Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

Kazi ya Mikono – Work of the Hands

I haven’t written much this year about Lycee Amani, but what an experience it has been! The original moon I was shooting for at this all girls Catholic high school, was to facilitate English discussion groups for seniors heading on to English speaking universities.  But around December, the nuns who run the school reminded me- pole pole. Slowly slowly.  “How about you start by working in the library? And that way some of the students can see you around and get to know you.”

So, twice a week I worked in the library, helping them digitize their card catalogue.  I chatted in Swahili with a recent graduate, Cathy, as we took plastic covers off of books, printed bar codes, matched up titles and codes, taped on the codes, re-covered and reshelved the books.

Seeing as I have no internet or television at home, I got through the 40 books on my Kindle by the end of February.  I was hungry for more… so I began to consider the old dusty books at the Lycee Amani library.  Then, low and behold, I discovered that they have an ENGLISH section- a real pot of gold!  Once I started checking out books like The Little Prince (I can’t BELIEVE I hadn’t read it before, great book) my chats with Cathy turned into dramatic Swahili retellings of whatever book I read that week.  Cathy is pretty quiet and reserved, so getting her to laugh at my antics would really make my day.

Around that time we finished uncovering all the books in the library, but their was a problem with the printer so we couldn’t print anymore barcodes… “What can I do for you now?” I asked the sisters.

Well, these are the same nuns from my father’s birthday, who scolded me for not knowing how to cook.  So naturally… off to the kitchen I went!

For the past few months I’ve spent twice a week, chatting in Swahili to a group of five mamas, and learning how to cook Congolese food.  I help them rinse beans, cut potatoes, peel plantains, fry samosas, bag chapatis, de-string pumpkin leaves… and they told me they are saving the ULTIMATE for last… teaching me how to pound and cook bugali.

Helping out the mamas in the kitchen somehow always feels very therapeutic.  As we sit and prepare food together, I vent to them about my woes from teaching and life.  They inevitably make me laugh.

The week after my computer died, I was telling them how terrible it was and describing all the things I use my computer for that I wouldn’t be able to do anymore.  I got so into it that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the cabbage I was grating, and Mama Leontine started scolding me in Swahili, “You better pay attention to what you’re doing here!”

I began to slow down as she continued to scoff, “Hmmph… this is kazi ya mikono (work of the hands). Sara, you’re in the KITCHEN now… that grater is not a COMPUTER, it will slice your finger off!”

I doubled over laughing.

Afterwards I started thinking… in the grand scheme of things… knowing how to cook food is a far more important life skill than anything I do on my computer.

To help with my street cred, I like to tell everyone around Goma about my volunteering at Lycee and learning how to cook. They usually get a BIG smile on their face and inevitably say something along the lines of, “Congratulations, now that you know how to cook Congolese food, you can find a Congolese husband, and you will stay here FOREVER!!!”

I respond with an awkward face and say, “Ahhh, pole pole.”


5 comments on “Kazi ya Mikono – Work of the Hands

  1. Stephie
    May 6, 2011

    Haha I love this story. Doe this mean you are going to cook delicious Congolese food for us when you come home? (I can hear you responding “pole, pole”) 🙂

  2. Lonnie Rich
    May 6, 2011

    After my short visit with Sara in Goma, one of my observations was that a big difference between first and third world countries was our view of “time.”

    In first world countries, we view time as limited, and this relates to our need for “progress.” Progress requires that we hurry up, and then make the next move. When we say “how are you,” it is always rhetorical — “I acknowledge your existence, but please don’t answer the question.” As a result, lives are compartmentalized and community bonds are shallow and weak.

    In third world countries with a need for survival, time is limitless. As a result, in places like Congo, time is slowed down while everyone in the community takes care of essentials — obtaining food, preparing meals, making clothes, maintaining basic shelter, getting water. As a result of this, there is an incredibly stronger sense of community, because people spend unhurried, unharried time with each other. When someone says, “habari gani” (“how are you/whats the news of the day?”), it is an open invitation to talk about your spouse and children, your farm, your health, politics, anything. The community bonds are palpably deep and strong.

    Those of us in first world countries have something to learn from our third world friends.

  3. Sally Reams
    May 8, 2011

    Please tell these mamas at Amani Lycee that I am looking forward to a home cooked Congolese meal and that you refused to use your hands in the kitchen when you were small so with you they have a big ACCOMPLISHMENT they can be proud about!!

    Mom 🙂

  4. Sally Reams
    May 8, 2011

    I mean Lycee Amani 😉

  5. Pingback: The Softball Story | Beans & Rice for the Soul

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This entry was posted on May 6, 2011 by in feminism, humanities, teaching, travel.
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