Today is our last day in Kabalo as tomorrow we start our 2+ day river descent. (I must emphasize again that travel here is really inordinately difficult—it takes an alarmingly long time to travel an impressively small number of kilometres.) I’ve been finishing up Blood River: A Journey Into Africa’s Broken Heart whilst biding my time in Kabalo, which is just the kind of book I love to read—personal narrative interspersed with rich historical information. The author, an international journalist, decided to undertake a lengthy journey across Congo in 2004 following the path of the explorer Stanley, who is credited as being one of the first European’s to “discover” the Congo River and its tributaries. It’s been kind of like a time warp reading it, because I’ve found myself relating to the narrator so much, with his detailed account of his struggles traveling down the river and across the country. (I found myself especially sympathetic when reading the passage about his being trapped in the city for two weeks while waiting for suitable transport—in that regard, not much has changed since 2004, as I am fondly remembering my “extended stay” in Lubumbashi.)
Anyway, waxing-romantic about literature aside, we’ve otherwise passing our time here in Kabalo more-or-less pleasantly. (I say “more-or-less” because we’ve pretty much all, including me, been a little sick the past couple days.) Today was, again, laid-back schedule-wise, but emotionally demanding. In the morning we met with the lay-representatives from several local parishes, followed by a meeting with some of the pastors’ wives. Luckily, they came to us at the guest house instead of the other way around, since we were all feeling a little sickly and tired. I’m not sure I’ve written yet about the struggles that pastor’s face in this community. Pastor’s here are supported by the same mechanism they are in the United States, generally speaking, which is to say that their salary comes from the offerings given by the community members. But, given the fact that the communities here are so poor, that almost always amounts to a salary of 10 dollars (US) or less a month (I haven’t yet met a pastor who made more than that, unless he had some sort of outside venture). Even that is not reliable, and sometimes they can go months without being paid. Additionally, their position in the community is often tenuous, not that the church-members don’t care about them (on the contrary, I’ve found it’s quite the opposite), but the community is unable to support them if any sort of crisis comes up (like a pastor getting sick and needing to go to the hospital). As a result, the pastor’s often are forced to leave a community due to not having adequate food, housing, or health care. Because of the low salaries and high school fees, pastors often “rotate” their children, sending one to school one year, another one the next year, and so on and so forth. Finally, there’s really no such thing as “retirement” here, so once a pastor stops serving his community he’s pretty much on his own. Well, you can imagine the strain that puts on their wives to hold the household together—this is a lot of what I was hearing from pastor’s wives everywhere.
Leaving Kabalo, we were given a splendid farewell, Congolese-style, meaning that we were serenaded by the church choirs at an outdoor “concert” at the guest house. I was then gifted with another BEAUTIFUL outfit, a shirt for my husband, and another chicken. So even though we were all a little road-weary, we really enjoyed our send-off. I loved working with Mama Superintendent Mwayuma—she was so enthusiastic and upbeat. Which is definitely needed in a town like Kabalo! It’s hard to believe that the rest of the time (the next 9 days) before I leave the country is mostly going to be spent traveling… did I mention yet that traveling within Congo is extremely difficult and improving transportation is one of our main goals…? J