Sunday, June 24, 2012

At Home and About in Kinshasa

Always nice to know that the UN is here to keep things under control.
Oh wait, the fighting is in the EASTERN part of the DRC!
But, as you can see, we have a lonely sentry on duty in case of attack.
This is the turn off of Trente Juin Blvd. that we take to go to Church.
On the day of the explosions, they had THREE armed men squeezed in each of the three sentry boxes.
Boy!  That really made us feel safer!
Walking in front of the UN barracks, this woman has a beautiful dress.
It is made with a lovely shiny material and ornate gold trim.
And, alongside the UN,  we have a nice looking man with... a pink shirt.

And another man in... another pink shirt.  What else?

Forgive my obsession, but I admit to being fascinated at how many pink shirts we see.
AND, It's a very effective distraction to be busy taking pictures on the daily commute.
(Keeps me from dwelling on how many times we narrowly escape mayhem or death.)

There are some increased tensions to the east right now.  Rwanda is joining Congolese rebels.
When things get that way, you see more army men in a truck or convoy.
But this picture is particularly interesting because there is ONE guy in the truck wearing...

a pink shirt! :)
Mostly orange and blue shirts here (Go Florida!), but do you see what is happening in this picture?
SO many things in the Congo, that would normally be done with machines, are done manually.
These guys have formed a human vertical conveyor belt (or crane) to physically hand rebar up to the top.
Occasionally, you see someone in Muslim clothing.
Some of our "Congolese-Can -Sleep-Anywhere" pictures have been innocent and funny.
This may not fall into that category because the guy was inches away from crazy, speeding traffic.
But, THIS is funny!  We often see men in what can only be described as pajamas.
Watch out!
The sign warns all that this is a student driver who might actually OBEY rules & cause an accident.
This highway to Masina is being constructed by the Chinese, who seem to actually want to finish it.
An October international conference meeting in Kinshasa may be the primary motivator.
There is political pressure from the government for many improvements to be done before then.
We may have found the place where they breed blue plastic chairs... a ubiquitous Congo sight.
Meet Tito.
He is a returned missionary and comes to the Mission Office almost every day on his bicycle.
He arrives in his nice clothes and then changes for his work.
He helps in menial tasks, when needed, and mostly keeps all the Mission Office vehicles clean.
He is not well-educated and is probably the most child-like person I know.
Over the past four months, I'd noticed something that he would do every day.
We have pictures of all the missionaries on a board in the hall, which he would stare at endlessly.
One day last week, he saw me holding the new assignment sheet.
I began to re-arrange the 140 missionaries in their new areas after the every-6-weeks transfer.
Suddenly, he shyly asked, "Can I do?"  With some degree of shock, I handed him the sheet.
He did the job with intense concentration... perfectly and neatly... and was SO proud!
I'm proud of him, too.
Last week, you saw George's "Shrimp & Cashew/Corn" dinner at the end of the meal.
Even without the cashews, he still enjoyed the dish so much he ordered it again.
I thought some of you might like this...
With all the problems we had at that restaurant, give them credit for "presentation".
Another picture of some beautiful women in their beautiful dresses.
Unfortunately, my little camera does NOT capture the details of design& the sheen of fabric.
For instance, the dress of the sister in the middle had a beautiful copper & red glow.
Can you tell that these palms are flat?
They are the national symbol of Madagascar, but are found here, too.
They are called "Traveler's Palm"
For safety reasons, I will not divulge the location of these locks.
But they are on a brand new "high security" vault-door.
Sheques turned Street Sweepers...
An idea that resulted in a civic award for the woman who thought of it.
I guess in this case it kept the delinquents ON the streets.
This is how eggs are sold in the store.
It's up to you to figure out how to get them safely transported home.
I call this the "Happy Bus".  It is a Chinese TATA, which  is popular here.
It stands out because 1) It is NEW 2)  It is BRIGHT 3) It is CLEAN and 4) It is UNDAMAGED.
Names are sometimes interesting.
If it's completed, can it still be "future"?
Sometimes, the PEOPLE themselves name a structure..
This is "The Tower With No Purpose"
It's actually a communication tower.
This is how my permanent press clothes came out with my little washer/dryer combo.
(Well, that is, the ones that even SURVIVED.)
Can you see why I'm so excited to have a new dryer?
My favorite African purchase so far.
It's a miniature set and I only wish there was room in the baggage for a big one.
I can only identify about maybe 3/4 of the fruits or vegetables.
But, you CAN spot the deadly red pepper which you do NOT want to bite in real life.
A small problem here...
On the plaza traffic circle outside our apartment, this truck's wheel fell off.
Several hours later, at rush hour, they were finally able to get a tire and fix it.
Have we shown you the alternative to a CGO (Congo) license?
I'd think even prisoners could do better than this.
Every night, we kneel here for Family Prayer.
Then as George gets in bed to read the scriptures aloud, I go over to the far side.
After climbing into bed, I pull the mosquito net snug around us.
But to be honest, we have the A/C blowing so much cold air on us,
no self-respecting mosquito would come within a mile.
Caution!  Beware of pride!
I bought this after "bargaining" with a street vendor outside of NiceCream
and was so proud of my ability to get him down to a good price.
Funny... it LOOKED straight when he was holding it?
Elder and Sister Billings are going to have the graduation
for their  first class of Construction Training students this week.
She asked us if we could each bake 3 dozen cookies.
My cookie-making attempt a couple weeks ago looked like this,
with only the 2nd two dozen turning out.
 It must have been the humidity!
Pay attention boys and girls.  This is what you use to plug in your American products.
Unless you like to eat fried appliances.
George is the official contact with the U.S. Embassy for our Mission.
He has to take part in a weekly "radio check".
In cases of emergency, they will warn us to stay in our apartments.
They did this following the Sunday March 4th Brazzaville explosions,
after which we ignored them and went to Church.
A Congolese version of "The Happy Bus".
You do what you CAN with what you've GOT.
The Catholic Church/School clock tower and the U.N. Administration Bldg.,
bristling w/ all kinds of roof-top communications paraphernalia.
 This view is from our wrap-around roof.
Can't remember if I've posted my one and only (so far) African painting.
I got it on the first trip to Thieve's Market and love it.
It reminds me of the jungle at the Bonobo Primate Preserve.
The statue out front of the Kinshasa Water Department.
On most days, the water from the faucet doesn't work.
Now, here's a man who is not afraid to go against the trend.
No pink shirt, he!

Can you read this about 2/3 of the way down?
I'm so glad that we have these warnings 'cause I sure would have played with the first monkey I saw!
By the way, President Jameson has encouraged George & me to take a few days
 and go on a Safari sometime next year during the "dry season".
But, he did warn us that the monkeys will jump up and down on the tent roof each night.
I guess they think it is a trampoline.
This is me... or the top of my head... which is all I can see in the bathroom cabinet mirror.
Why are these things always built by seven foot giants?
This was featured in last week's blog... I can now tell you that this is a steal at $850 USD.
George's grandson, Henry, is serving a two-year mission in the Nebraska Omaha Mission.
Last week, in his letter home, he mentioned that their washing machine had broken.
George wanted him to see what the young missionaries wash their clothes in here in the Congo.
It hardly ever breaks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Clothes Quote"

Felix, our translator, told us that this man was probably crazy.
He had barely more than a loin clothe and "pants" that consisted of seams & hems only.
I guess he never heard Mark Twain's comment,
"Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society."

Sometimes we have nicknames for people that we see frequently.
This man has been spotted from one end to the other of the five miles long Boulevard.
He is always just walking.  We call him "Street Man".
Congolese men LOVE bright colors and especially PINK,
while you rarely see the women in that color.
This is a two-fer showing the man AND a woman in pink.
Despite the dust and mud that is everywhere, clothes and shoes are kept clean.
Men with portable shoe-shine kits can take care of someone right on the sidewalk.
While shades of pink and purple are pervasive, 
you can always find someone who stands out in a bright way.
Not a good picture, but it shows what Congolese do when the "Dry Season" comes.
This is the closest thing to winter that you can get on the Equator.
This street seller has a faux-fur collar to keep him warm.
And THIS guy has a sheepskin coat with faux-fur scarf, a hat AND ear muffs.
It was a frigid 80 degrees.
You think it doesn't get cold in the Congo?
This one-of-a-kind directory just came out from the DR Congo Church Employment Office.
It is a very comprehensive list of major employers in Kinshasa and a great resource for job-hunters.
(There is no telephone book in this city of 10-14 million people)
But, some day I want to find out WHY they chose penguins for the cover.
My grandson, Kyle Hudgins, is serving a two year mission in the lower part of Argentina,
where it would be much more appropriate.
Lest I leave the impression that Congolese are the only ones who are sensitive to temperature,
two of our young girls at the Service Desk last year were "freezing" when the rest of us were fine.
Now, they are both expecting babies in the fall and are probably telling the boss
 (and their husbands) to get that AC cooler!
Just a few examples of the lovely flowers around the chapel.
No idea what they're called, but they're bright and beautiful.

George & I waved at these two young men (Mervyn & Steve) who were watching us from a distance.
But, I forgot that opening and closing your fingers means "Come here" in the Congo.
When they suddenly sprinted toward us, I realized what I'd done.
But, they happily followed along with us while I took pictures of the flowers.
Imagine my surprise to find that the chapel grounds had LOTS 
of the "dreaded & deadly" OLEANDER!
This was especially funny because just last week I spent a great deal of time proving 
to Elder Bingham that.. along with raw cashews.. oleanders are poisonous.
A very oft-seen flower here.  Sorry I haven't looked up the names, but I will.
At the back of the Church grounds is the location for Elder Billings' construction training.
The outer part was done before he came, using inferior materials and methods.
When this class is finished, it will be torn down and the next class will begin to build again.
In the background is the first of the several bunk beds my husband and the other men are making
for the children's orphanage in Kimbanseke.  It is good, HEAVY wood and weighs about 200 lbs.
ANOTHER Oleander!  What shall we do?  What SHALL we do?
Vivian.. a kind, older sister who speaks a little English & always makes me feel welcome.
Next to her is Marceline, who is our Relief Society president and works at Temporal Affairs.
There is no end to the styles, beauty and creativity of Congolese dresses. They are so feminine.
As Marilyn Monroe said, "Your clothes should be tight enough to show you're a woman,
and loose enough to show you are a lady."
Just a random picture of a new trick I learned in the Congo.
Fact #1.. Ziplock bags are hard to find and expensive.
Fact #2.. It is expedient to be frugal and recycle when possible.
Fact #3..  Tile is used extensively in most kitchens here.
Fact #4.. Washed bags will stick to the tile walls and dry nicely (AND out of the way).
Outside on our 4th floor wrap-around porch/roof George planted a garden.
At the bottom of the picture, you see almost the whole harvest.
Also in the picture are my two intended-to-be avocado plants for the house.
They grew so high before I could get potting soil (well, horse poo really)
that we are now going to  plant them to make trees.
George is already fixing a new "winter" garden and hoping that the "cooler" dry season
will be kinder & gentler to the next crop.

My current collection of masks.  The one just above is  three times bigger than the others.
Most are Kasai Occidental (west) and a couple are Kasai Oriental (east).
Some people do not like African masks at all,
and at first, I didn't either.  But just as I came to appreciate Egyptian art
after seeing the King Tut Exhibition in New Orleans years ago,
  I'm now learning about African tribes, their cultures, the reasons for certain types of masks,
& how they were used.  I'm loving it and will share some of that information in the future.
Another nick-named person... This is "One Belt Man".  Most other street sellers have multiples,
but he always has just ONE belt.  Pascal tells us he thinks it's a marketing ploy...
"Hey, look!  I have just one of a kind here.  Be the first to get it!" 
Then, after it's sold, he pulls out another one.
In the DR Congo, Clorox is your best friend.
All fruits and vegetables are washed in a bleach & water solution after purchase.
In addition, we have anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizer, which I use all day,
as well as a triple system water filter.
Sooo... how DID I get that parasite?   :(
The small size of the first harvest from George's garden has not deterred him from starting anew.
The good news is that he said it was one of the best tasting cucumbers he's ever had.
Preparing for Kabila's big birthday celebration on the Plaza w/ TV cameras at the ready.
At one point later in the evening the band members sang "Happy Birthday"... but in English.
The first to come and be seated in the VIP section were several tribal chiefs.
Most were in their ceremonial clothing and the group included one woman.
A pile of wrecked cars, trucks & even a bus stacked in front of the police station.
It doesn't seem to have been a deterrent.  The drivers are insane & test my faith every day.  
 I don't actually scream, but tend to "suck air" or emit an involuntary "wooo wooo wooo!"
This is "MaMa's" where we get bananas & sometimes other fruits or vegetables.
She often pops a new, un-tried (and sometimes unidentified) fruit into our bag.
See for yourself the trajectory of this truck and the amount of lane space available.
It's seems that an inevitable collision course lies ahead.
I don't know how they do it, but we see this kind of scene a hundred times a week
The "pous-pous" guys will sometimes even come down the wrong way on the 8-lane Boulevard.
With NO-RULES drivers, jaywalking pedestrians & these push carts, we are always on alert.
Two of our sweetest missionaries.  Sister Razafindri and Sister Flagbo.
The former is from Madagascar.  Like most Malagasy, she had to shorten her name for the badge.
Sister Flagbo, by all accounts, should not be physically able to handle a mission.
One of her legs is almost a foot shorter than the other, which makes walking hard & painful.
But she fought hard to be able to come and she has been a wonderful missionary.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture downstairs in the dungeon like office of  Ministère de la Justice,
 but after initial questions and filling out of forms, we were led OUTSIDE for finger printing.
I can't remember what Thierry & George were kidding about, 
but Thierry is pointing to the ink pads.  This picture makes me laugh.
First the right hand.... no problem.
Then the left hand. At first, she didn't notice George's amputated finger, but when she got to it,
she didn't even bat an eye... just inked it and put it on the paper... as if it had fingerprints.
And, how do you clean up after all that?  A water bucket on a ledge, of course.
Amazingly, the woman who seemed so unfriendly at first, became more comfortable as she saw
that we were friendly to her, laughing & having a good time.
She even smiled for this picture and then insisted that George take a picture of her with me.
No two dresses alike.  Sometimes the differences are subtle, such as these layered sleeves.
The fabrics are also seemingly endless... mostly found at "The Beach", not far from our apartment.
It's outside, a narrow dirt (or mud) "aisle" for 1/8 mile with hundreds of fabric samples on either side.
A sweet Sister Missionary who was just completing her mission and going home.
Another example of a different dress treatment with raised collar, waist band and lower flare.
(Not all that baggage is hers... the departing missionaries line up all their baggage in the hall) 
Another two-fer... portable street shoe-shiner AND pink shirt.
This is "Dry Season" and you can sure tell it.  It was in this same area (Masina) 3 months ago,
that we saw a car almost disappear in a shallow looking pool of water which disguised a giant hole.
This may be the man whom I once saw from our 4th floor and thought  had no legs.
He has legs, but they are useless so he can't stand.  He mostly uses his arms to move forward.
The only person in this group that can see is the first.
The rest are blind and are connected to each other and to her.
I think this is a great visual lesson that, in this life, we all need each other
and should help each other.