We are still more or less stranded here in the city. Today Mama Mary said to me, “Now you see why transportation is so difficult for us in this country. Now you understand.” It is. It is very difficult to get things and get places here. You can get almost anything, but it’s all at a price. (They even have a KFC—Katanga Fried Chicken). I think that my Congolese hosts feel very bad for “detaining” me here because they keep apologizing. I am anxious to get out of the city and on our way, but I try to reassure them also that I don’t think it’s their fault and I’m not upset. It is customary here to call pastors and elders “Mama” and “Papa”, but also I have come to think of Mary as a “Mama” to me in the American sense as well. When I came into this country a week ago (has it only been that long??) I trusted her with my care because I had no other choice. (I mean, Bob and Taylor knew she was trustworthy, so I never did not trust her, but at that point I didn’t know her.) Now I know her though, and have come to depend on her for so many things, and love her in a way that is unique to the way she has (and will) care for me. When we come into the world, we are bombarded with strangeness- everything is strange and overwhelming and unfamiliar. It is incomprehensible to us because we have no language. And it is our mothers who guide us through the world and teach us language and raise us until we can care for ourselves—coming into a new country is like that. You are again faced with the disorientation of being a “newborn”. Mama Mary has been my mother in this new world, my orienting figure, my north star. I don’t know if I will ever be able to communicate this to her fully—partially because of the language barrier (!!) but also partially because she views me as a gift to her, not the other way around! She thinks she’s lucky to have me here, but I’m not sure she knows that I would be lost without her!
While we’re waiting to depart, I’ve just be reading, playing with the boys at the orphanage, and hanging out with Christina and Brittany. It has been nice to have company. Every day I see Brittany and Christiana, and then we go to the orphanage, and then Mama Mary and Douce (Rev. Maloba’s daughter) come to visit me. Each day has a nice rhythm. The only bad thing about staying in Lubumbashi is that it is TRES CHER. It is so expensive to live here and even just to stay here. The best way I can think of it is that it’s like when many young people I knew after college moved to New York to “make their fortunes”. Few ended up staying because before too long, they were so broke… It’s like a huge rat wheel, once you get on, you can’t get off—it drains your money. Some of my friends were even stuck there because they couldn’t afford to get home. It is the same way here, except ten times worse. Young people (like the man I mentioned in the early post, seeking work at the orphanage) move here thinking they can “make their fortunes” get sucked in, and can never get back home. They’re stuck here just barely scraping by. I am thinking that the cost of living here is similar to Indianapolis, but there’s no chance of a living wage. Imagine trying to pay $500 a month in rent with a job at which you might make $5/day. Or, worse, not being able to find a job at all. Lucky for me, I get to leave at the end of the day, but not everyone does.
Some other interesting tidbits about traveling here: The Congolese Franc is the currency here, and today I had to exchange some money to get some francs. Oh my goodness, I’ve never seen such a huge stack of bills in my whole life. It is about 900 congolese francs to one dollar right now, and the bills(that I have anyway) are 500 francs each. So two bills is equal to one dollar American. So just imagine exchanging (for example) 50 dollars American and getting back a stack of 100 bills! It can be quite cumbersome to carry around!
I also felt like for the first time in my life I truly understood the significance of the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet—after being here only a week, I feel like my feet will never be clean again!! Everywhere is this fine, reddish brown dust that coats EVERYTHING. Your feet, your clothes, your hair, etc etc. And that’s in the dry season—in the wet season, it’s mud! But now I finally understand the washing of the feet—especially seeing most of the boys from the orphanage who don’t have shoes. Walking around here without shoes certainly makes for dirty feet!!