Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Update from the Congo

We have enjoyed George & JoAnn Billings account of their mission in the Congo.   What a contrast to our experience here in Port Elizabeth.  This e-mail just arrived:  
Dear Family and Friends,
We have started our life in a new City.  In fact we are the first Anglo couple in the Church to ever live here in Kananga.  We arrived here last Monday and stayed in a small Guest House for three nights while final preparations were being made for our apartment.  We are now in the apartment but there are many more things we need to arrange to make it totally comfortable.  The Congolese man who has been working on the apartment has tried very hard to get things ready.  Many of the things we need are just not customary to the Congolese.  Shelves for things like dishes and places to hang our cloths are just a couple of examples.  The Church members here are very excited that we have arrived in their City. We will start training 10 of them tomorrow.  Just like the rest of the Congo, jobs are not plentiful.  The unemployment rate is around 90%. 
We are anxiously waiting for a truck to arrive from Lubumbashi.  It has to be flown in because there are no roads into Kananga from any of the other major Cities in the country.  Until it gets here we are on foot.  We had expected it to be here before we arrived but, just like everything else, hardly anything goes as expected.  We just have to deal with what happens when it happens. 
The weather here is hot and humid.  There is no air conditioning in our apartment but we do have fans when the electricity is on.  There is an electrical grid system but they only turn the power on between 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM.  We have a small generator that gives us enough power to run the fans the rest of the day.  Fuel is expensive.  It is over $2.00 per liter.  I haven’t done the calculation but I think that is over $10.00 per gallon. 
Food is going to be a challenge.  We still eat mostly American and European foods.  That may soon change.  We have found only one small store that carries our kinds of foods.  We have bought some things like frozen chicken and found that it is so poorly cared for that we can’t eat it.  There may be other stores.  We just haven’t found them yet.  We have walked the streets of the City looking for places to buy food.  We found one place that had peanut butter but it was long past expiration and the oil had separated from the paste.  There just isn’t much of a market for our kinds of foods.
This is really going to be an experience.  We have a little over five months left in our mission.  We should have many things to tell stories about when it is all done.  This morning, just after we woke up, we heard a congregation singing some African chants and songs.  It went on for a couple of hours.  It was interesting.  These people love to sing.  They do it with a lot of enthusiasm. 
Right now I am typing this email outside and I can smell the African foods that are being prepared for supper by the neighbors.  By the smell, I don’t think I am going to be too anxious to convert to their way of eating.  Everybody cooks outside over charcoal grills.  JoAnn says that she isn’t going to buy it when nations like this complain about America leaving more than its fair share of a carbon footprint.  The air is a constant haze.  There are 500,000 people here burning charcoal at the same time.  That has to contribute to the carbon footprint.
The City of Kananga was once a thriving place.  There are many old buildings that were obviously nice at one time.  Most of them are in an awful state of disrepair.  Many roofs are caved in.  Other roofs are just missing.  There is a large government building with most of the windows broken out.  They are still using part of it because the City is the Capitol of the Kasai Occidental Province.  Most of the nice old buildings in the downtown area have been converted to small shops.  When you go into these shops they sell a variety of everything.  You’ll find food, cloths, appliances, and roofing panels in the same store.  These shops are very small.  There once were some very nice houses.  In fact, the missionaries live in one of those next to our apartment.  Our apartment was once the servant quarters for the people who lived in that house.  The apartment is much nicer than the house now.  We are going to start teaching English to the Elders who live in the house.  The first lesson is tomorrow morning. The streets are also in a state of disrepair.  It is the dry season now so it isn’t bad to walk the half dirt half asphalt roads right now.  The wet season starts in a month.  I hope what we are doing here will begin to make a difference.  The Governor’s Mansion is very big and it is very nice. 
We haven’t begun to take pictures here yet.  When we do we will forward some to all of you. 
Hello Family and Friends:
George has been pretty skimpy with some of the details, so I will add a bit.  We do not have a water filter yet, so we are buying bottled water – good thing it is available.  Coke is also available, but where in the world is it not?  We bought two frozen chickens to bake only to discover that the head and feet had been chopped off and the feathers plucked, and then it was frozen.  After George got it cleaned out, we did cook them, but the taste was not good.  We won’t be buying any more of those.  There is a lot of dried fish here, but we have tried those before and just do not like them.  Little ones are dried, and when cooked, they feel stiff like eating toothpicks.  The larger ones are salted and dried, and have a very strong fish taste.  We can get good bananas and wonderful pineapples, but we have not seen other fruit.  We can get cabbage that is expensive because it has been shipped in from Lubumbashi.  There are avocados, and other green-leaf vegetables that we do not know what they are.  We can also get potatoes, rice, salad tomatoes, onions, garlic and dried beans.  We can buy eggs, canned tuna, and pasta sauce, and spaghetti.  I have found ingredients to make bread except for a pan to cook it in.  We bought a sieve so we can strain out the bugs.
The water we bathe in is tan and has little things that look like small ½ inch worms or leeches, not sure which.  We remove them from the water before bathing.  Bathing is with a bucket and cold water.  The toilet is flushed with a bucket of water.  There is no washing machine here, all washing is done by hand and hung on the line outside to dry.  We have a small fridge, ½ size, but it doesn’t keep food well because it is off all night, so food spoils.  We will adopt the Congolese habit of only cooking what we are going to consume.    We are told they will be furnishing us with a larger fridge.  If it has enough room to freeze bottles of water, we can use those overnight in the bottom section to preserve the food.  We will see how it goes.  We have been provided with a hot plate that has a small oven attached.  It does work off the generators, for which we are grateful.   Due to the electricity situation however, we will also buy a Congolese grille to cook food in over charcoal.
I have seen some beautiful Congolese fabric here, and will be buying some to make draperies for the apartment, as well as a bed cover, and some toss pillows.  Good thing I brought my sewing machine.  I also plan to bring some home to make a quilt out of, because it is just so bright and colorful, and like nothing else I have ever seen.  We have also seen some wood carvings and some beautiful baskets made by artisans here.  I am surprised because not many tourists come to Kananga.
The weather here is going to be a great challenge to me because I do not tolerate the heat very well, but I think in time I will adjust better.
To our family and friends, we have treasured your emails and hearing how you are.  To Amanda, we are so proud of you for accepting the Call to Serve.  God bless you and your family. . .

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