Monday, December 31, 2012

Post-Christmas & "Bonne Année" from the Congo!

"If we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it."
--President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Curtains, Contentment, and Christmas", 2011 First Presidency Devotional
We found this statement to be so true for Christmas 2012...
Probably our simplest and quietest Christmas ever.
The Jameson's Christmas tree & one of her many African nativities.
They invited all of the couples to come and enjoy an early dinner,
afterward they read a Christmas program interspersed with all
of us singing the appropriate Christmas carol after each narration.
Then we returned home early to receive Skype calls from family.
President Jameson taught French for 27 yrs at Arizona University.
He always required his students to read "The Little Prince"
(which features a Baobob tree). When they saw this in on a trip
to S. Africa, they just had to get it.
Right now it's got African beaded ornaments on it for Christmas.

A beaded wintry Christmas scene.  These were made in S. Africa.
The residents there almost went crazy in August (their winter)
when Johannesburg enjoyed their first snow since 1981.
I know how they feel. I remember seeing snow for the 1st time
as a young child in Florida on Feb. 2, 1951 (newspaper account).
It was a magical experience... never to be forgotten!
What little Christmas wrapping paper can be found here
is not very pretty & horrendously expensive.
So, George & I used the only solid color plastic bags
we had on hand, which happened to be black.
Our white "ribbons".. 1) a remnant from a newly purchased
mattress and 2) a mesh ribbon that holds mosquito nets.
The other two gifts were wrapped in tin foil and copy paper,
(on which George valiantly attempted to draw Christmas trees).
We couldn't put the gifts UNDER our pretty beaded tree,
since it is so small.. but we put them all around it.

When our gifts to each other, as well as from others were opened,
it probably represented the most humble, sweet and eclectic
group of gifts either of us has ever given or received.
My gifts to George (& to me) were 2 Cantiques (Hymns
en Francais) since we can't read the tiny pocket-sized ones we have,
 a set of garments, and a hand-drawn picture of shearling slippers,
(which I set up to be delivered by Mac Coleman next week).
George gave me the nativity set & a surprise beautiful ebony & silver
bracelet which I'd admired in Johannesburg (left).
He also took time to find, download & print
a "binder full" of crossword puzzles for me,
since those I brought ran out long ago.
The Jamesons gave the tree, zebra towel, blue flower pin,
special seasoning, chili peppers & zip lock bags
(the latter are hard-to-find items in Kinshasa).  A crocheted bookmark
came from Sister Whitesides in Yaounde and
African paper beads sent up from Jo'burg by Sister Robinson.
These sweet and simple gifts were so appreciated.
After we came home from the Jamesons, we heard a lot of music
on the Plaza and checked it out.  The crowd seemed to consist of
nothing but families... with children running in every direction,
or lining up to walk to the ledge of the monument and jump off,
throwing firecrackers & sparklers willy-nilly and not a SIGN
of anyone getting harmed in all of this joyful and wild activity.
In America, there would have been hundreds of mothers saying,
"Don't do that!  You'll get hurt!"... and the kids would STILL
have managed to injure themselves.
Even as we watched, the crowds on both the left & right sides
of the Plaza began to grow thicker. Children or youth
would meet someone they knew, as they ran here & there,
and would just spontaneously begin dancing to the music.
And, it continued at an even greater pace as the sun set.
It was loud and boisterous, but an absolute joy to watch.
Before it was over, there were a couple thousand people
just having the most uninhibited and wonderful time.
Did we mention that shipping to Africa is expensive?
Here is the cost for two postcards that apparently didn't meet
the size requirements to come by just-postage "pouch" mail.
In case you can't read it, the total was $37.76
Apparently the four southbound lanes on Trente Juin
weren't enough for this truck.  And, this silly man in the blue car
came out thinking he had no traffic in his lane. (He made it)
Speaking of bad drivers...  how about bad parkers?
Someone, whose name I will never divulge under pain of death
(George) backed into the large pot that previously held these
two plants.  I am sure he will offer to buy a replacement...
Besides the large lit-up tree on the Plaza, we also were delighted
to see these tree outlines go up across the way.  It may seem odd
to be so excited about these minimal decorations...
But, when you don't have much, a little means a lot.
A FIRST...seeing "pajamas" on a female!
For some reason, it's always been men wearing them.
George said, "You've GOT to get a picture of this truck!"
Come on, car guys.... How old do you think it is?
However, just to balance this, we DID see a new 4-door
 Porsche a few days ago... beau coup dollars!!
One of my favorites... Tres jolie, Madame!
On Avenue de Justice, you can see just about anything for sale.
If Pascal had been with us, I'd have had him bargain for it.
(I am an excellent bargainer, but he can do it faster in traffic).
I took this picture for several reasons.  The dress is pretty,
her husband is actually holding her hand & helping her cross,
in the far distance, you can see the best policeman in Kinshasa.
He is so nice that a UN guy leaving to return to the USA
gave him his car.
Workers are often transported in this kind of rig.
I'm not sure if they were workers or a Church group of some kind.
But they were singing Christmas carols at the top of their lungs.
(And, believe me.. Congolese lungs are pretty impressive!)
Right behind came a UN truck.  I wondered if some of the "cargo"
was men & supplies from the eastern part of the DR Congo,
who had been pulled out recently.  The contingent of UN in the
DRC is the largest and the longest assignment in the world.
No one here seems to believe they have done any good at all.
I could only snap part of this man, but he gets my vote...
The pajamas are impressive, but the hat settles it.
Labor is so cheap that it's cost-effective to use one man on each
floor to hand up one large and heavy concrete block at a time.
If it slips & hits someone on the head, there is no workman's comp. 
Would you expect to see cactus in the Congo?  Me neither.
But, here's proof.  Right behind St. Anne's Catholic Church
(which is next door to us) is the "motel" where someone can
stay for just $70 a night.  This is where Chelsey & Larry Itejere
stayed while waiting for adoption papers to be finished.
She finally got to return to NC w/ Leyna yesterday...
one week later than they had planned.
How excited we were to see this group performing in front of
Hasson-Frere supermarket, just a block from our apartment.
We stopped the car while I took pictures.
There were several other men in the background, singing and
dancing and playing instruments.  But the girls were the stars.
Hopefully, the video below can be seen by you ..
Did you think only Polynesians could dance like this?

Always seeing surprises in creative designs.
Any other week, this man would have won the pajama award,
but he didn't have a hat!
It was love at first sight with this dress & turban.  Lovely!
Two good friend, holding hands.
Never a lack of color & style to admire.
Just have to give this guy some credit.
Most of the countless street sweepers appear to be lethargic
and unmotivated to move more than an inch in any direction
as they sweep a tiny portion of the sandy boulevard.
But, THIS guy was getting into it, as he danced with his broom.
Of course, he stopped as soon as I switched to video.

If the video doesn't work, here is the guy who entertained
us outside ShopRite on Friday.  He made us laugh and was
well worth the 500 franc note.
A 3-in-1 shot... pretty dress, young couple holding hands
(which is still unusual, even in the younger generation),
and a guy who is obviously battling the frigid 85° weather.
This guy doesn't have pajamas, but he DOES have a hat
and he deserves some credit for the death-defying job he has:
To be the "conductor" and hold on with your fingertips
 while the taxi driver goes
hell bent for leather down the street.
The opening of a new internet provider company.
However, George believes that, like the gas stations and taxis,
they are all under government control.
So, prices are fixed & there is no real competition.
What we call the "Squatters Building"... uncompleted & abandoned,
but lived in by many families who must pay something to the police
to be allowed to do so.  This day there was a huge crowd outside,
but we didn't find out why.  Crowds easily gather after an accident
or any unusual incident, and they also tend to easily become a mob,
so we are counseled to quickly leave such situations.

This beautiful woman is Gloria Lomboto,
Pascal's wife.

Pascal is diligently saving all he can to take
his wife and family to the nearest temple
(Johannesburg, S. Africa) so that
they can be sealed for Time & Eternity.
2013 will be a blessed year for them.
I pray it will be for all of us, also.
Bonne Année!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas & De-construction in Kinshasa

Our beautiful Salt Lake temple back home in Utah,
 with some of the 1/2  million Christmas lights of Temple Square.
Picture this with the lights shining through beautiful snow-laden trees,
as it looks this week after a good snowfall.

Christmas lighting on the Spanish architecture of my picturesque St. Augustine, Florida.
Chances of snow here are somewhere around one in a million!
This may appear to be just the view eastward from our bedroom,
but if you look closely, you will see more than just the building.
Here's a challenge to all grandchildren:
Look at this & following pictures (you might have to enlarge this )
Find the hidden objects and count them! Adults can play, too...
or just skip & scroll on down several levels.
Is it easier to see now?  How many do you count?
Be careful.. don't count the lamp post.
Half of one counts as a whole!
This is a pretty "pre-flight" picture.. But, is that the only one?
Sometimes it's hard to tell... is it sky or is it a bird?

Other times, it's easier.
What was your grand total?
Here's how they look up close.  Aren't they pretty? 
They are migrating, but we aren't sure to where...
Can you find out what they are called? (Hint: Google "Birds of Africa") 
Which is  your favorite bird in the Google images?

The next several pictures may be more interesting to the men...
The women might want to scroll down till you see colorful pics.
This was taken BEFORE the de-construction of the 5th floor began.
George's idea was to make this huge 5th floor apartment into two. 
This looks southeast from apartment 5-A toward 5-B beyond the wall. 
The sliding door and double doors will be walled over to create
the 2nd apartment.  Photo is from the LR & DR of 5-A looking toward 
what will soon be a hall (r) with doors to the two new bedrooms (l).
The wall on the other side of the ladder will be knocked down
to make the LR/DR of the 5-B apartment.
The 5-B wall coming down to make the LR/DR. 
The shorter man in red is one of our many unemployed Bishops.
(Unemployment in the Congo is over 70%)
The Church has unpaid ministry,
so we were happy that he had an opportunity to receive wages.
He is old, but worked harder & longer than any of the younger men. 
The worker on the right was younger, tall & looked strong, 
but he was the laziest.
  Lesson:  Looks can be deceiving!
However, the lazy guy wanted to look fully engaged for the picture. 
Elder Smith had to supervise a lot to keep sliding glass doors (l) 
from being broken due to flying concrete from all of the
"hammer-happy" deconstruction workers.
Looking back in the opposite direction from what will be
  one of the bedrooms toward the LR/DR of 5-A.
Both apartments have nice views & share some views in common. 
One nice development was that the workers had music from
the sound truck and dancers who stationed themselves
by the Plaza below, loudly advertising the opening of a new store. 
After a couple hours, having attracted a crowd that probably
consisted mostly of their immediate relatives, they circled the   Plaza 
and took off down Trente Juin Blvd, Stage Right...
hopefully to attract more customers. 

Now, on the 5-B side, looking at the "new" LR/DR.
Note that sliding glass doors have been miraculously preserved
amidst all of the flying concrete.

The debris was gathered in bags, put in wheelbarrows
and taken downstairs to our big Toyota pickup truck,
where Pascal took it to the road he lives on
 to fill in the holes & craters.
His neighbors were very grateful for his hard work,
(but no one offered to help unload).

Another hard worker.  Many of these men have graduated from the
Construction Training program, which has helped them get M-F jobs.
But, this will give them a little extra. 

After the men successfully tore down the door
 between this 5-B bathroom & the bedroom (soon-to-kitchen),
George tried to do a victory sign.
But, I pointed out to him, that with his chopped off finger,
 it looked more like a check mark.
So, he tried it with the other hand for the full "V" for victory!
He looks tired in this picture after working hard all day.
Putting in two nine-hour Saturdays was exhausting.
It's voluntary and he doesn't get paid money for any of this,
but he feels he is serving by doing it (and God compensates well). 

A chipped broken sink was a casualty as George was supervising
in another area & didn't get it pulled out in time.
Wielding a sledge hammer is hard work, but can you imagine
 how much fun all those young men had...
laying into these concrete walls.
Sort of like a "Demolition Derby" for construction guys.

Now for some fun fashion stuff... No more grey concrete pictures!
Wish I could have taken a picture of the whole dress.  It was very pretty 
and sophisticated.  Hopefully you can get an idea from the top.
Isn't it great that this woman was so bold to combine
shades of neon & olive green with fuchsia pink accessories? 
And, here is a combination..
pretty lavender and turquoise fabric
with turquoise shoes.
We have to put this in the category,
"Clueless Men & Their Fashion Statements"

Speaking of men:
This truck ad would never pass the "Gender Sensitivity Test" in America.
Apparently, being tough & competitive is "The Business of Men"
and hauling the beer is woman's work.

English Sunday School class Dec. 9... It changes every week,
with LDS members passing through for various reasons.
(l-r) Colin and ?: two of the partnership of four who are diamond exporters.
Sometimes all four are in Kinshasa on a Sunday & then they are gone again.
Mac Coleman: retired AF, State Dept. trainer for Congolese soldiers in the east. 
Chelsey & Larry Itejere & Leyna: couple from NC adopting the little girl. 
He returns to work Dec 21 & we're praying she'll be home for Christmas.
Brittney & Eric Roos: another adopting couple, from ID. Their baby boy
had some problems & was in the hospital, but was finally released 
& they were able to go back home the 14th.
On the way home one day, we couldn't believe our eyes. 
Was this actually a fire and a real fire truck responding?
(They still haven't rebuilt the burned-down fire station)
But, apparently they are able to overcome that small obstacle.
When we got closer, we saw a number of policemen
 just standing around. So we knew that it must not be TOO serious
 or they'd have been running into the building to save people...
(I'm sooo bad!)

(I forgot to turn the camcorder to "photo",
but if it works, even for a moment, you'll see a beautiful
girl I've shown before, named Getou.)

One of the sweetest blessings of serving here has been the people.
Our respect and love for them grows by the day.
And feeling love from them, in return, has been an incredible experience.  
All of a sudden, like Sarah of the Old Testament,
 I'm becoming a mother to many.
Getou's mother has died & her father is in ill health, 
so her loving Aunt has taken her into her own already large family.
Getou hugs me strongly each Sunday
and now calls me "mother".  That doesn't mean I replace her mom, 
just that she thinks of me as "a mother-like" influence ...
Of course, it all started with this dimpled guard,Laurent.
I've wanted to "adopt" him since we got here.
He couldn't attend Church last week, because of malaria,
(every Congolese we know gets it)
but this past week, he finally was able to attend Church
for the first time.  He was standing with "Perry"
when the note in the photo below
was given to me.

I was so touched when Laurent & another guard waved us to stop
on our way out from the apartment one morning this week.
The other guard (Perry) explained that he'd lost the Pass Along card
that I'd given him with the ph.# of the APs.  As I gave him another, 
he handed me this note with HIS information, so that I could
give it to the APs, as well.  What a sweet surprise to read the note. 
Apparently the guards have ALSO adopted me as their mother.
Photo: With my best mom...:)
Also, I found a new hairdresser.  He works in the beauty shop which
 is owned by the sister of a Lebanese dress shop owner
with whom I made friends one day.
 Did you keep up with that?
Rami is from Beruit and one day, when I came early & saw him smoking,
I shook my finger and said, "Rami!  Don't smoke!  It's bad for you!"
He said, "It is true.  My mother tells me that, also.
She is worried for me. You are like my mother.  Thank you."
The good news is that he has cut way down on his smoking
 (this was verified by "Bridgette", the manicurist) and he's trying to quit.
Meanwhile, he had someone take this picture
and posted this on his Face Book page titled:
"With my best mom..."
Finally, today, an email came from a young man named 
Bienvenu Motshikana (left).  I didn't take this picture, but
the three blue-tied young men had just sung in Single Adult choir
We also know Junior (c), and Dieumerci Kalonji (r). Can't remember #4. 
Kalonji has translated for us several times. 

A more casual picture (r), from 2nd week of de-construction.
Bienvenu is a returned missionary who was employed in 
the 7-week office cleaning job when we 1st arrived on our mission.
He has always been happy to visit with us.
After the Monday Christmas Devotional, he asked me
 to email him a copy of the talk I gave. 
His response was so sweet, in broken English.
 Apparently, I now have another "son" in my growing family.
"Thank you so much sister Smith you are a great mother even inspiring. 
The day you were giving your talk i felt the Spirit strongly upon me.
That was the same Spirit i was feeling when i was a missionary.
And that Monday i thought it was the wife of the mission president teaching us. 
Your teaching made me think much about the Savior. Thank you so much mother"  

First thought... should we call "Suicide Prevention"??
No, this guy was just taking the hard route to who knows where,
(the safety of that rickety scaffolding, perhaps?)
Only two chains holding this load.  You see this and you think...
how OLD are those chains,
(and, even if they are brand new... were they made in China?)
Either option is reason for worry.

Two men dressed in very spiffy looking white suits,
waiting for transport in the rain. Maybe a groom and best man?
I felt bad for them, but was glad it wasn't pouring!

Most of the taxi vans have religious phrases on them.
This one... "The man of courage is the object of criticism today."
"moral courage" is implied...  How true.
Decided to throw a little surprise birthday party for Sister Jameson.
They had been traveling so much & were due to be gone again
on her birthday.  At the last minute, I let President Jameson in on it.
Good thing, too.. because she was so tired, she considered not coming. 
We provided the balloons, decorations etc.,
George made brownies w/ walnuts and Sister Robinson made
yummy mint brownies, while the Moons brought the ice cream.
Our little group was incomplete because the Billings couldn't come. 
When we all said, "Surprise!" and began singing "Happy Birthday",
Sister Jameson cried just a bit.  She'd really had a hard day,
and this made her feel so much better!
We were so happy for that.

Sister Laraine & Elder Hal Robinson, Perpetual Education Fund Couple.
Pre-mission, he was a banker back in Afton, Wyoming.
 Here, he's had the difficult PEF task of dealing with Congolese banks,
which don't have "Customer Service" or "Efficiency" in their vocabulary.
The Robinsons are much-loved, by their students and by us.
We love to tease Elder Moon about nearly everything.
He's a good sport and teases right back.
The Humanitarian Couple have a very big job,
helping through a wide variety of projects.
Mac caught Sister Moon in the same,fingers-to-the-face position.
She is from Canada.  She & Elder Moon married after both
had been widowed.  They previously served a mission in Ukraine.
We love to kid her for "aboot" and other Canadian words. 

Mac Coleman was taking these pictures so subtly that we didn't even know.
Apparently, Sister Moon moves faster than the lens setting.
This was the longest my hair had been for decades, even back to high school.
A few days after this picture, I had Rami chop it off. (see pic above)
In one of those "watch what you say in a foreign language", I used the word
"blanche" when I should have just said "blond".  Fortunately, he didn't listen!

I think Sister Jameson is making her wish.
I hope it was a good one & comes true for her.
After seeing how hard she works to support her husband,
and to function as the "Mission Mother",
you would not ever want to aspire to be in her position.

Four very diverse women with a special bond of sisterhood.
Just HAD to laugh at (and take a picture of) my husband's
pre-bedtime snack on the nightstand.
Is this a sign of OCD or just the natural process
for a left-brained, abacus minded, accounting major...
who knows that M&Ms are a precious commodity
and should only be carefully & systematically allotted ?
George's "surprise" Christmas decoration for the apartment.
It consisted of unrolling a ball of red & green rubber bands he'd tied,
then draping the strand on whatever he could, after which he hung
plastic colored Christmas balls, which he secretly got in Johannesburg.
It's important to remember that we were there in June...
so the store's sale price was almost .."We'll pay you to take it!"
Sister Jameson brought back S. African beaded Christmas trees
for each of the couples when they were in Jo'burg in Nov.
It's the smallest tree I've ever had in my life, but it's a tree.
The  petite Nativity was also a "Jo'burg" surprise from George.
The sheep are about the size of my thumbnail. I love it. 
Special holiday treats began with a "sweet" gift from the Itejeres.
Unfortunately, George didn't get to eat many
because they mysteriously went missing...
(I'm soooo very bad!)
How happy we were to see this unexpected item in the store.
But we were a little dubious about the quality.
Joan:  "Get two.  If they are good, the store will sell out."
George:  "What if they aren't good?"
Joan:  "Then you can eat both of them."
My family probably is not surprised
that I did a happy dance right in the store when we spotted THIS!
I always faithfully brought it to each family Christmas dinner
 & then taken it home afterward, minus the one piece I ate.
(Not sure where all these non-mince pie eaters came from).
Anyway, the taste test hasn't been done yet.
Just waiting to find some egg nog!
Just recently, we finally saw a sign of "Christmas as we know it".
We found out that the Congolese typically begin
the celebration of Christmas just ten days before Dec 25.
Let's see... that's about two months after the USA.
(Unless we've now pushed it back to July 5th)

The next clue was the street vendors with their Chinese-made
 blow up Santas and various inexpensive toys.
Is that purple garland over his shoulder?

And the Congo version of carrying home your Christmas tree.
But THEN one day... lo' and behold... we saw men scampering up
a Christmas tree-shaped structure in the Plaza... could it be?

The next day, as we came home from the Mission Office,
We saw what appeared to be a completed tree.

And, as dusk came, the blue lights on the tree and the gold-lit star
"much to our wondering eyes, did appear".
After it was all finished, we happily enjoyed it's glow that night..
the next two nights it was dark, because the power went off.
That's the Congo!

 Finally, proof positive that commercialism is alive & well in Africa.
(What IS it with purple garlands here?)
This was in City Market, which is owned by Lebanese and 
frequented by many from that country, as well as other ex-pats.
The piped store music is usually classic Celine Dion with occasional 
Lebanese songs, but I had to really laugh yesterday as I heard
"Jingle Bells" sung in Lebanese & in a middle eastern-style.

It's 75 degrees today and all the Congolese are wearing their winter coats.
It was quite funny this week to try to explain "snow" to some Congolese.
OK... think about it.  How would YOU describe it???
Of course, that weather won't be happening for our Congo Christmas, but...
If you close your eyes and squint, you can imagine that the Flamboyant tree
flowers are actually Christmas Poinsettias.

I HOPE this picture is deceiving just because I'm leaning closer,
but already-trim George IS losing weight and I AM gaining.
Why is life so unfair?
Is it too late to ask Santa for some TNT to blast it all off?
(Maybe I should forget that egg nog)...sigh!