“Ee -o”, they reply. We are back on our cycle rides in the countryside, and this is the cheerful response we get when we pass the ladies going to the market with their loads on their heads, and we call out “CiCi-O!” (‘tsitsi-o’= hello).
We love cycling in the countryside, much more than in the town where you get many more call-outs from drunk/drugged young men: “Eh Mundu/Mundele, donne-moi le vélo” (white person, give me the bike). In the countryside, the people are invariably very friendly, want to know where we are going, and whether we need any help. Only a tiny minority ask for money.
Recently we have made some lovely cycle trips, in particular one around Leri near the Ugandan border, and another in the region of Buranga, our bishop’s village. These bicycle trips are genuinely the highlight of our week. People think Peter’s bike looks really funny, with its very high saddle and its motorbike handlebars welded on. You just have to accept the laughter, which is never badly meant, and laugh along. Our part of Congo is the last place to feel embarrassed by one’s looks or attire as the local appearances are extremely diverse!
Our work: Palliative Care is going well, and improving quality in the hospital at the moment is threefold:
- Using the fundraised money in the UK to protect our staff by offering Hepatitis B vaccinations to staff who have not been exposed to the virus.
- Using the fundraised money to buy new mattresses and mattress covers which make them impermeable. Our fund will be helping to clean the beds.
- Our little hospital took out a loan to redecorate, starting with the maternity ward. Once the new mattresses and covers are in place, and the beds cleaned and painted, it should look so much better. There is a long way to go and keeping everything clean will yet be another matter. Our DN (Directeur de Nursing) is keen to have a local committee to supervise standards.
Patricia’s other task: improving the quality of care in the diocesan health centres may remain difficult since the relatively sudden death of the leader of the Service Medical has brought this supervisory work to a stop. Overall, I really like the palliative work and working with the ITs = Infirmier(e) Titulaires in the peripheral health centres and visiting people at home. The motorbike journeys are really tiring, but when you then see the state of people’s dwellings, clothing and needs, I always feel humbled when they express such gratitude for so little.
Peter has a bunch of very lively students, the majority still very young, with a few older students. We had them all round to our house in three groups and like last year, we enjoyed their very diverse stories. One student told us about his family’s remarkable journey of travel to Aru taking three weeks: from somewhere several hundred km west of Kisangani, they cycled, five of them on 3 bikes, to a river port where they took a dugout canoe to go up the Congo river for several days to Kisangani. This mode of travel is very dangerous at night. There, they took a bus to Bunia, and from Bunia another bus to Aru. The bus journey from Bunia to Aru takes the best part of a day due to those untarmac-ed roads being in such a dreadful state. The challenges of trying to set up a meaningful and durable Christian Education program fills him with some dread, but he is encouraged by the real desire amongst the congregations within the parishes. Finding the right level, language and course is difficult, not to mention how to fund the program into the future.
Another student told us of his calling to come to Aru to study to be a pastor. He was very reluctant, and like Jonah, tried to escape the Lord’s calling, by joining the police as an alternative career. However, he then found himself becoming a police chaplain, and from that position was selected to receive a bursary to come to study theology in Aru (as he said, the big fish had spewed him out on the dry land of Aru).
We joined in the Diocesan Christmas celebrations again, wearing our newly bought Congolese outfits, in matching material. This time we were alert to the fact that we would have to dance up in front of everyone else to receive our token Christmas present – a large mug with a Diocesan logo. We entered into this enthusiastically, and received a great cheer of approval (although afterwards people told Peter that he wasn’t dancing in a Congolese style – he thought he was!)
We have spent a lot of money and a lot of time on the construction of a new bamboo fence around our property. It was a major project, involving two “trips” (a unit of measurement) of bamboo from the village of Erekele 40 km away, a team of somewhat unreliable workmen, and the purchase of many other items, including a large weight of very expensive nails. Our Robert did a great job of managing this project, and we are extremely pleased with the result, as are the Congolese, who think that it has greatly improved our parcelle.
Patricia’s colleague nurse Anguyi and cannon Agupio, took us recently to ‘Mont Awa’, a small mountain we can see from our home. We could not visit without first visiting the local Chef de collectivité in Yuku, nearby the above-mentioned ‘Mont Awa’. He walked with us to the top of the hill from where we could see Aru and the mountains along the border with Uganda. It was an enjoyable trip. Before the walk we were also greeted by the wife of the same chef who approached us on her knees (a local custom we feel quite awkward about). We handed over a kilo of sugar, which is an accepted standard of present. The chef told us during the walk that his grandfather had been king of a whole area which goes up to Pakwach in Uganda, which is 140 km away.
Finally, we end this posting with a prayer often prayed at the morning prayers in the hospital: “If we are not cadavers this morning it is only thanks to Your grace”. We find this in many ways amusing, but of course it is true: it is only by God’s grace we wake up every morning … we just wouldn’t put it like that!