Ann Marie

Ann Marie's Journal - Day 2

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.

Ann Marie’s Journal

Ann Marie Thomson is co-founder of Giving Back to Arica.  She was born to missionary parents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and lived there until she was 18. Upon returning to the DRC in 2005 she was struck by the staggering lack of access to education and was determined to do what she could to make a difference in the country that had given her so much.
This post is the first in a series we will be publishing of Ann Marie's reflections on her return to DRC in January 2011.

Tuesday Jan 11, 2011 - Day one DRC

Exhausted from a 22 hr flight from Indianapolis to Addis Ababa to Kinshasa, we stepped off the stairs and our feet touched the ancient Congo earth. This is always a holy moment for me. For Michael and Marty, the first time ever!  The usual hot smells of Congo hit me like they always do – palpable as a brick but permeable, nevertheless, and welcoming. The first step on Congo soil already introduces the dominant reality of life in Kinshasa for me – PARADOX.

Ndjili – Congo’s infamous airport -- a mass of hustlers, soldiers, squeezing you in despite everything you do to avoid them, a mass of humanity, all doing everything they can to make something, anything, off of the rich folks coming off the plane; even 500 congo francs (45 cents) is worth it – at least that can buy a “sucre” (fanta). It’s a kind of dance with lots of laughing, jostling, negotiating, and an underlying seething anger, too…if you know the game you can make it just fine; if you don’t, chaos…

But this time, it was a new place – hard to believe! Orderly, no one allowed but official “welcomers” called “protocol”, gone were all the hustlers and police (except a few). I couldn’t believe it. It was almost as easy as being at the Indianapolis Airport. AND all our luggage arrived!

But everything else I love about Congo remained, the smells, the laughter, the craziness with its own rationality that defies definition.  We arrived safely at Danielle and Vinson Anderson’s home, warmly welcomed by their staff. Thanks to Danielle, a GBA volunteer here in DRC, I could already feel this trip would be less stressful than all our previous trips. What a wonderful gift to an exhausted group of 4!