Traffic Jams: Congo Day Eight

Last night I went with Jacques for a walk after dark. I keep my eyes on the ground. The sidewalk (if you can call it that) runs beside a paved trench three or four feet deep and two or three feet wide. It runs downhill toward the river and is for sewage to flow and a pretty sure ankle-break if you step in it. Not to mention going home with your shoes covered in crap. The city teems with energy, the Kinois working late or shopping or going home or whatever else people do when the night is young and their stomachs are not completely full.

Jacques has been using my belt for two days — he had to punch an extra hole in it about eight inches tighter than the tightest hole I have. I’m about 38 inches at the waist, Jacques is probably 26. As we find the intersection Jacques says it’s full of people still at 2 AM. I don’t doubt him. It’s now about 8 PM and looks like if you wanted to get your car through this particular intersection it could easily take you six hours to cross a space about seventy-five yards wide. Forty-five minutes is probably a more reasonable amount of time.

There are no rules of the road to speak of, yet somehow people get where they are going. Eventually. The intersection where we end up is a beehive of people. It’s hard to tell from any single vantage point around the intersection how many roads feed into it. Cars blow down roads nearly empty until they come to an intersection like this one, and then wedge in. It is, without a doubt, the worst traffic mess I have ever seen in my entire life. We walk through the cars to the other side and turn. I stop for a moment and turn. I think he wanted to show me the big store behind my back. I barely glance inside, but there are things in well-lit stainless-steel cases, like slices of cake, perhaps like a bakery in another city eight hours flight to the north. It might be a full-on grocery store with all kinds of European items like Toblerone, but I pretty much ignore it. In my pocket is perhaps six dollars in local currency. I am not sure it would buy anything inside. If Jacques is hoping for a treat, he sure doesn’t say anything (it was his idea that I bring money for a taxi ride home, but I feel great and don’t mind keeping the money and walking back. There’s sort of an assumption that whites can’t walk far, and I’d be happy to defy that.)

Looking at the crowd instead of my feet, standing still in front of one of the most modern stores in Kinshasa, I finally catch a vision of what this place is. It’s une foule, as they say, a truly great crowd. At that moment I think of how God loves each person in the intersection, then in the city, 10 million of them or more, (probably more) and each day God knows what they’re doing, what they need and what they dream of.

Kinois dream of big things. As far as “searching for a means” (a euphemism for “looking for money”) goes, it’s really unending. I don’t think this is so much different than people in other cities, though it may be more difficult. Perhaps because I’ve been hanging with a small group of pastors and church leaders all week, I’m aware that the primary dream here is to complete an education. At the very least, you’ll want to have a college degree of some kind, but it can go beyond that and still you’ll be “searching for a means”. That’s because once you land a position of some kind or have become a doctor or architect or nurse or ordained minister, there will be others hoping and expecting that you may be the one they can ask as they are searching for “means”.

If Jacques doesn’t ask that we would buy something to eat, it may be because he’s eaten three times today with us. Breakfast, some papaya and bread and egg. Lunch, rice and fufu (a ball of cooked corn and manioc flour the size and approximate color of a grapefruit, but heavier) and meat and veggies and cake … we are not having supper. We have something like an evening snack. Jacques makes tea for everyone, sort of a self-appointed servant. There are peanuts and some snacks in packages like granola bars Charles brought from the States. And baguettes. Tea and baguettes and peanuts, and the trainees stash their allotment of granola bars to take home to their kids at the end of the week. I am pretty sure Jacques has eaten more calories this week than in any two weeks combined any time recently.

We walk back. Jacques is praying for me. He takes me by the hand. We walk hand in hand in a way that in the States would be phenomenally awkward but is quite normal for two good friends here. He prays his heart out. I can only understand half of what he says because of how he enunciates. He asks me for money; his son needs about $15 for something or other. I’m not sure what it is. I give him 6000 francs, then he says, I just need another $10. So I give him a ten. He’s super happy. I guess his means, or his son’s means, are taken care of for a day.

That was last night. Today we finished our training. I’ll hit that in my blog tomorrow.


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The author lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife and four children. He is self-employed as a leadership coach working with business executives, writers and other artists, and spiritual leaders. His clients enjoy business growth, increased vision and purpose, work/family lifestyle balance, and freedom from writer’s block.

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