Wednesday, October 10, 2012

George & Jo Ann Billings - DRC Update

Dear Family and Friends,

This week has great potential to be interesting and exciting here in Kinshasa.  The City is hosting the 13th International Francophonie Summit beginning this Wednesday and ending next Sunday.  Francophone means French speaking and Francophonie is a term coined for an organization of French speaking countries.  There are 56 countries represented as members of the Fracophonie organization.  They hold an international summit every two years.  Representatives from most of these 56 countries, including some heads of state, will begin arriving here early in the week.   

We live near many of the residences for ambassadors from countries throughout the entire world.  Ambassador row is about four blocks away from our apartment.  Many of the Francophonie member countries have ambassadors who live on that row.  Security is being tightened up throughout the entire City but especially in the Gombe District where we live.  We have often seen truckloads of policemen patrolling the City.  They sit, back to back, four abreast, on benches positioned in the bed of the trucks.  They carry automatic rifles that look like AK 47(s).  This isn't new.  We have seen these trucks since the day we arrived.  What is new is that we see armed military men in camouflaged uniforms guarding every street corner and sometimes spaced about every 100 yards up and down the streets.  This is in addition to the four to eight policemen we normally see at all major intersections. 

There have been threats of peaceful demonstrations during the summit.  The major opposition party in the last Presidential election has announced that they will hold demonstrations denouncing the election results.  The U.S. Embassy has advised American citizens to take caution, avoid crowded areas, and stay away from sensitive governmental facilities during the summit.  There will likely be increased traffic congestion, road blocks, and checkpoints where they are not normally located.  We, as missionaries, have been asked to be safely at home before sundown while these events are taking place. 

So, for us, the interesting and exciting part of the week isn't witnessing or participating in the events.  What should be interesting and exciting is finding a way to do our work while tolerating the inconveniences of increased security. 

It has already been interesting to see all the preparations the City has made for the summit.  These preparations have been going on for months.  Streets have been torn up.  During the last week there has finally been a lot of pavement put down.  The main highway out to the airport is nearing completion.  Pavement has been put down, lane striping has been done, and there are even direction arrows for traffic flow on the pavement.  However, it seems that many of the drivers don't know what the direction arrows mean.  Or, if they do know, they don't care.  The City has removed many roadside shops that, over the years, have encroached on the right of ways for roads.  There are hundreds of people, wearing green vests, sweeping the streets.  Dirt, mud, and trash have been removed from the open storm drains that line the streets.  Planter strips along the main roads have been cleaned up and new grass has been planted.  There are even mounded flower beds in some of the planter strips.  Many shop owners have refinished their storefronts adjacent to streets.  Improvements are noticeable. 

Just a bunch of what is happening in Kinshasa.  Hope I haven't bored you too much.  I do hope all is going well for each of you.

With love,



Hi Family and Friends:

I thought I would add a bit to George's email because I don't usually send emails to everyone, but occasionally I will add some to his to give you a perspective from a female's point of view.

Every morning when I get up, I lift the mosquito netting and get out of bed. I do not bother to make the bed now, because mosquitos get under the net while I am making the bed and then I get bitten in the night. I turn the light on in every room as I go to check for cockroaches. I spray a roach killer around the edges of the rooms every 2 to 3 weeks. It works very well and a lot of the time the roaches we find are already dead. I also watch for the lizards. I think they are Gecko’s. I actually like to have them in the house because they eat the bugs and it’s fun to watch them run up the walls and across the ceiling. Once I took a shower with one hanging exactly over my head watching me. When I go to take a shower, I always unfold the shower curtain, because the smaller cockroaches like to hide in the shower curtains, or in the tub. I never walk barefoot in the apartment because even the dust that blows in can have hookworm or spores of other parasites that can get in my feet, so I don’t take the chance. I usually sleep in curlers at night because my curling iron has blown out 2 or 3 extension cords because of the difference in electricity. I dry my hair with the blow dryer when I shampoo, but I have to unplug the air conditioner to get enough power to make the blow dryer work. I look at my wardrobe and say, “What is the least amount of clothing I can wear today and still be decent?” It is always so hot and I don’t tolerate the heat well. I usually end up with a skirt and a white blouse. Before I leave for the day, I spray my legs with 100% DEET because in the church buildings where I work, the windows are usually open to let air in, and there are no screens, so mosquitos are lurking.

Meals are quite simple. George usually fixes breakfast while I get ready. We have scrambled eggs, or oatmeal, or corn flakes. Eggs are the cheapest so we two consume at least 30 eggs per week at different meals. Lunches are usually a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or tuna sandwich or a bowl of beans or homemade soup. We can buy beans at the open markets for very little money, so we have eaten a lot of beans here. Our main meat at supper time is chicken. From a little market run by some Lebanese men, we can buy 2 kg of boneless, skinless chicken breast, for $15.00 (the chicken being killed according to Islamic law by using a sharp knife – it says that on every package). We have had hamburger here, which is very, very lean but it tastes nothing like hamburger at home and is not very good. We have had a few beef steaks (expensive and kind of tough). We do occasionally buy some slices of ham and use those sparingly thru the month. That is very good, but very pricey. We make a lot of tuna fish gravy on toast, or chicken & rice soup. We have a lot of rice, usually with carrots, red and/or yellow peppers, and zucchini in it. Zucchini is very prevalent here, but only as big as a small cucumber. We also have coleslaw and a lot of fresh salad. We have fresh bananas, pineapples, and other tropical fruits.

Fresh vegetables are a lot of work. We usually buy vegetables from the open markets grown locally. All vegetables have to be washed in bleach water and rinsed in clear water. Imagine taking each whole head of lettuce and cabbage apart leaf by leaf and washing it and drying it before putting in the refrigerator. All vegetables and fruits are washed in this manner. Eggs also have to be washed in bleach water because they come directly from the farm yard without being cleaned. We always have to check carefully for blood spots and remove them. Almost all the eggs here have blood spots.
For baking, the flour is a project too. All the flour here has weevil, so when I buy a 10 lb bag, I put it in the freezer for 3 days to kill the weevil. Then I sift all the flour and throw the bugs out. In about a 1 ½ cup I will sometimes have 10 to 12 weevil and sometimes none at all.
Cooking is usually no problem, other than I have to convert to centigrade for baking. We try to keep food on hand we can eat without cooking because the electricity goes out frequently. We also store water in our apartment because often the water is on in the morning and at night, but not at all during the day.

One of the challenges a female faces here is the bathroom situation. There are almost no public restrooms. If we travel out and about, we usually have to find an LDS church house for a pit stop. Let me tell you about the public restrooms. Here is a typical situation: When we were to fly out of Lubumbashi, we were at the airport because our plane was to leave at 1:00. Then we were told 5:00 p.m. It finally left at 6:30 p.m. – typical. I couldn’t wait that long so I went to the rest room. Both men and women use the same bathroom and there are no locks on the door. I have been walked in on by men twice. There is not a seat to sit on, just a porcelain or tile hole in the ground. They used to flush but broke long ago, so just outside your door is a bucket of water, or maybe not. They provide no toilet tissue. There is no place to wash your hands. I always carry spare toilet paper and lots of germ-killing hand-wipes everywhere. Even in the LDS churches there is usually no toilet paper because people take it home with them.

Well that is enough from me for this letter.  A female's perspective is much different than a man's and I wanted the women to know what life here is like.  What an "Up" adventure - my very own "Paradise Falls".  We love and miss each of you and hope your lives are happy.

Love, JoAnn

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