Riding the bike up the Avenue Bonsomie (Independence) hill on the way home, as I began to labor a bit, I hear behind me, “Mondele (white man), natindela yo?” I grunt in response without fully understanding the question. Suddenly I know the meaning as I am pushed up the hill by a bicycle taxi driver who releases hold after several vigorous steps.
A three year old across the way cries out “mondele” every morning when I leave the compound. One evening he is there as I wait for the gate to be opened. So he shouts for me the order to the watchmen, “Open up the gate. The white man’s here.”
The rain began to fall hard as I rode home late one afternoon. I sought shelter under the tin roof of a street stall where used clothes were displayed on boards laid across saw horses. A half dozen early to mid teen youth hung out in the “store”. After directing me to a dry spot, one of them was intent on teaching me the Lingala for “to get wet” as she offered me a chair. While one of the boys wiped my bike with a rag I gave out a box of “bics” with the hope expressed they would all be able to stay in school.
When the Regional Minister introduced me to the pygmy secondary school graduate, the small man in his early twenties went down on one knee as he extended his arm for a hand shake. At the end of the conversation about his desire to become a nurse in one of the Church hospitals, he repeated the gesture. Again, the Regional Minister chuckled, slightly embarrassed, and this time said something in Lonkundo which I could not understand.