Is it possible to die from eating too much chicken? Recently I spent two weeks in Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When traveling and being hosted by others, we are always reminded of the extravagant hospitality offered by Congolese sisters and brothers. After worship on the second Sunday of this particular trip, we were taken to the home of Elder Mutombo Francois and Mamu Odja Marie and served a lavish meal. After praying for the family, we were whisked away by some Congolese friends who also wanted to “bless” us with drinks to celebrate coupled with another meal. While with them at the Guest House of Mamu Rita, we learned that the home where I was staying was preparing another meal for us as well that evening. My friend Pastor Mboyamba and I looked at each other knowingly, rebelling in our spirits – no, not another meal!
Just two days prior I had been served five meals, and multiple times I felt bloated and sick to my stomach through the night having been served multiple meals. Kristi once was obliged to eat eight times in one day when we stayed with Pastor Mukendi in the Lukonga Commune of Kananga. On a trip between Luebo and Mueka we were obliged to eat at every church where we stopped. We probably made 8-10 stops that day.
At this point you might be wondering if I have read the Boundaries book by Cloud and Townsend. You might also be wondering if it is okay to say “no” to a meal here and there. In some cases it is okay to say no, but you must have a very good reason. Responding to Congolese hospitality is like walking a high tight-wire. It requires skill, tact, diplomacy and love. The basic rule for survival is this – eat enough to not offend and usually not more because the next meal might be right around the corner. I, unfortunately, cannot say that I always follow this rule – it is easy to forget when such good food is placed before you and your host and colleagues encourage you to take that last piece of chicken. Traveling is the worst, because you have the least control of your schedule.
A while back on a trip to Tshimbulu (towards Lubondai) Pastor Mboyamba taught us an expression which encapsulates so well the tension we face. In Tshiluba, we say “Ndungu wa mu munyinyi.” Translated literally, it means “the hot spice tucked under the meat.” Figuratively, the expression has this connotation – “A good and pleasant thing can, indeed, spell suffering.”
The good and pleasant gifts of hospitality we receive in Congo can, at times, feel jarring. Being the victims of extravagant hospitality, especially while traveling, can tax our minds, bodies and spirits. However, receiving hospitality is a form of inclusion and a way of blessing a home and a family. The Congolese like to say that a home that doesn’t have visitors is a home that dies. Thankfully, as we learn to adapt and survive in Congo, we have this expression we can quietly and discreetly share with each other after we smile and accept another plate of bidia, chicken, greens, goat meat, rice, beans, plantains, and fruit. “Ndungu wa mu munyinyi!”