We have been here in the Congo for three weeks now and are getting so we think we know what's happening most days. We have done a lot of traveling to get acquainted with the missionaries and saints all over the mission during this time and are now finished with the first round of zone conferences.
I guess we should start from the beginning--we left the MTC in Provo on June 27th and flew from SLC to Atlanta the morning of June 28th. Then onto Brussels and then onto Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo--arriving on Friday night, June 29th. Arriving in Kinshasa is an experience in and of itself. It's just an immersion into the peoples and culture of the DRC and Africa. Luckily for us, we had met a friend on the plane who sort of shepherded us through and we had received pretty specific instructions from the Maycocks (whose place we are taking). It is just a cacaphony of loud voices and very warm bodies and strange language and lots of men who haven't yet read and understood D&C 121:39--"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." :-) After we had collected our luggage and things, with the help of a small African man named Antoine--we went outside to find the Maycocks and Eustache, a man in his early thirties who is a returned missionary from the Congo and works in the mission home, there to greet us and take us to our new home. They were a welcome site to us.
The trip from the airport into Kinshasa is also a unique and incredible experience-- all by itself. We have made that trip now 5-6 times now and each time I am amazed at it all. It would appear that a large percentage of the 8,000,000 people who inhabit Kinshasa can be found beside the road leading to the airport or else in commvies---old vw busses or other similarly sized vehicles with the seats taken out and wooden benches installed so they can get more people into them. You will see five rows of benches with five people each, and several more crammed into the front seat -- about 30 people in a 20 or 25 year old VW bus. Often the suspension is worn, or tires are low, so the bus leans to one side. The humanitarian couple who are here in Kinshasa with us have written a wonderful explanation of these commvies on their blog which is barlowsinthedrcongo.blogspot.com. You might enjoy reading their post.
So, the trip in was unique--people running in front of the car, across the road, alongside the car--not much electricity, so lots of candles on tables alongside the road where people were still trying to sell their wares or people just gathered to talk and communicate. But still, the feeling of being inside a beehive or ant hill with people swirling around you and total confusion and movement, but in the dark!!
The next day the Maycocks instructed and showed and demonstrated and helped as much as they could to try to get us acclimated to where we were and what we were supposed to be doing---but it felt like it was all a blur--so much to understand and do and we were feeling totally overwhelmed.
Sunday--the Maycocks leave and we are in charge! ! Now we must pick up the mantle and begin to do what we have come here to do, which is to work with the missionaries and help the work of the Lord to move along here in the Congo.
Monday--we can't find the keys, we can't get the computer open, we have lost a book of instructions that we MUST have--we feel like we are in a jet-lagged fog--but later in the afternoon and on Tuesday we begin to figure out some things and come out of the fog--just in time, too, because Wednesday we receive 12--count them, 12-- new missionaries from the Missonary Training Center in Ghana. They are a happy and darling lot of missionaries that are ready to serve and anxious to be here as missionaries for the church. (Marsha was absolutely fantastic greeting them, communicating as much as possible in French with people who speak no English. She helped inventory their possessions, give them their anti-malaria medicines, etc.)Then on Thursday we have an all-day training session in our apartment, and Marsha makes lunch for 17 of us -- what a great companion!!)
Friday the new missioanries were taken out to meet their new companions, and we bid farewell to three wonderful young men who had faithfully completed their missions. One was the assistant and a finer young man you would have a hard time beating. He was adorable. The others were, I'm sure, great missionaries, but Elder Ilunga had helped us the previous day with the teaching and orienting of the new missionaries, etc.
Saturday we flew to Lubumbashi--a city 1,000 miles away on the other side of the country. We had a couple of "first" adventures with this trip. Because driving to the airport is such a chore, you can take a bus run by the airline that you are flying with--only one problem--you have to leave about 4-5 hours before your flight, ride out on the bus, go through the whole customs thing, etc. etc. and then wait in white plastic lawn chairs in a big room with a cement floor for the rest of the time until your flight. We had a wonderful time in Lubumbashi with a wonderful couple from our ward in Provo who are just finishing their mission there. We attended the two wards that they were assigned to, went to a meeting that they had arranged for with the people that they had introduced the gospel to (all 130 or them! ! !) and had a lovely Sabbath day with them, then had zone conference with the missionaries on Monday.
It was our first zone conference and a wonderful experience of getting acquainted with the young missionaries here in the Congo. They are, for the most part, wonderful young men (and a few women) who are usually older than your typical 19 or 21 year old missionary, but usually with great church experience already behind them--often they have been branch or ward missionaries and are already familiar with Preach my Gospel and other particulars of missionary service. One of our current assistants has finished medical school here (it is only the same amount of time as any other university degree--about 4-5 years) and had actually practiced medicine for a year before coming on his mission.
Tuesday--up at 4 a.m. to fly back to Kinshasa for two zone conferences that afternoon, and another one on Wednesday. Thursday morning we did laundry and got organized, and flew to Douala, Cameroon on Thursday evening, getting to bed about 2:00 in the morning. Friday Don went out with the missionaries, then interviewed the four missionaries that had come on the bus from Yaounde. Saturday morning we had a zone conference, interviewed the rest of the missionaries, then drove 3+ hours back to Yaonde with the senior couple there to see those surroundings. Went to church with them on Sunday to their two branches and sang in their branch choir! !
Monday morning Don went out with the missionaries in Yaounde, then we took the bus back to Douala and flew back home to Kinshasa Monday evening.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were days in the office and me trying to get some things organized in the mission home, etc. Friday we went down to the "beach" and took a speed boat over to Brazzaville for our final zone conference in this round of conferences. I'm sure that it's partially because my language is getting a little better and I am feeling a little more confident, etc. but the time with the missionaries in Brazzaville while Don was interviewing them was really fun and sweet. They were patiently trying to converse with me and sort of giggling behind their hand at my french and sometimes I wondered if we were really understanding each other, but we were all having a great time trying.
Which brings us to today and our first P-day (actually Don worked for awhile this afternoon), but we went to several grocery stores today and had the two couples over for dinner and to play games tonight. It was a pleasant diversion :-)
Just some random observations and thoughts and scenes--the African way! !
1 young, strong men moving huge long pieces of rebar onto the barges to be taken across the river to Brazzaville--some with football pads to protect their shoulders
2 all women wear wigs here--often with unusual colors and styles--some with braids, etc. one woman on the boat had her hair "off" and was brushing it, then just plopped it back on her head :-)
3 many, many carts about 5 feet square with two car tires on an axle --called "pousse-pousses" (push-push in French) that men push and pull with HUGE loads of all kinds of things--sometimes loaded with so much "stuff" that they cannot see over the top of them.
4 a dump truck truck filled to overflowing (3 or 4 feet above the top of the box)with loads of charcoal for their cooking fires or something else, with 6-7 people on top of the charcoal, holding on for dear life
5 a woman behind a small table, filling plastic bags with water from a dirty bucket---to be sold as "l'eau sante"--health water! ! !
6 everyone carrying huge loads on their heads--they have VERY good posture, and strong necks--big tubs with bread, a tray with a pyramid of eggs stacked neatly 4 or 5 rows high, big sacks of the plastic bags of water, baskets of fruit, etc. etc.
7 singing---they love to worship through music--the louder the better, but mostly it's with great harmony and joy---mostly they don't have musical instruments to accompany, so the person who has been selected to "lead the hymns" just stands before the audience and sings the first line, then says, "trois, quatre" and everyone sings along with him or her--at whatever pitch he or she thinks it would be good to sing at!!
8 Driving -- it's a thrill ride at best, a terrifying experience at worst. The roads are about 60% pavement, 20% dirt and 20% potholes -- and big ones at that. On most roads, you drive very slowly, weaving in and out of traffic and potholes. On some of the wider streets (many are just two lanes sandwiched in between very humble homes and businesses or roadside vendors), where there are two lanes marked in each direction, you see 3 and 4 streams of cars moving. There are very few sidewalks, so the pedestrians just jump out of the way when traffic comes. We've seen four stoplights in a town of 8 million people, which ought to tell you how chaotic traffic is. And few streets have street signs on them, so it's dead reckoning for navigation - you look for roadmarks like a fence painted in garish yellow and blue or some other recognizable feature. Tomorrow I have to hopscotch across the city to attend six different meetings over 9 hours. Hoping I don't get lost, because you don't want to be on the road after about 7 pm when it gets pitchdark (very few street lights).
9 the women's dresses are wonderful and colorful and very attractive. No matter how little they have in terms of worldly goods, they dress beautifully and look great in their clothes. Some are very ornate with beads and sparkly stuff--embroidery and fancy stuff. the patterns and colors of the fabric is unlike anything I've ever seen before, but I have come to really love it! !
But most of all, the sweet people of Africa. They have so little in comparison to us. But they are pleasant and happy. Three or four times a week, we walk down a road next to the Congo River which is "embassy row" -- all the embassies hidden behind tall solid block or metal walls, with razor barbed wire looped all over the top. Here and throughout town, the airport, etc., we smile and greet each person with a cheery "bonjour", and they look us in the eye and respond back equally as cheerfully. We have lost any recognition of color -- we only see the sweet faces of Heavenly Father's children who live in a different land that us.
I promise photos next blog---I have tried to upload some photos of the elders and haven't figured out quite how to do that yet--I'll get a lesson from someone here in the office soon. For now, au revoir and a demain. Until next time--we send our love.