|Christine and friends in Gemena|
Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what to share about my life here. Everything is different, but I forget what might be interesting or surprising to people at home. Some fun stories from the past week:
I have been driving a 4-wheeler to the World Vision office for a little over a month now. I am one of two young white women who live in this town, and there are only two 4-wheelers in the town too, so if people didn’t notice me before, now I REALLY stand out. To make things more interesting Debbie Williams lent me her motorcycle helmet that she rarely uses because she isn’t about to ride motorcycles on these challenging roads. So, now I am the only person in town wearing a big green helmet, on top of being white and having a unique vehicle, and sometimes the children screaming and running after me gets almost out of hand. My daily commute.
We had a team from Covenant Churches in the US visit last week, and one morning I went with Diann from Naperville Covenant Church to visit her World Vision sponsored kids. It was a great experience, and as we were walking through one village we saw a group of women pounding fuku flour (corn and cassava flour mixed) and the women encouraged us to try pounding the flour with them. Diann and I quickly realized the hard labor that preparing a simple meal entails, and the women laughed and laughed at our efforts. As we worked, a young man rode up on his bicycle and asked the women if I had a mobali, or husband. My Lingala is good enough now that I can understand when people are talking about me, but they might not know that I understand. He asked again and the women said “No, she is not married, she is free, so take her!” I have been proposed to before in Congo, but that was the first time I had an arranged proposal approved by a group of women I had never met before. Welcome to my life.
This past Sunday I went to a church in a neighborhood called Salongo II, and in Lingala salongo means “community work”, or “work together”. Often Saturday mornings are a time of salongo where everyone will come out and clean up their neighborhood together. So, I went with one of our Saving for Change trainers, Mama Bibi, so we could share our program with women of the Salongo church after the Sunday morning service. In these small village churches there might be 60 people under a grass roof with mud walls and dirt floors. I actually prefer this kind of church because from my foreign Western perspective, it seems more intimate and real. They bring out the drums made of wood and taught goat skin and we celebrate our faith with singing and dancing to rhythms of Congo. That is by far my favorite part of church. After the 3 hour service (not too long by Gemena standards) Mama Bibi gathered about 40 women to talk to them about saving and loaning to improve their businesses and household income. The women listened at first, asking questions where they didn’t understand, but the women community leaders were the ones that really grasped the idea and convinced the other women that they could do this. It was awesome to see – there was doubt and negativity at the beginning, but it slowly turned to acceptance and even excitement. We offered to let the women think about the idea for a week before we come back to form the groups, but the women said “No! Let’s make the groups now, we want to start saving as soon as possible!” So cool. The women split themselves into two groups, we led them through fair elections for a president, secretary, treasurer, cashier and key holder and they chose saving amounts and names for their groups, Bolingo and Esengo, or Love and Joy. When Mama Bibi comes again next week, they will have their first official savings meeting, and they will be able to take loans from their group within the next 4 weeks. On our walk home Mama Bibi commented on what hard work we accomplished, and I agreed how great it was that within 3 hours we got 40 women on board with our program to be empowered and change their own lives, without receiving a penny from an international organization. In this town, changing people’s minds and behaviors is by far the biggest challenge, but we are seeing change and acceptance of our idea. It really is miraculous. So far 14 savings groups have been formed in Gemena and we look forward to seeing how God works through these groups to bring empowerment and relieve some of the struggle from living in poverty for these women and their families.
All in all, another eventful week in Gemena, DRC.