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April 6, 2012

Today is day four in Kinshasa.  I think the past five days could warrant a blog post for every hour that has been lived, but that seems slightly impractical.

But, let me review our travels.  Traveling across the globe, especially with a two and a half year old and a seven month old, is an adventure in itself.  And we were no exception.  However, many of you were praying for our travels and not only were those prayers heard, they were answered!  Our travels could not have gone better!

Monday morning, April 2, Matthew and I woke at 3am, after just three short hours of sleep.  We got ready, grabbed the kids, said a tearful goodbye to my mom, and left for the airport.

Our first challenge was getting all eight bins, one big stroller, one kid pack, four carry-ons, and two little kids through the airport intact.  My dad was an essential part of getting our bins into the airport.  We were a little nervous about weighing the, four of them weighed 49.8 lbs (max of 50) at home, so we were hoping for accuracy or, at least, grace.

When we pulled into the end of the line at the ticket counter, a tall man with a commanding presence came over and said, “Come with me – you’re my problem now.”  So we followed.  He greeted the kids happily, checked our passports, joked with us and my dad.  When it got to the part about paying for second bags, we explained that our travel agent said our destination made our second bag free and, while he didn’t really believe us, he said he would “play stupid” and give it to us anyway.  He said “I don’t want to take your money today.”  Then he asked if any of our bags weighed over 50 lbs.  We told him no and he told us to throw them across the way.  He barely even glanced at their weight!  It was the best experience we have ever had at an airport.

After saying another tearful goodbye to my dad, we made our way to the second challenge: security.  Stroller, kid pack, two tiny ones and four carry-ons – we all made it!  Nothing got searched, stopped, patted down…nothing.  It was flawless.  Yet more prayers answered!

We waited at the gate, boarded our flight, and took off.  Again, flawless.  Levi and Matthew had a window/middle seat combo, and Amelia and I had the same across the aisle.  Our aisle seaters were not too amused by the seating arrangement, but at 4.5 hours, the flight wasn’t too long.  Amelia fussed for the first two hours straight.  It was weird because she practically never fusses, so I don’t have a “bag of tricks” to calm her.  Levi fell asleep soon after take off and stayed that way until we had just about landed in Washington DC.  However, the bumpy landing caused Levi to have his first experience using the sick bag.  Good job, son.

Once at Dulles, we scrambled to the other side of the airport.  Our layover wasn’t very long, but we made it in time, got a bite to eat and began to line up.  I looked up and very much to my surprise was Matthew’s younger sister!  I nodded my head to Matthew to get him to look that way without giving away the surprise.  We were thrilled to get such a  send off!  Sad we only had a few minutes, we said our goodbyes, took some pictures, and got on the plane.  This was a Boeing 777, so it felt luxurious with its large interior, entertainment touch screens for each seat, and all of the little perks of flying overseas.  This flight was to be 7.5 hours, arriving in Brussels at 7:15am.  I had Levi next to me, while Matthew and Amelia were directly across from us.  We watched our own movies – they had a wide selection of new releases.  We slept a little, played, ate, Levi colored on his new Cars posters from his Auntie Jenny, and painted.  It was actually kind of relaxing!

Arriving in Brussels, the airport was fairly empty.  We had a longer layover, four hours, so we felt we had a little time to try and experience Europe.  Hard to do from an airport, I know, but none of us had ever been!  We ate amazing croissants and pain au chocolat (my favorite) and had awesome coffee.  And then I went to try to use the internet.

They didn’t have free wifi, but I found an internet cafe-type-thing, so Matthew said he would watch the kids while I did a quick blog post to say hello.  First of all, it was all in Dutch and I couldn’t understand how to change the languages.  Then, as I typed, I realized the keys were not in the same places.  Finally, I needed to enter our password, but the keyboard didn’t have the special character I needed, so no blog post.  I was laughing hysterically at my first moments of culture shock and confusion.  I probably looked crazy.  But, it was funny.  I did manage a facebook update and a quick email to the parents.

We took the bus over to the “African terminal.”  Brussels Airlines has direct flights to many cities on this continent.  The terminal was huge (yes, we have pictures) and had a play place for Levi (making him tired was our goal).  As we went over to board we had our first experience with Brussels Airlines staff – epic.  They whisked us on board first, took care of everything and we felt pampered throughout the entire flight.  They fed us constantly, all of the food was great.  Lunch, snack, tea, ice cream bars (YES!!! With Belgian chocolate, of course), and then another hot snack.  Levi and Amelia slept most of the eight hour flight, which was great.

Flying over the Sahara was awesome.  Looking at Google maps will give you the basic idea, but to see it in person was so strange!  Then, as we began decent over Kinshasa, the jungle and the city came into view.  Again, we were awe struck and couldn’t believe we were finally arriving.

Now, customs in a foreign country is probably the most challenging part of international travels, especially when you don’t speak the language.  We deboarded the plane right onto the concrete (it wasn’t tarmac, for sure).  We waited for the bus and crammed on with all of our carry-on bags.  Amelia peacefully stared out from the Moby wrap and Levi began to get cranky.  Poor kid – it was so hot and humid and he had to be awakened from his sleep.  We were taken directly to the customs processing center and Levi began to break down even more.  One of the officials saw (everyone noticed, really) and came to check our passports.  He kindly took me and the kids to wait on the other side, hoping to help Levi by avoiding waiting in line.  We watched through the glass as Matthew slowly progressed through the line.  He was the last one through.  He was flustered as I had not told him where I packed our address while in Kin and he had to dig through bags to find it (oops).  Meanwhile, Levi continued to be upset, but rather than showing disapproval, the officials and security would stop by and speak to me or to him.  I didn’t understand what they were saying, but they were very understanding.

Finally, Matthew was finished and we walked through the doors to find our contact.  Theo (pronounced TAY-oh), was supposed to meet us and found us right away and whisked us outside to meet with the MAF program manager (Matthew’s boss) here in Kin.  I can’t really describe the scene outside the airport too well (and picture-taking is illegal), but it was busy and chaotic and really fun to witness.

We waited outside while Theo would get our bags.  While this may seem like a security breech in the states (as far as leaving your bag with strangers), it is far better to have a local pick up your bags to avoid searches and “fees.”  We waited at the van for an hour and a half.  It was starting to make us nervous…we asked Ron (the PM) if this long was normal.  He said it was not.  Gulp.  The police came over to tell our driver to move because we’d been sitting there too long, so we piled the kids (Levi had calmed down and Amelia was stripped down to her diaper) and us intot the van to move.  Just as we pulled around, we saw Theo and some helpers bringing our bins – all eight of them – out the doors.  Praise the Lord!  We later found out than none of them were searched by customs (TSA did a fine job searching them and putting them back intact, though) and no fees were charged!  It was a huge blessing and we know that some of you were praying to this very end.  We were so excited about everything going so well that we forgot some major items…more on that later.

The drive home had been described as a video game called “The Streets of Kinshasa.”  We thought it was a surreal experience.  It was just after eight at night, so it was dark.  The roads were similar to some of the backroads from our previous life in Fairbanks, Alaska, but this is a city of ten million people.  The stands, corrogated tin shops, signs, various people milling about are fairly indescribable.  We saw so many things that I can’t even remember one right now.  We were exhausted after traveling for 26 hours straight.  I can tell you that we LOVED it.  The driving here is intense – there are no rules and we have yet to see a stoplight (I’m certain they don’t exist).

After just over an hour we arrived to our new home.  Ron’s wife and another MAF couple were waiting for us.  Sadly, the power had just gone out, so it was pitch black.  They lit a few candles and had flashlights for us.  We took a brief tour of the house, but we were both a little out of it to remember.  Levi immediately attached himself to a large Tonka dumptruck that had been left for him, so he was happy running that around on the tile floors.

The power came on shortly after we were done with the tour and standing around talking.  Yay!  We found what we needed for the night form our bins (mosquito nets!), said goodnight to our new friends, and crashed into bed.

We slept for about four hours and were wide awake at 3am.  Oh, jet lag.  The kids were up too.  The next thirty six hours are a blur to us.  I can’t even blog about it in a logical manner.  We experienced so much, learned so many things, met so many new people, that to recall it in detail would exhaust me all over again.  Plus, I need to move on to other things.  Today is yet another busy day of learning new things about our lives here in the DR Congo.

The MAF staff families have been so supportive.  They come over to help, call us to ask questions (once we got a local cell phone), and now that we have internet, facebook has been a great tool.  I have so many more things to share, and hopefully will make time to do so over the next few days.  Things about the bugs, the heat, our workers, the house, our new home city…

So, this blog post will end with a small miracle – a huge answer to prayer.  Those major items we forgot?  At 3am our first morning Amelia woke and needed some attention.  As I was feeding her, I had a terrible thought.  In the excitement of getting off the plane, going through customs, getting our bins returned intact, we forgot our stroller and kid pack.  They had been gate checked at Brussels.  We knew that gate checked items would not be returned until baggage claim in Kinshasa, but we forgot to tell Theo about them and then we both completely spaced.  I ran into Levi’s room, where Matthew was sleeping with him, and told him about it.  We prayed.  Hard.  It was not the end of the world to lose those things, but our thoughtlessness was frustrating and disappointing.  The next day, as soon as the first of many MAFers arrived to help us deal with the changes, we told them about our little oops.  They called the right people to look into it.  We assumed some poor person was going to have to drive all the way to the airport, find them locked in customs awaiting a huge “fee” for removal.  Ugh.

Later that day, the doorbell on our gate rung and as I looked out the window and saw Matthew rolling our stroller, piled with kid pack, up the driveway I knew the Lord was looking out for us, as he had the entire flight, the entire time we’ve been in this process, and we would be okay.  Furthermore, no fees and they had moved them to a local baggage office right in town, only a few minutes from the MAF office.

We are blessed!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Adrienne permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    Reading about your travels reminded me of our trip to Accra, Ghana and made me nauseous all over again. I fear that may be the case for me even post pregnancy. I’m so glad you made it and I’m looking forward to future posts.

  2. April 7, 2012 0829

    This is all so incredible! Thanks for sharing so many details ~

    Love to the kiddos!

  3. Beth Johnson permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    Praise the Lord for his hand in so many ways during your trip (every single way, really!) It’s an answer to prayer to hear you are all safely there and getting settled. I look forward to reading more about our new lives in Kinshasa!

  4. Judy Pankow permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    God is so good! He’s good all the time! On the day before Jesus resurrection here and I’m not sure what day it is there, I will say “He is Risen” He is Risen Indeed! I cried all thru your blog Lisa! It was beautiful. All our prayers were answered! Give the kids a big kiss and hug from Aunt Judy. I love you all and I’m so glad you made it to your new home safely!

    Can’t wait to hear more!

    Love, Aunt Judy

  5. Dawn permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! We are about 5 weeks behind you (although we are going to Lubumbashi). Know we are praying for you and your adjustment. God is so great! Blessings to you guys!

  6. April 7, 2012 0829

    Wow. So fun to hear about.

  7. Katie Jo Long permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    What an amazing story about traveling around the world with young children. Now I want to go to Brussels just to check out the airport. It is truly amazing how God takes care of those traveling overseas to serve him. I loved that there was a Tonka truck waiting for Levi. I can just imagine his delight, and the noise it made on the tile floors if it’s the same size as the one Caleb has. So glad to hear that your family and all your things made it there safely and look forward to hearing more about your experiences with cockroaches, and the culture too of course.

  8. Sue permalink
    April 7, 2012 0829

    Praise the Lord for His watch care and blessings. You are in His hands.


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