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!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sites Around Kinshasa

You may remember the drawing Sister Smith made of us for the Mission Bulletin Board. Elder Bingham really wanted one in color, so he and I posed for this nice photo and presented it to the Mission Office Staff. We feel it is quite an improvement. Look at the color of that tie! Nice!!! And isn't Elder B looking grand?

Yesterday we spent the day showing the two new couples some of the fun places we have discovered in our travels outside the city. These children were very interested in a carload of mundeles, so we showed them our interest in their smiling faces by taking this photo. Happy children, wherever they are!

We stopped off at a touristy place called the Bonobo Park. A Bonobo is a relative of a chimpanzee that lives in Eastern DRCongo. However, the bonobos were relocated during one of the civil wars there, and they are happily whiling away their time at this park, which is a very decent place to visit. Besides the bonobos, which you know I was thrilled to see, we happened upon this cool termite hill. If you zoom in, you can see the termites making their way up Elder B's arm to his nose. (j/k)

Now we get to the star attraction. If you zoom in closely - no kidding this time -- you will see that the black blob is actually a critter looking right back at you. Bonobo.

A very darling and cuddly Bonobo. (Yeah, right. If you know how I feel about monkeys and anything related to them, you know my heart wasn't really in that introductory sentence.) These guys have learned to come running when the tour guide calls out because they know they will get some sugar cane. They put on quite a noisy show. Interesting to watch (for a minute...)

A cute picture of Fils and his wife Natasha. Fils was our first interpreter and continues to work for us. They were in town to get the paperwork done for their visas to go to South Africa with their little guy Freddy to be sealed in the Johannesburg Temple.

Also at Camp Luka, this woman is using her hand-crank sewing machine ON THE GROUND to sew clothes for her family. Oh my aching back!! She has a very nice-looking men's shirt completed, a small child's shirt, and is working on a blouse. I can't imagine trying to sew with only one hand to guide the fabric while the other hand is turning the crank. Very talented. At least with the pedal machines (like Gramma Bingham had) you have both hands free. By the way, there is no electricity in Camp Luka, so an electric machine is not an option.

Here I am giving the well digger some important advice on how to do his job. This well is at Camp Luka, a very densely populated area where they will never have enough wells to meet the needs of the population. This particular well was dug only 11 meters deep, and even though they found plenty of water, when it was capped off with the pump, so many people came to pump it that it ran dry, so the contractor agreed to take the pump off and dig it deeper. This happened at 3 wells in this area, and it makes us sad that our contractor wasn't more aware of what could happen. He lost some bucks on this project, but he also learned a valuable lesson.

It is with mixed emotions that we receieved our proposed itinerary for our flight home. We can't believe this adventure is drawing to an end. Less than 4 months to go and it will fly! It seems that we wake up on a Monday morning and when we go to bed it is already Friday. How does that happen? We are busier than ever and learning things that we wish we had known a year ago because we would have been so much more efficient. But at least we learned them!

We are spending our spare moments catching up on the Conference talks. We couldn't see Conference - no satellite dishes here -- internet too slow to watch them -- but we can print them out and study them. We are very thankful for that. Today in SS class the teacher listed some topics on the board from one session of Conference. At the top of the board he wrote the date April 1, 2012. Then on another board we went through Jacob 1-4 and listed topics from some verses. At the top he wrote 500 BC. Guess what? We realized (as if we didn't already know) that the Book of Mormon was written for OUR day! The lists were so similar. Great lesson. WE are thankful for the word of God, both from the scriptures and from our Prophet. We are so blessed.

Have a wonderful week! We love you!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Congo Crossing

Three weeks ago a series of enormous explosions erupted at an Army Camp across the Congo River from us in the capital city of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo (not to be confused with our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo). The explosions were caused by a fire accidentally setting off the munitions storage at the camp, resulting in loss of lives, homes and literally leveling the camp. The tragedy left nearly 10,000 homeless, and the death count has not yet been published as it is still too dangerous to go back into the camp area where there may be unexploded ordinance to look for bodies.

One of the opportunities we Humanitarian Missionaries have is to provide for such emergencies in the form of Emergency Response projects. At the approval and encouragement of our South Africa leaders, we wrote up a quick project to receive funding for basic food items and mattresses for those homeless families who had been evacuated to 4 separate sites around the city. We have just returned from a trip to Brazzaville where we spent three days shopping, loading, and delivering the items to the 4 sites. We have to say right here that our part was very small in comparison with the work done by the Church Welfare Committee, which was headed by an amazing man named Gaetan. Never have we seen such a committed, organized man. We simply cannot say enough about him except that we were privileged to watch him in action during our stay there.

We had only heard stories about the boat trip to Brazzaville, and now we can say we have done it! It was quite an adventure in itself.

This is one of the several boats that take passengers back and forth between Brazzaville and Kinshasa. This boat looked a little crowded, so we opted for a smaller, faster one (whew!)

Below is a landmark we see from the Kinshasa side, and always wondered what exactly it was. Now we know! It is an unusual office building/skyscraper! Really wanted to go in it, but we weren't there for the sight-seeing. Maybe another time....

We began by going to several stores to shop. Bishop Gaetan had the amounts, prices, and had already cashed our checks. We just followed him around. Below we are shopping for 150 buckets. And he was on the phone constantly arranging all the details.

When we had purchased a truckload, it was loaded onto the trucks and taken out to the sites to be delivered.

Here below is a truckload of foam mattresses.

Then came the toilet paper. Even the children helped with the unloading.

And of course Elder B couldn't just stand around.

This fellow below is carrying 2 heavy bags of rice. Awesome!

Well, it was awesome until Big Mama came around to show her stuff! Three bags! She just wouldn't be outdone!

She immediately became Elder B's hero!

Below is one of the homeless camps. Lots of people, lots of crowding. But it was working.

Let's talk about a few miracles:

Miracle #1 was that the explosions took place on a Sunday morning, when the children were not in crowded school rooms, people weren't out on the streets yet. The schools were terribly damaged, mostly by roofs and walls falling in. But those schools were empty on Sunday.
Miracle #2 was that large covered pavillions like the one below had just been constructed to be used as a market place. But it hadn't yet been opened and became a wonderful shelter for these families.

Miracle #3 is that Heavenly Father created little children who are extremely resiliant. They did not look or act any different than any other children who still had homes. They played games, smiled, laughed, helped, wanted their pictures taken, and enjoyed meeting other children who had suddenly become their neighbors.

And this little guy wasn't really saying to himself, "What am I doing here?" He was saying, "What are you mundelis (whiteys) doing here?"

They do love to pose!

The government provided these nice tents. We were very impressed with the number and quality.

Miracle #4 was the fact that the huge downpour that was about to happen while we were still unloading the trucks didn't begin until we got back in our vehicles to go to the hotel. Look at the sky in the photo below. The wind was blowing, lightning and thunder, but the rain held off until the goods were under cover. But boy did it come down on our trip back to the hotel! We were very glad that Bishop Gaetan was doing the driving.

Miracle #5 was that ordinarily the traffic between downtown where we did all the purchasing and the homeless camps often took Bishop several hours to drive - every time - because of horrible traffic. With our loaded trucks we made it in about 30 minutes. He was amazed! He called his wife and she said when she saw the storm coming she started to pray that we would arrive, unload, and return in good time. We know we were being watched after. Bishop told us later that in the Congo rain is often a sign of a blessing coming after a bout of adversity.

The last photos are just a few of hundreds that we could have put on this blog showing the destruction we saw first-hand. We felt the blasts here in Kinshasa that Sunday morning. In fact, windows blew out of homes just from the concussions. Those of you who know earthquakes undertand how that first big boom and shake feel. These blasts were many many times worse. We wondered at the time if Kinshasa was being bombed.

We are safe, we have learned so much, and there is so much more to be learned, but we love it, and we are blessed to be here doing what we are doing. There is nothing better -- except hanging out with the grandkids -- and we highly recommend it!

Have a wonderful week. We sure will!

P.S. I am still having trouble deleting all the empty space between pictures and paragraphs. I was given instructions, followed them to a T, and it worked just fine until I published the blog, and those pesky spaces were still there! I wanted to rearrange some of the pictures, and was told how to do that, too, but it didn't work either. Then I tried to download the new and improved blog, but so far that hasn't happened either. Maybe it just isn't meant to be......