The Congo River is the deepest and the ninth longest on the planet. It is the lifeline for a nation in which roads and railways are lacking. Goods are shipped, food is caught, clothes are washed, people bathe, and all sorts of wonderful acts happen on the river. It is the source of life for the over 30 million people who live in the region.
Over 11,000 forest plants have been catalogued in the area and 1,100 of the species are found nowhere else in the world. The river is life. Yet in a nation where few people know how to swim, it is a dangerous existence for many. We were told the week before we arrived in Mbandaka, just upstream from the Disciples of Christ compound, a boat with over 60 people crashed into a dock in the dark of night and all of its passengers drowned. How many untold lives have been swallowed up by the Congo waters?
We were set back a day in our travels waiting for our rented Toyota to be repaired for the journey to Bolomba. This gave our team an opportunity to visit and interact with the people who lived along the Congo. The children were fun to play with. We enjoyed having the men show us the fish they caught and how they maintained their wooden boats called pirogues. We caught a good glimpse of the bicycle culture in Africa with people carefully washing their decorated boda boda (bicycle taxies) in the Congo River. This caught the eye of our founder of The Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure Ryan Iafigliola.
I was caught up in the swirl of love of being with our group, Leslie, Leah, Craig, Ryan, Kevin and David and the anthropological experience of being in a new land in such a beautiful place. The river village people were very welcoming. The “harbor master” alternated between taking cell phones from incoming boats and making cassava (manioc) pestles, which we learned was a staple for the Congolese.
We even had some moments of silliness. One young man walked over and saw Leah. "Elle est une belle dame!" the young man yelled from the shore. "Elle parle le Français!" another man cautioned. And immediately they all switched to speaking Lingala.
Wednesday morning we were awakened by intense but beautiful drumming around 4:30 in the morning. We were told the drumming was a traditional way of celebrating the birth of twins.
I asked Leslie to pen a poem about her experience on the river. She said her emotions were that of “Being carried to a distant shore where separation exists no more. All seemed right with the world, there by the river…Time eternal…Free…Home.”
Enjoy Leslie’s beautiful poem and pray for the people on the Congo River.
of life abundant.
The fullness of Life
love without fear.
on this River of Life
the Ocean of Existence.
Gregg Thomas, father of Leah Gernetzke, our communications/multimedia specialist, also wrote a song aptly called "River of Life," featuring several international artists. Click here to listen!