Saturday, December 22, 2007

SIGHTS AND SCENES FROM THE AFRICA WE LOVE

The two Congos. Kinshasa (on the other side of the Congo River) and Brazzaville are the only two capital cities in the world directly across from each other. The Congo River (about 2 1/2 miles wide in this picture) disgorges more water into an ocean than any river other than the Amazon. We frequently cross the Congo River to visit missionaries and members in Brazzaville -- using a 24 foot skiboat as a water taxi (and holding our breath because sometimes the outboard motors stall and you drift towards the rapids downstream about three miles).



Brazzaville is the capital city of the Republic of Congo, which is a country that seems to be a little more progressive than its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kinshasa is the capital. Maybe it's because it has been longer since devasting wars in Brazzaville. In the 1990's there were two terrible wars fought in Brazzaville, and there are many buildings that still stand in their ravaged state. Here is what used to be a very modern hotel -- all the windows are gone, the rooms completely cleaned out of anything of value. A 12 story Sheraton is being rebuilt now -- only the shell like this stands, but they hope to rehabilitate it. You can see the Sheraton and the construction crane in the middle of the first picture.







A favorite sight in Brazzaville is this statue of an elephant. I walked over to check it out, and all the tusks in the base are the real deal -- real ivory, which is amazing that someone hasn't come along and tried to bust them off and sell them. But the level of honesty among the average person in the Congo is very high. The base is about 10 - 12 feet high, so the elephant adds another 10 - 12 feet as well. Very impressive.






WHEN IT RAINS -- IT POURS -- AND IT DOESN'T DRAIN!! October marks the beginning of a six to seven month rainy season in the Congo. We were in Brazzaville for a stake reorganization on October 26th, and it rained. And rained. This is going down the street that the stake center is on -- a stretch of about 500 feet of water up to 16 inches deep. How the members came was a good question -- but they got there and we had wonderful meetings. After a stretch of this and more water ahead, our driver decided that he knew a better route.




So, we tried another route going to the chapel, where the driver thought that there would be less water. Driving down the back alley, in about 12 inches of water, we ran into a man with his "pouse-pouse" wagon, pulling a heavy load of something through the water. You just never know the sights and scenes you will meet, of people whom you just have to admire for their determination and grit!!




One thing about Kinshasa -- the weather is always very interesting. It can rain here like you've never seen in your life -- a driving sheet of water for maybe four to six hours. Floods are a constant threat to the houses because of very poor drainage -- but it doesn't get much "press" outside of Kinshasa because the Congo generally isn't news. But you do get some incredible sunsets -- this is out of our back porch. The sun just sinks into the horizon every night at 6:15 like a rock, but when there are clouds, the sunsets are beautiful.



Driving in Africa is always an adventure. The road between Lubumbashi and Likasi is about 70 miles, and you're pushing it to try to make it in less than 3 hours. Once we've had to do it two hours, and the last 40 miles are a potholed "tooth rattler" stretch. Even when the pavement is good, you can't go too fast because vehicles don't have the right-of-way -- you never know what you'll meet.







This is on the "road" between Lubumbashi and Likasi, where we were going for a conference with 1,000 members of the Church. To build a bridge, the ingenious Congolese just sank about 8 40-foot containers in a river, and then laid a one lane bridge across the top. Needless to say, you don't go very fast. Unfortunately, we just read that some people charged with disposing of some radioactive waste just dumped it into this river (the Lufira River) and the radiation levels will be elevated far above safe levels for decades. We hope that by the time the water reaches Kinshasa, about 2,000 miles downstream, the levels will be highly diluted.



One of our good friends, Larry Linton, from
Portland, Oregon, is a great entrepreneur. Several years ago he told me that there was a terrific future in "water", and he bought a company that made a great filter system for dirty water and has built it tremendously. His filter system is used throughout the world, and also in missionary apartments in third world countries. It takes water like here in Kinshasa (here's a sample in my bathroom sink) and turns it into sparkling pure water that saves countless days of sick missionaries. This picture really doesn't quite do the water justice -- it's much browner than this!! But as Marsha's mom used to say, "Dirty water washes clean." And it does.

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