While at Lake Munkamba for a few days of vacation, we enjoyed walking along the beach. The lake is surrounded by houses and villages, and it is the primary source of water for those who live around it. It becomes the gathering place for a community – the place to share news, get the housework done, find some fish to eat, or splash around and have fun.
When we took an early morning walk – about 6:30 am - we passed by groups of women who were bathing, washing dishes, or washing clothes in the lake (sometimes all three at once). Despite being topless, they didn’t seem in the least embarrassed when we ambled by, and wanted to engage us in conversation. They laughed as they splashed and worked and enjoyed being together in the early morning sun. We admired their sense of community, and the unhurried way that they went about their tasks. (Sorry, no pictures of those group showers!)
These women were happy to have their picture taken, and even started dancing for us!
In the early evening, people also gather in the shallows of the lake, sometime whole families bathing, washing, or fishing. As we walked one evening, we were passed by kids and teenagers excitedly gathering at a place ahead of us. We realized that a couple of men were dragging in their huge fishing nets with the final catch of the day. As the net got near the shore, clusters of children surrounded the net, holding mosquito nets themselves to catch any fish that might escape from the larger net. Again, we were impressed with the sense of community, of working together, and of not being driven by time.
The people we saw at the lake would be considered poor by most standards – they have to work daily to get the food they eat, they don’t have the luxury of electricity or technology, and they don’t have access to good medical care. At the same time, most are not encumbered with the abundance of ‘stuff’, the information overload, or the drive for productivity that I am. As the papers pile up at our house and I fight the daily battle with dust, bugs, and clutter, I am reminded that all of these tasks bind me to the ‘stuff’ rather than to community. We listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer recently, who said “A lot of us have the sense that we are living at the speed of light, at a pace determined by machines. We have lost the ability to live at the speed of life.” Would I trade our 2-bedroom apartment and all of our books and ‘stuff’ for life in a mud hut with nothing? No, frankly. But it gives me pause, reminds me of the joy of the simple things in life, and helps me to temper my drive for productivity in the interest of engaging with people around me.
Didn’t Jesus talk about this? And live it? Jesus placed a priority on the people at hand, showing compassion or responding to requests. He was never in a hurry, willing to stop mid-stride to call blind Bartemeus, willing to stay and feed the crowd or bless children when his disciples urged him to send them away. “Don’t worry about tomorrow”, he told his disciples, and later “my peace I leave with you.” I am struggling to balance the call to be present with people, to slow down, and to embrace the ‘inefficiencies’ of Congo with my drive and desire to ‘be productive’ or cross things off the to-do list. And in that tension, I am grateful that God meets us and helps us in that tension, and reminds us of the things that have eternal significance. And I am grateful for the joyful people at Lake Munkamba who reminded us efficiency is not always the highest value.