By Roseline Souebele

When I was young in Congo, we didn’t need a lot of expensive toys or expensive clothes to have fun, dance, and celebrate. Happiness was such a simple thing. It was so easily shared through a smile. Our parents, who couldn’t give a lot of material things, gave love and attention. We learned that it is not the price tag of a gift that counts, but the heart that gives it and the love that comes with it.

Sometimes we woke up very early to meet our friends for a football match on the corner of the street, or to go play “nzango,” an African hand and foot game, or to jump rope. Our mothers warned us girls, “You will see your menstruation start very early by hopping like that!” But we loved the games and found our happiness in it. While playing, we even forget if we had had a substantial meal or not the previous day.

Girls sometimes made their own dolls from grass and roots, and dressed them in clothes made from old fabric. Boys made balls with discarded fabric or plastic waste. We organized small competitions, and our bursts of laughter attracted crowds. No one could resist this shared happiness. At sunset, we would go home to take a bath in a large bucket. Sometimes we would cry if the water was cold, but we ended up washing ourselves, for fear of missing meal time.

We did not always eat around a large table, but instead with plates spread out on the ground. The mothers poured the food into each plate according to birth order, and if we dared to take a plate that was not planned for us, a single glance was enough for us to get back in order. We would swirl our fingers around the bottom of the plate to see if there were any pieces of meat or fish.

Mom would laugh and say, “Work hard in school so you can get whatever you want.”

And we did work hard at school. In later years, we were proud to be able to answer the question we often get when we meet an old friend from school: “What are your goals now?” Because we have become responsible citizens, thanks to the love and encouragement we received.

Today, I hope the same for this last and next generation.

Roseline Souebele is a resident of Hope House