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A Congo Valentine story: NMU student makes special connection

Billy McCoy, a Northern Michigan University student taking part in directed study in the Congo, is shown at his marriage to Prisca Malonga. His directed study was arranged through NMU’s French program. (Photo courtesy of Billy McCoy)

Editor’s note: This is a story about Northern Michigan University student Billy McCoy, who is in the Congo on a study program, and his marriage to a local woman.

BRAZZAVILLE, CONGO — OK, I have to start with a short recap of the last 10 years. In 2010 I took a trip to Africa. I visited three countries: Morocco, South Africa and the Republic of the Congo. Congo was the last stop. I immediately fell in love with the country and the people. But many social problems existed: poverty, starvation, child abandonment, survival prostitution and others.

I made several other consecutive visits to the Congo. In 2015, I was attending as a French major. My professors were very helpful and encouraging in my desire to learn the languages and culture of the Congo. In fact, the French department helped set up my current directed study.

Also in 2015, I became involved with a non-governmental organization, Mwana Village, which helps abandoned children and vulnerable families with sustainable solutions to social problems, with a goal of self-sufficiency.

In October of 2019 I departed for a nine-month directed study through the NMU French program in Brazzaville, Congo. Little did I know at the time that this trip would forever change my life, and for the better.

Early in December I was introduced by a friend to a woman who did sewing for a living, while I was looking for some clothing to be made. We met, and parted together, by taxi to the Poto-Poto market, Brazzaville’s largest African market, to find some good material. I immediately picked up on her intelligence and good bargaining skills.

When we returned to my house, she took out her tape and measured me for the clothing. I can only describe it as feeling like being touched by an angel, it was unexplainable but undeniable.

A couple of days passed. Unfortunately, she fell dangerously ill with malaria. I asked her if she would go to the doctor, and she said she had spent all of her money to feed her children. Without any further thought, I picked her up and took her to the clinic. You see, here, in the Congo, if you don’t have cash in hand, doctors will refuse service and leave you to suffer and die. Thousands die every year of simple, curable illnesses due to lack of funds.

So, I paid the bill.

Regrettably, we found other problems along with the malaria. There were several other exams and diagnostics after, all of which I paid. She cried and told me she couldn’t understand why somebody would do this for her and ask for nothing in return. I just smiled and said, “You are my friend. In America, we take care of our friends.”

Long story short, she is in need of a hysterectomy. It is not immediately urgent, but should be done soon. We are working on getting funds together for the surgery. It is too dangerous to do here in the poor hospital conditions; we will need to go to a country with modern hospitals. Such a hospital exists in the neighboring city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

We were talking on the phone one night when I asked her what she was thinking. She said, “My health.” She asked me what I was thinking about. I told her I felt something very special the day we met, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. She told me that we could talk about it tomorrow because she had felt something too.

At Christmastime, Prisca, having been ill, had no money whatsoever. So I took her shopping, and we bought all of the things for a Christmas dinner for her entire family. I spent Christmas day with them, and got to know them a little. They are good people but have suffered hard all of their lives.

We decided to take a trip to Pointe-Noire, Congo’s oceanfront city, by bus for New Year’s to visit some of her family and my friends. The feelings continued to grow. Sometime on the bus we fell asleep holding each other’s hands, with her head resting on my shoulder. It felt amazing, like nothing I had ever experienced.

We arrived in Pointe-Noire the same night, and rested up. The next day was New Year’s Eve. Most Christians in Congo go to church for a special service on New Year’s Eve from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. to ring in the new year. So, after visiting friends and family, we flew back to Brazzaville because the bus station was closed and we could not buy tickets.

Unfortunately, I soon fell dangerously ill from advanced drug-resistant malaria. I passed four days in the hospital receiving quinine infusions. I was very weak during this time, but this God-sent angel stayed by side, hand-fed me fresh fruit and gave me water, and chased the mosquitoes away with a towel.

Fortunately I have fully recovered now. The doctor said that one more day without treatment could have been fatal. I still have blurred images in my head of Prisca Malonga standing over me, praying in French for God not to take away her angel.

After this experience, I couldn’t hold back my feelings anymore. I told her, in French, “Prisca, I felt something very profound when I met you. It is unexplainable but undeniable. You make me feel like nobody else has ever been able to. You have a good heart, good values, and you are serious about life. But I want to know how you feel about me.”

She said that I made her very happy. I saved her life. I fed her family when it had no money. And for all of this, I asked only friendship, nothing else. She could see that I was a good man. I asked her how she felt about pursuing a more serious relationship. I could see that this made her very happy by the glow in her eyes and her smile.

Not even a week later, I asked her how she felt about coming home with me as my wife. At first she was in disbelief. She asked me how I really felt about her. I told her I had never been happier or felt more inner peace in my life, and I was very sincere and serious.

We discussed things with her family, and her pastor, and all were completely supportive. We decided to marry Feb. 13. Eventually we will begin the long immigration process. I am hoping to stay here with my new wife until she receives her visa, but I need to find work, or a loan, in order to support us during that time since my studies end in July and my money will be exhausted.

Joining us in America initially will be her 8-year-old daughter. We hope to eventually bring her two adult sons, as well as other family members. We will economize, save money and make it happen one at a time.

Prisca has suffered 42 long years, living in a shanty with a leaky roof, falling ill from malaria frequently, and often having no food to feed her children. It all ends now. I am committing to this incredible one-of-a-kind woman for the rest of my life, and her children will now be my children as well.

We have never been happier, either of us, in our lifetime.

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