It has been a very busy few weeks, with a lot happening. This is a long one, so get comfortable!
Well, our first Christmas in the Congo has come and gone and the New Year has been ushered in. I must admit though, that it just never did seem quite like Christmas. No snow, no cold, and no Christmas shopping, which was all perfectly fine by me but I always hope to feel that little thrill that I remember feeling as a child. Though I did experience some thrills, none were of the magical kind that I guess are meant to remain part of being a child. One thing is for sure though, we certainly did sing our fair share of Christmas Carols. Like I have said before, they LOVE to sing here and one they sing with particular gusto is “Joy to the World”, …..though at first glance the people here don’t seem especially joyful. (I think it is cultural, especially with the women.)
One thing that I really did miss, was home and family. We did have the opportunity to visit one home and family though! A couple of days before Christmas, we offered to give Frere Joseph a ride home and take him up on his invitation to meet his wife and family. Just when we thought we had “seen it all” and life here looked normal to us, we were once again surprised.
Okay. I have tried for more than half an hour to describe what we saw, smelled, experienced and more importantly, felt. I have written and erased, written and erased. I can’t do it! I am not even going to try. The picture above is one of Joseph’s step-sons looking out at us through the bedroom window of their two room “house”.
This is their living room/kitchen. I think the whole room was about 10′ x 10′ and their bedroom was about the same size. Joseph, along with his five children from his first marriage, as well as his wife and four of her children, live together in this home.
I don’t know what I was expecting Joseph’s wife to look like, but I certainly didn’t expect her to look like this! Though she doesn’t look all that happy, I think she is probably happy enough. He is a good, kind man and has a job, even if it does only pay $4 a day. The story is long but suffice to say, they are a blended family.
This little kitten was hiding in the grass, outside Joseph’s house. As I mentioned once before, cats are not all that common here, so when there is one that Brent can pet… he does. This little guy was feisty and ready to play and Brent said it was the one thing there, that was just the same as home. Does the picture above look vaguely familiar?
This is one of Joseph’s step-daughters. The car is always a hit and draws a crowd. We really had a crowd a few minutes later when we realized the road was too narrow to turn around. Joseph thought we should drive over the bridge to the green space beyond, where there would be plenty of room to turn around. Luckily, Brent decided to go check it out for himself. There is no way we could have gotten across that bridge!
As much as I love Frere Joseph, it turns out he was no better at helping us back-up the extremely narrow road, than he was at judging whether we could safely cross the bridge. We had all kinds of people crowding around the car, walking beside us as we slowly backed up the hill, giving us advice, laughing, rapping on the windows and generally having a good time. Luckily, there was one young guy who was able to safely guide us to a small spot, where we were able to turn around and head for home, so to speak. Our adventures for the day were not over, however.
Right after visiting the neighborhood of Frere Joseph, we drove over to another part of town to meet up with the other senior couples at an orphanage. Brent turned down a street and was a little way down before we noticed that it was strangely empty and strewn with rocks. We then noticed the “storm troopers” outfitted in shiny new gear, marching towards us, with another line of police coming behind us, in the rear. In short, we had driven right into the middle of a protest (we later found out the people in the neighborhood were protesting the fact that they had been without power for two months.) Anyway, the excitement was short lived. A few rocks were thrown at the police, which they in turn threw back. As they passed by our car, they paused just long enough to reassure us that they had everything under control, and then ran off after the culprits! (Have I ever mentioned that there are police EVERYWHERE here? We occasionally offer them a bottle of water, as a sort of peace offering. Besides, they stand out there all day in those hot uniforms and don’t get much in the way of payment.)
This is the orpahanage and the wonderful woman who acts as mother to all these kids ranging in age from 4 years old to 24. We brought them bags of clothing, as Christmas gifts and they in turn entertained us with songs, poems and a nativity pageant like none you’ve ever seen before. (King Herod was truly frightening!) These kids were spotlessly clean, extremely well behaved, and seemed happy in their orphanage home and family, but the thing that brought tears to my eyes, was seeing the boys grown to adulthood, still clinging to the only home they have ever really known. (Come to think of it, I have one of those of my own.) 🙂
Another of our Christmas projects provided for us by the Davis’, was painting the bedrooms of another orphanage, that brings girls off the street. The girls themselves did most of the painting and had a lot of fun. As was to be expected, a lot of the paint ended up on everything but the walls.
One of our other outings in December was to witness the civil marriage of 35 couples. Most people here have a tribal marriage first. Civil marriages, as I have mentioned before, can cost up to $80.00, which is not easy for these people to come up with. One of our Stake Presidents here struck a bargain with one of the bergermeisters (mayors?) to do a mass marriage for the discounted price of $35.00 per couple. This was a great thing for many members who had not yet been civilly married or needed to be married in order to be baptized.
Everyone you see here on about the first five or six rows, were there to get married. The rest were friends and family literally cheering them on. It was quite the process and took hours. The dress was everything from work attire, to very formal. We even had a Congolese Cinderella with hair and all. She really was beautiful!
By the way, her husband is on the other side of the bergermeister. He (the bergermeister) was in the middle of every picture and was the life of the party!
The Monday before Christmas we invited each of the three Lubumbashi Zones to the Mission Home to hear a brief Christmas message and receive a gift bag provided by the members in Calgary. Karen West organized women in the making of laundry bags and gathered the other items you see below, so each missionary was able to receive a little Christmas gift. Thank you again Karen and to everyone involved.
Our missionaries here in Lubumbashi had a wonderful experience performing in three “Chantons Noel”, under the direction of Sister Draper. She and Elder Draper put in a lot of time organizing the first Carol Festivals that these three stakes here have ever had. She invited each stake to participate with choirs of their own, and can I just say, it was wonderful but definitely unlike any Carol Festival any of us had experienced before. By the way, can you spot Sister Draper? (It’s like “Where’s Waldo”.)
This beautiful woman attended the last performance and sat right in the middle of the first row. She conducted every one of our missionaries three numbers with great joy and feeling from her seat of course, though the missionaries eyes were fastened right where they should have been… on Sister Draper. She, along with many others in the audience, showed their appreciation of each number by whistling, clapping and “trilling”?, whether the song was finished or not. 🙂 They all loved it and can’t wait for next year!
Our friend Aimee joined us old people for Christmas dinner. I gave her a little box of special soap from home for a gift and when she saw it, she picked it up and kissed it. She told us when we drove her home, that it was the best Christmas she had ever had.
It’s true, on the surface, this country doesn’t seem to have much joy, especially when compared to the rest of the world. But just beneath the surface… joy is there to be had in the simplest of ways, that are common throughout the world.