Life has continued to keep us on our toes. Shortly after arriving in Kikongo, Kyle began the role of Administrator of the Budget at the University. Mainly, this means overseeing all things financial. Because math is universal, this was a good fit while we continue to advance in our French and our understanding of the culture.
We quickly learned how culturally different we are when it comes to finances. For example, there is no burden to pay a debt in Congo, including tuition. Instead, there is only a burden to collect it. So the majority of students haven't paid their fees. They continue to show up in class every day and participate as normal even though the "due date" for tuition was November 19th. You can imagine how this makes planning and executing a budget difficult.
We've been told that the exams (that commence this week) serve as a final deadline for payments. We have 150 students, but as of today only 35 have paid their fees to take the exams. With only two days left to make payments before exams, we are holding our breath for students to pull our budget out of the red. Apparently, it is normal for students to wait until the last possible moment to pay just enough to continue. I imagine this also happens at universities in the United States, though possibly not to this extent. Sometimes watching these cultural differences play out is amusing, while at other times it is exhausting.
We got our feet wet last month helping to teach an English course for an hour each day. A minimum of 90 hours of English is required for all degree programs. It has been enjoyable to be amongst the students regularly.
Katrina has been teaching basic accounting to our cashier. Salaries get paid on time and we know how much money the university has to work with at any given time, which hasn't always been the case. She is also aiding the cashier this week as they count the large stacks of Congolese bills that students bring in as payment.
While serving a university in rural Africa seems impossibly complicated at times, we know God has asked us to do hard things. We see huge needs and are trying to creatively utilize the resources around us to fill in gaps, while looking towards the future and reassessing our current strategies.
Thank you for each of your gifts in 2016. You have been sustaining our time and service here at the Université au Congo. We thank God each day for you, because we can focus on the task at hand knowing that you are behind us.
Your co-workers in Christ,
Kyle & Katrina Williams
There is a hole in our yard...a deep hole...a deep, dark hole.
It was dug a little over a month ago and is a future outhouse. As I (Katrina) was unpacking from our trip to Kinshasa, we were summoned over to see a snake that had fallen in the hole. We weren’t surprised to see a stranded animal at the bottom. So far, in fact, the hole has collected a few lizards, some frogs and lots of crickets. We’ve done our best to lure the lizards and frogs into a bucket and hoist them to freedom. A snake, as we would soon find out, requires more than a simple bucket, especially when you aren’t sure how venomous the snake is that you're dealing with.
For most of our Congolese neighbors, the only reason to rescue the snake from captivity is to have it for dinner. However, the neighbors who work the closest with us knew right away we wouldn’t want to hurt it. So, together, we fended off the big sticks and machetes while Kyle considered how to make a deep-pit, snake-catching contraption with items found in our house, and Ian ran back and forth to the house fetching the various items.
By this time, a small crowd had gathered around the action, including our kids and some neighbor children. The adults stayed busy helping Kyle and pulling children back from the edge. At one point, Tata Luc, our neighbor/gardener/cultural liaison, warned a child, “Don’t fall in, because if you do, you will die twice.” Kyle immediately laughed. The first death Luc spoke of was the length of the fall, the second was being bitten by the snake.
After about twenty minutes, two curtain rods, a couple of long sticks, a bunch of zip ties, and a pillowcase had been turned into an adequate contraption that safely and securely escorted the snake out of the hole.
During all of the commotion, much of the conversation was about what should happen to the snake. We talked about the local ecology and how snakes contribute to it. Our neighbors spoke of the danger snakes present to the community. We mentioned that most snakes are not particularly dangerous unless imminently threatened and cornered. Many of our neighbors couldn't remember the last time someone was actually hurt by a snake, but they did mention the current void in their stomachs. This is one place where our cultures and life circumstances collide.
We grew up with grocery stores, full stomachs and plenty of free time to explore and appreciate God’s beautiful and bountiful creation. We know that no resource is infinite. We have read books and taken classes concerning the proper management of resources, and lamented our own over-consumption while remaining far removed from how our food is actually produced.
Our Congolese neighbors, on the other hand, have grown up working in their families' fields, which produce their families' daily meals. They have built homes from natural resources that they gathered themselves, hauled drinking water daily, and sometimes have gone without full stomachs. I can hear the cries of western conservationists denouncing the practices of rural people in developing countries, but there isn't a perfect answer. Different cultures around the world eat different types of wild and farmed animals, and utilize different systems (or none at all) for managing their populations. Some of these systems take into account the long-term effects on the ecosystem and other systems do not. There is no simple answer to feeding the world without drastically changing cultural norms.
If we were living in the United States, we would advocate for changing cultural norms to promote global sustainability, starting with our own shortcomings. It gets more complicated when we step outside of our passport country, because we don't always have a clear picture of the new culture.
We desire to work together with our neighbors toward common goals and it is complicated when our neighbors sometimes struggle to put food on their tables. When it is hard to feed your family, that easily becomes your one and only goal. Given this reality, it is foremost on our hearts to utilize the resources we have available in order to facilitate the alleviation of some of these immediate needs. This is no easy endeavor cross-culturally, and we have a long road ahead of us in understanding the local culture and language before we can hope to make a positive difference in the daily lives of our neighbors. But we have begun to think outside the box. There are many animals here that provide good food, but because the use of so many of them for food is left unmanaged they are being wiped out.
Kyle brought some native turtles back from Kinshasa to begin to replenish the once abundant number of them living in the Wamba River. Perhaps by farming them we can increase their numbers and release a steady supply into the wild for reproduction and hunting. We are seeking funding to start a crocodile farm, and for an aquaponics project to better raise fish and vegetables, too. We are also researching the raising of ostriches.
With each of these potential projects, having to bring all supplies in by plane or truck means the process is slow and expensive. If these are projects that you find interesting, please write to tell us, share your knowledge, and perhaps ask some questions.
Aside from the question of having enough resources, the other main question we always come back to is how will these new ideas be received in our community. Will there be enough interest and benefit to the community for these projects to continue long-term?