Monday, February 3, 2014

“Reality Check,” Life in Congo

Overall, returning to life in Congo has felt like a relatively seamless transition.  Last week we enjoyed visits from friends as we got situated in our apartment.  On Saturday I had a couple of things planned – preparing myself to translate Sunday’s sermon to be delivered by Pastor Penner of First Presbyterian Knoxville (TN), and going out to get gas for the Land Cruiser for our trip to Tshikaji the following day. 

At around 1:30pm, I went downstairs to start the Land Cruiser.  It wouldn’t start.  “Okay,” I chuckled to myself, “back to the realities of Congo!”  I went to the small market across the way and asked Tatu Martin for help.  He and I collected a few others and we push-started the mammoth vehicle.  So far so good.  I went to the Elf service station.  They were out of diesel.  I made my way down to Mona Lux.  They filled her up. Crossing my fingers and saying a short prayer, I turned the ignition key and Tshikunda (the name of our vehicle) roared to life.  Victory number two achieved.  I moved the car from the pump and turned it off so I could enter the Mona Lux convenience store to look for a few items for Kristi.

Returning to the vehicle, I turned the ignition and it wouldn’t start.  Slightly frustrated, I pulled myself together and approached the guard of the station and asked he and a few others to help me push-start the vehicle.  Our initial try failed.  We tried a second time but now the car would not even move forward.  My hypothesis was that the front brakes were somehow locked up.  I didn’t have many units in my phone, so I asked Kristi to call our mechanic friend.  Available, Tatu Tshibuabua hopped on a moto and came to assist.  For about 30 minutes I waited for him under a nice big tree with Tatu Albert who sells local art.  We drank cold bottled water as Tatu Albert taught me the traditional Tshiluba word for February.  Finally I spotted Tshibuabua and we crossed back to Mona Lux.  Previously, I had told the guard that our mechanic was coming.  He was gracious, allowing the vehicle to remain stationed in the middle of the service station.  This time, however, he rebelled at the idea of us fixing the vehicle in plain view.  I told him that the vehicle simply wouldn’t budge.  We had no choice and we could speak with his supervisor if he wished.  Tshibuabua went to explain. 

Returning, Tshibuabua began his work and suddenly I found myself accosted by a young boy selling traditional hats and mats and a woman selling green oranges.  This boy remembered me, and I remembered him.  His name is Kalonji Placide.  He lives with his grandparents and sells traditional items to help with school fees.  He is incorrigible and also a tough bargainer.  I bought a traditional hat from him and two oranges from the woman. 

I then went to the other side of the vehicle to support Tshibuabua.  After about 20 minutes, Tshibuabua diagnosed and temporarily fixed the problem.  We were on our way.  We went home and Kristi served us cold drinks.  Saturday was a good ‘reality check” as we re-enter life in Congo.  Thankfully I was able to keep my cool and make the best of a challenging situation.  It was nice to be surrounded by helpful friends, willing to help us get us out of a bind.     



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