Saturday, April 23, 2011

Meeting Brother Bekele

Last month we were traveling in the car to visit a proposed site for some new clean water wells. We got stuck in traffic (happens all the time -- 10 million people in Kinshasa = traffic jams). So as we were creeping along, a Congolese man walking along the side of the road dressed in white shirt and tie came up to my car window and held up a folder, indicating that he wanted to give it to us. He was a total stranger. Normally I do NOT roll down my window for anyone, including policemen (ESPECIALLY policemen), but I did for this man. He said something to us in French, handed us the folder, and disappeared into the crowd. I looked at it briefly and saw that it was a proposed project for hand-dug wells. It was all in French, naturally, so I just told Elder B "It's another potential project" and chuckled that this man happened to know who we were and was able to hand his project over without even having to go into the office to see us. Then we just forgot about the whole incident and went on our merry way. When we returned to the office I nonchalantly threw the folder on the top of all the kazillions of other projects that had been submitted since we had arrived.
Because lots of well-meaning non-government associations know that the LDS Humanitarian couple can help them financially with their projects, we have been inundated with people coming into our office and telling us (ok, telling our interpreter, who then tells us) all about their causes. They are all good, but we have to explain to them that while we would love to help every single group with their worthy requests, we are limited financially, and so we have to make the very difficult decision of which projects we can do for the year. It is really heartbreaking to have to tell people no. We finally were counseled by other Humanitarian couples, and even our own interpreter that we needed to have some control over who comes into our office. It is extremely time-consuming, and we were getting very little done because of the many interruptions, most of them without appointments. So we gave the gate-keeper a notice to show people showing up at the gate that we were not taking any more project appointments until June. What a great idea!
But it didn't really work. People still some how got through the gate, or our interpreter himself would tell people to come see us.....We were getting a little annoyed, and losing patience, though we did try to give everyone who came in some time.
One day, in spite of our best laid plans, a little man knocked on our door. "Oh, no!! Not now!! We are too busy trying to write up projects for another interview!!!" But we invited him in, he sat down, and he said (in French) "I gave you a project last month and I wanted to know if you have read it." We said, (in English), "Which project?" He answered that it was the one he gave us on the road. We dug it out of the pile. "Tell us about it" we said patiently. And so he did. We discovered that the project was beautifully prepared, typed up and detailed (how do they do that when they have so little? Where do they get a computer to type it? A printer? Paper? That is always a surprise to us.) He then told us that he had gotten up at 4 am to walk (no $ for a taxi) to Kinshasa to come to our office and present it to us personally, and then (there are no coincidences) he saw us on the road and recognized our name tags and dad's white shirt and tie.
We were blown away that he would walk that far in that heat, just to bring us the project. So we started listening a little more carefully. 6 hand-dug wells in 3 communities who desperately need water; children sick with diahrrea from drinking contaminated water; moms having to walk horrible distances in the middle of the night to get their 40-liter bidons filled, then walk home again, sometimes not returning until afternoon; fights breaking out amongst the people waiting in long lines for their turn to get water; etc. etc. When he finished, we asked him when we could go see the project. He told us he would arrange it with the village chiefs and call us. Because we don't speak French, it is a little hard to get a phone call from french speakers. We then decided to give him our interpreter's phone number, who would then communicate with us. In fact, Dede, our interpreter, was so touched by Brother Bekele that he said he wanted his number even if Bro. Bekele wasn't going to call him first. He said, "I feel this is a special one". We felt that way too. (There are no coincidences.) How did Bro. Bekele get past the gate guard? How did he know we would be traveling along his road that day? Why did we agree to see him without an appointment?
So last Thursday we went to the potential sites, met Brother Bekele and his wife, the engineer, and 3 village chiefs. They showed us all 6 sites. It will be a good project. We actually saw a fight break out at one of the water sources, just like he had said.
Bro. Bekele is in the white shirt and tie. Notice how dry this area is? It was so hot! Fils, our interpreter, is in the greenish shirt. Sis. Bekele, a very sweet little lady, is on the end. The engineer for the project is in the blue shirt next to me.
We love the way Heavenly Father is so patient with us. He tried to tell us that first day that we needed to do this project by putting us on Bro. Bekele's road. We weren't listening. He then made sure Bro. Bekele got into our office. Finally we began to see.
Speaking of seeing, do you see this cool ceremonial mask? Elder B bought it at the Thieve's Market, a craft market here in Kinshasa. He is sure it is authentic, very old and is worth megabucks. He thinks he will take it to the Antiques Road Show when we get home and we will find out we are the lucky owners of a very valuable item. It is hanging on our wall in our living room.
Here are a couple photos of home sweet home. I would rather you thought we lived in a hut and were really making all kinds of sacrifices to be here, but I can't let you think that anymore. We are extremely comfortable, even though the furniture is NOT.
You can see the size of the mask. I think it will scare some of my grandkids!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

another failure

As you saw, the pictures did not attach on the last blogs. I will try it one more time, on this post, and if I can't get it, good bye blog! I don't have the time to mess with this!! Can you see I am frustrated?

Well, what do you know!! Let me explain quickly these two pics before I lose them.

On the left is the bucket well. She just hauled a nice clean drink of water out of that hole in the ground which is basically a bottomless series of 50-gallon drums until they hit water. It is never covered, so can easily be contaminated, but it's better than nothing! The picture above shows the contained spring. Not so pretty, but if you could see the water gushing out of the pipes, you'd know that this is definitely a better option. That poor frazzled lady is thinking how fun it will be to hike back up the hill in a few minutes.

Well walking and severe sweating

This past week we were asked by one of our site monitors to visit some wells he has been assigned to. He knew we hadn't yet seen these particular ones, so we agreed. Dad is always anxious to drive around this crazy place, getting in all his 4-wheeling fun as we attempt to reach the wells. They are usually situated in very poor areas where cars, trucks, even taxis seldom go; therefore there are barely roads -- more like paths. It was extremely hot, as usual. It seems the farther you get from downtown Kinshasa the blue-er the sky and the higher the temperature. Kinshasa is usually under some sort of cloud cover. But you know Sister Bingham!! The sunnier it is, the happier she is!!
So off we went, equipped with drinking water and cups and a sense of adventure! We picked up 3 or 4 other men on the way: our translator Fils, Eric the site monitor, and various men who had something or other to do with the well, like show us the road that was least likely to get us stuck in.

The first two wells were very similar to the others we have seen. They are hand-dug and equipped with a hand pump. We met some very nice people who assured us that they were very happy with having clean water closer to their homes, and very happy that their children were healthier, and I was very happy that the mothers don't have to spend hours and hours lugging water on their head for long distances. So all was good. The last site we visited was actually a spring capture. That means that there were natural springs providing clean water in a pool except the springs were not protected in any way, so animals and people walk through them, wash in them, bathe in them, etc. The solution to that is the contractor we hire cleans out the area and builds a concrete tank over the springs with pipes near the top that lead to spigots on the outside of the tank. He also puts sand and small rocks in the bottom of the spring to act as a filter for the water to go through. The tank fills up at night, then the spigots are unlocked certain hours of the day for the people to fill their bidons, etc. But let me tell you how we got there. Remember I told you it was hot?? Well, to reach that lovely spring, we tromped down a very steep, ver-r-r-r-r-r-y long path in the blazing sun. We figure it was twice as far as the trail to Agate Beach at Patrick's Point, only steeper and narrower. On our way down, we kept thinking, "We have to go back up this trail!" And the second and most humbling thought was that "The women go up this trail with those 45 lb bidons of water on their heads!" And THIS IS AN EASIER LIFE THAN WHAT THEY HAD BEFORE because it is so much easier to fill a bidon with a water spigot (faucet) than dipping it in the dirty pool. Yikes!

So I am attempting to attach a picture of the contained spring, and also a picture of an old bucket well (not one we had dug) that the villagers use when there is water in it. The bad thing about bucket wells is that they are not deep, easily polluted, and dry out because they are shallow.

Today we went over to the Mission President's home to watch part of General Conference. Some of you asked if we got it, and no, we didn't, so we watched it after the fact on their computer. Only the Priesthood session (the guys won the toss).. Dad and I have been reading the talks online when we can. Today the members here got to see it at Church, but since it was all in French, we opted to stay home and read it, then go watch that one session.

Wish me luck putting on the pictures!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Looking at Luputa - our first visit!

We will attempt to keep this blogger alive this time.

We have been on our mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa for almost two months. We have just returned from our first expedition to Luputa, the village that is reached by a 3-hr plane ride and then a 5-hr Toyota Land Cruiser drive to reach this amazing place. We were there for 7 days, each day filled with walking, water, and a million children wherever we went. We stayed in the church district's office building which has been converted into a sort of 'hotel' for travelers such as us when a Luputa trip is required. Our purpose was two-fold: to be introduced to key people in Luputa with whom we will be dealing for the next 18 months regarding the two million dollar clean water project that is not quite finished; and to access the project itself and do some trouble-shooting to move the work along to completion. We "walked the line" so to speak, as we traveled along much of the main water line to check the distribution stations (some were working, some not) and then we walked up to the actual spring source (quite a walk in the heat of the jungle -- no roads). We took tons of pictures and will share them below. We felt what a rock star must feel -- everywhere we went, we were followed by a few, then a dozen, then twenty, then one hundred children and adults who were simply curious about us whiteys. In Lingala language (spoken in surrounding villages of Kinshasa)they call us 'moondillys' but in Chaluba dialect (Luputa and surrounds) they call us something else we didn't quite understand. One thing they do all have in common is their curiosity about us, our color, our hair, our skin, our language. One time Elder B took my hand as we were walking down the trail, and that caused loud and prolonged "ooooooooooo!!!" The children love to mimic us, so I have several times sung "Head, shoulders, knees and toes" while we were waiting for the men to conduct their business regarding the water line. They also like to mimic clapping patterns, or just to repeat anything we say to them. The other thing they seem to have in common is their happiness. They don't know anything different, and they seem perfectly content, although not perfectly healthy. Contaminated and polluted water sources are the norm here. We are very privileged to be part of this work to help people help themselves improve their lives by making water available and clean. There isn't room to describe our Luputa trip, so we will try to explain in pictures.