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Adventure in Vanga

August 19, 2015

Last week, just in time for my birthday, Kathy (the Mrs.) and Nancy (of this weekend‘s fame) Rice joined us for a stocking-up trip to Kinshasa.  They live in Vanga, a village east of here, that takes about 1.5 hours via MAF flight.  They drove, however, because they were able to borrow a ride and planned to take a lot of things back with them after doing some major shopping.  They stayed with us for the week and we had an excellent time, though quite busy.  Most days, I helped Kathy shop and gather supplies, while Nancy and her visiting friend Megan (who was also leaving from Kinshasa that week) stayed with our kiddos.

These two ladies came up with a scheme to take me and the kids back to Vanga with them for the weekend, knowing an MAF flight was available this week to take us home.  Mostly, besides super fun, this was to surprise the Potter family.  After figuring out logistics and getting some amazing support from our team here in Kinshasa (thanks Tasha and Jocelyn for the extra help!), Levi, Amelia, and I set our Friday morning on the adventure in the truck with Kathy and Nancy and their driver, Jean.  Axel was left behind because of the long drive and logistics with traveling with someone under 2.  Matthew, of course, had to work.

As we set off I realized that you have to be in a very special place in your life to go on a road trip across Congo with small children.  I mean, really?  Also, there was one other thing we realized that morning.  Our family’s passports are at the immigration office as we establish longterm visas (to replace out short term ones).  I printed out photocopies of our passports so we’d have something…surely that was enough.  We weren’t leaving the country!

As we got down the road and the city faded, we were staring at the beautiful countryside.  It really is pretty, even though we’re nearing the end of dry season and it is mostly brown and shrubby.  One good rain and it will all be green and jungle-like again, I’m sure.  The road itself was great – paved and in excellent condition, for the most part.  The trucks passing us were classic Africa – piled high with goods, including things hanging off the sides and people and goats sitting on top.

The highway was a very cool way to see the country

The highway was a very cool way to see the country

We drove through small towns, some with buildings and shop-like places, others just grass and mud huts.  Finally, we got to one that had a barricade – a checkpoint.  We stopped and they saw all of our white faces and asked us about our passports.  Then they took them.  Oops.

Twenty minutes later and a brief explanation of why me and the kids didn’t have real passports and we were back on the road.  Annoyed, but in good spirits.

Then we came to another small village and had a repeat of the first part.  They took our documents.  Then the unformed dude and our documents got on a motorcycle, he turned around and motioned to our driver to follow him…and they drove away!  Our driver, not wanting to be at their complete mercy stopped following when they turned off the main highway.  We sat there for ten minutes, waiting.  Finally, the uniformed man came back and said they had to sort our paperwork out and our documents were at the office and we needed to go.  Our driver said he would go, but just him, so they took off on a different motorcycle after he parked the truck off the road in some shade.

We looked around at the people, who were stopping and staring and not-so-quietly whispering about the strange truck filled with supplies and women and children who were obviously out-of-towners.  We spoke with some of them who were brave enough to ask.  The children stared at Amelia’s light blonde hair.  We bought some cookies at the road side stand next to our parked truck.  We waited.  Our driver’s phone had stayed in the car.  I called Matthew, who had our office guys work with immigration in the city get me a contact that I could call directly, which came in handy later.  The Rices called their friend, who speaks several local languages and knows the culture very well, for advice and tips.  And then we waited.  Poor Nancy got several offers of marriage.  Finally, a gentlemen with one of the local cell phone companies offered that we could have a cold drink at his restaurant just above where our truck was parked.  Kathy took the kids while Nancy and I stayed with the truck (we could still see each other, it was just up the hill).

Finally, Jean returned and said, indeed we would all go to the office and talk it out there.  But, first, culture prevails and Nancy and I joined everyone else for cold drinks.  They were truly offered and the guy wouldn’t take any money.  What!?  Unheard of, especially here.

We got back in the truck, waved goodbye to our crowd of new friends, and, with the uniformed man scrunched in the front seat with me, took off toward the office.  I was ushered in to the main reception (one of two cement rooms, with window openings and a doorway).  They talked around me, asking only a few questions, which I answered no problem.  But, I was able to interject that I had someone at the immigration that I could call, which I did, and handed my phone over and the guy took it and walked away.  Thankfully, Nancy was on his heels so that my phone didn’t disappear.

Then I was ushered into the other office, where the chief was waiting.  He smiled and looked unfazed.  Meanwhile, I had been waiting for over two hours and the sun was beginning to set while we still had at least four hours of driving left.  But I smiled anyway…why not?  He asked the same basic questions about my passport.  Then he said okay, thank you and we left.  Talk about a face palm.  Apparently 2000 congolese francs changed hands between our driver and someone.  Around $2.  Someone familiar with the system here would know that something like this usually costs much more.  Wow.

We did have one more stop, but we refused to hand over our papers and there was a lot more yelling and pleading, but we finally got through and drove away from the setting sun.  We turned off the main highway and began the last part of the drive on a sand road – think sand dunes.  It was quite entertaining, especially when one lane had to be shared and the sand was deep.  It was pitch black – no light.  We saw some owls and some very large fruit bats in our headlights, which was very awesome.  Thankfully, the kids fell asleep.  We pulled into Vanga and surprised the Potters around 10pm.

It was quite the surprise!  We slept very well at their house and had a very fun few days of relaxing and seeing bits of the village.  We swam (and washed our hair) in the river – the hippos weren’t around, yay.  We went to church.  The kids played with Legos.  We ate great food and helped in bits and pieces as we could.

Waiting at the place with a fellow MAF kid who happened to be arriving in Vanga to spend the night with her family.

Waiting at the place with a fellow MAF kid who happened to be arriving in Vanga to spend the night with her family.

Tuesday morning it was time to go and we said goodbye until next time.  They will come in to the city around every three months for supplies, so it won’t be too long.  It was so great to reconnect, even though it hadn’t been that long, much life had been lived as that seems to happen when you move to a new place…especially one as new as Congo.

Oh, and we brought home two birds and a goat.

The guys that helped us get our new animals to bring home on the airplane - a rooster, a chicken, and a goat.

The guys that helped us get our new animals to bring home on the airplane – a rooster, a chicken, and a goat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Judy Pankow permalink
    August 20, 2015 0829

    Oh Lisa, what an adventure! You are so brave! You know God is traveling with you, but…..
    I’m just glad you all are safe and had fun reuniting with your friends

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