Today was insane! I think weekends are more exhausting than the work week, at least if this is the standard. Jenny and I went to a community exercise class, which is sometimes helpful and you can see the benefits, and other times ridiculous and you’re wondering where they came up with it haha The neat thing about class is how supportive everyone is of each other. A person in the class said that they couldn’t do whatever exercise we were doing then and the class encouraged them on and cheered when they finished. Once the class is over, everyone hi-fives everyone else and congratulates them. I think we should do this in the states – it brings a sense of unity to the group. I loved that aspect! After class, the instructor invited us to go eat with him sometime. (Like I said earlier, the men are VERY friendly.) Then another man in the class, Ousmon (not sure on spelling, but that’s how it’s pronounced), invited us to his classmate’s wedding party (reception essentially) this afternoon.
Jenny and I went home, showered and dressed, ate, then the errands began. She took me to this great fabric street, where they literally sell nothing but fabric. It’s amazing! It’s on both sides of the street and is 2-3 blocks long. The variety of prints, colors, etc in the fabrics can never be met in the states, not even if you combine Joann’s, Hancock, and Hobby Lobby’s fabric selections together. I bought 2 prints to be made into dresses, but I’m hoping if I can find more subtle fabrics that would work in the states, that I can have a few skirts made. I bought good quality fabric. The best fabric here is Vlisco and it actually comes out of the Netherlands. Jenny has informed me though that there is a huge Vlisco store in Kinshasa that is very nice – air-conditioned and everything!
Afterwards, we went to the tailor. The way you select a dress here is very different – they have catalogs of dresses (that can be bought from other companies) and posters with examples of dresses (again, it looks like they’re made by other companies). You go through them, find a favorite, and then tell or show him what you want changed. For my first dress, I found a style I liked, plus, it was modest on the shoulders and not too wide, but I’m still having him bring it further in on the shoulders and up on both the front and back. He is even making a belt out of the pattern to compliment the dress and my waist since the dress is more form fitting.
While at the tailor’s, Jenny and I met too delightful women who were full of questions. They first wanted to know if my eyelashes were real and how I got them to look so long haha They didn’t believe me that they were for awhile haha Yup, eyelashes is how we met these women. Then, they wanted to know how I did my eye make-up, so I showed them the eyeliner and mascara. Then, the interesting conversation began. They saw my bague (ring) and wanted to know everything – when did I get married (women here do not where engagement rings), where was my husband, why did he not come with me, did I have children, etc. I answered their questions and they were shocked. Then, they said, “but you must have children, then he’ll marry you.” I informed them that children would be coming after marriage and they were so impressed that he wasn’t marrying me because we already had a child together.
Side note – since this conversation, I have learned that all couples must have a traditional and civil wedding. The traditional wedding comes first and is generally quite expensive. Then, often many years later (ex. 10, sometimes, but often 15, 20, or more), a civil ceremony is done. After the civil ceremony is done, then you wear a wedding ring. This information helped me understand the conversation I had with these women prior.
After the tailor, we went to Park N Shop for groceries. Brazzaville is known for having some of the highest food costs in the world! Last time ranks were done it ranked 2nd supposedly only behind Seoul, South Korea, but I don’t remember Seoul even being this high across the board. Here are some examples – cereal is $10-12 US, a bag of grapes is $15-17 US a bag, apples are $13-15 a kilo, and canned vegetables and fruits are about $3-5 US for regular sized cans. I had one basket, not even half full of items and it cost me over $60 US. We flagged down a taxi to take us to the market and guess what! It had air conditioning – Jenny and I were both shocked and pleasantly surprised! Neither of us have ever seen that before and I think that was the only time where we weren’t dripping with sweat despite having the windows rolled down. We even rolled our windows up!
The market is a hectic and honestly, unpleasant place to be. It’s filthy, people yell at you to try and get you to buy their things, and kids beg you for money, which is sad and hard to see. Unfortunately, the people who beg here are supposedly doing such just to get cigarettes and now that I know this, I’m not very nice – I haven’t given a penny. It’s still hard though because they’re little – often my baby siblings ages and they follow you to the taxi and put their hand on the window when you drive away. Anyone who knows me, knows that I can be easily played unfortunately, so this just about kills me each and every time…
Ousmon texted Jenny by the time we got home, so we got dressed and then began preparing our dinner for when we got back. Jenny let me try on some of her African dresses today, so I am borrowing one of those for the wedding, until I have my own to wear.
Ousmon picked us up and was so pleased with how I looked that he is going to have a dress made for me. He is in the import-export business. I was quite surprised by his offer, so I pointed out my ring and explained I was engaged. He said he didn’t care and that anyone who looks that good in African attire should definitely have dresses made for them. Uh, kind of uncomfortable, but ok. He took us to his niece’s, Aumand’s, birthday. She was turning 10 and absolutely delightful! She spoke very slowly so I could understand her French and I was able to answer all of her questions, with just getting help on a couple of words – we talked about our siblings, whether they were boys or girls, and their ages. Yes, my French conversations are that basic and as sad as it is to admit, that’s great progress. The French here is very different than France’s French and I find it a little hard to figure out and understand their accents.
We were offered drinks (soda) and sandwiches, but explained we were full so we only needed to have the bottled drink – you don’t eat food here unless you know how it was prepared, etc., but at the same time you don’t want to offend people. When we sat down, Ousmon gave an envelope to Jenny to give to me, an envelope with cash in it. I didn’t really understand but he explained it was her gift and I’d give it at the end. Well, here in the Congo, I guess it’s traditional that the birthday child will dance and that to dance with him or her, you pay – you dance with them and then you put money on their forehead, holding it there for a bit, then they hold it with their hand too, and then it’s done. I don’t quite understand it, but that’s how it’s done so you can’t dance for “free” unless he/she invites you, then you can dance with her. I am pleased to announce that she invited me to dance with her and I was the only one she picked. Another girl took video of it (Here is the link: http://youtu.be/zYJO8KZWMJ0). All the other little kids started huddling around us, so I, in turn, invited them up and it was a lot of fun. I think they were all very entertained by the white girl dancing in African clothes. After that song and a couple of others we got ready to leave, so this time, all the kids huddled again and I invited Aumand (basically sounds like Almond) up and placed the envelope filled with money on her forehead (Here is the link to that video: http://youtu.be/4ae0OHLMfl0). Everyone cheered!
The wedding party we went to was about an hour north of Brazzaville, so we got into the countryside and I so wish that I would have brought my camera and video camera! Jenny and I decided to take one small clutch just so that one of us could have it at all times, but I was so disappointed I didn’t have the other stuff! When we got the location for the wedding party, we then had to hike up a hill for about 12-15 minutes and have I mentioned that all the dirt here is either red clay or sand! Yes, we’re living in a jungle, but there’s no actual soil…Plus, we were, as is expected, in heels. Oh my! It was a challenge since you have to walk on your toes so your heels don’t get stuck in the ground.
When we got to the top of the hill there was a building that looked like the other small houses around it, but it was actually their version of a night club… very small, but interesting. We sat outside and visited with three women who were all very disappointed that I didn’t speak French and that I wasn’t drinking beer with them, which I thought was funny because they were all older women, 2 with grandkids. I would’ve expected people may age to pressure me more haha I ended up asking them about their children and one women had 2 sets of twins, then 4 single births! These women explained to me about the wedding ring not coming until after many years of marriage, etc. (as mentioned above). They also reassured Jenny since now 3 people, in one day, have asked her and I if we’re mother and daughter She’s quite insulted, but I pointed out that at the age girls begin having kids here, I very well could be, so it had nothing to do with her looking old, it was just an assumption they made based on their culture. These women wanted to know the details about my wedding and my fiancé. (He really is quite the topic of conversation here haha) Then, Jenny invited them all to my wedding! Haha That is a great honor here and they were so pleased to be invited, even though we all knew it would be impossible for them to come.
After about 45mins to an hour, we had to leave, so we hiked down the hill (aka mountain) and caught a taxi. Things were going along fine until we hit some traffic, so our taxi got off the main road and went to the side streets, which are full of bumps, and holes, etc, so you end up moving pretty slowly. What a blessing! After about 10-15 minutes of this, his brakes went out. We were on a crowded street/back alley, it was dark, and there we were with no brakes. Because of the traffic, we were on a road that was very slow to begin with and one that easily slowed the car down with the constant bumps and holes. I truly feel that we were protected right then.
We all got out of the car and Jenny and I were very relieved to have Ousmon with us! We were white women, still far from downtown, on a crowded dark street. While waiting for a taxi, an older African woman leaned her head out of the car to tell use how beautiful we looked in African dress and that we looked so beautiful that we should have a dress made for every day of the week. What a compliment!
We eventually got back to the house where I made my Brazzaville version of a Mexican bean salad and Jenny made a shrimp salad for dinner. A friend of her’s, whose name I cannot remember, came over. She’s a virologist from Paris, but is currently working on behalf of Tulane University.
After visiting with them on the porch for awhile, I headed inside to do dishes and headed to bed since my ride for church is coming at 8am tomorrow. Yeah, I think it’s going to be way to early, but he insists.