June 21, 2010

“Papa Jean” helps in all sorts of ways. After preparing my breakfast at 6:30 he is changing the sheets on the bed this morning before the clothes washing. But his outstanding service of all visitors staying at the “Maison des Missionaires” is distinguished by his intelligence and patience as an instructor in the language and culture of his people.

Yesterday I sought his help on the appropriate greeting of the elderly. I wanted to know if the traditional Lonkundo greeting of “losako”was used for both men and women. “No,” he replied, “’losako’ is used only for the man because the man is ahead of the woman. The man comes first.”

Further conversation on the topic of gender roles and precedence brought agreement that times were indeed “a’changin’” in this respect in Congo. Some women do in fact earn more than the man in today’s households and in most urban homes the man and the woman must contribute cash to the treasury.

Unfortunately, the economic pressures of modern urban life also have led to use of the Lonkundo “losako” greeting in Mbandaka without expecting the elder to share a proverb for the day. Formerly, the “losako” conversation might well entail an exegesis of the proverb’s various layers of meaning. Papa Jean’s proverb, for example, was followed by a leisurely, spirited translation and explication in Lingala of the Lonkundo proverb, “My true home is in the heavens”

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Kate customarily reminds me during my packing for trips in the States, “they have stores there”. There are all kinds of stores here also, most of them temporary shelters of varying description along the roadways. But in our search for a fingernail clipper the other day, it was to the stuccoed cement block buildings of the former Belgian colonial days we went. After climbing a series of steps to survey displays of merchandise arranged on the walls inside, we entered the third or fourth store and my guide, the cherubic-faced chauffeur Delis, noted a small collection of clippers in a store manned by a young Indian ensconced behind a wire screen.

Satisfied with the purchase, I reflected on the way home onthe alternative method followed by many, most?, Congolese males. Three or four I asked about this informed me a double edged razor blade was their clipping tool. Razor blades, still known as “Gillettes”, Kate, are indeed widely available here.