My husband came back a week earlier than the kids and I, so he had time to adjust his eyes to his surroundings before coming to collect us at the airport. He smirked as my eyes shifted back and forth while I took in the landscape from the passenger seat. I’m sure my head was spinning around in a similar fashion the year before, but this time the feeling was different. I wasn’t looking around in disbelief that we were actually going to live here. By now it had become our new normal. This time I felt like I was simply taking it in to see if anything had changed; kinda like when I drive down my old street in Thunder Bay after not having been there for two or three years. I wanted to know what was new in town.
Turns out, not a lot was new in Pointe Noire.
But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
We got back to the compound and were greeted by the smiling faces of the guards. It was like time stood still over the summer. Since most families had been gone since school let out, they were happy to have some action back on site.
I was, somewhat shockingly, happy to be back in our apartment. For the time in years, I didn’t arrive to somewhere empty, where I was awaiting a shipment from overseas. Everything was set up to start the year, all we needed was a trip to the market to stock up on fruits and veggies. At the school gate it was comforting to know the ropes instead of wondering what to do. And in the community of our international association, instead of being asked my name, I was being asked if I might want to be the president. It was liberating to not be the new girl. We hit the ground running.Because everything was already in place for us, we had things to do right away; no need to wait for the community to start activities in order for us to meet people. We went to dinner with friends, and already had a babysitter that wrapped our kids up in a giant hug, thrilled to see them again. Our social life was also off to a good start.
A couple days in there was a message to see if anyone could help pick some people up at the airport. I had no plans, so was happy to help, not knowing my heart was about to burst.
Mwana Villages is an orphanage here in Congo, where I spent some of my time helping out last year. It’s a holistic orphanage, supporting families in need, and taking in abandoned children. They’ve teamed up with The Archibald Project in the States and this week, there was seven children who would be meeting their forever families.
So what did that mean to me? Kids who I’ve cuddled, played with, and changed their diapers, would be meeting their parents for the first time in the morning. I felt honoured to be their first point of contact in Congo…of course being a bilingual international-local was my biggest contribution, but I was happy to be a part of this experience, no matter how small my role. The love radiating from these people was contagious! I didn’t know who I was happier for, the kids I already knew, or the parents who were about to meet their kids.
After getting to know some of the families, I learned that two couples were here to take their kids home, and others were in Congo to meet officials etc. and wouldn’t be bringing their kids home until a later date. It didn’t take long to discover that these French-speaking children would seriously benefit from some English lessons. Et voila, purpose presents itself. The parents who weren’t going to be able to take their kids home on this trip, were beyond grateful at the idea of someone in Congo being able to bridge the language gap and I was, once again, happy to be a part of something so incredible, even if only a minor role.
My heart was full with the plans for the year ahead.
So it turns out that the return back to Congo was pretty smooth.
Top things off with the guy who sells flowers at the end of the road yelling to me (in French) when I went to pick up my kids at lunch today, “Madame Leeza, did you do a diet? You lost weight.” I was feeling pretty darn good about things until he added, “It was better before. Now you’re too skinny.”
Our ménager(house-keeper), who was walking beside me, turns to me with a cheeky smile and pipes in, “I told you.”
Ah, the cultural shift. You can’t win them all.