Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Letters to the Congo (Bukavu) II

Dear Congo,

I saw you today from the bow of an old canoe.

I followed a friend today from my house
down the roads, around the bend, across the round-a-bout,
past the UN offices with their soldiers high in watchtowers,
and down a hidden path towards the water.
I walked carefully down the steep way,
and across the slippery bank, doing my best not to fall into the lake
And my friend and I came across a small, messy hut
and some of your fishermen resting there.
 Now I will be honest, Congo, it was not just happenstance
to stumble upon these men.
We had come with intention,
because I dearly wanted to go out in a boat on the lake,
and, perhaps, these men would be my portal onto your waters.

We asked a few of these men about the possibility of this,
and then one young man set out in a boat
 in search of the head of the small fishing operation.
While we who remained caught crabs and watched the minnows,
 just below the surface of the water,
swimming around the old pots and trash littered in the mud.

 Before long we spotted an elderly man, dressed all in blue
with a faded-brown cap and thick rimmed glasses, paddling across the lake.
Leaning back in his canoe, with one foot draped over the side of the boat,
he called out in the voice of an old man and of years of experience, "Hello my boy!"
Once a cook for the UN, now a fisherman, he joined us on the shore.

While we all still waited together a young man brought out a large board,
painted with grey and white squares and the words "Durban Stadium - Made in Jaguar. K.K. Ndeke."
He set it down on dirty clothes and blankets scattered over a rough wooden frame bed,
and began preparing for a game of bottle-cap checkers
A battle to the death between Coca-cola and Primus Beer - the home-brewed pride of Bukavu.

 John and I began a game together, but before we could finish
the owner of the place showed up.
And after some negotiation over price
he agreed to allow a small excursion. 
A young man prepared a seat for me in one of the canoes
with a small stack of wood and an old towel.
Then, he who would steer, the old cook who would bail water,
and I who would enjoy life thoroughly,
 set out in the boat. 

Now, Congo, I must say, that as I watched you from the bow of this canoe
you looked much different to me than when I saw you while walking your streets.
You seem to dress up before the lake
as if you are modelling yourself in front of the great watery mirror,
wanting it to reflect only your best side.
Displaying your manicured lawns and polished manors.
Helicopter landing pads in front of massive houses
tucked amidst the tropical trees and plants. 
The architecture of Europe sketched into the greenery of the heart of Africa.

You are a funny place Congo.
Who are you dressing up for? 
Or, perhaps, I'm asking you the wrong question.
Perhaps it is your people and your guests who dress up for you.
You, as created from the origin, are the beauty of the lake.
And your guests prepare their best when before your natural face.
Their investments a rich desire to reflect and be a part of the beauty
which can never really be captured with any net of wealth.

None of their houses, their yachts, nor even their expensive landscaping
can compare, in my opinion, with your simpler elegance
seen in a tree stretching out from the shore and over the water
with several tall birds nesting in its branches
and eventually taking flight with the nearing of our paddle strokes.
There is something more beautiful about that old canoe I sat in
 - a single, hollowed-out-log with yellow patches and yet still several leaks -
than the expensive speedboats or multi-level cruiser docked in front of the
giant green mansion with 70 windows stretching up over four stories.

Oh, Congo I think that Many want to own you. 
They are jealous for you,
your richness they want to add to their riches.
But I hope that you would never trade all your trees and birds
for all the landing pads and helicopters that wealthy could bring.
 I hope that you would never trade the face of the old cook
or the voice of the young man,  singing out with African rhythm as he guided the boat,
for all the satellite dishes and flat-screen-tv-living-rooms the world could offer.

Its not that I want you to be poor Congo,
just to remember that it's not all about the money.
Not that I want your people to suffer or have a harder life than necessary,
but just to keep finding beauty and contentment when life must be simple.

Perhaps I am just wandering in a novelty world,
looking at you with a sheltered eyes.
If I lived with you longer maybe I would not think this way.
But yet, Congo, I think there is something to the way I feel.
Something for us all, wherever, whoever we are.

In any case, thank you for a good day Congo. 
May you be blessed, loved and cherished.
For, as wounded as you may be, you are beautiful.
You don't need others to patch your wounds or cover your scars
with mansions or money. Don't be afraid to display who you really are.
I hope that your guests will not be afraid to look at your face,
past the make-up plastered on for the tourists and businessmen,
and into the face of the water and the trees,
and into the eyes of Kingfisher
and the fishermen sitting in a small messy hut at the bottom of a steep, hidden trail.

I hope that we can grow closer and deepen our friendship.
I hope that I learn to truly listen to you
and see you the way I should.
To see you as your maker does.

                              A young man 
                                               sitting in an old canoe 
                                                         in the midst of your waters


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