We continue our interview with Stan about his childhood in Congo. Kanyinda, what was school like?
“Another missionary who lived on our station home schooled us for our early grades. In fourth grade I went to the missionary children’s boarding school. It was a two-day trip by car to that school. That first year I was very lonely, missing my parents, but then I made friends. In addition to school we had a great deal of freedom, we went hiking, etc. Although we had school work to do and cared for our rooms. I guess I had so much fun in my daily life that I didn’t realize I was doing chores.”
Children reading this may become jealous of your childhood, Stan. What kind of pets did you have in Congo?
“We had several parrots, a squirrel and a few monkeys. The Congolese would often bring birds to sell us for pets. They still sell them for pets or for food. Even small birds are eaten. They use a very sticky sap that they spread on tree branches to catch the birds.
“When we were in Africa this last time someone wanted to sell me a young Civet Cat for a pet. It was kind of a cute little thing with the black and white rings on its tail and its long snout. But of course, I couldn’t bring it back to America with me.”
Next week Brad will tell us what it was like to return to Congo in 2007 after an absence of many years.
Last week Stan, Kanyinda told us about moussa or bidia, a staple food in Congo. This week I’ve asked him to tell us about some of the other foods he ate as a child.
“The fruit was amazing: Mangoes, papaya, oranges, and pineapple. I also liked roasted palm nuts and fried plantain (this looks like a banana, but is more starchy like a potato).
“Our mother had a garden and employed a native gardener. We had fruit trees and vegetables. We also bought eggs, bananas and other produce from the Africans. We paid for these items wit Belgian francs and sometimes my folks traded ties for eggs.”
Excuse me? You traded what?
“We traded men’s ties and colorful scarves for eggs. The Africans like the bright colors and patterns of men’s ties. They like to dress up—wear suits and ties.
“They dress up for special occasions and for church. Teachers and preachers might dress up more because of their position. Office workers in the city also wear business suits and nice dresses. Usual sights to see in the city are workers carrying their shoes while they walk miles to work barefoot. They save their shoes to keep them nice.”
Next week Stan will tell us what school was like for him in Congo.
One way to make a place come alive in our imagination is to use our senses. I’ve asked Stan Graber (Kanyinda) to tell us about some of the sights and smells of Congo.
“I remember the smell of burning tree branches and charcoal–items used for open cooking fires. When we returned to Congo we could smell a village before we got there because of the smoke from those fires.
“There is also the smell of maniac flour cooking and the spicy food the Congolese like. They prefer to cook with hot peppers, tomatoes, and greens. They use palm oil made from palm nuts. The oil has a red color so the gravy is usually red, too. The greens look like cooked spinach.
“They serve this red gravy in a separate bowl from the Moussa or Vidia (pronounced Vedea, long e sounds). They ball up the moussa between their fingers and dip it in the gravy. They rarely have meat, but if they do they’ll use their fingers/thumbs to scoop it out of the sauce/gravy.
“They cook the moussa/vidia over their open fires. They hold the pot with their feet (ouch) while they slowly mix in the moussa flour with an eighteen-inch long paddle. They combine the flour with either corn meal or a flour made from millet. In our region they mainly used corn meal which I prefer to the millet.”
Thank you, Stan. I’ll add a few comments about my experience with moussa.
A kind of chicken gravy is sometimes served over the cooked maniac. Maniac is a poisonous root (has arsenic), but the Africans have found a way to make it safe to eat. They soak it for several days in river water. They dry it out on the river banks or on drying racks made of sticks and pound the dried roots into flour. After that it is mixed with water and cooked. In a way it has become their staple. They serve the spicy chicken broth or vegetable/palm oil gravy over the cooked maniac in the same way that we would serve gravy over mashed potatoes.
My husband’s aunt, Elda Hiebert was a missionary nurse/midwife in Congo. On her return she treated us to a traditional dinner. To me the prepared moussa looks rather gray and dense when it’s prepared. It is very filling. The missionaries and their children seem to love it as much as the natives. Maniac helps fill stomachs when there isn’t much else available, but it isn’t very nutritious. Please keep the Congolese in your prayers. It is a daily struggle for many to get enough food.
I look forward to meeting with you here next Tuesday.
In today’s blog post, Stan (Kanyinda), continues the story of his childhood in Congo.
“Growing up in the Congo was idyllic for me. When I got up in the morning, it seemed the world was my playground. My siblings and I, as well as village children rode our wagon down the hill from our home. When I was a child that hill seemed a long way from home. I felt like I had such freedom.
“Our entire lives seemed carefree. We ran to the forest and played.
“Three to five missionary families lived on the station at any one time. Each family had their own home. There was also a print shop for printing Bibles, hymnbooks, and other literature in the native languages. A hospital was on the station, too.
“Well-maintained paths and roads ran between the various buildings on the station. This allowed access for commercial vehicles as well as the missionary vehicles. Those paths and roads also provided fine places for me to ride Yambu’s bike, which I did regularly.”
Stan is the oldest of the two brothers. I’ve asked Stan to describe his first childhood memory of Congo.
“The first memory that comes to mind is learning to ride a bicycle. It was commonplace for the Missionaries to hire natives to stand watch and guard the mission homes. This gave the Congolese pay that they could count on, a sense of pride in their responsibility, and an opportunity to observe these Christians up close.
“The missionaries also hired cooks and gardeners. Thus freed from these tasks, the missionaries could concentrate on the reasons God had sent them to Africa: to teach the people about Jesus. They came as translators, as doctors, as nurses, as preachers, and teachers. Many of the native languages had never been translated into written words. By turning these spoken languages into written languages, the missionaries gave the people an opportunity to read God’s Word for themselves in their heart language.
“The Congolese are very generous people: An example of that generosity was a young man named Yambu.
“Yambu, was hired to be a sentry by my parents. Yambu owned a bicycle. He taught me how to ride. We became such good friends that Yambu told me, ‘What’s mine is yours. You may ride my bicycle any time you wish.’
“In Congo bicycles are considered valuable assets. They not only provide transportation, but they are lifeline—a means of getting food to the market for sale or trade.
“Yambu was sharing his most prized possession. This was a precious recognition of friendship. My name became Kanyinda.”
Loosely translated, Kanyinda means that Stan is a friend.
Be sure to check out the Project Page. Listed under Community Projects/Micro-Business is a photo and description of a current Hope 4 Congo project developing Cargo Bikes for the Congolese.