Monday, November 12, 2012

Pulling Back the Veil

Some time ago I watched a video that touched me deeply. The video depicts scenes and people from everyday life in Afghanistan. This is an Afghanistan not seen in the news—a place and people obscured by turmoil and war. In an interview with The Atlantic, the filmmakers said, “With this film we don't want to exclude the ongoing war but we wanted to show another reality of Afghanistan, which shows daily life that is still going on.”

I hope that by sharing my story of growing up in the DR Congo, I too will be able to show you another reality of my home, one which is about solidarity and universal experience, more so than war and poverty. With this memoir I hope to draw back the veil on some of the scenes of daily life, the beauty, joy, and resourcefulness of the people that has been buried beneath the more dominant story of the ongoing war in the DR Congo.

One of my most vivid memories of my childhood was accompanying my mom to her restaurant in the commercial district of our village. The sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling rural market where everyone traveled on foot or by bike were forever imprinted on my young mind. It was a community of people who were deeply connected—held together by a mutual need and experience. Here I came to understand the value of social capital. I witnessed the extraordinary resourcefulness and determination of people working with the resources that were available to them that day. And above all, I came to learn my mother’s business philosophy which placed greater importance on the dignity of others than immediate financial profit.

Here is an early excerpt describing these experiences. Please comment and share your impressions!

The Village

Twenty minutes later we were approaching the village’s commercial district. The road on either side of us was lined with towering mango and flamboyant trees, their vibrant red and yellow, five-petal flowers and waxy green leaves creating a corridor of brilliant color. Along the way, we passed other travelers on bike or foot, and Mom greeted each of them. It would have been almost unheard of to pass someone without acknowledging them. Several times on the ride, when we had passed one of Mom’s close friends, or someone of special importance, Mom had stopped and gotten off the bike to pay her respects and get the latest news.

Now, as we entered the market neighborhood, I saw that almost every house that we passed had its own flamboyant tree in front. In the shade cast by the umbrella of branches, each homeowner had set up their own small stand selling a wide variety of produce and livestock. We passed merchants selling crowded stalks of bananas, chickens in hand-woven crates, bushels of leafy green legumes, small, strong-smelling pineapples, ripe red tomatoes, goats standing placidly at the end of their tethers. There were mushrooms of all shapes and sizes—baskets full of mushrooms as small as buttons, and individual mushrooms as large as umbrellas; red, pink, and yellow tree mushrooms, freshly harvested from the forest. In a flash, I saw small, egg-shaped eggplants with a wonderful bitter taste unlike eggplants in the U.S., and baskets of small edible seeds, or sacks of dried wax worms—a special delicacy. I gripped Mom’s waist tightly as I drank in all of the new sights, sounds and smells of village life outside of the Mission.

Our first destination was the huge open market two blocks from the restaurant where Mom bought the ingredients she would need for that day. Located at the intersection of four different regions, Musumba was a major center of commerce for indigenous residents. Traders came from all directions to buy and sell their goods in our village. And today, like usual, the market was bustling—everywhere I looked people were unloading things from their bikes, arranging their goods, and shouting greetings to Mom and one another. Never had I seen so many people in one place.

They were all around us—walking, talking, laughing, singing, greeting each other, and hollering to attract customers. For those who already had a captive audience, the dance of making a deal had begun. The negotiations were endless, as the prices were never set, but instead determined by what the seller thought the customer could afford, and how eager they were to sell their stock. Gesturing and laughing, vendors and customers, went back and forth, playing the game by in turn bluffing and calling each other’s bluffs. These interactions were quite time-consuming and through this practice strong relationships were built up slowly over time.

[This chapter goes on to talk about the way bartering and credit worked in the market; the daily flag-raising ceremony; Mom’s restaurant, how she prepared food, and how her customers were served and ate; Mom’s business philosophy; and my experiences playing with children from the village (outside of the Mission).]

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to your sharing more and experiencing life through your pen!