I’ve been realizing lately that I’ve learned a lot of important lessons in the past year. Many good things have come clear to me on account of the stark contrast between the Congolese culture and my own. Overseas living is good for that; you stay in your own culture and you think everything is normal, when in reality there are things about it that aren’t good. Here’s what Congo (mostly the Congolese people themselves) has taught me:
#1 There’s no need to be embarrassed about your body. People here will be like “Hey, you’ve got pimples on your forehead. What’s causing that?” I’m like “Excuse me? Just leave me alone!” But for them it’s not something I need to be embarrassed about. If you’re short they have no problem making fun of it, or you will even make fun of it yourself. If you’re fat it’s just a plain fact everybody can comment on. Some of the things they say about people I find quite insulting, but on the other hand just to be open and honest about bodies is rather refreshing. They simply aren’t embarrassed of their bodies. Here’s a passage from “The Poisonwood Bible” that I really enjoy:
“The lady in the little house that’s pretty close to ours is Mama Mwanza. One time her roof caught on fire and fell on her and brunt up her legs but not the rest of her…Mama says that was the poor woman’s bad luck, because now she has got to go right on tending after her husband and her seven or eight children. They don’t care one bit about her not having any legs to speak of. To them she’s just their mama and where’s dinner? To all the other Congo people, too.
“Used to be Adah was the only one of us in our family with something wrong with her. But here nobody stares at Adah except just a little because she’s white. Nobody cares that she’s bad on one whole side because they’ve all got their own handicap children or a mama with no feet, or their eye put out. When you take a look out the door, why, there goes somebody with something missing off of them and not even embarrassed of it. They’ll wave a stump at you if they’ve got one, in a friendly way.
“Father said, ‘They are living in darkness. Broken in body and soul, and don’t even see how they could be healed.’ Mama said, ‘Well, maybe they take a different view of their bodies.’ Father says the body is the temple. But Mama said to him, ‘Well, here in Africa that temple has to do a hateful lot of work in a day.’ She said, ‘Why, Nathan, here they have to use their bodies like we use things at home—like your clothes or your garden tools or something. Where you’d be wearing out the knees of your trousers, sir, they just have to go ahead and wear out their knees!’”