Tag Archives: Congo

Some Day I’ll Go Back

I remember where I was sitting when I heard the news. He’d been killed—the little boy I used to play hide and seek with. Him, his mother, brother, aunt, and cousins. They had been our neighbors when my family lived in Congo the family of my dad’s very good friend Bura.

Bura had moved his family and his brother’s family into town where he thought they would be safe. He had stayed with the house sleeping in the shamba (garden) at night incase of house to house attacks. The house to house killings happened again, but this time in town not in the village. All but one of his sons was killed.

I’d been reading a Redwall book, a fun little series about mice and various other animals who lived in an abbey. With each book some greedy rat pirate or fox king would attack the abbey and an unlikely hero would rise up and save the peaceful inhabitants from the evil that threatened them. Well written books but at times violent. I couldn’t finish the book after hearing the news. I picked it up several times, stared at the same page for awhile, and then eventually returned it half read to the library. I was in jr. high and learning quickly that the world can be an ugly, uncertain place to live.

Awhile ago a friend of mine recommended that I read the book Stringer. A journalist’s story of living in war torn Congo. I’m at the part of the book where the journalist is arriving in Bunia not far from where I grew up.

Bunia—the first place I remember lying awake at night unable to fall asleep because an occasional truck would rumble down the road. To me, a girl who had been living in a rural mountain village, it felt like a big city. It was the first time I remember sleeping under a mosquito net, and it was where my brothers and sisters and I read Calvin and Hobbes comic books for the first time.

Now I think about Congo, and while I long to visit the places where I grew up, I know they wouldn’t be the same. It’s still a war torn country corrupt and broken. A country full of natural resources but constantly under bad leadership. It’s a forgotten country. The holocaust of my generation ignored except for the occasional news story. But, when I read about names of towns and statistics of rape and death I don’t just see numbers and maps. I see people I knew and loved. I see places full of memories.

Some day, God willing, I will go back. I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t given up hope of again seeing the place I once called home. Congo is always on my heart. It’s pains affect me. Its stories have changed me. I haven’t forgotten. I can’t never forget.

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I can’t forget

I ate an avocado for breakfast. I think it was my way of reconciling with the fact that my dad and older brother are headed for Kenya this week, and I’m here. I don’t feel African, and yet at times I do. Maybe it’s because my grandfather grew up in Congo. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to my mom’s childhood stories of attending boarding school and climbing loquat trees. Maybe it’s because growing up I climbed those same loquat trees and attended the same school she did for first grade. Maybe it’s because I learned to fall asleep to the sound of rain falling on a tin roof during the rainy season. I miss that sound.

Home Sweet Home

I grew up playing jump rope, soccer, and riding on homemade wooden bikes. My friends and I used to carry water up from the stream balanced on our heads. My little jug was a third the size of theirs, but I still did it. I walked around with my friends’ younger siblings tied snuggly on my back. I used to walk to school jumping ditches along the way and crawling under the barbwire fence on occasion to pick daises for my teacher Miss Gorman.

Homemade wooden bikes

My babysitter Silvia

When my family moved to the village, I joined the children’s choir, and we kept chickens, rabbits and goats. Life was simple and beautiful. Now I sometimes wonder, if I went back, would loquats still taste as good as I remember? Would life seem as simple? Could I still fall asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof?

Hanging out with my choir friends.

The last time I was in Africa was just before my freshman year in high school. I wasn’t able to go to Congo, but I did get to spend time in Kenya and Uganda. The mangos were amazing and the avocados were perfect. I was able to reconnect with several friends I went to school with and spent a week with my cousins in Uganda. I got to see Lake Victoria, eat samosas and collect a good sized pile of bottle caps.

But what I saw was not always simple or picturesque. I went with my dad one day to look at some printing equipment a friend wanted to show him. A small orphanage stood next to the property we were visiting, so we took a tour. I say tour but the orphanage was so small it didn’t take long to see everything. A huge bag of rice leaned against the doorframe. The children were eating porridge, and one little boy caught my eye. He wasn’t eating. His big eyes stared ahead almost blankly. They said his name was Job. No one knew how old he was, but he looked to be between one or two although his small frame made it hard to tell. The lady explained that the police had found him and brought him in. So far, they said, he hadn’t said a single word.

I took a brochure before I left hoping that some day I’d be able to come back. Experiences like that have a way of changing your entire view on the world. It was hard to leave because I saw so much need. But, I had a blue passport and a visitor visa, so I returned “home.” I didn’t forget what I saw. I can’t forget, and I hope, desperately hope, to one day return.

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