Driving a motorcycle is like driving a car and riding a horse at the same time, temperament and personality included. After only four months, the chain on my motorcycle pops off while I'm driving it; I find myself walking the monstrous thing back to the Crosier house, in heavy boots and no socks. Four months is pretty good, considering it was made in China with less than quality parts, dissembled, sent to Congo and then put back together again. I have nothing against Chinese production, but people here often refuse to buy things with the MADE IN CHINA stamp, so the motorcycle break-down doesn't surprise me.
After making it back to the house I am able to get a moto-taxi. Maman Marie went to the Girl-Mother center in Magherya yesterday and we are supposed to head out to Isale today, in order to follow-up with the Rotational Credit. By the time I get to the office, I have open blisters on the backs of my heels. My socks disappear here faster than I can realize they existed in the first place. Hangie is sitting in the main room when I enter, and he laughs at me as I carefully pull off the heavy boots and start walking around barefoot.
-Where is la Maman? I ask. We're supposed to be going to Isale today.
-She's still in Magherya, they spent the night there.
He sounds a little worried and he's looking at his phone every three seconds.
-Have you not heard from her? Do you think she's okay?
-Yeah, I'm sure it's okay. She was supposed to come back last night though.
There is never service up in the mountains where the girl-mother center is located, so there's no way to check on her safety. She's been through a lot, though, she's one strong lady. We both dismiss the soldier-images in our minds and try to have faith in the world.
-Hangie, can I ask you a question?
-Yeah, of course, what is it?
He stutters a bit when he speaks, which used to confuse the French for me, but now I find it rather endearing.
-We've already talked about this a bit, but can you explain more why you want to have eight children? If you could sum it up in one or two sentences, what would you say?
Hangie has one child right now, a bouncing baby boy named Gabriel. Hangie considers himself relatively well off because he has a job and an education. We've discussed the idea of having a baseball team of children several times, but the massive families still frighten and frustrate me. I can't wrap my head around it.
Hangie looks at the floor and starts tapping his finger on his chin.
-There are so many reasons, it's hard to sum it up in one or two sentences.
-Just give me the first couple of reasons.
-Well, the first reason is, in the African culture, especially here in Congo. Socially, chez les Wanande, to have eight or more children is a richesse. Children in general are a richesse.
He always gives me this answer, but I see children as money munching monsters, especially when they exceed the level of two or three. Coming from a culture where having only a few children, depending on the size of your bank-account, is seen as responsible, I just can't understand the word richesse in connection to 10 mouths to feed and educate.
-The second thing follows the first, he continues. Many people love a lot of children because we love to see them around. We love children!
He looks up and smiles at me.
-Hangie, I love children too, but I'm not going to start birthing ten of them as soon as I get married. Okay, I've explained to you that I think it contributes to poverty, because the more children you have the more mouths to feed, the more school fees to pay. You never really give me a straight response to that. What do you think about it, honestly?
-It's true, first of all. We've already accepted that, but people aren't informed that having lots of children brings poverty.
-But you're informed and you still want eight children. I don't get it.
I'm kind of attacking him, but he's a pretty good friend at this point and we often have open discussions like this. I know he won't take it personally. He makes fun of my weird American ways and I sputter about not understanding the cultural subject of the day.
-You don't consider yourself poor right now, but if you have eight children you will be poor!
-Let me explain a little more. I want to have eight children, but right now, I know that I can't afford to have even one more. When we had Gabriel, my wife was in the hospital for two months and it cost 600 dollars.
-600 times eight is...
He rightfully ignores me.
-I want to have another child, but in my heart, I know I can't afford even that one hospital visit. I may not tell my wife this yet, but I don't have the means right now, so we won't have another child. Yet.
-Another thing I find conflicting, for me personally, is that the Church forbids the use of condoms and la pillule. I understand family planning can be plausible in some situations, but it doesn't seem that way to me, in this context. What do you think about that?
-About the Church?
He pauses and taps his chin again. Baseme has entered at this point and is sitting on the couch behind Hangie, silently listening.
-The Church sees the sperm as already human. They do contribute to the poverty, because the Church does the opposite of sensibilisation. They don't teach about effective family planning. And family planning is so important. Family planning is smart.
He draws out the last word, and even says it in terribly pronounced English.
-Do you know what smart is? He asks.
-Yes, Hangie. I know what smart means. I speak English.
-No, SMART. S-M-A-R-T. Specifique, Mesirable, Acceptable, Realizable dans les Temps.
He stands up and writes it on the piece of paper in front of me.
-Ooh, I like that. I'm guessing you learned that in a formation session?
-Yeah, and the Church doesn't say it's smart. They say it's not smart. The Church says, when a man needs a woman, the woman should always come to him, with no discussion. And when the woman needs her husband the man does not have to come to her, he can refuse.
-What? That's ridiculous and extremely sexist.
I'm not sure where he's going with this.
-If I say, I need you physically, the Church says you can't say 'I'm not available,' you have to just say yes.
-Not possible. That's absurd!
I'm getting fired up. But I know Hangie doesn't actually believe that. I've met his wife, and eaten lunch at their home. He's kind and patient and doting.
-The Virgin Mary accepted to carry Jesus in her womb. When God asked her to carry his child, she accepted. She set the example and all women must follow her lead. That's what the Church teaches.
I'm almost positive the general Catholic Church does not say that, if they do I'm never looking at a Priest again. Despite knowing this, I take the bait like it's my last meal. Also, it's entirely possible that the Church Hangie attends in Butembo preaches this.
-I hate that Hangie! If what you're saying is true that is horrible. The Church is hurting the people! That's the opposite of holy, that's evil, pure evil!
-What you're saying is rape. I don't care if it's a married couple or what. If a woman, or a man for that matter, doesn't want to have sex, it is entirely their right to choose and act on that choice. There's such a thing as marital rape. What you're saying puts men up here--I lift my left hand in the air--and women down here.
I throw my pen on the ground, grab my boot that's lying on the floor and start pounding the pen with it. Hangie and Baseme are both laughing.
-The woman has to obey her husband, he says when I sit back down on my chair. The Church says the woman must be ready at all times.
I have nothing left to say. I tell Hangie he's crazy and the Church is as crazy as him if what he's saying is correct; we all laugh about our opposing sides. It's like standing on two sides of a brick wall; I can hear him talking but can't visualize a damn thing he's saying.
I ask if he would mind buying me some jyoro-jyoros, sandals a bit like Crocks, but more attractive and a lot less expensive. Everyone in the rural areas wears them and when I wore mine in Goma I realized they are actually a symbol of being from the country and thus being poor. People in Goma thought my shoes were more funny than my skin. My blisters are too gaping to stick my feet back in the boots, that are now scattered across the floor. Hangie is more than happy to help and bounces out of the office.
Baseme is still in the room and hasn't said a word.
-Do you agree with what he was saying?
-No! Of course not.
-So you don't agree with what he says the Church says?
-No, I don't agree at all.
Baseme is a woman of few words. She's 25 years old and has a seven year old daughter named Eliza. Baseme was the first victim of rape I met when I moved here. She has been raped three times, all by civilians. starting when she was 16 years old. Any time I ask how she is doing, her response always redirects the conversation to the needs of Eliza. If Eliza is fed and in school, Baseme is happy. That's all there is to it, no matter the past. Her strength amazes me.
Hangie gets back with the jyoro-jyoros and I leave on a moto-taxi. Back at the Crosier house I ask the two brothers currently around what they think about Hangie's words. They say that none of that follows with Catholic ideals. The Crosier brothers tell me the Catholic Church teaches that in all situations it has to be a mutual, consensual act within a marriage. For both the man and the woman.
That puts me at ease again, I let the bait go and calm down. Yet, the frightening thing for me isn't just the Church ideals, but how people interpret them, priests and congregants alike, and how far backwards that can take us.