Keeping Kids in School

 “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

The large, old truck rumbled and groaned as it struggled up the small hill to the school. There were probably a flood of prayers offered up between the twenty of us who sat on back as we gripped tightly to the railing, hoping that the diesel engine still had the power to make it up even this small incline. I glanced down as I felt the surface beneath me shift. Beneath our feet lay thousands of pounds of food, all stacked and ordered based on size, type, and where they were going to be delivered.

Kids run out to greet usKids run out to greet us

The engine, by this point, was screaming in agony as it pressed forward, straining against the weight it carried. Finally, just before it appeared it was going to give in and let gravity pull it back down to the bottom, the front wheels crested the hill grabbing what little traction they could. Soon after the middle and back wheels under the truck bed followed. Everyone started clapping and mocking the doubters, although in reality it was just a show to build up their own courage. After all, this was just the first school of the day.

It was the beginning of April and we were out delivering the World Food Program (WFP) supplies to the schools under Samaritan’s Purse’s oversight. The WFP vision, per their website, is “to reduce hunger among schoolchildren so that hunger is not an obstacle to their development (1).” In essence, their goal is to provide meals to primary schools in order to help keep the children in school. It is an incentive for the kids to keep coming if they know they will get at least one good meal a day and is especially important for critical areas where hunger and malnutrition are rampant.  This is often the case in Eastern Congo as rebel groups often force people to move and flee resulting in little food security from gardens or even a consistent marketplace.

Children a school feeding program give me their greetings.
Children a school feeding program give me their greetings.

Samaritan’s Purse (SP) has partnered with WFP to serve in two localities helping over 100 schools. The remoteness of the Faradje/Aba territory where SP works has resulted in WFP giving SP complete control over the warehouse and distribution of the food. Food is delivered to the warehouse where SP staff takes control of it and enters it into the inventory. Then, during the first week or two of every month, distributions occur. At first it is possible to do several deliveries a day, but once the schools get more and more removed from the warehouse it takes longer to get to the locations and the roads get worse. The deliveries during rainy season, starting in mid-March, take twice as long as the dirt roads are destroyed by the rain making them rivers of mud where the trucks often get stuck.

Each school receives, in proportion to their size, bags of grain which are rice, flour, or corn, vegetables which are peas or beans, oil and salt.  They also receive non-food items like cooking pots and plates at the beginning of the school year. Parents volunteer to do the cooking on different rotations depending on the school. Although these meals are simple and repetitive, they provide the essential nutrients for the young children and it is often their only meal of the day. This, as the WFP website states, “allows children to focus on their studies and not their stomachs (1).”To have the joy of children.Kids cheering on the work.

As the truck summited the hill we were welcomed by hundreds of kids running toward us yelling and waving. Each one was dressed in the classic Congo school uniform of white-collared shirts and navy blue pants or skirts. They knew that the truck meant another month of food and stemming from their excitement formed a fan group cheering on the men as they unloaded the supplies into the school’s storage room. It was a gentle reminder that often the things we take for granted, like school cafeterias, security, and even education in general are considered luxuries in other places.

1 – World Food Program –

2 – Samaritan’s

p.s. sorry if you’ve seen these pictures before, the internet decided it was not in the mood to upload pictures this evening

The Art of Bucket Bathing: A Practical Guide to Bathing in the Tropics or 5 Steps to Cleanliness

“So…how do I shower?” she asked, somewhat timidly, although understandably, based on the circumstances. She was peering into the bathroom where, dimly lit by a dull, solar powered, light bulb, stood a stall with a small drain. There was no shower head, no sink, no faucet of any kind.  On the floor lay an orange bucket with a small, blue pitcher.

“You’re going to have to use the bucket,” was the reply.

My co-worker glanced back, eyes narrowing skeptically in disbelief. She thought we were joking. We stared back. After a moment or two she realized that we were serious, and accepting her fate, took the bucket and walked outside to get water.

The coming rains.The coming rains.

Living in a remote African village brings a variety of obstacles. One of those is bathing. There is no running water. There is no water heater. And there’s no electricity to pump water up to a water tower. This leaves bucket baths assuming there are no convenient water sources, such as a lake, nearby. For those readers not familiar with this approach, let me walk you through the steps. Keep in mind there is no set standard because there are several techniques, so to each his own.

Before we begin, you will need several things, which are notably a bucket, a pitcher or cup (optional), a bar of soap, and any other regular bathing items you use (towel, comb, etc…).

Gathering water from a rainstorm.Gathering water from a rainstorm.

5 Steps to Cleanliness:

  1. The first step to bathing is gathering your water. This may appear simple enough until you remember there is no source of running water. This leaves with you several options on how to obtain your water. Probably the best approach is to use rain water that has been gathered from the roofs into large, plastic barrels via gutter drains. However, in dry season you end up having to carry up water from the nearest source (usually a river or spring – not necessarily close by). Another option, depending on location, is pulling it up from a well. Whichever source you choose, expect the water to be dirty, or at the very least littered with bugs.
  2. After retrieving a source of water you are going to want it heated. This may come as a surprise to some readers because of the tropical heat. However, after a long day of dust, humidity, sweat and heat, a warm bucket bath really hits the spot. Consider it a natural relaxer. Not too hot, not too cold. The easiest way to get hot water is to heat a large pot of it outside on a wood fire. Although this is the quickest way to heat large amounts of water, it does take time, so be prepared to take your shower when the water is ready, not when you are. Planning well in advance can help in this stage. Getting the right temperature is obviously a matter of personal choice. I like to put a pitcher of boiling water in and then add progressively more pitchers of cold water until that the right temperature is reached.

    A river can be a useful water source.                                 A river can be a useful water source.

  3. Finally, at the third step we can beginning the bathing process. Some people like to just splash water on themselves with their hands from the bucket. I find this approach works well for scrubbing your legs and such, but to get the head and shoulders a pitcher or cup is much more useful. The key at this stage is to rinse yourself completely while not wasting too much water (you’ll need it later).
  4. Then, as with any shower, you going to have to lather up.  A bar of soap works much better in this situation than shampoo because it doesn’t create as many suds (back to the wasting water point).

    Expect insects to be an ever-present nuisance.Expect insects to be an ever-present nuisance.

  5. The final stage is to rinse off the soap. As mentioned above, it is important to have saved enough clean water at this point because perhaps one of the worst feelings in the world is to still be soapy and have no water left to finish the job. While pouring with the pitcher you’ll have to be scrubbing the soap off with your other hand (kind of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time).  It’s a refined skill learned over time. After getting off the soap you get to proceed onto the most blissful moment of the bath. This is where you take whatever water is remaining in the bucket and pour it over you.

*On a final note, it’s often courteous to go fill the bucket for the next person who will be showering, although they may prefer to choose how hot it is.

In essence, the bucket bath is an opportunity for adults to become children again by splashing in the bathtub.

To have the joy of children.To have the joy of children.

I hope that this has been enlightening read to those who have never bathed with a bucket before. At the very least I hope it forces you to rethink your bathing experience, whatever that is.

The Condensed Version

As probably the hope of most novice bloggers, I had originally planned to write at least once a week.

That has not happened as of yet.

So, in order to catch you up to date on my activities over the past week, I have decided to give you the condensed version. We’re talking the skeleton of the object, like this thing has been pressed, crushed, broken down, divided, and then whatever was left was boiled off leaving only the finest residue.

This is what remains:

“I woke up. Got dressed. Ran across town. Inhaled dust. Saw the sunrise. Kicked a ball. Rode a taxi-motorcycle home. Showered. Ate a cinnamon roll on the car ride to work. Answered e-mails. Wrote a grant report. Caught a flight in a six passenger plane. Flew across mountains. Landed in a village in the corner of Congo. Took a bucket bath. Had no power. Had no internet. Ate rice. Ate beans.  Rode a motorcycle. Hung out with kids. Drank chai. Took pictures. Snake attacked. Snake died. Rode back. Saw hippos. Appreciated a sunset. Watched a movie. Bought goats. Swarmed by bugs. Walked through old Belgium architecture. Ate mangos. Walked to the river. Climbed a rock. Loaded trucks. Distributed at school feeding programs. Ate tomatoes. Got rained on. Wrote a blog.”

Yeah…that about sums it up.

Children a school feeding program give me their greetings.
Children at a school feeding program give me their greetings.

A Stitched Up Piece of Leather

“Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football (soccer).” ― Albert Camus

“Football is the ballet of the masses.”  ― Dmitri Shostakovich
“Football is the ballet of the masses.”
― Dmitri Shostakovich

During my first year of university an English professor informed me that an argument can be broken down into a simple addition equation where the sum, the argument, is derived by combining a claim with its reasoning. In an attempt to adhere to the more sophisticated and formal structures of writing, I shall try to do just that.

My argument is simple, I believe that there is perhaps no other physical object that has had a more lasting impact on my life than that of a simple, stitched together, piece of leather, more commonly known as a soccer, or foot, ball.

That is my claim. The reasoning, as the bard would say, is where the story lies.  

“The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn't move, kick it until it does.”  ― Phil Woosnam
“The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.”
― Phil Woosnam

As with any good story, the place to start is in the beginning. This specific tale begins when I was four years old, just a little white kid in the middle of Africa trying to make friends. It was a small village, and I had no idea what I was doing, but outside I went, with small, green and black, rubber soccer ball. Soon a small group of kids my age gathered around me (I’m not sure it was the anomaly of a white kid, or the – soccer ball that brought them – but either way they came). No language was needed; we all understood as one of the kids grabbed four sticks and stuck them into the ground, creating goals on each side of the field. Before I knew what was happening, teams were made and a game had begun.

I consider this moment the beginning of soccer’s influence on my life. It was similar to jumping into a river, the first plunge, but as I came up for air I realized the current had already grabbed me and there was no getting out; I was hooked.

In order to catch you up to the present, I will not bore you with all the twists and turns through which this river of soccer carried me, but it is important to mention a few. At times the river had the feeling of going over rapids and waterfalls, such as when I moved back to the states in 5th grade and had to learn how to play on grass with shoes. At other times it was the lazy drift of river in no hurry, knowing it will arrive eventually. This was the feeling I had in high school, back in Africa, where we played soccer every day. It wasn’t a question of “if” or “when,” it merely was.

 “Soccer isn't the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community's fabric, a repository of traditions.”  ― Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

“Soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.”
― Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

College was another waterfall. I pretty much I asked the coach if I could play, and he accepted me (no trial/tryout/footage). To this day I do not know why, but coming in was probably the largest waterfall dive that I had taken up to that point. It was a different culture, different level of play, different style. But through that experience I grew, both as a soccer player, and as a person as once again a piece of leather helped me bond and make friends in a new, and somewhat intimidating, environment.

There were other experiences as well over the years, playing club in Africa, France, Hispanic leagues, intramurals, etc… Each one of these turns in the river allowed me to enter into a new environment, as a stranger, and immediately make friends and get involved. The ball was my bridge into new setting and it was a constant in my life, something I could rely on because I knew everyone understood it.

That brings me up to today where I find myself in the city of Bunia, on the far eastern side of Congo. Once again that worn out piece of leather has helped me adapt to a new environment. After arriving here I immediately began asking around to see if there was a pitch where I could play on, even just pick-up soccer every once in a while. However, to my surprise, I was invited to come and play with “El Dorado,” one of the best club teams in Bunia (a city of 300,000 or so).

Taking up the offer, I showed up to training at 6:30 in the morning. The sun was rising above the mountains to East, casting a warm, and so to become familiar, lighting over the field. The field itself was a huge dirt pitch, with patches of grass sprouting here and there. Surrounding it was a 4 meter high mud brick wall. As I looked around I realized I had no idea what I was getting into, I was in way over my head.IMG_1354

I got some pretty odd looks that first day. The players stared at me for a bit, trying to process who this foreigner was. Their facial expressions would probably reflect mine if I had seen a space ship land. There was a language barrier which added to the awkwardness of the day. We could both communicate in French, but it was neither of ours’ mother tongues.

The coach called us all in together and then proceeded to give us a speech. The speech pretty much was an anti-racism speech explaining to the players that if someone plays soccer it means they are a brother to any other soccer play in the world. Color of skin and language doesn’t matter and that they should just accept me as they would any other soccer player. The guys sort of shrugged, giving off the idea that they could accept that as long as it was true that I really played soccer.

“It seems that soccer tournaments create those relationships: people gathered together in pubs and living rooms, a whole country suddenly caring about the same event. A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.”  ― Simon Kuper
“It seems that soccer tournaments create those relationships: people gathered together in pubs and living rooms, a whole country suddenly caring about the same event. A World Cup is the sort of common project that otherwise barely exists in modern societies.”
― Simon Kuper


Practice began, much as that first day many years ago when I first plunged into this current. Soon skin color and language problems didn’t matter, we were all just playing. Pass, move, defend, strike. It blended together like a dance, and I knew steps.

After just one practice a bond was forged. Although, even two months later, I still find myself called “muzungu” (white person) more often than my own name. In a way I’m their “muzungu.” I can go around town and hear people tell each other as I pass by “look, there’s the white guy that plays for El Dorado.” The club supporters get a blast out of watching me as well. The team has a solid following (over a thousand people pay to come and watch the games). Even training sessions are heavily attended by fans and whenever I touch the ball in scrimmages they all start cheering. It’s a little odd seeing as I’m just a mediocre player, but I am a player and so they accept me nonetheless.

Six days a week I get up at 5:45am to go to practice for an hour. Tragically, due to work, I can only stay for half of the session, but on Saturday’s I get the full experience. I still had to earn my place onto the team so it was only recently I was approached to be officially licensed with the team. That being said, hopefully I’ll be allowed to participate in official matches in the next week or

But that is getting away from my original argument: a piece of leather has changed my life. Wherever I have found myself, even when I’m the odd one, the foreigner, the stranger, I am able to join a group of guys that share my passion for something. This has allowed me to bridge culture barriers all over the world, from Africa, to the United States, and even Europe. There’s really no rebuttal to this argument as far as I can see. By learning the international culture of soccer, I have been able to be accepted wherever I find myself in the world. That sphere object has impacted me more than any other physical thing that I can think of, and although I am no professional, I appreciate  it. 

“The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” 
― Terry PratchettUnseen Academicals 

*Note: some of these pictures I did not personally take,  (the kids playing, and the picture of the soccer ball). They were found online to help convey some of the points I was making.

A Battle of Earth and Sky


(An African Rainstorm and the Change of Seasons)

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”

― Robert Frost

The sun blazed brightly over the city, blasting the African landscape with its usual ferocity. Nothing dared challenged its rule of the sky. Several clouds lazily drifting by,  casting island-like shadows on the ground in the shapes of monsters only imagined. The sun carefully watched their trespassing, but was otherwise unworried and unhindered, knowing its sovereignty would be maintained.

It was dry season after all.

No wind stirred the dry ground today, but the human traffic was doing its part and by mid-morning a blanket of dust was rising above the city, forcing its inhabitants to inhale the dirt as they searched, even gasped, for air.

The inside world was a reflection of the one outside. The only sounds in the office were the tapping noises coming from a co-worker across the table as his fingers marched steadily across the keyboard, writing some e-mail or report.

Otherwise it was still.

It was the calm before the storm.

Then, like a blitz, the islands of shadows on the ground warped and grew, quickly merging together to form a unified force. The sun’s rays were forced back as the clouds, the same ones that had seemed so innocent moments before, took control of the sky. Thunder roared across the sky as though the clouds themselves were lions on the hunt.

They unleashed their fury. At first it was just a single drop. It fell from the clouds, like the captain of a charging army leading the way, only to be brought short as it slammed against a tin roof. A slight ding, of water on metal, echoed through the building, breaking the stillness like laughter at the clouds’ pathetic challenge. Then another drop came, and this drop hit the earth like the jab of a boxer. It was followed by several others. Left, right, right, left, right. Each droplet hitting the ground with the force of a thousand foot fall.

And as they fell they took the haze down with them.

The dust rose up in retaliation, like an agitated snake raising its head to strike back. For every drop that fell, forcing down the haze, another puff of dust would rise up around it, surrounding and conquering its attackers, drowning them, not with water, but with dirt. So much dust rose up that the air was quickly filled with the smell of a garden that had been recently watered. This was no garden though; it was the smell of battle between the earth and sky.

But the earth held out. Months of dry season, slaving under the rule of the tropical sun, had thoroughly baked the ground, leaving large cracks that absorbed the water like castle moats, keeping the water at bay. It seemed as though the fortifications would hold out.

The rain paused in its attack, regrouping and organizing its forces. Then the next assault began, as suddenly as the last, but this time the heavy siege equipment had arrived. Hail, like boulders launched from catapults, tore through the air to smash against the hard packed earth. Cracks, which had at first appeared as unbreakable walls, crumbled under the onslaught. The ice was accompanied by rain again, and this time the rain got through, muddying the ground. Little rivers of brown water formed, snaking their way across the torn up earth like blood from a battlefield. More and more water fell so that puddles rose around the city, flooding the streets and alleyways. The tide of the battle had turned.

But still the rain did not let up. It poured down with such violence that the windows of the buildings shook under the stain of the attack. Water began to leak in around the frames as it breached the windowsills. And at the moment it appeared as though the storm itself would come smashing through, it stopped.

Like a hit-and-run attack, leaving devastation behind them, the clouds moved on to torment another area, shrugging off what damage they had done in their passing.

Timidly the sun peaked out around the clouds as they left to see their wake of destruction. It was greeted by a drenched landscape; months of domination had been cut short.

Its rule had been broken, and the battle had been lost.

The clouds had won and this victory marked the beginning of a new era, a time of growth as plants thrived under the new found source of water.

And the sun, despite his loss, was restored to the position of king of  the skies because he too was needed to rebuild

Helping to Rebuild People’s Lives

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get out of Bunia (the city I live in). We quickly left the dusty, dirt roads of Bunia for the even rougher, although less dusty, roads of the small mountains nearby. After an hour and a half of snaking back and forth up the mountain we crested the ridge and were met by a stunning view of Lake Albert far below. The next hour was more or less downhill toward Geti, where we would be holding the distribution.

The line of people walking through the distribution lines to gather their kits.
The line of people walking through the distribution lines to gather their kits.

Three large trucks, carrying over 1000 kits for distribution, had already arrived at the soccer field by the time we got there. A large crowd was gathering and fences and ropes had been set up around the field to organize the distribution. The people receiving the kits had already been selected through a survey process done the week before, but that did not stop others from coming to watch. The variety of dress by some, with others holding brightly colored umbrellas, created such a large sea of colors that it felt as though we had to wade through an ocean just to get up to the entrance of the fence. The air was literally buzzing as people talked and waited in anticipation.IMG_1851

In order to enter onto the field each person had to present their ticket (given earlier) showing that they had been pre-selected. Inside the fence it was well organized with lines marked off by ropes, but outside the entrance it was somewhat chaotic, with no lines, as people jostled to get to the front. Once they got in they were registered as entering (name and ticket number) before moving onto the next station of the line.

Waiting in line to check out while holding babies, basins, and bags
Waiting in line to check out while holding babies, basins, and bags

This is where they began to get their kits, which were all Non-Food Items (NFI).  The first station was plastic jugs for carrying water, following by a plastic wash basin, then a large blue tarp, and finally the kit itself. Inside the kit (which is large plastic sack – like one of those industrial ones) are: clothing items, hygiene kits, cooking pots, spoons, knives, plates, cups, mats, blankets, rope, soap, small bucket, and large pieces of cloth). Altogether these kits weigh about 25-30 kg (55-70 lbs) and cost about $100. They are designed for households with an average of 6 people.

Kits to be handed out
Kits to be handed out

After receiving all these items the people checked out at the far end of the field and left with the new supplies for their household. Men and women alike hoisted the sacks onto their heads and balanced them there as they began their walk home (which could be over several kilometers).

The Walk Home
The Walk Home

I even saw some young kids carrying the heavy bags without too much trouble. Most of these people were those who had fled from the Geti area late last year but were now returning because things had calmed down. However, in the fleeing process most of their stuff had been stolen and their homes destroyed so these kits were given to help them rebuild their lives.IMG_1575

It was eye-opening to see how happy they were just to get some basic household items. Perhaps the most prized possession that they received were all the clothing items. Some had fled with just the clothes on their backs, so to get new shirts, jackets, and pants was a huge deal. Most of the clothing was randomly put in sacks, so there was no telling what size or gender of items the people would get. However, that did not stop them because they were able to trade with each other to find properly fitting clothes. I saw quite a few people actually dancing with excitement when they got a jacket or shirt that was the right size.

Checking out her new clothing
Checking out her new clothing

Overall it took about four hours to get all the kits out and thankfully there were no drastic problems. There are still more people that need help though so this coming weekend I’ll be going back to that area to help host a fair. The fair is where we bring in vendors and give people tokens to buy what they need instead of just being given a random assortment of goods. This process will be a three day event as we try to help over 1500 households.


Eastern Congo is an area heavily afflicted by various rebel groups. With these rebel groups comes conflict and with conflict comes refugees fleeing from the areas of violence. This past December, Samaritan’s Purse intervened into one of these conflict zones near the crossroad center called Komanda. SP stepped in to help the refugees that had gathered in the surrounding villages by hosting a fair.

A temporary house built for shelter for a fleeing family
A temporary house built for shelter for a fleeing family

A fair, in the NGO world, is essentially a formalized market paid for by an external source (in this case SP). SP gathers surveys on the displaced people, seeing who they are and what they need. They then proceed to gather a group of vendors that offer the goods that are needed. These two groups are then gathered together (usually in an open space, such as a soccer field). The refugees are given coupons with a monetary value and then allowed to pick and choose what products they need. The vendors in turn collect these coupons instead of money and then cash them in with SP when the fair is complete. This process helps stimulate the local economy while giving displaced people the freedom of choosing what they need instead of being handed out items they might already have.

I, along with a team of 8 others, drove to Komanda, in order to do post-fair evaluations this past week so that we could see what impact the fair had had on both beneficiaries and vendors.  This is that story:

Stopping for a break on the drive to Komanda

The drive there, despite being only 75km from SP’s base in Bunia, is often well over two hours due to the conditions of the roads. Nine people piled into a seven passenger Toyota Prado is also not very conducive to a comfortable the ride. Nonetheless, we made it safely and without any problems.

We arrived around 2 in the afternoon and decided to stay in the second hotel we examined. The first hotel actually had SP blankets in the rooms! Not their intended use to say the least. But it would be interesting to see how the blankets had moved from a refugee distribution to ending up in a hotel. The second hotel was an enclosed compound right in the heart of the center. We moved into our rooms without the owner present – he was ‘away’ but offered to come if we paid for his taxi. Needless to say, we declined that offer, but took the rooms and met him later on that evening. Its location near the city center allowed for us to be near most places, including the bars. Every night we could hear the various bars competing to see who could be the loudest, like waves rising up and crashing against each other. 

Our hotel for several nights
Our hotel for several nights

The rooms were simple enough. They were not very large and only had a bed (mosquito net included) with a small wooden table and chair. Not a bad deal for $10 a night, except for the heat. We had dropped a bit in elevation which made the air in Komanda thicker and therefore muggier. Even just sitting at night one would begin to sweat. That, compounded with the cloud of dust from the dry season continually settling over us, caused an ever present griminess to form on our skins. The hotel had showers to wash it off, but showering was an adventure of its own.

Every room is given a small plastic bucket. You then had to go over to the gate, where there was a huge caldron sitting on a wood fire. You proceed to fill your bucket half full with this heated water before going over to another blue barrel where you could fill the rest with cold water giving you a warm ‘shower.’ This barrel water is probably the dirtiest water you’ve ever seen. Even with only a couple inches left in my bucket I couldn’t see the bottom. The water is brought by kids every morning. They carry jugs on their backs, looped onto a piece of cloth around their forehead. It cannot be a pleasant job, especially because they have to do multiple trips in order to fill all the blue barrels.

Where gathered our water for showers
Where gathered our water for showers

After finally settling in we proceeded with the formalities of announcing ourselves and our mission to the local officials. We met with the heads of several offices, including the police chief and director of the merchants’ council.  Next we headed out to several of the nearby villages that we had decided to target in our first day of surveys. The point of this was to meet the village chiefs and let them know that we were coming so that they could find people that had participated in the fair. This would help us use time more efficiently rather than walking around asking each household if they had attended the fair.

Jonathan showing the chief and elders what our intent was and who we'd be interviewing.
Jonathan showing the chief and elders what our intent was and who we’d be interviewing.

We made it back to the hotel around 7pm and ordered our food from the small restaurant attached to the hotel. This was made on African time, meaning we didn’t get our food until about half past eight. Keep in mind as well that we hadn’t eaten since leaving Bunia because of how busy we’d been which meant we were all fairly hungry. For dinner I was finally able to enjoy fufu (manioc/cassava/gozo) with greens and a piece of chicken cooked in palm oil – a classic African meal, all eaten with your hands. Fufu is perhaps the most filling food one can eat, which probably explains some of its popularity in Africa. It is a thick white paste with a distinctly gooey texture. The chicken tasted like palm oil, and was more bones and some fatty skin than actual meat. The whole meal cost 2500 francs, or less than $3.

Left to Right: Cassava, Sombe (Cassava leaves), and chicken in palm oil
Left to Right: Cassava, Sombe (Cassava leaves), and chicken in palm oil

The next day started at 6 am. After rinsing off the night’s grime and getting dressed I walked across the street with some of our team and found a small shop that had small instant coffee packets. I was also able to buy a few small beignets (small, deep fried, dough rolls) to enjoy for breakfast. By 7am we were on the road to the villages.

We had targeted several villages for the day and would visit them in pairs of two. Due to the language barrier (the interviews would be held in Swahili), I was not part of an official team. Therefore I quickly joined the team going out to Matete because the said it was in the “bush.” To get there we drove about 8km from Komanda, then turned off onto a small road and drove another 4km. From there we had to get out walk on forest footpaths for 3km before coming upon a small cluster of houses.

The walk out to Matete took us through forests and tall grasslands
The walk out to Matete took us through forests and tall grasslands

The walk wasn’t hard at all and we were able to appreciate some of the forest of Congo, including incredibly tall trees. The villagers were also beginning the process of preparing their field for the rains in March. This process involves burning large portions to get rid of all the weeds and other stuff that has grown in the area since the last harvest so many of the fields (in between all the trees – no room for tractors meaning it’s all done by hand) were still smoldering in ashes.

I stayed in Matete for about two hours, watching the interviews and hanging out with the kids, before heading back.

An older sister looking after her brother in Matete
An older sister looking after her brother in Matete

I then went to another village were two of our group were holding a focus group. Instead of one-on-one interviews, they would select ten people (ideally half men, half women) and ask them a variety of other questions and get their input. However, it was hard to keep these selected people separate from the rest of the village which resulted in the focus group being closer to 20-30 people, not including all the children who were there as well.

Ezdras taking notes during a focus group
Ezdras taking notes during a focus group

The rest of the day I spent with the focus groups. We did two more after Pinzilli (the one mentioned above). One of the villages that we held a group at had actually been robbed several days before. They said over 20 armed men had come in and stolen pretty much all the goods they had gotten at the fair, as well as stole some livestock, and most tragically three teenage girls. Soldiers were looking into it, but nothing had been discovered or resolved as of yet.

A mother tells the story of being robbed by armed men
A mother tells the story of being robbed by armed men

Another village we visited was really a community of displaced people. They had set up temporary shelters all around a church in the center of the village. The houses were built with sticks and mud, and then had used SP tarps for the roofing. They had appreciated the fair and were using all the NFI (non-food items) that they had gotten, but the hardest part was finding food. Without their own gardens to tend, and no steady sources for jobs, it is hard for them to meet the day-to-day needs of food. This has forced them to sell and/or trade a lot of the stuff that they had bought at the fair in order to get food, leading them back into the circumstances they had had before the fair.

Temporary houses set up with SP tarps as roofs
Temporary houses set up with SP tarps as roofs

On the way back we visited the chiefs of the villages we’d see the next day in order to tell them we’d be coming and to prepare them for the interviews. By the time we got back it was already 5pm and we hadn’t eaten since early that morning. We all ordered manioc and meat again. In total that day I spent a 2500 francs, or less than $3, on food. Five-hundred was spent on breakfast, and only two-thousand for dinner. Of course water was another 1500 because you have to buy it bottled seeing as the local water isn’t suitable for drinking.

After dinner, Noel and Ezdras (two from our team) and I walked around the local market just to see it and met with several people. It was not a huge market, but decent size due to the crossroads of Komanda. You could find most anything you could need, and probably many of your wants as well. We then strolled down the road to a friend’s house where we talked for an hour about all sorts of topics, but mostly agriculture because they were all involved in that field. We were even able to sample local coco beans straight from the trees and make hot chocolate from the powder. We returned to the hotel by motorcycle and called it a night.

Ezdras and Noel getting ready to lead a focus group
Ezdras and Noel getting ready to lead a focus group

The next day was fairly similar to the first. We had selected the targeted villages and broke up into teams of two again to best use our time and man power. I went with Merry (our coordinator) to another displaced community that was being hosted by an Anglican church. There we did some one-on-one interviews, not based on the interview form, but more open ended in order to capture more of their personal testimony and stories.

Jauve pausing in her story and she told us about fleeing in the bush when rebels attacked her village
Jauve, pausing in her story, as she told us about fleeing in the bush when rebels attacked her village

It was an eye-opening experience to say the least as we got to hear about how these people had fled through the forest for almost a 100km on foot. They had not been able to take anything with them because had to leave in such a rush so they had arrived in Komanda with only the clothes on their backs. The fair had helped them get their feet under them again by provided essentials like cooking pots and blankets for which they were extremely grateful.

Catching a ride between villages (Ezdras, Merry, Jonathan, and myself)
Catching a ride between villages (Ezdras, Merry, Jonathan, and myself)

Everything was wrapped by mid-afternoon so we started organizing all the data before dinner. We ate another meal of fufu and meat before going to bed. Saturday morning we made the return drive to Bunia, once again without any difficulties except for the discomfort of the road and the crowdedness of the car, both bearable. It was encouraging to see how the work of SP in Komanda was benefitting the people in very visible and tangible ways. However, it was also hard to see people living in those situations, knowing that it’s not their home and that they could always use more. For every person we had helped during the fair, there was probably another four or five that didn’t get anything even though they needed it.  Nonetheless, the impact we had made was overall positive and the people sincerely appreciated the help that had been given.

Kids pausing from the days activities
Kids pausing from the days activities

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The haphazard chronicles and musings of a global nomad.


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