Culture: Home and Bonobos


“Si tu pars n’oublie pas
La terre où ton coeur a vu le jour
Zanzibar ou Kinshasa
Faudra jamais que tu oublies l’amour”

– Si Tu Pars by Lokua Kanza

Last November, I went back home.  I had to go back…I was dying inside, I needed to see the house I grew up in, I had to breathe the air I remembered…I had to stare at the stars at night as I did so many times long ago…when I used to be a teenager, confused but hopeful that tomorrow would make more sense.

“C’était hier quand Mboyo jouait sur les pirogues
De l’autre côté, Dimitri faisait du roller à Prague
Tous les deux, ils ont été touchés par l’aventure
Comme toi, j’aurais un mot simplement à te dire…

So, I set a date but the Paris attack took place the Friday before my scheduled flight…yet, I refused to stay.  My friends and I visited a traumatized Europe with armed soldiers at each corner, high security and long lines in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris and Bruxelles.  It seemed as though the world was falling apart as I was finally going home.  But I had to be home.  When I finally landed in Kinshasa, the little girl inside me felt at peace.  I wasn’t dreaming anymore.  True, a lot had changed in a decade. The airport was fully air-conditioned. The roads were not as bumpy as I remembered yet they served more cars than they could handle and this resulted in painful traffic jams and jaywalkers.


Oh, there were scooter-taxis everywhere and 24-hour churches promising prosperity in exchange for your hard-earned wage.  Kinshasa was more diverse with a larger group of Indian and Chinese immigrants. On the other hand, there were less Lebanese and they left with my favorite shawarma restaurant  😦ebelandi_kin_7 ebelandi_kin_6 ebelandi_kin_2

One of the highlights of my trip was a stop at Lola ya Bonobos or Heavens of the Bonobos.  The Bonobos are a species of intelligent monkeys only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nowhere else.  They are known for their peaceful attitude. Unfortunately, Bonobos are an endangered species because they are killed as bushmeat in Congo.  It was an amazing experience to see the work and love poured into preserving them at Lola ya Bonobos. If you’d like to learn more about the sanctuary, visit the official website or watch the 60 minutes episode with Anderson Cooper.

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I was home, finally.  A lot had changed, yet things had remained the same.  My mom still sang when the lights went off but this time she sang alone. Love, money and family were still the main subjects developed on television. Commercials were still ridiculously funny with catchy tunes to hypnotize us into buying milk, beer, skin lightening creams, hair products, lottery tickets and spa treatments.  The sky still shone bright in a midnight blue hue at night and my favorite stars were still there and so were the pool as well as the swing my baby brother and I played in.

I was home and could finally let my brain remember moments I tried to block out by fear that my heart would be too heavy.  This time at last,  my eyes and my hands could match the memories to concrete objects. And the people had changed, yet they were the same hard working, family oriented, fun loving, optimistic and fashion conscious people I remembered.  A decade had passed and things looked different yet it all felt the same.

“Tu verras la beauté des hommes et leur douleur
L’important c’est de pouvoir toujours garder ta chaleur
Bien des fois tu auras la visite du blues d’un soir, mais tu vois
La vie a ses beaux jours et ses déboires”

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Culture: He Did It All For Love

“Love, something you know nothing of, cause love doesn’t turn and run and leave you standing in the dark…”

– All For Love by Lady Antebellum

So much is written about love, but what is it, really? Well, if the media and books, movies and songs were the spring of true knowledge, we would assume that it is a purely emotional and physical connection with someone; that love is measured by how much the other person gives, by how much we feel while ‘in love’.  Love would be about what we receive and never what we give.  And how could the other person dare complain about what we give, after all, it is about “I”, not “WE” nor the world around us.

We are taught that love is personal and we have the right to stand against any obstacle in disagreement with our feelings…even if the obstacle is our spouse or our child’s happiness.  Oh, did I forget to mention that our celebrities remind us that love is strong but temporary…while exceptions exist, love only last a few days…or a few hours, depending on the season.  So Lady Antebellum keeps singing:

“Love, what was I supposed to do? Falling out can be so cruel but I just can’t ignore the truth…

“So, don’t tell me I don’t understand cause I don’t want this on my head but that’s all there’s left to do…

“I can’t fight these feelings inside of me, as much as this hurts it’s the only way, believe me when I say I did it all for love”

This selfish definition of love is common and seems to be widely accepted. The beauty is that in America as I know it, this physical, emotional and senseless love is unbiased and genderless.  In the Congo I was raised in, selfish love was allowed to men, never to women.  You see, polygamy is very common, officially or under the covers 🙂  It used to be backed by laws in the Zaire era.  I believe it is not recognized today but widely accepted in the society.

So, men were allowed to marry as often as their heart fell in love…as long as they could provide for each wife and her kids.  The women – and especially the first wife – were to forgive and remain supportive because he is a man, and cannot help it.  Furthermore, some tribes in Congo define richness and social status based on the number of wives and kids one has.  As a result, polygamy, rivalry between wives and forgiveness are recurring themes in the Congolese music of the 1960-1980’s.  “Beyanga” by Mbilia Bel is a perfect example of such thinking.


A friend told me that polygamy is everywhere and affects all of us the same.  She may be true, but I do not know…I still had doubts even after watching few clips from ‘Sister Wives’.  In the culture I was raised in, girls have a sense of helplessness when faced with it.  They do not want it, but do not seem to want to be out of the situation on their own terms.  We are raised to be independent, morally strong to raise kids, proud of our beauty and family values, independent.  We are taught to care for a household and for ourselves just in case our husbands do leave us.  While the first thought here would be “Let’s divorce”, back home it’s more “Oh, well, where do we go from here: is it a one time thing, is she a true rival, will he ask me to leave?”  Also, many refuse to divorce to ensure a better future for their children…


When the 1960-1980’s Congolese woman finally decides to leave (or is forced out), she leaves her head high because she cared for her kids before herself.  She usually will move on with her life and harbor no resentment towards her ex-husband and his wives.  At the end, she’s freer as society does not require her to remarry.  She can then focus on living life on her own terms and help her kids learn life as adults…I do not understand the reasoning and have always rebelled against it but it is what it is.

Now, Congolese girls from the newer generations definitely think differently.  Most of my friends say they would not waste a minute on a cheating husband.  But who can predict the future?  One thing I have experienced: while the person in love with someone else is living bliss, people around are hurt deeply and rarely recover fully.

“You tell me that your feelings have changed, and you don’t wanna stay and break my heart but baby, it’s too late…

“Cause what about the times that you said to me that I was everything that you’d ever need…

“How can you just stop and walk away, and look me in the eye and say you did it all for love…”

Pictures from Blog and Google.