June 14, 2010

After several attempts this morning I succeeded in reporting in Lingala to “Papa Jean” that the toilet paper roll was empty. I celebrated with a stream of French that freed my tongue from its captivity in the other language.

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Yesterday, at the conclusion of worship we processed out and I was stationed at the back, second in a line to greet everyone with a hand shake. They filed past us extending hands as stiff as dry leather, cracked hands, hard and worn, and little soft hands raised as though in a salute. No one, save one or two infants sleeping on a mother’s shoulder, avoided the rite of greeting.

A firm hand shake is not customary here. The hand, even that of a sturdy young man, is extended limply as though a touch is adequate greeting. Some among the elderly grasped their left arm just above the wrist in a traditional gesture of appreciation and respect. An elderly “mama” or “mpaka” rotated the hand for a double shake reminding me of a solidarity hand shake among youth in the States. Above the singing that accompanied the rite could be heard their “mbote”, an occasional “losako” prompted by my gray hairs, and one or two brief commentaries on the sermon or good wishes for my stay among them.

Expecially for the members of the four or five choirs who participated in the service I felt a firm, enthusiastic hand shake along with “merci” would be understood and appreciated Before preaching I remembered Groucho Marx’s joke in one of the movies where he is trying to pass as a doctor. He lifts the man’s wrist lying on the floor to take his pulse. Looking up with cigar twitching he proclaims, “either this man is dead or my watch has stopped”. After more than an hour of song, dance and prayer, as I was being introduced I thought if I can’t share a word of encouragment this morning I had better check my heart beat.