Visit to Butembo

The main purpose of going to Butembo was to visit Othy’s family. I was also interested in seeing a bigger city in North Kivu. The journey took about two hours down a winding bumpy dirt road. We stopped on the way at a place called Panorama that offered a magnificent view of the hills and savannah (Othy informed me that the treed areas in this region are not forests… go to central Congo and that’s where you find real, dense forest!). Othy directed us to a hotel called Auberge Butembo because it isn’t far from where his family lives. After dropping off my bags we went to Othy’s family’s home where I met his grandmothers, parents, and most of his siblings all at once! It was a bit overwhelming, but I think it helped that I was in a go-with-the-flow mentality. They were very warm and welcoming, though there was a bit of a language divide. I had fun trying to string together sentences from my very limited Swahili! We shared lunch together and then in the afternoon Othy and I went to a wedding of a family friend. We accidentally went to the wrong service (there was more then one at the same church that day and we read the time wrong!), but we did manage to find the bride and groom where they were taking photos and then we went to the reception. This was my second experience of a Congolese wedding and so I was already familiar with some of the traditions. One main difference from weddings in Canada is that there are more formalities at the reception that are performed before the dinner begins. One interesting one is that the bride and groom offer cooked chicken quarters one at a time to people that they want to recognize and appreciate. There is also a time when people come forward and bring their gifts/monetary contributions for the couple. A Congolese wedding is also full of music and dance! There was a beautiful performance of traditional ethnic dance that I very much enjoyed. Even though we left the reception quite early (around 8pm), I was absolutely drained and Othy could tell! He brought me back to the hotel and I went to sleep very early!

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The next day Othy, his sister, his cousin, and I went to church together only to find that the sanctuary was full. So we went instead to visit with his aunt and cousins who live nearby the church. After that Othy surprised me by driving us to one of the high areas of Butembo so that I could get a view down over the city. It was a beautiful view and also reveals how big and spread out Butembo is! It is like a gigantic village because all but one of the roads are unpaved and there are no high rise buildings despite having a population of over one million people! While we were walking around and taking photos we had a bit of an audience of curious children who were wondering what we were doing! I got compliments on my skirt from some ladies nearby (it was the bottom part of a dress that Othy gave me the day prior). Apparently I dress way better than most foreigners (meaning more Congolese)! Next we went to a restaurant where we met up with a few of Othy’s friends. We ordered drinks and food and I listened intently trying to understand the group as they dove into political discussions in fast-paced french! I probably got about half of the conversation! Our last stop of the day was to visit another family friend. I learned a bit about Congolese hospitality when what was supposed to be a quick mid-afternoon visit turned into a longer stay that included dinner! Othy and I had intended to go back to Beni that very evening, but in not wanting to rudely refuse our host’s generous offer of hospitality, we decided to postpone our journey until the next morning. Again by 8pm I was absolutely exhausted! The following morning I said my farewells to his family, we stopped in for a short visit to his older sister’s place, and then headed back to Beni. Othy’s parents provided me with a bag of delicious fruits and avocados to take with me, and I discovered upon arriving back at Jessica and Mary’s that they had also given me a live chicken that had ridden the whole way in the trunk!

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I only had one day in Beni before heading with Othy back to Uganda. In the morning I visited my friend Bethany who I knew from my first visit to Beni with EMI. It was wonderful to catch up and also meet her two daughters. I then went to UCBC to catch the last hour of the first day of “UCBC for You” that was a program for the faculty that reflected on understanding and improving bilingual education at the university. I was interested in getting a taste of the discussion, and it was also a way for me to say goodbye to many of my friends and colleagues at the same time. That evening Jessica, Matt, and I went to Othy’s house for a jamb/worship session. We ate some Congolese street food that consists of grilled meat and onions served with fermented cassava. It was tasty! Hanging out with good friends was a nice way to conclude my time in Beni!

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