Ndjoko Punda

We have just emerged from the heart of internet darkness. Still, in the bustling city of Lubumbashi, at the southern tip of the Democratic Republic of Congo, electricity and wi-fi are intermittent so I will post this when I can and put pictures at the end because that’s the easiest way to deal with mobile technology.

So much to write and yet I want to go out and do, too, because Vic and I are in L’shi for the first time since we lived here in 1973-74. So until we gather energy to walk up to the new shopping center that has sprung up near the new golf course on the edge of a newly created lake, I’ll scribble a bit. Much has changed in this relatively prosperous town in the copper mining region. It is bigger now. We don’t recognize much. Tomorrow we’ll go look for the street we used to live on and visit the university where Vic taught and maybe try to find the hospital where our daughter was born.

We spent last week in the province of Kasai Occidentale, mostly in the dusty diamond town of Tshikapa, which is HQ of the Mennonite Church of Congo. We attended another ordination that included a woman, talked to many, many people, met friends and made new ones, and Vic and I took a river trip to Ndjoko Punda, the ultimate stop on this pilgrimage.

On the eve of this whole trip, back around September 18, I had a dream about looking across a wide river through windows without glass. In the river were large crocodiles, dangerous but not immediately threatening. A parade of animals walked by on the opposite bank–zebras, giraffes and what I at first identified as a wildebeest. But it turned out to be a combination of centaur and unicorn–a wildebeest with a human torso and head which looked like that of a sorcerer, and out of this head grew a single, tree-like antler.

My sense was that the spirits were waiting for us on the other side of the river. Not clearly good or evil but powerful.

When we were waiting on the edge of the river last Thursday for Kazadi, the volatile dinghy pilot, to get the tiny rubber boat and outboard motor ready to go down the Kasai River, I recognized the place of my dream and I thought about crocodiles. We didn’t see any but something was there, churning up difficulties at every stage of the trip.

This trip will be a chapter in a book some day. There is the short version: we did get to Ndjoko Punda. We did hear and record the Grand Tam Tam choir. And we did get back safely. And there is the long version, the book chapter. I am trying to see if I can get an intermediate blog version out of it. It might go something like this:

We did go to Ndjoko Punda but not when we planned to go and not with the person we had been negotiating with extensively and not entirely on our own, thank goodness, because Vic and I would never have managed sorting out all the complications ourselves. French didn’t cut it; Tshiluba was essential. And it was clear that we were very, very white with all the cultural baggage that brings with it. We were so white that we scared babies. Literally.

We did hear and record the Grand Tam Tam choir–and seven other choirs that we did not ask to hear and really did not have time to listen to because our time was compressed by the difficulties of getting there. It was glorious and hectic.

We did get back safely, our pockets empty of cash. Along the way we learned quite a bit about artisanal diamond mining along the river; how to repair rubber dinghies; and negotiating the rapids in the Kasai River as well as the ravines that used to be roads in Ndjoko Punda (on the back of motorbikes). We did spend the last two hours of the trip churning up the river at top speed in the dark, no moon. Fortunately, Kazadi, who had little sense of time and got into one fistfight along the way, did know his river. And the stars were lovely!

Actually, the whole trip–including an overnight stay with our fellow Mennonites at this 100-year-old former mission–was lovely, hard, exciting, and worth every dollar we spent and gave, even those we hadn’t budgeted.

I have had my wished-for adventure. I am rather proud of myself for insisting on it though it seemed impossible at many points. The spirits where there, waiting and powerful. Presiding over all, though, was Holy Spirit. We were blessed and I do not use that term lightly. I think we were a blessing, as well.

And now we are lolling in luxury in a lovely guesthouse and acting like regular tourists. As the plane from Kinshasa filled up last night with wealthy-looking expats and Africans who were also going to Lubumbashi, we felt like country bumpkins. The dust of Tshikapa was under our toes, I was wearing glad Congo cloth. I hadn’t looked in a mirror for 10 days. We had come from a different world.

I love that world we came from. People from there are calling us–just now one more scratchy call from Ndjoko Punda and this morning at sleepy 7 am a call from Tshikapa–to make sure we have arrived safely but I feel that somehow, with all our advantages (including enough cash but also the care we are given) we will always arrive safely. How can we reciprocate such care?

P.S. As I go to awkwardly load photos onto this post, for some reason this boat picture, of someone else’s dinghy, is the last picture available. Nothing after that except a few I took this morning. A whole lot of black pictures. I’m sure they’ll show up sometime, just not when I need them. That’s the way this whole NP business has been. Spirits? Just sayin’.

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2 thoughts on “Ndjoko Punda

  1. River and choirs and fights, oh my! It truly sounds like you had the adventure of your dreams, and that the nightmares were held at bay. Cannot WAIT to hear and see more. much love, Nina

  2. Pingback: How can we help Congo? Part one | the practical mystic

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