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Downtown Adventure & Welcome Return

August 8, 2015

Today I had a bit of an adventure – exactly the kind of thing that makes living here fun.  A friend from language school, who is helping open a Christian elementary school, is in town to get some things organized for the upcoming school year.  We had planned to get together and have her come over for dinner sine we hadn’t seen each other since she left France when she graduated in December.  She asked if she could bring a friend along who was also helping her.  This friend is a Kinshasa regular, not only having visited multiple times, but her husband’s cousin and wife, and their son and his wife and their kids all live here and I’ve met most of their family.  Small world, huh?

Anyway, I asked if they had been fabric shopping, because I needed to make a run to get upholstery fabric for the couch Matthew is nearly finished making for us (curious?  good.  separate post.).  However, getting upholstery fabric in this city is a bit more than a quick run to the fabric store.

The beautiful African fabric, to which I have a slight addiction, is sold at many open air markets.  I have my favorite place to get it with people I know well enough to get a good deal (though I haven’t been since I’ve been back), but it’s wax-print cotton, not kid-sturdy couch material.  The best place to get that is in the heart of downtown…a place not best for non-locals.  Not best, but not dangerous.  I don’t mean to make it out more than it should be, but you do need to keep your head up, your pace fast, and have a few guys watching your back.  You know, normal shopping.  Theft is very very very common.  It’s best if you go without a purse or money, but that makes shopping a bit difficult.

However, Pepe, my driver, was up for taking three white ladies to this part of town to get the fabric.  We pulled in and found a place to park.  Like normal, several guys offered to be our “guides” and help us to get to the store where we needed to go.  I wanted to go to a certain store that had been recommended to me, even though there were several that sold upholstery fabrics on this part of the street.  So, we took off following a tiny, spry, quick little guy, with Pepe following us.  It was a bit of a walk.  The sidewalk had disappeared under a thick crowd of people and vendors with their wares spread on tarps and in bowls.  The throng of shoppers and porters would cause anyone not used to the chaos to have an adrenaline rush…which we needed to keep up with our “guide.”  Without the sidewalk, we took to the street, which was equally packed with cars, trucks, garbage, and people.  Our short line got cut off by a motorcycle, because six inches was enough room for him to slide through.  We were within inches of cars or push carts.  But, that is what makes it an adventure, right?

Finally, we found the store – while it is a good size, and two stories, it is packed with more people and fabric of every type you can imagine.  We head upstairs to household fabrics and it is calm and quiet, with only a dozen or so people.  The selection of upholstery is slim, but I found a silver one, with black undertones, that will make the colorful pillows and curtains I’m hoping for in the future pop.  Also, it will hide stains.  Because kids.

We headed back downstairs to pay, an adventure in itself, and the other ladies grabbed some fabric scraps and we headed back out.  Finally, we safely returned to our car, paid our guide and the car’s security personnel and set off, only much later realizing that one of the lady’s bags had been slashed.  Thankfully, the thick leather and the liner prevented a theft.  But he gets credit for trying!

There are about three good cuts in the bag, two piercing through to the lining.

There are about three good cuts in the bag, two piercing through to the lining.

Our next stop was the classic tourist stop of the open air art market.  Here you can get any hand crafted Congo souvenir imaginable.  Vendors sell table after table of carvings, jewelry, art, masks, and trinkets.  During our first year, I would bring adopting families here weekly, making a name for myself amongst the vendors, who all began to recognize and expect me each Wednesday morning.  It was a fun place to be recognized and I’m grateful for the relationships I began to build there.

I hadn’t had a chance to return immediately after we arrived back in Kinshasa, but our second week here it was torn down, on government orders, to make way for parking for the new ministerial building and housing surrounding its location.  Not only was it torn down, but it was burned.  A photo circulated recently that showed vendors, stuff still on table, with flames around.  It was a tragic event, but the Congolese people are resilient, and I had heard they had already found ways to sell their goods, so I wanted to check it out and having these ladies along was the perfect excuse.

While I did think some of the vendors might have a fuzzy memory of me from over two years ago, I had no idea the level of welcome I would receive.  The first few vendors met us at the car and began shouting, shaking my hand over and over in classic Congo fashion, asking if I was really here and if I was staying.  They remembered me and how I would come on Wednesdays.  They remembered the exact items I had purchased from them.  They remembered I had kids, even though my kids have never been to the market.  Wow, what a welcome.  Sure, a few wanted me to buy things, but I insisted I wasn’t there to shop today (and I DIDN’T buy anything – miracle).  One vendor, to whom I had given a lot of business, gave a piece of jewelry to each of my kids…literally just gave me stuff, told me not to buy anything, and didn’t demand I return.  It was such a joyful reunion.  And I was so impressed with how quickly they are rebuilding the market.  Some even have wooden stands already!

So, we returned home tired and happy.  The ladies chilled while I bathed dirty kids and made dinner (actually, my language school friend did most of the dinner prep, bless her heart – thank you!).  We enjoyed dinner together and good conversation.  I’m grateful they will be back within the next few weeks to open the school and we will get to meet again…though maybe with less adventure than the today.

Christy, me, and Tammy - and Amelia, because she heard it was a picture of the ladies.

Christy, me, and Tammy – and Amelia, because she heard it was a picture of the ladies.

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