At 4:00 a.m., Nikki wakes me up. She has just thrown up and feels awful; do I have anything for it? I get up and sit with her for a while. I give her some naproxen sodium and some Tums. After she throws up a second time, I give her my Cipro. She goes back to bed. Probably stress, I think: we haven’t been in-country long enough for her to pick up a local bug.
Meanwhile, I press my uniform and take a shower. Church bells start ringing at 5:30. I sit at the table in the quiet of the morning and drink instant coffee with chicory – which is interesting the first time you drink it, but palls on you. I will wear my Silver Torch award, the highest award I brought with me. Have to be pretty for the interview; have to do Ntambo proud.
Governor Moise Katumbe, Governor of Katanga Province, had heard of our visit and called Bishop Ntambo, asking for us to drop by and meet with him. This was the first of many schedule changes for our trip. Lots of people are excited to see us. As we stand on the street outside the Governor’s compound, I keep hearing and reading bits of Swahili among the French. Some people say, “Wazungu!” meaning “white people.” Some refer to us or greet us as “Wamerikani!” (Americans). But several point us out as “Scouts” (pronounced scoots in French), and many greet us with the Scout sign.
The Governor is a former Scout himself. We present him with an American Scout and a Ministry of Scouting patch from NAUMS as Bishop/Senator Ntambo makes the introductions and leads in the courtesies. This is a very big deal. The Governor of Katanga is a bigger fish than the Governor of Indiana. Katanga is a very large and important province, with lots of mineral wealth. Back in the early days of independence, there had been an attempt at secession by Katangans, which the locals remember (I remember it too, on the news as a young boy). Governor Katumbe’s main job is trying to keep more of Katanga’s wealth for Katanga’s development – which means keeping it out of the hands of the central government and the various kleptocrats in Kinshasa. He’s a popular governor, doing a good job in a difficult position. Making time for Scouts means giving aid and comfort to a program that builds up the communities in his bailiwick.
The Governor and Bishop are very comfortable with each other. I’ve mentioned before that the Bishop is also a Senator, so they travel in many of the same circles. But more than that, Ntambo is a man out to regenerate his country, and he and the Governor recognize many of the same motives in each other. Of course, as a leader of the Church, the Bishop is out to regenerate people in the specifically Christian sense, but part of the mission of the Church is also to lift up the poor and give people hope. The UMC in the DRC – and especially the North Katanga espiscopal area – has quadrupled during Ntambo’s tenure in the midst of a war. When everyone else bugged out, the Church stayed – which means, pastors stayed, risking (and sometimes losing) their lives to comfort the people and reconcile warring factions. The Bishop’s a fun guy to be around, but let’s not forget, he’s also a great man who casts a large shadow on the world stage. I would be proud to have him as my bishop.
After the very cordial meeting with the Governor, we go out for pictures with the press. Bishop Ntambo is interviewed by local TV standing in our midst. Yes, this is a very big deal. We had no idea.
Governor Moise Katumbe with Bishop Ntambo and the team
Photo by someone using Bob’s camera
After the meet-and-greet, Ntambo takes us to his favorite pizza place. There’s a little bystreet with some upscale shops in it and there, side by side are a pizza and a fried chicken place – chain restaurants from South Africa. We think we should rename Chicken Inn, “Katanga Fried Chicken.” The pizza is very good: a little on the sweet side, but then, Africans love their sugar. The Chicken Bacon Barbecue pizza comes with corn on it, which tastes fine, but seems a little weird to us.
Bishop Ntambo Nkulu
The bishop takes us out for pizza
Art, Fred, Mitch, Dave in all our glory
Photo by Taylor Denyer
We are taking a new bus to Tenke, one just put into service for a new bus line. Bob says, he keeps trying to say we are on a hardship tour, but people keep insisting on making it easy on us. Still, an African bus is not the place for an introvert. There are no empty seats. The Bishop is following in his car, which is transporting our luggage, since there’s no way to get our bags off the bus until it arrives in Kolwezi, which is beyond Tenke.
As we drive through towns, I look at the houses. Middle class houses in Africa tend to be walled compounds, often with razor wire or broken glass embedded in the mortar atop the walls. In a land of many who are desperately poor, this is the only way to protect what you have. Bob says the houses seem normal after a while. It reminds me of Milan under the Visconti, or Florence under the Medici; the haves of Renaissance Italy erected walls to protect themselves from the have-nots then, too.
As we bounce along, I tease Phred with wordplay. You are in Congo, I say; Congo is in Africa; Africa is a continent; therefore, you are in-continent – which, considering your age, isn’t really surprising. It would be funnier if all the travel weren’t making Phred feel every bit of his age right now. The three and a half hour ride is a real butt-buster, especially after the punishing air travel to get here!
The road from Lubumbashi to Kolwezi is one of the few well paved roads in the DRC. Everywhere else, travel is unimaginably difficult. The easiest way to get to Kamina, the Conference headquarters town, is by bush plane. As we drive along, I notice little groups of houses along the road. All are made of locally-fired red brick with tin roofs. Most of the roofs are held down with rocks or blocks. Bob points out that nails are expensive, and besides, they put holes in your roof, which seems nonsensical to the locals.
We cross the Congo River – here, about as big as the White or the Eel back home. No hint of what it will become, one of the great rivers of the world. We pass through Likasi, which seems like a nice town. Just beyond that is Mulungwishi Theological Seminary, which has trained most of the ordained ministers in Central Africa for the UMC, at least before Africa University was founded.
When we arrive at the bus stop where the road to Tenke turns off, we are met by a delegation of pastors (some robed) and church members and Scouts. We are driven about halfway, but then we have to get out to walk the last two and a half or three miles into Tenke. There’s a parade, you see, and we are the guests of honor. Scouts grab our stuff to carry into town, and we step off. Soon, we are greeted by an official Scout welcoming committee. We are given flowers. The Scouts march with us to the beat provided by many whistles. Everybody’s singing. After a while, we are greeted again by a church youth welcoming committee. Then, as we enter the town, by the United Methodist Women. All the groups are dressed in their best, all greet us in their best English, everybody sings and dances all along the way. As we round the corner of the main drag in town, we are pulled to the side to be introduced to the Chief (like a mayor) of Tenke. I remember to take off my hat. He and his staff are all old Scouts and greet us with the Scout Sign and handclasp.
The parade moves on to the church and we are seated up front. The Bishop, wearing a team t-shirt, preaches in both English and Swahili. He greets the Scouts, Bascout toujours! and they all raise the Scout sign. Lots of singing and dancing. Lots of drums, including a traditional log set in the middle of the nave. I am asked to say a few words. Now, I’ve been to Africa before; I know the drill. I was expecting the welcome and the invitation to greet the church. Still, this is overwhelming.
After the welcome, we relax in the parsonage of DS Mumba. In introducing the team, I mentioned that Nikki was married. Given the realities of Congolese society, it is more shocking that Nikki is traveling without her husband – and after only one year of marriage! – than that she’s a doctoral candidate at a major US university. So Ntambo loans his satellite phone to Nikki to call her husband Tom and tell her she’s okay. After a brief rest, we’re walked down the street to the local guest house. I’ve stayed in worse places. No running water, but Baba DS will see that hot water is brought every morning to wash in. There's a western-style toilet you flush with a bucket. We turn in early; we are exhausted.
The first welcoming committee
A little overwhelming
Photo by Bob Walters
the Mumba family cat