Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Healthcare Among Friends - Part 2

Another tale of friendship and surgery, this one far more serious. You will notice that, as in the last post, there are a lot of "as it happens" in this story. Lots of happy coincidences. Some of these I attribute to the fact that Congolese society is highly networked and inter-dependent, with lots of unexpected connections between people I never would have guessed knew each other. I also can't help but see God's hand in how things came together. Here's the story:

The head translator for one of the projects we work with, Pierre, had known for some time that he needed prostate surgery. He lives up north in an area that does not have great hospitals. But a couple of hours outside of Bunia, in a town called Nyankunde, there is a very good hospital, furnished and supported by Samaritan's Purse. It is well-known throughout the region. That is where Pierre hoped to have this surgery.
Pierre, head translator for the Bible in his language. During tea time at the translation office.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Healthcare Among Friends (Part 1)

A few months ago, I (Jennings) noticed a sore on my face that wouldn't heal, and I began to be suspicious of it. Back home in the U.S., I would call or email my dermatologist to make an appointment; the spot would be removed (if needed); and the insurance company would have sorted out how much I owed (perhaps a hundred dollars or more).

Here, it works differently. Here, you use the friend network.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Celebrating Mother-tongue Languages (by Douglas)

We (Douglas and Bagamba) participated in the commemoration of International Mother Languages Day in Bunia on 21 and 22 Feb 2014. Here are a few highlights:
Bagamba says that an important step in saving an endangered language
is clarifying the objective of your intervention.
Douglas introduces the subject of the Vanuma community
before presenting an evaluation of the state of health of the Vanuma language.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Friendship and gratitude

When Douglas lived in Congo in the 90s, before the war, he became good friends with a pastor and his wife. Their son Blaise was gifted in school and wanted to study medicine, so Douglas agreed to help pay his expenses. That was some 10 years ago, before we got married.

Since then, our pastor friend was given a post at Shalom University as chaplain, which brought the couple to Bunia, where we live. They have been some of our very best friends in town, though we don't see them as often as we'd like. Blaise is still in medical school, in a faraway city, Kindu. It has taken longer than expected for a variety of reasons - none of them his fault - and he has persevered and done well. Just before Christmas, Blaise came to Bunia, and the three of them came to our house for a celebration.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Snapshots of December 2013

A few photos from December in Bunia. This is a wood carving of the Nativity (it's hard to make it out in this photo, sorry) that we bought from a local artist. I had been decorating the house with Christmas cards we received from the U.S. in previous years, and I was struck at how, well, white all the figures were - the angels, Jesus, Mary. It made me appreciate all the more this depiction of Jesus in an African context, in African art.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Confronting Congolese Doubts about Local Language ("Mother Tongue") Development and Bible Translation

A few weeks ago, President Joseph Kabila came to town for a few days. Among the groups he planned an audience with was UNADI, a coalition of 21 ethnic groups. They are concerned that their parliamentary representatives (MPs) serve their party and not the people they represent. So these ethnic communities wanted their representatives to talk with the president about how they can help themselves without relying on government. They voted on 3 people to represent them in that meeting. One of them was Douglas' partner and our dear friend, Dr Bagamba Araali.

Bagamba and Douglas in front of the Bible translation office in Bunia
He and the representatives arrived where President Kabila was staying at 7 AM, as instructed. And they waited....

Monday, November 4, 2013

Musings on some signboards (by Douglas)

Back when Congo was a colony of Belgium, it was decided to use French as the language of national administration. That's why even more than fifty years after the country achieved independence, we use French every day.

But almost no one in Bunia is a mother-tongue speaker of French. That means that we encounter nuances of French usage here that we don't see anywhere else. I present as examples three signboards in our general neighborhood.

One is on a roadside restaurant run by "la Brune". This is related to the English word brunet / brunette ('brown-haired'). In France, this would mean that the woman who runs it is darker than others: at least having brown eyes and brown hair, if not tanned. Here, it means that the woman who runs it is fair-skinned by local standards, i.e. brown rather than black.

A little further down the road is a shoe-repair shop marked "Coordonnerie". The usual French word is "cordonnerie", staffed by a "cordonnier". (The English equivalent "cordwainer" is not in common use -- that's an example of my trademark understatement.) What has happened is that people have been influenced by the verb "coordonner" 'to coordinate' and the noun "coordination" (which is how one marks some offices of people who run things). You want your shoes to be repaired by a responsible and well-coordinated specialist, don't you?

Around the corner and down a block there is a "Cafétariat". This begins like "cafeteria" (an eating establishment) and ends like "Secrétariat" -- again, an office where important work gets done. So, after you drop off your shoes for the attention of the coordinated cordwainer, you can grab a bite at the high-level professional café.

There's more to many things than meets the eye...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Perseverance: the life of a Bible Translator (by Jennings)

     In September, I was scheduled to work again with the Tembo translation team. Because of recent fighting in Goma, where they live, we asked them to come up here to Bunia. We planned to check 1 and 2 Peter and James. This time, we were joined by a Congolese consultant-in-training, Dr Londroma. Though still officially "in training" as a consultant, he is far more experienced than the rest of us: he worked for 30 years as a translator on the Lendu Bible, which was completed last year. His knowledge gave us a broader understanding of the translation process. With his help, we finished our planned checking a week early (!) and started on 1 Corinthians. It was a pleasure to work alongside him and to benefit from his experience.
He was also able to joke around with the translators in a way that I - a foreigner and a woman - will probably never will be able to. It was a sweet thing to see how comfortable they are with each other.

     But perhaps the greatest blessing Dr. Londroma brought us was his perspective on life as a Bible translator.
     As we were sharing prayer requests at the end, one of the translators asked for prayer for “perseverance”. We all knew what he meant. Already this year, two project members have had to move because their rent went up; they are not always able to pay school fees and medical bills; and – just last month – their city was bombed in fighting between a militia group and the army. Some of their neighbors were hurt or killed. The fighting has raised both the level of stress in people’s lives and the cost of living.

     None of these are new issues; insecurity and financial difficulties have always been part of their daily life in Goma. When we're together, they update me (often reluctantly... they don't like to "bother" us with these problems) and we pray. This time, however, was different, because we had with us a Congolese translator with 30 years' experience. He can hear them, and he can truly relate in a way that I cannot. He knows what it is to live on little or no financial support; he has lost a son to ethnic conflict; he has seen others with his qualifications earning much more and receiving more honor. He shared his stories with them. He encouraged them to depend on God, to persevere, to be ready to suffer for Christ, to be humble, to accept that translators do not receive the recognition that pastors and other church staff do. He also urged them to look for other ways to support themselves financially and to prepare for the future. He could speak to them as one who knows what their lives are like and who has suffered as they do, because of the conviction that his people needed the Scriptures in their language. By the end of the meeting, there were tears in all our eyes.

     This is an encouraging glimpse of what we are working toward: Congolese translators working with Congolese consultants, who are able to understand and speak to them in ways that expats cannot. I thank God for this.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Going for Bread Shortly After Dark (by Jennings)

There's a shop on the corner, about a 5-minute walk from our house, that sells fresh bread. We often go by at the end of the day to get a baguette or a small loaf to have with dinner and for breakfast the next day.

Generally, we try not to walk outside the compound after dark. But the bread shop is close by, on a busy street, and I'm starting to feel enough a part of the neighborhood that I don't worry too much. It's become something of a small social outing, greeting people along the way: strangers hurrying home before dark, and people doing various jobs.

A typical night's walk:

At the gate to our compound, I meet our neighbor, Daniel*, who lives in the other side of our house with his son, two dogs and four puppies. We talk about the puppies (which ones are thriving, which are not, which ones he'll give to friends, which one he'll keep); the current measles and polio vaccine program that his employer is holding in conjunction with other NGOs throughout Congo; the helicopters flying overhead, part of a military offensive against a local militia leader (not in Bunia, outside of town).

By now it is quite dark. Daniel wonders if it's a good idea for me to go out, and I say I know everyone between the house and the store, so I'll be fine. He laughs, "You're at home."

First on the path is the kiosk owned by Joe, a sweet-faced young man who always has a friendly greeting for us. We've gotten into the habit of "keeping each other's debts" - he'll let me take some oranges without paying, then when I pay he'll give me back all but 200 francs which he gives me the next time I stop by, etc. This is part of building relationships here: you help me, I help you. Trust is built.

Next, the stylish young ladies from Kinshasa who run a beauty-supply store / bar. They are always friendly, and they wonder why I feel the need to wear a skirt all the time (Congo modesty). I'm a little envious... their capris look comfy.

Then I pass the gates to a UN compound and to the local electric company. I try to always greet the night guards... they can be highly valuable friends in a time of need. ("Bon soir." "Bon soir, mama.")

Then more small kiosks, including Mama Josephine, who owns The People's Fishmongers'. She is in a choir with a good friend of mine, and we usually talk about whether or not this friend is traveling or in town.

Then the money changers, 5 or 6 of them sitting around two tables with beach umbrellas, eating fruit and drinking beer, with stacks of francs on the table and dollars hidden underneath. They're a bit of an intimidating group, but friendly. I imagine their job is not the safest, so I try to be kind. I stop to change a large US note into small notes and some Congolese francs, and we chat a bit. 

One points at my left hand: "Say, mama, why do you have two rings?" 
"One is for engagement, one is for marriage." 

Then a row of motorcycle taxis. I only know one of them, Jimmy (I picked him out early on because he wore a helmet, which somehow made me think he would be a safer driver, and he is), but I try to greet them all in a general way so that no one feels snubbed. Some return greetings in French, some in Lingala, some in Swahili.

Finally, I get to the bread store. One of the ladies there knows me pretty well. She'll get out a baguette for me when I walk in, and we make a little small talk. ("Mama, you really sweat a lot, don't you?") But tonight it's a different girl, and when I ask, in French, "Baguette?" She shakes her head and says "Swahili." So I make my best guess at the Swahili equivalent: "Uh... bageti?" None tonight, so I get a sliced loaf instead.

As I leave, the money changers stop me. They need more information about the two rings. Here goes: "In our culture, the man doesn't give a gift to the family of the woman he wants to marry. Instead, he gives a beautiful ring directly to the woman. Then when they marry, they give each other another another ring." 
"Ah, okay."

In front of Joe's kiosk, there are now several motorcycles and a group of men. One of them says, "Bon soir, muzungu." I still bristle a bit when people call me that, rather than "mama" or "madame", which seem more culturally appropriate. So I pretend I don't hear him. I think later what I could have said: "Bon soir, papa" (to show him that I know how to speak respectfully), or "Bon soir, Congolais" to be funny (probably unwise).

Still so much to learn. But it is deeply satisfying to feel that, at least in some ways, I know this little corner of Congo, and it knows me.

*all names are pseudonyms

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goma Friends

You may have heard about the fighting in eastern DRC recently between a rebel militia called M23 and the Congolese government and UN forces. We heard last night that M23 were attacking the city of Goma, where the Tembo translation team live. One of the translators sent a text message to say that he and his family were hiding under their beds as they could hear gunshots and shelling nearby. This morning we heard that M23 had taken over the city of Goma. We are quite concerned for the safety of our friends, and for the future of Goma and the North Kivu region. I wanted to write today just to ask for prayer for them, and to share some photos of our friends there, so you could attach faces to the names. Thanks.

Here are a few links to recent articles:

Congo Rebels Enter Goma, Report Says
M23 Rebels Capture Goma

Head translator Rev Masumbuko Shabani and family: wife Nadine, children Esperance, Jacques and Josue. He just finished a 2-year graduate program in Bible translation at Shalom University-Bunia and moved back to Goma about 2 months ago.

Translator Jimy Ndeshi, his wife and their youngest boy (named Douglas, in our honor). Very dedicated and hard-working. Wants to be a consultant one day so he can help other languages have the Scriptures.

Translator Robert Mwanjale, his wife, and their youngest boy. Also very dedicated and hard-working.
The Morachi family. Morachi is the nightguard at the office and he and his family take care of me when I'm there (cooking, cleaning, hauling water from the lakeshore)
Rev. Batasema Nganga, project director and head of literacy, and his wife
Rev Rasi, one of the first members of the project, now head of external relations, and his wife. A very kind and godly man.
Two of Morachi's children, Safi and Reponse, with Mwanjale's baby

Cultural note: In photos, Congolese tend to prefer to look dignified rather than happy and smiling. It does not mean they are not happy.

 Ironically, the Tembo team moved to Goma several years ago for safety. Their home area is under frequent attack by another rebel group, the FDLR. I have never been to the Tembo home area and do not have any photos of them. In May, Jimy Ndeshi's sister and other relatives were killed in a massacre there.

I am constantly amazed at all that Congolese people endure, and yet they keep going.