Knock knock knock. Knock knock knock. Knock knock knock. Between 7:30 and 9:30am Monday through Saturday, this knocking drill and descending and ascending our stairwell is inevitably how our days starts. Someone is at the door. Another person is at the door. A third comes, and sometimes a fourth. One day they all came at the same time - it almost felt like they had come for a party!
First there is Tatu Marcel with his leafy, well-washed greens, his onions, his carrots, and his overpriced papayas. His vegetables always look so delectable and tempting. We might even buy when we don’t feel a need. He is so gentle and mild-mannered, and he doesn’t take “no” very easily for an answer. He is our produce section, and we are happy that he graces our door three times a week.
Then there is Bobby (pronounced bobee in French). He is my “shakena,” meaning that we share the same name. Bobby is fourteen years old, and he is the consummate salesperson. He has an inside-tract with the Senegalese continent of soldiers here in Congo under UN mandate. These soldiers receive a regular ration pack, and they sell some of the contents to Bobby who is able to resell these difficult-to-find items for a profit. If Tatu Marcel is our produce section, then Bobby is our canned goods, fruits, juices and dairy section. Here is a list of some of the commodities we purchase from Bobby: apples, oranges, apple juice, orange juice, yogurt, soups, chocolate powder, couscous, eggs, and English Breakfast tea. For anyone who has ever lived in central Congo, they will know that almost everything Bobby sells are genuine commodities, that is, they cannot be found elsewhere. Bobby has a sad story. His mother passed away last year and his father lives far away in Kinshasa. Because of his Mom’s passing and his father’s absence, he is obliged to sell things to pay for schooling. He and three of his four siblings live with his grandparents. Bobby is bright, winsome and friendly. He often gives us a few things extra “thianana” (free), like salt and pepper packages and canned fruit. He always asks to see both of us when he comes, and we look forward to our visits from Bobby.
Next we have Tatu Richard, Tatu Willy, and Tatu Albert Muanza. These men bring new meaning to the expression “starving artist.” Their visits are less predictable, but fairly routine nonetheless. Tatu Richard produces wonderful paintings of traditional village life. Tatu Willy makes detailed wooden sculptures. He has a long history of selling his wares to former missionaries. Tatu Albert Muanza sells traditional wooden sculptures and Bakuba wall hangings made from palm fronds. We have already bought more small wooden elephants than we need, and Tatu Richard is certainly helping us make our drab malls more colorful and interesting. We are glad to help these artists, but sometimes we feel exasperated because we don’t aim to make our apartment a museum. The most difficult moments come when we graciously say “no,” and they respond with, “please buy something, my family is hungry.” We have a good relationship with each of these artists, and we hope to help them and their families in some small way.
Lastly there is “muena nkuasa,” Tatu Kazadi. We call him ‘muena kuasa’ because his specialty is making outdoor furniture from bamboo. So far we have bought three bamboo chairs, a small bamboo table, and a bamboo shelf from him. His work is very pleasing to the eye, and the chairs are quite comfortable. In fact, I was interrupted from writing this blog entry by Tatu Kazadi who wanted to sell us a few more chairs. We bought one, and he was happy enough. He is a tough negotiator, but is needy like all of our other ‘starving artist’ friends.
A PRAYER: Gracious God, “Nzambi wa luse,” give us wisdom in how to respond to those who grace our door each week. We are thankful for the gifts you give each one of us, and that You have made each person in Your image. Show us how to respect the dignity of each person we meet, and how to show them Your love. Thank You Lord for our “Home Shopping Network” right here in Congo. Thank you for Your provision, Your care, and Your love. “Dina diebe ditumbishibue diba dionso. Utuvuije bantu ba luse.”