So, I’ve noticed, among other things, a peculiar phenomenon here which is that there is a ridiculous amount of “Obama” campaign attire and paraphanalia here. I can only guess as to how so much of it ended up over here, but it is slightly perplexing. If there exists a list of “least-likely-campaign-strategies-to-win-re-election” this definitely makes the list. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone wearing a shirt with words on it that are NOT in English. Most of the clothing people wear here appears to be designed for the American market, yet another sometimes-sad-sometimes-ironic-but-always-symbolic paradox about the Congo.
Anyway, on to the “news”—Spent the day “chilling” in Kabalo. It’s actually been pretty laid back today, which it good because I really needed the rest. I spent a good harrowing 2-hours in the immigration “office” today trying to get my travel docs approved. They were trying to claim that I had the wrong kind of visa, and that I couldn’t do missionary work because I had a tourist visa. (DS Mulongo kept saying, but she’s not a missionary! To no avail.) I found the whole thing a little disconcerting, but DS Mulongo assured me afterward that there was no real risk of us getting ousted from Kabalo, they were just giving us the run-around because, as he put it, “everyone wants money.”
Then we just kind of hung out at the guest house here—I read a lot, watched Mimi’s (Dr. Serge’s wife) 1 and a half year old daughter gleefully wreck havoc. In the last afternoon, we visited one of the Kabalo parishes. Though I know this is going to sound repetitive, it was really sad to see because it was just completely leveled. There was nothing left—and it had used to be a bustling town with a clinic, three schools, a women’s foyer, etc, and now—nothing. To put this in a little perspective, the District Superintendent here (female, a marvel in and of itself) told me that last year, 60 children died due to not having clean water. In a community of maybe 250. It’s hard to believe—imagine if in a small-town elementary school in the US 60 children died each year? It would be totally unacceptable. So why do we, as a global community, allow it to be acceptable here? I know that’s a hard question with a very nuanced answer, but it’s thought-provoking, none-the-less.
It’s interesting because as I near the end of my journey, I have now consumed massive quantities of literature about the recent and long-distant history of this country. In doing so, and being here now during a relative time of “peace” in the country’s history, I have to wonder if this most-fraught and meddled-with of the African countries will ever truly “make it” as a peaceful, developed, INDEPENDENT nation. I know that probably sounds horrible to say, but now being here, I am well aware that many parts of the country remain just as impassible as they were in the 1800s, and that there’s such a long, long LONG history of repeated dilapidation and restoration. I think it’s not pessimism so much as a shifting of mindset—as Westerners we tend towards viewing things in black-and-white, war-and-peace, stable-and-unstable. I used to think that this time of “peace” in parts of the Congo represented something all together “new”, the beginning of a “permanent” recovery. And perhaps it truly is—it’s not for me to say. However, for the first time, the thought crosses my mind that, is it possible that it’s just another “blip” of calm in a long, complex, sordid history? Unpleasant as the thought is, it’s a possibility that must be considered. I am, by no means a historian, or a politician—there’s the chance (rather large, I should guess) that I have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s just that I realize that it’s so much more complicated than I ever imagined—I used to view Congolese independence, peace, and self-sufficiency as a sort of door that could be thrown open and passed through, never to look back if one so chose. Now I see that it’s more of a meandering labyrinth subject to so many forces—in fact, it’s a lot like the dirt paths through the bush with their confusing switchbacks, multifaceted “intersections”, and divisions/reassemblances.
Plus, I know that this is exceptionally simplistic, and perhaps some people would even argue its accuracy, but in regards to racial subjugation, I can’t help but think—It could have just as easily gone the other way. What if the African nations were the first to venture out and “discover” Europe, instead of the other way around? The history of this country, and our human history, would have indeed been very different. Anyway, I suppose that’s enough “philosophizing” for now. But hey, this is why we get paid the big-bucks! (ha, ha...) This is why we’re NOT missionaries—we are missiologists-- some strange hybrid of missionary, community developer, scholar, philosopher, and historian. Welcome to the world of the grey.