Monday, January 16, 2012

Yes, this is the third blog today... It is a holiday here - Martyr Day - and we are home, so I am catching up. Saturday, we were invited to attend a grand opening for a Humanitarian Project. This one was one we had visited earlier in its formation stages. The project consisted of 7 clean water wells, a bathroom and wash area at a school, and a rain water capture project to provide water for the bathrooms and washing area at the school.
I snapped some pictures out of the side window of the moving car. They are scenes along the way to the project.
SORRY, SOME ARE BLURRY BECAUSE THE ROAD WAS ALMOST NON-EXISTENT AND WE BUMPED ALONG A LOT. This project is located outside of Kinshasa in a village area. To get there we went with the mission president in his four-wheel drive rig. We all drive four-wheel drive pick-ups or wagons. The road to this site is made for a four-wheel adventure. Many of you would like to spend your week-ends four-wheeling in this area. The trails we followed were narrow, sand-filled paths and trails mostly. At one spot, you must slide the tires along an old pipe that may have once been used for water, then drop down a steep run into a big hole. That when it rains is a small lake. Eventually, you end up at the site. We of course were the only car there. The Stake President arrived after us, he may have hitched a ride on one of the many motor cycles used as taxis. They typically load the driver and up to three passengers onto the cycle.
THE BLUE CHAIRS AWAIT. The man in the suit is the director of the NGO (non-governmental organization) who managed the project. His organization was contracted by the Church to do the construction work. The name of his organization is Congo-Kazi.
We arrived and were greeted by hundreds of children. They were dressed in their school best - white shirts and blue skirts/pants/shorts. They had been waiting along the road for us. They sang on our way in and were excited when we got out of the car and would shake their hands. I am sure that it is the first time many of them had seen a "mondele" (white person) up close and personal.
This is the first part of the project. Two tanks to catch rain water and run the water into the latrine and hand washing station. There is also a run-off pipe that when the tanks are full, the village can get water here from the flow. The children sang a song about how they can now wash their hands before eating, and after using the bathroom and therefore prevent disease. We don't think about disease much at home, but here typhoid, cholera, and any number of amoeba are a constant threat. Bad water also attracts mosquitoes which bring malaria, yellow fever, dinge fever, etc. This year in the DRC thousands of children died in the worst cholera epidemic in 50 years. The two most deadly animals in Africa are Rhinos and mosquitoes.
The rain is captured in these "gutters" and runs into the tanks. School is generally in session during the rainy season, so there will be sufficient water for the school year.
The second piece of the project is this bathroom. Written over the door it says "A gift from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The Village Chief did the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon. I was concerned that I might be asked to take the ceremonial first "leak" in the new toilet, but fortunately, they skipped that part.
The village chief is a very important person. He is elected by the village to be their leader. He was very happy about the project. The village area chief of police and the senior military officer were also there.
The entire school turned out for the ceremony. The children sang and danced and thanked us.
As usual, all the Mondeles and dignitaries had front row blue plastic chairs.
We then went to one of the well sites and had the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon and drinking the ceremonial first glass of clean water.
Sister Bingham drinking the clean water. The Binghams are the Humanitarian Service Couple who have accomplished all of this amazing work. If one visits the simple grave sight of Robert F. Kennedy, in Arlington Nation Cemetery, these words are on the wall next to his grave site. Spoken in South Africa in 1966 "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And, crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance."
A village women climbs the hill with containers for clean water on her head.

Here comes the bride, here comes the judge

Friday, we were invited to attend the civil marriage of two of our PEF students. We have mentioned Pepithio before. He is a great young man. He is the "model" for the PEF applicants and students. He is going to school to become a software engineer. He also works at the American Embassy on their "help desk." His fiancee is a beautiful young women who is also a PEF student. We felt fortunate to be invited as it was pretty much family only. This is one of three ceremonies they will have. The law requires that they be married by a judge civilly before they can go to the Temple to be married. So the sequence for them is 1) the civil marriage by a judge, 2) The traditional marriage which will include a ceremony by their bishop and an all night party, and 3) in February the will go to Johannesburg to be sealed in the Temple. They explained that we are invited to the traditional ceremony, but since it starts at 8 pm and goes till sunup, and is in a rougher part of town, we would not be safe in attending. So, we settled for the civil marriage.
THE HAPPY COUPLE IN FRONT OF THE CONGOLESE FLAG As we arrived, the families recognized us (the only white people within 20 miles) and, as they always do, made us feel very much at home. Now, there are a couple of things to discuss before continuing the story. 1. Wherever we go as invited guests in the Congo, we are treated like royalty. We are always given places of honor and watched after. It is a very special gift of the Congolese people. Sometimes we are a little embarrassed by their kindness, but it would be impolite to refuse. So, the father of the bride took us under his wing for the ceremony. 2. To find you a place to sit and something to sit on is very important to them. The common seat is the "blue plastic chair." See the next blog for an array of blue plastic chairs. 3. The room in which the marriage took place would have a sign on it in the U.S. that said "maximum occupancy 50 persons." But no such sign exists here. So the room for 50 was occupied by about 200 with people outside looking in through the barred windows. 4. The city hall (an overstatement) is also the local jail. So it can become interesting. 5. Nothing in the Congo is ever on time. One can expect up to a two hour wait for people to arrive and the occasion to start. This was no exception So, on with the story. The father of the bride, rounded up a couple of blue chairs for us, went to the person guarding the door into the marriage room and had a word with him, then returned, took the two blue chairs and set us in the very front of the room next to the judges table. It was a very sunny hot day. Inside the room it was like 2000 degrees. As we sat there, couple dressed in their marrying best started to arrive. About a dozen of them. We learned from our host that our wedding couple was en-route in a public transport, and did not know how soon they would arrive. (Had we thought about it, we would have asked if we could pick the bride and groom up and bring them in an air conditioned car and not in the non-air conditioned really awful transport). But, they finally arrived - before the judge who was to conduct the ceremony arrived. //" />
Unfortunately, the window light and the bright sunlight does not bode well for taking these pictures. But, the judge was a little man wearing a white uniform with the blue, red, and yellow sash of the Congolese government.
The judge was very friendly, and liked having his picture taken. Before he performed the ceremony, he pontificated on marriage for about 1/2 hour.
Other brides and grooms.
Crowds and chaos marked the day.
City hall from the outside. People waiting for their loved ones to come out. Even though the room could have crowded more people into it, if you had a crowbar, many remained outside, the "bouncer" closed the doors and would not let anyone else inside. The judge's armed guard (a soldier with an automatic weapon - nothing says wedding like camos and an AK47) closed the windows for some reason, and the temperature rose some more. In the end, we were sweat soaked and exhausted. I wore a new tie I had purchased in South Africa - it now has sweat stains half way down the tie - very attractive. Everyone had a plastic whistle and blew them a lot.
The happy family celebrates. In the end, it was an honor to be there. And, a really fun afternoon. Post Script: After the ceremony, we offered to take the newlyweds wherever they were going, but Thierry Mutomba, one of the great men of the Congo, our friend, the 1st counselor in their stake presidency, and an assistant to the mission president, had his van there and waiting to take them. So, no awful transport for the happy couple.
This is a catch-up blog (not a ketchup blob) from South Africa. We visited a couple of animal locations. This is Suzanne petting a rare white lion cub.
This is the cub's big brother. Suzanne wanted to pet it also, but decided not too.
This guy was a little hungry, so we left him alone.
The giraffe like us however.
The brave safari group - the Kinshasa Missionary Couples. We had left DRC during the elections and headed for Johannesburg South Africa. Elder and Sister Bingham, President and Sister Jameson, us, Elder and Sister Hatch.