Wednesday, February 29, 2012

♫ Up On the Roof! ♫

As some of you know, Elder Smith and I got locked out of our apartment on our first Saturday because he wanted me to go out onto the wrap-around roof to see some sights.  Unfortunately, he closed the sliding doors a little more forcefully than usual & it tripped the lock, which we discovered when we tried to get back in about an hour later.  We were keyless and phoneless (but I DID have my camera) and were only rescued from the roof when I saw a UN worker arriving home and called down to her.  Luckily, she called a co-worker who just happened to live next door to our upstairs mission couple, the Staggs.  The had access to a locked entry to the roof and came and got us after we'd been stranded three hours.  The good news is that it was an unusually mild day with a gentle breeze and I got to take a LOT of pictures.

First of all, this is NOT our apartment building.  It is a very lovely structure right across the street from us.  We are on the 3rd floor of a tall apartment building owned by the US Embassy.  It houses mostly U.N. and USAID employees.  We have never seen the man who lives across the hall from us because he is fighting in "the east", as they say here... part of the small contingent of US military trying to root out a cruel and vicious rebel leader.

This, on the other hand is a view of the building right next to the pretty one above.  Did you think it was being constructed?  Au contraire!  It, like many buildings in Kinshasa, is being "de-constructed".  The city is full of huge construction projects which were discontinued due to lack of funds and left abandoned.  In this case, they are actually tearing it down.
This is a large Catholic school on the southeast side of our apartment.  Since it was Saturday, the children weren't there, but I've seen them during the week... the boys dressed in dark pants with a white shirt & tie and the girls in the traditional plaid jumper & white blouse.  They are neat & clean and are quite cute.
The fountain is part of a plaza which we overlook from our northwest side.  It marks the beginning of The Boulevard Du 30 Juin, the eight lane road which is the pride of Kinshasa and celebrates the 30 June 1960 independence from Belgium. We take this route every morning to the Mission Office about 1 1/2 miles away.  Before we got here, I thought it would be an incredibly close & easy ride.  Now, I realize that having several "near-death" experiences every morning & every afternoon makes for a very long commute.
  The Congo River bends around us, so it's just beyond the taller buildings in this picture, but much closer on the other side of our building.
I zoomed in on the little Congolese family just to get a picture of the oft-seen way the people carry things.  I can assure you that I've seen hundreds with far bigger & heavier loads when I was in the car and couldn't get my camera set quick enough.
This is an example of what you see a hundred times a day.  All of the "transportation" buses, cars, taxis (whatever else might be called a vehicle) are very old and badly beat up... no surprise when you see how they drive in the Congo.  The drivers use two methods of communication... a horn, preferably leaned on about every five seconds, and a man (volunteer?) who leans out of the vehicle making various hand signals (which we haven't been able to interpret).  As soon as possible, I am going to learn how to use Elder Smith's pocket cam and capture the experience of Kinshasa traffic, though I'm told that even video doesn't do it justice.  After all, the viewer is looking at it in the safety of his comfortable home and does not have to worry about his proximity to death or injury.

The U.N. has a huge presence here, but the general opinion is that they have not contributed much to the betterment of the country.  To the right, you see another common sight... a "pus-pus", which is used for every conceivable type, size & weight load.  This in turn might also have a person or two sitting atop.
I loved the elegant look of this Congolese woman walking across the plaza.
Security is big business in Kinshasa.  Every government building and most large company/apartment buildings have concrete walls & steel doors to be opened.You see uniforms everywhere and have to learn which ones are actually police.  Those are the guys to be avoided.  They get very little (if any) pay, but rely on stopping people and getting a bribe.  Congolese citizens MUST stop.  We are advised NOT to stop (and ALWAYS have our car doors locked). But if we are blocked, we are to keep the window within an inch of the top, smile & show our papers through the window, politely refuse to pay a fine & NEVER pull over, even if angrily commanded to do so by an armed man.

This is another example of the "pus-pus" (probably from the French for "push").
I wish you could see how many people cram into these transportation vehicles.  Often, the person in the very back almost falls out when the door is opened.
Can you imagine any Congolese woman having bad posture after a life time of walking like this?
Sometimes they "cheat" a little by reaching up to steady the load, but rarely.
It's so much cheaper to have an open truck, but there always has to be one or even two men in the back so that, when the truck slows or stops, no one grabs a crate & runs away with it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's a Jungle Out There!

How about this?  My office "Room With a View"!  It is so lush & beautiful outside the Mission Office, with banana and coconut palms and other greenery.  Of course it rains a lot to make it that way, but the added benefit of rain is that it tends to discourage all the various types of policemen from coming out and that is VERY good!   We have blue-uniformed, green-uniformed, khaki-uniformed, purple-uniformed & motorcycle riding police.  The latter are more to be feared because they tend to be a little nastier and can actually come after you if they decide you have done something for which they can extort money from you.  The others are on foot and less a threat.   

After we'd had a fun dinner at the Binghams (left) the night before, we all met at the Staggs (center right) for dinner and homemade ice cream (which Elder Smith was afraid he'd never get in the Congo).  It was a welcome for us and a farewell for the Hatches (center left), who left two days later.  These folks are already feeling like old friends.  I love to see the beautiful paintings, sculptures, dolls, drums and artifacts with which they have decorated their apartments.  Sister Hatch is wearing a Congolese dress made for her by one of the women at Church.

Our first day in the apartment!  It is customary for incoming Senior Missionaries to have 2 or 3 days to recover from jet lag and general fatigue, but Bishop Burton of the Presiding Bishopric & our Area Authority, Elder Renland, had come to Kinshasa to look at some prospective sites for the new temple, so we wanted to be able to be at the office.   Elder Smith (I'm still getting used to the fact that we are now 24/7 full-time missionaries) may look as if he is awake, but we were both pretty much in zombie-mode for several days!

What Happens When Your Internet Goes Down?

The answer is... "Nothing!"  We couldn't get an internet connection for the first couple days and then it was only for a brief period... just long enough for me to post several pictures to the blog, and then have all the work disappear before I could save it.  Such is life in the Congo!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brussels to Kinshasa

This is a fleeting overview of Brussels as we took off.  It was the only chance I had to see it. Our flight out of Chicago was over an hour late taking off.  First, the repair crew took care of our plane, but signed the wrong paper.  Then they couldn't be found to come & correct it, so the plane had to be inspected again (labor unions at their best!)  When we got to Brussels. our connecting flight was about to leave.  With very heavy carry-ons in tow, we had to RUN to the far-off Brussels security, then race down a VERY long terminal to a carpeted circular ramp that went down a couple stories and finally (barely able to breathe) we lurched the last 100 yrds. to a bus which was just leaving and which we HAD to catch to transport us across to our Brussels Airline connection. After all that, it was worth the risk of a heart attack as we discovered what REAL service is like on an airline.  We had some beautiful French females & a handsome male bringing us all sorts of delicious treats, not to mention a hot meal that was better than some I've had in restaurants.  This picture doesn't really do the city justice, but I just had to get a photo of the homeland of my maternal Grandfather, Armand Meerte.

I know, you are thinking "mountains?"... but these aren't just ANY mountains.  These are the French Alps!

And, this is not just ANY coastline.  It's Casablanca!

The red desert sands of Algeria went on as far as the eye could see.  I wondered how anything or anyone (except maybe camels) could survive very long crossing that land.  

We arrived around 9pm UTC/GMT, so it was too dark to see around us then, but the next day we got our first look at the mighty Congo River from one side of the roof that wraps around our third story apartment.  We have a couple other views, but this is the prettiest.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicago! 1st Stop!

Always fun to see the big dinosaur.
Beautiful & busy Chicago O'Hare Int'l Airport.
George, leading the way toward the fun "Light & Sound" passageway that goes under one of the runways. 

These moving, colorful lights & soft sounds
make "getting there" to Terminal C delightful.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Leaving the MTC

We leave the MTC with mixed emotions.  This has been the closest thing to Heaven we have ever known, but we are ready to get to the DR Congo and actually begin to serve our mission.  This is a view of the MTC auditorium where we have the Sunday Firesides and the Tuesday Devotionals.  Church priesthood and auxiliary leaders are the primary speakers, but very wonderful talks are also given by the young Sister Missionaries and Elders. These meetings are extremely powerful, most especially when we are singing.  The Senior Missionaries sit toward the front and it is impossible to describe what it is like to join with over 2,000 voices (mostly strong-voiced young Elders) as we all sing "Called to Serve".  

We woke up for our last full day at the MTC to find three inches of snow covering the ground and our little 3rd floor interior courtyard.  Without telling me in advance, George made a snowman on one of the tables.  I had him go to take a picture of it and watched through the window.  A few minutes later, another Senior Couple, sharing the elevator to go down to breakfast, had their camera in hand & told us they'd just taken a picture of a snowman in the courtyard.  We got a big kick out of that.

Saturday we were able to be with portions of both George's family and mine.  First we took part in sealing sessions at the Provo temple with Chris Smith, his wife Becky and her parents Dan & Pat Knudsen.  Later we welcomed three of my son, Jim Hudgins with his wife Wendy and their son, Tyler; Jennifer England with her husband Nate and their children, Hunter, Jackson, McKay and Jordyn; and my daughter, Joanne Hudgins.  We went out to dinner at Olive Garden and then said tearful goodbyes.
One of the paintings hanging in our MTC living quarters...the young boy, Joseph Smith, receiving an answer to his sincere prayer based on the promise in James 1:5,6.
A beautiful, rainbow-colored hot air balloon which we saw on Saturday morning.  It was a happy omen!

A close up map of our "home" for the next two years...The Democratic Republic of the Congo with just a bit of Rwanda, Uganda & Tanzania showing on the eastern border and Angola to the south.  Our mission boundaries include Republic of the Congo and Cameroon to the north.
The MTC is filled with uplifting and inspiring messages, whether through soft instrumental hymns as you enter the main building, pieces of framed art taken from scenes in the scriptures, photos of missionary activities all over the world, or sculptures like this, depicting two missionaries on their bikes.

Here is Elder Smith diligently studying. Oh, wait... that's a John Grisham novel.
Our last class with Brother Blake Mason.  After I met with him three times a week for the past four months and George and I with him for two hour sessions, four nights a week @ the MTC, our French is sufficient to say a prayer in Church, bear our testimony and ask a variety of "coping" or "becoming acquainted" phrases.  The only problem with the latter is that we may or may not understand the answers!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Online Tracking of Our Flight

This sounds like fun! Anyone can track our flight in real time (at least until we get over international waters), by entering our flight information on Google's    Let us know if you are able to do it....

CHURCH TRAVEL CWT                          DATE 10FEBRUARY12
TELEPHONE: 801 240-5111                    SMITH/GEORGE ERNEST 258385-I
FAX      : 801-240-5115                    SMITH/JOAN ANGELA  258386-I
SERVICE               DATE  FROM           TO             DEPART  ARRIVE
_____________________ _____ ______________ ______________ _______ ______
B ECONOMY                   TERMINAL 1     TERMINAL 2
                                                          NON STOP
                            RESERVATION CONFIRMED         3:09 DURATION
UA 972               MONDAY O'HARE INTL    BRUSSELS AIRPO         21FEB    
B ECONOMY                   TERMINAL 1
           NON SMOKING      DINNER/SNACK                  NON STOP
                            RESERVATION CONFIRMED         8:19 DURATION
                  AIRCRAFT: BOEING 767-300/300ER
                            SEATS 34A/34B NO SMOKING CONFIRMED
UNITED AIRLINES       21FEB BRUSSELS       KINSHASA       1055A   820P
                            LUNCH/SNACK                   1 STOP
                            RESERVATION CONFIRMED         9:25 DURATION
    0353                    FLIGHT OPERATED BY         SN BRUSSELS AIRLIN
                  AIRCRAFT: AIRBUS INDUSTRIE A330-300

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where in the World Are the Smiths?

MTC: Week 1

It is tradition for missionaries to have their picture taken at the “Go Ye Into All the World” map, which is at the MTC, so here we are!  At this time, we are the only couple assigned to go to the DR Congo and we know that all six couples who are currently serving there will be coming home by August.  So, for those who read this, will you please join us in a fervent prayer that Heavenly Father will touch the hearts of ALL couples who COULD serve a Senior Mission and especially for couples who will be willing to serve the Lord in the DR Congo Kinshasa Mission.

It is hard to describe our first week in the MTC.  Maybe “Spiritual Boot Camp with Angel DI’s” would begin to give you an idea.  For an overview of the MTC, click HERE
Senior Missionaries are honored and made to feel special at every meeting, whether small or large. We also hear some funny (but loving) comments that we can all relate to and appreciate.  For instance, in a combined meeting one night, the 2,000 young Elders and Sister Missionaries were asked to look over at our Senior Missionary area.  They were given examples of some of the types of sacrifices that older couples make and were told that we are “Silver-Haired Energizer Bunnies”. By the end of the day, most of us are not feeling all that energetic and some of us are even more tired because we are taking an additional (optional) 2-hours of language after dinner.  So, my day begins with wake-up at 5:30am and we get back home at 8:15pm.  Then we answer our emails, do our assigned homework, shower, say our family prayer and collapse into bed… after which George reads a chapter from the scriptures out loud and I listen attentively. J

We are in a group of 30 new couples who entered the MTC February 6.  Some stay for one week, but we’ll be here two weeks for office training.  When the next batch comes in tomorrow, we’ll be the old pros. In this week’s group, we had all sorts of destinations and all types of assignments.  Just a small sampling: Jakarta, Indonesia; various cities in Russia & former USSR countries; Mongolia; Australia; Dominican Republic; Canada; various Polynesian islands; a Navajo Reservation in Arizona; Philippines; London, England (to work with a Slovak ward); India; The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Brother Tom Peterson, the MTC Director of Training, has been a very dynamic and humorous instructor.  After he greeted us the first day, he began to ask the couples about their different destinations by saying “Where is the couple who are going to (then he would name a location)?”  The couples who answered to “Russia” were told, in serious tones…“Be sure you have a VERY thick coat and do enjoy this beautiful weather we are having here!” (It was 20 degrees!)  To the couples going to India “Be sure to have a hamburger before you go!”  Finally, he asked about the couple going to the DR Congo (just us) and when we raised our hand, he said (leaning forward and speaking in an ominous voice which trailed off without completing the sentence) “We know we can GET you there……!”  It reminds me of an LDS video which I think was called “Saints in Africa”.  The video gave so much credit to the early Protestant and Catholic missionaries who were responsible for converting large numbers of Africans to Christianity.  (95% of the DR Congo is Christian, mostly Catholic) Those brave missionaries were only given one-way tickets to Africa because it was assumed they would die while on their mission.

Today we have enjoyed a full Sabbath Day.  The class rooms of the MTC Administration Building became the locations for numerous Sacrament Meetings staggered throughout the morning.  We went to our assigned room and found it filled with young men and women from around the world.  One of the speakers that most impressed me was a strapping, handsome Samoan who spoke of the day that he felt the earth tremble just before boarding a school bus.  Moments later, the students on the bus saw the nearby ocean suddenly withdraw and then come back with a tsunami which hit the bus.  He spoke of the calmness he felt as he heard the screams of so many people who were crying out for God’s help.  Now he is going out to serve the people whom God has prepared to hear His message.

Tonight, we had a Sunday “Fireside” with Richard I. Heaton, the Administrative Director of the Provo MTC.   He was followed by a video of the talk which Elder David A. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave on Christmas Day Sunday 2011. He spoke of the need for us to not just have a testimony, but to be fully converted to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Simply put, we use our testimonies and the Grace of Christ to grow more like him.  To the extent we do this, we are converted.  That is why Christ said to Peter, who already had given a powerful testimony, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”  

Good Neighbors, Good Friends

How loved we have felt as our good neighbors have come, one by one, over the past couple weeks to say, "Goodbye".  This wonderful trio came to give us hugs just moments before we left our home for the MTC. Cleve & Beth Wright live across the street (if you look closely, you can see the big "Y" in his window, lest anyone doubt his loyalty to BYU).  On the right is the loquacious half of a great father & son Home Teaching team, Dana & Josh Johnson, who come faithfully to visit us every month and are always there to support us.