February 23, 2012
It has taken me two nights of trying to get "connected" & now it is too late to say much more than every horror story you have ever heard about the Congo was understated!
The poverty & "culture" of the average guy on the street is incredible (imagine a country with 85-90% unemployment). I was separated by a crowd of people as we came out of the airport & was told to "Stop!" by 2 uniformed & armed policemen speaking French. I kept smiling & saying "bonsoir" & in English, "I'm sorry, I cant stop" they kept moving in front of me trying to block me. i was really scared, but kept smiling. I finally pointed toward George & our "formalities" guy in the distance & said "I'm with Antoine!". That seemed to do the trick & suddenly my threatening situation turned around & they shoo-ed away another guy who was not taking "No" for an answer from George..
Driving down ANY roadway is the most frightening thing in the world. I will describe that later, but suffice it to say it is really beyond description & we need your prayers every single day just to survive the "no rules" traffic.
The good news is that the Mission President & his wife are wonderful & they, with the other three couples (as well as the Congolese members) have welcomed us with open arms.. Tonight & every night for several nights we will eat @ the home of one or the other. They also stocked things for us.
So much to tell you but but I really have to get shower & bed.. Mainly just wanted you to know that we made it thru a difficult trip (more later) & arrived safely.
I love you all,
February 26, 2012
(Dear Friends... Because of extreme tiredness due to our 30 hour trip, a very busy schedule this week and having a lot of internet connection problems, I was not able to connect with my family except for one brief message this week, so I wrote this to try and help my information-starved family catch up. However, there is unlikely to be time to re-write another, shorter version for friends AND get pictures up on the blog... so if you don't care for details, don't feel compelled to read this and just know that some interesting pictures will be up on the blog in the next day or so. Love, Joan
We have only completed the 5th full day of our first week in the DRC and yet there have been so many new sounds, sights, smells & experiences that it feels like a year's worth of living.
As I briefly told you the other night, the beginning was somewhat intimidating. It lived up to and surpassed our expectations of a shady, sinister and forbidding airport... worn down and old, filled with people who seemed to be watching you with ominous interest (deja vu of the night I got lost trying to return to my motel in Chicago & ended up on the wrong side of town at dusk/dark). After a Congolese man named Antoine, who is hired by the Church, although he is not a member, took care of the "formalities" and got our luggage, we all headed for the door to exit. Outside, you could see many African men crowded up near the door. As George & Antoine went through, there was a sudden surge of other people who came between us and, before I knew it, George & Antoine were quite a distance away. I am very proud of the fact that, when the two uniformed, armed men stood in front of me and kept moving in front and telling me to stop, I did NOT stop but kept on smiling and told them I didn't speak French and I could not stop. Finally, I pointed in the distance toward George and said, "I'm with Antoine!" and suddenly that turned everything around. They made way for me and shouted for others to clear my way. They also yelled to the persistent large Congolese man who was trying to "help" George, and he moved back, too.
A happy sight then awaited us as we saw, on the other side of the parking lot standing under some trees, not only President Jameson and his wife, but the Office Couple we were replacing (Hatches), the Humanitarian Couple (Binghams), the Perpetual Education Couple (Staggs) & two of the mission office assistants, Aime and Fils. They all braved the "you cannot adequately describe it" traffic, AT NIGHT, to come and greet us. Then, we all drove in two vans back to our various living quarters. The Staggs live in our same building, the others are scattered. The trip home was probably the greatest sustained adrenalin-rush I've ever experienced.. and it wasn't NEARLY as bad as the experiences when we drove with various people in the next few days. Cars, over loaded trucks, taxis, motorcycles, "pus-pus", and even wheelchairs drive on WHICHEVER side of the road they feel will get them there faster. You can be driving down the road with a car coming toward you in YOUR lane and another car passing you on the LEFT into the approaching car's correct lane. It is "Chicken!" played for very high stakes. One truck in front of us was driving faster than we were, which is pretty surprising considering the fact that he apparently had NO shocks, NO lights (front or back) and NO guarantee that the 16 feet of stacked bags which were leaning over to the right about four feet past upright would not fall on any unlucky vehicle that happened to pass him. By the way, only the Senior Missionary couples have cars in this mission... but in one week, TWO vehicles were involved in accidents here which were not their fault. I cannot tell you how frightening it is on the road!
Our apartment building is desirable because it is owned by the US Embassy. Therefore, it is considered American soil (if necessary, the Marines WILL pluck us off the roof). It has heavy security, which includes a concrete fence with razor wire on top, armed guards (one is a woman with a WWII machine gun), two-gates with full security sweep on the car, and more dependable internet than most places. Our apartment is VERY small, but it does have an advantage in that we have a "wrap-around" roof top, which we access through our sliding doors. From the rooftop, we can see a couple areas of the Congo River or we can look out over a large section of Gombe, considered to be a "good" section of Kinshasa... but just remember that ALL descriptions in the Congo are relative.
Wednesday... training with Elder & Sister Hatch in the office, often interrupted by tearful Congolese members coming to say goodbye to them. It made me cry, too . In the afternoon, Bishop H. David Burton of the Presiding Bishopric and Elder Dale G. Renland spoke to a gathering in the chapel we attend. I had my French hymn book & did a really good job of singing the hymns in French. Bishop Burton was here to look at prospective sights for the Kinshasa temple. We got to meet him afterward. Later, a delicious dinner and lots of laughs at the Binghams.
Thursday... training with Elder & Sister Hatch in the office (again, more members making the trip to come say farewell). A "Sister's Conference" with a nice brunch for all the Sister Missionaries at Sister Jameson's (upstairs in the same building as the Mission Office). Had my first experience hearing the Congolese sisters sing. It is incredible. They sing VERY loudly, on key and with an undertone that is sort of like the alto part, but not quite. It is a little like the base chord you might play with a guitar. REALLY beautiful! Later, a great dinner, homemade custard ice cream & fun at the Staggs.
Friday... The Hatchs left, so we have the first full day working in the office on our own. No one there because they were all busy taking the Hatches & Church leaders to different flights and that trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the traffic jams. To add to the challenge, there was no internet for the first six hours. At 5:30pm, we took the elevator up to the Jameson's for a very lovely dinner which they hosted with all the couples to welcome us. We also had a husband, wife & mother from Geneva, Switzerland as well as Brother George Benot, who has just been called to be in charge of Temporal Affairs in the Southeast Africa Area and will play a large role in the building of the Kinshasa temple. He is from France. My French tutor from the MTC would have been SO proud. The whole evening was spent with most at the table alternately speaking French and English with occasional translations. I was able to understand a LOT and even speak in French at times.
Saturday... We spent about three hours waiting for the office assistant to work with the internet provider and then get our laptop settings fixed after several days without being able to connect on the Wi-Fi. Then, the Jameson's picked us up and took us to a "marche" or super market which caters to ex-pats (ex-patriots) from all countries. We interacted with French, Swiss, Muslim, Asian & others. The man behind the cheese counter had an attitude & purposely waited on about five Congolese who came in line after us, but most people were VERY friendly and helpful. One American couple heard us speaking and gravitated to us like a magnet. They are Jehovah Witnesses and he is here to work on communications. We had a good visit with them & the Jamesons were able to give them some helpful information. At one point, an African woman in a lovely Congolese dress came over to help me when she saw I couldn't reach something up high. She had the most angelic smile. Later, a Muslim woman helped Sister Jameson & me with something (she spoke French, as does Sister Jameson). When we were checking out, I saw her in another line and went to thank her again and gave her a "Pass Along" card with a picture of Christ on it. Only later did I realize that that could have been offensive to her, but she seemed to understand that I was doing it out of gratitude.
George & I ended the day by having the sliding doors LOCK on us when we went out to look around the roof. We were stuck without ability to call anyone or get help for about three hours. After I called out to a UN worker who was walking into the building, she was able to call another worker who lives next to the Staggs & have her contact them. Even then, the Staggs could only take us to THEIR apartment because our apartment front door was dead-bolted from the inside! We eventually got into our apartment about six hours after the beginning with the help of some resourceful Congolese men who literally figured out how to unlock the sliding doors from the OUTSIDE! The positive side of this is that it was a moderate temperature with a little breeze and I had LOTS of time on the roof to take pictures.
Sunday... Relief Society first. All in French, but you could feel the sweet spirit of the RS president, the teacher (Bishop's wife) and the sisters. After that, we had great Sunday School class for the English members, the Staggs, Binghams, Smiths and a single sister (Cecile) from Switzerland who works for the UN & has adopted two Ligerian girls). Last was Sacrament Meeting. Cecile offered to sit next to me & translate. The Bishop explained, in French, that the Hatches had departed and that we had come to replace them. Then, Cecile's eyes got very big & she looked at me and whispered, "The Bishop wants you & your husband to bear your testimonies!" At first, I thought, "Oh my gosh... I can't do that! I don't remember ANYTHING of how to say that in French!" But, then he said that we could do it in English & suggested she could translate. We did that and I believe the members could feel our sincerity. I told about my experience of seeing a vision where "all the faces were black and all the faces were beautiful" and told them that I'd thought it would be easy to recognize anyone from that vision, but when I got here, everyone was beautiful!
After Church, the Binghams invited to take us on a sightseeing tour. We ended up going by the Embassies, which was interesting, and then drove up the Congo River past what they call "The Falls" which are really VERY fast and dangerous rapids. We went beyond that far up into areas that are hard to get to, even with four wheel drive and even harder to describe, to see a couple of the "water projects" which the Binghams organized & to meet some of the people (mostly non-members) they got to know. One is a pastor of a Church. Elder B gave him a Book of Mormon in French, which the man was happy to receive and which he will most likely preach from. I've taken a ton of pictures of all these things and will add them asap.
It is way past time to end this... I have to wash dishes in steaming hot, unfiltered water, but rinse in bleached filtered water. Then George will put all the fruits & vegetables into a sink full of bleach-water. We have to use the kitchen sink to brush our teeth because it is the only one with the option of the filtered water. (I actually drank the unfiltered water for 2 1/2 days before realizing that you had to pull out this little knob for it to be filtered!.. so far I'm still alive!)
No one can ever really understand what it is like here without BEING here, but I hope that this gives you just a GLIMPSE of life in Kinshasa. There are 187 places ranked for poverty in the world. Kinshasa is 187th. The unemployment rate is 85-90% and most of the people will do whatever it takes to survive. And, yet, today in Church, we listened as a wonderful Congolese man taught about Faith and Faithfulness and how challenges come to all, but that we must keep that faith and that we do so by praying, reading our scriptures, keeping the commandments and serving others, even when we are in the midst of trials.
The people have the most beautiful smiles and radiate so much that is good. I am thankful that Heavenly Father has given me a chance to learn from them.
I love you all and will try very hard to get the pictures on the blog as soon as I can.
Dear Family & Friends, March 4, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,
Putting the blog together about the orphanage has taken up all available time, so tonight I will simply relay something which happened this week.
George & I were standing outside, as we often do, just observing the busy scene below. It never disappoints, as we see interesting scenes every time. All of a sudden, I became aware that a ragged Congolese woman was crawling from the far end of the large plaza on her hands and knees. As we watched, she moved slowly and awkwardly across the entire length of the plaza. Tears of sympathy began to form in my eyes and we both wondered aloud how she would get across the busy & fast moving traffic.
When she arrived at the end, I thought of the man in the New Testament who was near the pool of Bethesda, but because he was too lame, he could never get into the pool. Just then, two Congolese men in business suits who were crossing (there is no light) held up their hands to the fast approaching cars and made all traffic come to a stop so that she could cross. This in itself, was a touching scene for us to witness, because every day we see dozens of terribly maimed or disabled people who seem to have to fend for themselves.
I continued to watch her for awhile as she then waited for taxi transport, I thought "How hard her life must be. How I wish I could help her somehow." Then I thought, "I can't physically help her, but I can pray for her." And, I prayed, "Dear Heavenly Father, please bless that woman with strength and comfort and continue to bless her with courage. And, Father, please bless others to be touched to help her."
Just as I finished my prayer, I saw a neatly dressed woman in a Congolese skirt and red blouse walk over to her, very deliberately and from a distance. And I saw her hand reach down toward the woman and something exchanged between them, presumably money. Then the donor turned and walked down the street in the opposite direction. I followed her with my eyes and thought, "You do not know it, but you obeyed a prompting to help that woman and, by so doing, you were an answer to prayer."
I wonder... how often have we felt those promptings and acted upon them to bless others? And, on the other hand, how often have we ignored those impulses to reach out and help someone? Many times we have probably lost opportunities to bless and be blessed by simply not listening. I've also had some instances where I TRIED to ignore that gentle little nudge to do a good deed, only to find that the Spirit's "still, small voice" became quite intense and impossible to ignore. That was when the Lord needed someone to help NOW, not "someday"! Answering His call to serve someone has ALWAYS blessed me more than the person I helped and MUCH more than the time or effort that it took.
Heavenly Father has promised us so much and all He asks is that we keep His commandments, which are designed to make us happy in this life and for eternity. So, why do our choices so often take us away from the happiness that we all desire? I am learning a lot about happiness from people who have very little else and I am thankful for the Savior's example of service and love so that I might be an instrument in His hands to bring them even more.
April 28, 2013Dear Family & Friends,
A month ago, I was filled with sincere intentions to work on and post a blog about our trip to Zongo Falls. Instead, the days have gone by without any posting and the road to the bad place has received a whole lot of new paving material.
There is a good excuse, sort of. After having initially injured my knees on an elliptical machine in February, I furthered the damage by trying to walk every afternoon. After a couple weeks of that, they were so much worse that one morning I woke in a lot of pain and actually had to get help. Went to a doctor... had to limp from the parking area to the entrance, which featured steps up AND a raised threshold that had to be gotten over. After a cursory exam, the doctor explained (in French) to Thierry that he wanted x-rays. So, we drove to a tiny little place on a crowded side street and navigated ADDITIONAL stairs to get IN and then steps down and back up to get to the actual x-ray room. Long story, short... the doctor later looked at the x-rays and gave a Rx for low doses of Ibuprofen (1 mg) & some codeine and said to see him in five days, which I did. In all of this, not one word was offered to direct me in care of the knee. About three weeks later I stayed home all weekend to try to rest what was becoming a chronically hurting situation. The next day, feeling better, I got dressed to go to the office and stepped off a curb, which required a stretch to get over a rain gully. I heard some "popping" sounds and instantly went down in great pain. Well, after returning to that same clinic and seeing another doctor who wanted yet another set of x-rays (I'm told that this situation called for an MRI, but there ARE no MRIs in the DRC), nothing much changed. Then, our Mission President emailed Dr. Hoffman, our Church Africa Southeast Area doctor in Jo'burg and he, thankfully, prescribed 600 mg and suggested I go to an Orthopedic Surgeon, which I did two days ago. Looks like the worst might be that there was a small tear and certainly the ligament was stretched... pain level is about equal, either way.. but long term prognosis, with rehab, is much more positive. So, playing volleyball when we get back to the USA might still be an option! :)
Today, we are home because they are showing the DVDs of General Conference sessions at the ward. And, some may ask, why are you not going? Well, because it is really distracting to watch the projected image of President Monson and others speaking French, not to mention the fact that we don't speak French anyway. So, we will just go to lds.org and watch the downloaded sessions in English.
In the meantime, though, I can report some exciting news from my "Window on Kinshasa". I will post pictures on the blog to prove these things. The city of Kinshasa can now boast of not one, or two or even three... but FOUR little advertisement-with-music trucks. They drive up & down Trente Juin Blvd. and around the Plaza circle for hours on end with their music playing loudly. We think they're cute.
A favorite pastime on the Plaza is having individual or family pictures taken. Several photographers are always present and the closest I've ever seen to a real fight here was a couple times when some rogue photographers apparently threatened to intrude on their territory. But, just a lot of high-volume yelling, much hand waving and finger pointing, as well as a few pushes & shoves. Today, I've already seen photos being taken of one mature man in what appeared to be a turquoise and black animal print jacket, another younger man being video-taped as he performed a Michael Jackson dance routine, and a couple families with men wearing nice coats & ties and the women in beautiful dresses, along with their children who were little miniatures of themselves. Right now, there is a joyful wedding party down there. The bride, in her lovely white satin dress and the groom in a dashing white tuxedo. Darling little children, also in white, as flower girls and ring bearer. The dark skin of all parties making the white even more stunning. Happy sight~
We are anxious to see if we get to see a repeat performance of members of a church who have come to the Plaza a couple times lately. They form a large circle of adults and children, doing a simple dance step, singing with and circling the amplified group of singer-musicians and drummers. They've done this for as long as thirty minutes prior to a short sermon at the end. The lyrics are simple.... "Hallelujah"... and the song repeats in my head for days after.
As for the title of this letter, the trip to Zongo Falls was a rough one.. nine hours of driving total.. and much of it on 4-wheel drive roads. Despite many hills and sharp curves, most drivers drove fast and took many risks. They often didn't seem to care which side of the line they were on, which meant that, if you were approaching a hill or curve, your heart was in your throat hoping that there was not someone in your lane coming from the opposite side. One amazing incident was when there was a slow-moving truck, filled with some heavy load, that was causing a bit of back up behind him. Another vehicle with a couple young men hanging outside, holding onto the roof, was between us and the slow mover. As we approached a sharp curve, they wanted to pass and came out into the approaching traffic lane. The truck driver motioned his hand to "go ahead and come around"... Now, in America, this might happen if the first vehicle had a VIEW of approaching traffic... but this man did NOT! We were now "collateral damage" if there HAD been a head-on collision. But, there wasn't.. and I lived another day with no harm, other than added shots of adrenalin to my already chronically-pounding heart. And, by the way, we discovered why many of the trucks had clumps of green foliage stuck in various parts of their hoods or bumpers. That is because, IF (I should say, WHEN) they break down, they put those in the road ahead of the curve or hill to warn approaching traffic. So, driving you see lots of clumps of stuff on the road all down & back. But, you only worry about the ones that are green!
A tragic part of the trip was the fiery scene in the road before us on the way down... For whatever reason (failed brakes? inattention?) a large truck had hit head-on into another truck filled with charcoal. At least one other truck was involved as well. As I've said before, ANY vehicle of transportation... taxis, buses and products... is usually carrying extra passengers on the side or on top of the vehicle. So, besides the driver and passengers of the vehicles, there were likely other casualties. It was an horrendous crash and, as we narrowly and carefully passed it, we could feel the intense heat of the fire. This road is the ONLY road between the shipping port of Matadi and Kinshasa, so it is FULL of large trucks. Those Kinshasa-bound trucks and other vehicles in the northbound lane were stopped up for miles and miles. We hoped it would clear by the time we returned. On the way back, about six hours later, the crash was still in the same spot and still burning, but apparently the fire was now low enough to allow all those large trucks to go through.
Another feature of the trip was going through the road blocks. Prior to leaving our apartment compound, Mac Coleman (who would be returning in a couple days to Houston after serving here to "train" DRC soldiers for the US State Dept.) pulled out two large color copies of an official authorization and taped them to the passenger side of the two vehicles we were taking. This simple act allowed us to get through those road blocks quickly and WITHOUT paying a fee (see: Bribe)
When we finally arrived at Zongo Falls, it was as if we had stepped into a different world. The pictures on the blog won't do it total justice, but it was clean, neat, organized, lovely and everything that we HAVEN'T experienced in our daily life in Kinshasa. After we had gathered ourselves and ordered our lunch at the very nice restaurant (for when we returned) we began the trek to reach the spot where we could see the falls. After that, we hiked even further down and around to a closer spot. We were still in the rainy season, which is the best time to go, so the falls were very powerful and beautiful. They are not as wide as Niagara nor as tall as Yosemite, but were well worth the difficult trip to get to them. Some short video might also be able to be posted on the blog.. which isn't ready.
It is time to get ready to watch General Conference on our lap top. All four of the couples on our wireless connection decided to pay the for increased bandwidth, so this year, we can actually WATCH it, as opposed to only LISTENING to last April and October Conference. I look forward to seeing and hearing our wonderful Church leaders, both men and women... and I know that their inspired words will answer many questions and provide inspiration, direction and guidance for my life. I am so thankful for that blessing.
June 30, 2013
June 30, 2013
Dear Family & Friends,
It's been so long since the last letter &/or blog entry and so much has happened, it is very difficult to know where to start. So, rather than try to catch up "in one fell swoop", I'll just share a few random things. By the way, where in the world DO we Americans get all these crazy phrases? (In this case, Shakespeare either coined the phrase himself or gave it circulation in Macbeth). But, we don't even think about what we are saying most of the time when we use idiomatic phrases... UNTIL we are in a foreign country and we say something like, "He's a bit under the weather" and see the blank look on the face of the person to whom we are speaking.
The biggest event of this week is undoubtedly the departure of our Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Jameson and the arrival of our new Mission President, President W. Bryce Cook and his wife, Karol. The Jamesons have served faithfully and worked hard. Even though their personalities are almost polar opposites, they've been a wonderful example of unity and support to each other and Christ-like leadership for the 140 young missionaries and four Senior Couples. He is as patient as Job and she is as fiesty as Peter. I tried to express my appreciation to them in a letter yesterday, but still didn't do justice to the feelings in my heart. Today, they spoke in Sacrament Meeting, as did the Cooks. Afterward, I realized we'd never had a picture taken just with the Jamesons, but George had wandered off, so I got just the three of us, which I'll post on the blog. I shed many tears as the choir sang the closing hymn... "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" (en Francais of course). There were many others crying, as well, because the Jamesons have touched so many lives for good. They will be missed!
Of course, saying goodbye to people whom you will have a chance to see back in America is a lot different than leaving behind people you love in Africa, whom you are unlikely to ever see again in this life. I have already shed tears just THINKING about that situation ... and it's still six months in the future! I'm so thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ which give us the comfort of knowing that, if we live worthy, we can share those bonds of love and friendship throughout eternity. It is hard to fully comprehend the joy we will feel as we are reunited with loved ones from whom we've been separated by time, distance or death.
Speaking of Africa (hard not to do that), we often laugh about the things which would never happen at home (or even in most places in the world), but occur frequently here. So, I've made a preliminary list of such things, ala Jeff Foxworthy, and will add to it in future letters.
YOU KNOW YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE CONGO TOO LONG WHEN...
You jump up and down with unrestrained squeals of delight because, after 1 1/2 yrs of trying to find a replacement for the much-needed and almost depleted double-sided tape, (used to attach magnets to board cards, for example), another missionary sister (who knows of the long struggle), holds up a brand new one and declares that she found it in a local store & bought for the office.
You walk into an old, worn-out and slightly dingy store you'd never even dream of frequenting in the USA and say, sincerely, "It's so nice to be in a REAL department store!"
You no longer have expectations of "personal space" in traffic and find yourself thinking about how polite Utah's I-15 drivers really are.
You only cringe a little at the sight of men hanging on by one hand as they ride outside of speeding, beat-up taxi vans.
You WALK down streets to do shopping which none of the men in your family back home would even dare DRIVE through.
You dream of the day that your noisy, bumpy, 4-wheel drive, too-high-to-step-into Toyota diesel truck will be replaced by your smooth driving, quiet, low chassis, comfy Prius.
You don't attend a Devotional because you do not question the "meant-to-be-a-joke" message from President Jameson informing you that a Church leader, whose visit has been expected, will be arriving in Kinshasa on the next day and will speak at a Devotional... in GERMAN... translated into LINGALA!
You have no trouble spelling or pronouncing African names loaded with consonants. You can differentiate between cities like Kingasani and Kisangani or surnames like Kambongo, Kabangu, Kabambi, Kimbabwa (with 140 young missionaries, 55 of last names begin with "K" and about 1/2 of the rest with "M"). You can also rattle off the very long Malagasy names like Fantenantenasoa or Razifindrianoasola. Perhaps all of this mental exercise has thwarted the onset of Alzheimer's, (tho' some would probably argue that) But, speaking of aging..
Sister Jameson gave me a great compliment today when I mentioned my age, but my classmate from K-12, Bunny George, brought me back down to reality when she sent this hilarious YouTube parody.. (If you can't hear all the lyrics, let me know and I'll send them to you) "Baby Boomers" and above will appreciate it most. Enjoy! www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzSaoN2LdfU
Meanwhile, today is the biggest national holiday for Congolese... Trente Juin (30th of June) to commemorate the day they gained independence from the Belge. Last year there was great concern about anti-government demonstrations. This year, there were additional riot-geared police on hand to serve as intimidation and response, but no hint of trouble. The Chinese (who built the Plaza) have spent weeks trying to fix the several fountains and finally got them working again (not without at least one night in which they"fixed" them so well that they flooded everything). But, the brand-new entrance to our apartment building, which took over two years to build, has now been torn up for installation of pop-up spikes to make this building (which houses US AID on the first three floors) a harder target for terrorists.. our government trying to prevent another Benghazi.
And, speaking of our government, on Thursday, AMERICA'S Independence Day, all the Americans have been dis-invited to the US Embassy's 4th of July picnic, which was so much fun last year. The Embassy, instead, claims that the guest list was cut due to "budget shortages" and is inviting only local business & government people. So, the one chance that we'd all have to connect with other Americans in Kinshasa is axed. Our tax dollars at work!
We had an interesting evening last week, which I hope to post pictures from on the blog... When I took George for a belated birthday dinner to the Memling, which is the nicest hotel in Kinshasa, a couple weeks ago, we saw a nice pamphlet describing an upcoming event to celebrate their 75th anniversary. It was called "Fete de Congo" and was to feature Congolese food & dance. Another Senior Couple, the Gates, said they wanted to go with us as well as ten Americans who were coming to Kinshasa. Three of them were LDS administrators for an adoption agency in Utah & the remainder were adoptive parents coming with them. George & I went to the Memling and purchased $700 worth of tickets, giving the first two to the Gates. Later, when a raffle drawing was held, they ended up winning a two-night stay w/ breakfast in the Junior Suite at the Memling.
When we all arrived there at 7pm, we found that the first hour was for browsing the displays of African fabric & wares while dignified waiters & waitresses walked quietly among us with trays of varied drinks. I knew from glancing at the signs where the drinks were being prepared that some were "sans alcohol". When we were approached, one of the drinks looked like coconut milk, so I pointed to it and asked the waiter (THREE times) "Sans alcohol?" To each inquiry, he nodded. So, I took the innocent-looking white one and began drinking it. It didn't taste terribly GOOD, but it wasn't BAD..mostly just really DIFFERENT. Knowing that it most certainly was NOT coconut milk and after downing 1/2 of it, I tried to query another waiter to find out what it was... The man kept repeating something I couldn't initially understand... until finally I realized that he was saying "Palm Wine". At about that same time, I began to be aware that my head felt "buzzy" and the ends of my fingers were starting to tingle. I was also giggling just a bit. For those who are worried, I didn't finish the drink.
Also, we were treated to a great double fashion show... First we had a series of "mature" Congolese who were full of personality and fun. Then, we had some models who could have walked in the finest shows in Paris or NYC. Tall, thin, regal and poised.... wearing incrediblly beautiful long Congolese dresses from Vlisco (see: most expensive shop in the city) gowns. I've been in that place a couple times and found one dress for over $400 and another over $900. Anyway, they were gorgeous & I'm hoping some of Sister Gates videos can be posted on the next blog (my camcorder went dead). I also know that she got a good little video of what happened when, at the end of the dance show, one of the wild African woman dancers came straight to George and had him go up to dance with her... and YES, for those who know George, you are probably saying, "I will have to SEE it to believe it!" For someone who DOESN'T dance, he did a good imitation.
Finally, we also had a Congolese buffet that featured no fewer than FIFTY dishes from which to choose. We were leading all the others at our table and trying to pick out things that didn't look absolutely disgusting. We would ask the servers behind the table... "What is this?" and they would answer "en Francais" ... Porc, Poisson, Boeuf. I was able to identify one of the hot sauces that is mad w/ Peri-Peri pepper and warned the others. But, at one point in the buffet line, one of the American men, Rusty, came up to us and said, "Whaddevah yauw do, dode ead da Mbtamba. I cand fel by dongue!"
However, that was not the last of the surprises that night. There was one offering in the buffet line that stood out from the others... it was not the usual "goulash" of meat & "unidentifiable stuff" mixed together in unappetizing bowls. We were all sure it was pulled pork with a little barbecue sauce and we heaped our plates with large servings and ate heartily, avoiding the dishes with caterpillars in the mix, etc. Later, after the dinner was over, we found out we'd eaten MONKEY! I can honestly say that it did NOT taste like chicken. Guess we will have some bragging rights when we get home.
Ending on the same subject which began this letter... At the last of today's Sacrament Meeting, our Bishop and fellow Mission Office worker, Aimé Ngoy, gave a little "farewell" to the Jamesons in which he recounted a bit of his early life. How, as a baby, his father abandoned the family and his mother didn't want him. Seemingly a very sad beginning. But, his Uncle, who was a Church member, took him in as one of his own and raised him. As a result of that, he grew up in an environment of faith. His Uncle saved to be able to send him to college and when he took his first test, he failed it miserably. But, it caused him to seriously consider the path he wanted to take. Long story, short.. he began the study of law and ended up becoming a Magistrate. Then, he was asked to accept an advancement in assignment to go to the eastern part of Congo. It was far too dangerous an area to take his family and, after praying about it, he decided that he did not want to be separated from his wife & daughter and he declined. He remained a Judge, but it took him out of the career path. He ended up working as a driver for the Mission President at that time and continued in that lowly position when the Jamesons came. Recently, the Mission Office was authorized to add another employee and he was hired for the position of Office Assistant, for which he is wonderfully qualified. He bore a beautiful, heart-felt testimony of God's love and His plan for us, if we will listen to His voice.
The moral of his story is that each of those supposed "set backs" actually proved to be great blessings to him... something for us all to ponder as we face life's challenges and inevitably have moments of supposed "failure". They COULD be critical turning points to put us on a path that will bless our lives.
The blog is not ready.. but I'll try to get it out soon.
Mom/Joan/ Sœur Smith
P.S. For those who have been to, or heard me speak of, "Thieve's Market" (Elder Bingham's nickname for a large "Marché" that has a hundred booths with vendors selling thousands of all kinds of African things), I found out today that when the Gates & Moons went there yesterday, some of the vendors asked, "Where is Sœur Smeeth". This makes me think that my self-proclaimed bargaining talent may not be as good as I previously believed. Of course, my reputation MAY have been tainted by the fact that I recently bargained a guy down to $2.50 on one little cloth doll. Then, instead of bargaining again for the 2nd doll (because others were finished and waiting for me), I just quickly said, "I'll take TWO for $5". Then, I thought, "I really want THREE, but I don't have time to bargain" so I picked up the 3rd doll and said, "OK...how about three for $12?" I saw his face twitch just a LITTLE and his eyes slightly dilate, but he kept his composure & calmly answered, "Oui." Just then, Aimé who had driven us women there, politely grabbed the 3" wad of Congolese francs from my hand and counted out the correct $7.50. My math skills are always "IFFY" and catching me in a time-crunch situation just added to my deficiency. This incident probably made the rounds with all the vendors! They like me, they REALLY like me!!
Added belatedly.. the stories of Brother Malabi and Da Tarr... wonderful heroes!
Added belatedly.. the stories of Brother Malabi and Da Tarr... wonderful heroes!