I think Kaori and I win the award for “most-random-party-in-Kinshasa-of-the-year.” If anyone wants to send us a trophy, we will gladly accept!
How did that happen? I’m not quite sure… We knew we were going to stay in a place with a nice kitchen, and that the house even had a large dining room table. The few contacts we had been corresponding with before we left NY all seemed amused by the idea of us coming to Kinshasa and throwing a sushi party. Our contacts all invited a few of their friends, and pretty soon we were looking at 20+ guests.
Soon after, Kaori and I were excitedly making a menu and a shopping list, deciding what would be reasonable for us to bring on our trip. We obviously needed the essentials - sushi rice, some seaweed, packets of rice vinegar, and lots of soy sauce. (Things we assumed would be impossible to shop for in Kinshasa.) I admit I may have gotten carried away after we decided to bring a third suitcase just for food for the party, and I knew I needed to calm down after I packed the origami I planned to fold into little paper cranes and chopstick holders in Kinshasa. Sadly, the origami never made it to the dinner table (there’s always next time!) but we did have a wonderful party!
One of the best things about throwing that party (besides the Whiskey) was meeting Tom, who lives on the British Embassy compound and has learned the local language, Lingala. He was kind enough to take us to the vegetable stand earlier that day, where we purchased tons of delicious local vegetables that we later made sushi rolls with. As Kaori and I tentatively mimicked Tom’s speech, I noticed that the vegetable vendors’ faces lit up in delight. Tom encouraged us to speak a bit more, and soon they were throwing extra scallions and onions into our shopping bags.
Tom (who is now our board member) was very encouraging about our language skills, and even gave us his book, “Loba Lingala!” It’s the very first Lingala language book to be written in English (as opposed to Lingala-French), and it was the single most effective tool we gained in order to connect to the locals. I learned that a simple “mbote” (hello), or “botondi” (thank you) could really go a long way! I had been struggling to brush up my French, which is the official language of Congo, but both Kaori and I have now decided that Lingala is the way to go. It’s a much simpler language to learn, and the locals really get a kick out of it when we start speaking their language.
Not that I feel the need to justify traveling to Africa with pounds of rice and soy sauce, but I think this shows that it’s OK to start with the things you feel comfortable doing when you explore new territory. You see, I’m just starting out in Kinshasa, which can feel quite overwhelming at times, but ask anybody - I know how to throw a sushi party! And had it not been for the party, I wouldn’t have ventured over to the local vegetable stand, Tom wouldn’t have seen me trying to speak Lingala, and I may not have gotten the closer insights into their culture that I got on this trip. Cooking with local vegetables and socializing may not be everybody’s mission in Africa, but I had to start somewhere. So next time, I hope to throw an even bigger party and speak more fluent Lingala. In fact, my newest hobby is to spot lightweight, non-perishable goods that would turn into delicious party dishes in Kinshasa. Everybody living in Gombe [expat community in Kinshasa] better watch out! Kaori and I are going to come back, and steal the most-random-party-in-Kinshasa award two years in a row!