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New Church, New Friends…but not at the same time

August 16, 2012

Sunday we visited a new church.  This church is with the same group as the church we normally attend, but their pastor is Congolese and had recently guest preached at our church.  While we didn’t understand most of his words, we appreciated his delivery and his conviction.  Plus, we learned that he was Pepe’s adoptive dad and that Pepe lived with him and his family.  Since Pepe is now a regular part of our life, we wanted the chance to visit his church as well.

So, Pepe made sure he had a Sunday that he wasn’t working and met us at our house.  To help him remember he wasn’t working, Matthew drove while Pepe sat in the front seat giving directions.  We first drove to his house.  It was in a part of town that neither of us had seen yet.  The drive took us along the Congo river and it was truly beautiful!  (If you’re from here, you drive past the turn to Chez Tin Tin.)  It was in a new neighborhood, but it looked more like the African villages you see in pictures.  We realized the difference: no walls for each house.  We drove as far as the road let us, then walked the last few hundred feet.  Pepe showed us his family’s pigs, including a new litter, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, and guinea fowl.  If you haven’t seen a guinea fowl, Google it.

Next we drove out to the church, which is over by the airport that MAF uses.  This side of Kinshasa was new yet again.  We had to park a ways away this time, since the roads are not wide enough for cars.  These streets and passage ways reminded me more of those sad commercials for starving African children.  And, yes, there were naked children running around.  I wouldn’t consider it impoverished, just very different.  We walked to the church, which was three walls and a roof, surrounded by an incomplete wall and a narrow opening, about three feet up…so you literally had to climb into it.  But, you know, whatever.

We were late, but didn’t feel so bad since we had been following the pastor.  There were about 50 people there.  We realized that we were special guests.  And special guests, especially white ones, have special seats…right up front, at a ninety degree angle to everyone else.  We were on display, and once again we were grateful for our dedication to training our kids to be still and quiet during church.  The training is ongoing, but they’re pretty well behaved.

The singing at this church was awesome.  The men sat on one side and a few played African drums.  The women and children sat on the other side and they all had metal shakers, made from aerosol cans.  It got loud, but the songs were all classic hymns in Lingala.  It was so fun!

During the preaching, Pepe joined us up front to help translate.  Of course, Pepe translated into French, but it helped Matthew a little here and there.

After the service, the men gathered in one corner to conduct church business, count the offering, etc.  The women gathered as most women at church do anyway.  Pepe led us away and we went home.  The kids were tired after doing very well for a two hour service.

Pepe carrying Amelia back to the car after church

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Since my birthday, things have been a bit crazy.  We were blessed with decent power over the weekend.  “Decent power” means the outage on Saturday began at 1pm and ended sometime after we went to bed, and Sunday we had power the entire day, out for an hour from 7-8 or so, then back out again around 9pm.  Power did return sometime late in the night, but went out at 5:13am Monday morning (two minutes prior to my alarm) and did not come back until after we went to bed, which was especially discouraging after a good weekend.  Tuesday, it was out by 6am and we were pleasantly surprised at 1pm when it returned.  I did laundry and cooked like crazy!  It stayed on until Wednesday morning at 9am.

At 9:30am Wednesday, after sending Pepe and Mosengo on an errand, I was sitting on the porch watching Levi play in the dirt while Amelia napped.  I heard a strange sound, like people shoveling dirt.  The pang of the metal shovel in the dirt was out of place…so, I told Levi to stay put and stuck my head out the gate.  Sure enough, outside our gate, all up and down our road, were about 25 or 30 guys digging in a line, every ten feet or so.  They all had work jumpers on, so I knew they were with SNEL, our favorite electric company.

The guys working just outside the door looked up and said bonjour, but no one else really noticed my white face peering out the gate.  I waited a little bit and asked Levi if he wanted to see what was going on outside our walls.  He happily agreed and we stepped outside the gate.  The guys across the street stopped working, and this had the domino effect.  Now they were all curious about the lady who brought her mundele kid outside to watch them.  The head guy with the clipboard was walking by just then and said bonjour and spoke a little English.  I joked that he should put Levi to work, so he grabbed a pick axe and handed it to Levi, who struggled to hold it, but managed to make the whole line of them laugh.

We waved up and down the line and stepped back behind the gate.  I ran to call Matthew.  Though he’s working across the street, I figured he might want to know.  He told me that I should get water for them.  I found a bunch of plastic cups, filled the igloo water cooler and Levi and I carried it down the driveway.  They were so excited!  And so grateful!  Within five minutes I had about 30 new friends standing just outside my gate.  A few, of course, asked for food, but I smiled and told them that I only had water today.  They said thank you.  Their bosses said thank you.  Some practiced their limited English on me and asked if I was from America.  One head guy planted himself next to the water to be sure the guys didn’t steal the cups.

Levi and I headed inside for the afternoon to get on with our day, but we went back out later with Mosengo to see the progress.  Their narrow ditch, about a foot wide and now about three feet deep was starting to connect between each worker.  I’m convinced that no one can dig more quickly or with more precision than the Congolese.  It is very impressive.  They were wrapping up for the day and the head boss approached me.  He asked if they could leave some supplies inside our gate so they wouldn’t have to lug them around.  The naive American in me was like, “sure!  why not?” but I know better than that and knew enough that my four and a half months of Congolese culture would not be enough.  So, I told him it was up to Mosengo, because I knew he would know the intent, the possibility of negative side effects (what if they accused us of stealing and asked for money…if you’re laughing at the absurdity, you’ve never been to Congo), and yet he is a strong Christian who knows how to show kindness.  He agreed that it was okay and a few carried some supplies in.  I asked the dude if we would power that night and he assured me it would come back on.  Well, it didn’t come back until 9pm, but at least it stayed on…

…And on…it went off today for about an hour, but we’ve been going strong besides that.  It’s awesome and completely anticlimactic at the same time.

Today they were back at around 7:30am, picked up their stuff and went to work.  I got the water out and Alex was a little surprised that they all seemed to know me.  They hung out in our yard outside the gate, left their backpacks all up and down our wall and parked their truck in front.  They laid a giant red cable the length of the street, beyond where I can see in either direction.  I’m still not sure what it’s for or why it’s there.  I can only hope it’s a good thing.  To pull the giant cable by hand, there were more men today, probably around 50, and they each had a place on the cable and a whistle blew every other second to signal to pull.  This went on and on all day.  Tweeeeeeet.  Tweeeeeeet.  But, they appreciated the water yet again.  One got a little extra needy about asking for food, but I just smiled and shrugged.  No big deal.  He asked, I said no.  I moved on and smiled at them, Levi played around, and Alex kept a keen eye on the whole thing.

As of tonight, some of the ditch has been filled, the line is laid as far as we can see.  Alex collected some fancy info: the line is actually a power line off a different grid.  Most importantly, it’s the grid that has consistent power.  Somebody important must’ve paid somebody else a lot of money.  Either way, we hope this means more power, more often.

Also, tonight there isn’t anything stored in our yard, but I think they’ll be back tomorrow to keep filling in the ditch.

The irony of the situation made me laugh.  A few weeks ago, SNEL’s head guys were terrorizing the neighborhood with bolt cutters and armed soldiers.  This week, their blue collar workers were storing stuff in our front yard.  I don’t think I can help but smile at all I am learning here in Congo.

SNEL’s conduit and signs stored in our front yard

My contraband picture of them hefting the empty spool into the truck after work tonight. I think OSHA would be proud.

(As a note, about five minutes before publishing, the power went out for the first time this evening…and came back on less than a minute later.  Switched to another line?  Hmmmm….we can only hope!)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jocelyn Bradfield permalink
    August 16, 2012 0829

    New cable! That’s crazy!

  2. August 16, 2012 0829

    This reminds me so much of life with the electric company in the Philippines. If I were to go spend any length of time back there (which is very possible) my first purchase would be a generator. Hang in there, Cousin.

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