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Field notes

2nd entry by guest blogger Peter Lambertz

Kingabwa, 20. Juni 2011

Tuesday, seven o’clock. No electricity means no coffee. The morning prayer session from next door is over. And I am 30 now! Friday last week was my 30th birthday! It is difficult not to think about what “birthday” means, how we all produce time and age by ritualizing these moments, probably as a means to govern our life trajectories in accordance with our social surroundings, by linking achievements and requirements to age…

The last week was nearly as intensive as the first one. I feel that if I stayed longer than the month I am here for right now, I should not keep up with such a rhythm and take more time to relax and contemplate. One month is definitely short.

An interesting encounter occurred over a longish talk with a 70 year old “Buddhist” in a Libanese burger restaurant next to a big supermarket in the town centre (Gombe). Not quite a place I would intuitively associate with the ideas of meditation and spiritual harmony – my own clichés at work here, I know – and rather like the burger place kept by Salim’s Indian friend in Naipaul’s Bend in the River. But my informant wanted to go there with me, and so we were sitting next to a dirty window in the company of cleaning personnel wearing the burger-uniform and burger-cappy, with Coke and Shawarma, speaking about his life, the different Japanese religious movements, of the power of meditation, beauty, and the role of flowers. It was marvellous and I will meet the man again this week, if I manage.

I have to add here that I was stopped by street police (roullage) twice last week. Once on Bvd du 30 Juin, where the police man jumped on the back of my motorbike and made me tour the city centre with him (keeping my driving licence in his pocket), meanwhile whispering some dollar amount into my ear. His collegues clearly disapproved of what he was doing, as if they were afraid that he may jeopardize their job. Given I hadn’t really done anything wrong we were able to settle over the price of a beer. And when I asked him about his salary, he said 40 dollars a month. The other time, yesterday, my passenger, a church member of EMM, didn’t wear a helmet, so there was really something wrong according to the law and I had to pay 10 Dollars. I know this sort of experience may feed clichés but want to add that a week before my departure, in Leipzig, I was stopped by car and had to pay 30 Euros for not wearing a seat belt.

Last week’s highlight was undoubtedly the nightly prayer session (veillée) with EMM. It started at 8 p.m. on the evening of the June 14th, about 7 hours before in Japan the 15th of June would start, i.e. the day when EMM’s founder received his revelation. So it was planned that at 3 o’clock in the morning, in synchronicity with EMM communities in Angola, Brazil, Japan, and the rest of the world, everyone would be praying. The rather smallish church compound was packed with people, all sitting in rows of plastic chairs and stools, giving and receiving Johrei. Around eleven a first collective prayer session started, with everyone tuning in to the Japanese traditional shinto prayer “Amatsu Norito”, which is now recited about 10 times in its Japanese original version, before the ensuing prayers follow. Short before three in the morning, eventually, the special service started (for those still awake), but my impression was that not much was different from other services, except for the visiting minister from Angola. Not much was said about Japan, and I was thinking that no matter how far away and globalizing spatial reference points may appear, religious practices are always very local phenomena. But I will have to check on this…

I have been continuing conducting interviews with missionaries and members of EMM. This happens quite informally, before or after church services, while sitting, relaxed, and practicing Johrei. If my intuition says I can, if possible I record. But often I try to recollect when writing afterwards. Looking at a religious minority within the largely christian Kinois society still seems promising, as I had hoped, but of course there is much work ahead.

Problematic – how could it be otherwise – is the fact that I am and count as mundele (white). When visiting the family homestead of an EMM member, I was presented as the brother from church and hence I was used to validate and lend credibility to EMM as such. Evading this is rather impossible, I guess, no matter which community you research. So I take the fact that I am being utilized and how exactly this is being done as indicative for EMM’s need to position itself within the largely christian religious sphere. I imagine that I am not the first and only researcher who is thinking about this…

There were three teaching sessions also. One about the nature of the human being, his/her linkages with the ancestors and the general cosmological setup. Another one on the purpuse of EMM in the world, and, interestingly, also an Ikebana class during which the meaning and purpose of flowers and the art of flower arrangment were laid out.

Yesterday, I joined a team of missionaries on a clean(s)ing mission of a member’s house (nettoyage). A very informative and empathetic experience with praying, cleaning, the burning of unneeded and old things, with gardening, more praying and Johrhei. The landlord had been healed from a severe skin disease thanks to Johrei which is supposed to purify “clouds” of accumulated “sin” and which is said to improve the ancestor’s lives in the spiritual world.

There is much more to say, as usual. But the battery is nearly empty and I will rush off to the catholic Scheut mission now where there is more stable electricity and also a web connection. I will meet a friend there and we are planing to visit a couple of flower shops today. Many greetings to everyone! Peter.




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The Congo Research Network (CRN) is a community of researchers working on DR Congo and its diaspora across the Humanities


One thought on “2nd entry by guest blogger Peter Lambertz

  1. Hey,
    It is really nice to read your stuff. You do create a picture that one can paint in the imagination. Looking forward to the rest!


    Posted by sabil | June 27, 2011, 12:15 pm

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