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.
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.
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…