Congo

Model Houses

Mom came back from an errand yesterday with a model house.

A model house with a porch, blue windows, and pots along the side, with little plants inside of it, a slanted roof of grey slate tiles (believe me, we don’t have those here) and a small handkerchief of clipped green lawn. She bought it for 2,000 CFA and said the young man at the school she was at makes them, “on the side”. Dad is going to commission models to be made for him on a regular basis, and I kept looking at the house, as if the miniature door and thumb-sized windows could somehow accommodate my head if I decided to suddenly shove it inside and live there instead of somewhere out here, which always looks so much more confusing.

It reminded me all of a sudden of that little ten-year old boy—in this part of the world, it’s surprising how many life-changing, epic moments have at their core, “a ten-year old boy” or “that little girl in a blue dress”, children here are protagonists, they count, and play a role, and are expected to, they’re not second-class citizens whose main job is to go to school and “grow up”, which I’ve never thought about until I left, and nothing was expected of kids.

That ten year-old boy of twelve years ago and the last sentence I left hanging, who one day, on our way back from school, hopped onto the step-up of our Land Cuiser and held out large rubber-tree leafs that were carved into masks with a razor-blade. I remember dad stopping the car, and pulling the masks into the car, delicately, appreciating them with his attention, and finally buying them. That little boy was incredible, I still see in this humid nostalgia I hold most of my childhood in, like a perfect snow globe of the tropics, the shining face of that little boy, with an expression of pride and glee, a hint mischievous as always, as if there were a single multi-faceted joke, running through the universe that kept everyone together and from falling apart. I had a friend, around the same time, who would always punctuate things with a giggle. Terrible things, tragic things, jokes.

But the best thing about this memory that came back in our blazing infernally hot kitchen is that I love the appreciation my parents have given me for talent and wherever it springs up. The ability to recognize talent is in my view the fundamental quality of an artist, and a human being above all. That’s what loving people is about, being able to see what they can do, what they are capable of, and what they do well, and encouraging that in whatever way you can. In essence, that’s what development is. Social, economic development, growth. Life. Progress.

Every time I come back to Congo I wonder why I ever left and now I’m starting to wonder why I leave every time.

I’ve been living for years now in places where I’m marginalized. By choice and by circumstance, obviously, but mostly, when you don’t fit into a place, the cause and the situation doesn’t matter so much as this feeling of non-involvment.

It’s like being a spectator of a sport you don’t understand the rules to.

The danger here is that this is what happens to people like me who are transient wherever they land, never intend to be there long and don’t open their suitcases so to speak. I don’t learn the language, I don’t spread out my wings, and I don’t plainly stay long enough to GET IT.

I should get it, though. I should care, and see the humanity in everyone and understand their struggles, in Paris or Haifa or everywhere, I should connect to the cultures, and learn the language, but somehow…it doesn’t really work that way. Here, I arrive, and I unpack my suitcases, and I see the beauty and the nobility and the relevance. That’s what gets me. The relevance. I don’t have to make an effort to see it. And what’s more, I care so easily.

It’s been a long time, for me. But instantly, it happens. Hearing today of this Espoir milicia (the name ironically enough means Hope) that terrorizes the people of the city (they’re a renegade branch of the police that you call and they beat up the person who took this or that or who did this or that) and of these third grade children who no longer care or of these 25-year olds who are starting their own publishing business or of my friend who wants a baby or of people’s apprenticeship trainings, I remember a life of being a part of a community.

Being part of a community is no longer wanting to shove your head inside a model house but actually having the keys to the house and mowing the lawn to a real one. Maybe this isn’t where I’m going to end up living, and we’ll see this in due course but at least I can say that Congo reminds me of my heart and my humanity time and time again and those are things that need reviving sometimes.

The wandering traveler, the rolling stone does have a home. And moss, with its attendant humidity, once in a while…does a body, and a soul, good.

One thought on “Model Houses

  1. Damn you Vi!
    Stop writing like this, my productivity is suffering!
    Loving your words. It’s like opening a flower, with all the resident colour and aroma as well as all those sticky bits of pollen work their way under your finger nails so that, days later, when you least expect it, you brush an eyelash from your cheek and are once again enveloped in the scent of your words.
    So it’s book time for you. That way I can finally go home and read you in bed.

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