Category Archives: Africa

Raising some funds

This weekend I spent some time talking with two of my sons – Patrick and Christian.  Christian came home to help a couple of his PA friends to celebrate their birthdays.  Patrick, I went to see while I was in Saskatoon.

While Patrick was back in the Congo visiting his family, he was introduced to a project by the mother of one of his childhood friends – a friend so close that he lives with the family and is partly supported by Patrick’s father.  This friend, Steve, has a mother who is attempting to improve the lives of women and children left deprived of support due to the deaths of family from AIDS, the recent civil wars, etc.  The organization she has established is the Association for the Social and Humanitarian Assistance of Orphans and Widows(A.S.H.A)  in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

This Thursday, Patrick, along with the International Studies Students Association, has organized a Cabaret to be held at Lydia’s in Saskatoon.

January 26th
$5 cover charge at the door

Oral Fuentes
Jill Zmud
Hip’s Whisker
and special guest Patrick Kongawi


So if you are looking for a good cause to support and like listening to some good music show up at Lydia’s

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I am not allowed to see…

what is taking shape in our basement bathroom.  So tonight I was painting away in the next room.  I was doing baseboards, shelves and windowsills a new coat of white.  The walls are done!  Blue and green.  Grace thinks the baby will have to be a boy now.  I will not repaint if it is a girl!  If it is a girl, then it will get some pink accessories.  Because I will not paint those walls again – not this year at least.

Any way, while I am in the room painting, Eric and Michelle are doing something in the bathroom.  Doors are closed and there are muffled sounds but nothing distinct enough for me to really know what they are up to.  They did show me a paint chip – kind of a tangerineish sort of orange.  So I assume part of what they are doing is painting that room.  I’m just not sure that painting the room orange warrents a bunch of secrecy.  They asked me if I could make myself scarce tomorrow as it would speed things up for them.  No problem!  I’m getting my hair looked after and then am going for coffee with one friend in the morning and then another in the afternoon.  I was feeling guilty at being away while they are working.  No more guilt!  I will disappear for as long as they like!

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Cultural clues

As I was being introduced to the family of one of my son’s classmates from law school I learned something that I had not clued into before.  The family had come to Canada from Africa; from Zambia.  The woman graduating was accompanied by friends and by her son and mother.  As Eric introduced me to his classmate, they in turn introduced both of us to her friends and her mother.  Her mother was sitting and was probably a bit older than myself.  As Eric bent over to shake her hand he did something that was culturally African; he took her right hand in his right hand but placed his left hand on his right arm just above his elbow.  I didn’t notice really.  I have seen him shake hands like this before but didn’t catch on to the significance of it.

As he did this simple gesture, the husband of his classmate remarked, “Oh! That is so African.  You can see that he grew up there.” 

I had to ask, what it was that caught his attention.  I found out something I had not learned all the years I lived in Africa.  It is a sign of great respect to shake someone’s hand in this way.  

It is kind of neat to have a son who became culturally sensitive to these subtle African ways.  It marks him as one of them.  He is in tune with even the little things that living there for years does not guarantee acquiring.  So he lives with a heart torn between two worlds – knowing the way to function in both.  Born in Canada, raised in the Congo, exiled to Canada till a way opens to return to his loved land.

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Turkey and our Christmas at Bobadi

Over at his blog Randall extols the wonders of turkey.  And in his comments, Marc tells how, as a Dutch boy, he never got too excited about the bird.  This interchange brought to mind my only experience with the Dutch and the turkey.  So I will attempt to tell you the tale as I sit here eating a leftover turkey sandwich – the best form of turkey in my opinion.

We were in the Congo and feeling a bit nostalgic as Christmas approached.  You can do strange things when you begin to feel that way.  So for a couple of years we did – a strange thing.  We ordered a turkey.  Turkeys are not native to the Congo.  Ours had to be flown in from South Africa.  We weren’t the only ones who chose to spend a small fortune to have a meal of this traditional fowl.  That was in the days when for a price we could order almost anything from that land to the south.  The cost was astronomical for a rather small bird – about 7 or 8 Kgs – that had obviously, from it’s flavour, had it’s diet supplemented with some sort of fish meal.   But it was not tough.  The Congolese chickens, on a diet of seeds and insects scratched out of the ground, were incredibly tough.  Not roasting stock at all!

In previous years our Christmas fare had become home cured ham.  It started out being grown at home – in our backyard.  It was butchered at home – by Leo. (Who would have known that being the son of a pig farmer would reap such benefits!)  It was cured at home – taking up a good part of the refrigerator for 10 days while it sat in brine.  And then it was smoked – hanging in a half barrel rigged up to allow the smoke from the mango wood to penetrate it.  This was a lot of work.  It paid off in fantastic ham if all went well.

The chance to buy a turkey seemed like a good idea.  Less work for sure.  More expensive though if labor costs weren’t figured in – and my labor was cheap.

This particular year we were invited to spend part of our Christmas vacation with the Catholic fathers and sisters at the mission of Bobadi.  The fathers were Belgian, the sisters were Dutch.  The Dutch sisters were notoriously liberal for Catholics and wonderfully hospitable.  They were our friends.  They also were loved by my children whom they tended to spoil.  They almost destroyed Leo’s memories of the grim sisters who ran the boarding school where he attended school for a couple of years. 

The only complicating factor to the invitation was that we had this turkey which we had been anticipating eating for our big holiday meal.  We decided to suggest that we contribute it to the festive meal we knew they would prepare for all of us to eat together.  We decided to offer it and send the turkey out ahead of us with the father who came in to see us with the invitation.  We would have to travel out as a family on our motorcycles and didn’t think the turkey would fare very well strapped to the back of the bike with our luggage.

The offer of the turkey was accepted with much delight.  They would give it to the sisters to prepare.  I suggested that we usually prepared it with a stuffing, not realizing what an unfamiliar dish this was to the sisters.

We arrived and that night sat down to a wonderful meal.  Like us the fathers and sisters tended to save the special treats for Christmas.  So there were real potatoes and an abundance of local foods as well as homemade chocolates, cookies and other sweet things.  The sisters had done an amazing job of roasting the famous turkey.  And for stuffing – prunes and raisins.  Unusual for us but it was great. 

We found out that turkey is not commonly eaten in Holland.  The sisters had seen them but had never eaten it before.  Since they tend to be large it apparently was only used for large gatherings – and of course by the Americans residing in Holland.  So they had a first experience preparing and eating turkey and we had a first experience eating a turkey stuffed with fruit.

We went back to ham as our traditional Christmas meal the next year.  It has retained a special place at our table every Christmas eve.  Oh, we have turkey too but ham is necessary.  I just don’t cure it at home any more.

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My Africa Story – Part 8

Tekpa’s Gifts

Today Randall spoke about gifts, as in 1 Corinthians 12.   I know I have some gifts in this sense although it is hard to be sure and to know if it is just me thinking this or if others see in me what I think I recognize.

What he said about helping gifts made me think back to the last Sunday we were at Karawa.  I had attended the French service early and thought I might make it to the Lingala service after but got started chatting with some people who, one after the other, came by to see me and so I didn’t make it.  

  Tekpa was on guard duty at the guest house that morning.   There was a problem with the water the whole time we were at Karawa.  Something was wrong with the pump and it could only be turned on for short periods of time.  So the hospital was the top of the line as far as priority for water went.  We, at the guest house paid women to haul it for us in big basins on their heads.  While everyone was at church that Sunday morning, the water in one of the lines to the houses was turned on.  Kids found out pretty quickly just where it was running and went up to one of the houses where everyone was away at church, turned the water on to fill their pails and bucket and left the tap running.  So Tekpa caught wind of this and was sent to guard the taps. 

After visiting with a series of people and being too late to go up to the Lingala service, I decided to take a walk around the mission.  When I was returning to the guest house, I met Florence coming back from church.  Tekpa was sitting in their back yard with a pail.  She asked him what was happening.  He had confiscated some child’s pail and was holding it till they came back to claim it.  Then he would have them clean up some of the mess they made behind the house as the water turned the yard into mud.  

Florence asked me if I had noticed the flowers in church. This is Tekpa’s job she told me.  He has done it for years.  At one time one of the pastors had asked him if he could do this little job for the church.  Tekpa explained that he really didn’t know anything about flowers or making them look nice.  “But,” he told the pastor, “If you pray for me that God will give me that gift, I will do it.”  And so the pastor prayed for him and he has faithfully put his gift to use since then.  Now Tekpa is not endowed with great intelligence and has a lowly menial job being the yard keeper at the guest house.  He does his job with a huge smile on his face.  He is not ordinary.  He has that sort of radiance that comes from being infected with the love of God. And when his regular job is done he places flowers in the church.



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More photos

I have posted a lot of pictures from my trip to Africa in my galleries.  The latest ones are found under Faces of the Congo.  People – the reason to go anywhere is for the sake of the people whether to visit or to work.  In some of these pictures you will see some of my best friends.

Find the picture of Isabelle.  She could not get used to my name.  Much to the chagrin of her parents she would simply call me “le blanc”. (Didn’t get the gender right either – but she’s only 3)  By the end of the visit she did remember this strange mname of mine.  Isabelle – la belle Isasbelle!

Her sisters are Claire and Karen.  Claire was content to sit in front of the TV or with a book.  Karen was always on the go “turbulente”  as her parents called her.  She was all over me, climbing, jumping, sitting on my lap.  We got to be good friends.

Another of my favorite pictures is of a young woman about 15.  She wanted to have her picture taken with the other kids who were hanging around the airport hanger when we walked by.  No one smiles for pictures without a lot of coaxing or being caught unawares.  It just isn’t “right”.  She makes me wonder what the future holds for her.  School?  Marriage? First or second wife?  Children and hard work in her garden? For us it seems a poor excuse for existance.  For most girls in Africa that would be pretty good.

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Have posted some new images to the galleries – Congo travelling

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