Not just any old egg (Maniema/DRC January 2015)

Ngongomeka the egg I was given by a lady which I carried in my hand for the whole motorbile journey

This little egg—as normal and unexciting as it looks—tells a story; a story of a lady who went more than the extra mile to make me feel welcome in her community and give me a treasure from the little she had: an egg which she and her family could have eaten; an egg which may be rare for her because she has little or no income generation opportunities and may have lost any chickens or other livestock she had previously owned when she fled violent conflict in her village of origin; perhaps even an egg which could have become a new little chick, might have held opportunities for her and her family to have more eggs and livestock in the long run.

I never got to ask her what her story was—all I know is that she had caught up with the motorbike I was travelling on when she saw us slowing down to wait for the rest of the group, rushed down the little dirt track to stop me, to take my hand and lay this egg in it. And then we left and I was left with clasping this precious gift  in my hand , using only the other to hold on to the motorbike as my very able driver navigated us back  through muddy puddles, potholes and past and under trees and bushes to the beach  (the mini harbour from where we needed to catch our punt to cross over to the other side of the river and head back to Kalima for a night’s rest and, as it later turned out, a thunderstorm which lit up the sky above Kalima and sent a torrential downpour of water over the dry red earth of the province.) I cannot put into words the emotions that overwhelmed my heart at this time, the deep sense of gratitude and humility I felt at this token of truly sacrificial giving, this precious moment of personal offering which no one other than she and I had witnessed.

What is more—the motorbike was already loaded with all the other presents we had received that day: the 3 chickens (one from each village visited) hanging rather miserably from the back of the motorbike, no doubt wondering what their fate would be; the sweet and juicy pineapple, the aubergines, the sugar cane—all given to us by people who wanted to show us that we are welcome and that they were grateful for our visit; and of course the images in my mind which nothing and no one can ever take away from me: of the smiles they gave as they handed over part of their precious harvest, the way they posed for my photos with their gifts and teased each other about it; the pride with which they presented the best of their crops to us.

Moza The view papa who gave me my first aubergines

It is heartening to see that the project means so much to them. But this generosity is much more of a testimony to the goodness of their hearts and souls than to anything we could have done for them. True, both our local Christian Aid team and BDD are working very hard to work with and alongside these conflict -affected communities to bring them help and empower them to become more independent again after they lost everything during displacement following violence in their communities of origin—of the kind which I hope never to experience.  True, the seeds and tools which this project, funded by the EC Directorate General for Humanitarian Assistance and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) have allowed 2250 host families—under pressure as they are sharing their homes, belongings and their limited food stocks with displaced families living among them—to have a more sustainable income generation opportunity; true, without the project a total population of around 8500 households would not now enjoy the prospect of clean and safe drinking water source closer to their homes,  reducing the prevalence of waterborne disease by 30% , according to one local nurse; and 4000 displaced families would not have received emergency items to replace cooking utensils, mattresses and hygiene kits they so desperately needed during the initial phase of the emergency. But all that did not, I don’t think, entail the same level of personal sacrifice as the gift of that egg, those chickens, those vegetables from people who have so little.

Moza a wonderful pineapple gift we later shared in Kalima

There was no way we could not accept the gifts-it would be too much of a rejection, cause too much pain, be culturally utterly unacceptable. So I will give a donation to a project for widows started by one of my colleagues in Kindu; bequeath those chickens to our local partner BDD and ask them to raise them and give both chicken and eggs for free to poor people in their communities; invest all my personal energy into helping raise more funds for projects like this—not just because it is my job, but because I want to do something—no matter how small—to help such beautiful people flourish and live well.  Paying it forward,  so to speak.

chicken check up