Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Trip to the Grand Marche

Today was an interesting day. We started work on a new project. We are working to strengthen the handicap center’s Vocational School. This school is for the physically and mentally handicapped who are unable to function in a regular school and whose families are unable to afford special school. It’s curriculum is to prepare the students to become independent and have a way of earning some money. They teach French, reading and writing, health and hygiene, math, business skills, cooking and sewing. While we were doing our wheelchair project the instructors of the school invited us in to see their school which consisted of three rooms at the center. It was obvious they were working with very little materials but were giving help to many families by helping their handicapped family member be productive and more independent.

They needed 6 sewing machines and a freezer to meet the needs of their sewing and cooking classes. We added a service component to the project by furnishing bolts of material for the sewing class to make surgical drapes and gowns for the handicap surgical center and we added copies of the church’s Family Health and Hygiene book to be used in their personal health and hygiene class.
Today we took the sewing instructor shopping for the goods. We rode in the back of a van (like The Luputa vans) and we went to the Congolese market area. I wish I could show you a panorama of this place. It is just unbelievable. It is just a two way street with businesses on both sides and parallel parking on both sides. Nothing to get excited about but add the Congolese to the mix and it becomes quite an adventure.

The one teacher that went with us worried about me and was afraid I was going to get robbed. She told Farrell, “The sister needs to be more careful there are robbers and mean people around here.” I kept walking out in front of her or lagging behind her so she finally came and grabbed my hand and drug me down the street. She would have been real nervous if she had known I was carrying $1000 in my purse to pay for all the things we bought. We had to go to 3 different stores to get the supplies. The store where we bought the sewing machines was just a little walk-in with a counter and boxes piled clear to the ceiling. We could barely fit three people in the store. The store where we bought the freezer was larger but had hardly any merchandise in the store. The fabric store was packefd with bolts of material for making drapes and hardly had any room to walk down the two isles. The fabric was cut on a table about 3 feet by 5 feet. Not big enough for a bolt of fabric and I was glad we were buying full bolts of cloth and not having to go through the chore of cutting fabric.

Our transport was unable to find a parking place so he circled the area while we shopped. We purchased everything and then hauled it all to the van. Several men helped us with the hauling and then each felt they should be paid for their service but we were not sure who had really helped and who just were the groupies. Farrell paid everyone something. Some were not happy saying it wasn’t enough and others were pleased to get 500 francs.

Although we had a large van the driver neglected to put the seats up and just laid the sewing machines on top of the benches. We were unable to get all the machines in the van so we ended up having to go back the next morning. The pictures of the streets are from the 8:00 AM traffic. By noon the congestion is complete but I was unable to take pictures at that time as many people do not like you taking pictures and get very angry and the police may confiscate your camera. Therefore you will need to use your imagination to visualize the true congestion we encountered.

There are so many people on this street. If I had to guess I would say at least 2000 in a 3 block stretch. Like Farrell says, it was pandemonium.

I wish I could have taken pictures of all that was happening, better yet a movie. This is a part of the Congo that is impossible to describe. I am sure there are placed like these elsewhere but I have never seen them nor do I think I will ever go anywhere that is quite the same.

When we were buying the sewing machines the instructor from the school that was with us admired some watches in the store. She Pointed to my watch and indicated that she really liked my watch and it was just like the ones in the store. When we were riding back to the handicapped center she again pointed to my watch and then to her own wrist. I thought she wanted my watch but finally I realized she had wanted me to buy her the watch in the store. I was turned off by this behavior when we were trying so hard to help the school and felt she was brazen to expect me to buy her a watch. After I had thought about it I realized, well, she didn’t have a watch and she is a teacher trying to run a school without a timepiece to help her know what time it is. She probably really needs a watch and really needs one. I wish I had had on a junk watch like the dozen or so I have at home (the USA) in my drawer but the one I had on was a memento from my IHC days and not one I wanted to give up. I will have to think about getting her a watch. Shucks, I should get each of the instructors a watch. Now if I can only get that passed Farrell. He continues to tell me I can’t feed everyone in the Congo.

Instructors for the Handicapped Vocational School (one on the right asked for the watch)

Everyday we are inundated by people wanting something. I can pass many up but I can’t handle those homeless boys who know when they see the red truck with the moondele lady they are sure to get a handout. Those with braces on get more than just the ragged little beggars and I am in tears when the little boy without an arm hits us up. This is the hardest part of this mission. Farrell talks tough but if I keep a firm upper lip and don’t give the handout he usually succumbs. Just part of life in the Congo.

One of "our" homeless boys.

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