Day 6: Maji safi

Saturday was a bit of a jump away from routine.  In the morning the engineers went into Beni to get tours of two water treatment facilities leaving Robert and I to work like crazy on the architectural master plan.  In the afternoon our entire team went to visit a cocoa plant that is owned by an acquaintance of Paul whereby we were first hosted in their home for lunch and then given a tour of the cocoa and vanilla factory.  It was fascinating to see a cocoa and vanilla factory and learn about the production process, smell the vanilla, and most of all see an establishment, specifically in the DRC that cares about stewardship.  It is a rare quality because this is a country where corruption still reigns.

The cocoa factory had a pretty impressive setup.  Not only do they buy the cocoa beans from a network of over 12 000 farmers, they also track everything and if there is an inconsistency they inquire about it to hold the farmers accountable.  If the issue is a disease in the crop, they help to find a solution.  They have field agents that go by boda and teach farming and fermentation methods to the farmers which in the end benefit both parties.  Essentially this business buys the fermented cocoa beans from the farmers, sorts and grinds them, and then prepares them for export.  The process with the vanilla is a bit more arduous as they must dry them out in the sun on racks for about 30 days, bringing them back in at night or in bad weather.  They provide safe and honest jobs to several people.  I didn’t realize that cocoa was a fruit before it was chocolate, and got to try it for the first time.  The fruit is just a pod that you can basically suck on until the fruity goodness is gone and then spit it out.  It’s beyond me how they discovered the possibilities behind these amazing plants because it certainly isn’t obvious!

Photo by Erland Mowinckel

This was the day I learned my first Swahili besides the simple ‘welcome’ (karibu) and ‘thank you’ (asante).  When the engineers returned from their morning escapade to the water treatment plants, Kabale our driver greeted me with the words ‘maji safi’.  For a while I didn’t understand what he was trying to say to me until he held up his water bottle and said ‘clean water!’  Well the term stuck, and it became a common term of greeting with Kabale for the rest of our stay!  In Africa the word has a bit more potency than it does in North America.  I am so used to filtering or boiling my water now that it will be strange to go home and drink it directly out of a tap!  I think we certainly take for granted the infrastructure that exists in the developed world.

I have been constantly reminded here how complex systems like infrastructure are and how all of the different parts depend on each other for the whole system to fully function, even something that for us can seem so simple such as obtaining clean water.  I am also reminded that it is the same way with the work that we are doing in partnership with this ministry.  It can be so easy to get lost in the process of accomplishing a job, that we can forget the overall purpose for it, or begin to consider our own role in it to be of little worth.  A verse I keep coming back to while I’m here is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 where Paul describes how just like the human body, the body of Christ also has many parts, all dependent on each other, that work together to do God’s work.  Architecture and engineering mission work can sometimes feel so distant from the people it is serving, but at the same time we are offering expertise that are very much needed and will in the end produce a building that will be a space that changes lives.  That is all I can hope and pray for as I sit at my computer and draft the day away.

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