Monday, June 30, 2008

Kinshasa-Leaving

The wedding nail polish and bug bite scars are almost gone, but I’m not finished yet! My Congo adventures didn’t end with the wedding. My relatives were leaving the next day, but I had a flight out a few days later.

When we were reserving the tickets, I wanted to fly AirFrance because there would just be one stop, in Paris. Flying with another airline would mean having a long layover, possibly overnight, or simply changing planes 3-4 times. I decided that I would rather spend a few extra nights in Kinshasa than spend the night somewhere in Europe by myself.

Now that the wedding was over, however, and my parents were leaving, and my tonsils were becoming more inflamed with every hour, I wasn’t so eager to be stuck in Africa. However, maybe I would have been too sick to fly that first day and it was actually a blessing in disguise.

After my parents had been picked up for their evening flight and I had had dinner with my uncle (leaving the next morning), I tried to boil some water to gargle with. Unfortunately, the tea kettle was the wrong voltage, and I melted the power strip. This meant that I wouldn’t be able to plug in the laptop that my brother had left for me, so I only had 4-5 hours of battery life to work with.

I got on the Internet and reconnected with some people, so that made me feel better. Then my brother called to say that Hortense had to go to her university the next day, so he was free to hang out.

After spending a few hours on the Internet catching up with things, I took a hot bath in the luxurious tub (I had been switched to another hotel closer to downtown), and then got in bed. I made the pleasant discovery that the air conditioner had a remote control, so I would be able to adjust the temperature without getting up. However, I couldn’t figure out if I was hot or cold. I think that I probably had a fever at this point. I turned the air conditioner off. No, I was hot. Turned it on. No, I was cold. Back and forth, all night.

In the morning, after my uncle left, I checked out of the hotel and was picked up to go hang out at my brother’s office. They showed me a desk where I could use the Internet. After a few hours, my brother came to pick me up and we got milkshakes before he took me to the home of some missionaries, where I would spend my last night.

The missionaries lived on a school compound. There were kids who lived in the dormitory and also other neighbors constantly dropping by. I finally got to boil some water to gargle with. I slept a little better that night.

In the morning, I got ready to go to the airport for early check-in. Before I left, my hostess asked if I needed anything. “I think I need to see a doctor,” I said. She got on the phone with a doctor and described my symptoms, and he prescribed an antibiotic. They recommended starting the course immediately, even without an examination, because it could get worse on the plane and the antibiotics would mean I wouldn’t be contagious. Normally I wouldn’t take antibiotics “just in case,” but I just wanted to get back to Russia alive.

My airport man came to pick me up, and it was the same Seraphin with the gold glasses. I wondered what check-in involved that I needed a guard. Seraphin had also been told that I needed to stop at the drugstore for antibiotics. Check-in was interesting. In the first few steps everything was hand-written, which made me nervous. Seraphin had told me he would wait outside because he wasn’t allowed to go in. While I was waiting in line, his friend (who had also been in the car with us) walked by. Then Seraphin himself squeezed past and into the check-in area. I wondered if he was doing anything related to my case or if he was just staking out the area in general. Then he walked by me again, towards the exit. “It’s okay,” he said, flashing a smile. Why wouldn’t it be?

Everything seemed fine until I got up to the registration desk. They put a label on my bag, but didn’t give me a boarding pass. And they only spoke French. I was not leaving without a boarding pass! “Ou est le boarding-pass?” I asked several times. And they answered me in French. Finally I figured out that the printers weren’t working and I would have to get the boarding pass later that evening, at the airport. The check-in place is in a different location from the airport. So I had to say goodbye to my suitcase and just hope that everything would work out. When I got outside, I told Seraphin what had happened and he confirmed that I would get the boarding pass at the airport later.

After stopping at the drugstore to pick up antibiotics, Seraphin and his driver took me back to the missionaries’ house. I still had several hours until my flight, so I had lunch, took various medications, and konked out on the couch.

Eventually I got up and joined my hosts and some guests at the table, where people were snacking. Valerie Shepard and her youngest daughter were among the guests. It turned out that the Shepard's were on my flight that evening. They were finished with their assignment in Congo. My introduction to the Congo had been their farewell.

It felt surreal to be sitting across the table from Valerie Shepard. Just weeks earlier, I had been rereading "The Savage My Kinsman," which includes photos of Valerie as a little girl, with her missionary mother in the Ecuadorian jungle. And here she was in Africa, serving with her husband and three of her children, passing on the missions legacy.

Their car came earlier than mine, and they said teary goodbyes to everyone and left. Then the other missionaries remained around the table, thoughtfully reflecting on how the Shepard's had helped revive the International Church and been an example to others in the missions community.

Then it was my turn to leave. But for me it wasn't so teary. Of course something in the Congo had touched my heart, but it was time to go back to Russia.

I got into the car and there were not one, not two, but four Congolese men accompanying me. I had my own special army of "angels!" It made me wonder how complicated things were going to be in the airport if we needed so many people.

We let one guy out along the way to the airport, apparently he wasn't going with us. Seraphin and henchman #1 came into the airport with me, while the driver stayed with the car. First was some kind of check-in and getting boarding passes. Seraphin instructed me to give my passport to the first agent. Then I had to move down a line while my passport got passed along to the different agents. It made me a bit nervous not knowing who was actually holding my passport at a given moment.

Finally, I had my boarding passes, and henchman #1 filled out my departure card. Then we headed into the control area. There were lines going straight through to an inspector and other lines where you had to stop at a booth and answer questions. Seraphin put me in the express line. Then he wrote down his phone number for me to call him in case something happened, as he couldn't pass beyond a certain point. I took the number, not telling him that I had no phone with which to call him.

When I reached the inspector, he said "You have no stamp!" and told me to go back to the beginning and this time go through the slow line, getting the stamp from the guy in the booth. Suddenly Seraphin showed up and hurried me along, saying, "No, there are too many people!" And he took off back through the airport, with henchman #1 and me following. This twist suddenly made me wonder if I would make my flight. I decided not to look at the clock.


Seraphin led us outside and into the parking lot, and then we entered another passport control area. This one was VIP. Henchman #2 took my documents, said something to the officer, and then they told me to go and wait in the lounge. I didn't really want to leave my documents, but I had no choice. Right outside the lounge was the tarmac. Seraphin came into the lounge and said everything was "okay" and then disappeared again. My flight was leaving soon and I had neither passport nor boarding pass. Nor telephone.

Finally henchman #2 came out and handed me my passport and boarding pass, both of which had been stamped. I wondered how they had handled the negotiations. Then Seraphin came out one more time. He told me to be very attentive about the boarding calls (which are practically non-existent). The key was to listen for AirFrance and not Brussels. So I hurried over to the door as soon as I heard something related to AirFrance.

Before we got on the plane there was a security check out on the tarmac. They were checking bags and then frisking people with wands. The bags got placed on the ground behind the tables, and you couldn't retrieve them until you got frisked. But the frisking took longer than the bag-checking, so your bag lay abandoned on the ground until you got there.

I got on the plane and was reunited with the Shepard's, who were sitting across from me. The flight wasn't as empty as I had hoped.

My flight from Paris to St.Petersburg was late, and as soon as I got off the plane in St.Petersburg, my ride called to see where I was. I told him I had just gotten off the plane and still needed to go through passport control and collect my baggage. "How long will that take? 20 minutes?" he asked. "Umm, sure," I said, trying to sound optimistic and pushing thoughts of a 2-hr passport control-line out of my head. But as it turned out, a miracle happened and I was already outside in 30 minutes, baggage and all.

Then I headed out into the bright sunshine of a June evening in St.Petersburg.

The end.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Interpret this

I couldn't fall asleep again. I tried wearing an eyemask, which had helped before, but it felt like there was too much pressure on my nose, and I didn't want to have another nosebleed. I wonder what would happen if I just took a handkerchief and blindfolded myself. Would that be a suffocation hazard?

When I fell asleep, I had a nightmare about a tsunami hitting St.Petersburg (don't laugh!). I was standing near the gulf of Finland and suddenly from the city came this wall of water. I was stuck between a huge wall of water and the gulf; there was nowhere to go; I had to swim. I tried diving into the biggest waves as I was taught, but there was so much water that it felt like it would never end. I left the water tumble over me, and somehow I didn't drown. Then I found myself in an emergency shelter. They had ordered everyone into shelters in case of aftermath from the tsunami, but being Russians, everyone was disobeying and escaping from the shelters. They were calling the tsunami a monsoon for some reason.

A few days later I was riding in a bus and there was a crowd of policemen standing around a pile of dead policemen, who had been killed by the tsunami. They had gathered around one body and were having an impromptu funeral. All the policemen were wearing dark blue uniforms.

These dreams are coming from someone who does not watch television!

I've been having a lot of dreams about suffocating and drowning lately, maybe I sleep with too many pillows?

A trip to the doughnut shop

A few days ago my friend Lida and I were tired and hungry after doing some errands, so we decided to get some doughnuts. So we stopped by one of the ancient shops where they sell "pishki," the fairly greasy, airy doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar.


Basically, the only thing on the menu is doughnuts (and beverages). Everyone orders a plate for himself. I remember the first time I went there, while studying abroad. Our professor instructed us to say "5 piyshek" (that's the genitive plural, which you use for quantities from 5-20 and other numbers that don't end in a one).









Lida and I were a little more modest and only ordered 3 each, which went down fast. Here Lida demonstrates how you grasp the doughnut using a scrap of paper to keep your fingers clean (and absorb some of the grease).




Mmmm!










Here's our pile of paper afterwards:








And here's what the room looks like. The room used to be full of those tall tables without chairs and there didn't used to be chairs for sitting down. You were supposed to eat your doughnuts quickly and then leave. We found a table where we could sit down, but we had to share it. In Russia (and probably other European countries), it's common practice to share a table with strangers if there are empty seats, rather than standing and waiting for them to leave. It's a little strange, but it makes sense.







Lest you think that last doughnut was abandoned, don't worry, we took care of it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Six months

Six months until Christmas. And before that, Advent. I say this not to throw anyone into a panic, but because I like to think of ways to celebrate, far in advance when I don't have to actually do any work yet and can just fantasize.

Also, in one month I will be back in the States, and I will want to gather some special Advent materials that I can't get here, like Advent calendars, nativity sets, etc. And I wanted to do a little research so that if I need to make an order I'll have plenty of time for it to be delivered.

Maybe some of you have kids or teach Sunday school and know where these things can be purchased. Or maybe you're a fan of homemade decorations. I am too, but I would like to at least have patterns, instructions, supplies lists, etc. I know that there is a lot on the Internet, but it's so tedious going through it all and downloading what I need. I would much rather have a hard copy of the instructions, if I'm going to make something myself!

Input appreciated!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Always on time

Recently I was riding to the office in the metro. My cell phone was ringing, but I didn't answer it because it's very noisy in the metro and I didn't have good coverage. But I made a note of who had called, and planned to call her back.

I had to change lines, and as I was on the escalator, I thought,
"Should I call her now?" I decided to wait until I was out of the metro and could hear better.

When I got to my destination, I stepped out of the metro car and thought, "I have to call my friend." Just then, she walked right by me, and I called her name. "I called you," she said. "I know," I said. Neither of us had known that the other would be at that particular metro station. "What did you need?" I asked. "I just needed to talk," she said, tears welling up. We could have talked by phone, but it's much better in person!

The city doesn't seem that big to me after all this time, but I still marvel when I meet a friend unexpectedly. It reminds me that God sees all and orchestrates everything in His timing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday morning

I left later than intended this morning, and when I got to the metro, there were long lines, and I happened to not have any tokens. I thought, what is it about Monday morning that everyone's metro trips have run out?

Then some paramedics shouted "coming through" and walked through carrying a dead body. At least, I think she was dead. I've never seen a dead person up close before, but it looked like what I imagined a dead person to look like. First I saw the legs, which were spotted, and then the face, which was white, with the eyes and mouth open.

When I got to my destination I was walking down the final block and there was a guy passed out on the sidewalk. There was a police car there, but no ambulance. Maybe he was just drunk.

That is how my day began.

Library

I decided to check out different programs for cataloging personal book collections. One site is Librarything. It looks like it has some nice features. You type in the ISBN or other search info and it finds a profile for the book and adds it to your online collection.

Unfortunately, the first few books I checked were a bit non-traditional and I couldn't find them. One was printed by a small Christian publishing house and the other was printed in Russia but translated from an American title. I had the ISBN, but couldn't get any results. When I tried better-known authors like James Dobson, I did get results. But I'm not sure if it's worth the time if half the books aren't in the system.

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kinshasa- Church ceremony

On the morning of my brother's wedding, I woke up and decided to check out my sore throat in the mirror. Since developing a chronic sore throat last summer, I had become familiar with what my throat generally looked like. Before that, I wouldn’t have known where my tonsils were or what color they were supposed to be.

Yikes, my tonsils had gotten huge! Problem! I medicated throughout the day by taking aspirin and gargling. There wasn't much else I could do at that point.

We got to the hotel in the afternoon where the bride and her mother were getting ready. I thought it would be a bunch of chattering women, but it was just the bride getting her hair done and her mother hanging out nearby.



On the floor there were three baskets with flower petals. Who were those for? One was for the flower girl. Two were for the first two bridesmaids. Which meant-me. Ummm, we didn't practice that. I had absolutely no flower-scattering experience, and when practicing the "march" certainly hadn't factored in the weight of a basket into holding my balance. Panic!

The flower girl got dropped off. She was a teeny little tyke with a perfect outfit and hairdo and no hint of a smile. She sat totally expressionless and likely petrified, engrossed in the tv.



Soon after, the other bridesmaids arrived. They had had costume problems, and my mom stitched them up.

Then they went out to the cars while the finishing touches were being put on the bride.




We left a little late, but not too bad. There weren’t enough seats in the other car, so I ended up in the front seat of the bridal car. My mom, the bride, and the mother of the bride were in back. We were all a bit nervous, and I suggested that we sing a song to try to calm down. So we sang something silly, in English and then French, and then we were already pulling into the church parking lot.


When the car pulled up, there was this dilemma because everyone was waiting for the bride to get out, but I had to get out too. And we had pulled up right onto the red carpet. So the best man helped the bride get out first. Then I got out, although I felt like I ruined the shot.




Meanwhile, the rings had been left at the hotel and Hortense's mom had to go back for them. Luckily, the hotel wasn't that far away.

When all the wedding party was there, we lined up and got ready to process.

After the moms were seated, the music changed and it was my turn. I was the first of four bridesmaids. The coordinator said, “take a minute to find your step and then go.” I think I was looking for “my step” halfway up the aisle! The song was very slow in the beginning, with no beat. I had mastered the step, but the petal-disbursing completely threw me off balance!

After a few minutes, the other bridesmaids followed and then the bride. I knew because I could hear the cheering (an African wedding is not a silent affair). Then I relaxed because I knew the attention wasn't on me.





At the end of aisle, we took our places and turned to watch the bride process with her father. He took her hand and put it in my brother's hand.






After the greeting, we sat down and everyone began to sing a hymn, I Surrender All. I liked being in the wedding party and getting a front-row view of everything going on. The photographers were pretty aggressive and got in the way, but I could still see most of it.

The pastor who officiated was Walt Shepard, married to Valerie Shepard, daughter of Elisabeth Elliot. They had been serving in Kinshasa for a few years, helping run this church, which has an outreach to missionaries and other ex-pats, as well as local Christians. I'd heard a lot about Valerie and it was interesting that her husband had gotten to know my brother and counseled him through the courtship and wedding preparations.






Helping Walt and translating into French was "Uncle" Martin, a doctor and devoted believer who also mentored my brother. He had been the one to speak for Nate at the family negotiations.








The service was long with the translating, but it wasn't boring.




After the vows and rings, some soloists began to sing, "We come rejoicing." I could feel tears starting to well up, which was embarrassing since I was standing very close to the bride and groom. I didn't want anyone to see me crying during the most joyful moment!

The customary photo session followed...





At the reception, it turned out that my sister and I weren't done with our bridesmaids "duties," although we didn't know what was supposed to happen. When the newlyweds were ready to make their appearance, we were suddenly summoned to the gate where the car was waiting. Then people told us in French to line up once more facing the groomsmen. A song started and being the first bridesmaid, I was told to "advance." But I didn't know where to advance to! So I started walking forward slowly in time to this song that I didn't know, with floodlights and cameras pointed at me. It turned out that I totally messed it up, but hopefully we can just edit that part out of the wedding video!

Then the newlyweds were already there, also walking in time to the music, and everyone was cheering. The bridesmaid behind me was yelling at me in French to keep up with groomsmen, who were opposite us. Then there was more cheering, clapping, and photography. Finally I escaped to my seat.

Later, there was dinner, special dances with our two families, general dancing, and a present "assembly line" involving my sister and me and some other members of the wedding party. There were also speeches made by friends of the bride and groom.



The reception was our farewell to these people since my family was leaving the next day and I would be transferred to another hotel for a few days.

I went over and kissed Maman and Papan Mpunga as I left. We were family now, as they had said.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Visiting

Yesterday I went to visit Nastia's birth mother in the hospital. The last time I was there was last August.


I brought photos of Nastia's daughter, now one year old.

Lena immediately started calling all her roommates and other friends in so she could show off the photos. Everyone said that Angelica looks more like her Latino father than her Russian mother!



Sveta (left) was blind in both eyes the last time we visited. After having an operation, she can now see out of one eye. She's due to have surgery on the other eye soon, but she has a bad heart, so it's a risky procedure.


Sveta called her "husband" in to take a look. He looked at about two photos and then shut the album and got up to leave. The women were shocked that he didn't want to look at a million photos of this darling little girl!



This is Yulia (left), another friend of ours:


Lena kissing the photo of her grandchild:



She would love to meet her in real life. Hopefully that will happen when Angelica is a little older.





Comparisons

It’s always interesting comparing Russian and English translations of the Bible. Sometimes one or the other is more accurate. Often both fall short of expressing the full essence of a word, so it can be helpful to add the Russian translation to my understanding of a passage. It enriches the meaning. Of course at times it’s also just confusing, especially since I use the NIV in English and the Russian Synodal Version, which are from two completely different time periods…

My latest encounter with this was in last Sunday’s church sermon about the Holy Spirit. The title for the Holy Spirit being discussed here was Paraclete. The NIV Bible says “counselor” and the Russian Bible says “comforter.”

If I had been familiar with the KJV, I would have known that the word used there is “comforter,” like in the Russian. Or if I had looked into a more modern Russian translation, I would have seen that the word used there is “defender” or “intercessor.” But, I didn’t know that until I got home and looked it up.

I used to find it very confusing that the Russian Bible uses “comforter” while the NIV uses “counselor.” They seem to me very different words, which create totally different pictures in my mind. A comforter comes and hugs and wipes tears; a counselor sits and listens to your side of the story and then gives advice. I suppose one person can do both, yet they are still slightly different tasks…

What I mean to say is that if a person (like me, with no seminary degree) has an understanding of the Holy Spirit (when named as the Paraclete) as ONLY a comforter or ONLY a counselor, he will be missing out.

As explained in the sermon (and in any good Greek contextual dictionary), the Paraclete can refer to an intercessor, an advocate (as in court), a consoler, a comforter, a counselor, a defender. I like the word “helper” as an all-consuming word, but no one asked me. J

Yet another reason to learn NT Greek…

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thoughts before sleep

A few nights ago while trying to fall asleep, I began to meditate on the words of the song "Refiner's Fire." I chose it because I wanted to rid my mind of the unneeded baggage of the day and just be ready to start fresh in the morning.

Purify my heart,
let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart,
let me be as gold, pure gold.

Refiner's fire,
my heart's one desire
is to be…holy;
set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be…holy;
set apart for You,
my Master,
ready to do Your will.

Purify my heart,
cleanse me from within
and make me holy.
Purify my heart,
cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

But as I was thinking about the words, I realized that it's not the gentle song that it seems at first. By the melody it's soothing, but I don' t know if going through a refining fire is so easy. Surely it's hard, although the prospect of becoming pure and holy is comforting.

It's like that song, "take me into the Holy of Holies....take the coal, cleanse my lips, here I am." Also sung to a slow tempo, but...Ouch! Getting touched with a hot coal? There are a lot of worship songs that have a pretty weak meaning, but here are two that are the opposite: they sound slow and gentle, but have some words that are quite powerful if put into practice. Be careful what you pray/sing about!

Thankfully, the promises outweigh the painful processes that we might have to endure.

I did get to sleep a little earlier that night.


P.S. I didn't bother to look up authors of these songs. Sorry!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

F.Y.I.

If you're a guest or haven't been here for awhile, I'm finishing up a series about my recent trip to Kinshasa in the D.R.Congo.

I've added a labels list to the side panel and I'm trying to go back and label some old posts so it's easier to track certain topics.

Civil Ceremony

The civil ceremony wasn’t that unusual for me since they have them in Russia too, but I hadn’t actually witnessed one, so it was interesting to see the mystery solved.

When we got to city hall, we waited around outside for the bride to get there and for my brother to do some negotiations. I found it extremely frustrating that after ordering some kind of service and being promised something, there was still negotiating to be done. My brother had to bring a chair to round out their office furniture and a bottle of wine. As in the airport confusion, it all seemed like a game: collect certain points, pay certain fees, go backwards and forwards...

Photography was part of the game. I really wanted to start taking photos of the scenery and the family members gathered, but there were policemen about and I didn’t want to cause trouble…not until after the wedding, anyway! But Hortense’s brother and cousin started filming, so I joined in.




Finally we were all called to go into the room where the ceremony would be held. At the last minute we were told to line up by two’s. My sister and I lined up together, but it turned out we were supposed to be boy-girl, so we had to switch.


We were led into a room where three stern-looking women were officiating. The ceremony was in French and I could understand the obvious parts like the vows and the exchanging of the rings. Then the lady in the center asked how many children they wanted, and started reading some long articles about marriage. I’m not sure what that was about.



After the bride and groom and the witnesses had signed the papers and the ceremony had concluded, there were the congratulations and the photos of different combinations of people. As we were leaving, the bride and groom took their rings off and put them back in the box….there was still one ceremony left!


To be continued...

Still light

It's 10 pm and this is what it looks like outside:








Eleven.






Midnight. I don't think the White Nights will ever cease to amaze me!





Goodnight.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Insomnia and nosebleeds

Unfortunately, when Sunday ended at midnight, everything went downhill.

I was once again struck by the insomnia I’ve had since Africa. I don’t know if it’s jet-lag, health problems, stress, or something else.

I lay awake for about an hour. Suddenly my nose felt funny, but I didn’t have a cold, and I couldn’t remember if I had just been crying or not. I didn’t want to get up because then I would probably lose the sleepiness completely. But something felt wrong. I got up and checked and I had a nosebleed. Have I mentioned I’m squeamish?

After it stopped, I gave up on sleeping and went to sit in the kitchen, searching my old journal for entries about sleepless nights. There are plenty of them from high school and college days. I always liked the solitude of being the only one still awake, but I despaired over not getting enough sleep. There was nothing profound to note, other than the fact that I had always made it through the next day.

I went back to bed and tried to arrange the pillows so that they blocked the June light streaming in but wouldn’t retrigger the nosebleed.

Morning came too soon. When I met with the Lord, He began to give me answers, but not to the questions that I had been asking and thought were most important.

Why is life so confusing?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kinshasa-the work

I can’t write about Congo without mentioning my brother’s work there in micro-finance. I'm not an expert in this, so bear with me if my explanation is less than adequate!

We went with Nate one day to witness a loan distribution. The people receiving loans are trained in groups. There were probably about 30-40 people on this particular day. Some of them had already received a loan, paid it back, and were approved again for a loan. Others were receiving a loan for the first time.



In this picture you can see only women, but there was a group of men off to the side:



At first I felt a little too much like an American tourist being in that room. There we were in our Western clothing with our cameras, watching everything going on. We were introduced as guests of honor, being Nate’s relatives. I didn't particularly feel like I deserved any kind of attention or honor. But I realized that it actually was special for them that we had come a long way to see them, and I also think that they appreciated the fact that we cared about Nate enough to come visit him in Africa.


My brother had my dad give out the first loan. Elders such as fathers and uncles are highly respected there, so this was significant to be handed a loan by my father, not just because he was an American guest, but because he was the head of a family.




Here's an older picture of a client putting her loan to use. This sewing machine will make her work more productive!



We were told that most of the Congolese live in the more village-type conditions that we saw at the loan distribution that day, not in the modern city facilities. It was pretty hard for me to get a sense of what the lifestyle is like. It felt like when I was in a Missions trip in Mexico and we lived on a base and drove into the slums each day. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the living conditions are rough, but you still can’t really get the full picture as a visitor. You can’t even really do a lot to help because without experiencing the conditions, it's difficult to understand what the needs actually are.

It wasn’t the loan distribution itself that was amazing but the amount of work and coordination that had gone into making it happen. It was different from just making a donation. First they find clients and build relationships with them, design and run training programs, manage staff who take care of all these clients, deal with all the money that's coming in and out, distribute the loans, etc. And this is all based on a Biblical business ethics model. Though the DRC is primarily Christian, there is a lot of corruption, and people are often forced to comply by paying bribes. So the goal here is to help people earn an honest living! The prayers and hymns of thanksgiving at the loan distributions are a testimony to the efforts of keeping the work Christ-centered.

Still more events to come...

One Sunday

What a day! There were a lot of reasons to celebrate.


First of all, we observed Pentecost today. Our worship service was dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the role that He plays in our lives.

Secondly, we closed the Sunday school season with performances by the kids. There were poetry readings, skits, and dancing.

I just about died from the cuteness when these two little bees made their appearance (the one on the left is asking for the microphone so she can say her poem).






Next, the reason I ended my wedding post with "To be continued" is that today at church we also had....an engagement! Although Lida and Victor hadn't made their relationship public yet, they had both been seeking wise counsel. Before we prayed for them, the pastor encouraged the church to be attentive from now on and offer support. They're not planning a wedding yet, but they wanted to take this step in front of the church.



My next activity wasn't really a reason for celebrating; after church I took my friend Olya to the train station. At least she has a chance to go home for a break and to see her family.



Bon Voyage!


And last, but not least, Happy Father's Day to my dear dad! If I were home, I would take you out to lunch! I extend those congratulations to my grandfathers and uncles as well, and to any other fathers reading this post!


It's only 9 pm. What other news does this day hold? :)



Friday, June 13, 2008

What day is it?

I was just getting into a regime after Africa when the Russian officials decided to mess with the calendar again.


Last Saturday was a working day because this Thursday (yesterday) is a holiday and they wanted to have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday be a long weekend. So we worked last Saturday instead of this Friday. Got it? Then today I went to a wedding, which was weird because it was on a Friday.


But I have to admit, I'm glad it's only Friday.


In other news, I brought back some African maracas from the artisan shop we visited in Congo, and gave them to my Russian friends.


We tried them out at worship practice.

Good times.

Weddings around the world

Guess what I did today?




No, that's not me getting married, that's my friends Zhanna and Artyom from church.

Here's my Bible study pictured together with the newlyweds:



Meanwhile, on the same day my brother was getting married in Africa, my old college roommate (and birthday twin) Christine got married as well in the States. Congrats!




To be continued!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kinshasa-People

My Africa posts are getting rather drawn-out, so I am going to cover a lot in this one.



When we weren't doing wedding-related activities, we were becoming acquainted with various aspects of Nate's life in Kinshasa, as well as the people that are special to him.



Since my mom is interested in children and art, and had left some art supplies there from a previous trip, we hosted a little art class for the children of some of Nate's co-workers.



Once again it reminded me of my short-term trips to Russia, where we had also done art with children. At the beginning we didn't even have an interpreter, so my mom was using her French and I was using mine. I could basically say the names of the colors and ask the kids which paper or ink they wanted.









In the beginning, the kids were shy and hesitant to begin making something. By the end they were enthusiastic and creating chaos! Many different personalities had emerged: some kids were mass-producing small works of art; others were slow and meticulous. Some children had stopped printing and resorted to simply coloring, including drawing portraits for us to keep. Some were eager to please; others were testing the boundaries! Some were proud of their work; others pouted and threw tantrums.





There was one little girl in the beginning who didn't seem interested at all. For about 3/4 of the lesson she stood in the corner. As all the other kids got started, she continued to stand there, expressionless. Then she went over the pattern table and began to cut. Most kids had cut out one shape, but she had a huge pile of small intricate shapes, which she brought over to me to be printed. As I went over to get something, she followed me and extended a little hand to brush my arm, not wanting to be left alone. Then I realized that she wasn't disinterested at all, just shy! And I felt the love for her that I do for all children, sooner or later.


By the end we were tired, but it was sad to see them go. They were a fun bunch!




These children hadn't been orphans, but we knew there were orphans in Kinshasa. We met a well-known Congolese artist later in the week who gave a demonstration of his work and expressed his desire for wanting to do art with orphaned children. We were able to leave our extra supplies with him.







Then we went to visit the shop where some of his work was sold. The store was set up by missionaries so that the artists could sell their work in a fair-trade environment.







We also met some co-workers of Nate's, at the various wedding events and also throughout the week. One day a few ladies came to meet us in the hotel. They had met my mom during her previous trip and were excited to meet the rest of us. They had made clothes for all of us. I gave them each matrioshka dolls and it was fun watching them open them and shriek over the progressively smaller dolls inside.





We spent some more time with Hortense's family as well. By now it was more relaxed. My mom presented Hortense and Nate with a hand-made guest book for the wedding reception. She had made a box for the book which included photos of both hometowns, each of them in childhood, and finally photos of them together. Hortense's family was touched and enjoyed looking at it.






To be continued...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kinshasa-Wedding #1

On our first weekend in the Congo, we attended the first of three ceremonies that made up my brother's wedding.


We used to wonder which sibling would get married first and what it would be like for us to be all grown-up, and what our behavior would be like at the wedding. We certainly didn't expect the first wedding to take place in Africa!


When Nate first invited us to travel to Congo for the event, he described this cultural ceremony as my younger brothers carrying in the goats that would be part of the bride-price. That sounded pretty interesting and was not something that I wanted to miss.


I felt fairly calm and relaxed before the cultural ceremony. I knew that the preparations had taken a lot of work, but the hard parts were over. My brother had gotten to know his future in-laws and had made his intentions clear. He had followed their traditions as closely as possible, including going through the engagement ceremony which had consisted of long speeches by representatives of both sides negotiating the couple's future. The bride's parents are Christians and asked for a reasonable bride-price, their goal not being to ask more than Nate could afford, which sometimes happens to young Congolese men.


I think my sister would agree with me that one of the more complicated parts for us as guests was our clothing! We had all had outfits made from matching material, as is the custom, and this was definitely unusual for us!







Since this was the final step, it was up to the bride's family to receive all the guests (200+), check the payment for the bride to see if it was all there, reveal the bride to her groom, and then feed everyone.


All we had to do was sit back and "do as we were told" (in my dad's words).


So we watched as my brother processed to his place, accompanied by the bride's friends who laid down some clothes for him like a red carpet.






Then we were invited into the house and had the final "face-off" with the bride's family, while Nate's representative, Uncle Martin, revealed the items that were being presented. Part of the price was a certain amount of cash, which was counted and then given to the bride once she had entered the room.


The bride then walked across the room and gave the envelope to her father. I was told that this meant everything was in order and the price was paid, and also that she respected her father in giving him control of the gifts.


Once the envelope was delivered, they were now considered married according to the local tradition. It seemed a bit lacking in terms of vows and all (neither the bride nor groom had to speak during the ceremony), but then you have to remember that there had been plenty of words spoken during the courtship and engagement, which had been taken fairly seriously.






Check out my sister's blog for more details.





To be continued...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Recovering

It’s hard to believe that a week ago I was in Africa, feeling quite ill and not even able to eat. It reminds me of a time when I had a bad cold and also didn’t feel like eating. I opened up my Bible and it was the place in 1 Kings where Elijah is at the end of his strength and the angel of the Lord tells him to “Get up and eat.” God always gives us that boost to keep us going. A few days ago as I sat down to a meal, I was very thankful to have my appetite and general health restored.

Returning to Russia from the Congo was probably the first time that I entered Russia after being in a place with worse economic conditions (unless you count going from the camp back to the city). Usually I'm coming from the U.S. or some place in Europe, and it's hard to adjust. But now, everything seems so calm and familiar. Even the problems are like old friends: the daily commute, the lines, the dirt and grayness…

I even like the lack of eye contact and interaction on the street-not because it’s pleasant, but because I know that it’s what’s normal, and that I won’t offend anyone by not greeting them the right way.

“Home is where the heart is.” This is true, but your heart can be in many different places. I think that home is wherever God wants you to be. Because abiding in Him is like coming home.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kinshasa-First Impressions

My first impressions of Kinshasa were similar to my first impressions of Russia in 1996. I felt at a similar level of cluelessness regarding language, history, and culture. In an “ignorance is bliss,” sort of way, I had nothing to lose-yet I also had no way in which I could be particularly helpful.



Simple factors like different hours of daylight, hearing a European language being spoken in Africa, and being one of few white people around were pretty disorienting. The trip was short enough that there wasn’t enough time to absorb the local ways in order to “do as in Rome.” Beyond basic greetings and reading some road signs in French, I couldn’t do anything on my own and was dependent on my brother and the mercy of English-speaking locals to help me out.

I compared Kinshasa both to St.Petersburg and to my hometown in the U.S. Some of the aspects that were surprising to other Americans didn’t affect me as much: the noise and air pollution, the crazy driving, the military presence. Many of the stores were small and run-down and reminded me of ones you would find in a village in Russia, or a few years ago in St. Petersburg. However, I found products in the grocery store like cake mix and other Western imports, which are harder to find in St. Petersburg. As in Russia, the imports give an appearance of affluence, but the prices on them are too high for the average person to indulge on a regular basis.

My sister and I were going to be bridesmaids in the church ceremony, so we were picked up our first morning to get measured to have dresses made. We bumped along into town, and finally got out of the car. There were people selling things everywhere: inside stores, in front of stores, along the streets, at your car window…As we walked to the building, a lady called out to me. Thinking she was selling something, I ignored her as I would in Russia. After all, why pay attention if you’re not planning to buy anything? Then Hortense realized what the woman was saying, and when I looked back, my sweater had fallen on the ground and they were just letting me know. After that, I looked at people differently. In Russia people don’t generally like to interact with strangers, but in Kinshasa it’s okay to say “Hello,” or “Have a nice day,” or if someone is selling something, you can say “No thanks, I’m not interested.”


We were led up to a rooftop where the seamstress had set up a mattress and a sewing machine where she could work. Then she began to take our measurements. Everyone in the neighboring shops could see, and began to shout out commentaries. She was special because she had American clients, and the others wanted a visit as well. When Hortense handed over some money for the dresses, they shouted their opinion about that too. So there I was in Africa, standing on a rooftop and getting measured for the whole world to see. As an introvert, I ignored the attention and thought about how I would describe it in writing later.

That day, we also met Hortense’s family. The road to her house is unpaved and full of ditches, but inside they have quite a pleasant home, which they have been remodeling gradually over several years. We were shown into the sitting room and introduced to her parents. Her father, Hubert, gave a speech about us being “one family now.” He kept reiterating what an honor it was that we had come. The mother and younger brother quietly got us drinks.

As we were waiting for the rest of the family to get there, I asked Hubert how many children he had. He told me about his daughter and three younger sons and also about the older son who had died a few years earlier. Their first-born was older than Hortense and had created beautiful works of art, some of which were hanging on the wall, which Hubert showed to us.

When everyone got there, we sat at the table to have tea and snacks. It was obvious that we were all nervous about table manners. I tried to wait and see how the Mpunga’s used their silverware so that I could do it correctly, but they seemed to have the same idea, waiting for us. I also didn’t know if I should eat a lot to please the hostess or if that was considered greedy. I settled on eating the foods that were closest to me, so I wouldn’t have to make a request across the table.

The Mpunga’s were our first exposure to all the cheek-kissing(x3) and other customs, such as the men bumping each other’s foreheads and the sort of lingering handshake that confuses an American who tries to pull his/her hand away immediately.

When we left, we all said “See you tomorrow” in various languages. The next day was to be the cultural wedding ceremony.

That evening, we ate dinner at my brother’s. In a shed outside, the goats for the bride-price were being kept in preparation for the big day. And we were ready for the big moment, too.

To be continued…