Thursday, March 31, 2011

PEOPLE GETTING TO WORK IN AM

video I figured out how to upload video off of our Flip. This is the street scene outside of our apartment. We are on the 5 floor. For you Francophone, you will know that that is called the fourth floor. The ground floor is the RC. So, floor numbering starts with 1 on the actual second floor. It all makes sense after awhile.

Note the concrete and wire of our front wall. The plaza out front is very busy. Many people grab the "transport" there.
Also note the chaos of the cars. The street leading into the plaza is the main Boulevard in the center of the business district. There is a round about just beyond this picture that circles the plaza. Logic would tell you to make the circle, but many drivers just cross traffic and honk.

The Blue and Yellow rigs are the major "transports." They can pack 20 or 30 people inside of them. I will get a video of the loading and unloading, which is interesting.

The Congo Franc is the currency here. The largest bill is a 500 FC, with the equivalence of 50 cents. When one exits the "transport," one gives the driver's assistant 500 FC. So, it costs about 50 cents to take a transport. At this point, we have not taken a transport. Suzanne does not think its a good idea. Actually, as if common sense told us to stay off of them, we have been warned not to ride one.

The "transport" drivers give a new meaning to "Quick and the Dead." You never know when one may stop, turn, slide, or who knows what into you. It make driving a great adventure.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Something happened to the last post.

Yesterday we went with Marda, the Seminary and Institute office secretary to a get a few office supplies - we needed ink cartridges and some stuff. It was an unusual experience to say the least.
So glad to have a Congolese with us. She showed us the ropes. We went to two shops looking for cartridges =they were within a few blocks of each others. One was "off the Boulevard" and was too dangerous, too much street activity, and roaming vendors to go to alone.

The shops were "paper store" as they call them were very small - maybe 10 - 12 feet wide and about as deep. Displays hung on the wall - most behind glass - all for display, not for sale. e.g. plastic binders, scissors in shallow plastic covered cabinets - see displays on pictures posted on previous post.

When you wanted something, you told the clerk who was seated at a table in the center of the store what you wanted. He hand wrote it on a receipt book, like you would see before computers. After he listed item and price, you took the paperwork to the cashiers window (second picture) where the cashier takes your money, and yells at the guy in the back to bring your order out. Then bags the products and ceremoniously stamps the receipt.

Side note 1: We were looking for 3 ring binders to keep track of the 5 stakes with whom we are starting the Perpetual Education Fund. And a 3 hole punch. Unable to find a three who punch, we learned that they use two hole binders and two hole punches here.
Side note 2: The paper is a different size. A4 size (210X297mm) on my printer selection and is about 1/2 inch longer.
Side note 3: Prices were not too bad. The HP cartridge cost 30 USD.

We learn something new every day.

A TRIP TO PAPER STORE - NOT A STAPLES

I took the pictures secretly with my iPod, sometimes people don't like you to take pictures, so they may be a little blurry.

Trip to “paper” store – not your usual trip to Staples. They call them “paper” stores here.

Yesterday we went with Marda the S&I office secretary to get a few supplies – we needed a printer cartridge and a few other items. It was an unusual experience to say the least. So glad we were with a native Congolese. She showed us the ropes.

It felt like we were buying illegal lottery tickets or something. We went to two shops looking for the cartridge – they were within a few blocks of each other. One was off the Boulevard and we would never go there by ourselves – too much street activity and roaming “vendors.” Both shops were set up the same. Small shop – perhaps 10 – 12 feet wide – not much deeper. Displays hung on the walls – most items behind glass – all for display not for purchasing – e.g. plastic pouches hung with thumb tacks, scissors in a glass covered shallow cabinet – I think you can see the displays in the picture. We needed some binders for each of the five stakes with whic

h we are starting. There were several types hanging on the wall with handwritten tags with the price.

If you wanted something a clerk, sitting at a table in the middle of the store, started a hand written “tab” – one of those receipt books that you saw before the day of the computer. You pointed to the item, told him the quantity. Once our purchases were listed we went up to a barred window – think tight security bank – and presented our “receipt. The picture of the “pay window” is blurry but I think you can get an idea of how it was. They pulled the items, bagged them and took your money. Then they stamped your receipt “paid.”

The prices were not unreasonable – perhaps double the US – HP color cartridge for $30.00. They just did not have a lot of selection. A side note – they do not use three ring binders. They use two ring binders. I couldn’t figure out why the paper punches on display only had two punches. Then we went looking for the binders and figured it out. Another side note – printer paper is a little different – it is called a 4A (210 X 297mm) on my printer selection and is about 1/2 inch longer.

We learn something new every day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

OUR COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND DIDIER

From time to time, we will introduce you to our friends and colleagues in the Congo.

This is Didier. He is the Executive Secretary to the Country Coordinator for Seminaries and Institutes for 4 countries in central Africa.

Didier served a Mission and returned to the Congo. He made a decision to remain here, rather than going to South Africa or elsewhere, for school and work. He is one of the real pioneers. He remained here, went to school, and now works for the Church Education System. He is a leader in his family, the Church, and the community.

He speaks English very well. Working in the office next door to ours, he is always helpful. I have asked him to review emails or documents that I have prepared in French. He always cheerfully edits and often corrects my written French. He is always kind and helpful to Suzanne. She enjoys speaking English with him.

He always has a smile and a pleasant word.

He married and has a little baby. They have saved enough money now to go to South Africa to be sealed in the Temple. It is expensive for our members in the Congo to go to the Temple. They go to South Africa. The travel documents are sometimes tedious to obtain, and the flight is expensive. He is very excited about going.

Didier is an example of the dedication and commitment of the Congolese members of the Church. They are true Christians, they don't have a lot, but they are happy, industrious, and committed.
We feel fortunate to call them our friends.

Monday, March 28, 2011

SOME KINSHASA STORE FRONTS





While traveling the city Saturday, we saw some cool shops and stuff. Suzanne was snapping pictures out of the window.
OK, we were not exactly traveling the city, we were dead lost. We were on our way to church, but streets were closed and detours were required. Now, being a) me, and b) at typical male, I thought I could find my way back. Finally, even I gave up and admitted that we were lost. Not only lost, but had no way of telling anyone where we were. Suzanne said, "Let's pray." We offered a prayer. I was struck immediately with the thought, "Call Alfred." Alfred is the Country Coordinator for Seminaries and Institutes and he was conducting the meeting to which we were heading. I called him, he said, "Oh, I know where you are, I am just minutes away from you, on my way to the Church. Stay there and I will come and lead you to the church." We are thankful for the tender mercies of the Lord.

From top to bottom. 1. Cart Guy: The beginnings of recycling in Kinshasa. Suzanne described these hard working cart pushers who move all kinds of goods and debris around the city.
2. Traffic Jam and Street Vendors - this guy is selling bottled water. We think the water comes from the river or other such place. NEVER BUY THIS GUYS WATER. 3. 4. 5. are various store fronts along the streets.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

OUR FAVORITE PRIMARY CHILD

This is our bishop's daughter. I don't think that is actually snot on her nose. She had just finished a banana and I think she was a little messy.

On a side note: This is days 18 if monkey watch. I have yet to see a monkey. Very disappointing.

We actually went to a fast food restaurant on Thursday. We were out visiting schools in order to qualify them for the Perpetual Education fund. We went to a chicken fast food. I looked in the kitchen to see if it was actually monkey, but no, it was chicken. It was actually clean and we had 1/2 chicken and fries for $5.00.

This afternoon, Sunday, we went for a nice walk along the Congo. It was nice. The temperature was in the nineties, with no breeze, but still it was nice to enjoy.

There is a great Humanitarian Missionary Couple here. They are working on more clean water projects. A second Humanitarian Missionary Couple from Church headquarters is also here for the week. A third couple, serving in Uganda will be in tomorrow. The Uganda couple will spend the night with us. They are all going to Laputa, where the Church has a clean water project. Since it opened a year or so ago, over 250,000 people have moved there to access the water. The Humanitarian Couples are searching for new water sites. It seems spring and mountain run off waters are a good source of clean water, in addition to the ground wells. It is such a great project. Over 85% of Africa has bad water. The lives that this project has saved from water-borne illness are numerous. These couple have remarkable stories of mothers who thank them for saving the lives of their children.

We love this opportunity. Any of you "old fogies" reading this, think seriously about serving a mission soon. We have received untold blessings and tender mercies since we decided to serve.

Children are always a hoot

This is an activity of the Kasabubu Ward (the ward we attend). The kids are having a snack. In the background are kasava plants that are part of the ward garden. Kavava is an important part of the Congolese diet.
Our ward is fairly large. As you can see by the junior primary group, it is fairly large.

Friday, March 25, 2011

BETTER LIZARD PICTURE

here is a better picture of the lizard
On the curb about 1/2 way down is our lizard. If you can enlarge enough. I could not get it to crop and expand. It is a unique green lizard with white head and tail.

I will keep trying to get closer and larger. This was with the camera on my iPod.

Suzanne's First two weeks observatins

Suzanne’s two week recap of life in Kinshasa, DR Conco.

Kinshasa, a city of 7 – 12 million (no one knows if and where the other 4 million are) has a wide range of poverty and wealth. There are many, many people on foot everywhere at all hours. They get from place to place on “transports” which are vans in various stages of repair with seating from 8 – 16 but we generally see 12 – 35 people jammed in, hanging out the doors. In addition, honking cars will routinely run down the right-side lane of a street – whether or not there is a lane and pick up people that are going in their direction and get paid to do so. It probably helps with their fuel costs. You also see very nice cars that love to zoom in the left lane as fast as possible – especially on the Boulevard - an eight lane road that runs from the river North to South – it is one of the few nicely paved road. Since there are no traffic lights and streets with 2, 4, 6 and eight lanes the pedestrian walks out into traffic and waits for an opening, and takes it one car-dodge at a time – these are often people with huge loads on their heads and all day long as you drive, and watch and waits for pedestrians there are street vendors, and I do mean on the street between lanes selling cold water, fresh bread, bananas, etc.

Driving is definitely not for the hesitant or faint hearted. They pass on the left with cars coming on or on the right and run up on the pedestrian area. One of the roads we take to our office is really only about three lanes wide – but they manage to get four abreast and that is not always evenly divided, sometimes three cars going one way and then two come at them and they move into two lanes – not always happily – horns go crazy. Turning left or crossing at intersections is really scary. You just dodge each other until you make your way. You are always happy where there are several of you trying to get to the same turn or cross because you form a blockade – and move – widening to about four abreast – as soon as one car is able to get a fender in the path of the oncoming traffic and they are forced to slow down everyone makes a run for it. It is a huge game of chicken. Dick is really getting good at it. We are so amazed that there are not more accidents. The Bishop on his way to get us from the airport had been hit twice on route, but little car damage and everyone just keeps going. There are very few street signs and you drive by signposts – a store, a church, or some outstanding building.

There is one other piece to the driving excitement - the push-cart. They are about 4 feet by 3 feet – maybe more – a curved bar/handle at both ends. They haul stuff for hire. If they own the cart they make all the money for whatever they haul or salvage. If they rent the cart they must pay $7.00 (U.S.), (7,000 francs) and then get to keep the rest of the value of whatever they recover. Here’s the rub – they are crossing the streets and intersections also. Sometimes it is just one person, one cart, but occasionally there are 3-5 people – one in front edging across the traffic making a precarious path, the rest are pushing the four foot cart loaded 6 feet tall (I do not exaggerate – it is taller than the men pushing it and longer than a car length – so they have to stop two lanes of traffic to make it across. Again, the dichotomy of wealth and bare existence. The big cars honk impatiently while the poor man risks life and limb for salvage money to get hopefully one meal a day.

We went to the grocery store – street was crazy – we were surrounded on all sides with “vendors” – they have everything from hangers to booze. From now on we will go early in the morning on Saturdays – fewer people are out. You pay someone to watch your car and they also help guide your parking and backing back out onto the road – again very risky. Shopping was quite a shock. A small container of detergent was $12.00. I needed an ironing board but a flimsy one was $79.00. Happily there is an old iron in the apartment. In general everything is 3 – 7 times as expensive. The labels are all in French, German, and other symbols that look Middle Eastern. Milk comes in boxes (tastes like it too) from the aisle as does fruit juices (which are real fruit and are really good). So far we are doing great and eating just fine. We miss a few things – cereal is $18.00 a box and a half pound of butter is $6.00 – making baking cookies quite expensive. We have not gone too far and frequent a grocery store that is close to the apartment. There are no Ace hardware stores here so there is a plumbing isle (we needed it to repair the shower) an electrical aisle – light bulb – funny looking long pencil like thing - $6.00.

Really, considering everything must be brought in over great distances pricing is not out of the question. The Congo River has huge falls so that precludes goods being shipped from the south. So the price of all goods probably includes airfare. There is not much manufacturing here.

Local food is not real safe either – we can’t eat any of the good smelling food along the roadside. (think Tijuana). We wash all food in bleach water before eating it. We are developing workable habits. We stop at the vegetable stand on the way home, put bleach water in the sink and wash everything before it goes in the refrigerator or the table. Grocery shopping the same, we rinse the chicken, etc. in bleach water and rinse off all cans and packages.

We live in a very nice area, considered “the city” where the government offices and embassies are found. We also have a very nice office in the new Seminary and Institute building.

The electricity is unpredictable, just like the streets changing from two-way to one way. In fact most things are random and unpredictable. But it is all fun. With 90 plus degree weather the days get uncomfortable – but manageable. The generator kicks in but we can’t run the air conditioning at the office on the generator. They must have a really good system at our apartment and we rarely have a brown out. It might also be that since we are near important office buildings they don’t have as many “power outages.” Since they burn their garbage we are very glad when it rains. I think I will miss the rain when the dry season starts – apparently you just don’t see the sun because of the haze/smog.

We know the poorer locals and the missionaries cook with charcoal outside their “homes” which are typical concrete block one room affairs in the city (no electricity), or typical hut type accommodations in the country.

The water is not drinkable. We shower with our eyes and mouth closed. In our apartment we have a filtration system that provides clean water in the kitchen. We fill water bottles to take out with us.

The Welfare Missionaries are making a trip to Laputa where the water project is. It is the largest in the world. I think it serves over 250,000 people and since people are moving there to take advantage of the fresh water, they are looking for more mountain springs to add more pumping stations, pipe and water stations. A Welfare Specialist is coming from US. They are bringing enough MRE's to eat on the trip ;-).

We finally walked the Congo River trail this week. It is really beautiful. Many of the homes beside the river are those of the foreign ambassadors and includes the home of the country president. His compound is well guarded, so we stay clear. Beautiful trees, flowers, birds, etc. You can hear the falls in the distance. We never see dogs and cats. No pets. We think they would get eaten. There are a few, on leashes on the walk along embassy row on the Congo.

All schools are private and anyone wanting an education for their children must pay. That is really sad. It adds to the poverty cycle. There is a huge Catholic School next door to us. We can see the boys lining up in the school yard all with white shirts on. We can faintly hear the school principal/director giving morning instructions – and maybe a devotional after they are in formation. They run shifts, one group in the morning, generally another in the afternoon. They have programs and soccer games in the evening.

The fabrics are beautiful here – women have wonderfully designed dresses and head coverings. Dick is hoping I don’t find a source for the fabric. You can get an entire outfit sewn for very little money. We have been visiting trade schools and colleges. I noticed that the younger generation, if they can afford it, has western clothing. That is kind of a shame.

To answer a few questions: Yes, there is plumbing in our apartment, at our churches, and where we have our offices in the Seminary and Institute Building. We make sure we don’t have to use other bathrooms when we are out because we are not sure if there are any and how they are “equipped.” No sidewalks that we have seen.

Last week we ventured out into a new part of the city for an appointment, and had a little run in with street punks. They wanted to get in the car and steal. They are not dangerous in a physical harm way ( Dick could have taken them all – so he says), but we are missionaries. We had a young Congolese return missionary with us. They actually got Dick’s suit coat out of the back seat. (our current car unlocks all doors automatically when you turn the door key). The young returned missionary told us to get in the car and lock the doors, he would take care of it. He came back in a minute with the jacket. While Dick was getting in the car, one of them grab at his wallet. he slapped his hand away. That is when the Congolese return missionary said, "Elder Stagg, please get in the car now and lock the door, I will handle this." And, he did. Actually the wallet is a "throw away" wallet with only about four dollars in it and my membership cards for Albertson's, Safeway, and Fred Meyer (they look a lot like credit cards and the punks don't know the difference). They are called “sheygay’s” (sp?) and roam the streets in gangs – we are more careful now.

We were also arrested on Thursday of this week. Dick was driving with Russell from the church employment office. We were out looking at schools. There was a hole in the road at least 18 inches deep. Dick went around it and we were stopped by six officers because Dick did not signal left (around the hole). Russell put the window down to talk to them and one of the officers reached through and opened the back door. Two of them climbed in the back seat with me and would not get out. Russell talked at some length with them (quite loud at times) and would not pay a bribe, on principle, so we drove with them hanging on and in the car to the police “station” – a small stationary trailer with a table cloth across the door and a wobbly wooden floor - along a side street . There was a heated conversation between Russell and the six men – he told them that it was not right to treat people that way – getting in the car, harassing, looking for whatever and if we broke the law, fine we would pay the fine. The police person in the trailer sent the men away after they described our crimes. He wrote up the ticket, wanted $60.00 and Russell got them down to $20.00 - so much for principle. I didn’t feel threatened, just hot and tired by the time we were able to leave.

Russell is a really good example of people trying to do the right thing. When he returned from his mission he could have gone to another country, but determined to stay in the Congo and get an education. He has five years of education – a masters degree – was a news person on a private television station then moved to consulting in the field. Now he works for the church in the employment center helping people get better jobs. He will look at all the PEF applications to make sure the applicants are going for job training in fields that will give them employment in the Congo. For example, not firefighters – most buildings are concrete and we have never seen a fire truck.

I I am very impressed by the leadership in the various wards and stakes. The talks in Sacrament were excellent, and the stake presidents really seemed to be powerful and well respected. The church employment office is running well so I think we will have a great committee. The people here are so very nice. They have wonderful smiles and are so very helpful. The mission had 275 baptisms last month. That’s more than a branch a month; and the retention rate is 95%. Russell is also a Bishop and he said that in his ward they have a goal that each family, within a six month time frame will reach out to two other families.

I am playing for the Primary (children’s) meeting. They sing really well. In fact everyone has good voices. It is great. I have four piano students now. There is a private fund (generous church member) that gives keyboards to people who will learn to play. It is really nice. We are having fun – one student does not speak English so Dick translates. He is learning music too.

On the progress side, we have met with Eco Bank, this is where the kids set up their bank accounts, and fixed a problem there. (French is a real advantage). Then we met with the Employment Resource Center director (a really sharp guy - Congolese) and worked on issue with him. We are anxious to get started. There is a tremendous need here for job training. Simple things like knowing how to speak English can get a person a better job. If they could manage $250.00 they could go to driving school and really make a better living. The Hatches, missionaries from New Mexico who serve as the Mission Home office managers are teaching English on Wednesday afternoons – we go and help. The room is usually filled with about 80 people. Last week, Dick taught the beginners because he could speak French. It was fun. We played a game that the French teacher had played with me to learn the numbers. The class members were really sharp. They are all so nice – only 4-5 people were members of the church.

We looked at two computer schools today. One of them is associated with Cisco Systems. The students could finish the program in one year and have an international certificate. That’s the type of education we hope to fund – so that they are job trained in a minimum amount of time in a skill that has value in the vicinity.

Friday: We looked at two more schools today – they were further away and we found 4 million more people! Amazing small streets with businesses on both sides – picture little cinder block buildings 6 by 10 at the most. Each little business selling some product or another – from funeral wreaths (plastic I think – durable!) to phone charger time for money.

The one school was huge, 5,000 students went through there last year. They have everything from electrical wiring, repairing refrigeration, plumbing to huge (very old looking) lathes and a metal benders.

We will probably send students there, it looked well organized and they receive “certification.” These schools are not modern looking – one was in an old uncompleted 5 story building with the scaffolding still up from years ago. The “beauty” school had front wall or doors and was made of unfinished concrete – looked more like a loading dock.

You have to admire the people and their ingenuity. They are making a living anyway they can, and these schools will help at least get them out of the poverty cycle. Once they have the means to subsist, we can finance even better training if they are willing.



Here are some of our primary children. They are really cute. They are sitting on the steps of the Seminary and Institute building that is next to our stake center.

Our office is in this building.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

QUICK UPDATE

Bonjours tous,

We are well and things are going well. There are very many young adults anxious to participate in the Perpetual Education Fund. Four stakes are participating. Each recipient must qualify in three ways. 1. Worthiness as determined by Bishop and Stake President, 2. Have a real need - again as determined by priesthood leader, and 3. Ambitious - Again, determined by leadership.
Then they start the application process and complete a orientation fireside, and a career improvement workshop.

Suzanne and I are working with the Priesthood leaders in the four stakes. This week we visited the bank in which the young people will open bank accounts in preparation for their loan repayment. Next week we will begin visiting the schools to which we will provide funds for training and educational programs. Also, we will meet soon with the countries Minister of Education to make a presentation of what we are doing here.

Pictures and more soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

You never know what you will see on the roads. This truck has a cargo of some kind, and has picked several passengers.
Dick has his international driver's license and we now have a truck. We use trucks that have 4 wheel drive and stick shifts, because the roads can be a little rough.(we have a canopy to avoid picking up passengers like the truck in the picture)
Suzanne seems to pray a lot whenever I am driving.
We are learning our way around - stores, church, mission home, etc.
Every day is an adventure..

BEGINNINGS OF PERPETUAL EDUCATION FUND IN DR CONGO

On Friday, March 11, 2011 we met with three Stake Presidencies and Bishops to kick-0ff the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) for their stakes. We were very impressed with the organization and leadership in those stakes. The Stake Presidents, in anticipation of the PEF, had selected sixty young men and young women they felt were worthy, had the need, and the ambition to be the first wave of young men and young women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to enter the program.
On Saturday, March 12, 2011 we met with the young men and women to explain and kick off the program.
This was a very exciting event. These young people are really prepared to make the commitment to gain training, find better jobs, and serve as leaders in their homes, their communities, and in the church.
See if you can find Suzanne in this picture.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


The MTC was a great experience. We spent the first week studying Preach My Gospel. What a great experience. In the evenings, Suzanne took French lessons. Week two was spent (Mon, Tue, Wed) in Seminary and Institute training, then (Thu and Fri) in Perpetual Education Fund training.
While in Provo we also attended the funeral of my Aunt Mary - she was a great woman who lead a great life and left an amazing legacy. Also, we attended Savanna, Joey and Shannon Leavit's daughter's, baptism.