Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mont Ngafula - Kimwenza 4 springs & school latrine project

Without his own little mundele grandkids to walk with, Elder B was adopted as mundele Grandpa by these two little Congolese boys.

A Congolese family plus Dede in the village of Kinsiona, where we have a clean water spring project.

Some very cute kids in Kinsiona.

This is our newest and best latrine, with Felix, our interpreter. The school latrine was part of a 4-spring project done in Mont Ngafula-Kimwenza area outside of Kinshasa. (You pronounce that Mong-ah-foo-la). The sign says, "Project financed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, realized (built) by GAKI", the organization who did the construction work.

Elder and Sister B with the village chief of Kinsiona. Where are his African robes? His spear? But note that in his hand he is holding a short fur-covered stick, which is the official token of his position in his village.

This is the other side of the new latrine with the ribbon that was later cut after the ceremony, when the latrine was officially 'handed over' from the Church to the school. All our Humanitarian projects are handed over to the communities for them to 'own' and take care of when the construction is completed.

Funny Elder B inside the boys' latrine waving to the camera.

Two more village chiefs and a vice-chief, waiting for the closing ceremony to begin.

A very sweet family who seemed to be too shy to look into the camera. Notice their clothing is made of the same fabric. The man is part of the organization, GAKI, who constructed the latrine and springs, and all the GAKI employees and family had matching clothing that day. Even the baby girl had a dress made of that fabric under her striped shirt.

We are on our way to one of the 4 springs where there will be another ribbon cutting ceremony and then the water will officially be turned on for the population to use.

Elder B assisting at the spring ribbon cutting - turning over portion of the closing ceremony.

One of the chiefs turning on the faucet officially for the first time. Clean water for the village!! It's moments like these that hit us with the realization of how important our work can be for people who do not have clean water. We love this mission!!

We will be spending the remainder of our time here getting things ready for the new couple, and then a very tearful goodbye to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Counting Down....


Our time here is quickly disappearing and there is nothing we can do to stop time! It is very strange -- anxious to go home, sad to leave. We can't believe we will not ever be seeing, hearing and experiencing the Congo in a few short weeks -- unless we are fortunate enough to be called again to serve in this amazing place. But life goes on, and we feel we must do something about our grandchildren growing too tall, too big, too smart, without us. How dare they!!

As for our pictures of the week, below is an interesting little story. We visited one of our new spring catchment projects, and were invited to hike up over the hill and see the "gas plant". So not really understanding what we were going to see, we followed, and lo and behold, in the middle of a remote village of Kinsiona, we find a methane-producing site, complete with a buried brick underground tank where the chicken manure is collected to ferment and create the gas, which is then piped out to various cooking stoves. This is a picture of the small hut where this man, the plant supervisor, lives and has piped the gas into his 'kitchen' stove. The plant is only 6 months old, but they have big plans to charge a small amount to pipe the gas all over the village. The gas will replace the cutting down of trees and bushes to burn for their cooking fires, which will be a good thing. They use the left-over manure waste to fertilize their crops. Let's hope it catches on and can become self-sustainable. Another African country is funding this start-up business. We wish them luck!

On our day off last week, we traveled about 3 hours out of Kinshasa to Tifie Farms, a huge project that is the brainchild of a wealthy Church member from Utah. The farm grows mostly cassava root, which is the staple here. Different village people are assigned to work on the farm each week, and for pay they get $4 per day, plus they can take home some of the smaller cassava roots for their own eating. This little lady below took a liking to Elder B, because they both have white hair and she immediately wanted him to marry her. She did a little dance with him to show him her interest.....

Below are some school children near the Tifie farm. It was the day the children received their school certificates and grades. They were very excited to see all the mundeles suddenly appear in their midst, and of course, pictures were the order of the day as a result.

The tree below is a typical African tree, the baobob tree. Immense and sturdy, unusual in shape.

These little guys were having a sweetie snack, and needed to have their picture taken.

The birds below love sitting on this same branch every day around 4 pm. Wish you could really see them - they are so much more colorful than the picture shows. We can watch them out our kitchen window. They are blue-breasted bee eaters. They actually have green backs, a stripe of orange and black around their neck and a yellow belly. If you zoom in on the photo you can see some of that color. Congo has a wonderful assortment of birds, but no bird sanctuaries that we have found to visit. Elder B has gotten quite a bit of use out of his binoculars here though. And many Congolese have had their first lesson on looking through them.

Last Sunday we attended Church with one of our Engineers, Albert, who was having his baby blessed. Her name is Esperance, Espè for short. Babies aren't taken out at all until they are three months old. This was one of Espè's first outings.

Elder and Sis. B with a new interpreter, Aime, at one of our sites near a spring.

We look forward to a new week, new adventures, new work, old work, and getting things in place for our new couple to arrive.

Thanks to those of you who tolerate long blogs. Most of the time 'you just have to be there' but we want to TRY to share what we have here.

Have a happy week, and we will too...

We love you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Congo's Fruit and Crawly Things

The picture above has nothing whatever to do with fruit or crawly things, but it was a fun picture because we love when this happens.....we were visiting one of our projects and took a new translator, Aime, with us. He has recently returned from serving in our mission in Cameroon, where the missionaries all speak English. and he had companions from the U.S. As we were walking from one of the springs we went to visit, this woman told us she would show us another spring. We followed her, and on the way back she began asking questions about our Church. Of course, we couldn't communicate with her, but Aime could! Here he is giving her the first discussion. She was very interested, and we gave her a Book of Mormon and some Missionary pamphlets that we always carry in our truck. Humanitarian Misionaries are not to proselyte, but we sure can answer questions and, more commonly, refer those questions to our translators, site monitors, or engineers. Most of them are LDS. They love having those missionary experiences, and we love watching them and feeling the Spirit.

Elder B was trying to show all of us that it is no big deal to carry a full bucket of water on his head just like the women do here. So ok, he got it on his head, with some help, but he didn't do any walking....that was another thing entirely!

Excuse me, what I meant to say was "with a LOT of help, he got it on his head".

Here is the owner of the bucket, showing how it is really done. After the picture, she just casually walked off as if she were strolling through a park without a care in the world. Hopefully our newly captured spring with spigots has simplified her life somewhat. Before the construction, the only way the women could get water at this spring was to scoop it up and pour in into their bidons - a backbreaking and slow process. Now those bidons are filled more quickly and easily.

Above is an amazing papaya tree. We have never seen such huge papayas, nor so many on one little tree. They won't be ripe for another month. (Elder B's favorite fruit here).

This is a Congolese watermelon. I think they all look like an old fashioned bomb with the stem sticking up like that. They aren't seedless, but if you're lucky, you can get one every bit as delicious as the ones back home.

This is what they call a pumpkin. I am going to bake it and freeze the meat to make into pumpkin bread (with chocolate chips, of course).

Here is our little friend who lives in a tree. While visiting one of our water projects our translator saw it up in the tree overhead and shook it down. After we 'played' with it for a few minutes, a woman came along and took it home to cook and eat. No kidding!

Happy little caterpillar!

That's all for this week. We are winding down, and are beginning to understand just how much we have learned here. We don't regret it for a moment. It has been an incredible journey. For those of you who can, start planning your own mission. We highly recommend it!

We love you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's a long story.....

We begin with the end. These are three very special men who are holding up their certificates we presented to them during a closing ceremony at the completion of the project you will read about below. Eddy, on the left is our trusty site monitor, Percy in the middle is the school headmaster, and on the right is Jean, the contractor. If you could only meet these individuals!!

Now we'll tell you about this small project we started working on about a year ago -- one of those that I, Sis. Bingham, "Just had to do! " in spite of Elder B's reluctance. It started out well, except for some huge delays in the banking transfers, but we worked through those. We have talked a little about this project before on the blog. Here's the rest of the story. It is a small (you can't even visualize how small so we won't try to explain) handicapped school - where sewing, book binding, orthopedic brace construction, and basic literacy is taught to a handful of physically and mentally handicapped persons. Two of the students actually live at the school as they were out living on the street and the school headmaster just took them in. And when we say "live at the school" do not for a minute imagine that these boys have a bedroom or a bed or a kitchen or any other comforts that we take for granted. They have a roof over their heads. Period. But they are happy, and always have a smile on their faces when we visit the school.

We were (ok, I was) excited to do this project because it would provide some school supplies and materials, and also the construction of a shower room and latrine (like an outhouse) that were handicapped-accessible. Handicapped-accessible is unheard of here. These handicapped people would drag themselves over the dirt to the old latrine, rain or shine, and IF they happened to have borrowed the one and only broken wheelchair that one of the students uses, that chair does not fit through the doorways of the latrine or shower. So we will let your imaginations go from there. Oh, if you don't know, a latrine here is simply a hole in the ground. No toilet. A bucket of water is used to 'flush' the hole, maybe.

The project went bad when our partner, the non-governmental organization, stole or sold all the school supplies we had purchased for the school. Elder B had taken him shopping for these supplies (basic school books, sewing machines, orthopedic tools - about $2500 worth) and then delivered them to a storage room. Unbeknownst to us, the NGO made off with ALL the goods, and then he disappeared, never to be heard of again. So here we are with a half-constructed latrine/shower, and no partner to direct the construction, and having to explain to the school staff and students that all the new supplies are gone. The first contractor had already walked off the job, and we had to use one we didn't know anything about. But our dilemma was, who would manage the remainder of the construction work? Who was qualified? Elder B certainly is, but we couldn't be out at the project every day because we have many other committments. So we took a leap of faith and assigned Eddy, our Site Monitor, to manage the job, handed him an amount of money he had probably never before held in his hand, and said, "Finish the project and turn in all your receipts!" Eddy was awesome. The final cost of the project was, of course, much more than we had budgeted. (Wouldn't you know?) So he had his work cut out for him to figure out how to do the work and stay within the budget. He was so humbled that we would trust him to do the job, and he made it all work. We couldn't have done it without him. We are extremely pleased with the results. And the school people are delighted! At our small closing ceremony, Eddy gave a little speech. In his speech he explained, and did some demonstrating, how to use a real toilet. "Don't climb up and stand on it, you sit on it". (We take so much for granted!!) And then he demonstrated how to use the flexible shower hose -- instead of taking a bucket bath.
Do you see why we love this mission?

Below is the old 'shower room'.

This is our interpreter Dede demonstrating how to take a shower in the new shower room. (We love Dede!) The floor is gently sloped so the water runs into a drain under the shower chair. There is also a huge shower head above Dede that the person can use instead of the flexible hose. The black garbage can in the foreground is to hold water when the water company isn't providing water - then it's back to bucket baths, but at least they have a nice facility and a comfortable water-proof chair.

Below shows the beginning of the construction and the septic tanks in front of the shower and latrine. At this point I wasn't much impressed. Looked pretty rough.

Elder B walking past the nearly finished shower and latrine. Lookin' better!!

Below is the old latrine - the hole in the ground. No septic tank. Just a hold dug underground. When it is full, they cover it and move to a new hole.

The finished latrine, complete with handrails. Eddy also had to show the school staff and students how to flush the toilet. Would you say this is an improvement over the old latrine?

During the closing ceremony, Percy, the Headmaster, gave a little talk. What was very touching to us is that he himself is attending English classes 3 days a week at his own school, and he wrote and read his talk in English for Elder B and myself. You will notice that Percy is also physically handicapped. Can you see the smile on his face? He was very proud of his achievement in speaking English for us.

We love this mission! There are disappointments, even failures, but when we have the great blessing of being part of a project like this, all the bad and the sad are wiped out. We will never be able to express the feelings of our hearts for the great opportunity of serving our Heavenly Father and the remarkable Congolese people here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Elder Russell M. Nelson said in April General Conference, "Thanks be to God!"

We look forward to a new week and the adventures that will take place the moment we step out the door. May you all have a wondeful new week as well. We love you!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Kinshasa Shopping Experience

Before we get to the shopping, let's begin with a sunset on the Congo River, and if you look very closely, you will see three pirogues with fishermen returning home after a day of fishing on the deepest river in Africa.

Here's an example of the beautiful flora we have the pleasure of seeing every day here. This is a single flower that evolves into two. It begins as the spiky light-colored bloom and expands into the coral flower.

Speaking of pirogues, here is one a little closer to the camera, serving as a bridge in Kinkole, a fishing village on the banks of the Congo River. The man waiting for Sis. B is going to charge her a toll for crossing his bridge. She doesn't understand what he is asking, so she smiles, says "Bon jour!" and keeps walking. On our return, he again asks for his payment, to which Elder B replied, "Sorry...we don't speak French."

Now to get to the shopping. Below is our produce "section" of our market.

Then we have the poultry case....

The outdoor barbeque section sells charcoal...and in the clothing section, the "pant rack".

But as of last Friday, a new market came to town -- a real store, a South African store that carries iceburg lettuce and broccoli and cauliflower ($13 - $17 per head). We couples just had to check it out.

Here is the entrance. Now this may not look like anything special to you, but we haven't seen a sight like this for many moons!! It was awesome!

We have actually been doing Humanitarian work here, too, besides visiting Shop Rite -- honest!!

We have spent all week with our US team doing Neo-natal resuscitation training. We just said goodbye to Elder and Sister Doucette from Arizona, who are our NRT specialists. They are real troopers, flying all over the world putting on these trainings with other doctors in tow. They were supposed to have been picked up at our apartment at 5:30 pm by the airport shuttle, to get them to the airport by 6:30 for a 10:30 flight out. But the shuttle didn't show up, the roads are being worked on, it looked like a good rainstorm coming in, and Elder B ended up driving them through all that to the airport (a good 1 1/2hr trip, the 2nd one today). Luckily, one of the other senior Elders offered to go with him, so here I am all alone at the apartment waiting for his safe return. He just called to say he was on his way back and the Doucettes will make their flight just fine. Every day is an adventure!!

Tomorrow is our Shelley's birthday....Happy birthday, daughter!

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy your families.

We love you!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Twins and more Twins

Here are our dancing twins. We were walking through Camp Luka (pronounced Ka'Luka) where one of our hand-dug well projects is located, and saw these two with their fancy hair extensions - just couldn't resist the photo op!
And here we have twins Judith and Judith...I think there is a resemblance, no? This Judith was attending one of our Neo-natal Resuscitation Trainings (NRT) and when we found out we shared the same first name, we immediately became kindred spirits.

Easter Sunday dinner, doing what we couples do best -- eating! Here is Elder B with his good friend Jeanine (the short lady from France) enjoying a bit of ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans, crunchy rolls, green salad, deviled eggs, and frozen yogurt for dessert. We know you were sad that we wouldn't be able to have a yummy Easter dinner here in the DRC, but now you have the truth! However, the ham (just a chunk of a picnic ham so we could each have a taste) cost $40. Obviously, we don't eat like this every day.......

Here you have a very sleepy poussair (I think that is how you spell it), who is the driver of the pousse-pousse. Can you see how cold he is, needing that knit cap? It was probably close to 100 degrees, yet we often see our Congolese friends wearing jackets and warm caps. Maybe this knit cap was to cushion his head against the edge of the cart??? These amazing people can sleep anywhere!

Elder B is demonstrating the incredible Leatherman tool to these workers at one of our sites. He is cuttting wire for them. But the reason we put this picture on the blog -- our funny Fils posing for the camera. He loves having his picture taken.

We visited a ward sewing class this past week. The students were quite excited to show off their finished articles. We were able to provide hand-crank sewing machines for these sisters to learn the skill so that they can then sell their items or sew for their families, or even go into the business for themselves. Their instructor is the girl in pink - a non-member who is volunteering her time to teach these sisters this very valuable skill. She is also taking the missionary discussions and will be baptized soon. We learned that the woman in the orange print dress, who is the Relief Society President, joined the Church a few years ago, noticed that most of the Church members could read, so began going to a literacy class, became literate, was able then to teach others literacy, and eventually was called to be RS President. Talk about self-reliant! Now she is sewing clothing. A successful Humanitarian project.

Yesterday and today General Conference DVDs were shown in all the Stake Centers here - in French, of course - so we English-speaking couples stayed home and read the talks on-line. There is no satellite dish here so we are very thankful we have internet to at least see the written talks. The internet is too slow to watch it. It's been a quiet, peaceful day, and we enjoyed our time reading the words of our Prophet, Apostles and other leaders. Now our job is to "walk the talk".

We have a very busy week getting ready for the NRT doctors from the US to arrive and do 6 days of NRT training for our Congolese medical people. Again, we thank all of you who donate to the Humanitarian fund for these activities and projects. It is humbling to have the responsibility of spending your donations in appropriate ways here in this wonderful place. Just know that we count it a privilege and an honor to be here doing this. There just isn't anything else like it!

Have a blessed week! Happy birthday Hailee girl!!