Coach training, Congo update

Monday I spoke with Jacques Luwaku, one of the trainees from a class I led in Kinshasa last September with Charles Buller and Jeannette Buller Slater. Jacques (pictured, in the middle of three men seated behind the table) works with Leonard Kiswangi (pictured, seated to my immediate left) at the Kinshasa office of African Enterprise, an international organization based in South Africa, and also pastors a congregation in Kinshasa.

Jacques said, “I’m going to give you a coaching testimony. Recently, I got a call from a young husband in my church (and he filled me in on their positions, the wife is in the women’s council, I missed what the husband’s position is, but these things are culturally important in Congo, everyone has some position or title) and the man said ‘No, pastor, my wife and I, it’s not working out, we are just going to get a divorce.’ (Jacques did not say what their dispute was about.) So I called the husband back, and I called the wife, too, and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any counsel to give you. But I have a question for you. If I asked you to give counsel to another young couple who was thinking about getting a divorce, what would it be? What should they do? Get divorced? Or stay together? Please reflect on that together, then you tell me.’ and they called me back later and said, ‘No, pastor, really, we’ve thought about what advice we would give; we’re going to stay together.’ They solved their own problem, they have walked away from the door of divorce. When I am coaching, I am second, and they are in charge.” Jacques went on to say that he hadn’t had to stress out about it and was glad to see the couple find their own solution.

I felt excited for him. I told him, “But Jacques, you didn’t even use the Panic Technique.”

“What? The Panic Technique? Oh, no,” he laughed, “I did not use the Panic Technique.”

It’s gratifying, and that’s an understatement, to see that the training we did in Congo last fall is bearing fruit in very real ways. Coaching saves marriages.

This story is shared with Pastor Jacques’s permission.

I continue to coach Jacques occasionally, pro bono, with your support. It seems like a good time to remind my readers that if you’d like to support our work in developing nations, training leaders like Jacques Luwaku to use coaching techniques, you can do so at Evergreen Leaders. All contributions are tax-deductible.

 

Madman

The madman walks past stiffly, quickly, down the broad avenue of packed dirt, (we are in the middle of the middle of Africa) and he is talking to himself,

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

“Bonjour,” I say, being as friendly as I can. Twigs in his hair, eyes bloodshot, perhaps he slept in the forest, where he may have spent the insanely hot night

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

His eyes see me for a moment, a flicker of recognition crosses his face (there’s one of the whites who is crazy enough to be in the middle of the middle of Africa). But

The fool does not reply, he simply goes on his way

invo-

invo-

invoking the Creator.

 

 

Congo: recent trip brings me full circle

I didn’t set out on this journey to become a life coach with a specific direction of coaching missionaries or impoverished pastors in Africa, or training coaches for cross-cultural work. It would have been around this time of year, in 2007, that I took my first short training course in coaching. Eight years ago (I was 33 years old) I don’t know that I had any solid concept of target market. Maybe I still don’t. Along the way I’ve coached entrepreneurs in the arts in the USA. I consider myself one of those (as a novelist). I’ve coached some business people who were working on figuring out or honing their life purpose. I’ve worked with people from quite a few different walks of life in the USA and now I’ve worked with clients or trainees in well over a dozen other nations, too; I’ve worked with people on every continent except Australia. I’ve even coached some penguins. (That’s not true, but if you know any professional hockey players in Pittsburgh who need a life coach have them give me a call.)

That’s not to brag about my cross-cultural exploits; in fact, the point is that it wasn’t really where I saw this whole thing heading at all. I hoped that I would coach some business people in North America at rates that would provide a lifestyle of beyond-adequate means, and that it might mean I could also afford time and energy for pro bono work; I hoped for a nice mix. That hasn’t happened, and at this point I don’t particularly anticipate that it will. It appears that I have come full circle so that the most formative part of my youth leads into the most impacting part of my life as an adult. Which makes complete, logical sense.

Showing up at MPH Guesthouse in September of 2015 was really not so much different than showing up there in June of 1987. I mean that in the physical details of the place much was the same. The open, central dining room with balcony looking over it from all four sides, from the second floor where most of the guest rooms are, the walled-in garden sprawling out behind the building with fruit trees (the mango trees probably a bit bigger than they were) and a tennis/basketball court (much more dilapidated). Everything still in the same place, comfortable in the way a church campground often is in the States. A world unto itself, a place for rest and retreat. A bubble. A place to put outgoing mail for friends in the USA, where strangers might take it by plane and deliver it to a mailbox leading to a functional postal system.

But more telling is the condition of my heart. When I arrived in Kinshasa, Zaire in 87, everything smelled foreign. Back then, it was still quite common for US Americans to embark upon missions as a lifestyle with intent to give decades of service to learning a local language and enmeshing their lives within the context of a village somewhere. We called it living a life of service, we called it living for the sake of the Gospel, we called it becoming a career missionary. But that whole idea was foreign to me, as was Zaire itself, because by the age of 13 one does not think one’s parents are career missionaries. One thinks one’s parents are exactly whatever they have been in the past; with any stability at all from one’s parental experience, one expects the stability to stay just as it is: stable. I wanted stability, not foreignness; but lapped up the experiences like a drunken boxer: slightly off kilter, just ready enough for the punches that they’d only spin me around again, rather than knock me down. A dizzying time, heady. Perhaps one might say I’ve never been completely stable since that moment we got off the plane in Kinshasa, 1987. The bubble that was MPH Guesthouse was our first stopping point, and while still a bubble, it was a bubble floating upon a foreign liquid, and when it popped, it was the last vestige of life I’d known.

As adults we learn that life is not at all static. We see places go through transformation, we see people, as well, who’ve transformed. I have a friend who kicked his alcohol habit and became a pastor. I know people who have gone through nasty divorces; some are the better for it, others still reel with the pain and devastation. Nations change too. In the USA we had the formative moment for our generation 14 years ago this month, on September 11, 2001; so formative, even, that in many ways we think of events during the span of our lives as either before or after 9/11. In Kinshasa they had their moments too — on several occasions Congo’s unpaid soldiers went on looting sprees, the first one was on 9/23/91, 24 years ago this week. Kinois, (as the residents of Kinshasa are known) still remember those days; they lived through several lootings and none of them are remembered fondly. Luckily or by the grace of God, MPH Guesthouse was not looted and remains a place of stability in the midst of relative chaos. By the grace of God, I, too, was not devastated by people or events and still stand to take on what comes next.

Now it seems that our most formative experience in our youth is often the most valuable in our calling, as we discover many years later. To be able to stand in that place where cultures collide and create, even if for an hour, some sort of bubble where people can find refreshment, is to consider my life as a cross-cultural coach is to think of myself in some ways as a living embodiment of the MPH Guesthouse itself: I create space where people who work cross-culturally can come for a moment of reflection, retreat and can prepare to go back out and take on what comes next for them. The reality is that we still have people going to live cross-culturally. Maybe we’re not sending people in the same way we did in the 1980’s, but it still happens. I have close friends about to leave for Central America. Long term. They are rarer birds, perhaps, in a jungle increasingly cut down as the world gets smaller and as people increasingly find reasons to stay where they are, but … these rare birds will need a sanctuary.

And then, too, more people are going into cross-cultural missions from homes outside the USA. The church I visited 8 days ago in Kinshasa was preparing to send a missionary to a country in northern Africa. We haven’t stopped working cross-culturally. In fact, with the advent of the Internet, we’re more able now than ever to work in cross-cultural contexts. The bigger danger is the temptation to retreat to the Internet when we wish we were at home (something I could not have dreamed of in 1987). But the Internet is not a Guesthouse; at least, not unless it is the vehicle taking you to an intentional conversation with somebody who works within your support community.

As for me, I’m making my peace with the idea that I’m a cross-cultural coach, that my calling is to work in primarily pro bono settings and that this is effectively exactly what I was designed to do, from the moment I set foot in MPH Guesthouse in 1987 until now. Coming full circle includes a recognition that the need is there, that indeed I’m already busy with it, and that it is worthy of support in its own right.

Congo: The Ancient Villagers

The joke in Congo is always “Chef du Village” which sort of refers to the village chief of course, but might be used in context of who is first in line to wash their hands before the meal or some other insignificant thing where you’re sort of the boss.

One of our trainees told a story about a time when a villager asked him a deep probing theological question he couldn’t answer (he is a theological bigwig.) When he used the word “villager” he apologized, and in the USA he might have been apologizing for calling the guy a “redneck” or perhaps a “bumpkin” or “hillbilly”. So his point was not to denigrate the villager but actually to commend his insightful question, but he didn’t have another word to describe the person’s living condition but to say “villager”.

That’s the backdrop upon which we found some pretty important contextualization for coaching in Congo: I described and demonstrated the technique where, listening carefully, I repeat back to my coachee word-for-word what he said. Not adding any analysis or interpretation of what they said, simply repeating it back: “If I understood you correctly, you said _______”.

When I was done demonstrating this technique, Jacques pointed out that the Ancient Ones (Elders) in the villages had this skill down pat. In fact, it’s an aspect of oral culture that they’ve lost. It was easy for the Congolese guys to see the value in this aspect of coaching, because it’s something that, at least in the past, had value in their culture. There are aspects of wisdom that village elders have had all over the world that have been lost, or nearly so. Interesting that modern leadership techniques might revive the value for them. Something to chew on as you become a better listener today. Perhaps you’ll even become such a good listener that they’ll call you “chef du village” without any irony!

Congo Follow up — Culture Shock

On the plane ride into Chicago on 9/14 I talked with a young Congolese woman, 21 years old, on her way to the States for the first time to study at Northern Illinois University (crash course in English) with a goal of landing at Bethany Lutheran in the Twin Cities to study environmental science, with the hope of going home to give her government some ideas for how to clean up Kinshasa (smog and trash everywhere). It’s a daunting task.

Even before she lands the culture shock begins. She is given a meal but isn’t hungry. An hour later she hands the tray, untouched, back to the flight attendant. She turns to me and says “they’ll give it to the next person, right? Or will they throw it in the trash?” Sorry, kid, they’re going to throw it in the trash. In fact, you’re going to see so much waste it’s going to sicken you. We don’t leave trash all over our cities the way they do in Kinshasa, waiting for the rains to wash it down and out to the Atlantic through the Congo River, but we do waste a phenomenal amount of food. There’s no concept here of taking what’s left on your plate and giving it to a sibling or neighbor to make sure nobody goes hungry.

But after beating myself up for a while on all the crappy things Americans do (I’m grieving for her ahead of time thinking of all the ways she’ll find American hubris to disgust her) I realize that we’ve got a lot going for us, too. “I’ll get a very good education here, won’t I?” she asks; this is paramount for her. Yes, I concede, you will get an excellent education! As we cruise into Chicago I point over to the roadways, I-90 and I-294 around O’Hare airport. Immediately she sees that “they’re very well organized!”

A trip to Congo affords me the opportunity to see clearly those things in our culture that are good and bad, even though it’s only 10 days, and though it mostly entails stuff I already know.

Congo Day Whatever, Intensity Deepens

It’s Wednesday already, and we’re about half way though our training.

We’ve done The Heart of a Coach, Biblical Precedence, Active Listening, Powerful Questions, and bits and pieces of some other stuff. Generally as questions from the trainees come up we just address them. Perhaps we ought to be asking our trainees first what they think when a question comes up but usually we are simply answering the questions. I mean there’s still a discussion format, but its such a huge paradigm shift, and then too we’re working in a second language or through translation whenever our words escape us, so this default is perhaps a little easier.

There hasn’t been time for much else since Monday at noon or so when people began arriving. I was so tired last night that perhaps I was a llittle relieved that they internet wasn’t working and I couldn’t Skype with my family, or blog or anything.

Robert and I took a taxi last night over to a market to find bananas for the group. That was an adventure in itself. The traffic here is some of the worst you’ll find in the world, it’s a constant snarl at any intersection. Driving anywhere is a constant negotiation for the driver, but the passengers also shout out encouragements to drivers of other vehicles, etc. It can take an hour at rush hour to go six kilometers. We did get bananas for the group.

I’ve been leading the demo coaching sessions, which means that I’m listening in French and even attempting to formulate great questions in French. Happily, the guy I’m coaching in those demos is also our key translator, so if I’m stuck I just revert to English. Of course this means that he has to not only be coached but also switch mentally over to translating. It’s pretty wild. Basically we’re both doing double cognitive duty. It’s fun but mentally exhausting.

I have an hour for a nap and feel that I should use the time for exactly that.

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…

IMG_2371 hibiscus.

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.

Congo: End of First Full Day

Saturday, my first full day in Congo. I wake up with the sun, or maybe a little after, 6:45. Cars are *klaxon*ing in the street and the city is in full swing. I am refreshed and don’t really feel the jet-lag at all.

I take a walk in the back garden; the hibiscus are in bloom, bright red atop long-leaved stems, and bananas small and green but already propped up with a piece of bamboo so they don’t topple the banana tree. (Bananas aren’t really a tree and a good hearty bunch can topple the long stem before it’s ripe.) I take pictures and return to my room to download them, only then realizing that I don’t have my cable to hitch my camera to my tablet.

After breakfast, I have a long meeting with Charles and Jeanette, interrupted multiple times by phone calls from Robert who was working very hard to get Bill on the bus to Kikwit. The bus was “full” but somehow Robert got him a seat; there is always a way to get something done. We talked for several hours about how to lead coach training and the cultural sensitivities around teaching coaching values. It was a good meeting and I think we’re going to be as ready as we can be.

On a short break while Robert is arranging Bill’s life, I chat with the man who sells carvings and paintings in the foyer of the guesthouse. As with many markets there are well-carved and aesthetically crafted items alongside some which have less appeal. I will end up buying a few things from him, it’s very convenient and we won’t have time to travel to a tourist market if indeed there still is one here (which I suspect there is).

Charles explains very carefully, three or four or five times, to Robert that we cannot stay long after church tomorrow. Robert would like us to … he has a grocery list of things he’d like us to do. Go see some fields, meet this group or that. Charles explains that if we are not at the baggage pickup tomorrow by 2:30 in the afternoon there is a good chance I will never get my luggage. He explains that I have nothing. (Indeed, I am washing a pair of underwear and socks every day, glad I have a second pair to wear while the other dries out.)

We say good-bye to Bill. He is very adventurous to go to Kikwit by bus, although everyone says that the “Double-V” line is really well organized and he’ll be fine. He will arrive at midnight or one in the morning. All the baggage will stay atop the bus until morning light. I suspect this is so that nobody can be accused of stealing anything while it’s dark. Most of the travelers will stay and sleep (probably on the ground) at the bus station. Bill’s host will probably go get him, then they’ll return in the morning. Such are the travel challenges.

After a nap this afternoon, which I sort of need but I’m not desperate for, at about 3:00 PM, we set out to walk about 3 kilometers to Albert and Aberti’s house. Well, I should say, their childrens’ house. Albert and Aberti don’t live there most of the time. They leave their eight kids in Kinshasa while they work Albert is an Education Extension Instructor, which means he’s training pastors off-campus if I’ve got it right (which I might not) and that means he travels; they have a house in Tshikapa I think. The oldest of their children is perhaps 26 years old, the youngest about nine, he’s in second grade. If he’s only seven, he’s very tall for seven. The father and several of the children are quite tall; the two young ladies have an inch or two on me I think. I am ahead of myself here.

As we approach the house, what a reception they send. First the youngest, a boy, and the fourth child (the younger of two daughters, a young lady I should say of perhaps 19 years old) come running to meet us as we walked along the street. Big smiles for Charles, whom they already know. Slightly shier smiles for Jeanette and me, but smiles nonetheless. The daughter, a very classy who hopes to work in the hospitality industry, kisses everyone three times in the European fashion (press cheeks, un, deux, trois). We walk a little farther and the oldest daughter greets us, then finally the oldest son is sent as we draw nearer the house, he also greets us. This greeting us as we come near is done in stages, and has a dramatic effect of showing us that perhaps they can hardly wait for us to get there. (And perhaps that is so.) Charles has not met the oldest son before but was eager to see the entire family together.

We walk down into a valley. Charles remembers as a boy that the valley was his playground before the city had grown this far; now, it’s completely packed with a sprawling neighborhood, little alleyways leading this way and that. We hop a stream on two stones, then up a little to where Papa Albert and the rest of the family greets us. There are 10 chairs, most likely rented for the occasion, blue plastic lawn chairs that look exactly like the ones we have. Everyone is wearing their absolute best clothes. We sit in a circle and the second son prays thanks over our visit. We are under a mango tree, the fruit is mid-ripening, the shade is plentiful and the sun drifts toward the Atlantic and a breeze blows through. We relax. We are among Charles’ friends, so … we are among friends.

At Charles’ invitation we ask to hear what the dreams of each of the children are. The oldest son would like to be a musician but struggles to find a producer. The oldest daughter has completed beauty school (she is an “aesthetician”) and would like to set up a shop, but doesn’t have the money for equipment. (Oh, for a micro-lending organization!) And so on, each one with a dream but  also a challenge, for the school kids the challenges are typically “I have to pass the test to go to the next grade” (which isn’t easy) or “I need money for tuition” (probably more difficult). Until we reach the youngest, who says he would like to study math/physics or, if that doesn’t work out, study theology like Papa. This is met with a great deal of enthusiasm (which makes me wonder if he’s well aware of what reaction that can get him!) but I also don’t sense falsehood in him. In fact, I’m a little surprised none of the others have mentioned theology. Then it is Mama’s turn, and she holds back. Albert says that one of his dreams is to learn more about coaching.

We share about our dreams too. I tell them about my four children.

The kids cannot believe Jeanette is 60, because she has all her teeth.

We take pictures before we lose the sunlight. Several of the older kids have cell phones, and they are adept selfie-takers; I am hugged and selfied a lot. Charles also takes photos with his good camera. I will soon have new Facebook friends. I especially enjoy taking photos with the youngest two boys. I am thinking of my boys.

We are seated for dinner, three guests, Papa and Mama. The children will eat after us. The girls hold soap and water so we can wash. I am asked to pray, and decide to do so in English, though I’m really doing pretty well in French and understanding most of the conversations, able to share about my family and my work with them, etc. There is FOOD. Fufu, which is a ball of manioc (that’s the stuff we make tapioca out of) and corn meal pounded and pounded and pounded until it is smooth. This is the best fufu I’ve had. I don’t remember liking it as a boy; today it went down very well. You can eat about a piece the size of your fist. If you eat much more you will feel like there’s a rock in your stomach for twelve hours (I think that is considered a bonus here, to have your belly full for so long). There were also a smoked fish dish, a salted fish dish, and grilled fish, please count them, my friends, THREE kinds of fish at one meal, as well as two kinds of greens and a bowl of red pepper paste (piment) which will shred you from the day you import it until the day you export it, and it will also make you feel as though, just maybe, if you can conquer it, you can conquer the world. I think (tongue in cheek) that piment is why Congolese have families with eight children. Wow, kapow! That’s hot!

It’s clear they are disappointed that the lights have gone out in the neighborhood. Because they are renting there isn’t much they can do to improve the house; (like put in a generator for times like this) and they are apologetic. We eat by flashlight and our wits. Silverware is provided; none of us use it. Fufu is meant to be eaten with the hand. Roll a ball, make a divot, catch some fish sauce or greens in the divot. The food is so good. All of it. Without a single doubt in my mind, this family has prepared the best food they could afford, cooked it with every bit of care they could muster, served it with love and pride. I can’t see the fish bones too well so I just crunch them up. It’s for the better. I can barely see where my pile of piment is, so I end up with mouthfuls inadvertently. Mama is congratulating Jeanette on how well she eats fufu. She says “felicitations” which actually means “congratulations”. My mouth is on fire and I eat just enough, I am satisfied and I have eaten some of every dish and my whole lump of fufu. They serve us oranges for dessert. They are sweet, the very outside layer peeled with a knife to leave you an edible rind. Mama trims a circle and you can suck the juices out.

Over dessert, Mama decides to share her dreams with us. She does so in Lingala, her heart language, and Charles translates for us. It’s a powerful and intimate moment. I’ve decided to keep this to my chest and not write it, it is between the five of us who sat at the table. She has shared the deepest desires of her heart, and it has taken her some time. But she has spoken it. She does not cry, but I sort of want to.

Everyone files in to say good-bye. We shake hands, they ask for my Facebook handle. We walk back up the hill with Papa and Mama, and hail a taxi. It’s 7:15 and dark; best not to walk through the city in the dark. The visit with this family is an authentic slice of Congo, from the walk through the city, to the meal, to the hopes and dreams a family has shared with us, not so unlike the dreams you might hear at home, children who want to do well in school and get good jobs or start a business, parents whose hearts want nothing but the best for their children.

So we did all these things. We talked, we ate, we took photos, we shared our dreams, but in the middle of all this doing, we simply honored each others’ presence in the world. We built a bridge.

Bridges are meant for walking across, even if they consist of nothing more than a few stones high enough to step upon. So I must come back again some day to walk across this bridge again.

Congo: Day One, May you please have a try.

Here I am at MPH Guesthouse. When our family first arrived in 1987 we stayed here. The drive in from the airport is long and crowded, and the city is full of hustle even at 9 PM. On my bed is a towel, a bar of soap in a box. The box says Beauty Soap Juliet TM Floral Bouquet, Lingering Freshness, New and Improved, and has a picture of a very attractive Indonesian woman on it. The soap is made in Indonesia, marketed from Malaysia, and imported in Algeria by SARI Far East Marketing. Somehow it’s here in Congo. It’s pretty good soap, it really does smell nice, leaves you feeling clean, rinses off well. I also get a complimentary roll of crepe paper, apparently for when I need to go take a crepe. Seriously the paper looks like a dull lavender version of that streamer stuff you decorate for your birthday with. This reminds me of the t.p. we had long ago which was made in China and said “BAMBOO Toilet Paper. may you please have a try.”

My bags didn’t arrive with me, I barely had time to catch my flight in Brussels. I had to run to my gate, and when I asked the gate attendant if I had time to use the restroom before boarding she said “TWO minutes” so I am just glad I made my flight. But since we arrived in Brussels late from Chicago, my bags didn’t get on the plane. I’m very glad I observed Travel Tip #1, which is to always carry an extra pair of underwear and socks in your carry-on luggage. I probably won’t have my suitcase until tomorrow afternoon, so it looks like I’ll be in my favorite pair of jeans for 4 days straight, and borrow shirts from Bill Frisbie and Charles Buller. Fortunately they are both bigger than I am.

I don’t have photos for you yet because the cable that connects my camera to my laptop is in my suitcase.

On the drive in from the airport, the night was breezy and cool. It’s dry season, so even as it gets warm this afternoon it will be a dry warm and I doubt very much that we’ll ever get seriously sweaty. The air is full of smog, fumes from cars and motos that don’t have proper exhaust systems, plus charcoal fires. I exit the airplane and the first thing i notice is the smell: heat wafting off the asphalt. I catch a whiff of barbecuing meat. I smell diesel rolling off trucks. People carry cartons of eggs on their heads, sometimes a couple hundred eggs. You could buy one right off their head, a hard-boiled egg. People are carrying anything you might want to buy on their heads. They drift through traffic, hanging on the sides of minibuses, harassing drivers who’ve done everyone a disservice by trying to cut around a line of traffic — if you can call it a line. One intersection has a “robot”, a sculpture designed by an art student which has alternating red and green lights. Apparently because this thing has arms it gets more recognition as a legitimate traffic director, and when the light goes red people actually stop. Aside from this one intersection, it’s go when you can and stop when you must. Charles orders pizza while we are still driving in.

We arrived and our driver was tired.  They started out for the airport at 3:30 PM, it took them over two hours to get there, through rush hour, and an hour or so to get back, so he’s been driving quite a while. I would not want to drive here, it’s stressful. If you hit a pedestrian you’d be likely to suffer mob justice: a beating or worse. We passed a hospital I am almost positive I saw on the documentary “Kinshasa Symphony” a few months ago.

Pizza arrives. It is wood-fired, and the crust is delicious. There is “tropical” which is onions, mushrooms, chicken and pineapple, and “o poeto” with green pepper, burger and sausage. I haven’t eaten pizza for so long … we put piment on it too. That’s a bright red pepper paste, which I ate for the first time at this very establishment 28 years ago. It’s hot. REAL hot. But does have a certain flavor enhancing property. I ate piment on my first two slices, and then I noticed my eyes were leaking for some odd reason, and didn’t put any on my third piece.

Showing up at a guesthouse where our family stayed for a week and a half in 1987 is bizarre to say the least. My brother would remember playing ping-pong with me here. The place is dilapidated to be sure, the tennis court, which was beginning to be overgrown in ’87, is now completely unusable. But the interior is still comfortable, with clean sheets and comfortable cots, a clean bathroom with hot water, fans that keep the air moving, and though I didn’t have a mosquito net, I didn’t need one. Dry season means no mosquitoes this week. As far as jet-lag goes, I fell asleep at 11:30 local time and woke up naturally at 6:45. I’ll probably be drowsy this afternoon and might need a nap, but because I didn’t sleep too well on the airplanes I’ll probably adjust faster because I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and slept almost eight hours straight.

In 27 years many things have not changed. Old buildings are older, but what is noticeable is the ubiquity of cell phones. Huge billboards advertise free Facebook all the time with a certain cell-phone plan.

A tailor showed up to deliver a shirt for Charles this morning. On spec he brought a second one, and Charles bought it. I liked the fabric so I ordered one as well, and in three or four days, he said, he’ll show up before lunch time to deliver it.

Bill Frisbie felt affirmed when I noticed at breakfast that he said “tell me more.” I told him that was an old standard coaching hymn. He said, “that doesn’t make it any less special,” and I said, “no, of course not, it’s like singing Amazing Grace.” Bill is off for Kikwit this morning, he was supposed to go yesterday but that fell through. We were glad to see each other. He’ll be back in next Saturday and we’ll go to the airport together as we come home (though on different flights, we depart within an hour of each other).

We’re just getting started, but for those who are praying for me here are two things to pray for: 1) Pray that my stomach tolerates the unusual amounts of gluten I’m consuming. 2) Pray that my bags will arrive intact today and that we can pick them up without a hitch tomorrow.