Democratic Republic of Congo: All The Things That Never Happened

Democratic Republic of Congo: All The Things That Never Happened

That's a termite mound, not a rock!

That’s a termite mound, not a rock!

I’ve reached a time in my life when it’s easy to be anxious about so many things. I think that most mothers of small children, whether living abroad or not, are often plagued by the anxiety bug.

For the last six years, my family and I have lived in Congo and we’re moving away in just a few weeks. I find myself thinking back to all those worries, big and small, that I had about raising two kids in the proverbial “heart of darkness.”

So as an exercise of gratitude and reassurance before we begin our next African adventure, I’ve been reflecting on all the what-ifs –real and imagined – that never came true.

Those mosquito bites never led to malaria.

There were no broken bones, stitches or other ailments that couldn’t have otherwise struck us in the United States.

Getting stopped by the police was never more than a hassle and a good story.

Our girls made it to and from school every day without incident.

We never ran out of quality disposable diapers, Sensodyne toothpaste, or anything else we hoarded from home.

My shoes held up.

Every fever went away without too much suffering.

Nothing was ever stolen (that we noticed).

No one was bitten by a snake or spider and a few worms in the feet were no big deal.

The termites never swarmed and carried our children away.

The vehicles always returned to their respective lanes before a head-on collision.

No one was lost in an angry mob.

We never got sick from all that “questionable” food.

That crazy Congo lightning never came through our window and zapped me in my bed.

Both of my pregnancies were picture perfect.

The electricity always came back on.

The water always returned.

The internet was always repaired.

The planes did not crash.

We made friends. Good, lifelong friends.

And no one is worse for the wear.

As infinitely grateful as we are for all these things that never happened, we’re even more so for everything that did. We had two beautiful children, our family learned a new language and we reached far out of our comfort zone. We will forever be connected to the culture and people we grew to love in Congo.

I hope that the next time everyday stressors take over, I’ll be able to stop and think about this list and remember more often than not everything is alright in the end.

What things have you worried about that never ended up happening?


This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Sarah Sensamaust.  You can find Sarah blogging with Jill Humphrey at Mama Congo.

Photo credits to the author.



Woman playing with children In about three months our lives will drastically change. My husband and I, with our two little girls, will leave the place we’ve called home for the last six years. We will probably never return.

When we first came to Congo, we didn’t know much about the place, we didn’t know a soul here and we definitely didn’t have plans to start a family in this country. My, how everything’s changed.

Just as we had a “feeling” we should move to Congo. Now we have that same “feeling” that it’s time for us to leave. It just feels right and we have wonderful plans on the horizon, but boy is this hard. In fact, we’re feeling a bit lost in our last months here. This is the only home our children have ever known. Our girls have been loved by the nanny or “Mama” who’s helped us raise them for as long as they’ve been loved by us. This will be hard, but it is time.

And so I have lots of questions about how to do this, but more importantly how to do this right. Will there be something meaningful I forget to say or do? Do we make a big deal out of our last goodbyes? Or are our children really too young to understand? There will be tears. There might even be sobs. I hope we don’t needlessly upset them.

I can’t help but think about how much easier our departure would be if we didn’t have children. Their two little lives became a game changer for us living in Congo. Once we had children and the people around us began to care for them and love them, I could feel the roots sprout from my feet and bind us here. They helped us burp our girls when they were babies, nurse them back to health when they were sick, they’ve memorized their every tick and tock.  This will be hard, but it is time.

Will our children have any authentic memories from these first years of their lives? Or will their only understanding of Congo come through the stories we tell them over and over? Will the photos they see when they’re older be the only images that remain in their heads? This will be hard, but it is time.

My husband and I always say the hardest part about living abroad is the leaving part. Goodbyes in your host country are usually forever. Sure, it’s hard leaving the United States and saying goodbye to parents and grandparents, but you know they’ll always be a part of your life. You’ll see them again. They’re your home base. They have the internet and email and Facebook and all those other lovely things that keep up connected to those we care about in the States.

When we leave Congo, there will be no email updates. We will not see pictures of the loved ones we leave here. We will miss births and weddings and all the minutiae in between that founded our friendships. This will be hard, but it is still the right time.

Has anyone left the country in which you’ve raised your children, never to return? Was there anything you did to make your last days meaningful or your departure easier?   

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Sarah.  You can find Sarah blogging with Jill Humphrey at Mama Congo.

Photo credit to Jill humphrey.



This summer our three-year-old daughter had her tonsils and adenoids removed.  Many children have this routine surgery, but we still teared-up a bit as they wheeled her away. Then we enjoyed our coffee while we waited for the surgeon to tell us everything went “just fine.”  Because we knew it would be. Even if there was a complication we rest assured in the fact that we were in the United States.

This summer Mama Youyou, our nanny in Congo, also had a routine surgery and we were scared out of our minds. Mama Youyou waited to have her surgery until we left for our summer break in the States so she wouldn’t have to take off work. (Bless her.) When she told us she needed the surgery, we did everything we could to make sure she had access to good health care.

You see, Mama Youyou has already outlived her life expectancy as a Congolese woman. Complications during routine surgeries in DRC, and lack of access to medical care, are the type of thing that keeps her life expectancy rate down. (more…)




Look for Congo on any list ranking quality of life, poverty rate, violence per square meter, etc. and we don’t fare well. Great place to raise a kid, right?

Well, actually, for us, yes.

My friend Jill is my neighbor, co-worker and blogging partner on our blog Mama Congo. We raise our children, along with our husbands, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What we lack in first world standards, we make up for in mamas. Our children call at least 6 women “mama.” Maybe more depending on the day.

In the Congo every woman is called “Mama So-and-So.” I’m Mama Sarah, she’s Mama Jill, and the women who come to our homes everyday and help us raise our children are Mama Youyou, Mamicho, Mama Vida and Mama Nounou. That’s a lot of mamas between our two households.

My husband Adam and I moved to the Congo five years ago and Jill and her husband Johan moved in next door a little while later. Our children all run around together getting bit by mosquitoes while we call for them to return to their respective houses. It’s a great life; made possible mostly by our mamas.

Jill and I are about to travel back to the States to visit our families for the summer. We’ll spend time with the grandparents, show off the new tricks our kids can do, and indulge in all the food we can’t find in Congo. But sometimes it’s hard to leave our little “village” of women raising our children with us.

Sure we’ll miss their help, but what we mostly miss is how totally fun and wacky and sometimes completely puzzling it is to raise your kids with a Congolese woman by your side. For example, sometimes we’ll find the mamas up in a tree throwing fruit down to our kids. They yell in French, “Look out below!” As star fruit or bunches of bananas rain down.

Every now and then from my office window I’ll see them toting our children on their backs when their little legs are too tired to walk home from the playground. Even the smallest baby cries, “Au dos. Au dos,” (on your back) when she wants to hitch a ride.

I know that if my daughter hasn’t eaten enough of her breakfast, I’ll get an earful when Mama Youyou shows up. She examines the size of her belly, determines it’s not properly filled, and then coaxes her into eating more. Next she reminds me I need to keep my kids nice and fat so that if they get sick they’ll be okay.

When the kids do inevitably get sick, the mamas are the biggest worriers. I get that. Where we’re from in the States, children get sick and then they get better. Here in Congo, that’s not a guarantee. So everyone hovers and shakes their heads and carries them au dos all day while rotating cold washcloths on their foreheads. It’s a major production. And the children love it.

Sometimes people ask us if it’s hard to share that title of “mama” with others. It isn’t. It really isn’t! We feel like the luckiest mamas because our children are being raised in such a different and loving way. Sure, it took some time for everyone to adjust and learn their place in the household, but we’ve all got into a rhythm now. I hold this end, you hold that end as we wrestle their filthy bodies in the tub.

I think every mother can agree that raising your children with a lot of help, mixed in with doses of advice, and sprinkled with good old fashioned judgment to keep you on your toes, is a great way to be a mama.

Do your children have other “mamas” where you live?  Who are they, and how do they help you?

This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Sarah.  You can find Sarah blogging with Jill at Mama Congo.

Photo credit to the authors.