Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ambassador's Picnic

A very heavy wind & rain storm blew this flower off a tall tree and enabled me to pick it up.
It sat on my desk for the rest of the day to be enjoyed.
George said, "Come with me.  You've got to see something."  So, I followed him (reluctantly)
right into the Men's Bathroom.
He wanted another "You know you are a Congo painter" picture of what was left there overnight.
I took the picture and THEN....
This is a picture of me spinning around to face two astonished missionary APs
(Assistants to the President),
who had just come in the door and were saying with surprised shock, "SEESTAIR SMEET!!!!????"
Just a bunch of keys that George found in the office.  But, did you ever see a key like that?
When we entered the Ambassador's yard, the first place we headed for was the bags of popcorn...
I didn't want to ruin my appetite for the really great looking main courses,
but wish I'd tried one of these.
The "cones" are made out of pizza crust and filled with all kinds of yummy options,
like "jambonne et mozzarella fromage" (ham & melted cheese)

A beautiful "Flamboyant Tree" that soared and flared so... flamboyantly!
I can't remember first names, but this is Mr. Bash and Mrs. Dunn of Sarasota, FL &  Miami, FL.
They are here to do some short term consulting at the U.S. Embassy for another week. 
He will travel on to northern Africa. She will return home.  We had a great time talking about Congo.
He was here in the 80's, so tho' there have been bad periods, he has seen some signs of progress.
This little station was set up so that Americans could get overseas voting information.
When we arrived at the gate to show our passports, I recognized several people.  
Some were the Congolese guards, including a couple of my favorites,
who do security sweeps on every car that enters the USAid building where we live.
I recognized and went over to greet the girl in this picture,
who was lined up with several other American Embassy guards. 
I sat with her at the lovely pre-Easter dinner hosted by one of our building's USAid occupants,
and found out that she worked with Embassy security.
She "packs" at all times, can floor a man in one move & kill a person in 5 seconds or less...
(in multiple ways). Very interesting work!
One of many tents which only partially modified the oppressive heat.
An excellent example of why the person who is taking the picture should say,
"One! Two! Three! Smile!"
We have here Elder Smith, Elder & Sister Bingham and President & Sister Jameson.
(You can tell which two people have had more experience in being prepared for a picture)
Entering view of the Ambassador's residence.  There is a tropical courtyard in the middle of it.
The Ambassor's residence,pool & tennis court is on the other side of this fence and this is the road we use to get to the Congo River walkway, where we have walked with the Binghams.
If you look, you can see the river at the end of the road
(and some of the Brazzaville "skyline" across the river). 
Chantal doesn't usually carry THREE purses.  She is holding Erics pack, her own purse
 and a new woven purse that Sister Nguwa (wife of the other ward's Bishop) made for her,  
Aren't these women both beautiful?
Elder & Sister Billing's little Granddaughter, leya, with her father.
This was on the cover of the children's FRIEND (Church magazine) a few years ago.
The cuties of the Children's Primary Choir were so patient
 as one adult after another wanted to take their picture.
But, as you can see, some were ready to be DONE with it all.
In this picture are darling twins (with the "pop-up" hair dos),
the darling little guy (who was technically too young for the choir),
and one of the younger boys, who actually helped conduct the choir... 
He beat out perfect 3/4 time on the first song, which was in 3/4 time. 
He also beat out perfect 3/4 time on the next song, which was not!
It didn't matter... Everyone was so proud of him.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Food for Mind, Body & Spirit

A pretty pink Hibiscus on the Church grounds reminded me of my beloved Florida.  I'm very thankful that our Heavenly Father gave us so many beautiful things to enjoy with each of our senses.
Eating out with the Staggs last Friday, we had these condiments brought to us.  The closest and largest is mayonnaise, which the Congolese LOVE!  Next to it is ketchup, which they never give you enough of.
 Finally, a small quantity of "red stuff", which  should be accompanied by a sign clearly stating:
 "Do NOT eat this if you value your life!"

This was my meal...  slaw (always chock-full of mayonnaise & bland), fried plantains  (similar in looks & taste to banana & a BIG favorite in the Congo), and some beef pieces on a skewer that seemed more boiled than grilled.
Still looking for a restaurant with a good menu selection and preparation.
Admittedly my plate was more appetizing than Sister Stagg's.  I don't know... call me picky, but I don't like eating something that is looking back at me.
Sweet Sister Kalonji.  She was in the Saturday choir at our Stake Conference, along with six other siblings, including a brother who we know from the Mission Office.  He is part of a 7 week rotating employment plan to help returned missionaries earn money by cleaning the office once a week.  She is also a returned missionary and she & her brother are both going to college.  In addition, she is engaged to be married soon in the Johannesburg temple.
For those who are interested in style, I wanted to capture one of the countless ways that Congolese women make their dresses unique.  This one has a pleated skirt that flares (just the bottom half of the dress).  She is talking with her friend, Boris Kabeya, who kindly sat with us that day to translate and did the general translation for earphones  the next day.
On Sunday, it was an amazing thing for us was to arrive more than an hour early and find the choir singing and the chapel, the overflow and  most of the cultural hall, not only full, but with the people listening quietly and reverently.  The total attendance was around 2,000 with about half in adjoining classrooms equipped with sound.
There are ten wards meeting in eight chapels in the Kinshasa Stake (like a Diocese).
 Our Kasa-Vubu Ward, meets in this building.  From this angle, we usually sit on the left, close to the front & next to the windows (to better access the Wi-Fi connection for my Kindle Fire's LDS Library and "iTranslate" apps) 
These little cuties were trying to talk to me in French & hoping to better understand what they were saying, I leaned in. The one on the left suddenly moved forward & gave me a quick kiss on the cheek.  Then we all laughed at his audacity. I asked, "May I take a photo?" to which they enthusiastically agreed.  When I showed it to them, they giggled happily. After that, I noticed that they were sort of "following" me through the throng of departing people outside and then the one on the right sidled up to me, with his friend watching him expectantly, and said with a smile, "Give me some money." Now, by way of explanation, this was not necessarily because I took his picture and he wanted some reimbursement (although it COULD have been).  But the Congolese culture is such that if someone is perceived to have money or to have some possession that is admired, it is not a shameful or awkward thing for a person to simply ASK them for it.
If they are refused, there is no embarrassment.  In this case, I got such a kick out of this little guy that I just reacted with laughter, shook my finger at him and teasingly said, "Ohhhh, no you don't!"  They thought I was funny.
This little girl sat in front of us.  I think she had her big sisters shirt on because her shoulders couldn't keep it up.
She gave me permission to take a picture of her unusual braid-do.  
There was no more room on the row with her family, so this young girl sat next to George..  What she lacked in braids, she made up with in sparkle paint on her hairline and sparkly gold shoes.
Across the aisle sat a young girl who watched us throughout with what I can only describe as a "bemused" expression. I motioned to ask if I could take her picture and a very small "Mona Lisa" smile appeared.
This picture was taken after the meeting.  All of the Senior Missionaries and the Jamesons went up to the railing to listen as the choir sang several "postlude" hymns..  including "Joy to the World".  The first two men in the front row from left, are returned missionaries, Kalonji & Bienvenue, currently & previously employed at the office short-term.   This choir was so remarkable for several reasons... They took great pains to look uniform and attractive with their suits & ties for the men and matching purple scarves and dark skirts and white blouses for the women; they began singing about an hour before Conference and, when the electricity/organ went out (several times), they simply sang acapella  through several hymns, in perfect harmony; they always sang with great volume and enthusiasm.  After the closing prayer, as people began to leave the chapel, they continued to sing, informally, for several minutes & blessed those of us who stayed to listen.
Very few people have cars & taxis are awful, so this bus was chartered by the members of one of the wards in  the stake.  Every seat and every INCH of "squeezed together" standing room in the aisles was taken.
Across the busy road from the entrance to the chapel, these waiting buses were also rented and the members packed in like sardines to return home.

The beauty of the women and their lovely dresses always compels me to take a picture.
  Here are three members waiting for a taxi outside the compound after the Conference.  
And, here is the oft-mentioned dinner on Sunday night.  What you see here is a wide variety of Congolese favorites.  First, the best of all was some sweet fresh pineapple which was excellent, then you see the grilled chicken (delicious) and rice (very good) with a fried yam (good).  Now it starts to go downhill.  Also on this plate are items with varying degrees of appeal.  I HAD to eat some "Foo Foo", which is pretty much a blob of grey-ish matter that you pull off and wad into a ball & eat.  I would say it was like eating paste, but paste has a flavor.  Even Hawaiian poi is better than this! Then there was another item made out of cassava (same result), Then there was some fish that I just couldn't bring myself to eat lest it came out of the Congo River or any tributary thereof.   Of course, there was the ubiquitous cole slaw and FINALLY, the real delicacy of the Congo... roasted black caterpillars.  They were heaped up in a huge, industrial-size bowl and our Church contractor from Geneva happily popped one in his mouth to show me how good they are. I almost vomited on the spot.   You will see that I placed them on my plate so that nothing was actually touching them.  But, their bulbous eyes watched me quietly as I tried to sample most of the things on the plate & still keep it all down.
In the end, those repulsive critters prevailed.  I kept the food that I ate in my stomach, but threw away most of the plate.
 But, re: food choices... after posting pictures of some of the "unique" meats in the new store a couple weeks ago,
it occurred to me that the Leg of Lamb I purchased this week might not appeal to some people, either.
Soooo, I wonder if they actually PAID someone to come up with this name?
And, will the hotel be full on December 21, 2012?
A close-up of one of the cute outfits sewn for the orphanage children.
The creator & seamstress, Sister B, prefers to remain anonymous.  She also plans to make shirts for the boys.  Those of the women in the Senior Couples who sew were invited to help.  I haven't received my invitation yet.. probably lost in the mail.  Oh wait, there IS no mail in the Congo.
You know you are a painter in the Congo if... you paint the vertical blind pull strings to the wall.
You know you are a painter in the Congo if... you don't put a primer on the original enamel painted wall.

You know you are a painter in the Congo... if you first paint the light wall, dripping onto the baseboard and then correct it by  painting the dark baseboard paint up an inch on the wall.
There is a story behind this picture.  A young bird is not helped if someone breaks the egg for him to come out.
The very act of using his "egg tooth" to peck his way out strengthens him.  To do it for him would actually be harmful. So it is with our Father in Heaven.
He helps us when we have done all that we can, but He will never do FOR us what we can do for ourselves.
In this way, through adversity, we have the opportunity to become stronger.
Brother Houghton, Sr., Brother Hawkins, Brother Kamosi and Brother Houghton, Jr.
Brother K is from Washington, DC and was baptized 12 yrs ago by then "Elder Houghton" to the right.
The Americans have a construction business w/ an office in Orem, UT... about a 5 minute walk from our home.
Speaking of food.. which would be most comforting to you... this healthy stuff?
Or Belgian Chocolate?...   I thought so!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Living in Kinshasa


A Lebanese restaurant, clean & neat.  The eight of us were the only ones with white faces & the object of much staring. We all made friends with the two children next to us whose dad had brought them in for a really gigantic hamburger, so that lightened things up.  Can't say I want to go back, though.  I KNOW the menu just said "Cordon Bleu" (so they didn't PROMISE chicken) but somehow Swiss cheese & ham inside FLANK STEAK just doesn't seem right!
I was thankful not to be one of the unlucky passengers inside this taxi, patiently waiting for some kind of miracle repair.
(Notice the stones placed to keep it from rolling away)
Still getting used to driver-less cars passing us... it's just an occasional right-steering wheel vehicle.
This is what happened not long after I  told George that, with the thousand "near misses" we'd witnessed since our arrival,  I couldn't believe we had never seen an actual accident happen... The car-taxi attempted a U-turn from the far RIGHT (4 lanes over)... and HE was mad at the van-taxi that hit him!  What NERVE for the van to assume the left lane was clear!
And, speaking of nerve... We are traveling north here on the major boulevard and the driver of this red car is coming toward us in our lane...
He apparently has a death wish. 
A very common sight.
Rows of corrugated tin dwellings were pervasive in Ngaba.  They make the one room homes we saw in the countryside, (made out of poor quality concrete or clay brick) look luxurious.
I was looking over the street and plaza, watching an approaching storm and bemoaning the fact that an open truck full of cardboard and styrofoam trash from the Chinese construction next door was going around the triangle while bits of stuff were blowing off onto the street.  It wasn't the first time we'd witnessed this carelessness and I was irritated at it all.  I watched as the wind picked up a large piece of styrofoam and blew it all the way to our side of the plaza and then saw this little girl (whose parents were sitting under the taxi waiting area) gleefully pick up that piece of styrofoam and, squealing with absolute delight at the amazing treasure that had come to her, run to show her parents! 
I am thankful that I am not the Director of Tourism for Namibia.  He has a long road ahead to make THIS appealing!
One day Elder & Sister Bingham came to the Mission Office and "kidnapped" President  & Sister Jameson & me.  They took us to the biggest social event on the Kinshasa calendar for the foreseeable future... it was the long awaited grand opening of a South Africa chain supermarket!!   We were waiting outside for others to join us, but peeked in and gazed with undisguised glee at the large, clean, bright and fully stocked store.  While we waited, we asked "La Vache qui rit" (The Laughing Cow), to take a couple pictures with us.  You may remember the blog picture of his product in a large Christmas billboard still standing atop the Post Office.  Sister Jameson took a pic of Sister Bingham & me with the cow, but I decided not to post that one for two reasons...1) Sister Bingham looks as if she's very afraid he is going to bite her and 2) I look more like a cow than HE does.
One of my happiest findings at this new store... Ginger beer, which is similar to U.S. ginger ale, but SO much better.   The one on the right was served at the pre-Easter dinner hosted by USAID folks in our apartment building & was practically the only non-alcoholic drink available.  Fortunately, I loved it (and yes, I KNEW it was just soda!).
On the other hand... some offerings in the new store were not so exciting.
It's probably better than dog, but I'm not going to find out.
Why on earth would I BUY this when I can produce my own?