It’s Thursday, and it’s nearly time to go home. Wow, I can’t believe that happened so quickly! And yet, with all of the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had, it almost seems like I’ve been here all summer. In fact, we have been here in Lubumbashi an extra two days as a result of construction on the airport runway. It turns out the the airport had scheduled construction three days a week, but forgot to tell the airlines that they would be shutting down the airport for this construction. So the airlines sold us tickets for days that the airport wouldn’t be open…We did get replacement tickets though, and we are heading out tomorrow! Our plane leaves around 1:00, I think. With the camp over, Monday in Tenke went quickly. David, Nikki, and I slept through breakfast until around 11:00, because sleep had been hard to come by and walking everywhere had been hard to avoid the past week.
Plus, the night before we had stayed up late watching the World Cup Final at the DS house. That was a really fun experience! There was a projector out back onto a big whitewashed wooden screen behind the church, and the congregation was all out there watching together. So after we woke up on Monday, we had lunch and then walked around Tenke. David, Nikki, and I had already been on a tour of the small town with our interpreter/friends Joseph and Douce when we first got here, but Art and Fred had been checking out the camp at that time. Before the tour, however, we stopped in to the Tenke village Chief’s office. This was another big deal for us, because he was the most senior leader of the town we had just spent a week serving. He was a very nice man, and he gave us his phone number, saying we should call him if we ever needed anything. Basically it was a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The walk through town was very nice, and then we headed back to the guest house to organize our things so we could be ready to go Tuesday morning. We would be leaving Tenke at 7 in the morning. The rest of the night went very well, dinner was delicious as usual, and we went to bed early. Tuesday morning was bittersweet, as we would be leaving behind all of our friends and wonderful hosts. Amos, the DS son and the goalie for the soccer team I played on, gave me one more present so that I “could always be saved in heaven”. I gave him a big hug. He was a great guy, and I could see him doing a lot for the Scouts there. We loaded into two taxi vans, one for us and one for our stuff, and then went down the dirt roads out of town to the place where the bus would be picking us up, about 6-7 km away.
The bus back to Lubumbashi takes about 3 hours, so I had a lot of time to think on the way back. I thought about what we did, about what I learned from everything, and about my own mission efforts in the future and what I can do down the road. I had plans for my own mission organization already, but I think I got some valuable lessons from my experience in the Congo to help guide me. It was nearly lunch time when we got to Lubumbashi, so naturally the first thing we did was search out the closest pizza place in town. It was the same one we had been to with Bishop Ntambo on our first day in Lubumbashi, and it was even more delicious this time. We went back to the guest house after that and crashed for a while before we heard that the Bishop was actually on his way over to see us! He was only there for about 5 minutes, but it was really nice to see a friendly familiar face again (we were being taken care of by Baba Innocent, who had been with us in Tenke the whole time as a translator and is a wonderful friend, but we hadn’t seen the Bishop in a week and he is such a great guy). We told him we had gotten pizza for lunch again, because we really liked it, and he thought that was funny. I guess he really took it to heart though, because he told us that he couldn’t eat with us tonight but he would have someone bring us food, and sure enough there was more pizza for us when we came into the kitchen for dinner! After we were stuffed again, we played some euchre and went to bed.
Wednesday was a pretty busy day for us. When we met the governor back on our first or second day, he had invited us to come to his personal park sometime after our mission before we left for home, so we had scheduled to do that Wednesday. Originally, we would have been boarding our plane Wednesday, but the delay meant we didn’t get on until Friday. The park was about 30 minutes outside of Lubumbashi, although when we asked Baba Innocent where we were, he told us it was still a part of the city. That’s why Lubumbashi is the second biggest city in a country that is as big as the U.S. east of the Mississippi. Being at the park was an unsettling experience. As it sounded, this really was the governor’s “private” park, and there was no one else there visiting or walking around. We got a personal tour of his vast land on an open safari Hummer, and saw all sorts of exotic animals roaming. The thing that bothered me so much was the stark contrast between the park and the town we had only just left yesterday. I had gotten so used to seeing people everywhere, and to a general level of poverty that appeared commonplace in Tenke. But here in this park, the governor was having a new swimming pool built just to entertain his other equally rich friends and politicians. There was even a road that we took on the safari which ran along the border of the park. There was a wire fence indicating the edge of the park, and on the other side was another road that was used for the maize workers and their trucks. We saw the maize fields, and we saw women and men bent over harvesting the maize with torn clothes and dirt in their hair, as we drove by in extreme comfort. It was a wake up call, another example (just as the mine had been) of the true wealth of this country versus the real life that it lives.
Something needs to change for these people so that they can all have the standard of living they deserve. So with all of that in mind, we traveled back to the guest house to hang out for the rest of the night. We made our own dinner that night, which was really good, played more euchre and up-and-down-the-river, a card game Art taught us, and then went to bed. Today was our last full day in Africa, and so we had decided to spend it walking all up and around Lubumbashi to do a little shopping for souvenirs. I had a few specific things on my list, which included different malachite items, a T.P. Mazembe soccer jersey (Lubumbashi’s soccer team, of which Gov. Moise is actually the president!), and an authentic African shirt. We found all sorts of stores and shops and roadside stands to chose from, which was an experience within itself. I actually was able to make a pretty good bargain on some malachite figurines, which I was proud of! I got the guy to go from asking for $10 for one figurine to $5 for two! I also got some rolls of cloth, which Innocent said we could take to the Methodist Center downtown to have hand tailored into cloth.
On the way there, however, we ran into some trouble. As we were standing in a group waiting to cross the road, three or four African men surrounded us and started jostling into us. Amid the confusion, one of them tried to pick-pocket Art. At the time, however, Art had already identified the situation and was reaching for his wallet to protect it anyway, so he felt the man’s hands in his pocket. He was able to grab his wallet back, and we hurried into the Methodist center. We were all a little shaken by the experience, for us because we had been so used to the wonderful hospitality and honesty in Tenke, and for Innocent because he was in charge of making sure we all stayed safe. It was definitely a wake up call to the way that real life in a struggling city could be. We had already been robbed earlier that day by a bank teller during a currency exchange, and lost around $200. But I was still determined to finish shopping and simply see the city, so we ventured out again after leaving the cloth to be tailored and kept having our adventure.
By the end of the time, we were all back at the guest house safely, but David and I had to go back out to pick up our shirts. It was getting close to dark, and we took Baba Innocent with us. The trip to the Methodist Center was uneventful, but when we got there our shirts weren’t ready yet. In Lubumbashi, and almost anywhere in Africa, the power is less than unreliable and the tailors had been unable to operate their sewing machines for much of the day. We sat and waited for nearly an hour before finding out that only two shirts were done, and we would need to come back the next morning for the other two. Innocent said he would take care of that since we would be getting ready to catch our flight.
By this time, it was night, and the lights were on in the city. It was a really cool night life atmosphere, so David was taking some pictures. I had left my phone back at the guest house to charge. Halfway back, he took a picture of a supermarket, and as we crossed the street we were immediately stopped by two men. They explained themselves to be government intelligence agents, and they talked with Innocent for at least 10 minutes. In the end, he explained to us that we were about two blocks from the governor’s place, and it is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, so we were being accused of being spies. It was totally ridiculous, and we had no proof they were even government agents, but I wasn’t in a position to argue. These men were very aggressive. They then explained that our choices were to either be arrested, or to pay them $50 and give them David’s iPhone. Innocent was highly annoyed, and argued our way out of it, thankfully! In the end, it cost me all of the money I had in my pocket (about $5), and we had to delete the picture in front of them. I don’t think we were ever going to be arrested, firstly because we were on a mission from the governor, who personally knew us, and secondly because they really just wanted money. But it was frightening, and another wake-up call. We are back now though, and safe, and ready to leave.
I’ve loved Africa, but it may take a little bit before I’m ready to come back. Maybe that’s just the feelings I have now after our two harrowing experiences today, who knows. But no matter how much love I have for Tenke and the people there, my home will always be in the U.S.A. I’m an American boy at heart, born and raised in the Midwest. It’s wild that we will actually be leaving here tomorrow though. I’ll be reflecting on it all the way home, and writing one more post when we get back. It’s been great. Everyone here, from the Bishop to the DS to our translators, Innocent, Nhoris, Douce, and Joseph, to the Scouts and the people themselves, has been so nice to us. The Congo needs a lot of help. There is a lot wrong here that shouldn’t be. But it has unstoppable potential, too. I really pray that it finds that physical and intellectual wealth very, very soon.
From Africa, one last time
-Mitch and the DRC crew