Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Inspiring youth, Independence Day, and the DRC

Fifty-seven years ago on June 30, the Democratic Republic of Congo won its independence. While I won’t go into a political history right now, I will celebrate Independence Day by telling you about my generation and how amazing they are.

Congolese youth are artists, talented photographers and musicians. They are teachers of elementary students and ESL learners. They are preachers and leaders and peacemakers. They are aspiring doctors.

They are aware of their socioeconomic status in their country and their country’s status in the world. They are thinkers and doers. They are innovators and prayer warriors.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Blackman Bausi recording with Skye. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My friends, Congolese men and women in their teens, twenties, and thirties, are hilarious, too—just ask me about Charles sometime. They are humble, kind, and very passionate. They are dedicated students and worship leaders and evangelists and creatives. They are uncomplaining friends, patient mamas and brothers and husbands.

They are amazing.

I wish I could tell you about each of my friends in detail – Victoire, Blackman Bausi, Patricia, Patrick, Clarice, Dieum, Sumaili, and so many other dear ones. You could meet some of them or get to know other incredible Congolese youth by visiting Un Jour Nouveau (Africa New Day) in Goma, actually. UJN is always happy to have visitors.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Some youth at UJN after Sports Sunday at church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Organizations like UJN in Goma and Congo Initiative in Beni work with and employ these youth for social change and a better Congo. They teach Christian leadership and peace in a country tarnished by suffering yet underlaid with resilient beauty. They are part of Congo’s ongoing history.

I’ll say it again: my generation is part of our country’s history. The youth are making change.

Today we celebrate the freedom we have from colonialism. Today we celebrate our victories. Today we remember what we have accomplished personally and as a nation, and we strive forward towards a brighter future.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Me and one of my best friends, Dieum. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Happy Independence Day!

Advertisements
https://s3.amazonaws.com/prod-wp-images/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/cannabis-for-chronic-pain-51.jpg

That moment when you forget you have chronic pain

 

Two of my friends are marrying each other in a few weeks, and they are planning a boat trip the day before the wedding. I was talking to one of them about it, asking how to RSVP, and he said he was not sure if I would be able to participate in the day trip due to my back, since the activities involve hiking.

My friend was very considerate and left the options open to what I thought I could handle, but he remembered what I forgot: that I have chronic pain that affects my daily life.

I forgot this because the boat trip sounded fun. I forgot this because I am a socially active person. I forgot this because I am relatively physically active as well. I forgot this because I was feeling strong during that conversation.

Chronic pain and illnesses are odd in that they do not always manifest themselves. I can go a week carrying my guitar on my back and walking to the library, dancing around the house, and lifting babies so they can “fly.” I will have discomfort and pain in this time, will potentially take some ibuprofen to ward off the stronger pain I feel coming, and will certainly require several massages to keep going in this time, but I will still feel relatively strong.

(My definition of feeling strong means being able to walk without having to think about it.)

But then I will have a breakdown. The pain will grow too strong, and an inexplicable weakness will overcome me. Tears will come, my limbs will go weak, and I will lie on a couch or the floor and have to talk to myself again and again and again in order to sit up or move my legs.

“Okay Skye, you’re okay. You’re okay. Move your leg. Move it. MOVE YOUR LEG. Come on, Skye, sit up. Oops, you’re not moving. Why aren’t you moving, Skye? Silly. There you go. Try again. Good, okay, let’s sit up now.”

Sometimes I will be strong in the morning and have a breakdown at night.

Sometimes I will have a totally strong day.

Sometimes I will have a totally bad day.

Breakdowns tend to happen once a week, on weekends, on Sundays. (The devil still cannot stop my worship to the one true God and my Healer.) However, I cannot predict when I will have a good or bad day.

I asked my soon-to-be-wed friend to pray for me to have strength during the entire wedding weekend. I told him I would plan to go on the boat trip but would cancel that day if need be. I absolutely love hiking, so I really want to go.

And who knows? Maybe the Lord will heal me by then. It has been seven years of pain so far. I think it is about time to enter a year of Jubilee and be rid of this pain. Don’t you?

 

 

Some say refugees. I say friends.

I spend nearly every day of the week hanging out at the houses of refugees or having them over my place. On weekends many of us attend church together, all weekend long. On weekdays others of us eat lunch together; I always look forward to 12:30. Several of us practice music together, all of us converse together and call out the ways we appreciate each other, and some of my acquaintances who are refugees open up their houses till midnight to share ugali and rice and greens and fish.

Just this Sunday, I visited a Congolese pastor’s house as a stranger and left with an invitation to return anytime. As I left, he made sure to point out his apartment number and floor so I could find it next time. Thank you, Pastor David.

I recently realized that I talk about my friends who are refugees differently than I talk about my native-born American friends, particularly those who are white or monocultural. Sometimes this lends context, but it can also be problematic if lending to an othering effect.

“Reaching out to” or “serving” our refugee neighbors or any marginalized population in order to feel good about ourselves hinders us from fully engaging with the group being “served.” When we do this, we are looking through a lens of power versus powerless. Although we may be doing good deeds and growing in our understanding of particular refugee populations, subconsciously thinking in terms of power dynamics blocks our hearts from receiving love.

We native-born Americans are not the saviors. But we can be good friends.

Here’s an idea: let’s develop deeper friendships so refugees become fully human in our eyes, fully capable of giving while still fully needy, like us native-born American humans. Let’s open our hearts to receive love from the strangers and soon-to-be-friends we seek to welcome.

While the humanity of refugees is not a question, it is important to note that the human experiences of refugees have been shaped by horrors like war and statelessness. Refugees have experienced things most native-born Americans have not. Their experiences will vary by age and country and contingency. The histories of the countries they have fled and lived in have shaped them in significant ways. The color of their skin will also impact their life chances once in the United States. We must consider the systems in place that affect their daily lives.

Refugees in the United States have overcome a lot: less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled, and it is common to spend almost two decades in camps or foreign cities before coming to the US, if granted status here.

Yet once they receive this status and move yet again, they come to a land that often treats them poorly.

Several of my Congolese-American friends have told me that Africans do not believe them when they say the United States is not heaven. (I witnessed this over
-admiring attitude firsthand in DRC myself.) But the truth is that when they come to the United States, they can barely make rent. Their living conditions are not necessarily significantly different. They start at the bottom of the workforce. Academic degrees do not always carry over to the American system. In short, life is still quite difficult.

Take pause today to consider these injustices. Do a little research. Sleep on what you discover. Wake up woke.

Now take pause to consider the ways refugees give to your community and the United States, the ways you have seen them serve. Thank them for their contributions. Be creative about it.

Today I stand with countless global citizens to celebrate world refugee day. It has been a truly splendid day full of energy and smiles and even a bit of dancing (see the InTandem – a Flashmob of Empathy video below from Denver’s World Refugee Day rally.) I particularly think of the ways my friends are bettering my life through their hospitality and friendship and food. The main ingredients I have noted are time, love, and ugali, given in generous portions. I am grateful for my friends who are refugees and am incredibly glad to be a part of their lives as they are in mine.