and I miss them a lot. Yet, sometimes, I can hear their instructions when I sew, like, “Don’t leave that mistake in—re-sew that seam.” (The women nod their heads in understanding). Sometimes my sister and I sew together although she lives far away and we consult with one another by phone when we have a sewing problem.

My sister Julie and I made these sewing kits for you in memory of our grandmother and great-grandmother. I know they would’ve loved to meet you and visit this sewing center!”

I distribute the sewing kits and pin cushions and the women are delighted and touched that we had made these gifts for them. The instructor immediately understands how the wrist pincushions worked and asked me to put around her wrist and wore it the rest of the day.

The women holding their sewing kits in the classroom. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

In each kit is a seam ripper, measuring tape, tailors chalk, needles, and a seam gauge.

Bondeko sewing kits made by Julie. Photo by Julie-Ann McFann

The pin cushions are filled with straight pins (after this photo was taken).

(Julie wrote about the designing and sewing of the kits and pin cushions on her blog: http://grandmassewingcabinet.com/2012/05/22/every-stitch-a-prayer-mostly/).

Marie-Jeanne formally thanks Julie and me for the gifts and says, “We look forward to your sister visiting us.”

Then Nina, Nancy, and I took many photos of the group with the sewing kits.

Holding the sewing kits in the classroom. Photo by JMD

And outside of the sewing center, I try to get them to say “Cheese” for the photo. I think they oblige me to be polite!

Outside the Bondeko sewing school (with Izir, our translator). Photo by JMD

 

Waving like the Rose Parade Queen at the Funeral

Mourners line up to pay respects. Photo by JMD

Saturday morning Nancy, Nina, and I pack our bags, preparing for our immersion into Kinshasa life. Nancy and I will spend a few days with Gaston and Marie-Jeanne while Nina stay at Pastor Francois and Felly’s home. Then the plan is to switch places.

I am feeling anxious, not knowing what to expect. Francois and our translator, Izir, arrive and we wait for Marie Jeanne and her driver. At last they arrive, we climb into Marie Jeanne’s SUV: me in front, Nina and Nancy and Marie-Jeanne in the middle seat, and Francois and Izir in the very back with our luggage. Suzanne stands outside my window saying good-bye. I am beginning to panic and I don’t want to leave Suzanne and her home. I get teary-eyed and she takes my hand and reassures me that all will be well. She tells me in a quiet voice, “They are not going to let anything happen to you. You are safe—don’t worry about your physical safety. You’ll do fine.” She kisses the back of my hand and says goodbye to me then says good-bye to the others.

I wipe away my tears and feel comforted by her words and kindness. As we drive away I replay her words and pray: “Yes, God, I am safe. Help me to be free and not so fearful.” At this moment I feel my heart open up—my binding fear is loosened and I can breathe again. I feel eager to experience DR Congo.

Originally we were to visit a hospital but plans were changed when the wife of a prominent Mennonite pastor died and the funeral was scheduled for this day. The challenge is that no one is exactly certain where the funeral is located so we spend a lot of time driving down narrow roads, asking for directions, backing up and turning around. (See Nancy’s terrific description here). At last we find the location tucked in the back behind some building. The funeral is in an open area with folding chairs set up for a few hundred people. The funeral has started and we are latecomers creating a distraction as we walk past a group of people in the back. I begin greeting them—they are looking at us anyway. I say, “Bonjour, bonjour” and receive “Bonjour” with smiles in return. I begin waving to people like I’m the Rose Parade queen, loudly whispering, “Bonjour, bonjour.” Thankfully, Izir is behind me and whispers, “We need to keep going” and directs me to the left for us to be seated. I am in the front row between Nancy and Izir, who tells me what is happening as the portable sound system pops and hisses as people speak in either French or Lhingalla, a dialect. I sit back and watch everything, occasionally asking Izir what is happening.

*I see the head usher working hard at directing people, or turning them away, consulting with the pastor, all trying to discreetly keep the funeral moving along. I think of William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow”—with apologies to WCW:

So much depends
upon

the head
usher

forehead glistening
with sweat

near the beloved
pastor.

*I see different families of the deceased wearing clothing from the same fabric as a way to identify themselves.

Members of the same family wear clothing created from the same fabric. Photo by JMD

*I see a group of mourners from the woman’s home village sitting around the coffin but allowing enough space for the guests to walk past to pay their respects.

Mourners from the village. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

*As we pay our respects—trailing behind Pastor Francois—I see the woman’s husband greet Nina in English: “We are so glad you are here. We’ve been waiting a long time for you.” And he embraces her with the traditional pressing one’s check to the other face three times.

After we pay our respects we leave. I wave again as I walk past people saying, “Au revoir!” Izir keeps correcting my pronunciation but I don’t fret—I am feeling safe and free and ready for the next event in our Congo adventure

Congo–Wherever you go, there you are

The next day we return to the Mennonite Central Committee office to spend more time with the other MCC staff and learn about their work. Ben tells us about his work with the health centers around Congo, tells us his story, and his commitment to MCC ideals. Ben tells us that he moved from a major medical non-governmental organization (NGO)—with a big salary—to work for MCC because it pulled together his work with his faith (while touching his heart with his open hand).

Ben at the MCC office. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

Our time with Ben is interrupted by news that the Bishop was waiting for us. We drop everything and follow the our escort through the hallways and up and down stairways. We first stop at the office of Pastor Milenge Mwenelwata, the second vice president of the Church of Christ of Congo (ECC), the organization that owns the large building where MCC—DR Congo is housed. Pastor Milenge had visited North America this past April as part of a delegation from ECC to meet with government officials in Canada and the US and officers in the United Nations. When their Canadian visas were delayed, the delegation visited Nina’s congregation, Florence Church of the Brethren-Mennonite, on Maundy Thursday and participated in a footwashing. Pastor Milenge also had dinner at Nancy’s home so he knew both Nancy and Nina. After a few minutes of lingering in Pastor Milenge’s office, we are told the bishop is ready for us. As I leave Pastor Milenge’s office, I move toward the bishop’s office when the translator stopped me and said, “No. Pastor leads the way.” So begins my introduction to Congo protocol and my ongoing bafflement of what is or is not proper protocol.

The bishop’s office is large and very chilly with two sets of sofas facing one another with two glass-topped coffee tables joined together at the middle. On the coffee tables are two wooden candelabra-like shapes filled with a variety of flags from around the world. On top of the bookcase behind the large desk piled high with files and papers is a wooden triangle with an American flag folded into it. I recognize this as a sign of prestige and power, yet I am curious about the story of that flag and why the bishop had it, yet I refrain from asking about it.

I sit next to the first vice president of the ECC and across from the bishop. I have no idea what the purpose is for this meeting, although I am grateful for the air-conditioning. But blended in with my bafflement, my innate resistance of important religious men begins to surface. I observe the deference that Pastor Milenge shows the bishop and the reticence of the first vice president next to me. I recognize this defiance as my own immaturity and I have an inner struggle of wanting to be polite while trying to squish my desire to be impolite. And, I am aware that I am invited to this meeting because I am an American and the bishop is showing deference to me. I also suspect that this meeting is undergirded by a hope for financial support, although nothing is explicitly said.

I spot the bishop’s red socks and immediately think of Kevin and the red socks I gave him for his birthday. I ask Suzanne to take a picture of the bishop’s red socks and explain that my husband loves red socks. The Bishop agrees to the photo which Suzanne takes. I am trying to be playful but not really succeeding. I wonder if my playfulness can cross culturally. Later, Suzanne tells me that it’s inappropriate to talk about bodies or body parts, especially to a bishop. She and I agree that I was probably subconsciously tweaking the bishop. *Sigh* I am reminded that I take all of me—the polite and the impolite parts of me—wherever I go.

The meeting lasts maybe an hour and the four of us leave a little baffled about the purpose of the meeting. It is the first of several cross-cultural moments that we don’t quite understand. Our primary purpose for the trip is to develop and nurture relationships across cultures and we are reminded that all relationships take work—and relating to our new Congolese friends we need to cross languages, cultures, histories, class, and our very selves that we bring with us wherever we go!

*Photo of the bishop by Nina B. Lanctot

Mango sampling in Kinshasa

Maman Lucrece and I at the produce stand. Photo by Nancy Myers

Day 4

I wake up feeling much better and eager to face the day—and to face Kinshasa. Mixed in with my eagerness are droplets of anxiety: anxiety of culture shock, anxiety of getting sick again, anxiety of new experiences. But I am ready to be brave.

Suzanne drives us to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) office located near her home. It is a large cement building that houses offices for many Protestant groups and mission organizations. As we enter the building, the lobby is an open space with a guard/receptionist behind a glass enclosure. Suzanne calls out, “Bonjour” to the man who returns her greeting. He greets us with “Bonjour” as well.

We walk up the three flights of concrete steps—without hand rails—turn right, and at the end of the hallway we see the large sign with MCC logo. As we enter the offices, we are greeted by a lovely young woman with chin-length hair. She introduces herself as Maman Bea (short for Beatrice). Nina immediately hugs Maman Bea and says in Frenglish, “I’m so pleased to meet you!” As I meet Maman Bea and do the cheek-to-cheek greeting three times, I begin to speak Spanish to her. I catch myself but end up speaking a hybrid of Spanish, English, and French. She corrects my French pronunciation (this is the first of scores of corrections I receive during the next two weeks).

Ben Munongo, MCC-DRC. Photo by Nancy Myers

We also meet Ben Munongo, Suzanne’s assistant who jokingly (and perhaps, proudly) shows us his “domain” in the office, comparing his three desks to Suzanne’s one desk. The three MCC offices are interconnected with Suzanne and Ben’s office the furthest from Bea. In one of these other offices are Francois, Mimi, and Jean Felix, waiting to be interviewed by Nancy and digitally recorded by Nina. Nancy has edited a book of stories from Congolese Mennonites in preparation for the upcoming centennial celebration of the Mennonite Church in DR Congo in July. These interviews will be part of the celebration.

Mimi and Jean Felix. Photo by Nina Lanctot

Suzanne and I leave the others to run errands to the bank and the water store to purchase bottled water. There are stores dedicated to selling bottled water throughout Kinshasa. Suzanne replaces large empty water jugs with filled ones.

Nancy and Pastor Francois Tshidimu in the MCC offices. Photo by Nina Lanctot.

After the interviews are done, the four of us visit a grocery store with a fruit and vegetable stand across the street. The store is small and crowded and stocked with imported foods and beverages. After we finish in the store we cross the street to the produce stand where we meet the gregarious Maman Lucrece. She is a savvy and shrewd saleswoman who engages all of her expat customers in her form of Frenglish.

Maman Lucrece’s produce stand. Photo by Nancy Myers

As we look at the lush and beautiful produce, Maman Lucrece decides to give us a taste test of a variety of mangoes. With her very large knife—the blade looks about twelve inches long—she slices into the mangoes, makes 1/8” slices and gives each of us a slice off the edge of that knife. As I bite into the sweet, juicy slice I think: “I am standing on a street in the Congo eating sliced mangoes from Maman Lucrece.” It is another “But I’m just a girl from the Valley” moment that I occasionally experience—when I was in jail in Santo Domingo, D.R., and when I was at the outdoor butcher market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. These moments always feel incongruous from my Valley upbringing!

After our lunch of bread, crackers, and fresh salad, we head to the market district in downtown Kinshasa in search of Congo cloth. We park across the street from a high-end fabric store which is wonderfully air-conditioned and the fabric is shrewdly displayed to cause serious fabric lust. But the prices discourage us from purchasing fabric plus Suzanne tells us we can get it for less money at another store.

We walk into the market district which is dusty, dirty, with garbage piled up on the corners, the sidewalks dilapidated and packed with street vendors selling things from old books, sunglasses, electronic equipment, plumbing parts, and clothing. As we walk past the vendors call out to us. I am last in line, trying to avoid both people and merchandise while mindful of my weak and wonky left ankle. And because I am the slowest I become the most vulnerable which brings unsavory attention with men literally getting in my face or purposefully blocking my way. Also, frankly, because of the size of my breasts men have grabbed at them in the past so I am scared this will happen again (although it doesn’t, thankfully). At this point Nancy walks back to me, grabs my hand and holds on tight as she leads me through the street. I feel relief and gratitude for her wisdom and generosity.

At last! The fabric store with fabric bundles piled high along the walls to the ceiling. But wait—am I reading the sign correctly? Six yards for $12.56 FR—six yards of 100 percent cotton for $10.00 US? Unbelievable. I purchase four bundles of six yards each. Yet, despite finding such bargains and being surrounded by fabric, I am unsettled by the market experience and am fearful of walking through the streets again back to the car.

Suzanne is feeling unsettled as well and hires one of the store clerks to escort us back through the streets. I take Nancy’s hand as we leave and Suzanne is behind me as we maneuver around cars and men to follow our guide. One man intentionally blocks me and refuses to move so I plow into him with my left shoulder (and I think how my brother would be proud of this move) and Suzanne yells at him, “Get away!” and elbows him. The man begins parroting her as we continue across the street. We begin to giggle at the parroting which diffuses some of my fear as our escort leads us into calmer streets.

As we leave the area I try to regain some inner equilibrium: I am angry with myself for being so fearful and causing such problems for the others, especially Suzanne, yet I am grateful for their compassion. I want very much to appear competent to my friends like I can handle any situation but the truth is, I am not and I cannot. I remember how traveling can cause us to confront our selves. I try to hold my fearful self with the same compassion extended to me by Suzanne, Nancy, and Nina. This is not an easy thing for me to do.

By evening we are laughing about Suzanne, the committed pacifist, elbowing the fellow in the marketplace. She is generous in her laughter and a lightness returns to us at end the day. Nancy writes a funny and beautiful blog post about the day. I send Kevin a quick message telling him that I had a hard day but am feeling better. He quickly responds his empathy about the day but assures me of his love. I head to bed surrounded by compassion, love, and laughter. It helps redeem the day.

Congo Cloth Connection Days 2-3

Map of the Democratic Republic of Congo from Wikipedia

*In addition to my reports, please be sure to read Nancy Myers blog–she is a wonderful writer! Also, if you are on Facebook you can see additional pictures and notes on the Congo Cloth Connection Facebook page.*

Day 2

We arrive in Brussels around 9:30 am and depart the plane with that glassy-eyed, post-slumber party look on our faces. The airport is confusing (especially since we are sleep-deprived) and the personnel aren’t very helpful. We find our way to the next flight and we sit in the same row this time with an empty seat so we can stretch out some.

Again I am curious about the people around me. Directly across from me is a youngish white woman reading a stack of documents with titles like, “Detangling the Congo,” etc. She alternates reading these papers with a novel with a Flemish title. I am intrigued with her as I continue to have idealistic (and somewhat sentimental) images of people doing international relief and development and expats in general: “Who are they? Why did they choose to dedicate their life to relief and development? What motivates them? Is it challenging for them to travel so much and to be separated from their families and friends?”  I project onto them noble motivations and categorize them as both exotic and persons of the world.

We arrive in Kinshasa late in the afternoon and disembark via the stairs pushed up to the plane. As I exit I am hit with a blast of heat and humidity plus the acrid smell of fire and smoke which reminds me of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The airport is small with a few aging buildings colored with dingy yellow paint. Adjacent to the buildings are dozens of aging planes that look like they were left there “to die”—rusty, without names or logos, and decrepit.  It’s like a junkyard but for airplanes.

We are herded into a large cement room for immigration. There are signs proclaiming “Diplomats, expats, nationality” and we queue up according to the sign and ropes indicating lines—although we are not certain we are in the right aisle. On the other side of the ropes are dignified-looking African men wearing suits arguing with the policemen about their own line and insist they should be in the more prestigious lines to go through immigration. These men look like what I imagine African intellectuals look like—somber, glasses, suits, and leather valises. Of course, this is a romantic notion—I truly know nothing about these men. But again, I project onto them noble motivations.

There are policemen everywhere and, in my opinion, very officious. They don’t seem very effective and will randomly direct people in one direction only for another policeman to direct the same people in another direction. I watch these machinations as I melt in the heat and humidity and begin using my passport as a fan. At one point, my eyes meet one of the immigration officials and I make a facial gesture of “heat” with my tongue then smile. He looks quickly away and I realize that my attempt at friendliness was received as an inappropriate sexual gesture. “Great,” I think, “I haven’t been in the country for more than a half-hour and I’m already making culture faux pas.”

We are directed to the luggage claim which is another cement-block room with five carousels for luggage. There are no signs identifying the flight number with the luggage heading onto the carousels. But there were a number of flat screen televisions on cement columns advertising high-end hotels and Hollywood films.

I am feeling overwhelmed by the disorganization and chaos—the noise is high with people yelling, jostling, and pushing one another while trying to grab suitcases. We take turns watching our carry-on luggage while grabbing our checked luggage. At last we exit the building to more officious police officers creating more confusion rather than creating some order.

We are greeted by Monsieur Apollo who leads us to Suzanne Lind who leaps and jumps when she sees us. Suzanne, Mennonite Central Committee country co-director and one of our hosts, has been waiting for more than two hours for us! We are all happy to be together and to begin our journey “in-country.”

We climb into Suzanne’s SUV, leave the airport, and travel to the capital. And, we experience the first of many Kinshasa traffic jams! The road into Kinshasa can have four, five, or six “lanes” of vehicles heading the same direction with a constant cacophony of tinny car horns. Additionally, people are streaming alongside the ride or in the road itself with small fires burning to illuminate the way as there are no street lights. The road has potholes and the cars and trucks stir up dust which mingles with diesel exhaust. I cover my mouth with my tee-shirt to help me breathe.

As we enter downtown the roads become asphalt with street lamps. Suzanne tells us that the Chines government is creating roads—providing the supplies and labor—in exchange for land and mineral rights. So many countries and international corporations want land and mineral rights in DR Congo, especially in the eastern part of the country. (A mineral used for our electronics is mined in DR Congo . . . what makes my life easier creates turmoil in Congo. Am I willing to give up all of my personal electronics? Not today, I confess.)

Nancy Meyer and Suzanne Lind on the balcony at Suzanne’s home with papaya trees in the back. Photo by Nina B. Lanctot

After our very loooong day of travel, we arrive at Suzanne’s home where we stay for the next few days. After talking with Kevin via Skype, I go to bed weary and ready for sleep.

Day 3

I wake up sick with nausea and diarrhea and I nibble on pepto-bismo tablets all day. I decide to not attend the gathering of Congolese women theologians—an event I’ve been anticipating for several weeks. I am annoyed and frustrated with myself for getting sick on our first full day in DR Congo. I hope to be better by tomorrow!

The women theologians who met with Nina, Nancy, and Suzanne. Photo by Nancy Meyers (I think–maybe it was Nina!)