Congo: September 7. Day 1 of Training

This morning was full of what trainers do before a training. We set up the room, taking care to think about how to arrange tables and chairs and presentation area.

When we were done, I laughed, because in the States, I knew that the size of the room (maybe 10’x25′) vs. the number of people attending plus trainers (16) would be considered a tight squeeze. Feedback after the training would tell us to find a bigger room, if we were in the States. I’ve had that happen with about the same amount of people in a room twice as big.

At supper last night a missionary was telling a story about how he was on a bus sitting in a row with three chairs, and six people (one of whom was an obese mama who wanted her little boy to sit on the missionary’s lap). People are used to crowding into smaller spaces here, and our arrangement will be more than adequate.

We pulled tables out of storage that had a thin layer of dust on them, black as charcoal. I mean, black FROM charcoal dust in the air. One of the helpers at the Guesthouse (maintenance man) cleaned up the tables.

Charles, Jeanette and I had a long conversation about how to conduct the training. We’ve been circling for weeks, and we finally have a plan — for the first two days. I’ll be presenting Tuesday afternoon; Charles has everything up to that point. It’s now about 1:30 and our trainees are due to arrive in about half an hour. We’ll be sharing our room with Jacques, so we tidied up before he arrives (we had crap splayed all over the place). Grabbed a power bar and some jerky for lunch: our meal plan includes breakfast and supper today, the rest of the week only breakfast and lunch. We are pretty much foregoing one meal each day so that we are eating when the trainees eat.

I still haven’t changed any US dollars for Congolese Francs. I will probably ask Jacques to go with me this afternoon to help me change money. I want to buy some roasted peanuts to have in our room and I’ll need some Francs for that. I’ll probably pay Jacques 1000 Francs to help me change $20, which is to say he’ll get about a 5% fee. I brought 10 baseball caps I’ll give him and ask him if he wants to sell them. An opportunity to clean our closet results in some income for my brother…

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EVENING:

Training off to a good start. The trainees trickled in from 2 PM until maybe as late at 5 but eventually everyone was here. Tonight my brain is a little like that egg on drugs. Scrambled. I’ve been using my French at my max capacity all day and I can’t even speak anymore this evening without jumbling my words up. Jacques has joined us and I spoke with him for a while here in our room, but eventually I had to tell him I just can’t speak anymore French today. The reality is I’m actually getting along pretty well and I’ve been asked before if I can coach in French. I think I might say next time “yes” because really I feel like if I can follow someone’s accent I should be able to handle 95% of the vocabulary. We’ll see about that later. Perhaps if I coach one or two of these guys after I go home a few times we’ll see how that goes.

We had an interesting conversation about the word “accountability” and its French counterpart. Accountability has usually had a negative connotation in English, but the French word we’re using does not have that. I’m glad for that.

I watched the guys eat at supper. There are some hungry trainees here. I know these guys, who are mostly pastors, are probably feeding others before they eat. Or they may not have eaten all day! I was glad they had a place where they could really chow down. I thought we’d get Congolese food tonight, but instead we had a very American meal indeed: spaghetti (which the Congolese call macaroni) and meat sauce, garlic bread, salad. Supper was really important. Really, tomorrow we are offering to feed them lunch. There isn’t money in the budget for supper so I won’t be eating supper either. We brought some granola bars and jerky and that’s going to be our supper for the next three days. Food is important here. Really I thought that Robert could have eaten twice as much spaghetti. The dude is hungry. Here in the middle of training, guys are hungry. I mean it can permeate your thinking in a way most of my readers aren’t used to. So I’m praying that our lunches will be robust and that they’ll really carry us through the afternoon and evening training sessions.

Sentinels of Isolationism

Part of doing great accountability is helping people avoid the dangers of isolation. When we’re isolated, we can’t really progress. Now, I’ll be the first to say that too much progress is not necessarily a good thing. But when we’re truly isolated, not only are we prone to flawed-character activity (i.e. sin) but we also can’t really learn anything new from others. Anything from technology to language. We cease to communicate, and we end up like the Sentinelese: I became fascinated by the Sentinelese culture and spent an entire evening reading everything there is on the internet. Which isn’t much. Because they’re very isolated. So that’s the point.

North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Island chain contains the greatest example of an isolated culture left on the face of the earth. Numbering somewhere between 50 and 400, the inhabitants are locked in Stone Age life; it’s unclear whether they’re capable of using fire; their weapon of choice is a bow and arrow or spear, which they might be tipping with metal from shipwrecks. When intruders come for a visit the good Sentinelese people kill them. The Indian government, which recognizes them as essentially sovereign, understands their position to be one of self-defense. The last time they killed some poaching fishermen, the Indian government did nothing. As near as I can tell there has only been one exception to this rule of violence, when a group of anthropologists from India took gifts of coconut and came very close to shore.

The Indian government’s official policy is that nobody is to allowed to contact the Sentinelese. For one thing, nobody can speak their language. You’re likely to be killed; in this image a Sentinel Islander dares a helicopter to land. The pilot decided against it.

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And you’re likely to kill them — by spreading infectious disease the Sentinelese are unable to combat.

It is incredible to me that these people have had such little contact with the outside world — for 5,000 years, minimum, some scientists think they’ve been alone on North Sentinel for 60,000 years.

I think it’s easy to idealize this primitive life. For one thing, these folks are so in tune with their natural surroundings, they appeared unharmed and unfazed when the tsunami destroyed so much in 2004. It is speculated that the Sentinelese were tipped off to the coming tsunami by something they alone would see in the waves that lap their shores. (The helicopter which took this picture was there to check and see if they were okay after the tsunami). So the language they speak with the waves and sky, the fish and trees, has a vocabulary for that. It’s also easy to idealize our technology-heavy culture. We have ships, and helicopters. We must seem to them as though aliens from another world had come to visit, perhaps to abduct them for horrible scientific procedures. Or perhaps we seem like demons. In any case, our technology doesn’t protect us from tsunamis.

The most notable thing is not whether living the Stone-Age vida loca is some sort of paradise on earth without knowledge of kindling, or whether these folks would be better off reading my blog on their Kindles. The most notable thing is their fear. Whatever else isolation has given them or taken away, they are afraid. Always afraid. Afraid in every recorded encounter. Isolation breeds fear. You don’t want to live a life of fear? Stop isolating yourself.