A small woman with a wide smile greets us on the other side of an arch made of fronds. Her children, all holding flowers, shyly shake my hand as I enter their small plot of land and greet them one by one. Smiling gently, her husband stands back a little, letting her talk and entertain, gifting us with a plate of chicken eggs to take home. I am led to the seats they’ve set out in the open air for us, backed by a streamer entwined between trees and I feel like royalty in my cargo pants and hiking boots. I ask questions regarding the training they’ve received, the animals they are raising, and the garden they grow. They answer correctly, showing me that their training has been excellent. As with other families AFCA supports, they no longer need to purchase eggplant, onions, spinach, beans, corn, or peanuts, as they have enough for themselves and to sell.
Again, we look at their animals – goats this time – and find them healthy and cared for. Two are pregnant, moving this family closer to more stability in their lives. We check out the goat housing and with the brightest smile, Seraphine shows us corn stored for the winter. This, THIS, is a miracle. Something so small as stored corn is a symbol of a job well done, both by the trainers and by the families. This moment, standing in a dark little mud room, looking up at a wooden structure where the corn lays in a sack, is the moment when my heart breaks. I know it because my eyes fill with tears and my throat closes up, a lump forming so that it is hard to swallow. The father of the family comes up to me and asks earnestly that we continue this project so that others can benefit. He explains that his and his family’s lives have been changed and that he wants others to know the same joy. I can’t talk. I honestly can’t say a word because the lump in my throat won’t allow me to make a sound. I am glad for the darkness, as I am afraid I am about to cry. He is waiting for an answer, but I have no words.
Instead, I nod.
As we say that it is time for us to go, the family presents us with bananas and smiling, Seraphine points to her husband, who is tying the legs of a rooster. I look on, not quite understanding what is going on until he laughs out loud and hands the rooster to me, saying over and over again, “Merci Mingi (thank you very much)” with a huge smile on his face. Smiling back, I thank him profusely and learn how to say “my chicken” in Lingala. They all laugh as I point at the rooster on the motorcycle and declare him mine. It is a fantastic feeling, this giving and taking, this smiling and laughing. This breaking of my heart.