Thursday, September 30, 2010

DR Congo day #6

 Today we filmed the water tank tower being constructed. The cement was mixed on the ground and then buckets are handed down a line of men one by one, then tossed up to someone on scaffolding who then tosses it up to the person on top of the tower who puts it into place. It was just amazing to see such a large project being done without the use of machines. One of the construction workers was wearing a pink sweatshirt with three white daisies on the front. Obviously a piece of clothing that was donated to him and not having the luxury of being picky, there he was amongst all his other rough and tough construction friends wearing a woman's sweatshirt. Everyone understood and he didn't have to put up with any ridicule from his buddies. We laughed to each other thinking, "He wouldn't last a day on an American construction crew, but how cool is it that it doesn't matter here."
Clothing for the majority of people is for all intents and purposes, rags... Church members nonetheless make the sacrifice to have the nicest clothes they can possibly find to attend Church. A pair of decent Sunday shoes is a big deal for  members who really want to look nice. Starting yesterday I had  a thought in my mind that I ought to give my old Sunday shoes  away that I usually use for my Africa trips. I have other old shoes that can replace them so I made the decision to find a brother who needed them. In the late afternoon I was sitting with our translator, Eric, who recently returned from his mission in Zimbabwe. The thought came back and I asked him what size of shoe he wore. He's a couple of sizes smaller so I backed off a little but the thought was still there to give him the  shoes. I cleaned them up and gave them to him. He looked at me and said, "Brother Matt, I have been praying that I could get Church shoes and I don't have the money to get any. I didn't know how I was going to get them." I responded, "I like to be the answer to someone's prayer..." I apologized for them being too big and he and another sister observing the interchange looked at me as if I was from a different planet. Size doesn't matter here. The only qualifications are if your foot can fit inside and will it stay on when tied.

 Sister Beck asked while we are here to capture a mid-week Relief Society meeting and some visiting teaching. We went to their meeting not knowing what to expect and found them outside the Church in the back, with chairs circled. They started with a prayer and song which invited the sweetest feeling of the Spirit. Then onto their activity, how to kill and cook a duck... What!? What ever happened to making little crafty nick-knacks? We captured the duck being killed, processed, and cooked and can't wait to show Sister Beck and the other General Relief Society Presidency members the real life, basic necessities that are being taught. Even though they will have a good laugh they will love to see the practicality of their meeting. They had duck along with cassava leaf and fufu. I ate a crumbly pop tart and told them I was too full to eat anymore, so to go ahead without me.

 As soon as we drove through the little neighborhood to find this members house we had a group of kids already following us. Feeling like my entertaining energy had burned up I asked two of the African men traveling with us to keep the kids back. They did a pretty good job intimidating the kids and threatening to take them away if they don't behave. Adults don't treat kids well here if they are not behaving. It is very common to see a total stranger hit a kid on the head if they think he needs discipline. After awhile their tactic stopped working and the noise was growing. The producer, Peter Evans came and with "puppy eyes" asked if I could divert them somewhere else by doing something fun. I was tired of taking pictures of them and having them go crazy over seeing themselves in the LCD screen so I started jogging and made a game of it. I started making rhythmic sounds as I breathed in and out and ALL of them copied me perfectly.
 They learn in school by memorization because they don't have text books to read, so they copy and mimic things really well. Pretty soon I had around 50 kids running with me, mimicking every sound coming out of my mouth. I made up different "Yaaaawhooo's and WeeeHaaas". As we ran all the parents and teenagers came out to the side of the street and watched as I passed by. Some of them were dumbfounded at this crazy American running with their kids and seeming to enjoy it and others laughed and gave their approving waives and smiles as they could see how much fun the kids were having. Some of the boys wanted me to box like Rocky, so we spent the next little while running and boxing like Rocky Balboa. The children here are extremely impressionable and I pray for them that they will have the right role models to follow, because they will follow...

Love you all,


DR Congo day #7

The Branch Presidents ties hanging on his door
This morning we interviewed Elder and Sister Moody (live on Carterville Road in Orem, Sharon Stake). They are nearing the end of their mission so they have some great perspective. We'll use their interview to incorporate in our new humanitarian missionary training. Both of them had touching stories and testimonies, but one thing that will stick with me was something Elder Moody said. The question was, "How do you define success as a humanitarian missionary?" He responded by talking about the Church's focus on self-reliance but he said that success for him ultimately came down to "people rising above their circumstances" and not necessarily if they are self-reliant as we might think in our American mindset. I've had these same thoughts and feelings the more I have interacted with people outside of our prosperous and opportunity rich society. Surely the Lord will hold us more responsible for the 10 talents he has given us and will want to see that we have doubled them temporally and spiritually. And to those born into poverty, it might be compared to being given 2 talents (coins) and if they double their talents just like we did the Lord will be just as happy for them.

After a few more interviews we packed up and said goodbye to the wonderful people that helped us. Our female translator, Elise, who lives in Kinshasa loaded a goat in one of the Landcruisers. Without asking us she bought the goat in Luputa with the plan of having it travel 5 hours with us and then to have it slaughtered near our motel in Mbuji Mayai and then carried onto the plane in wrapped pieces. All our mouths dropped as she told us her plans and she looked at us like, "What's the big deal? Isn't this normal?" We rolled along with it not wanting to offend her and chalked it up to another great African experience. Luckily, we had room in one of the Landcruisers that hauled our luggage to tie the goat up and lay it on the floor. You can't be too concerned about animal feelings in a society like this. They are here for one reason only, to provide food. I've realized on this trip that pets are a luxury for more prosperous societies.

On our drive we rolled over hill after hill providing stunning vistas of a jungle / savanna mixed landscape. We almost got ran off the road by a large truck and Peter and I joked around about how many angels must have been sent to protect us on this trip.

It is always amazing to see how many people cling onto any vehicle to catch a ride. The large trucks are loaded with supplies picked up in villages and will be sold in markets. People pay the driver a little bit of money which allows them to sit on top of the load, hang onto the sides or back, all while going 50 miles an hour on very bumpy roads. It's not uncommon to see a woman sitting on top of this precarious load nursing a baby... The idea of seat belts is still VERY far away.

President Binene, the District President rode with us from Luputa to Mwene Ditu, a larger city about 2 hours away. He was taking a day off of work (He's a nurse in the Luputa medical clinic) to do some priesthood training with 2 new branch presidents. We do so much of our church service at night after work, but they can't because they don't have electricity so travel and activities all need to be squeezed into day light hours. When he returns home this afternoon he will climb on one of these trucks and get back to Luputa. In our conversations with him we learned that he was an electrician in a bigger city but when he was 19 years old a group of rebel forces chased anyone from this part of the country out of their cities. He became a refugee in his own country and was forced to move back to the area of his ancestors, which was Luputa. He was an electrician and was forced to move to an area without electricity. There goes his job training... He said he followed President Hinckley's counsel to continue with education and switch occupations if needed. This is when he decided to become a nurse.

He and his wife have been sealed in the South Africa Temple, but believe it or not they are the only family in their entire district of 1,700 members who have been able to go to the temple. Even though 40% of his district members have temple recommends none of them have been able to enjoy the blessings of the temple. Think about not having the counselors in our stake presidency, all the bishops and Relief Society presidents not having gone to the temple. They need to earn a sacrificial offering like they do with missions in order to qualify for financial help from the Church. Once they do the "Temple Patron Fund" will provide their whole family with one trip to the nearest temple. This is harder to accomplish in some areas of the world and Luputa is one of those areas. The amount they need to contribute per person in DR Congo is $200. Within the next 6 months they will have 2 more families go to the temple and be sealed. The two families have dad's that managed 2 of our humanitarian projects in Luputa. One being our clean water project and the other a food project. I love to provide employment in the clean water initiative to members as much as possible because of results like this.

We ended up getting through all the police road blocks without too much trouble and now we're in a city with over a million people in it. We're staying at the nicest hotel possible and it seems luxurious compared to what we had in Luputa, but Motel 6 puts it to shame. Still no running water even in their nicest hotel. I'm going to take the longest shower when I get home...

Love you,


Saying goodbye to the DR Congo

 Here are some random pictures that are too good not to share!

How can you NOT smile when you see a face like this?

Do you want one of these in your back yard?

You can make a soccer ball out of ANYTHING!

Does this look familiar?

While boarding our plane in Mbuji Mayai in route to Kinshasa we sat in the mini airport and had one of our branch presidents clearing obstacles ahead of us. DR Congo is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and in order to move around bribes have to be paid, especially when you're white and from America. Police find the littlest things to harass you about and won't let you go until you've paid them something under the table. The police is just the start, it seems like it's everywhere. For example, in order to get through security and into the airport parking lot the branch president had to pay $18 to the guard to give us a "pass". If we don't pay then they stop us, hold us up for hours, and then we end up paying them the same amount anyway. They are in control of the situation and it can be a bit frustrating, but it's the price we are choosing to pay in order to bless those that are in need.

We thought having our translator's dead goat as check on baggage was strange enough but while at the airport we saw 3 different people check in a live goat, wrapped up in gunny sack with it's head popping out. They passed the goat over the counter and put it on the baggage cart just like a suitcase. After boarding the plane and looking out the window we saw one of the goats running down the runway and two airport workers chasing after it. One for the goat! They eventually caught up to him and got him into the baggage area.

Everything has value here. Nothing is thrown away. It's always fixed back up or used for another purpose. At the airport they had an old burned out plane next to the runway. Not the best marketing strategy to instill confidence in your customers. Our pilot came back and talked to us before taking off and he is from Greece. He flies all over West Africa and said that flights in DR Congo are the most risky because of outdated airports and planes. Thanks a lot Mr. Pilot, we really needed to hear that... After talking with him for awhile he opened up and shared some interesting stuff. He said pilots in DRC can make up to $10,000 a month, but that there recorded salary is only $500 a month. They pay taxes on $500 each month and the remaining $9,500 is paid under the table tax free. This is the game that's played in so many countries around the world. Realizing that this is the case in many industries, especially government, gave me a clearer picture of how much money is actually flowing through countries like DRC and how little tax revenue is being collected. As the Lord says in Doctrine and Covenants, "There is enough and to spare". If we could get everyone square then all these countries could take better care of their people.

Perhaps this can't be accomplished until the Lord reigns again, but in the meantime we are our brother's keeper to help those innocent victims of corrupt governments.

On the plane we had 13 missionaries headed to the MTC in Ghana. They all have mission calls to come back to DRC and serve. They looked so good and are the cream of the crop in their society. The Gospel develops us and it is so clear to see this in impoverished countries. The Kinshasa mission currently baptizes 300 people a month with 148 missionaries. The Gospel is flourishing here and gradually the people are rising. There are still decades of development needed but I can see many seedlings that have popped up through the ground and the Church outlook is bright.

I'll see you on Saturday! I love you and miss you!


This is a picture of the men chasing the goat... hee hee :)
A very welcomed 10 hour stop on the way home...

Matt and Howard Collett. Howard is the photographer who has taken all the AMAZING pictures. Matt LOVES it when he comes on trips with him :)