I was raised in Kinshasa, the capital of the Republic Democratic of Congo. For some in more rural areas of the country, Kinshasa was the big city. In part, it was true. We had electricity on a regular basis (African-style…I shall explain shortly) and piped water distribution (hmmm…sometimes).
While we seldom had to make a wooden fire and sit around it as depicted above by thomsoneasafricanblog, we frequently sat outside during blackouts. You see, even in our big city Kinshasa, electricity was ‘available’ but irregular so we would spend nights or weeks without it. However, blackouts turned into storytelling hours. We (the kids) would sit on the porch of my parents’ enclosed parcel and listen to stories from my mom, my grandmother, my uncles and occasionally, my dad.
My grandma’s Sophie were the funniest. Coco Sophie, as we call her, did not live with us at the time and would visit once a month to check on us. If her visits coincided with a blackout, she would proceed to tell us stories of her childhood, how she learned the hard way to be obedient, why family is the most important bond, how a friend of hers fared poorly due to arrogance and selfishness, how hard she had to work as a child, etc. My grandma is a very petite lady who loves to chatter and laugh. However, when she would tell her stories to the city boy and girl my baby brother and I were at the time, she would take that rare, deep voice and look dead serious. Because we never took her seriously, and her stories always felt extreme, we would laugh to no end. She would in return shake her head, smile then remind us that one day we would understand. And we do today, Coco. Sad but true, we have seen it happen too.
When Coco Sophie was not available, then one of my uncles would fill in. Sometimes, they would ask my mom to chime in to validate a point. Otherwise, they would just sing together songs from their childhood and laugh, completely forgetting our existence…When nobody else was around during a blackout, my mom would sing, which would attract us out of our rooms. Usually, she would then stop singing once she had an audience, and begin telling her story. On occasions, she would keep singing and we would join…
I was not fond of blackouts growing up. They always happened when I was watching Lois & Clark, Sunset Beach, the original Beverly Hills, the French Open, Jamais Deux Sans Toit, etc. Otherwise, they happened when I was chatting on the PC in the computer room, or while I was studying for my many exams or quizzes. However, I always looked forward to the resulting storytelling, because it felt like a special family bonding moment.
Today, I am sitting on my bed in the states. It is dark (I did not switch the lights on) and I am soon to go to work but I miss it; I miss storytelling during blackouts back home. I miss the musical duets by my uncles and my mom. I miss my mom’s voice. I miss Coco Sophie’s deep voice. And I wish I could still laugh to no end to her stories, instead of finding out that the reality of life is indeed as ridiculously extreme as her stories….She knew better and my baby brother and I were only kids…It is your turn to laugh now, Coco. We have learned 😉