Monthly Archives: January 2010

Artistic Disposition

Necklaces from the Women's Center

One thing which amazes me about Africans is their uncanny ability to solve a problem without having access to proper resources. Conceivably, growing up in a land lacking modern conveniences has developed within them a sense–an ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties–which allows them to develop an ingenious use for everything. What many Americans might deem as useless, rubbish, scrap, or excess, the Congolese consider worthy of a new life. At the Women’s Center, we have found a way to make use of the packaging and marketing material found on imported items (products created locally are sold without any form of packaging since Beni still lacks a waste removal program). Thus, we’ve been shredding magazine advertisements and paper wrappings. The shreds are then transformed: rolled into beads and threaded into necklaces. Although the process is quite laborious, the end result is “beauty-from-ashes”.

Passing by a creek on a recent walk home from school, I paused for a moment to survey the gathering place. This tiny spring of water serves as a mixed-use facility: laundromat, bathroom, drinking fountain, waste receptacle. Saddened by this observation, I’ve been pondering the mass amount of desolation and the need for basic resources here in Congo. Yet amidst much of the desolation–amidst rubble, corruption, fighting, pillaging, refuse–emerges new growth, hope for the future, and a promise of change. At the scene by the water, I noticed that among the detritus there were vibrantly-colored wildflowers unfolding before my eyes. Perhaps all the refuse fertilizes this splendor similarly to how God uses the garbage of our pasts for the goodness of our future and ultimately for His glory. The correlation couldn’t be more apparent when I meditate on the way God transforms our ashes into beauty.

Watercolor sketch of a flower in my front yard.

The Aunts Go Marching

Last night, my sister Maureen (and her husband, Mike) gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Liesel Jo. And now, for the first time ever, I am an ant…or if you prefer, an aunt. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

This is Liesel Jo. Please excuse her lack of clothing. I have already requested that her parents dress her more appropriately for her next photo shoot.

The pains of being where I’m at are especially evident today. Because where I’m at is far away from my new baby niece. And since there is no postal service here in Congo, I must send my love, my kisses, and my coos via pigeon express.

A Gift To: Haiti, From: Congo

In the town of Beni, there is a controversy about the financial aid that Congo is sending to Haiti.

In my heart, there is a controversy and I feel quite torn over this issue.

Honestly, I’m impressed to see such generosity from a country which has so little. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to understand why Congo isn’t using these funds to help itself. Please don’t misunderstand me. The earthquake in Haiti is devastating and clearly a humanitarian crisis. Yet Congo remains devastated by years of warfare and is rife with suffering, hunger, poverty, etc. For a country which relies upon foreign aid itself, it seems irresponsible to be sending aid to other countries.

The headline this morning on BBC News:

Poor DR Congo offers aid to Haiti

The Democratic Republic of Congo has announced it is sending $2.5m (£1.5m) in emergency aid to Haiti, to help it cope with last week’s earthquake.

Continue reading at BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8466275.stm

Families are like Fudge

Sometimes I feel like the inhabitants of  Nyumba ya Amani (our house) are really just contestants on the reality television show, Survivor. In light of that, allow me to introduce to you my family, my comrades, my competition…stay tuned to find out who gets voted off the island first.

The Guys:

JUSTIN is the original muzungu (white person). Three years ago he came to Congo to live with the Kasali family and dig rootsfor Congo Initiative. Justin and I went to middle school together and more than one of my friends had a more-than-innocent crush on him. Fast-forward several years and I now consider Justin my likable, agreeable, sometimes spacey, yet affectionate big brother. In fact, he loves me so much that when he learned my back was hurting on account of my bed, he sacrificed his plush mattresses for me and now sleeps on my thin mat. Justin loves Beni–more-so than Milwaukee–but not nearly as much as he loves his family.

BRANDON is the easygoing, quirky newbie. Having studied finance in college, he now teaches Entrepreneurship at the university and has quickly become a favorite of the students. Brandon explores, journals, crosswords, and reads–dare I say–more voraciously than anyone I’ve ever met. With his carefree and jovial spirit, he seems to brighten situations which are stressful, burdensome, or mundane.  On any given day, you may find him donning suspenders, a bandanna, a pair of African culottes, a camoflauge cap or perhaps a mustache.

GRANT is like a jolly green giant. At 6’5″, 230 lbs he towers over everyone and everything. I doubt that his family will recognize him when he returns home, considering he’s lost 75 lbs over the past 8 months. Our resident media junkie, his computer contains more movies than a Blockbuster store (do those still exist?). Frequently, he hosts cinema night where we all crowd around his laptop for our weekly dosage of American entertainment. There isn’t a movie quote that he doesn’t have memorized nor a song for which he cannot identify the correlating film. Grant is using his media prowess to create a short production with UCBC students.

NOE (the French version of Noah, pronounced “no-way”) is the youngest brother of Dr. David Kasali (Director of Congo Initiative). Noe is gentle, reserved, and brilliant. He speaks, fluently, five different languages: Lingala, Kinande, Swahili, French, English. Without ever having a music lesson and despite an inability to read music, Noe plays guitar, bass, piano, and sings. He teaches psychology at UCBC and lives with the Kasali family…but mostly, he hangs out at Nyumba ya Amani.


The Girls:

MEREDITH, my roommate, is the definition of a gentle and quiet spirit. Trained as a nurse, she assists local doctors at Nyankunde (the main hospital). Her loving touch and caring eyes are well known throughout all of Beni (referred to by the locals as “Meri”).  I cannot ride a moto taxi without hearing shouts of “Meriule” (Mary-oo-le) which literally means “is that Meri!?”. Although we look nothing alike, they identify my pale skin from a distance and assume I am Meredith. In addition to her work at the hospital, she teaches and leads Bible studies at UCBC as well as the Women’s Center.

BETHANY may not be as widely known among locals as Meredith, but she is certainly well-known and well-loved among the multitude of Kasali family relatives. (Dr. David Kasali has 11 siblings and thus there are hundreds, if not a thousand, members of this extended family.) The uncles like to banter back and forth with Bethany nearly as much as the aunts love to engage her in prattle as they cook. Her nurturing spirit has earned her the title of Mama Bethany around UCBC. When she is with you, she is really with you. Mama Bethany has an uncanny ability to remove all other distractions so that she can focus on you. No doubt this is an asset to her role of personal assistant to Dr. Kasali.

CHELSIE is our Swahili expert and burgeoning clothing designer. Having previously worked with Healing Arts at Heal Africa, she has both experience and passion for reconciliation and restoration ministry. I’d be misleading you if I failed to mention that she is equally passionate about animals. You’d never suspect that a blond-haired, blue-eyed whimsy would be eager to care for filthy Congolese creatures, but like any true animal lover, Chelsie dotes on animals of every species. Soon, I promise to introduce to you our ever-expanding tutelage of animals…

Christmas Retrospective, part 2

In America, we presume to understand Christmas for what it truly is:

  • We strive to focus on Christ. We attend church and have pageants which share the message of God’s love in sending His only Son.
  • We strive to focus on family. We gather with relatives to play games or eat a feast.
  • We strive to focus on giving. We lavish gifts on family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, postal workers, acquaintances.

Somehow, despite our best efforts, we have still missed the essence of Christmas. Perhaps America — in and of itself — is an obstacle to truly understanding Christmas.

So here’s a glimpse into my mind and the things which I’ve been pondering:

  • How can we comprehend the degree to which God humbled himself when we live in the very luxury he forsook in lieu of a lowly birth? How can we understand what God gave up when He came to earth if we give not out of sacrifice, but only from our abundance?
  • How can we seek the Incarnate if we are seeking the citadel of Self? Christmas in America is a “feel-good” holiday and thus, the sacred has become self-centered. (We spread the Spirit of the Season, stuff our bellies with rich and lavish foods, gather round the glow of a fire with friends, and sing carols of joy, snow, presents, and reindeer…all in an attempt to experience a heart-warming feeling.)
  • How can we worship, giving Glory to God in the highest, if He doesn’t have preeminence as our greatest treasure…that in which we value the most, pour our greatest efforts into, have the deepest longing for? Have we altered our priorities in such a way that we worship Christmas shopping (or food preparation or family)?

I challenge you to contemplate such questions and re-evaluate your focus this next year.
May this retrospective be an encouragement to you. May it refresh your perspective about celebrating Christ.

Christmas Retrospective, part 1

Better late than never, I want to share a few thoughts about my first Christmas abroad.

Christmas in Congo approaches slowly. It comes in quiet and without panic. Christmas here is less commercial and more sacred.

The most important holiday tradition occurs on Christmas morning. There are neither stockings with candy nor toys beneath a tree, but rather, a reverent and holy church service. Each person attending the Christmas morning service (donning their very best attire, of course) comes with a gift for Jesus, an offering, which is left for Him by an altar. This present is usually a great sacrifice for the Congolese who have an abundance of nothing. But they give generously and joyfully.

Then a celebration begins. A time of worship with friends and family and the village at large. The university hosted Christine Moze, a professional singer from Uganda, to lead the community in a worship celebration honoring the birth of Christ. Wait. Rewind. Celebration hardly seems the appropriate word-choice. It was a jubilee, festival, fete, gala, jamboree.

Christine Moza, gospel singer from Uganda.

The whole community gathers for the concert.

The whole community gathers for the concert.

Members from the UCBC choir singing along (and dancing, of course).

Neighbor girl caring for her baby brother...I cannot fathom why he is wearing a winter hat and socks (it is 93ºF in Congo).

Me and Meredith (my roommate) wearing our African skirts

Oh, the irony! Is the neighbor girl really wearing a Christmas dress which depicts a snowman!?! I doubt she is aware that the embellishments symbolize the holidays. Presumably, she's simply wearing it because it's her best (if not, only) dress...obviously an American cast-off.

After the concert, the children in the audience have a dance party while the band jams. I'm convinced that Congolese come out of the womb dancing...I've never met so many children with such wonderful rhythm!

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Retrospective…

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

We have two chickens at our house, Dume (doo-may) and Dike (dee-kay) whose names come from the Swahili words for male animal and female animal, respectively.

Dume has a fierce cockadoodledoo which is guaranteed to wake the entire neighborhood at whatever hour of the day he chooses to wield it. Some days he’s awake at 5am, other days he chooses to crow at 3pm. The one thing you can count on is never knowing what time he will break out into that song.

Dume, our proud rooster.

Dike is calm, collected, and does her job of supplying us with 2-3 eggs every few days. We’re still trying to train her not to lay eggs in Brandon’s bed though…

Dike, our hen

Dike, our hen.

Brandon's bed, Dike's egg.

Hopefully within the next few days I’ll introduce you to my other housemates…