Belgium : Kabuika’s Blog

25

May

by admin

I rarely buy postcards. I create them instead.

During my travels, I enjoy reading local newspapers, magazines, pamphlets … anything printed, really. This way I get to discover interesting aspects of the culture I am in.

Then I make collages of the most appealing bits. The postcards are snippets of my travel memories: a map of the métro in Bruxelles, a local exhibit going on in the city or just something that attracted my attention.

In Bruxelles, I went to a cool store called Mala India, took the métro everywhere, enjoyed listening to the Flemish language, and wished I had time to hop over to Antwerp and go see Seydou Keita Photography.

So here are my homemade postcards.

Belgium-postcard

Belgium-postcard2

Bruxelles-metro

Bruxelles-metro2

Bruxelles-painting

flemish

23

May

by admin

My niece Ngoya arrives

Ngoya arrives

Bruxelles _ My niece Ngoya is coming to pick me up. I had not seen her in 5 years. She lives in Kinshasa and we are both in Belgium at the same time for a few days. When she arrives, we sit down over ice cream and chat. A Belgian friend of mine joins us. 

Ngoya, texting on her cell phone

Ngoya, texting on her cell phone

He must have been smitten by my niece, because right away he starts to talk about how beautiful she is. Soon the word marriage pops out of his mouth.  I look at him in shock. My niece pretty much ignores him, as she texts on her Blackberry.

Luba Dating: Taboo #1.  
Don’t talk about marriage the very first second you meet a girl. And even if you are kidding, you do not joke about such things. His behavior was inappropriate, especially among the Baluba.

The following day, since my Belgian friend is a nice guy, I decide to tell him gently the faux pas he had committed. 

“Dude! You were hitting on a girl in front of her mother. You don’t do that.”

As he looks at me puzzled, I continue. For Luba people, there is no concept of niece or aunt. These words do not even exist in the Tshiluba language. My niece is actually my daughter and I am her mother.

“In conclusion, you were wooing my daughter right in front of my eyes! AND without my permission!” 

My daughter-niece Ngoya

My daughter-niece Ngoya

“Oh, so it would have been o.k. if you, the mother, had given me permission to date your daughter?” He asks.

“Even with my permission, you can’t slobber over a girl in front of her mother. It’s so vulgar. Besides, that will only make the girl run away from you.” No Luba woman would want a man who behaves like that.

(…unless of course, the woman was after his citizenship. But here, my Belgian friend is out of luck; my daughter-niece already has her Belgian citizenship. So no interest there).

“O.k.” my friend says “I’ll marry her and make it all proper.” He turns to a man who walks in the reception area and introduces me as his my mother-in-law. 

No Dowry? Bye!

No Dowry? Bye!

Luba Dating: Taboo #2. You do not have permission (nor the honor) of calling anyone, your mother-in-law when you haven’t even paid the dowry.

Bye!

Jewish African Woman

Bruxelles _
I am in the European Union capital for a few days. My business meeting is over and first things first, I need to find a shul (synagogue in Yiddish) for Shabbat service. There is a Conservative shul I found online, but it’s clear across town and I don’t feel like schlepping all the way there.

It’s Friday afternoon, Shabbat is starting in a few hours and I’m desperate. A friend suggests that I simply go out and ask any Jewish person that passes by. Dressed in my Congolese business outfit, I do just that. I am in luck. I see a man wearing a kippah and speaking in English to his son who has little curls on the sides of his face. Orthodox Jews! Perfect.

I approach him and ask if there is a shul in the neighborhood. He looks at me warily and sends me two doors down. When I knock at the door, a young woman answers.

“Do you know of any shul in the neighborhood?” I ask her.

She looks at me with suspicion and gives me an email address to find shuls in Belgium.

“Lady! It’s less than an hour before Shabbat,” I say. “Do you think anyone will read their emails before Shabbat?”

She realizes then that maybe this black woman standing before her is Jewish. So she gives me an address: “109 …”

I decide to go and check it out just in case it’s a phony address. When I get to the place, it looks like a house. There is no sign. No name. Just the number 109. A man who looks like a bouncer intercepts me even before I knock at the door.

“Is this a shul?” I ask him.

“What is your business here?” He demands.

“I want to attend Shabbat service tomorrow morning.”

“Why?”

“What’s the matter? Don’t I look Jewish to you?” I ask him, pointing to myself.

He looks at my African outfit and shrugs. I realize he’s simply doing his job; I tell him yes, I am Jewish _ from Chicago.

“From Chicago?” He asks me to wait. An orthodox man, wearing a black hat, comes out and introduces himself as being from Brooklyn, New York. “Which shul do you go to in Chicago?”

I tell him and answer all his other questions. He invites me to the Shabbat service; I must have passed the test.

The next morning, I walk to shul and find a lovely community of people from all over the world: France, Finland, Belgium, Germany, England, Slovakia… And the man from New York is the rabbi. A cute little girl comes up to me and asks why I am brown. I smile and tell her it’s because I like to hang out in the sun (my ancestors too for that matter). Praying together, there are Ultra Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, and Jews who can barely read Hebrew. As a Conservative Jew, I fit perfectly in the middle.

The people I saw yesterday, all come up to me and apologize for being so guarded. There had been some attacks on synagogues in the city. That’s why the shul looks like a house.

I am invited to the Kiddush afterwards. We sit outside in the backyard, with children, running all over the lawn. We eat and talk for hours; it feels like an afternoon spent with family and friends.

I look forward to praying in that community again the next time I am in Bruxelles, whether or not I am wearing a Congolese outfit.