One of my favorite Peace Corps trainers in Niger once made the comment that you really have to watch sheep and cattle so they don’t eat trash. “But goats, you don’t have to worry about,” she said. “They can eat anything and they seem to do just fine.”
Congolese goats seem to be no different than their Nigerien counterparts. Click on the picture above for a short video. Perhaps the larger problem is the utter lack of trash disposal. The plastic bag bans in neighboring countries won’t solve everything, but boy it goes a long way in keeping the streets clean.
What perhaps on the surface is merely an aesthetic concern – and one I fill a little silly arguing for because as an outsider I like that Rwanda is “pretty” without all the trash – I also believe can inspire a Jacob’s ladder of change. Start with the trash, and maybe people will take a greater interest in maintaining their communities. Maintain the communities, and the people who live in them have something of value in their lives – a place where their kids can grow up healthy, where they can start a business, where they can build homes. Suddenly, they have a reason not to get embroiled in the politics and factionalization that seems to crop up so quickly on this continent. Maybe that’s too much to hope for from getting rid of a few plastic bags, but it’s a start.
Correction: I mistakenly wrote that banning plastic bags wouldn’t solve “anything.” I’ve changed the word to “everything” because I do think banning them could do (and is doing) some good.
Here’s a quick slideshow of some photos (and video) I took at Lola Ya Bonobo, which loosely translates to “paradise for bonobos” (I’m told). It’s a beautiful refuge mostly for young bonobos, often those who have been orphaned because their parents have been killed for bushmeat. I’ll write a little travel log soon about our day there, but for the time being, I hope this provides a little window into the sanctuary.
We spent an extraordinary night last week in Carrion de los Condes, a pretty riverside village where we bunked in a convent run by a team of feisty older nuns who herded us to our beds like sheep, even though one of them couldn’t have been more than four feet tall.
In the evening, we had dinner with our French-speaking friends. It was certainly a highlight of our time together – lots of laughter, Daniel’s toasting and delicious food. Danielle brought his wife Jeanette to tears with his inability to pronounce “Oruho,” a Spanish brandy.
After dinner, we scooted across the street where another order of nuns – Dominicans this time and much younger in this case – offer a nightly benediction for pilgrims passing through. One sat on the steps of the altar playing a guitar and three others join her in singing a Spanish blessing as the priest laid his hands on our heads one by one.
We also met up with a fellow Californian, Nick, and an Italian priest named Giorgio who we’ve walked with a few times, so the evening was certainly a nice boost.
The next day, we had a flat, long stretch of about 18 km with no towns. Luckily, it was overcast and cool, making it an easy walk. At one point, we walked for a bit with a team of French people helping a man in a wheelchair do the Camino. From what we could surmise, there’s a big group and they take turns in teams of three scuttling him along the route. Often they sing as they walk.
Daniel and Jeanette made a point of walking with them for at least half an hour and singing songs with them the whole way. Apologies for the shaky video. The experience in person was moving to say the least.
As we’ve been making our way across the meseta, we’ve had some terrific experiences, including two of my favorite days on the Camino. I’m working on a few more substantive blogs, but in the mean time, here’s a cool video Anne-Claire shot of a shepherd moving his flock through Castrojeriz.
We came around a corner to find him waiting for a clear lane through the sporadic traffic with a hundred or so sheep. Every so often, he’d whistle and throw a tiny rock, and the dogs would wheel the flock to the left or to the right. In the midst of the pandemonium every time the sheep moved is a donkey who’s sort of a center of calm in the herd. I used to work for a guy who said you need only watch the way the blindly follow each other and you can see why religious texts compare us humans to sheep so frequently. I don’t think it’s a compliment.
On Saturday, Anne-Claire and I left the relative buzz of Burgos, a city of 170,000 people through a park on the edge of the city. Compared to the grimy eastern entrance to the city – an industrial zone we’d walked through the morning before – the morning quiet of the river promenade transitioning to the wheat and grass fields of the meseta was sublime. Much of the way was flat, and we had a clear goal in mind – to reach the tiny town of Hontanas more than 30 km away, a village Anne-Claire and I had visited with Amable and Michel last summer.
The Burgos cathedral is a true hidden gem in Europe, palacial in scale and ostentatiously ornate beyond all expectations. Outwardly Neogothic, its interior blends its Gothic roots back to the 12th century and the heavy influence of the in-vogue French churchs of the time with Baroque and Rococo ornmantation. While impressive, it does seem that any bishop or patron with enough money could arrange to have a chapel (most of which would be massive churches on their own stateside) built in their honor. A South African friend of ours commented that the term “stinking rich” came from this practice, as selpulchres of old weren’t air tight and the fumes from decomposing bodies would escape into the church.
Beyond the grasp of the city are just wide open fields and big blue skies so vivid they don’t feel real. Every so often, a fallow field blanketed in poppies in full bloom. Though we arrived exhausted from a day of sun and wind exposure, the hike to Hontanas was one of my best days on the Camino.