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Bringing Home the Bacon: The Hangers

November 28, 2012

One of the most foreign things about this country (and probably other third world countries, but I don’t live in other third world countries) compared to the Western World are the occupations.  Here, more common jobs are ones where they find a service and perform it.  Sentinels, like Alex and Mosengo, have jobs with benefits, security, and a dependable schedule.  But, when you drive down the streets, you see thousands of things for sale and just as many people selling them.

The most common things available at more places than there are Starbucks in Seattle, are phone credits, money changers (dollars to francs and back again), and tissues.  Oh the Congolese and their tissues.  You know, facial tissues?  Kleenex, if you will.  For 500 francs (about fifty cents), you can buy two ten packs of over-sized, extra-thick tissues.  They are orange and white little purse packs you see in your checkout line at the grocery store.  The Congolese use them, mostly, to wipe sweat off their faces.

Phone credits are purchased in small dollar amounts and you can buy little scratch cards to load your phone with money, or if you have a relationship with a person who performs this service, they will “flash” you: send you the credits over the phone.  I have Lievin, who is at my house twice a day anyway, and when I need credits, I keep a close watch on the gate and catch him to flash me credits.  But, you really can buy them about every ten feet on any main road in Kinshasa.

There are also the normal wares: beverages, gum, fruit, bread, and waffles (remember…this country used to be called Belgian Congo, before it was Zaire, before it was DRC…and Belgian…waffles…you know).  Once you get a little further downtown, where there are more cars, thus more people with disposable income, you get a wider variety of things.  And these things are not at little stands, necessarily, but rather the sellers are wandering down the middle of the city’s six-lane main boulevard and coming up to your car in the traffic.  Or on any side road, they are more than happy to approach you so you can easily buy their stuff.  Where these people get their stuff to sell varies quite widely, and I can’t even venture a blanket statement to that effect.

But the point is, each one of these mini-businessmen is a person, who probably has a family or relatives to support, based on whatever they sell that day.  One day I bought a shirt for Matthew.  It was the coolest shirt ever – bright white, with bright blue and green colors, button-up.  It is fun.  He bargained hard, but eventually I got my way.  (I also wasn’t the one bargaining…Pepe was…the Congolese prices are much better than the “mundele” (white person) prices.)  It was the only thing that guy had.  Was that it for the day, or would he go get something else to sell, with the $10 I just gave him for the shirt?

The one that really hit me hardest was seeing a man, weaving between stopped cars, and all he had to sell that day was a bundle of ten, plastic hangers.  I think they were orange.  The man spent his entire day, as far as I know, combing the streets, looking for someone to buy his hangers and then he could feed his family dinner.  Can you imagine?

As our country (the US) deals with the onslaught of changes in the health insurance industry, unions, minimum wage, and all other tiny details of providing jobs, I think of this guy and his hangers.  Ten, orange, plastic hangers.  And his family might eat.  Or he might pay his rent.  Maybe he has a kid in school (there is not really a public education system here).  I’m not an idealist: maybe he has a drug habit he needs to maintain.  Either way, that was his job for the day.

One thing we heard repeated over and over about this culture is their lack of future planning.  The man with the hangers?  I don’t think he CAN plan for the future.  If you were him, would you want to?

No, I wouldn’t want to think about what to sell tomorrow, or what would happen if I couldn’t sell the hangers today.  But, what about eternity?  What do the Congolese think about eternity, if they can’t plan for tomorrow?  Do they know where they are going…what it means…and why it matters?

When these guys bring home the bacon, which, on average, is less than $1 a day, they do it in a way that is literally and figuratively foreign to us.  Let’s hope we, as missionaries serving Christ, can communicate that there is more to life than selling hangers with the hope of living the next day.  And, according to Ecclesaistes, selling hangers should be something to rejoice about: “there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.”  (Ecc. 3:22, ESV)  Sell hangers now, look forward to a lifetime and beyond of serving a loving God.

One of my favorite occupations are these guys that fix the roads.  They put garbage or rocks, sometimes sand and gravel, into large potholes, then they set up flowers and palm fronds between the lanes, dress up a bit, do a sight-catching dance and a bow and ask for money so we can thank them for fixing the roads.  They are usually quite jovial and sometimes I do give them a few hundred francs just because they make me laugh.  If they do their jobs right, a quick tropical rain will wash away whatever they used to fill the holes…thus, they’ve created more work for themselves, and can now generate more income.  If you can understand and appreciate that, then you have a better grasp of Congolese culture than you did five minutes ago.  Voila!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2012 0829

    Loved this entry! Very well put =D

  2. Dawn Darby permalink
    November 28, 2012 0829

    Great letter, Lisa. What a wonderful picture of life there—and things to pray for.


  3. March 4, 2013 0829

    Very interesting. Thanks for this look into daily life in Congo.

  4. January 20, 2014 0829

    I just nod my head as I read this. Being there, and understanding. Yet in a way, and maybe I am strange, I envy them a bit for just living for today. I know when it comes down to survival it is heartrendingly sad, but ya know here all we do is plan for tomorrow and forget to live today. I get what you are saying. The community feel there is so much missed here.


  1. desperate advent. « different

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