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Congo students reunite 50 years later in Lincoln

By: Doug Brown, Special to The News Messenger
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By Doug Brown Special to The News-Messenger “Remember when we ate hippo burgers?” queried one former student. The answer: “Well, as long as I didn’t have to eat that stinky bidia. I hated that stuff! Especially with that awful red-hot palm oil dip.” And so poured out memories of life at Central School for Missionaries’ children in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, during the Oct. 7 to Oct. 9 celebration of the 50-year mark of high-school graduation. The 10 former students, accompanied by seven spouses, traveled from eight states, as far away as Vermont, to gather at the Lincoln home (adorned for the occasion with African art and table decorations) of Central School graduate Doug Brown and his wife, Mary. For some, it was their first meeting since 1959 or 1960. Central School boasted some 65 students from fourth- to 12th-grades, and a half-dozen faculty members who gave up comfortable lives in their Presbyterian churches in the United States to teach this motley crew of American kids whose parents were serving as missionaries throughout the Congo. The teachers doubled as surrogate parents for nine months out of every year in this American boarding school that really only rarely served hippo, python or other exotic “native” food. “It was really like a gigantic family for us,” commented one graduate, “and my classmates were more like brothers and sisters than school acquaintances.” For these “MKs” or Missionaries Kids, living and going to school in the Congo had some benefits. All the students were bilingual in English and a local Congolese language, and some were proficient in a second local language and French, the lingua franca of the Congo. Further, their status as “American-Africans” instilled an identity with the people and cultures of the Congo, with an attendant cross-cultural sensitivity that prevails to this day. And at Central School, they received an excellent education in small classes (ranging from four to seven students) with an abundance of attention from teachers. Conversation at the Lincoln reunion centered on the students’ re-entry” into American culture on their return to U.S. colleges and universities after graduation. Most agreed that the feelings of homelessness typical of “Third Culture Kids” put a strain on the social- adjustment process back in the United States. “Especially dancing,” one participant said. “I was a complete fish out of water at a dance.” Central School, governed by a restrictive set of rules for behavior, forbade dancing, especially “slow” dancing (lest it lead to more sinful actions and thoughts). Some graduates admitted that the strict codes of behavior actually challenged them to find ways to break the rules without getting caught! Others countered that Central School rules and regulations provided necessary limits and structure. The graduates meeting in Lincoln had highly positive memories of Central School and they celebrated their common background with stories ranging from the sublime — i.e., retreats at nearby Lake Munkamba - to the ridiculous — “remember keeping dozens of 45 RPM records on a broomstick and passing them around the dorms?” Or the memories behind “I’ll never forget skinning that monkey we shot on a camping trip and frying monkey ‘filets’ — toughest meat I’ve ever tried to chew!” All former students returned to their homes with the glow of renewed friendships and a strengthening of the bonds that have held them together these past 50 years. Doug Brown is a Lincoln resident.