Sunday, January 29, 2012

How We Got Our Truck Air-Conditioning Fixed

We begin this post by introducing you to a group of great men (well, USUALLY great as you will come to understand as you plow through this blog). Included in this group are our Mission President (Pres. Jameson), two of our faithful translators (Fils and Felix), our Mission Office Financial Secretary (Elder Hatch), and The Three Amigos!! (Thierry, Pascal and Aime). Don't they look like a bunch of supportive, loving, compassionate men? Hmmmmm???
Our story begins on August 27, 2011, a day that will go down in Elder B's mind as his day of infamy. He set out early on the ROAD TO BANDUNDU with a man and the man's two uncles, a couple of their close friends, and a very heavy load of who knows what but what filled the truck's bed. BANDUNDU is about 470 km away, so Elder B was told later-- not before -- the cursed trip. The purpose of the trip was to look at a possible Humanitarian farming project (and to get our friend off Elder B's back). Five hours into the promised 2 1/2 hour trip, and after multiple promises that the destination was "just over that hill!", Elder B became frustrated. (Can you believe that?) But he persevered, mainly because he had a heavy load of who knows what in the back of the truck and he wanted to UNLOAD it soon. But the poor truck couldn't take it, plus by this time they had picked up 5 more stragglers perched on the back of the truck on top of the very heavy load of who knows what. The truck died a horrible death attempting to drive though sand, sand and more sand. Elder B ended up sleeping that night in the truck's cab in the middle of Africa in a small village of curious people who peered in the windows all night long to get a look at a mundele (who, by the way, was peering right back at them). And he had one of the uncles and the snoring friend also in that cab. (Africans can sleep anywhere, anytime.) An uncountable number of bodies also slept in the back of the truck which was now empty of the heavy load of who knows what, as it had been unloaded in a small village that was then to be hand-carried to an unknown destination "just over the next hill". Late the next day Elder B returned home to Kinshasa without the truck, and has loved every minute of the saga of the truck replacement that finally ended January 27, 2012.
The first step in getting the Humanitarian truck replaced was the approval from Salt Lake, which took a couple of months. Then Elder B excitedly picked out the new truck here in Kinsahsa: 4-wheel drive a NECESSITY!! And a canopy to prevent theft (that's another story). But did Elder B get to drive it out of the lot??? Oh no, no, no. First you must have license plates. Then you must have auto insurance. Sounds easy, right? You just go to the local DMV to get the plates. But our travel guy, who will remain unnamed (well, ok, we named the new truck after him) informed Elder B that "there are no license plates in all of the DR Congo." For some reason there is a shortage of license plates in a city of 14 million people. Hmmm. But being the patient man that he is, Elder B accepted that fact, and only bugged the travel man once or twice an hour to see if some license plates had magically appeared. In the meantime, the truck was somehow, without license plates OR insurance, driven to our office parking lot. Elder B got pretty excited about that!!! He ran in to the travel guy's office to get the new truck keys. "No no no! Still no license plates available." said the travel guy. Elder B was crushed, but he knew without a doubt that those plates would soon appear. And they did, 10 weeks later!!! Now is that a lesson in patience, or what?
But the story isn't over. (You can just put a bookmark right here and come back next week if you'd like.)
This is what happened. Elder B went to one of the 3 amigos, who doesn't work at our office but knows everybody and everything and how to get things done. He went to bat for Elder B, in addition to taking care of his own heavy load of mission work. His first call revealed the sad truth: there were license plates, and there had always been license plates. All Elder B needed was a form to fill out and that wonderful amigo went down and got the plates for him. !!!

The long-awaited license plates shown off by the proud papa. Aren't they cute?
Next step: insurance.
An insurance lady came to our office to "expedite" the process. She met with Elder B, who was expecting the cost of the insurance to be around $200. She wanted $445. Elder B asked to see the bill. She wouldn't show him. She wouldn't show it to the translator, either. Elder B smelled a rat. (sorry, a hippo -- after all, we are in AFRICA!) He declared, "I will go down to the office with you and take care of this. I will not pay you." So they set off. Amazingly enough, the cost of the insurance was $262, not $445. But hey, everybody has got to make a living. The woman was being resourceful, right? It just didn't work this time.
So now we have the plates and the insurance. All Elder B needed: the keys to the truck, and he would be home free, with a truck that would hopefully have decent air conditioning. So he presents himself to the travel guy, but wait!! The travel guy has just flown to Johannesburg, and the keys are in his locked safe in his office. Not to worry, Elder B just gets on the phone and calls this guy, who says that another man at the office has his safe keys and combo. Yippee skippee -- we're getting close! But the man with the keys had just left the office. Elder B made another phone call and this man said he would be back in several hours. Elder B disagreed with him!! "No, you are coming back right now!" And he did after a few well-chosen threats. Poor little man -- he couldn't figure out how to use the keys and combo. So another man was called in to help. Finally, they keys are in Elder B's hand. But he wants TWO sets of keys (that's thinking way outside the box -- planning ahead, etc.) That really threw them. "You can't have TWO sets of keys!!" Elder B got two sets of keys. Then he and our translator hopped into the brand new truck to take the plates down to have them mounted on the bumpers. (he didn't have the tools to do the job himself). Elder B noticed that the fuel tank was below empty (diesel). So first stop, fueling up. When that was completed, he put the truck in first gear, and before he could pull out of the station, a taxi zoomed in behind him and rear-ended him. First dent. Would you like to know what Elder B's blood presssure was at this point? Me, too. A nearby policeman came right over to see what he could do. He listened to the raving men and finally said to Elder B,
"Just forgive the taxi driver and pound out the dent." Dents don't mean much to drivers here. Elder B's comment right here is that the policeman's suggestion was certainly the Christian thing to do, but Elder B, at that point, had pretty much left the Christian religion and adopted something else. The taxi driver then said that Elder B had the truck in reverse and backed into him. Not so. But hey, the excitement at finally having the truck overruled a negative reply. With license plates in hand (ok, they were sitting on the dashboard), Elder B drove towards the place to get the plates mounted, and another little glitch got in the way, namely a bunch of policemen who stopped him and pointed out the fact that he was driving without license plates. Elder B patiently pointed out the plates on the dash, plainly visible from the front of the truck, explaining "We are going right now to get them mounted!" That just wouldn't do, they wanted money. Clearly, they were NOT getting any from Elder B. He'd had enough!! With a threat to call their boss, they cops decided to let him go. While waiting for the light to turn green, Elder B had second thoughts and called the cops back over and apologized for yelling at them, shook hands, and promised he would be back to show them the mounted plates. And he did. The cops laughed and pointed and thus ended a potentially ugly situation -- with smiles all around.

Elder B had to return to the mission office to tell his good friends about the dent. Here he is going into much detail (similar to this blog today?) You can see they are feeling his pain at his having a wreck on the first kilometer of driving.

Elder B is directing his friends to the dent.

Elder B is saying, "Really guys, I got hit!!"

Here are Elder B's compassionate x-friends feeling just terrible about the wreck. Observe the slump in Elder B's shoulders as he must face another disappointment("You call THAT a dent?") in his day of disappointments.

Sister's comment: I love the air conditioning! It was worth it!!

The End.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Our Turning-over Ceremonies

A group of school children filing in for the closing/handing-over ceremony of their new school latrine. About 300 children attended, plus the school staff and community members.

This group of young women started off the program by singing a welcome song to us, then added a Christmas song, since it is still considered the Christmas season here in the Congo. They had very sweet voices.

Here are our guys -- our two site monitors in the green shirts (Walter and Francois), who monitor all work every day as construcion takes place and then reports to us what is happening. The man in the suit is Albert Embimen, the engineer and head of the non-profit organization of the project that we partnered with. We provide the funds, he does the work. We have come to love these three fine men. This photo shows them receiving certificates from us for the great job they did.

The back of the brand-new latrine, with our friends, including our translator, Felix, on the far left. The sign says,"This project made possible by the grace of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, carried out by the NGO (non-profit organization) EBAT". The lettering was being finished during the ceremony.

After the latrine hand-over (which means the Church hands over the project to the school or community, and now the school or community has total responsibility to sustain/maintain it), we moved down to the Waters of Mormon spring project for another handing-over ceremony. This picture is of yet another of our site monitors, Eric, with the village chief. He is cutting the ceremonial ribbon to open the spring for his villagers' use.

Inbetween ceremonies, we went to see another potential project. We had to walk a ways, and on our way down a hill to the site, we came across this huge ravine where the Chinese are building a concrete run-off ditch to prevent erosion. To see the size of this, you will want to zoom in. You'll see the workmen at the bottom of the ravine. As you can see, there are homes built on the edge of this ravine that hopefully will remain standing now that the ditch is in place.

At the next ceremony a few days later, the 10 hand-dug wells and school latrine project were also handed over to the community. This is the village chief taking the first drink of pure water from one of the wells. We were very pleased that President and Sister Jameson and Elder and Sister Stagg asked to accompany us to this ceremony. We think they enjoyed it and got a better feel for what we do here.
This is a very special picture to us. The engineer for this project is Masha Gideon the tall guy in the white. With him is his father. Masha proved to be an excellent engineer who worked very hard to make this project an outstanding one. We are sad that the project is at an end and we won't be associating with these good people as we have been.

Earlier in the week we visited some of our wells and heard some drums being played nearby, so we ambled over to see what that was all about. A young albino boy entertained us with some religious preaching and singing. Afterwards, I went up to him to shake his hand, and he wouldn't let my hands go -- he was fascinated that mine were the same color as his! Unfortunately, he has very poor eyesight and can only see up close. Sunlight is very hard on these children.

We have two more handing-over ceremonies this next week, so undoubtedly you will see more similar pictures on the next blog.

Thanks for your patience. We realize these pictures mean far more to us than they can to you. You just have to be here to understand......

We hope you had as great a week as we did. We love you!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Going South for the Summer/Christmas in JoBurg

Loading up for the drive to the Kinshasa Airport at 6:30 am Dec. 4, 2011

Some of you may know by now that we American senior missionary couples becameDR Congo refugees for 3 1/2 weeks when there was political unrest in our city of Kinshasa due to a recent Presidential election. Our Mission President was forced into making a very difficult decision that we 4 couples needed to leave our country for safety's sake, so we were flown to Johannesburg, South Africa, where we languished, ate, played, and most of all, yearned for home (Kinshasa). While there, we became reacquainted with malls, cheap food and commodities, cultural events, freeways without potholes, movie theaters, and the beauty of a modern clean city . We refugees were treated like kings and queens by the missionary couples serving there. We also took advantage of the temple and attended four sessions.

We did some fun shopping there, and as you can see, President Jameson made a magnificent purchase of an African drum. (In his previous life he was a drummer for a small band, and it has never completely left his system.) That is Elder and Sister Hatch with him. They had the unique opportunity to fly to Zambia during our vacation and train a new office couple there. They returned to Joburg shortly before we flew back to Kinshasa. We missed them!

We went to a local Lion Park and spent the day taking pictures of the animals we will never see in the DR Congo (all were eaten). Elder B doesn't really count these animals as being wild because there is a fence around the various enclosures, and if these animals were released they wouldn't know how to survive. This guy doesn't really look very menacing -- just sleepy.

Here is Sis. B with her favorite type of animal. This was taken at the Johannesburg Zoo, which is a step or two above Sequoia Park Zoo.

And here we are at the end of our "vacation" at the Johannesburg airport, ready (and I DO mean ready) to fly home to our Kinshasa. See Elder Hatch with his new acquisitions? The outback hat and new backpack. Wonder what he plans to do when he returns to New Mexico in February??

We thought it humorous that our newly acquired Johannesburg friends felt so sorry for us having to live in the DR Congo (horror stories of the great sacrifices we must make when living there....) We would explain, "Yes, Kinshasa is dangerous, has the worst roads in existence, the craziest drivers ever to get behind a steering wheel, the dirtiest air on the planet, the most expensive mission on earth, more garbage on the roads everywhere than you can ever imagine, has nowhere to go for fun except the local grocery store, no beautiful sights to see, AND WE LOVE IT!!!! We can't wait to go HOME!!! Call us crazy....
And now that we are home, rest assured that life is normal, we are safe, and we are happy!

Elder B and Masha goofing around on an old broken down truck near a water project.

As soon as we got home, Elder B and I were back out on the road checking out our projects to see what progress had been made in our absence, and to see our wonderfu friends, the site monitors, the contractors, and our translators. It was HEAVEN to get back to work and it was even MORE heaven to see that they missed us almost as much as we missed them!! We have had some precious reunions these last few days, and for that we are most grateful. We have learned that it is definitely the people who make Kinshasa beloved to us all. What a blessing to be here!

If you look closely at this picture, you will see that it is a cemetary. See the gravestones? And the people have planted corn amongst the graves -- what better use for all that unclaimed soil between the graves? These people are extremely resourceful.

A completed well opened for use at the moment the picture was taken. That's Kedikedi in the long blue shirt teaching a village woman to pump properly. We love Kedikedi - a quiet, unassuming, kind and cheerful man.

Some beautiful children who love to have their picture taken.

Eddy, one of our valuable site monitors, hamming it up with some more beautiful children.

A completed (and nicely painted, I might add) ten-stall latrine next to a school of 1100 students. Until we built these toilets, they were using two old stalls with no way to wash their hands or "flush" the hole in the ground.

Now we are caught up, except for the pictures we lost on our personal lap top that crashed while we were in Joburg. Luckily we were given another Humanitarian laptop that we brought home to use in our apartment, since we do some of our work there.

We love you. Happy New Year.