Sunday, 29 July 2012

"It Looks Like Heaven, but..."

Life goes on in the Congo,
though not without many disruptions, fears and struggles amidst the people.
There has been an increase in fighting in North Kivu lately involving the UN, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Over 200,000 people have been internally displaced from this recent conflict.
Also, many international political decisions have been made lately regarding the war in the Congo and the surrounding nation-states, including aid cuts from Rwanda by the U.S., Netherlands and England due to Rwanda's alleged involvement in supporting the rebel groups within the DRCongo.  If you are unaware of what is happening in this area of Africa I encourage you to read up on it. I think that few people realize the scale of deaths and horrors that have 'silently' been occurring for over a decade.

Even though Bukavu is relatively safe right now. There are still definite signs within the city that the country is not at rest. The amount of internally displaced peoples is huge here from both the regions around Bukavu, and we are also seeing more people coming over on the boat from the city of Goma on the north end of Lake Kivu, which is under threat of invasion by the rebel groups.

Here are a few sites  that can offer some information on the past and present occurrences within and around the Congo.

Congo Siasa

BBC DR Congo

BBC Rwanda

Here is a recent article from the BBC News Website:

DR Congo: Where Logic Ends?

A Congolese soldier in eastern DR Congo

"A mutiny by soldiers in the eastern DR Congo has turned into an international dispute,
 with allegations that Rwanda is supporting the rebels. 
The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse reports from a lawless region where politics,
 history and nature create a dangerous mix.
There is a saying in these parts: "Where logic ends, Congo begins."
It certainly feels like that as you wind your way through the picture-postcard lush green hills of Rwanda towards the border.
Here the roads are smooth and well maintained;
 you drive past tidy little villages made up of immaculate red-brick houses,
 with scrupulously tended front gardens.
The roadside is patrolled by armed officers, clad in high-visibility jackets.
 Rwanda might be the Switzerland of Africa.
On the last Saturday of every month, the whole country gets together for something called Umuganda: a communal tidying-up exercise, complete with inspections of people's homes.

Nearly two decades after it was consumed in a spasm of genocidal hatred, 
Rwanda projects itself as a country of logic, a country of control.
Then you hit the shores of Lake Kivu and the town of Goma
just inside the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is beautiful, stunning countryside,
with the waters of the lake lapping against the shore
and hills receding into the bluish haze of the distance.
But the town is pervaded by a sense of nihilistic pointlessness.
 Endless white UN four-by-fours bump their way over the pot-holed roads ferrying well-intentioned "internationals" between their bases and the headquarters of NGOs.
Swarms of motorbike-taxis also ply the crumbling streets;
 perched precariously on the back are people scurrying about
trying desperately to make a buck or two in the frenetic atmosphere of the border town.

A view over the city of Goma in the eastern province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a man fishes on the edge of Lake Kivu on May 28, 2012.  
If the gasses at the bottom of Lake Kivu were to rise to the surface, Goma would suffocate.


Looming over all of this activity is Mount Nyiragongo.
 The majestic volcano, which rises out of the jungle into the clouds,
last erupted a decade ago - it sent two rivers of molten rock running straight into town,
consuming whole neighbourhoods in flames.
From time to time, Nyiragongo belches and splutters,
 as if to remind the people below of the futility of their endeavours. 
Underneath the water too, there lurks a deadly threat.
Lake Kivu sits atop a vast reserve of methane and carbon dioxide.
These are valuable resources, and efforts are under way to try to tap into this energy source potentially worth as much as $20bn.
But seismic shifts or volcanic activity could cause what is known as a limnic eruption.
The gasses at the bottom of the lake would rise to the surface.
 This invisible force would push all the oxygen out of the surrounding area. Goma would suffocate.

But the real threat here is not the unstoppable destructive forces of nature.
Rather, it is man's insatiable appetite for conflict.
The last big war in DR Congo started in 1998.
Also known as the Great African War, it sucked in at least six African nations and involved a couple of dozen armed groups.
More than five million people lost their lives. It officially ended in 2003… then again in 2008. This last rebellion is a small aftershock of that war.
Rwanda is accused of supporting the mutiny, a charge the government hotly denies.
But some of the Rwandan Hutus who orchestrated the genocide fled across the border into Congo in 1994. They are still active.
And so Kigali's logic has always been to exercise at least some control over the chaos on its border.

Fertile ground 


 We spent a night in Virunga National Park, the centre of the latest fighting.

A mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park - April 2011  
 Mountain gorillas live in the Virunga National Park - a World Heritage Site
The head warden is a Belgian by the name of Emmanuel de Merode.
His struggle to protect the park and its population of mountain gorillas provides a small snapshot of the multitude of conflicts that plague the region.
On our way we had driven along a dirt track in search of a Congolese army colonel.
We never found him.

Instead we saw deserted villages, empty houses, 
 and the occasional group of soldiers roaming the countryside.
Mr de Merode took us up in his small aeroplane and flew us over the vastness of the park.
Here - he pointed - a plume of smoke rising into the air, was evidence of those Hutu rebels
 - the former "genocidaires" - cutting down the forest for charcoal.
Other groups inhabit the slopes of the volcano, others still,
 the plains where the elephants roam,
and yet others run a racket extorting money from illegal fishermen on the lake.
As we lay in our tents that night, the sounds of mortars
and heavy machine-gun fire mingled with the alarm calls of birds and primates.
The ground here is as fertile for flora and fauna as it is for armed groups.
They break up and reform, merge and split, sprouting an endless series of shifting alliances.
They are motivated by a mixture of economic interest and historical grievance.
Some are simply gangs of poachers or bandits.
Neither Mr de Merode, nor the UN peacekeepers,
 nor even the Congolese army seems able to control them.
There is another saying about this part of the eastern DR Congo:

  "It looks like heaven, but it feels like hell".

Troublesome neighbours

  • April-June 1994: Genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda
  • June 1994: Paul Kagame's Tutsi rebels take power in Rwanda, Hutus flee into Zaire (DR Congo)
  • Rwanda's army enters eastern Zaire to pursue Hutu fighters
  • 1997: Laurent Kabila's AFDL, backed by Rwanda, takes power in Kinshasa
  • 1998: Rwanda accuses Kabila of not acting against Hutu rebels and tries to topple him, sparking five years of conflict
  • 2003: War officially ends but Hutu and Tutsi militias continue to clash in eastern DR Congo
  • 2008: Tutsi-led CNDP rebels march on North Kivu capital, Goma - 250,000 people flee
  • 2009: Rwanda and DR Congo agree peace deal and CNDP integrated into Congolese army
  • 2012: Mutiny led by former CNDP leader Bosco "Terminator" Ntaganda

               Source DRCongo: Where Logic Ends?

Friday, 27 July 2012


I had a blast today with my second level English class teaching them about the news
and different sections of the newspaper.
I'm excited to receive back an assignment I gave to them, in which they would each
write a story fitting into a certain news category.
I hoping that with them all we can make a little newspaper
and maybe I'll even post what they choose to write about on here, if they allow it.
I'm so thankful for the moments of laughter and learning
that really make me  feel a part of their lives
and my presence here brings something to the table.

Following either church or English lessons, I always enjoy goofing around a bit
with the youngsters that gather outside.
They always seem to ask if I'm going to drive the car parked in the lot.
I enjoy hearing them yell "lets run!" as I get ready to leave with the pastor. 
Playing with them makes me want my own kids,
but that can wait at least a little while longer I suppose. 



That Place of Breath.

There is a place,
It's not far from my home here
and I would like to share it with you.
It's found between my house and my church where I teach.
Now let me tell you how to get there.

To begin, you must of course leave your house at the Mission and the comforts therein.
Before you exit you must find a watchman who wil close and lock the gate behind you.
Then, walk down the dirt path,
past the man with the carpet of shoes for sale laid out on the dirt,
and around the piles of bricks and sand destined
for the construction of houses. People's high hopes cemented into the walls.

At the bottom of the hill you make your way past various shops,
food and goods, salons, electronic sales.
Peering inside some to see walls of powdered milk and Nyanga drink.
Keep walking past the women sitting on the side of the road
selling clothing and wiping the dust off of used backpacks.
Then, cautiously, makes your through the intersection,
dodging motorcycles and running from Landcruisers
as you remember that the pedestrian never has the right of way.

Then you reach Nyawera market,
this may be the most interesting and frustrating part of the walk.
Weaving your way in and out of people,
bumping into some, patiently waiting behind the slow ones.
Your attention may be caught by the snap of a finger
as some vendors try and lure you into buying, among many other things,
 eggs, oranges, sausages, mangos, avocados, bananas, toothpaste, chocolate cookies
 and some of those small, silver dried out fish
that you tried for the first time yesterday and they actually weren't too bad
(even though you only ate the bodies and secretly threw away the heads). 
All the while now as vendors have been vying for your attention on the left,
the motorcycle taxis having all been hoping for your business on the right.
Every look or greeting you give them they see as asking for a ride,
but you assure them that you are able to walk on your own two feet,
and then you try and avoid catching the eye of any more drivers. 

Surviving the market, though you will receive no t-shirt for this act of valiance, you continue on.
The road, still paved at this point, a rare thing, hosts scores of vehicles
and a few police officers who direct and guide with their whistle blows
in a hopeful attempt at creating some sort of order in the chaos that is Bukavu roads. 
The road, whether paved or dirt, will now be your constant companion on one side.
while the stores and vendors will host all sight on the other.

As you make your way onwards you see the Media store
with the fat sumo wrestler painted on the wall outside,
and where you had entered and were somewhat disappointed by their selection of DVDs.
But what did you really expect?
Then there is the sister store of Victoire Bakery
with their truck often parked in front delivering breads and buns to be sold.

You begin to climb again. In a city built on mountains
no matter where you go, you cannot avoid ascending and descending the hills
in order to get to your destination.
You pass by the immense crater in the road which very effectively acts as a speed bump
for the huge trucks barreling down the road.
 Unfortunately it also entices the motor bikes to use the sidewalk as a smoother lane. 
With some of the recklessness you think how a hundred miracles must happen a week
just in the fact that not more people are hit and killed.

Then there is the outdoor bookstore.
Two very large, slightly slanted wooden platforms
which sit beside a broken-down Mitsubishi SUV and huge mat full of women's purses.
The two platforms are full of books, mostly written in French,
a sparse selection of material readable to one limited to the English language.
Every time you pass by these stands, though, you think of taking a picture.
For they are built overlooking a great expanse of the city,
so while in the foreground you see the books resting, waiting for a hungry reader,
in the background you see all the hills and the houses thereon.
However, not wanting to be one of those shutter-happy tourists,
you resist from snapping a photo, and think that perhaps in your last one or two weeks here,
then you will capture this image to bring back with you.

Onwards and upwards. More hill, more dust.
A man in a green flannel hat smoking outside of his shop.
The U.S. President smiles at you from a bag of Obama pops
in a child's woven basket amidst other candies, biscuits and rolls of mints.
You debate buying some of the pops just for the novelty of it,
but not now, perhaps in your last one or two weeks here.
After having passed this way many times,
a few of the children now greet you as you walk by,
you smile back and offer a greeting of your own. 

The dirt road roundabout, the giant Primus Beer banner.
The small Catholic Church with its table of religious merchandise on sale.
More women selling pineapples, casava, oranges and tomato soup.
The carpenter's shop and the hillside bed-frames. 
The roadside thrift store, a value village worth of kitchen utensils, toys and clothing.
The college and its students, finally a few other people wearing a backpack
so you don't feel quite so odd.

We're almost there now, to that place.
Just have to avoid being impaled
by the three men each carrying a twenty foot long pole on the heads;
a reminder never look down always keep looking forward, up and around.
There is the small corn garden, the barbed wire fence,
the huge unguarded hole dug to reach a pipe and that has not yet been filled.
The hole that you always picture a motorcycle falling into and sending its driver flying forward.
Perhaps a morbid fear, but a real one that is maybe not altogether irrational.

Up just a little further and around a slight curve.
There you will cross the road and climb a small, steep bank.
Atop the bank is a field, of sorts, filled with garbage, several trees
and about 20 young boys playing soccer.
Once in a while you joke with them, pretending to interrupt their game
or greeting them with a series of claps in a rhythm that they will copy.

This is so near to the place now.
For you will walk only about 10 or so more steps,
and then you will reach a place where you stop ascending the hills
and there, where you can either look back and see the boys in the field,
or look forward and see below you a makeshift gas station
 standing before another huge expanse of the city,
it is there that the wind begins to blow.

That is the place.
That place, where the wind begins to blow,
is a place I find myself connected to more of the world.
A place I find myself both in Congo and in Canada.
In both a dirty soccer field and the fields behind my house.
I have found, that even here, thousands of miles from home,
that when the wind blows it carries with it things I already know.
I have been surprised with how familiar some of the scents in the wind have been,
scents such as those of soil, and of trees and plants growing there from,
even, somehow, of familiar perfumes and of visits to relative's houses. 
In that place,
I feel the air wrapping around me in an embrace not too unlike that
which I have felt from my farmhouse porch.
I am taken away, but really I am brought right to the place stand.
For when that wind blows, no matter the kind of day I was having,
whether my walk to this point was one of cultural frustration
or of joyful thankfulness to be experiencing life as I have been,
when that wind blows I rest a little.

Frustration and distraction subside there for even just a moment. 
Making you a little more ready to see the world with eyes a bit less perverted
by your own single perspective.
You can recognize how the girl running through the trash in her dirty dress
is somehow far more beautiful than all the prom queens walking their red carpets.
You can feel more compassion for the boy standing in the ditch
 as he pulls something out of his pocket.
A toothbrush.
Which he then uses to scrub the dirt off of a glass bathroom scale
 in the hopes of attracting a buyer.

There in that place where the heart is softened,
 I feel the comfort of home in a place so far.
I feel a little of the breath of God,
and am thankful for the memories of home given life through that breath
and giving me rest enough to continue on with a thankful and more malleable heart. 
This is the place where, for me, Congo meets Perth County,
or wherever your heart may be rooted.
Where home travels abroad
through the breath of God,
and you are reminded that that is where your home truly is.
In that breath, wherever it may take you or find you,
whether it is made manifest in the wind or in whatever form,
That breath is your rest, your comfort, your home,
Where ever you are.

Monday, 23 July 2012

To Be Really There

Well God is good.

Since returning from Uganda and a small second bound of sickness, I have been having a bit of a hard time getting connected again here. As a result of this I have found myself missing back home a bit more and longing for those people and places. However, as a reality check I have had to ask myself this question:

 If I were to, for some reason or another,
 have to depart from here tomorrow, would it be difficult to leave?

If the answer is no, then perhaps, as it has often been said, I was never really here.

"If its not difficult to say goodbye, 
maybe you were never really there in the first place."

So I have found myself praying to be able to connect with life here again, to increase in love for the people, to find myself satiated in God's purpose which rises up within me in the form of that peace which surpasses understanding. The peace of knowing that, for some reason or another, this is where I am supposed to be. 

Dowry Exchange

I'm thankful that already opportunities have come up to do this. Yesterday (Sunday) I attended the first celebration for another wedding for some Congo friends here. This celebration centered around the giving of dowries from the groom's family to bride's.

The basket you see on the table holds ten strands of rope. Each strand represents a cow. 
Now, these days it is not necessarily always a literal giving of animals, rather, each cow may represent a certain amount of money such as $1000 or so depending on the wealth of the family.
Obviously there was a physical goat present as well, but I'm pretty sure that he was just slaughtered for the celebration about 20 minutes later 
by the twobig women who picked him and carried him away.
Oh, and there was a chicken in the green bag which the young boy is holding.
 I hadn't realized this until perhaps 30 minutes in when the chicken started to get a bit lively. 

To the left is the groom, to the right is the bride. 
In the center is the bride's younger brother,
and the chicken.
This was the moment where the bride's brother 
was also agreeing to give his sister away to the groom and his family. 

The glasses of orange Fanta that you see on the table are also symbolic.
Just prior, the bride's father, mother and her aunt
all gave a blessing to the bride. 
Then each would take a sip of Fanta and spit it into the bride's hands,
symbolizing the passing of the blessing to the bride.

Later this week I will also attend their civil marriage before the government, and then on Saturday will be the church ceremony and following reception. 

Family Visits


Also, today I began to visit the families and homes of some of my students. I will be doing this to or three times a week until my departure. I feel blessed to be able to have the time to get to know their lives a little better. To hear about their struggles, their dreams and to be able to pray for them and hopefully encourage them in their walks of life. 

As we are in the middle of the dry season, a struggle that both families I visited today (though I only got pictures of one) mentioned was the search for water. I have definitely noticed recently the increase in people walking the streets with the yellow containers. In the morning, afternoon, evening. Heading to the lower areas of the city where there may be good water still. There is the lake as well, unfortunately however it hardly provides a clean source without a fair bit of treatment.

To the far right is one of my students, Koko.
 In the middle is her brother who has also just recently started to attend classes.

Koko and one of their goats. 
If you can believe it they also live right in the city of Bukavu,
just a few minutes walk from my chuch. 

Koko's brother is currently studying in post-secondary here in Bukavu. While she, after high school, hopes to study information technology. Another dream she says she has is to be a celebrity in theater/acting. 

I'm definitely looking forward to more visitations and hearing about more of my student's lives. I'm continuing to trust God to draw my heart out a bit more. That a part of it may be planted in the soil here so that what I do and say may have a lasting impact in encouraging, edifying and empowering people. Above all I really do hope that people can see God in me. I don't really mind if people forget my name, my face, my words; as long as something in them, after meeting me, longs, a little more, for something more. 

To be able to be such a vessel though I know that I need to make the most of the moments given to me.  I know that I need to be intentional with my time and to be here, really be here, in heart, spirit and mind rather than merely physical.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A Better Mirror

Perhaps a more vulnerable post,
but I doubt that I should get anywhere nor help anyone else get anywhere real in life
by hiding things, experiences and emotions that I'm sure are not solely unique to myself,
behind the mask of expectation and reputation.

And so for a moment I will hang my heart out on the line
and I will say to the woman outside my guesthouse window in Kampala, Uganda,
I'm sorry.


"Give me my bag, I'll show you what I can do."
These were the words repeated multiple times
from the lot in front of the guest house I stayed in for one night in Kampala.
These were the words which woke me from my sleep
at about 1:30 am.
They came from a young woman just outside my room.
And, as I quietly pulled the mosquito net from the bed, stood up,
and slightly peeled back the window curtains,
I could see that her words were addressed to three or four men standing in front of her.

I didn't know the whole context of the situation.
I couldn't hear what the men would say to her.
Only her words, that phrase in Ugandan English;
"Give me my bag, I'll show you what I can do",
followed by some sort of explanation
about how she had only wanted to help a friend who was out late at night.

I was afraid for this woman.
I was afraid for her, knowing of what has been done,
and what could be done to someone
in the late hours of the night.
For her to lose her bag was one thing,
but how much worse these men could be capable of doing.
I wished I knew fully what was going on.
And I found myself thinking "I cannot allow anything to happen to this woman."
With trepidation near by my side
I put on a pair of jeans, my shoes and then listened again,
trying to understand what was happening.

After a number of minutes passed,
its almost impossible to count how many in such a circumstance,
my friend awoke from the bed across the room from mine.
He asked me what I was doing up.
"Something is happening out there." I told him.
"There are thieves robbing that woman, did you hear her asking for her bag?" he responded.
I don't know if he was right, he knew the context only as well as I;
but I do know that when he said these words my worry increased
as if my fears were being confirmed
and the door of possibility for the worst to happen was being propped open.

I moved the curtain aside again and looked outside.
I saw the men around her, moving her across the lot
and then behind a car where I could not see them anymore.
And I felt my heartbeat quicken,
As I heard her begin to cry. 
"What will happen to her?" I asked my friend.
"Don't worry." My friend responded. "Those are problems for the outside, we are safe inside."
I told him "I'm not worried about myself, I'm worried about her."
Though in honesty I was afraid for myself as well.
Why else would I have so quietly climbed out of bed,
and just barely pulled back the curtain.
"What will happen to her?"
"Don't worry. Those are problems for the outside. Go back to sleep."

As I looked outside the only person I could see was a man at the guesthouse entrance
watching, perhaps also wondering what was going on.
I tried to take comfort in thinking that he didn't seem to be involved,
and if anything too serious was happening he would do something,
call authorities, intervene...something.
But I could not convince myself that he really would,
I could not convince myself past the sobs of this woman.

I wanted to do something.
I imagined an equipping of power and courage
coming over me to help this woman.
A situation that young boys imagine again and again,
placing themselves in the position of the hero
rescuing the distressed from the vice grip of harm.

But what do you do
when the hero you once thought would race into danger
now cannot even seem to outrun the pulsing of his own heart?

What do you do
when all the boyhood notions
of the heroism which dwells inside you, 
with all its pounding drums and trumpet calls,
cannot overcome the noise of that very heart
now heavily beating in your chest
with fear and uncertainty.

And you wonder where all the courageous ability
to sacrifice yourself for another,
that you once thought you would have in times like these,
was now hiding itself.

I sat on the edge of my bed,
hunched over, interlocked my fingers and closed my eyes.
From across the room came my friend's voice, "What are you doing?"
"I'm praying John."

And that was all I could find myself able to do.
Ask for the woman's safety out there
while I held onto my own in here
behind the barred window and the padlocked door.

Now, talking with others, they agreed with my friend John that it was best to stay inside.
For reasons of security and safety,
it was the wise choice.
While going out there would likely have been a foolish and unnecessary risk.

But isn't it sometimes the foolish things of the world
which are chosen to put the wise to shame?

 I do not know and will likely never know while on this earth
what "Problems for the outside" really occurred while I listened
from the inside of the window.
It may have been nothing. But I just wasn't able to tell.
It may have been something. But I just don't know for sure.
It may have been everything. But how could I have known?

The sobs did eventually cease.
I could begin to hear louder voices of men talking,
and as I heard a woman laugh once,
I hoped with everything in me that is was her.
But I just don't know
and perhaps that is what haunts me the most. Not knowing.

I can justify my response, saying that she never called out for help,
and that I didn't know the full situation, nor the risk, 
and that it may have been a brash act which could have worsened the situation.
But even though I can justify my response,
I find myself unable to be satisfied with it.  

If anyone else were in the circumstance I would tell them to do what I did.
But I cannot convince myself that I should have the same role.
Because isn't it the love of my own safety
that I am placing over the safety of another in such a situation?
Because isn't it my life, which is eternally secure in Christ,
that I am placing over the life of someone who's heart
and eternal condition I do not know?

Is it love for myself and my own safety
that I choose to be the trump card by acting this way
after a hand of danger has been dealt?

I don't know.
I can only now trust.

And I have learned:

That the heart of a hero can quickly grow faint
in the uncertain hours of the dark night
when a stranger stands in shadows of danger
and courage seems to remain sleeping under the covers
as fearful eyes watch through the cracks in the window curtains.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

In Search of Beautiful Sights

I have returned from a long but rewarding journey from Rwanda and Uganda. 
As my half-way point in my internship came along, 
I took an opportunity which arose to travel to a  destination 
special in itself, but made even more so by the people there. 
I embarked across the African countryside with the destination in mind
being the small Ugandan town of Pallisa.
Here I would search for and hope to find a group of short-term missionaries
which would include a very influential teacher in my life
several good friends from Vanguard
and, of course,
my Abby.

I, along with my friend John who accompanied me on the trip,
hunted through the town in search of someone who may know
where the team was.
Before too long we found someone who directed us one way,
and another who directed us another,
and finally a group of people which included someone
who really knew and got us to where the team was. 
We joined alongside the team for a day in the ministry they were being a part of,
playing with kids, teaching, sharing the love of God.

On the way back to Bukavu I stopped in Kigali for a day,
visiting the Genocide Memorial Museum
and catching up with a friend from the UofGuelph
who is in month seven of an eleven month-long missions trip around the world 
called the World Race.

Though I had some small hope of seeing animals
and perhaps taking a Safari while in Africa. 
Seeing these special people for even a short time was more than worth it. 
And God was not finished with blessings for me
On the bus from Kigali to Bukavu 
as it wound its way through the hilly roads of Nyungwe forest,
 I found myself watching the trees, imagining wildlife
swinging from the branches and realizing how much I would love to see some. 
And as God allowed,
the bus took a rest stop in the middle of the forest
and I was quite excited to find that there were monkeys in the trees right beside the bus.

I am very thankful for the time over the past weekend and how everything worked out.
I couldn't imagine a better trip. 

Some moments...

 Kigali, Rwanda.

 Ugandan boy on the roadside.

 When I see these guys I always think of my cousin's old banana seat bicycle,
These perhaps given a new meaning to the name. 

 In Uganda with the Canadian team.

 Some classic sites of the African countryside.

 Monkeys of the vast Rwandan Nyungwe Forest!


And of course the most beautiful sight of all the trip.

A Few Requests

Now back in Bukavu I will have 5 weeks before my final departure.
Please pray that I will make the most of the time
in building relationships and empowering people here.
All the while discovering what God wants to refine in me and teach me.
Pray that my relationship with John, who I traveled with
would be one that would encourage him and challenge him to really take hold of his future
and not merely just wait for others to come along and offer opportunity.

Also please keep in prayer the country of Congo.
Upon my arrival I learned about the potential threat of rebel groups
advancing into the city of Goma, across the lake from Bukavu.
I'm not worried about my safety in the city,
but there are thousands of people facing displacement, violence and loss of life.
Don't forget the Congo.

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


Sunday, 8 July 2012

A little Drive.

A little over a month has now passed.
Days are filling up faster as I have more relationships I want to invest in,
and more comfort in getting around the city for exploring.
I am enjoying being here more and more and finding a love in me continuing to develop for the people and for my friends here.
Yesterday I went out with John in search of someone who would let me go out on Lake Kivu
in a beautiful hollowed-out-log canoe.
Its been too long since I've been on the water,
but I do still miss the river most, as nice as lakes are.
This week I will finish the series of Swahili lessons I will take,
and I will miss the time of learning, laughing and chatting with my teacher.
And also I will hopefully travel a small bit again to Rwanda and Uganda,
if all goes well.
English lessons are going quite well.
This past week I tested two of my classes,
and today in church we had a mini-english service following the regular one.

And now, without further digression from the title of this post,
I just wanted to give you a final message from my trip to Uvira
and bring you on a little drive through Congo and Rwanda,
showing you a few of the sights
and sharing my experience with you, as well as the thoughts I had with you.
So welcome to Africa and a little bit into my head.

We will begin our little journey by waking up at and departing from Hotel Ilac in Uvira. 
Handing the keys to the friendly host at the front desk, 
receiving his business card, which I would tape into my journal like a good Vanguard SWD student,
and thinking about how this is a place I would visit again one day.

Before leaving town it will be necessary to make sure that the car has enough fuel. 
So we make a stop at the pumps. 
Throw a few stones in the gas pump to measure how many liters have gone out,
and be on the way.

 Now for those of you who were worried about how up to date the pumps were,
don't worry. 
As you can see in this photo, there are much more modern pumps to fill up at if you want. 

As we head out of town we pass by this handsome tree,
thinking how Dr. Seuss MUST have visited Africa
prior to writing his books. 

 Out of Uvira we hit the open road heading to Rwanda. 

Being careful of course not to hit anything ON the open road.
I am assuming that these little friends were on their way to the market,
one is missing from the family though I think; he probably went home. 
(Just outside Kiliba - train bridge converted to road when the railway was a bust)

If you zoom in on this photo you can see all the people making use of the river.
Here the river is the bathtub, the car wash, the washing machine.
You name it.

Without fail, every time I pass by a river I get a little excited.
I love the current, the moving water, the changing scenery while floating down one.
The sound of water over the shore, 
the shadows and reflections of trees and sky.
The excitement, and touch of nervousness ,of hearing
the quickening pace of water.
The swifts and the rapids.
The white water.
Dodging rocks while charging down the river.
The eddies, still water, offering rest behind the  rocks,
the down-river 'v' directing you where to go. 
The fish just underneath your boat,
the layer of water
like a portal to another world,
broken with every paddle stroke,
and with every hand or foot lazily draped over the side of the boat
 just touching cool surface of the water
as you drift.

This goes without saying that I yearned to be in Ontario in my canoe drifting down 
some old river there. 
But for now, I am thankful, so thankful, to be where I am.  

 Now this particular river is a division between Rwanda and Congo.
On the right side is Congo, and the left Rwanda.
I watched this kids play for a while in the river.
Jumping in upstream then floating down with the quick current until catching the shore. 
I wanted a canoe or a kayak so badly!

 At times I am reminded of the wild west here. 
The shapes of some of the buildings along the highway.
Open porches with people doing day-to-day business.
Many people walking or using simple forms of transportion (no one on horseback though, sadly).
And of course, the reds and browns of the dust and the dirt
against the blues and greens of skies and tress.

The country-side.
I used to think that I could never live in the city. 
And though I am learning of the value for ministry of being near so many people,
I will always be a country boy at heart. 
Even in Africa it is no exception. 
To drive through the rural areas was a well needed refreshment from the bustle of Bukavu. 
I was thankful to see the open fields dotted with the African trees.
The rows of tea planted in the rich valleys.
The big sky uninhibited by any buildings,
free to flow as far as the horizon would allow it.
And the road stretching out to meet that sky.
The rolling hills,
stitched together and colored with all sorts of fields.
Like a giant patchwork quilt 
laid out over great slumbering bodies.

I do not want to try, and indeed I cannot even begin,
to fill in the inadequacy of expressing or capturing the beauty of places
with such extravagant words like 'majestic', 'awe-inspiring' and 'breath-taking'. 
Because I think the Maker knew how to put it best when,
with His perfect knowledge of all language and utmost proficiency in the art of poetry,
 He simply said "It is good."

Thanks for joining me on this small excursion.
Please pray for safety in traveling this coming week.
If all goes well I will be heading out with a Congolese friend 
that I really want to encourage and invest in.
So please pray that God will be evident in every step of the journey.
Opening my eyes and ears to see in which ways I can most
impact his life and be the best support and friend.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Lake Tanganika

Uvira is a city in South Kivu province resting on Lake Tanganika,
a spectacular lake which borders the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.

It is an important part of commerce and business
acting both as a vessel of transport and supplying food.
While we were in Uvira, my pastor's wife made sure to purchase some of those fish
which could not be caught in Lake Kivu, which Bukavu lies one.
However the process of buying fish took a bit long as,
when my pastor and I found his wife in the markets,
and the salesmen saw she knew a white foreigner,
they immediately jacked up the price.
So, after being told we weren't to be seen again until after the fish were bought.
So we disappeared into the market, talking about how long women take to shop,
the Congolese men face the same struggle as us foreigners do.
 Eventually the fish was eventually purchased though...very eventually,
and they were thrown on top of the car to dry out and we were off back to Rwanda and Bukavu.

But of course I had to have a dip in the lake first. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Wezesha - Kiliba

More on my visit to Kiliba/Uvira.

In the same village as the children of my previous post,
the Wezesha Project, a micro-finance program for women
has been going underway for a few years.
In 2009 a need assessment was done for the village
and extreme rate of poverty and hunger were found there. 
 Since then the situation has improved
and people are slowly building up the resources to survive. 
I attended part of the meeting with the women where they were interviewed 
about themselves, their family
about how their loan payments are coming along. 
Not the most glorious of tasks or meetings,
but an important part of what will hopefully be a long-term 
and sustainable change for these people.

May the people of the village and of the Congo continue to be empowered. 
May they find ways amidst the struggles of war
and difficult politics
to find joy and meaning in life.
Keep them in your thoughts and prayers and work for a better life
for themselves, their family's and for their country.

Interviewing the women

Those tracking finances and progress of the village women.

Other thoughts

When you visit people here
there is no soft music playing in the background
nor soothing voice speaking over the face to face video feed of people in poverty. 
When you travel through the fields,
around the mountains
over the rivers
and into the villages and lives of people here
there is nothing but the moment and your own investment into it
 to guide your feelings.

I think that, if I were to want it,
I could live here without compassion for the people,
I could be unaffected by what I see and hear
by refusing to open myself to it
and to purchase that compassion with my own time, sincere care and by truly listening. 
I hope that I would never become so calloused to do that.
Here or wherever I am, perhaps especially at home where it is easiest to do so. 
I hope I am sensitive enough in spirit and heart
and sharp enough in mind,
to reach out more compassionately, deeply and with the most wisdom.

 And yet, at the same time, 
in honesty I am not sorry that I have felt little guilt during my time here.
Even though I live such a blessed life in Canada
and so many people struggle here. 
I'm still figuring this out,
but I think it is better that I do not feel guilty.
That it should not be guilt which drives me to give or to go. 
But that in the midst of it all,
I am finding something other than emotions stirred up by moving images,
and a very intentional musical composition,
and being told how rich I am in comparison to others,
to create in me a desire to love.
Because, though perhaps I'm wrong,
I don't think that God feels guilt for the situation here on earth;
and yet something moves Him to deeply care for and love
and be involved in the lives of His children.
Something much deeper than guilt.
That, now, whatever it is,
 is what I am realizing, I think,
that I am on a search for here. 
To find that within me.
To ask for that to be within me. 
To pour that out of me. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Kiliba Children

This past weekend I joined Pastor Raha and his wife, Mapendo,
 on a small journey to a town called Uvira.
The main point of this journey was to check up on the micro-finance project in a nearby village called Kiliba. 

I will post more about the visit to Kiliba, Uvira and the project later.
But at this time I wanted to show some photos, which I have not done much of so far.
These photos are of the children in Kiliba.
While the meetings with the women were happening I was having a blast with many of the children of the village.
Beginning with one child who was pushing a small toy.
 Then there were my four original gangsters who asked if I could take their photo. 
Eventually the group grew, and grew until I was being escorted by about 30 children around the village and running to 'there' or 'here' where I would take all their pictures and then they would burst into laughter after seeing themselves on the camera. 
The time had to be cut short however when I realized that they were beginning to escort me places
in the hopes of me buying something for the whole group.
Unable to do this, I tried to distract them by teaching them the ever-so-faithful 
game of duck-duck-goose,
or cow, cow, chicken because those were the names of animals I knew.
It was a good time.
Here are some pieces of the day.

I really wanted to play with that thing. Don't know what it was.

The OG's

Boy will be boys. And this little girl was one of my favorites. So serious.

Some dancing broke out. TIA, in a good way.

The cow, cow, chicken distraction.