Monday, December 3, 2012

The Magic of Storytelling

Growing up in the DR Congo, we did not entertain ourselves with television, movies, or even radio. We owned few books and toys. Instead, we played outside, and on dark nights when the moonlight was too faint to play our games, we gathered around the fire to listen to the stories told by our parents, relatives, and neighbors.

Many of these fables and folktales had powerful morals, but a few seemed to exist for simply the pure joy of igniting the imagination. One of my favorites was the story of the monkey and the crocodile.

The story inspired illustrator Nick Rebman
to create this humorous drawing.
One day a monkey found himself facing a problem. He needed to cross a huge river, but he didn’t know how to swim. As he paced the bank of the river trying to figure out how he would get across, suddenly, a crocodile appeared. The crocodile was very hungry and seeing the monkey, he happily thought to himself “Ah, I have found my lunch!”

But as the crocodile prepared to attack and eat the monkey up, the monkey pleaded, “Dear crocodile, I know that you are very hungry, and that you are going to eat me no matter what, but please I have one wish to ask you still. I don’t want to die on this side of the river. I would much rather die on the other side. Please dear crocodile, I would very much appreciate if you would help me cross the river. And when we get to the shore on the other side, you are welcome to eat me, and I will die happy.”

The crocodile thought for a minute and then agreed to the monkey’s request. He thought to himself “What do I have to lose? I will have my lunch, what do I care which side of the river I eat it on?” So the crocodile, picked up the monkey, tossed him on his back, and the unlikely pair began to make their way across the river.

But as they neared the far shore, the monkey jumped from the crocodile’s back, and ran as fast as he could until he reached the high lands where the crocodile could not follow. The monkey looked back, yelling at the crocodile, “how stupid you are crocodile! Did you think I would sit quietly and let you eat me? You must be nuts crocodile!” And the monkey ran off, leaving the crocodile helpless at the shore of the river. The crocodile was very hungry and angry indeed!

I loved this story as a child and asked to hear it over and over again. I loved imagining the huge crocodile carrying the monkey on his back—a small passenger who had just tricked him in order to get across the lake. Even at the end, I always felt scared for the monkey, and hoped that he would never return to the same river.

The world is changing very quickly, but the magic of stories and the power of storytelling lives on. Even in the rural communities of the DRC, such as the one that I grew up in, technology, climate change, and the progression of time are altering the traditional ways of life. I feel it is more important now than ever to remember and record our stories and our shared history.

By sharing my story in this memoir, I invite you to join the circle around the fire—and share your own story as well.


  1. Thank you for your invitation for all women to share their story--me too! With fondness, Vicki

    1. Thank you Vicki for your comment. I look forward to hearing more from you and learning about your story as well. it is in sharing of our stories that we discover our common humanity. So, I look forward to our conversations on this blog and hope that more people will join this conversation.


  2. Thank you for sharing your story with the students in my class. Your memoir has a magical quality of being universal to all childhoods and also specific to the incredible place you grew up. The writing is vivid and so engaging!

  3. Chingwell's story is not only fascinating, it is well crafted and beautiful. The story transports readers to the Congo of Chingwell's childhood, the jungle, the spring, the market are palpable by the vivid descriptions. Wonderful!