Wed Jan 12
A very long day, hot and filled with emotion… As we drove the 30+ km to PAID, the orphanage and school in the Mpasa II neighborhood, I found the same emotions hitting me as they always do – the pulsing “vie de Kinshasa” is so overwhelming you are simultaneously exhilarated by an amazing, almost palpable spirit of survival against all odds and repulsed by the conditions under which most Congolese are forced to survive. This poverty is a brutal kind of lifestyle that demands justice. But how? Where is the justice for most Congolese? Masena, one of the poorest, vast, and crammed neighborhoods of Kinshasa teems with people, bartering, yelling, laughing, running, making life work even as the rented car we drive snakes its way through masses of humanity. A city of 10 million – Kinshasa never stops!
Marty and Michael see PAID for the first time; Jim sees it again after 3 years. I return remembering with mixed emotions the last time I stayed here for three days with Rick, one of our board members, and two of the GBA Scholars. That was Nov 2009. Not much has changed except one HUGE disappointment – the well that provided such gushing clean water in Nov 09 stands as a dead reminder that nothing lasts. It is locked, rusted, and sad. The well is broken. It is the same old story, no money to maintain it, no money to fix it…
How wonderful to see Mamas Eliza and Bebe again; these two women are the true servant leaders at PAID caring for the 20 orphans from morning to night. I remembered most of the orphans by name except for 4 new children, each so small; Enoch (8 yrs old), Alain and Exorce brothers (5 and 6—Exorce is adorable), Dorcas (a quiet troubled young 8 yr. old). What chance do they have – it’s the question that haunts me continually.
We visited the orphanage, each classroom, and then had a great “get to know you” meeting with the 4 administrators at PAID: Jackson Babese (who I grew up with), President of PAID; Rodin Mabingi, Exec Director of the whole PAID Center, Pasteur Jean, an exceptionally bright and committed student at the Protestant University of Congo who is the principal caretaker of the orphanage and accountant for PAID, and Director Willy Wasido, Director of the PAID Primary School. What a collegial and fun time it was. We sat in Pasteur Jean’s bedroom/office with the breeze gently blowing in the window. I felt happy. Is this the beginning of partnership – being real with each other despite the white/black – we have the same blood, right?
A walk around the Mpasa neighborhood helped to place PAID in its own context. This is an exceptionally poor, peri-urban refugee area without any obvious coherence or sense of community. Yet, surely, I thought, there has to be some way people survive together. The gardens by the stream about 1km away from PAID are one bright spot, and all the little gardens scattered here and there near the cement shacks of local neighbors; these little gardens surviving like the people who farm them are a reminder that there is always hope.
I was so looking forward to seeing Mama Katie again. In Nov 09 on our last trip, I fell in love with this “Koko” (grandmother) who had taken in two orphans from PAID, Juselin (now 18 yrs old) and a young 8 yr old girl. Koko Katie taught Juselin all about gardening and he was so proud to explain to us how he kept the production of the greens he planted throughout the year. He was proud of his work and attributed all of his learning to Koko Katie.
I fell in love with Koko Katie in Nov 2009 when she literally marched up to me when we came to see the farm plots by the river yelling and pointing her finger in my face – “what good does it do for you white people to come here and look at us when you don’t offer anything. What are you going to do about this—look at how we barely survive?” She did not mince words. We became “friends.” I was so looking forward to seeing her again and to give her a present I had brought for her. They said,
Mama Katie is dead.
Now it starts – the realities are sinking in, realities so easy to forget in my wonderful little warm house in Bloomington.
I found out she had become sick and died just a few months ago. Even though she was a Koko, she wasn’t that old, my age or even younger. Juselin, her adopted orphan, was keeping her gardens alive despite her death. This is just one of the thousands of images that fill my mind with wonder and hope in the midst of the sadness that comes over me in nauseas waves.