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Field notes

3rd and final post by guest blogger Peter Lambertz

Kinshasa, 03.07.11

I am thinking about how to start this third and already last entry. I see the fact that I don’t know where to start, what to tell and how to present things is a as definite sign that I have arrived back here, now, after a month has gone. Things have started becoming a bit more “ordinary” again, given I am here now, back here and very much here… (and aready I must leave…) I have difficulties in chosing the things I want to share… No doubt the purpose of continuous field notes is precisely to bridge and integrate excitement and banality, surprise and boredom, in order to enable the reconstruction of some of the tension afterwards, when re-reading in  another place and in another time. This very tension, though, will always be born in the moment of re-readning… and so also what I am writing here is merely floating on an ocean of representations… trying to make things visible for regimes of visibility, invisible to the here and now of where and when I am right now…

Just came back from about three hours of church service. The Angolan church minister who is on stay here for the moment spoke for about an hour in Portuguese (with a translation in Lingala). However much there is to learn and to observe, languagewise, concerning the content of speech, the interaction between the church leaders and the sitting and singing adherents, the references to the church hierarchy and its titles of authority, the golden earrings of the lady in front of me, the intimity of the Japanese prayer everyone enjoys reciting aloud, the offer by the man wearing an abacos next to me to buy some of his building ground outside of Kinshasa, the lady sweeping the floor during service, the sleeping man over to the left, the locally composed songs to the glory of the Japanese messiah, the many symbolic references to catholicism, the overwhelming performances of public witnessing, of deeds and miracles credited to the church’s spiritual force, …  in the end I have to admit that three hours can be rather very long if you know that you have only two days left and still want to do a thousand things…

My personal highlight of the last 10 days was undoubtedly EMM’s public clean(s)ing activity at Rond Point Victoire and the town hall of Kalamu. An unforgettable view, arriving at Victoire and seeing nothing but a huge cloud of brownish dust surrounding the pyramid like Monument des Artistes, generated by a concentric sphalanx of messianic adherents syncronically scavenging the stone pavement of this public square which is spiritually significant in Kinois’ imaginary… As EMM’s inofficial photographer I took about 428 photos in total. When the square was finished, the next step consisted of cleaning the nearby town hall’s courtyard as well as its offices (!), including the mayor’s! And “cleaning” here does not mean a symbolic brush stroke for the sake of being seen, with one hand in the pocket, waiting for someone else to continue… No, this was fervent religious activity with zeal and no shying away from even the dirtiest piles of public trash! Except for the toilets, the town hall and its adjoining office buildings were swept and broomed with soap and water, including, windows, landing, staircase,… I remember playing with the analytic perspectives while sweeping myself the courtyard: On the one hand clearly an activity based on “religious” convictions; on the other hand a religious movement cleaning the political executive offices, aiming to set a model, with the public servants sitting in plastic chairs, watching. And then, curiously, there is this white guy from Belgium with them, equally helping to clean this local Congolese town hall, with a movement that religiously advocates Japanese cleanliness…

Coming home at night, exhausted and still somewhat wondering about the day, my Congolese brother P. informs me about the death of the 22-year old girl next door. Her abortion at an advanced stage of pregnancy had failed and killed her. The responsible doctor had apparently been arrested and the boy friend of the girl had fled. The social stigma surrounding premarital pregnancy and abortion is strong…

It was a relief to spend an entire day on Tuesday with Prof Kabuta and some of his staff, walking up some hill in Kinshasa’s outskirts, sharing good informal talking and the poetical writing of self-laudating texts using the stylish elements of Luba-African oral poetry (Kasala).

I also met three professors on the campus of Unikin (and had to realize how much research in local libraries and faculties I still have to do.) Then there was a Wednesday’s prayer session in Mokali, Kimbanseke, which was combined with a teaching and debating session on the church’s usage of flowers. (Very helpful material, entirely recorded). I also continued conducting interviews (i.e. causeries) with church resposibles and adherents. Sometimes also while sharing beer on a terrace at mosquito time after the duty time at church was over.

Last Friday we had a meeting of the Congo Research Network. The surroundings were quite noisy and I am proud to have saved the organizer Katrien, who was stuck in a car in the still endless traffic jams here, from coming much too late by carrying her on my motor bike. There was much interest expressed in gathering and exchanging interests, motivations and academic materials on the new electronic platform of this site. A shame that most people had to leave early. But there will be more occasions soon I am hope…

My time here in Kinshasa ends in two days. Obviously this was too short as it feels as if I only just really arrived. Perhaps another night in Beaumarché (beer, goat and dancing) will lend some consolation before leaving… Although the quiet of Kingabwa, with a beer, the stars (did I actually mention the lunar eclipse two weeks ago?) and nothing but the crickets is at least as strong and uncomparebly precious an “ambiance”. In the meantime I am still trying to pull together some provisional findings in a written report… Given I was here only for four weeks, I am rather satisfied with what I managed to accomplish here. Now a lot of reading and working on the data waits ahead…

Writing these three entries has been pleasant, helpful, and also good training, perhaps, in writing for other people than myself. I hope the upcoming bloggers will manage to write four and not only three entries per month like me. As usual, suggestions, references and comments are very welcome. Many greeting to everyone who has been reading this! Looking forward to the ensuing entries… Peter.


About Congo Research Network

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


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