Congo: Listening in the old days, marriages

Perhaps the most poignant thing I’ve heard any of our trainees say this week is that the elderly in the villages can sit and listen to someone and then repeat back verbatim what the other person has said. The impression I got was that people had this skill to such a degree that they could also repeat entire accounts much later. In other words, they had a mental method of note-keeping that didn’t require paper.

This is an important and perhaps often overlooked skill set for coaches that was apparently deeply ingrained in oral culture here in the Congo, only to be lost to urbanization, and it is the first window into cultural contextualization of the modern conversational tool known as leadership coaching that our trainees brought to the table. It’s not surprising that someone can still identify the oral-information cultural background, but what’s even more exciting is to see that at least that one particular trainee who brought it to the foreground (and others too) immediately picked up on it and saw its value. There’s a little anthropology going on here! Whenever you can tap into a cultural element in training, you can really capture peoples’ vision that this skill is something they can utilize in a culturally appropriate way. It’s a thrilling discovery for me; it’s an anchor for our work.

Today we’ll be presenting on two major pieces: encouragement (which is not an obvious thing, at least in the Congolese Mennonite Church, according to sources close to this author) and we’ll do some marriage coaching exercises with the married couples here — there will be five of them.

I sat and talked with Albert last night (if you’ve been following the blog, this is the same guy I talked about a few days ago — I went to their house for dinner with Charles and Jeanette). I’ve been observing Albert and his wife Aberty, and I see that they do everything together in a way that’s very counter-cultural here. Even at the meals, they sit across from each other and put the fufu on the plate in front of Albert and the sauce on the plate in front of Aberty, then each reaches across to eat from the other’s plate the whole time. In a culture where men usually eat alone while the wife eats off to the side with her children, this sort of routine affection, and the deeper stuff they do like go together and minister together makes a profound impact. Albert said that even when people come to him for counsel, Aberty sits in, and he asks her for input. Then, he says, men will say, ‘oh, why does your wife always have to be here’ and yet, he says, they always come back. So, even though they act like it’s a deal-breaker, it’s not. Instead, it’s an example. I think married couples around the world, and in fact I myself, can take a lesson from Albert and Aberty.