When I tell my son of his homeland, I will describe the busy Kinshasa streets—the women with enormous bags, bowls, and boxes easily perched on their heads as if they are straw hats. As they walk slowly down the road, they sell their bread and fruit from these containers. I will tell him about the storefronts—sometimes crumbling buildings, sometimes bright beach umbrellas shading wooden tables. The people sell most anything you can imagine: food, clothes, car parts, cell phone chargers. A man walks by us with a board covered with a hundred sunglasses for sale. In the heavy traffic people peddle their wares through our open car windows: folded fans, bags of water, travel sized packs of tissues. The air is full of engine exhaust, horns honking, people shouting, and the soda sellers clinking their glass bottles together to bring attention to their colorful drinks. In large intersections, there are robot traffic lights, but we are the only ones transfixed by these metal giants. The drivers and pedestrians jockey for position as they ignore lane dividers. Organized chaos.
When I tell my son of the city where he was born, I will tell him of the heat and the rain. He will know a piece of it from the summers he will spend in Tennessee, but he won’t understand the scope of its enormity and longevity. I will describe the giant avocados grown at our hotel and the tropical flowers, bursting like fireworks from the vines along the gravel walkways. I will tell him about the lizards, like the gray and orange one that visited us everyday. It would climb to the very top of the hot, tin roof and move up and down in jerky movements like it was doing push-ups.
When I tell my son of Kinshasa, I will list the Congolese people we have met along the way—the woman who worked at the hotel who also adopted a little boy and translated for us when things got frustrating for our son; The friend who took him to the hospital when he broke his collarbone and each time he had malaria; The orphanage director who found creative ways to put food on the table for so many children; The foster mother who made sure he had what he needed and cried when she said goodbye to him.
Though I was only there for such a short time, I will try my best to explain that the homeland of my son is a broken place. It is not a place where people go to feel comfortable and live an easy life, but it is a beautiful place. It has promise. There is potential.
I will try in my own imperfect way to tell him that the Congo is a part of him. And no matter where we are born, we are all parts and pieces of good and bad, brokenness and potential. When he asks me about where he came from and who gave him birth, there will be many more questions than answers, but I will do my best. I will tell him that his Congo Mama gave him a gift, the gift of life. Then I was given the gift of being his Forever Mama. There is sadness in his story but there is also redemption. And I am grateful that we are a part of his story.