Monthly Archives: December 2009

Lost In Translation

Recently, while at the Women’s Center making smalltalk, I shared that my favorite Congolese food thus far is kalangiti. The women erupted in laughter. Apparently, the literal Swahili translation of kalangiti is “small blanket”. The women were amused, but very confused as to what really was my favorite food. Fortunately, Chelsie explained (in her near-perfect Swahili) that I enjoyed maragi which is the correct word for “black beans”. Much to my dismay, their laughter continued.  Evidently, black beans are considered slave food because they are so readily accessible and inexpensive. A typical Congolese would never admit to eating, let alone enjoying this food…so to hear this wealthy mzungu claim slave food as her choice meal was simply more than they could fathom.

Lest you think I am failing in my Swahili lessons, I would like to explain how I came to confuse the word kalangiti with the word maragi:

Most days at UCBC, Mama Madoe cooks (and sells) black beans and rice to the students for lunch. To avoid the negative connotation associated with maragi, the black beans have become well-known at the university as kalangiti

Off now to fill my stomach with some small blankets, a.k.a. black beans.


So this is Christmas…in Congo

Last week, the only sign of Christmas (other than the homemade snowflakes hung to decorate the house) was Ella Fitzgerald crooning “Let it Snow!” on my iPod…which just seems wrong since the weather outside is frightfully hot.

our Christmas decorations: just one string of snowflakes cut from scraps of paper

But today, Christmas is here…whether or not I can see any visible sign. On the surface level, this Congolese Christmas feels foreign, so far from all I know Christmas to be. At the same time though, it is exactly what I know. The underlying and foundational message transcends culture, continent, and language. The message of God’s Son sent to Earth to save us from ourselves.

Congo allows me to experience this message more clearly than ever before. Nothing clouds or distracts from the birth of Christ which is honored first and foremost. Congo has no newspapers or magazines to advertise the best gifts of the season. There are no shopping centers, no Christmas decorations, no presents wrapped beneath an evergreen tree, no postal service to send Christmas cards, no stockings full of candy, and no Christmas feast with family.

The absence of distractions allows me to experience Christmas as it was intended. Seeking God in silence and allowing thankfulness to flow freely from my heart in response to God’s glorious gift. The Congolese refrain from all work on this day and the Christians celebrate with utmost reverence. They dwell in the promise of God’s presence, Immanuel, and bask in the light of His Glory.

Although I yearn for the presence of my family and friends, carols sung round the fire, and snow (okay, maybe not the shoveling part), I am enjoying a renewed appreciation for Christ’s birth. Perhaps God had to physically remove me from the many distractions in America for me to truly understand the gravity of His sacrifice.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32

Congo’s Creepy Crawlers

I’d like to introduce you to a few of my housemates…

Creepy Craweler #1: Snake in our dining room

Handiman Kasereka comes to the rescue with his machete...

Over and out.

Creepy Crawler #2: Cucaracha in the closet...

Creepy Crawler #3: Rhinoceros Beetle on the porch

I wish I could convey the enormity of this beetle. Not exaggerating, it is at least 3" long!

The Good Ship Lollipop

Last week, one of my students asked me the following:”Why is the English language so in love with ships?”

The blank stare on my face caused him to explain further…

“The English language always wants to use ships, you know, friendship, relationship, leadership, membership.”

I stood there stupefied, unable to formulate any real explanation. After digging deep down in my brain for the true answer, the best I could find was this:

When the English language was invented, we didn’t have cars or airplanes, so everything revolved around ships.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why they pay me the big bucks.

Please don’t worry, I’ve since learned (and informed my students) that “ship” is a suffix denoting a quality or condition, thank you Webster.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

The rain in Congo is neither the constant slow drizzle in Seattle, nor the dreary thunderstorms of the Midwest.

When it rains here, it pours. And then life becomes one big mud-puddle. In case I failed to mention it, the roads in Eastern Congo are not actually roads. They are simply trails (read: mud paths) which have been blazed through the forest. There are a few select dirt roads which comprise of peaks and valleys and a minor gorge every three meters. When the weather is sunny and dry, the tumultuous roads are nearly impossible to traverse with any vehicle. When the weather is wet, you can foghettaboutit…no transportation, unless you plan to swim through the swampy mire to your destination.

It has rained nearly every day since I arrived three weeks ago. Sometimes, my heart is like a sponge which soaks up all the gloomy rain. Eventually my heart becomes so heavy that it sinks. I’ve been praying for the rainy season to terminate quickly so that the sun dries up this waterlogged heart.

Rather than a dry heart, God simply changed my heart. I began to feel thankful for the rain…

For the past 8 days, we have had no running water. Apparently, there has been a shortage of water in the town of Beni. If it weren’t for the ample supply of rainwater, we would’ve had no water with which to wash our clothes, cook our food, or bathe. (I cannot even believe that I’m bathing in rainwater. Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

Still Adjusting to…

…my new claustrophobic life (sleeping smothered by a mosquito net).

The bedroom I share with Meredith. Mosquito nets provide lovely decor, no?