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Description [Blank] -or- How to Cook

June 6, 2017

Tonight we were having dinner with a family recently returned from furlough.  They had traveled around the US and their home country in Europe, spending time with supporters and churches and friends and family over the past six weeks.  So I asked them, “How do you describe life here?”  And then we all groaned.  Because the one thing that anyone who has lived here longer than a few weeks can tell you…you can’t.

One simply cannot describe how life is here.  The highs or the lows.  It’s easy to try to spell out the woes of life, but Kinshasa life itself isn’t all bad.  We all tend to talk about life from the perspective of its challenges and how to overcome them.  It is this very thing on which history is built.  So, to try and describe life here comes down to the details.

Our guest told a story of how they hosted someone from a Western country who had come to visit their ministry (they are not with MAF, not that it matters to this story) for three days.  He was telling it this way: “They came for 72 hours and not once did the power shut off or we run out of water.  There wasn’t even a good traffic jam or police stop!  He didn’t get a real taste of what life here is and then told me I had exaggerated the difficulties!”  He wasn’t mad when we he was telling us this, but confounded!  How can we be accurate in our telling without sounding like we are whining?  How can we explain unless someone experiences this for themselves.  Mostly, we cannot.

It is important to try, though.  We must try and describe our daily lives to you all because you are the reason we are here.  Well, no, God is.  But, then, God uses you all to allow us to actually, logistically live here.  By praying and giving financially we are here, the rest is by the grace of God.  So we, missionaries in Congo, try to help you understand to what you are giving.

The best way I can think of is to try and describe a normal process.  How about pancakes?  A classic breakfast, easy enough to prepare.  Let’s go.

Step 1:  Flour.  Is it sifted and free of ants and other creepy things?  It’s very moist, so use slightly less!  Wipe the dust out of the bowl.  Not that it has say long, just since yesterday, but it is very dusty here.

Step 2:  Baking powder.  Easy enough.  Oh, wait, it clumped again…grind it out.

Step 3:  Salt.  Hang on…I found the ants behind the salt, they found a bit of spilled something.  Argh.  Pause breakfast, set ant traps from the borax/sugar mixture.

Step 4:  Eggs.  Break into bowl to check for rotten-ness.  Yes, this is a good practice no matter where you live, but I can assure you, especially if you buy your eggs from an unknown source, rotten ones are far more likely here.

Step 5:  Sugar.  Just a sprinkle.  Oh, it clumped from humidity.  Oh, and the ants.  So many ants.  Pick ants out of sugar…close enough!  Yay for extra protein!

Step 6:  Milk.  Find milk powder, measuring cup, filtered water…oh I forgot to refill the filter last night and I used all the water for my coffee this morning.  Refill gravity filter and wait.

*Twenty minutes later*

Back to the milk.  Whisk.

Get out pans to begin getting them to temperature (I use cast iron because somehow the pancakes taste better) and set them on the stove.

And the power just went out.

I happen to have a gas stove, so I can light it with matches, no big deal.  Find matches.  Go through three before one doesn’t break.  Because quality means something else here.

Get pans going, finish stirring, adding a bit of water for the right consistency.

Step 7:  Look over to find the flame has gone out.  The gas has run out.  Thankfully, I always have a spare bottle.  A bottle lasts our family a month.  We have a gas oven and stove.  The gas is not always available and the cost has risen by 20% since January.  Send husband outside to swap bottles.  This only takes two minutes, thank goodness Matthew is home!

Step 8:  Restart fire and find butter for the pans.  Oh, the house helper who is welcome to use the butter for his bread for breakfast, used the last and I need to get more out.  Of the freezer.  Spend a minute sawing the frozen butter…  Back to the batter…oh man, a fly has flown in and stuck to the top.  Ew.

Step 9:  Begin flipping pancakes…

You get the idea.  And there is no syrup unless you made it with maple flavoring.  We like jam on ours.  Sometimes peanut butter if our friends, the Rices from Vanga, are staying with us.

And just like that, we’ve come back around to the fact that normal life carries on and I can’t explain to you why life is difficult.  But if you had to prepare three meals a day like this, perhaps then you would understand?  And if it’s almost 100F in high humidity.  There is only rare, very expensive takeout.  On missionary salaries.  And, in case you’re about to ask, I have indeed have all of these things happen during one cooking session.  More than once, actually.  And more…I didn’t mention the very normal thing of children interrupting every five minutes…where is Piper???

It’s always an adventure.  And it’s tiring.  And it’s challenging.  And it’s fulfilling.  And it’s inexplicable.  And it never stays the same…

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