You've heard stories from your families. Stories of when you were little. How you grew up. Those good old days when you were young, and life was simple.
I've heard those kinds of stories, stories from my friends and how they grew up. It was only then that I realized how…unique my own was, the way that I grew up. The stories I had about my own childhood. I suppose I should try to explain myself, before you get any more confused about what I'm trying to say, what I'm trying to share about my own life, and the way that I grew up.
I was about 10 years old, when everything about my own life changed, when I moved away from home, my country… and even the continent that it was in. I left all of my friends behind, and the life that I was so accustomed too. I used to live in a large city, the city of St. Petersburg, in Russia. We had restaurants that my family went to, school that I attended, hot showers that I could take whenever I wanted…or needed. Water was never a problem, we always had water…although from time to time there would be problems with the plumbing and the water would come out as this gross yellow. Although when you live in such a large city, it really isn't that uncommon for it to happen from time to time. Thinking about it now, back then little did I know how much I took warm running water for granted.
Those were the ``good old times``, the times when I had all of my close friends beside me, and we were like one big happy family. Then the day came, and I'll never forget it, my Father called me into his bedroom, (I was 8 at the time) he was lying on his bed and I crawled up next to him. He stroked my hair and asked me one simple question-``what would you say…if you, your brother, your mother and I, all moved away from here…and moved to the heart of Africa? ``
Of course, as a young as I was I never really realized what it really meant to move away and to live in a place like Congo. To me, it sounded like an adventure. I heard my Father say that we would have to drive through the thickest parts of the jungle, drive way up high into the mountains, and our new home would be located somewhere there in a place called Butembo. I remember how I smiled, and I told my Father that that was a wonderful idea.
He said `` We would be there to help people. We will go to orphanages, leper colonies, and to small villages located in the jungle, where the people have been raided by the rebels from the war that had just stopped a few years ago. Your mother and I believe that God has called our family to help these people and to share about His great love for them.``
I was so happy and excited that we were going to help people in such a way and that God had called us to do it. A joy I had never known emerged inside of me, like a big bright light shining inside of my heart. All I knew was how badly I wanted to help these people that have been hurt so badly because of the war. Children had been orphaned and Mothers had lost their children, my dad had told me. Back then that was just about the saddest thing that I had ever heard. I wanted to be able to hug them all and tell them that everything was going to be ok.
Being only eight then, a couple years seemed like forever, but
then the time finally came to move. It's an adventure that is as
vivid in my mind today as it was back then. We had been flying
for over 10 hours until finally we landed in Uganda and met up
with two close family friends from Russia, named Costya and
Yulia. They had flown over the day before, we were going to live
together under the same roof as God had called upon them too, to
serve Him in Congo. We were driven to a motel to get a good
night's rest before venturing any further, as the drive to
Butembo would entail about 7 very long and hot hours through the
dense jungle and another hour or so up mountains that had the
scariest narrow pathways.
Once we got our rooms the first thing I noticed were the beige colored mosquito nets that hung above our beds, I could tell that once upon a time they had been white. Some spots on the net were a darker shade of beige than others. The walls too, I knew, used to be white as well. As I breathed I felt the dust fill my lungs, if we had opened the window only more dust and car exhaust would have engulfed the room from the busy streets below. So we kept it shut and turned on the fan that each of the rooms were given. Although the one my father and brother had in their room wasn't working and my father wasn't too happy about that as you could imagine, yet he was still cheery and happy be to be where he was, seeing old friends.
Night time came all too quickly and we each took a shower before heading to bed. My mother and I took a shower in Yulia's room because ours wasn't working, while the boys had to take one in Costya's bathroom because theirs wasn't working either. (Shocker! )
It didn't take long for me to find out, that the new life I was heading into would be like nothing I had ever experienced. Thinking about it now, I'm sure the rest of my family had been thinking the exact same thing.
The next morning we woke up early so that the start of the drive would be more merciful, as the sun hadn't yet risen and it wouldn't be so hot and humid. We met up with my dad's old friend from Congo named Damiri who had been waiting for us at the parking lot. Damiri had arranged two jeeps and an extra driver to take us to our destination. The sun had just started rising by the time we got all our bags and belongings into the trunk. The drive was exciting once we got out of the city and busy streets. As the day weighed on it became musty and undeniably hot. We had in fact driven through the thickest part of the rainforest and it had been a very bumpy ride. We drove way up high into the mountains and I could see the horizon and the seemingly endless jungle from above that we had just driven through. The entire drive took about 8 hours. Eight hot, dusty hours but as uncomfortable the journey was, I hardly noticed. My eyes were wide open with excitement and as each hour passed, I knew that we were getting closer to home.
This was the start of how the adventures of my childhood began.
After driving in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for the last 6-7 hours, we finally arrived at our destination. I'll never forget it, the first thing I saw was that we were pulling up to a house that had brick walls surrounding it and a big metal gate. There were swarms of people surrounding it and when they saw the jeep coming in they all shouted- `` Muzungus! Muzungus!`` (that meant white people)
The crowd soon enough started to surround the jeep and our guide told us to pull our windows up. The gates had been opened from the inside when they heard the jeep honk, and people started to move away a little bewildered as the jeep started moving inside. Some tried to get in as well but the people on the inside managed to keep them back. Once we got in they quickly shut the gates and the crowd of people continued to shout- ``Muzungus!``- for the next hour or so.
We all got out of the jeep, our guide and friend showed us inside our new house and introduced us to the servants that he had hired for us. One was named Marlike, she was going to be our cook. ( yes we needed a cook because there was no electricity and everything was done over a fire and I won't even go in to how difficult it can be to start a fire and cook meat, especially during dinner time and cooking in the dark with nothing but fire light ) Besides, there was a lot of work put before us and simply cooking would take hours out of the day.
Then there was a man named Yoane, (whom we nicknamed Yo-yo later on ) he was going to help keep our house clean and cut the grass in our lawn. He was the house gaurd as well.
Finally, there was another woman that for a short time did our laundry which had to be washed by hand and in cold water… unless of course you had the patience of boiling water over a fire each time clothes needed washing. (Which was very often, do to all the dust that was flying around in the air, considering that there weren't any paved roads and whenever a jeep, or motorcycle passed by a big red dust cloud followed after.)
So this was our extended family- My Father, mother, brother, (one young woman from Russia who had been in Congo before came with us as well, whose name was- ) Yulia, Costya- ( a young man from Russia was called with our family to do the same and came with us) and now, Marlike, Yoane, (and the other woman that we had for a short period of time and whose name I can't recall .) So we became a family of 9. (Or so I thought, but I won't let myself get ahead just yet)
The house floor was covered with tiles and the walls were painted white. ( This kept the house nice and cold during the dry seasons.) The Kitchen was placed in another building in the back of the house. (Because when they cooked they used fire and if a fire was to spread the house would be safe from being burned down to the ground along with the kitchen.
As usual, my brother and I had to share a bedroom, while the rest had their own…well except for my folks of course. (Our helpers had their own quarters in 2 small buildings outside of the house. One of which was attached to the outside Kitchen and so it was our cook´s quarters.)
When we arrived and had a good look around the house it didn't take long until the sun went down and we were left in the dark. I'll always remember how much I enjoyed those ``black outs`` with everyone one walking around with a flashlight or candlesticks in their hands. I can tell you now, that I have never seen the stars and moon so bright in my entire life until I had my first night experience in Africa, Congo, Butembo.
The first few days passed by quickly, and every morning I was
awaked by the sound of a crowd of children shouting in front of
our gates. Of course, I tried to make friends with some of them.
I would have someone open the gates for me for safety reasons,
and I would choose a few of the children to come in and play with
me. I remember seeing the children raise their hands way up high
when I asked who would like to come inside and play with me and
my brother. Since there were far too many children, I had to pick
who would come in and who would have to come another time.
Once I tried having about 8 children come inside but then they started shoving me and my brother around, begging for money and food. I gave them each a handful of candy that I had brought with me, before asking them nicely if the half of them would mind leaving…which they did…they were not satisfied with the candy ( although it was something very special and rare for them to have ) and they continued to shove and ask for more. In the end, our guard saw what was happening and he had to put them out rather forcefully. ( You see, what you need to understand is that they believed that every single white person was EXTREMELY wealthy. It's what they have been taught. What they haven't been taught is how to be polite and so they do not see their actions as being rude. )
Now this happened more than once. I tried every day to find a friend behind those gates, but none of them where interested in a friendship. After about a week or so, I became very discouraged. I started thinking, and then realized that all of my dearest friends were back home in Russia, and that I would never find a friend here for as long as I was white. I became very sad, and I cried for a few days, but a kept trying to make friends. A couple more days passed and I decided that I would spend my day sulking around in my room. The sun was shining brightly and the children were expecting me to come to the gates (by this time they all had learned my name) and they called out for me, `` Rahele! Rahele!``
I can remember this part very clearly even though it had happened over 7 years ago. My mother came into the room and saw me lying in my bed starring out of the window. ``Hi honey, what are you doing?`` she said. ``I'm just… bored.``
``Well why don't you ask some of those kids in? They're calling your name you know. You and your brother can play soccer with them hm?`` she sat down on my bed and moved a string of hair from my face.
I laid there silently, and before long I couldn't hold the tears
in any longer, `` Mom they're not interested in being my
friend…they just want my stuff… and no matter how many times I
give them what they ask for, they just want more!`` I started
crying even harder, `` I just wanna go home… I can't even go
passed these gates, I have to stay here all day and I can't even
make any friends because I'm white!``
My ma continued to play with my hair gently as she said, `` Honey, we told you of the dangers here, you know why you can't go out beyond those gates…as for friends, have you even considered asking God for one?... Sweetheart, you know how much we love you, and just think how much God loves you… ask Him…and you'll see what happens.`` she grinned at me as she dried my tears. ``Don't give up in looking for one ok? You'll find one… I'm sure of it. Just pray and be patient alright?``
I sat up on my bed and gave her a big hug as I grinned. ``Do you want to pray together?`` she asked, and I nodded my head. So we did. Soon enough I went back out and tried again. Although I didn't find a friend that time either, at least it felt good knowing what we did for these kids. Besides, it seemed that my brother managed to find a friend ( although from time to time he would ask my brother for things ) but just the same, they did have some fun together playing ball games and my brother even tried to teach him baseball… the ``American`` game.
So I continued praying for the next couple days and it felt good. My mother kept reassuring me and that felt good too…but then something happened that made me stop praying. It was on bright, hot sunny day like any other during the dry season. My brother decided to open the gates up by himself to let his friend in, but as soon as he did, several arms from the children behind the gate door reached out and grabbed him. He panicked and started shouting, causing our guard to run up to the gate and pull my brother back in. He rebuked the young teenagers and let his friend in. My brother was 9 at the time, and that was an experience he did not soon forget.
When I saw what had happened I stopped trying to make friends with the children that were behind the gates. I argued with God and asked him why He wasn't answering my prayers. All I wanted was a friend, just one…and He wouldn't even let me have that. I moved away from home, left everything behind, and every day I had to see my father's anxiety, constantly worring for the safety of his family. It was hard. That night I cried myself to sleep and asked God over and over again, ``why?``
Now the night went by rather quickly as the sound of a dozen crickets finally caused me to fall asleep. I woke up early the next morning, as I heard the children shouting outside again. I got up, brushed my teeth and combed my hair. I decided that I needed to take a shower, so I walked outside to the back of the house where the kitchen was, to ask the cook if she could boil some water for me.
`` No problem Rahele. Come back in 10 minutes and I'll have a bucket ready for you.``
So I went inside and had breakfast before heading back to fetch the water, but as I got to the back porch I saw a young girl, about my age, washing the pots and pans outside. She was wearing a dress that was all tattered and had rips and holes everywhere. It was brown…although I could tell it used to be white.
I walked inside the kitchen and saw Marlike pouring the boiling water into a big bucket. I thanked her as I tried to pick the bucket up…without much success… She giggled as she saw me struggling and called out, `` Efesiya!!!`` The young girl that I just saw came inside, `` Eh?`` Marlike said something in Swahili which I guess meant that she should help me bring the bucket into my shower room, because Efesiya picked it up and started walking inside the house. I hesitantly followed behind her. The bucket was heavy for her as well so she would stop for a few moments before continuing.
Finally, she managed to lift the bucket up and placed it inside the bathtub. ``Is good?`` she asked in broken English, `` Um…yes, yes! Asante sana!`` (thank you very much) She nodded kindly and headed back outside. I watched her leave and quietly repeated her name to myself...over and over again, `` Efesiya…``
It didn't take long until I finished my ``bucket shower.`` I
quickly got dressed, put my sandals on, and literally ran to the
back porch again. Although once I got there, I acted all cool and
calm, as I pretended to check the water tanks that we had on the
outer edge of the porch. ( We had two big water tanks that
carried several liters of water. Each time it rained, the water
would pour from the roof and be lead into these tanks that we
would later use for cooking and taking showers.)
I ever so slightly, turned my head to look at Efesiya. Her back was turned towards me. I became curious as to why she was doing Marlike's work, but I didn't want to just go and ask her, because I didn't want to come off sounding mean or rude. So I went back inside to find my mother, and asked her instead.
``Efesiya? Oh you mean that girl out back with Marlike? Yes she works under her, Efesiya helps her around the kitchen….actually, she happens to be Marlike's niece. Her mother had too many other children on her hand and just couldn't afford to take care of Efesiya as well, so she handed her to Marlike to be cared for.`` My mother told me.
``Oh but that's sad! Doesn't she ever get the chance to see her own mother?`` I asked, and my mother told me that Efesiya would go every Sunday to visit her family, because they lived so far away.
I started to feel really bad. I imagined how it would be, if it were me that could only see my own mother once every week. I knew that I would hardly be able to stand it. I depended on my mother for so much, and just then I realized how much I took for granted.
I went back outside to see Efesiya, but she had already gone inside to help Marlike prepare food for lunch time. I decided to wait until her work shift was over…which I guessed would be after dinner time, just as Marlike. (As I said, simply cooking took hours out of the day) So I decided to play with some of the kids that were behind the gate in the meantime, just maybe… I'd find a friend this time.
So I let in 2 girls that were a little older then me and asked them if they would like to play some ball games. They told me that they would only play with me if I game them each some candy. I wasn't surprised though, I even came prepared and had candy inside of my dress pocket. So I gave them a piece each and I had one myself. They then thanked me (which did surprise me) and I smiled at them, ``You're welcome!``
I lead them to the back of the house where we would have more room to play. We played for about 5 minutes before they stopped and came up to me, asking for more candy. I told them that I was just interested in making friends and I didn't want to have to bribe them for them to become mine, but they simply reached their hands out, expecting me to give them more. I sighed, and emptied my pockets with the last bit of candy that I had, which I gave to them and kindly asked if they could go home. They simply looked at me, and then shook their heads. They gestured to me with their hands that they wanted more. I told them I had none left, that I gave them all I had, but they weren't satisfied. Not at the least bit.
The two older girls started shoving me, rather forcefully. I began to feel nervous as they shoved their hands down my pockets and pulled out empty candy wrappers. Their facial expression looked annoyed and they ordered me to get inside of the house and fetch them more candy, but as nervous as I was I stood my ground and told them no. No I will not go in and get them more candy, and no, they cannot make me. They started talking in Swahili to each other, rather angrily. It looked like they were about to shove me again but just then… Efesiya came from behind them. She looked at the both of them and started arguing in Swahili. Efesiya began to raise her voice at them, she looked really mad. I saw her hands directing them to leave immediately and to leave me alone. Our guard heard Efesiya's loud stern voice and came out from his quarters to see what the commotion was about. The two girls saw him coming towards them, and agreed that it was time to leave.
It was then that I realized, God had done much more than answer my prayer.
A couple weeks had passed by, and the friendship between me and Efesiya had grown. It didn't take long until we became like sisters. I was allowed to go beyond the gates, but only as long as Efesiya was with me. ( considering that she was a very strong and capable girl. ) I gave her half of my clothing to replace her old ragged ones, and after school I would help her in the kitchen.
I'll never forget this one particular day, when I decided to help
her cook. Marlike had gone to buy some meat for supper and
Efesiya was put in charge of peeling the potatoes. I came outside
to see her peeling them on the steps and I decided to help. (Just
so that you readers know, that before this I had never done
I asked her where she kept the knives and she pointed to where they were. I went inside the kitchen and picked up a knife. I then went out and took a place on the steps next to her. There was a bucket in front of me carrying about 20 potatoes and a black plastic bag next to it where the peels were to be thrown away. So I took the biggest potato I could find and started peeling. By the time I was finished she had already gone through about 5.
I put my ready- peeled potato in a bucket with the others.
Efesiya saw me put it in and had a good long look at it, then
looked back at me, then at my pile of potato skin that used to be
on my potato. She looked back at me again…and burst out laughing!
I had to say that at first I felt a little hurt, considering I
tried my best to peel and help her… but she was right… I did cut
more potato then peel! So I started laughing along as she picked
up my potato and started examining it…only causing for the both
of us to laugh harder!
The next ten minutes went by with us laughing and giggling, as she sat beside me and tried to teach me how to peel potatoes properly. The rest of the day was filled with laughter as well. We would talk about a lot of things, but most of the time, we talked about how great God was and how amazing He was. We were so thankful to Him for letting us meet, for allowing us to become the best of friends...
- (From left to right- Anwarite (a friend I made from behind the gates) Efesiya, and me)
After I was finished with supper, I spent some more time sitting in the kitchen talking with Marike and Efesiya. We had some more laughs, and before long it was time to get to bed, and so we said our good nights before I headed back into the house. Lucky for me, this time I didn't need a flashlight to find my way in, since we managed to get the generator working. ( It came with house but seldom worked.)
I told my folks good night and went into my bedroom. My brother
was already in bed and he had already put his mosquito net over.
I quickly changed into my sleeping gown and put the mosquito net
over my own bed before entering. (The nets prevented from malaria
-carrying mosquitos to bite us as we slept, since they all come
out at night time, and even more come during the rainy seasons
which raised the risk of getting malaria. I myself have had
malaria at least 4 times in the three years that I've lived
there. My father however was the unlucky one, he'd have it
constantly, and was rarely healthy for more then a month before
getting it again…but I'll write about that a little later in this
The generator had already been turned off, so I didn't have to turn off the light switch. I climbed into bed and put my blanket over me. The minute I closed my eyes I fell fast asleep. The night was calm and peaceful as the crickets chirped away as they do most nights. I never had a hard time sleeping, I always slept through the nights in the first few weeks that I lived there. But that one night, was something to be remembered, it was the first one among others that showed just how dangerous Congo was.
I woke up from the sound of gun shots that were fired beyond our solid brick walls. I laid there in my bed, eyes wide open as I stared blankly at the ceiling. Bam bam! Two more shots were fired, and these seemed to be closer. The night was completely silent, the crickets weren't even chirping. I remembered being able to hear my own breathing as I tried to listen to what was happening outside... But in the end, my tiredness got to me, and it didn't take long until I blacked out again.
The next day I asked my parents about last night, but they didn't answer me. As if they didn't have the slightest clue as to what I was talking about.
It wasn't until a few years later that they told me, that it was a man that had been chased and shot down in front of our gates. He had been banging on our gate door, desperate to get inside. Our guard heard him but didn't dare to open the gates. Not knowing what was going on, and it being the middle of the night. (Now I don't remember the reason for why he was shot down, but just the same, the man was murdered.)
I went to Efesiya and asked her if she had heard it last night, she did. However, she knew just as little as I on what had happened that startling night. So in the end, I just let it go. It took 3 years or so, until I remembered about that night and asked my folks again about it. It was then that I learned that there had been more than on one occasion where they had kept things from me and my brother, in the time that we lived in Congo…
After all that had happened, my family decided that it was about
time that we got a guard dog. (We had already decided before
moving on getting one, but just hadn't come around to it
We had Yo-yo get into town to spread the word to people that we were trying to find a dog, and that we would like to get one as soon as possible. It didn't take long until someone came over to our house with a puppy. The young man told us that he would let us have it for 10 dollars. (Now in Congo, that's a lot of money, and normally the dog would have costed about 5 dollars, but seeing as we were muzungus… he raised the price. It didn't matter though, we understood and just the same the price was beyond reasonable.)
I remember seeing that cute little puppy in his arms. Now we had no idea what breed it was, but he was a brownish- orange colored dog with a shaggy black-tipped tail. His eyes were a mix of a brown and honey color. There was no doubt about it, he was a handsome dog… although he was very small, and you could see that he was not fed properly, with all of his ribs sticking out and all. (Animals in Congo are usually not taken good care of, quite often they are abused, especially dogs. They are beaten frequently and fed rarely. They receive just enough food to survive. )
``Well…`` my father paused before turning to my brother and me, `` what do you think kids?`` I could see my Father already knew the answer that we were going to give, but just the same my brother and I jumped up and down and said, `` Oh can we? Can we have him? Really, really? ``
`` We need a guard dog don't we? So what do you think?... You think this pup can handle the job?``
Just then the man put the puppy down and the dog ran to us jumping up and down, barking with excitement as his tail waged side to side. We laughed and my Father smiled, he turned to the man who was waiting for an answer and said, `` We'll take him.`` He handed him the money and turned to look at Yo-yo, `` Say hello to your new working buddy!`` he laughed.
Yoane chuckled as he bent down and started playing with the dog, `` You and me be good friends yes?`` The dog started barking and used his jaws to take a grip on Yoane's hand which he refused to let go and we giggled.
We already bought a chain to hook the dog too, and his post would be near the kitchen where he would have a roof over his head for shelter when it rained, and grass to do… well, you know. So we tied him up and brought some food for him, and the way he ate it looked like he hadn't eaten for days. You could hear slurping and gobbling sounds as the food quickly disappeared from his bowl.
The puppy grew up to be the perfect guard dog, and there had been more then one occasion where he had to be put in `` action`` with Yoane. The name we gave our dog was pretty much earned, his name was Dingo, and for good reason. Anyone that banged at our gate, and anyone that tried to grab at my brother and me, was bitten. Although even when we played with him he would bite and it did hurt, even though he didn't mean too. So Dingo became his name, and it fit him perfectly.
I'll never forget this one time, where a man came in the middle of the night and started shouting at us from behind the gate. He was threatening us and would not stop shouting. We tried to ignore him but he continued to shout. None of us could get any sleep. He banged at the gate and swore. My father had malaria at the time and was not feeling well. He became very upset, got out of bed and went outside. He shouted for the man to go away…but the man kept banging on the gates. Yoane heard my Father's shout and went up to him, (now Yoane loves his job, he finds it exciting, more so, he loves doing his job alongside Dingo.) I got out of bed to see what the commotion was about, but my mother was at the front porch and told me to get back inside and into bed. I asked her what was going on, she told me there was a drunken man in front of the gates and it was nothing to worry about and then ordered me to get back into my bedroom.
Disappointed, I went back inside…but went to the window to see
what was happening. I could see my Father telling Yoane to do
something, to which he grinned and called Dingo to come to him,
who was now also full of excitement, as if knowing what he was
called over for. Yoane hooked him up to a chain that he was
holding, and walked towards the gate to warn the man one more
time to leave. The man refused and Yoane opened the gates.
The man saw the dog and started running, Yoane shouted after him to keep running and not to come back. Yoane went back inside and closed the gate, but he stood infront of it with my Father just to make sure that he wouldn't come back to wake us all up again… which he did. The man came right back and started shouting. So Yoane grinned at my dad before asking for permission to chase him away, to which my dad had to laugh at and answered `` go right ahead.``
I remembered hearing Yoane count down to three, to warn the man one last time, but the man was incredibly stubborn. So Yoane swung the gate open and shouted `` AEEEYAAA!!! GET HIM DINGO!`` ( Of course he had the dog's leash tightly around his wrist as he held him back, just enough to keep him from actually bitting the man as they chased him a good long distance away from home.) I could hear Dingo barking madly with excitement as I heard Yoane yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs as if he were a cowboy in hot pursuit.
Now I don't remember how much time went by before Yoane returned, but when he did he had a smile wide cross his face as he was gasping for air. My father was outside and saw him closing the gate. He asked him if the man was going to come back. Yoane cracked up laughing as he said, `` Me don't think that man ever come back!`` The dog barked happily, and as if he was talking to Yoane he replied, `` You did good job too Dingo!``
My father laughed at the two and said, `` Alright, alright, I'm heading to bed now to finally get some sleep!``
``Ok, and you no worry, if he come back I go get him!`` He chuckled.
Yep, there was no doubt about it, Dingo and Yoane got along just fine when doing their job, even though from time to time, Yoane would beat him if Dingo had done something stupid. He used to beat him quite hard but my Father would tell him not too.
Now Dingo was not the only pet we had. Oh no, we had four others after him…not including the live chickens we'd receive as gifts from time to time. The other pets were as followed; a goat named Hudini, ( because he always managed to chew through his ropes and escape) two monkeys ( Timmy and Alona) and we had an African Grey. ( A parrot.)
Now you might be wondering how in the world did you get monkeys? I mean ya, Africa… but still, how did our parents agree into buying a monkey…no, not just A monkey but TWO monkeys? Well, there is a story behind that. The idea came up when our family decided to go to this restaurant, it was pretty much the only ``descent`` restaurant in the entire area. Not so much because the food was good, but the environment was nice and they even had, yes, a pet monkey to attract costumers.
Of course, my brother and I were quite taken to him. The poor monkey was tied up on a short leash and it was apparent that the monkey had been abused and was fed very poorly. My father saw how much we enjoyed playing with the monkey and he too didn't like to see the monkey in this terrible predicament. So my father had decided that we should buy him (my mother was not very happy with the idea of getting a pet monkey… at first… but in the end we changed her mind) and he asked the waitress if it were possible to buy the monkey from the owner. The waitress went to get the owner, whom agreed to sell the monkey for 15 dollars. My Father accepted the price and reached for his wallet to pay the man, but just then he said something in Swahili and turned to the waitress who would translate for him. The price had gone up to 25 dollars. `` Alright… well that's still reasonable…`` my Father reached into his wallet… and yet again the man said something in Swahili that the waitress translated to us. The price had gone up to 45 dollars.
Now at this point my Father started to become irritated, and told the man that it was very rude of him to have changed the price 3 times just now, and that he knew the only reason he did so was because my Father was a muzungu. However, he was going to accept the change of price once more.
The man nodded his head, as he was given the money. He counted it over two times before shaking his head… and guess what? He was not satisfied. He wanted about 50 dollars for the monkey. ( In Congo, a monkey shouldn't have to cost more than 30, and even that is considered to be expensive.)
My Father lost his patience with the man, and even though the monkey was still affordable, he refused to succumb to the owner's demanded price.
``You listen to me, you will either accept the money that I just gave you for the monkey, or I can have the money back right now! It's your own choice! You know no one will pay more than that!``
The man was very stubborn and would not accept the 50 dollars. So we had to leave the restaurant and the monkey as well, but even though we couldn't get that particular monkey, my Father still wanted his kids to have one. He knew it was hard living in Congo, and he always had been the kind of man to bless his family in any way that he could… even if it meant getting his kids a pet monkey. So once again he sent Yoane to spread the rumor around town that the Anticoli family wanted to buy a pet monkey. It didn't take long until someone came over with one. It was still very young, and although he had been fed poorly, at least it didn't look like he had been abused as the last one did, he had bruises on his face and hands.
So my Father bought the monkey and they handed the end of string that the monkey was tide up to. As soon as they left the monkey jumped up on me and took a firm hold on my arm and started to… well… I'm not sure exactly what to call the sounds he made but it was sort of like a purring sound. They do that when they get nervous.
The monkey was not much older than a baby, and we decided to name him Timmy. Now, it took a while before we noticed that there was something…odd about little Timmy. For one thing, he was almost never hungry. We would try to feed him by hand but even then, he would not eat all that much. Sometimes he wouldn't eat at all. Timmy constantly wanted attention, and when he was being held he would refuse us to let go of him, and he screamed when we tried to pull away.
We truly thought that these were completely normal behaviors for a young monkey to have…but then Timmy did something that made us ask questions…
He would pee on himself, and then drink his own urine. He did this every single time he had to relieve himself. We asked a friend about it (who had more knowledge on these types of monkeys then we did) and he told us that THAT was just not normal and we had to have a vet check him out. It didn't take long until we managed to get someone and as it turned out, the monkey was at the final stages of malaria. Meaning that there was no way to save him, and either Timmy's heart was going to stop beating soon or his lungs were going to collapse. (Apparently the ones who sold us this monkey knew that, and it was no wonder as to why they were so eager on selling it.)
So we paid the veterinarian and thanked him for his time. (At this point Timmy began having problems with breathing.) We took poor Timmy inside the house and laid him on the couch. He was shaking like a leaf so we put a blanket over him. It took about 20 minutes or so before he started gasping desperately for air. My mother picked him up and cradled him in her arms as our family surrounded him, willing him to keep breathing, to keep on trying. But eventually, his lungs gave out completely. He laid there in her arms (just having done diarrhea all over my mother's blouse) , crawled up into a little furry ball with his eyes wide open. Timmy stopped breathing, and his heart stopped beating. He was completely lifeless as I touched his hand and felt how cold it was. We all sat quietly for a moment, before my dad spoke out and said that it might be a good idea if we held a funeral for little Timmy. So we did. My mother didn't even bother changing as she held him and carried him towards the backyard.
I went out front to pick some flowers while someone else went out back and dug a hole. My father and Costya built a cross and put it up, and before long I came with the flowers while my mother put Timmy into the ground. (Now at this point our workers were very confused at what was going on. Considering that most Congolese people hold very little value to animal life, what we did was very…unusual. And so, they followed our family to see what the fuss was all about and joined the funeral.) My father stood in front, made a speech and read a little something from the bible. When he finished, he asked me to come forward and to lie the flowers down, which I had done very carefully and very delicately. We closed in prayer and then did the rest of the burial.
(One thing you should know, that is very important to this particular story is that there had been some construction going on across from our house. The workers there had been building a house for a few months now and they were working on the roof at that moment and saw the entire thing…little did they know how much we cared for animals and what it was that we buried. And so what do you think their conclusion was? All they saw was a cross, and my Father with a bible, holding what seemed to be a funeral. Now if you haven't already figured out their conclusion by now, then I am going to state it, clean and simple- They thought we had buried a man. )
You can only imagine how quickly gossip goes around when it is the only entertainment that they have and once more, how wild and far-fetched the story became. It took a while before these stories died down as we tried to spread the word that it was in fact a MONKEY that we had buried and NOT a man in our back yard, although to some, that was an even more out rages tale then the others that had been told.
Now, after little Timmy's passing, we spread the word that we were interested in buying another monkey. We had another man come over with a monkey and this time, we made sure that this monkey was a healthy one, so we had her checked and she was malaria free. We bought her and named her Alona.
A few days had passed, and apparently, yet another man came to the gates with a young male monkey to sell. He hadn't heard that we had already bought one…but the minute we laid eyes on that cute little baby monkey that he held in his arms, we just couldn't say no.
And so, that's how we got Timmy the Second, (Timmy for short.) This little fella was just a baby, and it was obvious that he had been taken from his mother at a far too early age. The minute we introduced Timmy to Alona he adopted her as his new mother. At first, Alona was not at ALL fond at the idea of being his mother. Timmy was always clinging on to her… hugging tightly and dangling under her stomach as a baby would. Alona would try to push him off, only resulting in Timmy holding her tighter. As days passed, she slowly got used to it. Although Alona was not familiar with the responsibilities of a mother, she took it upon herself to care for little Timmy when she realized that there was no way he would ever let go of her. When she ate, Timmy would grab the food inside of Alona's mouth, and he would eat that what was chewed up by her. Alona was always known as the more mature one, while Timmy was the playful little monkey. (Not to say that Alona wasn't playful…but Timmy was very sweet and very childlike.)
A few months passed and we realized a friendship sprout between our dog, Dingo and little Timmy. Sometimes Timmy would ride on Dingo and grab a hold of his ears. Other times they would wrestle…but Timmy made it very clear to Dingo that it's only fair that he would lie down while wrestling…after all, he was much bigger than little Timmy was! (And sometimes, if Dingo would stand up, Timmy would climb somewhere high up, stating that he will not play with Dingo unless he lies back down!)
There was no doubt about it. They seemed to be the best of
friends. Dingo loved Timmy's attention and Timmy thought Dingo to
be a very interesting creature to play with. Considering that
Alona was a bit more of an independent monkey she didn't join
them in their games. Although, you could see that she would get
jealous, and did not really enjoy Dingo's company as she first
did before Timmy came.
Days in Congo turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. Some days would seem longer than others, but for the most part, I was never bored and time seemed to just fly on by. There was always something to do, whether it was heading out for mission work with my family or simply being inside the walls of our home and helping out in the kitchen with Marlik and Efesiya. So many memories were made, and stories to tell. Nights were just as adventuress as during the day time… if not more so.
Just as good memories were made, bad ones were formed just as well. I remember lifting my covers and lying my head down unto the pillow this one bright night, feeling weak after just having fought malaria for the first time. My blood was tested just a couple days ago and the results came out clean. I hadn't eaten all that well for the last 2 weeks and drinking any liquids was also a difficult task during that time. My body was still recovering and the night seemed so welcoming, bringing hope to a new day where I'd feel stronger and healthier. I closed my eyes and prayed a prayer, thanking God for getting me through the time when I felt as terrible as I did with the malaria that I had, weakening my body.
My prayer was short, it was difficult speaking as tired as I was, but I managed to slip an Amen passed my lips before dosing off into a deep state of sleep. Though I felt as weak as I did, I felt extreme peace, knowing how near the Lord's Angels were to me and how every day, they seemed to follow me and lead me and my family through the difficult times. Every night I could easily see how God would smile down on me and promising me a new day with Him hand in hand, continuing the great adventures of life that he had planned for me.
The night was still and bright. I dreamt, as I slept nice and warm under my thick blanket, I saw images pass through my mind of many different faces and places. My family in Congo.
As I lied still, my eye lids suddenly flew open. I was awakened, but not by a sound. My whole body was shaking, and my forehead sweating, while my heart was beating furiously, seemingly trying to tear out of my chest. I was in panic. Fear grabbed at me. I opened my mouth and tried screaming but I couldn't. I was petrified. I rose up panting frantically. I looked around the room, I felt a presence. Yet I could not see anything. The moon was still shining bright, just as the stars were, but I still could not see anything. I knew that something was in the room. I tried calming myself but I felt an even deeper fear as I tried to block the feeling, a sense of darkness I can't describe. I couldn't take it anymore, I knew I was going to sound mad, but something was so horribly wrong, and so I screamed uncontrollably at the top of my lungs. I shrieked like I never had before. As if my life depended on it. Sure enough my parents ran into my room with flashlights and so did Costya and Yulia.
Even as they entered the room I continued to tremble, and I yelled and I shrieked, I kicked violently and I cried. I was terrified and I just couldn't control myself. I'd never felt this way before. It was as if the purest form of fear took a firm hold of me and simply refused to let go. My mother and my father ran to either side of me, sitting on my bed, holding me, asking me what was wrong and telling me to calm down, but no matter how much they held me and how much they stroked me to calm me down, nothing did. I was just as afraid as when I first realized that something... something was there, right in the room. Not a person, not a monster, but something. And even with the 4 adults in the room, even with my own Father, yes even him, as big and strong as he was, even he couldn't comfort me.
I continued to scream and I begged my parents to help me, to make it go away… but they couldn't. They held me tight, told me I was safe. I didn't feel safe. They wrapped me in my blanket, swayed me back and forth, stroking me. Nothing helped. My mother started praying in tongues. She prayed and she prayed with my father beside her.Slowly my panting stopped as did my shrieking and violent kicking, but I continued to quiver. My mother instructed me to pray and repeat Jesus' name because there was power through it. And so I did. Ever so slowly, the fear and terror started leaving. I felt it being replaced by the peace that I held when I first went to sleep. My shaking stopped, but I continued to pray and I whispered His name over and over again. Jesus…Jesus…Jesus…
The peace was then surrounded by an immense joy that just seem to overflow in my heart. After what seemed to be about an hour had passed, my parents left the room, while I continued to whisper, and with a smile on my face I said thank you into the moonlight before falling back to sleep . Envisioning yet again, how the Lord and His Angels were smiling and watching over me as I layed in my bed with my eyes closed, and in complete peace once more.
Now this happened two other nights. I would wake up shaking with terror and my parents would pray over me as I continued to beg the Lord to comfort me and make the fear go away. During these nights, little did I know that my parents felt something too, but not as to the extreme as I did. My Father would wake up, and feel a dark presence. He'd have a difficult time sleeping as did my mother. When I screamed, they would run into my room and as they opened the door, they would feel it the strongest there. Right there in my room.
Something was definitely wrong.
About a week or so later, my Father had learned what had happened during those nights. He'd recieved word that a man came into the church that morning and he had confessed... to witchcraft. He had been casting spells infront of our house in the middle of the night as his mission was to kill the pastors of the Church we had built. One of the pastors being my Father. The man had been blackmailed to do this, for the sake of his son who would've been killed if he did not do as he was told by his master.
When he was asked why he had decided to come here now and confess. His answer was that he had tried to cast his spells again this one night, but as he came in front of the walls of our home he saw a great big fire surrounding it with angels towering above. He was frightened and turned away, packing his gear he decided to cast his spells in front of our church instead, but when he arrived he was frightened again by the same phenomena. A great big fire surrounded our church while angles stood above guarding it.
So many events, diseases and other difficult times caused my faith and relationship in the Lord to strengthen, as I became more dependent on Him. It truly felt like He was walking right beside me, each and every day. There would be nights where I would just go outside and climb to the platform that was attached to the roof of our house, and I would just look at the moon and the stars shining down their luminous light, and I'd have this whole conversation with the Lord. And sometimes, after dinner, I would take walks with Efesiya . We'd take several laps around the house just talking with each other, and with Jesus as if he was right beside us, joining us in our walk. We'd sing to him, we'd laugh, and be filled with joy.
I can honestly say that living in Congo had the greatest impact on my life, as young as I am, I can still say that it's going to be something that I'll carry with me always. The amazing experiences I received while living in Congo.
There were many hardships faced, and lessons learned during my time there. Certain events haunted me, though only for a short amount of time. One of which was when my family went to a conference and I decided to join them. During the meeting I was left outside with Efesiya to play with the other children. Since the service was held in Swahili and I couldn't understand much.
It was fun at first, playing tag with the other children… until one of them thought it would be fun to tease me for my skin color. The rest of the children started poking me with sticks, pointing and laughing. Some even started hitting me with branches that they'd get from under some old trees. It didn't hurt much when they swung at me, but just the same I was humiliated as they surrounded me and took turns swinging and poking at me with sticks and branches. I would shout and tell them to stop, but they would only laugh. I cried and ran into the building where my mother sat, in the far back. The service had just ended and I took a seat beside her and buried my head in her arm to hide my tears. Three of the children had run after me and they simply stared, further embarrassing me. I became angry and hurt, and I asked my mother, rather rudely, to make them leave. My mother, not knowing what had happened, simply smiled and said `` No baby, now why would you want me to do that?`` She replied while turning her head and smiling at the children.
My mother's kindness to the children that had been so cruel to me made me feel that much more alone and it stung me to see how she smiled at them; it felt that everything and everyone was against me. I stood up slowly trying to contain myself and turned sideways so that no one could see my tears, while asking my mother quietly if we could leave, right then and there.
To my surprise she replied ``Alright sweetheart, let me just go get the guys.``
It didn't take long until we managed to get 4 motorcycles (taxis)to drive us home. (Another ``need to know`` is that the only type of taxis that existed in the area that we lived in were motorcycles, and it was the most common way that my family would get from one place to place, considering we only had one car and my Father used it most of the time for mission work.)
My brother sat with Costya, while Yulia had her own taxi as did my mother and I. Feeling angry, hurt, and humiliated, I couldn't force back the tears for much longer. So while we still had 20 minutes left of the ride I started crying. I tried to keep myself from snuffling and making a sound that the driver might hear, but sure enough, I wasn't able to keep myself quite. I let a sound slip and the driver looked at me through the review mirror… as if I wasn't humiliated enough, it felt like I was being paraded on a motorcycle while the people we passed by simply stared at me with my soaking wet cheeks. I looked down and waited agonizingly until we would finally reach home and I'd be safe and hidden behind the thick brick walls that surrouned our house.
Once we got inside the gates I jumped off of the motorcycle and made a quick dash inside the house, leaving my mother to thank the drivers and paying them for the ride. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I ran through the hallway, into my parent's bedroom, and finally into the privacy of their bathroom. I locked myself in and fell to the floor with my knees, while placing my forehead to the door I started to weep and let all the sounds that I tried to keep quite earlier, out of me. Frantically, I started beating the tiles with my fist in rage. How could my own mother take their side? How could she have chosen them over me? They humiliated me! They beat me with sticks! They laughed at me… I cried and they just laughed at my pain and humiliation… How could I have ever cared to come to Congo to help such children that couldn't care less to be friends with anyone that was white, like me? I'm like a freak to them…
``Rahel?`` I heard my mother's voice come from behind the door, ``Rahel are you in there? …Are you crying?`` She put her head to the door to listen, I could tell by how her voice tunneled through the mahogany and echoed into my ear.
I didn't reply. ``Sweetheart?`` My mother waited patiently for an answer.
After a while I couldn't keep my mouth shut, so in a fit of rage and a heart full of pain I shouted , ``Go away mom! Just go away and leave me alone!``
My mom asked me to open the door and let her in, I refused. It felt like only now she cares for me because there were no children in sight, and so only now could she give me her full attention. I wasn't placed first and that stung me. It was me that made a fool of. It was me that was crying, not them! They hurt me! Me! How could my mother not care and just smile?!
``You don't care mom! You care more for those kids then you do me! Why don't you just adopt them, seems you love them more! `` I sobbed.
At that moment all I could think about was myself. I just wanted to go back home to my real friends. People that actually cared about me and would never have allowed me to get hurt the way I did.
``I hate them!`` I shouted. ``I hate them all!`` I cried until my throat became soar. My mother still stood behind the door patiently, and after I got out all I wanted to say she replied softly, ``Honey please, open the door for mother? Please?``
It even hurt me then, as to how she didn't even deny what I said, when I stated that she loved those children more than me. Yet… her voice sounded so comforting, and I was tired of sobbing. And so I lifted one arm up to the lock, still sitting on the ground, and unlocked the door. My mother slowly opened it and took one good look at me.
With a soothing voice she said, ``How can you say…that I love them more? Do you think I love you less?`` She bent down and as she looked at me, I swung my arms around her and cried more softly.
``Do you?`` I whispered, burying my head in her shoulder. She had her arms around me and slowly guided me to her bed. I sat on her lap and she cradled me, ``No sweetie, I love you so much, sometimes a little too much.``
I understood what she meant by that, my parents had a way of spoiling us when they worry that they don't do enough, especially my father, who often questioned if he should've brought his children to a place as dangerous as Congo. As all parents, they just want the best for their children.
``I just want my old friends back..`` I told her. I explained what had happened with the children and how they poked me and took turns swinging at me with a branch. Then I told her how badly I wanted to go back home to Russia.
``… What about Efesiya then? Isn't she your friend? If you went back to Russia I think she'd feel pretty sad…you've done so much for her, and you've done a lot for the other children, even those that just want your things, you still give them what you could. God has called you to love them and show how much He shines through you with His care and understanding. Jesus was made fun off too, he was whipped and pushed, and yet He forgave them, and loved them just the same. Even after they nailed Him to the cross, He said- Father, forgive them. `` She looked lovingly at me and I could see it in her eyes and in her voice, how much she loved the Lord, how much she loved me… and yes, and even those children that had hurt me.
I understood then, that I had to forgive them, because God loved them so much and I knew, I could love them too. Jesus' love was in me and He could help make the pain go away by allowing me to forgive what they had done. I thought I could never understand how children could be so cruel, but the Lord gave me understanding, so after my mother and I prayed, it became evident that I shouldn't have said the things I did, saying how much I hated them. So I asked to be forgiven.
I learned so much that day. Loving unconditionally, had a newer
and clearer meaning to me. From then on, I never asked to go back
home to Russia with such desperation, though I did miss it from
time to time, but only because I missed my friends there. I not
only accepted the fact that Congo was now my new home, but that I
really had a purpose for being there, and I was intent on doing
whatever the Lord wanted me to do for as long as I lived in