So, I'm going to divert from my normal subject and tell a few cultural stories.
Having lived here for almost 4 years now, I realize that certain things are now "normal" to me. It is normal to have very low power levels all the time. It is normal for there to be no power right during dinner when all the kids are screaming. It is normal to not have water even when it is pouring rain outside. It is normal to have UN helicopters flying over my house regularly. It is normal to have white UN convoys driving all over, full of men from Pakistan. And, it is normal to see guns everywhere. All kinds and shapes of guns. Small guns, guns with machetes, machine guns, bazookas, and so on. Carried by all different uniformed people. Some uniforms can hardly stay on the person they are so old, some have new uniforms with full flak jackets and riot gear. I have no idea what most of the uniforms signify. I know the majority, the police and the military, but then there are the private security forces, the special guard, the secret police and other various "armed groups". I was particularly struck by how normal this has seemed to me, when I was walking my girls to school the other morning. We live in one of the richest areas of the city, down the street from a UN base. It is a peninsula and full of big houses with compound walls and 24/7 guards. Mostly rich folks, UN folks, and NGO folks (like us). So, I'm walking and Natalie says, "what's that mom?". Um, I have on idea what to say. I had already seen it, but as it was just another gun, I sort of kept walking without a second thought. What is was, was one of those guns that are usually in airplanes that you wind the handle and let loose hundreds of bullets within seconds. It was huge and in the back of a beat up pickup truck with about 10 guys in "uniforms". No big deal. There was another pick up truck next to that one with about 15 guys, again in "uniforms", with all kinds of guns, big and bad. I guess it was some kind of private security force for some V.I.P. The thing was, I wasn't scared or nervous at all. It was normal. No big deal. I just kept pushing my girls next to them on my way to school.
The other day the battery on our land cruiser was dead. So, we need a jump start, or in this case, a push start. I start pushing and so does my friend. We made a pitiful picture. It was every so slightly downhill going backwards so we pushed and pushed. A truck slowed down full of....yup, lots of men, in uniforms and lots of guns. They stared. Surprisingly, didn't laugh or make "mzungu" comments. Before I know it the guy driving barks orders at them and they all jump out and push that car about 200 yards. They were running with their guns flapping on their backs. Then it starts. They jump back in the truck and off they go. If it wasn't for the uneasy feeling I got when they slowed down by us, or for the fact that they had all these huge guns, and I had NO idea what uniforms they were wearing or who they were, for a moment I could have been in a place where uniforms mean good things and guns are for the protection of the civilian population.
Congolese love babies and children. They are never in the way, or a bother. They are a blessing and a blessing when you have many. I have no doubt this is true. Every day I experience this. From polite questions to the woman that must grab and love on my babies. My babies bring me a lot attention. Yes, because I'm white, a "mzungu", and two of the four are "noir", but also because I am also a mom with lots of cute babies. People are curious, "are they twins" "are they yours" "their father must be really black" "actually do you have two husbands""are they all twins" "are they from Colombia" "can I have your children""can you marry me" etc. etc. A lot of the comments I don't even understand because they are in swahili. For the most part though, when I tell folks about Ellie and Mia and that they were orphans, most of the time, I get, "God bless you, what you are doing is a good thing". Because, even though orphans aren't always treated well, they are always to be pitied. I know that sort of sounds bad, but what I mean is that orphans are a source of sadness for a lot of people. It is a recognition that someone has died and now the child is alone. And that is a very sad position to be in. And there is too much death and sadness here, and the orphaned children, are the greatest tragedy of the fallen place their country is in, and it brings them much sadness. Most people have orphans in their home. It is the rare congolese woman or man who does not have an "orphan" living with them. Most often the "orphans" are actually their own relatives. In the end, I will miss that about this culture, how much babies and children are loved.
The other day, I was driving with my friend. She said, what is wrong with that boy? I didn't even see a boy, but we stopped. There was a boy, looked to be about 10 years old who was curled up fallen on the side of the dirty street in the dust. Some people milled around him. He didn't stir. We stopped. He was hungry and had collapsed. We put him in the car with us. He would barely talk. It was clear he was a street boy. My friend recognized him as a boy that participates in a local outreach to street boys, though he had recently run away. He said his name was Chance, that he was 12. He was thin, dirty, quiet. We got him some food. He finally told us where to take him. He asked to go back to a catholic run street children's home that he had run away from. They recognized him and took him back. I walk by street kids all the time. Honestly, they really annoy me. They get in my face and are too persistent. I don't know how to handle it. I don't like the person I see in myself when they come to talk to me and ask me for money. I annoy myself. This little boy would have annoyed me and I would have ignored him if he had come up to me on the street, I would have thought, "he's really not that hungry", or "he'll just buy glue to sniff". That is the ugly reality of my heart. I'm not so good really, not at all. When he was in the car, all of a sudden, he was real. He was my responsibility, I couldn't walk by him or ignore the reality of the consequences of his poor decisions. He was my boy for that one hour. He was also a little boy with no hope. None. I couldn't put him back on the street. Thank God he wanted us to take him back to the boy's home.