The heat presents itself as a wall of welcome upon stepping off the plane into Pointe Noire. Despite the 19 hours of travel and 6-hour time difference from Montréal, I am very alert, albeit nervous, as I drag my luggage with the broken wheel into the airport to be approached by local customs (note to self: replace that wheel or else throw that luggage far, far away).
The air is heavy with humidity, and I quickly scan my surroundings for anything familiar to offset my discomfort of waiting to be accepted into the country. I didn’t know how I would feel coming all this way to visit Mwana Villages' Baby Home and experience the realities of Mwana's vision up close. Having Cheryl with me however gave me the security to finally make the trip that has been in my heart since I was a child. Cheryl is the founder and visionary of Mwana. She lived in Congo for 5 years, a detail that would soon show how it was like she was returning home to family in contrast to the 3 days it took me in our short 2-week trip to merely get my feet beneath me and adjust.
There is so much to say about my impressions so far that I would need more than a post to do it justice. For brevity's sake, I can say that Congo gives you a mixed world of old versus new, with extreme poverty living right across the street from wealth. The smells are unique, the traditional cuisine is a mainstay with the women preparing food as was done a time long ago, slowly and carefully prepared with devotion to every beautiful part of the plate: the palm sauce, fried plantains, salted saffou to name just some.
People are relational, and it’s as if the clock moves slower here.
So many stereotypes have had a chance to show themselves to me, from white vs. black profiling to simply fearing the mosquitos, drinking the water to the local cockroaches who come out at night when imp trying to sleep.
Its been several days now and I’m finding it easier to be in a completely French environment and getting deeper into the daily affairs that make Mwana an incredible beacon of light in this country. The children whom I have only previously known on paper are now real and up close to me. Their little personalities are emerging as I spend time with them. The mamas are dedicated workers who have stories of hardship I have never known. Mwana is now their refuge. The results of our 7 years of fundraising so far are manifested right in front of me. I’m humbled to see what Mwana has achieved and grateful to the team on the ground who tirelessly keep this vision alive. I will be pleased to follow up with profiles on some of our team who have believed in giving a hope and a future to the Congolese in the midst of challenging circumstances. You’ll read about Jean and Madie, Cecile, Maman Rebecca, Frank and Fabrice, and others. I’m excited to share the rest of this incredible trip in the next post.
--Corina Boland, Mwana Canada Board VP