This is it. I’ve reached my end. I step gingerly into the bathing stall – a structure built of bamboo with no covering overhead. The problem with using bamboo to build bathroom walls is that there are big gaps in between the sticks. Someone hung a tarp to cover the back portion of “wall”, but through the rest the bather is allowed a serene view of pondu plants, a large fallen tree partially hiding a small mud hut (maybe a toilet?), and some grazing goats.
I’m not worried about it. What bothers me is the door. Or rather, the lack thereof. The first few times I tried hanging my towel and clothes over the stick stretched over the opening, but they only covered the top half and I gave up.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Bathing in Bangadi. My thoughts are accompanied with a wry grin. Bangadi is a small town tucked into the vast Congo rainforest. This forest claims over one million square kilometres and is among the most beautiful haunts on earth. On world maps it is the smudge of green at the heart of Africa.
I think this qualifies for “the ends of the earth”. I’m halfway around the globe from my family, in a village I’ve never heard of before, with no contact with my Congolese friends in Isiro or my family in Canada. Earlier today, a beautiful older lady took my hand and walked with me. Shyly she asked what my nationality was. “Canadian,” I replied.
“Oh, and is Canada next to France?”
I inspect the basin of water. Call me spoiled, but usually in Congolese hospitality baths are comprised of wonderfully hot, clean water. This is lukewarm. And it is odorous. Maybe it comes from a mineral spring, is my hopeful thought.
I feel here a history I have only heard of but never touched. These red roads, towering forest-trees, and blue sky stand as silent witnesses to the blood that has been shed in all too recent days.
Under Belgium rule, Bangadi was an important town. After Congo was given independence enterprise and infrastructure steadily deteriorated across the nation and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) claimed Bangadi for a post from which to raid other villages. Only recently were the LRA expelled, and residents recall their cruelty vividly. In the church, some told of scenes seared into their memory: a girl shot dead before her sister’s eyes; people tied to trees and burned alive; tree trunks used to crush living children. How does one put such suffering into words?
Just this morning I saw the fingerprints of nightmares. Burned houses. A school that is just raw wood structure, the tattered plastic used to cover it blowing in long streaks in the wind like white flags of surrender.
It is too much. Ever since malaria fever hit me hard last week, I’ve had this urge to be with my family again. I am only a teenager. A child. My body is tired. My mind is tired. I’ve had enough: I want to go home.
The rocky surface of the bathing stall feels nice on my tired feet. But my thoughts mock me. Home? Where is home? It is not the first time that question has haunted me. Since the age of three I have moved across continents and countries with my family. But I did have a sense of home – home has been where my family was. Now I am separated from them. And yet, every day of my sojourn in Congo has had a blissful knowing that I am HOME. This country, this culture, it belongs to me and I belong to it. The red roads, the children with laughter and starlight in their dark eyes, the furious rain – my heart claims these. But now, I want to leave it. To go….home?
Just across the road from my bathing stall stands the local church. It is a new, solid structure. The people that worship there have found an unchanging God to hold to in the midst of political and personal turmoil.
But me? I am focusing on the circumstances instead of my Rock. I am focusing on my own heart instead of my Father’s heart.
It is a dangerous place to be.
I finish bathing, pray my thanks that no one passed by the open doorway, and step out. I stop and I stand amazed. A large, beautiful rainbow falls in a curve from the clouds to kiss the top of a mango tree on the horizon.
A rainbow – a sign of God’s covenant with man from ages past.
I have spilled my heart, my many soiled thoughts and feelings into my Abba’s ears.
He stops me at the door of the bathing stall. He tells me one thing.
I am with you.
Those are the words I held to the week of malaria. Again, they come with a deep sense of peace and security.
I am with you.
Where is my home? With Abba. What is my work? To be in Him. Where am I? At the end of all things; and as much in my Abba’s hands as ever before. Who am I? Abba’s girl.
There is this Lingala phrase; “Esika mayele na motu esuki, oyo na Nzambe ebandi.” Where man’s wisdom ends, God’s starts. I am at my end, but God is not. He is right here. With me. With this people. Abba, I accept Your mission. I’ll stop trying to create my own. Show me who I am to minister to today as part of Your body; even if it is just with a smile or kind look.
The promise in the sky is so brilliant tonight. I forget time. I forget the bundle of clothes and towels I hold. The man in charge of bath water for the guests comes around the corner of the house.
“Look!” I say, pointing, “look! Look at the arc du ciel!”
He looks. “Do you not have those where you come from?”
I smile, “Yes, we have rainbows at home.”