Last night, I attended a Congolese wedding. You needed to show your invitation at the door to be allowed in, and I didn't have one. Nevertheless, I had a prime spot at the wedding. The reason? It was held on the porch of the Biosadec, the guesthouse where we're staying. If I wanted, I could reach my hand through my bedroom window and shake hands with the other guests...
We were told not to worry, the event would be over by 8 pm. When we left for breakfast at 8 am, some guests were still lingering. Needless to say, I got very little sleep. At first, I thought it's not a big deal. After all, what can one do? But by 3:30, when someone was pounding on my door, I no longer thought it was funny. Fortunately, I've traveled enough never to leave home without ear plugs and my iPod. I had an earplug in one ear, and my iPod in the other, at top volume till it ran out of batteries at 5:30.
But now I can say I've been to a Congolese wedding. I only briefly saw the bride and groom. But I feel like I know the guests. :)
This morning, Davis did a teacher training session. Jen, the girls and I hiked down into the valley, to Bukavu's slum, where "ELI Christian Academy" is located. There, I took photos of all the kids who showed up for today's photo session. I wish I could upload the pictures so you could see them! I may try to do some tomorrow on Mudekereza's computer. I love how they turned out.
After taking their pictures, I interviewed the children to get updated profiles for sponsors. One girl's story especially touched my heart.
The girl's bright smile and spunky hair could never have prepared me for what she told me. I started with the usual, "What's your name? Age? Which grade are you in?" and then progressed to ask how many children are at your house.
"Nine," she answered in French.
"How many of them go to school?"
"About four of us."
Why I asked this, I don't know. I hadn't asked anyone before her. "Do you live with your parents?"
As a Congolese assistant (Reagan) translated the question, she looked down. Her eyes immediately teared up. "No. It's not my parents."
"Are you living with family?"
"No." She gave a long explanation in French, and Reagan simply stated, "She doesn't really know the people. They found her. They are not family."
"Where are your parents?"
With Reagan's help, the 11-year-old explained that when she was six, their house was burned down by Interahamwe rebels. Her parents and siblings burned to death. She managed to escape.
My heart ached for the girl. "Now, you are living with this family?"
"Yes. I work for food."
"What do you do?"
Others had explained to me what their chores before or after school included. Many had to fetch water every morning, or sweep the house, or wash the dishes, or help with the other children. This little girl did all of this and more. Cook. Make fire. Clean. Everything, she said emphatically.
"Do the other children help you?"
"The mother has forbidden them to help. It is my work."
"At school, what's your favorite game to play with your friends," I asked, expecting her to say jump rope, or throw ball, like most of the other girls.
"I don't play," she said, looking down.
It is one of the dreams of ELI Congo to get a place where girls like her can come and live, where they'd have a chance to be children once again.
"Many, many of our 600 children are slaves," Mudekereza explained later. "Slaves! Really."
As others slipped into the seat to be interviewed, I looked out for her shy smile. She had slipped out, most likely because she had work to do and would be in trouble for staying away too long. School only starts on Monday. She won't really have an excuse for not being away from home.
As we headed back up the hill, leaving the shacks and dusty streets behind, I couldn't get her face out of my mind. As other children came running, wanting me to take their picture, I wondered which of them might be living in similar conditions.
I asked Mudekereza if it would be possible to visit the homes of one or two of the kids. "No problem!" he assured me. "They would love that." I look forward to seeing where these children live.
Tomorrow, I will help with some computer issues at the office and hope to get to go back into the valley to take pictures. I've been able to take photos without any problems. In fact, I was able to steal a photo of a "mobile gas station" today when Jen and the girls stopped at a corner to take a drink of water. One-liter water bottles were lined up, some plugged with corn husks, filled with gasoline. Can't wait to upload those so you can see them, too!
For now, I'm heading upstairs to have dinner with Mudekereza's family. Last night, we had chicken with rice. I jokingly asked if it's the chicken that was running around the apartment at breakfast time. "It is," Davis answered. "I asked."
There was no chickens in the house during breakfast or lunch today, so I know we're not having kuku. Whatever we have, I know it will be good.