This past Wednesday May 17th was a national holiday so everyone had the day off. It’s the celebration of the end of the dictator Mobutu’s 30+ year reign from 1965 – 1997. I got to sleep in and then headed over to Bakanja Ville for lunch with the other volunteers. A new volunteer from Italy arrived last week. Her name is Lorena and she’ll be here for 3 months. She’s learning French which means I am no longer officially the worst French speaker! She is picking it up though and is much more brave about talking then I was when I first arrived. It’s a miracle people didn’t think I was mute.
Anyway, when you’re having lunch with two French girls and an Italian, the food is usually pretty good. Clémence made a cheese soufflé to have with our salad (made courtesy of Delphine). It is really impressive the level of cooking skills of the French. When I was 23 there was no way I would think to make a béchamel sauce, add egg yolks then egg whites whipped to stiff peaks and throw together a soufflé on a random Wednesday. And I’m not being fancy with the terms, that’s literally how they described it. They are really at home in the kitchen and especially making things without recipes. Hopefully I’ll pick up some news tips and tricks while I’m here!
Anyway, after a delicious lunch and coffee we went to the zoo with about 30 kids from Bakanja Ville. It was the first time for most of them and they were really excited. It’s not that far so we walked and, as you’d probably expect with 30 boys ages 8 – 16, there’s lots of trying to trip each other and jokes and laughter. There are four aspirants (guys who want to be priests and are in the early training stages – usually in their late teens/early 20s) who do most of the day-to-day cares of the kids. Two of them came with to the zoo, Glorisaint who the kids call Songa Songa which I think means tall in Swahili because he’s about 6′ 3″ and Andre. They along with myself, Delphine and Lorena were given a tour of the zoo by an employee after Glorisaint turned the wrong way when we first got in the zoo. I think they didn’t trust the kids not to ruin something.
Along with the zookeeper who was actually really interesting (besides from the “not trusting us to walk around alone” part) there was also another employee who decided to join our group as well. He was less useful and mainly spent his time hitting on Delphine and Lorena. I kept a kid near me at all times as a buffer and spoke English really loudly whenever he was near so he would think I didn’t speak French. It is really handy to refuse to speak French and I definitely use it on a regular basis, especially when people on the street are asking me for favors or hitting on me.
Overall the zoo was really cool but some of the cages, especially the monkeys, were really close to walkways. I felt bad for the animals who probably have to deal with people touching them or trying to touch them all the time. But maybe they are used to it by now. The guy above on the left was the employee who kept hitting on Lorena (pictured) and Delphine.
One of the coolest parts of the zoo was the zebra exhibit. It’s a huge area and there’s an employee who opens a large metal gate and then you walk for a few minutes before we got to a feeding area where the zebra was just hanging out. The zookeeper told us to stay quiet so that we didn’t scare off the zebra and the kids did really well. We were probably 20 – 30 feet away from it. Then an employee grabbed one of the littlest kids and let him stand about 10 feet away. Also for those of you who haven’t read my post about why Congolese don’t smile in pictures check it out here. Some of the kids crack smiles in later pictures but most of the kids in the picture with me below are in their teens and can be too cool for school sometimes.
The zoo also has lions, tigers, and some crocodiles. We checked them all out before the zookeeper finally let us off on our own.
After we got the official tour we hung out in an area with a bunch of benches. I’m assuming the zoo uses it for presentations from time to time but the kids just ran around and played random games. Glorisaint and I ended up there first so he took a nap and I took a bunch of selfies with the kids before letting them take photos with my phone. Overall it was a great way to spend a day off.
I’ve been learning a little more about the culture and why these kids aren’t living with their families and unfortunately many were thrown out of their family. If parents separate the kids automatically go with the father. If the father remarries, the stepmother sometimes kicks the kids out or accuses the child of sorcery. This isn’t the case with every kid but definitely some of them. The issue of sorcery is also really big here. If the child sleeps too much, the parents think that the spirit is traveling and the child is practicing sorcery. If the child talks too much, they are definitely practicing sorcery. The goal of Bakanja Ville is to reunite the children with their families so the social workers work with the kids and families on forgiveness and education. I definitely want to sit in on a meeting some morning with the social workers to learn more about what they do. I have only learned the very basics of some very complex issues here.
Please pray for these kids and their families and the work of the Salesians here in L’shi!