One of the goals Stephanie and I made before coming to Congo was to make new friends, and to regularly invite into our home other MAF families, expats, and Congolese people. The two months we’ve spent in Africa have been incredibly busy, both with IT projects, and with getting settled into our new home. Still, we have been trying to practice hospitality, and form new friendships. While our MAF team has quickly become our surrogate family, and we’ve met some expats from other organizations, making friends with locals has been a bit more challenging. Since we still don’t speak French or Swahili that well, it’s always nice to come across Congolese who speak some English.
We were introduced to one such person by another of our MAF team. Nobi owns a shop in the Bunia market. We’ve gone there several times for one thing or another during our time here. Even if we don’t need something he carries, it’s a stop we make every time we go to the Market just for some small talk. As far as any progress toward our goal of making friends with Congolese was going, this was about as close as we were coming, so on one of my visits I decided to ask him and his family to dinner at our home. His face lit up, and he gladly accepted.
This Sunday afternoon as we scurried about the house cleaning, we kept nervously checking the front gate. It had been raining all afternoon, and in Congolese culture when the rain starts, everything else stops. We didn’t know when–or if–our guests would arrive, so we didn’t begin preparing the food. When they did finally arrive, Stephanie and I took turns talking to them and running to the kitchen. One of us would bring tea or Cokes, then the other would go start the hamburger patties. Then we’d switch again, and one would slice cheese. Then one would fry the potatoes. Then one would slice tomatoes. On and on we went like this rotating between cooking and visiting with our guests. By that I mean with Nobi, because his wife and kids don’t speak English either. We felt like terrible hosts!
When at last we all sat down to eat Stephanie and I couldn’t help but feel a even more disappointed with ourselves. Our attempt at a nice American meal of cheeseburgers and fried potatoes was mediocre; we didn’t add any seasonings the meat, there was no ketchup or mustard, and while the potatoes were good, we should have made more. On top of all that, our girls were fighting, and Omri was shrieking for food. What else could go wrong?
As we sat eating, Nobi said to us, “Today has been a very good day!” I began wondering what happened earlier that he hadn’t mentioned. Certainly he couldn’t be talking about braving the rain to come sit in our living room while we ran around like fools, only to eat a less-than-stellar meal.
“When you came and invited me here, I was so happy,” he continued in all sincerity. “Now I can say, it has been a good day–the best since I was born!” My jaw dropped. Did he just tell me this was the best day of his life!?!? After taking a second to process the words I had just heard, I smiled and we continued our meal.
Later that night after Nobi and his family left, Stephanie and I discussed the evening. To us, it had been an embarrassment, but Nobi had called it the best of his life. We felt incredibly humbled, shocked, a little uneasy, and ashamed of our own poor attitudes. The whole experience is still messing with my mind. Did our willingness to extend friendship really mean that much to him?
I think it did. While he was here, Nobi said that we were friends, and upon hearing that all our relatives are still Stateside, he said we were family. Family. After last night we went from barely having Congolese friends to having Congolese family.
We’re still trying to process how it all happened!