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Letter Z for Zaire

April 30, 2008

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April 2008 NaBloPoMo

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This post is written by my mom, who worked as her graduate school’s ambassador in Zaire. I know the country is not called Zaire anymore, but when my mom was telling me about her time there and showing me things she brought back, she always called it Zaire.

You asked me to write about Zaire for your blog. When I went there as a young adult it was called the Democratic Republic of the Congo (its present name again now that Mobutu is gone). It was only five years after independence. I was asked to work there as a one-year intern representing my grad school and come back and enlarge the student body’s horizons.

The first Sunday I was there I was with an old missionary friend of my family (who had worked with my grandfather before going there). She left me outside a church to attend to something and suddenly I was surrounded by a hundred children, all speaking to me at once. Of course, I had no language training other than French and they were speaking Tshiluba, one of the 250 languages of that country. I wasn’t exactly afraid, but I was terribly frustrated because all I could do was smile and try sign language. I didn’t even know how to tell them “I don’t speak Tshiluba!”

Later I began to pick up individual words and phrases, many of which I still retain today, more than 40 years later! I taught you and your brother some of them, one of which “Tuasakidila wa bungi” [Thank you] came in handy when you had to say thank you in a different language from anyone who had spoken before you.

I lived for a year out in the countryside, traveling mainly by Cessna 250 planes since the roads were so bad. Mail was very important and the plane brought letters and messages once a week or so.

I did make some friends in the village: one was a fellow teacher who wanted to learn English. He and I (using French as a medium of conversation) took walks, pointing out things and naming them in our native languages. On one of these walks, a mother grabbed up her child and scolded, “If you don’t behave correctly, I’ll give you to that white witch!” Ntambwe did not want to translate that for me, but I knew she was talking about me and I persuaded him that my skin was not too thin to understand her words.

Another friend was a young pastor who at my request took me to meet his father, the 92 year old village chief. He had seven wives when the missionaries came, and while he believed in God, the missionaries would not let him join the church unless he sent six of them away. He said he knew if he sent them away their only means of support would be prostitution, and he knew that was wrong. When one-by-one they died and he only had one wife left, he was baptized. He said, “I think I was a better Christian [not to send them away] than the missionaries!” I had to agree with him.

The violence that has occurred in Congo and is still occurring breaks my heart. The exploitation of natural resources (diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, etc.) by the Europeans is wrong. The people of the country and the miners who daily risk their lives to recover them should get at least some of the profit! Just because the Europeans supply the technology does not give them the right to rape the land.

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8 Comments
  1. April 30, 2008 7:28 pm

    congrats for making it through the month!

    and thanks to you and your mom for this post – we certainly don’t hear enough about situation in places like this.

  2. April 30, 2008 8:34 pm

    “I think I was a better Christian [not to send them away] than the missionaries!”
    I agree with him too! He was a good man to continue to provide for their well-being. I think that was the greater good there.
    You and your mother have both led very interesting lives!!!

  3. May 1, 2008 12:45 pm

    Thanks, Sarah! It was hard at times to think of topics to post about and I knew I would need my mom’s help with the letter “Z” since I didn’t want to write about zebras. 😉

    Thanks, Goldie! I really liked that life lesson too. I loved reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible because of lessons like that.

  4. May 1, 2008 5:56 pm

    This was a great post! I didn’t know much about Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo so I went and read up on it. So much happened in such a short span of time.

    Your mom is so right about the exploitation being wrong. It seems like everytime I turn around, I learn something else I have to be very careful of when buying (chocolate, for instance – chocolate slavery is horribly common), but that makes sense. It is an exploitative society we live in, we have to think about what we are doing.

    I haven’t watched it, but I’ve heard really good things about the documentary “blood diamonds”. (actually, I think there is a documentary as well as a dramatization or whatever they’d call it, both by the same name.) Has your mom seen it? Doubt it would be news to her, but still might be affirming to know that people are finally starting to learn the real cost behind the sparklies. I know a lot of people (regular kinds of people) who are saying they’ll never buy diamonds.

  5. May 1, 2008 7:45 pm

    Yes, Deb, thank you for mentioning the diamonds. You are one of the best examples I know of someone who thinks about what she is doing. 😀 I don’t know if my mom has seen the documentary. I will ask her.

  6. May 1, 2008 9:15 pm

    I see where you get your intelligence from…wow! This was a great post and I enjoyed learning about this. I completely agree that they are raping the land and the people.

  7. May 2, 2008 8:48 pm

    Great post; I, too, was thinking about the Kingsolver book, the Poisonwood Bible… Excellent Z topic. zowza!

  8. May 3, 2008 11:11 am

    CG and CuriousC, thanks for your supportive comments!

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