The Summer With Pepsi
The first time I met Augustus Bizimongu he was wearing a shirt with a Pepsi logo on both the front and back, the last time I saw him he had that same shirt on as he had on all the days that we were in Goma. Thus the name Pepsi seemed like a good choice since I could not pronounce most of his name.
Pepsi was about 19, while neither of us could speak the language of the other we learned quickly how to communicate by drawing in the black sand of the volcano, sign language, and eye contact; it really worked well for both of us.
I knew very quickly that he was a leader that I could give him a task and it would be done. I placed him in charge of a team of twelve men digging a large latrine for the five hundred people who would live on our camp sight.
At the days end he would come out of that ditch, claiming wearily up the ladder from the ten foot deep hole covered in the black dust of the volcano’s ash that was to be home to our five hundred people.
He would be back the next day ready to get back in the hole and finish the task. Somewhere somehow he had washed his Pepsi shirt and again he would be wearing it, the story repeated itself for the weeks that it took to dig the large hole. Never a complainant, always a smile and a motion from me of a great days work and from him that he would be back in the morning sunlight.
As we completed the camp and began to make our preparation to return to the United States, I could see sadness in his eyes, I took his picture, gave it to all of those locals who were in charge of jobs and assured them that he would be a great worker.
On the last day in camp I hid all of the clothes I did not need in order to get home and told him where they were and that they would be his after I left. We said our goodbyes to all of the men and as our truck turned to leave the sight he ran in front and stopped us, he gave me a small brass cup, I gave him a pen the last thing I had that I could spare and watched as tears ran down both of our faces for we would never see one another again in this life. I put my thumb in the air, well done was the sign, well done.
I never received any information about him but have wondered many times if he found a job, a wife and a new life. The Mt. Nyiragongo eruption destroyed the camp in 2002 and much of the city of Goma, leaving some 500,000 people homeless, I hope he was safe; he had suffered so many dark nights, I hope that one missed him.
Yesterday in our church service I took the Lord’s supper from that cup which he gave me some 21 years ago; Pepsi thanks for the Summer of 94, thanks for the friendship, hard work and a job well done, see you in glory. Thumbs Up!