Congo is teaching me about generosity. I realized that this morning after Mbale, one of UCBC’s driver-mechanics, left with our car. It’s Sunday, the one day of the week Mbale doesn’t have to work. He puts in long days and long weeks driving the staff van each morning and afternoon, running folks to town and beyond on errands, and tending to the never-ending repairs on the UCBC staff van. He negotiates with parts dealers and solves all manner of vehicle maintenance challenges.
Over the last six weeks he has spent hours tending to our 2002 Rav4, a vehicle that has survived unnamed and numerous owners along with roads that mangle suspension systems, hijack filter and fluid systems, and chew up tires. Our car's current repair needs do not keep it off the road, but Mbale is eager to get the car in good running condition. So he wanted to spend his “day off” working on our car.
After Mbale left to take the car to town, I realized that my definition of generosity has been narrow. I’ve defined generosity in terms of material wealth. Generous people pledge funds to causes they consider significant. They give gifts to people they love. They contribute money or goods to others in need. They donate their car to NPR.
But Congo is teaching me that generosity is bigger. Generosity is when people freely give their time, their attention, their patience, and their talents to someone else without expectation of reward or reciprocity. Congo is teaching me that generosity is practical and personal.
Congolese colleagues and friends bestow their generosity freely. My teammates wait patiently as I struggle to find the correct French phrase. They drop their work to proofread an email I'm writing in French, even though the need is not urgent. As three of our staff members navigate the unfamiliar, digital landscape of online learning, Malka, our team's tech expert, patiently coaches his colleagues how to log-in and find their way around strange websites and tools. He stays late after the workday ends to help them download the Kindle Reader app and access digital books. When I miscalculated the start date of my current English class, Mashauri, the English team leader, offered, “No problem. I can take the class for that week.”
Today, as I rethink generosity, I think of other colleagues, friends, and family who have demonstrated generosity of time, attention, patience, talent, and hospitality. Some have given their time to listen as I wrestle with questions and decisions. Many have been generous with their patience as I rambled through a confused thought process. There are those who have been generous with their hospitality, opening their homes to me and to members of my family. Some have opened their homes and hearts to strangers. I think of friends who are generous in their prayers, holding the concerns of others in their hearts. Othersare generous with their spirit of joy and good humor. They coax those of us (me) who tend toward intensity to see circumstances in a brighter light.
I often refer to "the gifts of Congo." Today I say, "Thank you" to this place. "Thank you for teaching me about generosity."