We are sweaty and tired, but we have much to do, so we dive right in, putting water filters together for a clinic, two schools, and two churches. We manage to do the ones for the churches by the time two chickens are brought to us to choose from and it seems that both meet their fate that very day because Frito finds himself in the kitchen hut cooking them both, saving me from the task. We present a filter to the chief and it is set up in no time, providing all of us with clean water to drink and with which to cook. He is the best example to his village, setting up the filter right by the community well, telling people to take clean water home instead of the nasty looking water that the well provides.
Back on the motorcycle, we arrive at a church to distribute some filters and to train the pastor in their use. As everywhere we go, people materialize from nowhere, it seems, and we are surrounded as Mandaba teaches them how to use and maintain the filters. They are so incredibly grateful for this donation and are hopeful that swollen bellies, full of amoebas, will one day disappear. I stand to the side, watching the training, amazed by Mandaba and his ability to switch from language to language. He has gone from English to French to Lingala easily and I believe, Mbacca, which is widely spoken here. I know that he will use Sango when we are in Bangui next week. He explains things well and re-explains if something is not understood correctly. He laughs easily with the people, but he also gets stern when things get out of line. Once he is satisfied that their questions have all been answered, we move on.
Back at the chief’s home, we discuss our plans for the next day, as the sun is low on the horizon and there isn’t much more we can do today. We sit in a large circle, with children bunched up against the back of our chairs and a large number of them across the yard, staring, all curious. Someone asks if we need water for baths tonight and the three guys (Frito, Mandaba, and Toussaint) say they do. I quickly say I feel great and that there is no need for me to bathe, even though I am grimy and disgusting. I just cannot imagine bathing with so many eyes on me, as there is no shower area to be seen. As it is settled that I do not need to bathe tonight, it occurs to me that I will need to bathe tomorrow and that won’t do! Another hushed conversation ensues, and it is better for me to bathe under the cover of darkness, it is decided, so when the sun is completely gone and our dinner of chicken, grubs and fuku is finished, I head out to an area behind the house to use a bucket of water to wash away the days’ worth of grime.
I cannot see my hand in front of my face once the flashlight is off, so by feel, I wash my hair and body, using a cup to dump the warmed-up water over me. The stars blink brightly when the clouds move past, but mostly, it is a dark night that wraps me into privacy, allowing me to get clean again after hours of sweating and of road dust. There is something magical about this experience and I want to remember the feeling of warm water, of darkness, of solitude, of the sound of night creatures, and of simplicity, for a long time.
Clean, but wearing the same ole jeans I had on before (I packed very lightly for the weekend), I rejoin the group, listening to stories being told while sipping the palm wine that was brought to us in a plastic jug and which we share using plastic cups that trap an odd flying insect on occasion. Before every sip, using a solar light, we carefully inspect the cup to make sure we don’t swallow something we don’t want to swallow. We listen to Congolese music on Mandaba’s laptop, with many people crowded behind us to watch the accompanying videos. I feel myself growing sleepy and comfortable as we sit in the dark, the night lit up only by the screen of a computer in the middle of what seems to be nowhere.