Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 2: Lubumbashi

Today is my SECOND day in the Congo so I suppose it is now time for a proper update. Traveling was a blur once I got outside the US. I got really homesick after I left Indiana, and cried my way through Indy and Atlanta, but once I got on the flight to London I fell asleep and the rest was a blur—I essentially slept for three days! I wanted to get out into London, but I didn’t have as much time as I thought, plus I was saddled with my luggage, so I ended up just napping at Heathrow for a few hours before hopping on KenyaAir. Which, by the way, I think KenyaAir is the probably the best airline I’ve ever flown on—very spacious and nice. The stewardesses were fantastic, despite the fact that I also slept through that flight. (In my defense, all of these flights are overnight, so I was actually supposed to be sleeping.) 

Beyond that, it’s hard to know where to begin… I’ve essentially only been on the ground here for a little over 24 hours, but it feels like much longer. The culture-shock and jet-lag have taken their toll, and I’ve been very tired. For the most part, though, I’ve been able to sleep when it’s night and be awake when it’s day, which is a really good sign from the standpoint of recovering from jet-lag. The culture-shock is another story, though! I don’t really know how to describe it, because “culture-shock” doesn’t really seem to explain it It’s not a case of being overwhelmed by being in a strange place with strange food and different customs (though I’m sure that’s part of it).

My entry into the as a first time American was abrupt—like diving into a cold pool—there is no other way. The airport was EASY. Which I am happy to report, because apparently it has changed a lot in recent years—used to be sort of a harrowing experience I hear. For me, customs was pleasant and easy, and Rev. Maloba was all smiles at the airport waiting to pick me up—as I was passing through customs I could see him beaming at me from the other side of the window. Though a note to the wise if coming into Lubumbashi—they are very strict about luggage collection. Which is strange as an American because when you get off a plane you’re pretty much on your own to locate and gather your own luggage. At Lubumbashi, you must show your baggage claim ticket for them to relinquish to you your luggage. Of course, being the fool-hearty American traveler that I am, I did not zealously guard my baggage claim ticket. The airline agent in Nairobi stuck it to my Nairobi to Lubumbashi ticket, and then the gate agent tore that half of the boarding ticket off, of course. So I didn’t have it when I landed, and the Lubumbashi airport staff were very leary about giving me my bags. Luckily some smooth-talking by my hosts convinced them to write up a “contract” which I signed saying that I would not claim my bags were lost!

It is “strange” for lack of a better word, to be in a place where so much lack and so much excess exist simultaneously. This is one of the “richest” countries in Africa resource-wise, and the money flows—though generally, from what I hear, in one direction. The best way to put what I’ve discovered early on this trip is that everyone needs something. But this need is a paradox—often the ”need” is not well-defined or understood, either by the people that have the need or the people that desire to fill the need. How can one struggle to fill the opposing needs of so many people? This is my example: today I visited the United Methodist orphanage which I am staying right up the street from. At the time that we were going, there were two American girls there that were seeking to hire someone to tend to some business after they left. The “business” at hand was to make sure a young boy without legs was cared for and taken to all of his doctor’s appointments for the prosthetic limbs that were coming to him. Which is a more difficult task than one might think, because transportation and communication are daily barriers here. The right person for the job must be shrewd, resourceful, and determined, to make sure all of the boy’s appointments were coordinated and everything was taken care of. It’s hard to explain how this is a difficult job—but trust me, it is. 

So, the man that was being interviewed by these two girls for this position was very kind and seemed smart, but also he had lost everything in the war. He was from Goma and came to Lubumbashi to study but had never finished school and has never been able to return to Goma in 10 years to see his family. He just lost his job teaching English due to cutbacks at the English school, and struggles daily to make ends meet for himself, his wife, and his two children. So he was trying to get this job to survive. There is a lot of pressure to give someone like that a job-- to know that you can potentially change their standing in life by just giving him the job. But what if he's not the right person for the job? (I don't know if he is or not-- I'm just illustrating a point here.) And what if by giving this man the job, the boy without legs doesn't get his prosthetics? Or, what if not giving this man a job results in his child losing a limb due to inadequate medical care? Who is to say, and how can one "weigh" the welfare or needs of two different people?

I don’t know if he will get the job or not, but the point is that it is a struggle to meet the needs both of the kids at the orphanage and the people seeking the jobs—when a story like that is told, one feels compelled to help in any way—by giving this man a job. How could you turn him away? But for him, there are hundreds more people in the city that have stories just like his—and meanwhile, someone must be sure to care for the boy with no legs back at the orphanage. 

It is something to think about, to be certain… it highlights the complexity of every decision we make.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update! I'm so glad the flights went well and that you are safely in Lubumbashi. Your host family looks lovely--please tell them all hi for us! I can relate with the "culture shock" and feeling as if time is passing differently when landing in a foreign country for the first time, but your experience in Africa has to be much different than my experience in Rome. Although I am saddened with the lack of availability of jobs, I am so thrilled that so many people with so many challenges in a country without many resources are actively looking for jobs and wanting to work. I admire them more than words can say (and just wish I could give the man you were describing a big hug)!! Many people throughout the world in countries with even more resources should stop and look to emulate these people!!! Please give the people of Lubumbashi my best. You and they are in my thoughts and prayers as you continue your adventure. I still can't wait to see lots and lots of pictures!! Please post when you can!