Dancers to the rhythm of the beat and the percussion that made the beat!

Adventure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

When the opportunity presents itself, it is always so much better to fly in Africa instead of going it by land.  I traveled by land in Liberia way too much.  I put in my dues.  I was so glad to board a private plane to go to Kamina from Lubumbashi.  Our flight for 350 miles was an hour in a half. The other option was by land.  In the dry season, it could have been three or four days, but in the rainy season it would have been an unbearable week or two!  Like I said, when you can fly, go for the friendly skies.

As our little plane settled in front of the air terminal in Kamina, I was reminded just how much I love Africa.  My little gang of eleven people from Ohio was welcomed like royalty.  Now, if this happened in Liberia, one of us would have received a live chicken.  What do you do with a live chicken?  You say thank you and feel the honor.  But, still, what do you do with a live chicken?  Seriously?  Our arrival felt closer to the awards ceremony at the Olympics.  We lined up in a row and directly opposite were eleven beautiful children with eleven fresh bouquets of flowers. That would have been enough, but it wasn't the end.  Just outside the gate, a crowd awaited with dancers and musicians as well as children who were obviously threatened not to touch - or in any way harass - the visitors.

The celebration grew louder and wilder once we joined the party.  And, I loved every moment.  A choir of women in matching African dresses sang and danced to the beat created by men with homemade instruments that resembled xylophones made from gourds. Male singers chanted into megaphones.  As for the children, well, they strained to get as close to the visitors as possible without touching.  They were under the watchful eye of a village elder who glared at them, and threatened in a language that meant nothing to me, if they got any closer than accepted.

Now, in Africa, you can't just safely observe.  The swaying choir women edged closer and closer.  Without any warning, two women grabbed an arm of each of us, pulling us into the crowd, and we too swayed to the music.  Of course, I didn't sway nearly as gracefully, but I still swayed.

And, then it was over. Way too soon!

Homemade instruments and the "purse" that welcomed me to the DRC!

We were supposed to file out of the crowd and get our transportation. Well, it isn't out of character for me to not follow the crowd.  While everyone else headed left to the trucks, I went right to the percussion section that was in full out concert mode.  One woman had a basket, kind of like a purse, that she rattled away to the rhythm of the beat.  I asked to borrow it and did my own rattling.  Then, another woman indicated that I should do my rattling with the basket above my head. Now it is totally out of character for me to do that, but I rattled and shook things that rarely ever get rattled and shaken.  I was welcomed into Kamina with a grand African experience while nobody else in my group had a clue to what I was doing.

If you read the story of the mural, you know about the three inconveniences that came together as a challenging "perfect storm" for my patience.  Well, that frustration never lasted long.  During one moment of chaos, Pastor Kimba came into the mural room.  He saw me shaking and rattling when nobody else was looking, and he knew I wanted my own rattle as a souvenir.  So, he brought the Congolese woman from the percussion section with her instrument to see me. Kimba bought the actual instrument for me.  That sweet little woman came to present the gift.  It was such a joyous moment and, yes, there was a little more dancing.

Our experience with drums and African singing wasn't limited to our arrival in Kamina.  In the morning, way too early to be out of bed, the drums pounded and the devout sang to the Lord as loud as they could.  I couldn't sleep.  I don't know how anyone could.  Under the circumstances, if you can't beat 'em, you know what to do.  I grabbed my flashlight as well as my rattle, and then headed into the darkness.  It was the first time I ever located a church by the sound.

I fully intended to use my rattle and enjoy the moment shaking what I could.  And, as luck would have it, the music stopped when I was about a block away.  Praying started after that and it wasn't hard to find that church.  Africans know how to pray.  But, I was not about to be denied the use of my rattle.  It just wouldn't be in darkness during the wee hours of the morning.  The following day, in the middle of the annual Methodist conference, I was fully prepared for the moment.

Giving a shout out, one of the many men in the choir with a megaphone

The bishop told my group that we were in a country similar to Iran and that we could now consider ourselves hostages.  The American women went one direction and men went another.  There was really nothing to worry about except the heat.  My hair was soaked and I felt the perspiration running down my back.  Did I seriously need another layer of clothing?  I don't think so.  Did I have a choice?  Again, I don't think so. The women were decked out in African gowns and the men received African shirts.

Now, you don't just put on these ceremonial clothes without any ceremony.  A choir of dancing women as well as men singing into megaphones joined us in a parade down the center aisle of the congregation.  Drums pounded away, but those carved out logs were just too heavy to tote around.  And, as for me, I was prepared.  I shook my rattle, and a couple other things, to the delight of the crowd.  If I shook my rattle in the direction of the crowd (and shook nothing else in that direction) the people went nuts.  I might have been drenched in sweat and in need of a shower, but I celebrated an African moment that I will treasure forever.