I stay in the little wooden cabin, often with visiting priests and brothers from the other Crosier locations. I’m comfortable, and welcome.
-Amy, bonjour! Exclaims Anaclet, one of the two cooks.
Anaclet is one of my allies here in the confused, accidental war of cultures. Even though I’ve been here a year, I still don’t always follow the rules. It’s easy for me to offend people, simply by not saying thank you when I’m complimented on my spare tire. Anaclet keeps an eye out for me and lets me know when I’m not staying in line.
-Amy, my wife would like to know why you haven’t visited the new baby yet?
Anaclet and I went to visit his wife a few days ago, just after she gave birth. Her hospital room was empty when we arrived and I quickly realized it was because we arrived literally, just after she gave birth. After a few minutes a young girl walked in holding a bundle of blankets, filled with almost white skin, a squinched little face, and a beating heart. Anaclet walked over to the bundle and fit his large dark finger into the soft skinned hand stretching it’s wings. He smiled, but didn’t verify the five fingers and toes on all appendages like I expected.
Immediately behind the baby, Maman Diem waddled in. She smiled at me as she walked in, but quickly turned her attention to trying to find a comfortable way to exist in the world. She walked over to the small cot we had just put sheets on and began to slowly climb on before changing her mind and trying a chair. Nothing looked bearable, even standing. After only a few seconds, she said something to the young girl in Kinande and they both walked out.
-She’s going to wash up first, Anaclet said turning to me.
He was absolutely beaming; his handsome face and white smile competing with each other to show the most emotion.
-Anaclet, I don’t think I should be here right now. I’m sure she wants to rest.
His face turned down the volume a little bit and he nodded.
-You’re probably right.
We headed quickly back through the open courtyards of the large hospital. Women and men were sitting everywhere, braiding hair, chatting, staring at me.
-So is it a boy or a girl? I asked smiling at him as we walked.
-It’s a boy.
-Well, that’s good. You were hoping for a girl though, right?
-Yeah, I really wanted a girl, but a boy is a wonderful gift as well!
-Yeah, of course.
Anaclet was still beaming, but I caught a flicker of hesitation in his happiness. On the Sunday when he chastises me about not visiting the new baby again, his face is back to light bulb status.
-You have to visit Amy, he says. We named her Aimé!
-You what? Wait, her? You named her?
-It’s a girl!! He yells, and laughs. They just told me it was a boy because they wanted to see what I would do. They knew how much I wanted a little girl.
-Congratulations, I exclaim!
I want to hug him, but I learned a long time ago that hugging is not appropriate in Congo. I swing my arm around and grasp his hand in a half high five, half handshake.
-That’s so exciting. Seriously, congratulations en touts cas!
-We named her Aimé!
-Anaclet that’s, I pause. That’s great.
Aimé is my name in French and what most people in Congo call me. Anaclet told me previously he was planning on naming the baby Aime. He never specified he was naming her after me, but the implication is obvious. I honestly don’t know what to say in response. Are there responsibilities with this? Am I supposed to do something? I feel more than honored, but I still don’t fully know the rules and my referee is now the one testing me.
-Well, I’d love to visit her today, if possible. I just wanted to give her some time to rest. Do you think she’s up for it?
-Of course! She’s always up for it. She was expecting you earlier.
I don’t know how I could have come much earlier than fresh off the delivery chair, but I let that go.
-Well, let’s go after lunch when you have your break.
Anaclet doesn’t respond he just walks off with a glow around his face.
While I wait for Anaclet, I call Maman Lydie to check on Lawrence, the orphaned boy who I had trouble getting out of Maison L’Espoire. The authorities in Kinshasa are still doing investigations at Maison L’Espoire, to verify the sexual violence and the dirty money; but Lawrence, at least is out. Maman Lydie is excited to hear from me.
-Amy! We are doing so well, how are you?
-I’m great, I say, standing behind the barn in the one spot where I get service in Musienene. How is Lawrence?
-He was accepted into third year of primary school, but we’re hoping to move him up to fourth year early.
Third year of primary school for a twelve year old is way behind. Lawrence is an intelligent kid though and seemed eager to go back to school so I have no doubt he’ll progress.
-He got so fat Amy! You should see him. We call him Matata now, which means Maman’s Fat Baby!
I laugh and finally understand the compliment. Lawrence is healthy and happy.
-He plays now and jokes all the time, she continues. He’s very open with the other kids now too.
-I’m so glad to hear that.
I explain how I’m doing to Maman Lydie before saying good bye. I leave the barn area glowing almost as brightly as Anaclet. An hour later, Anaclet and I set off on my motorcycle. He takes me down tiny dirt paths in Musienene, through palm trees and past groups of children. He greets almost everyone on the various paths, until we reach his home. It’s a house like any other house here, although Anaclet’s home is made out of brick. There is a mud kitchen next to the main house. The main house consists of three American bathroom sized rooms and a small entryway.
-Wahay, I say to Anaclet's wife, a young woman with high cheekbones sitting on a wooden chair.
-Iyahay! She exclaims and laughs over the bundle of blankets in her lap.
Maman Diem doesn’t speak French, but she immediately stands up and hands me the little girl. I sit down with the warm, breathing bundle in my lap and stare at the tiny sleeping face. Anaclet sits next to me, still glowing.
-She’s perfect, I say to Maman Diem.
She nods at me. Three women older than anyone I’ve ever seen before, walk in and start laughing. One of the women, with only two or three teeth remaining, begins poking me lightly in the shoulder and pointing to the baby.
-What’s she saying? I ask Anaclet.
-She says you are holding the baby, it is good.
Anaclet pulls out the several beers from my backpack that we bought in the market. He hands them out to the various people, including his wife.
-But don’t forget the baby, he says, laughing.
As if on cue little Aime starts jerking her arms and gearing up to cry.
Maman Diem opens the beer first, takes a long drag, and then reaches out for the massive bundle. I often notice the 6 inches of blanket around babies here. I can’t imagine they’re not being stifled by the heat, but they also seem to sleep more soundly than the American babies I know.
I hand Aime to her mother.
-Kuti! Exclaims the old woman who was poking me.
I look behind me and see the three women sitting in the small entryway, just behind where I’m sitting.
-Iyahay, I respond.
Everyone in the room explodes in the usual laughter. This is a test I have passed many times before and it is instant access to laughter and smiles. The woman points at me and says something quickly in Kinande.
-She says your parents did a good job making you! Anaclet translates.
-I’ll tell them that, they’ll love it, I say laughing.
Anaclet’s older brother and two friends enter the tiny room. Every person in the room has to move so they can get to one of the open seats. More beers are opened and the chatter continues switching between Kinande, Swahili and French. Maman Diem looks tired but is laughing as often as the rest, usually at things I do or say. She wraps Aimé effectively and hands her to me again.
-Oh, thank you, I say beaming.
The whole room laughs some more.
-She said thank you! To hold the baby! Maman Diem exclaims in Swahili I understand.
I get the impression that the fifth child is a little less coddled than the first might have been. I stay with little Aimé in my arms for another 20 minutes while Maman Diem moves around outside getting dinner ready for her family. The point of this gathering is simply to share life; I didn't need to worry about rules. Their house consists of 4 small benches, a wooden table, several posters of Priests and African Leaders, two wooden beds and a wooden door. There is more love and laughter in this tiny amount of space, than anywhere I’ve been in a long while. Some might call it poverty; I think Anaclet's family and friends would call it struggle and happiness.