A Longest Day

Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
1
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Trip End May 07, 2014


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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  , Kinshasa,
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, we planned to have breakfast at 07:00 right when the line opened so we could be ready to leave by 7:15. That was wildly optimistic. The staff only began setting up the line at 07:00, so coffee didn't show up until about 07:17 and food until about 7:30. We did our best but were only ready to leave by 7:45 which was about then Moïse arrived with his 6-year-old daughter and Dieudonné (Sibobugingo) who was in Bujumbura for a class project and wanted to ride up to services with us. I had checked out of my room before breakfast, but we kept Daniel's since his air-conditioner worked much better than mine, and we would need the room to shower and change when we got back and before heading to the airport.

We drove north was under blue skies and sunshine, which was what we had hoped and prayed for since there were baptisms to perform. The 90-minute trip passed without incident, and we arrived about 09:30. We didn't stop at the hall; instead we drove straight to the baptism spot which takes close to half an hour from the church hall. The path there transforms from road to piste (French for track) to footpath. After giving it a lot of thought Friday afternoon and Sabbath morning, I had decided to ask Daniel and Nathan to work together to do the actual baptisms, and I would oversee things so they could both gain some hands-on experience in how we conduct this ceremony.

As we walked to the place where the water is a good depth and manageable, we came to a log bridge over the swiftly rushing stream. I could see the water was high and fast, but not deep, which was good. Daniel changed clothes; Nathan had come in the clothes he wanted to wear. There was a large group of adults and children from the surrounding area who had come out of curiosity, to see the baptisms or the mzungus or some combination of that. We had a slight problem with crowd control since people kept pushing forward to see what was happening. Some also talked with each other, creating a background buzz that could be heard even over the rushing water. I had to "shush" them several times so we could continue. We gathered the ten people to be baptized and I asked a blessing on the whole ceremony, thanking God for His work in their lives and asking His guidance and blessing in all we would do this day. Then I went around name by name and asked if each person had repented of his sins and accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior. Each answered yes to both questions, so I completed the biblical statement for conducting baptisms.

After this Daniel and Nathan walked into the stream to a point where there was enough depth to cover people. They baptized each person, taking care that each was fully immersed. As each one left the water there was excited and joyful applause from the church members gathered. When everyone had been baptized, I shushed the bystanders again and Daniel, Nathan and I laid hands on them as the Bible teaches, one at a time,and Daniel and I asked God to grant each the gift of His Holy Spirit, while Nathan translated.

It was a joyous occasion, and many faces were smiling with joy. Shortly after we finished, a Protestant group arrived to perform some baptisms. Normally they wouldn't do this on a Saturday, but as it was the day before Easter, they were out too.

After drying off, the newly baptized joined everyone else in making our way back to the center of the village, where we were able to begin our service at 11:00. Nathan made some welcome comments, and Daniel and I were given the chance to say a few words of introduction and pass along our greetings too.

Then there was too much special music, which is an issue we're working to gently improve. Old habits from previous church associations leave many members used to having half the service or more to be music. Since three congregations were present this day, each chorale wanted to sing, which was fine, as far as it went. Nathan had told each group, and reminded them in his introduction that they could sing one piece of special music, and in this region that means about 10 minutes each. The songs are meant for people who cannot read, so there is a short verse, sung by a chorale leader, repeated by all, followed by a refrain. There can be ten or more verses like this in each song. In addition they have the habit of singing an introductory song as they file up in front of the congregation. That's an extra 5 minutes each. On top of that, one chorale just couldn't stop at "one" hymn and sang "two" (really three) in spite of the instructions. We ended up with about 50 minutes of special music.

This is all done in joy, to praise God and add to the service, but it takes away from the time available for the main part of the service, which is to learn from the Bible so we can improve our lives, and better please God by the way we live. By the time the first message – a split sermon by Daniel – began, the service had already lasted an hour, and I could see some heavy eyelids in the hall. Under direct sunshine and the tin roof, it had become warm enough in the hall that my shirt was soaked through. I could understand how people would be drowsy. We need to continue transitioning to shorter pieces of music and fewer of them, so we can put more emphasis on learning. After the service, I encouraged Nathan and Moise to keep working on this.

Daniel gave a split-sermon version of the sermon he had given in Rwanda. The I did the same with my sermon, we both kept to about 25 minutes including the translation, which is actually more like a long sermonette than a sermon as far as material covered is concerned, but that's what fit in the time and situation we had. I spoke loudly and strongly to help people pay attention and used large gestures, even pantomime at times to help the member maintain attention through the phrase by phrase translation process.

After my sermon, there was a final hymn and I asked the closing prayer, including a request God's ongoing blessing on this little flock, in this very remote area of the world.

After the service we took group photos of the newly baptized (minus one young lady, Nathan’s daughter who had hurried home to help get lunch ready for us), the whole group present. I also met briefly with the delegates from the new little group from the south of Bujumbura. I asked if they had any questions, to which they responded that their questions had been answered. They were very happy to have come and seen and heard for themselves about this church association and the foreigners who visit every so often. It’s reassuring to many Africans to know that others, outside their own lives and culture believe and live as they do. I believe this is actually the same the world over, and an encouragement that comes from church fellowship. It was interesting to me that they had at first been dubious when Nathan told them that there were white people who kept the seventh day Sabbath too; they had thought that was a local discovery and didn’t know it was practiced in the wider world!

As soon as the service ended, the team responsible for the meal went into high gear. There were over 250 people to feed, and the preparations had been made. The scale of it was impressive to see as hundreds of plates of bean and rice and a little meat were portioned out. This would certainly be a great feast. We could feed everyone here including a number of visitors for less than a dollar a person and were happy to be able to do so.

As the large meal started, Nathan again invited us to his house nearby for a late lunch: the same as Friday with the addition of some meat just like the others members were enjoying. Since there is no running water, a basin and soap was offered to each of us so we could wash our hands before the meal. We ate and talked in his dirt floored main room, the ladies in the family serving as local custom dictates. We thanked them all very sincerely for their work.  By 3:30 we were ready to head back to Bujumbura, and the members who had gathered ready to go back to their homes some of which were more than an hour distant. They wanted to be home before dark, when travel becomes much more difficult and dangerous. It seemed that as soon as the decision was made for us to finish up and begin traveling, the skies darkened and it began to rain once again. We had enjoyed wonderful weather all the day’s activities. We passed a truck which, unknown to us, had been rented as transportation for the Massango congregation. They were packed in pretty tight, but it was better than walking two or three hours in the rain that was beginning again. We waved at them as we passed and they waved back with a smile, it had been a good day for everyone!

We drove back to Bujumbura under a rain that alternated from driving to moderate, but made the trip without incident. Nathan came down with us and the four of them dropped Daniel and me at the hotel while they went to take Dieudonné back to his student lodging. We agreed to meet for dinner later on.

Moïse and Nathan arrived back about 7:00 pm; we drove just down the road to a little restaurant that serves excellent mukeke, Nathan’s favorite dish by far.

It was dark by the time we arrived, but I knew from having seen them before that there was a good chance that just across the road, in the reeds of the lake’s shallow shore hippopotami might be grazing noisily away, grunting and they moved about. I enjoy this restaurant at sunset for that reason; the chance of seeing these enormous animals is very good. I’ve seen them grazing in the dusk, as cars and trucks whiz by only 20 feet away.

Moïse brought his little daughter who, he said, loves mukeke. This is a relatively expensive dish by local standards, though certainly not for us. Moïse shared a mukeke with her, as we all enjoyed this special dish, and this night it was particularly good. Nathan and Moïse agreed, saying it must have been caught this day for it to taste so fresh and good. It was the best mukeke I’d ever had, although I certainly hadn’t tasted nearly as much as they.

After dinner we drove back to the hotel, and did our accounting. We went over what expenses we had, essentially a tank of gas to get us to Mugina and back twice. We went over what had been spent for transportation and food to allow the church members to come for the counseling and for the Sabbath service. I rounded out the accounting and gave Nathan $100 that had been contributed by members in the north east US, to buy Bibles. Nathan and I had discussed setting up a reading room in the church hall as soon as we get the windows put it. Some village people had begun attending services with us in Mugina and in the other church areas, but as soon as they were given a Bible, they were tempted into selling them for the little money they could get for them. This was upsetting to Nathan and other members who were outraged at this duplicity. A kinder interpretation would be that subsistence farmers here as so poor, that even a small amount of hard cash can be a temptation. They have so few chances to raise any. So to avoid this temptation, we decided we would open the church halls at set hours during the week and anyone would be free to come and read the Bible and copies of Church literature which would be on display. No one would be allowed to take them home, but they will be able to freely read when they come. This $100 will purchase about 10 Bibles in Kirundi, and will get the reading room program off to a good start.

Finally we said goodbye to Nathan and Moïse after what had been a shorter visit that we would have liked. I told them that if all went as planned, I’d be back in July to see them again.

Then Daniel and I went up to our room to wait out the time to head to the airport for our 01:25 flight out. Daniel showered, and then stretched out on the bed to try a nap. I worked on my laptop catching, up on my journal of records for this visit, on this travel blog, and a few other items. I also settled our accounts with the hotel and ordered a taxi for 11:00 pm.

Daniel managed to sleep half an hour or so, and felt refreshed. The taxi was ready to go on time, so we loaded up and drove through the quiet city and onto the nearly deserted road to the airport. We checked in right on arrival at 11:30, and passed emigration where I was not questioned about my visa. This was slightly anticlimactic since I was primed with all my arguments, documents, and calculations of 72 hours. In the event the agent just grunted and stamped my passport.

Then came security. When I asked the agent what I needed to separate for the scanner, he said: "laptop." I took my laptop out, put the bags through the scanner and walked through the metal detector, none of which had alarms go off. As I walked through to the other side, he looked me over and said: “shoes and watch.” I protested that nothing had beeped in the metal detector. “Shoes and watch” he insisted. So I went back through and took off my chukkas and watch and walked through again where, surprise, once again no alarms went off….

We waited in the departure lounge and I showed Daniel the best seat in the little restaurant bar, in which to wait. The seat has table, a good view of everything and a plug to connect a laptop to electricity. It’s the only seat of its kind in the departure lounge. It also is right by the toilets which means there is always a small cloud of mosquitoes waiting there, biding their time….

As is pretty often the case, the Kenya Airways flight was early and so we boarded almost an hour early without any boarding announcement being made. We walked out into the cool east-African night, across the tarmac and up into the cool Kenya Airways Embraer. We were only about 15 passengers, the flight was about a third full mostly people going to Kigali where we would make a short stop.

The flight was too short to doze, so I finished reading Theodore Rex, a thoroughly satisfying book, and started on a Patrick O’Brien fiction called The Golden Ocean. He’s the author of Master and Commander which spawned the excellent movie, and his books always make part of me want to join the Royal Navy, in the early 1800s…. While the more mature side of me is very thankful that’s not possible.

After half an hour we landed in Kigali, where passengers disembarked and our turn-around time was about 45 minutes. Then we took off again and flew 90 minutes to Nairobi. I nibbled on the snack they offered and didn’t may have dozed 15 minutes.

In Nairobi we disembarked, walked into the cool air of the Athi plain of Kenya, across the tarmac and into the airport. Daniel and I walked to the Kenya Airways lounge, where I should have been able to have a guest enter with me. But the agent explained that since the big fire last year, they have little lounge space. This lounge, the only one now in the airport for Kenya Airways was only open to people actually flying business class. People with lounge rights because of status level (that’s me) were to order what they wanted down at the coffee shop by Gate 4. Bus since that coffee shop was not open, I could enter the lounge but Daniel couldn’t. I told Daniel I’d grab a snack and some water and see him soon. I stayed long enough to check my e-mail on the wifi, have a snack and water and get a bottle of water for Daniel and came back out to find him sitting on a chair nearby. We walked all the way around the broken circle of the departure lounges to the Java House where I pulled out some Kenyan Shillings from my ready supply of African currencies, and ordered a double espresso for him and a café latte for me.

We sipped our coffee as the sun began to lighten the sky outside, and watched the amazing parade of people from Africa, Arab and other Islamic countries, as well as European tourists mix in a great a colorful swirl of humanity. Women in voluminous black robes – only their eyes visible, paunchy men in white robes, carefully manicured French and English women in stylish safari shorts accompanied by their expensively dresses men, an occasional American family heading home from safari, bushy bearded men fingering worry beads, tired white backpackers slumped against the walls trying to sleep, amazingly thin people stretched out under a line of chairs sleeping on the grimy floors, crowds of Chinese workers wondering around surprised, always in groups as if for defense, and in the middle of this, your humble servants sipping their coffee and trying keep their eyes open, after a night with little or no sleep.

After finished our coffee, we walked the length of the departure area again to gate 4, where with my Delta card, I was able to get more coffee for free. “Anything up to 700 shillings” said the Kenya Airways employee after writing down my card number. Anything up to $8.50; that’s not too much, but it’s better than nothing. We decided to be original, so Daniel had a double espresso and I had a café latte….

At 7:30, with an overcast morning looking it at us through the windows, we filed onto the 767 bound for Kinshasa. I was surprised to see half the plane full of east Indians, I didn’t think there was that large a population in the Congo, the other half were Congolese people doing business, with their faint, survival-of-the-fittest pride and sometimes, arrogance. In the Darwinian soup of chaotic Congo, those who rise and keep their heads above water often project the feeling that they’re a cut above the masses, and in some ways that’s true. It other ways, when they project their superiority at you, it can be really annoying….

When I arrived at my aisle seat, a burly Congolese fellow was sitting it in. Without speaking, I smiled and showed him my boarding pass. He tilted his head to say there was some mistake, and pointed for me to move on past him and take another seat. I smiled again and showed him the boarding pass, and nodded my head to say I insisted. He thought for a moment and then got slowly up moving farther back. The woman sitting in the window seat next to me sighed and complained “Jésus!” She was letting me know she spoke French and giving me the opportunity to respond if I understood; which offer was declined. She might ask me to change seats or want to start a long conversation, neither of which would be helpful. So I remained an inanimate, speechless mzungu.

We departed on-time at 08:30 bound, in a very full aircraft, for the other side of the continent. As we settled in to our seats, another large Congolese person used my seat back as leverage to settle into his seat then let it snap back, shooting me forward when he was done. This is one of my pet peeves when flying in Africa, rather than use their own armrests for support, some folks appropriate my seatback and use it as they see fit, often violently…. It only happened twice on this flight, so I let it pass.

After 24 hours, almost without sleep, had no trouble dozing for an hour after takeoff, until breakfast was served. As soon as he had finished his breakfast, the big Indian fellow in front of me reclined his seat without warning, then bounced on it hard several times to  see if he could get it to recline further. This pushed my food tray into me and slopped some food around. I gently pushed on the seat back to remind him I was present. He bounced again, I pushed again, and he looked around surprised to learn there was someone behind him. He moved his seat forward one notch, which was very kind of him actually, that’s not really what I was requesting.

I dozed during the rest of the flight, probably sleeping 90 minute, until the place began its descent. The woman next to me woke up and sighed heavily “Jésus!”

We landed on time on the uneven runway of Kinshasa. Daniel and I deplaned together and waited in line to have our passports checked. He told me later that when he unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up, a Congolese woman pointed to the overhead bin and with a grunt and come-down-here gesture, ordered him to get her bag down. She was so shockingly rude about it, he decided to just step back and let her get her own bag. I’ve done the same on more than one occasion, often with a beatific expression of incomprehension on my face. I’m quite happy to help if asked, even if not asked particularly nicely, but being ordered about by people who take themselves for übermenschen, not so much.

When our turns came, we stood in front of the glass barrier window to be asked some questions by the agent through the small holes cut in the glass. Of course it was impossible to hear with all the noise in the room, so the agent would lean forward to the hole and ask a question loudly, then I would lean down to the hole and shout something back: what was my profession?, where would I be staying?, how long would I be in Congo?, and so on. I saw next to me that Daniel was going through the same process.

Our passports duly stamped we showed our yellow health cards to prove we had been vaccinated against Yellow Fever. It was a purely perfunctory check because the agent never got as far as my Yellow Fever vaccination, just glanced at the first page that came up, Typhoid, and waved me on.

I walked into the chaotic baggage claim room and began waiting for my suitcase. Daniel’s showed up quite quickly. Mine did not. We waited 30 minutes, then 60 minutes; nothing. A fellow showed up and asked if I were Joel Meeker. Yes. He was an emissary from Justin and Victor waiting outside wondering if everything was alright. I explained the situation and he disappeared to take them the message. This fellow as a fixer, a man who however he did it, had free access to pass inside the airport and out and provides services and knowledge for a price.

The suitcases stopped and cargo bundles and boxes started popping out. This was not a good sign. There were still many passengers waiting for luggage. A group of Chinese workers lost patience and two walked on the moving carrousel through the little door to the outside area where the luggage was placed on the belts. They were chased back inside by a big uniformed policemen who pushed them sharply and yelled at them in French, which they didn’t understand. The room erupted in shouting, with luggage agents taking sides and shouting and gesturing at each other. The room was hot and patience was wearing thin. Another 30 minutes passed. Finally an policeman came through the baggage door on the caroussel and made a gesture rather like “safe and home plate” which meant, as porky pig would say: “that’s all folks.” It took an hour and to learn that my suitcase had not arrived. I went to an office marked “baggage services.”

The agents looked at my tag and said “No not here, Kenya is over there” waving to the other side of the room. I looked and saw nothing. The fixer showed up again. “This way” he said. We walked out of baggage claim, passed customs agents who didn’t stop us, and outside of the airport. Then we walked to the front of the terminal, in a side door, around the check-in room, up a stairway, around another curved corridor to the Kenya Airways Office. It was full of people in chairs waiting to give make their lost luggage claim.

The fixer got me a chair and we waited. When the next opening came, the fixer told me in French “OK boss your turn” I stood and walked in, followed by a group of people who didn’t agree that it was my turn. Now what to do? I let the Kenya agents sort it out, and in the end they agreed it was my turn.

I filled out the form, answered the questions and was out in about 3 minutes. Justin and Victor took us to the vehicle, an asthmatic grungy SUV on its last legs. I gave the fixer a five dollar bill, with which he was pleased. He’ll remember me and look out for me next time I’m through the airport. These fellows have great memories for good tippers….

The SUV wheezed and coughed and had a hard time rattling up to more than 30 mph, but it did get us into Kinshasa to the Hotel Invest. I paid the driver $25, about half the going fare for a sound vehicle, and we made our plans for the next few days with Justin and Victor.  Then we thanked them and let them go about their business.

Daniel and had lunch in the garden, spaghetti bolognaise for him and penne with mushrooms for me, which both took an hour to arrive. This meant it was about 2:30 pm by the time we finished lunch. A male peacock that lives in the gardens came to beg some food. I hand-fed him a couple of noodles as we finished up. He was quite polite about it.

We both decided to sleep several hours, get up for a while to make sure we’d sleep through the night, have a light dinner and go back to bed.

I set my alarm for 05:30 and slept 2 ½ hours, dragging myself from bed with some difficulty. I worked for a few hours, and then at 7:00 rang Daniel to see if he were up. No answer. I knocked on the door, again no answer. He had decided to sleep through.

I had a light dinner and will now stay awake as long as I reasonably can to make sure I’ll sleep through the night, and hope my bag will arrive late tonight or tomorrow morning. This has been one of those longest days in African travel; almost every trip over here has at least one of them, sometimes two or three.

Tomorrow will be a very busy and joyous day, even more than if my suitcase arrives.
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Comments

Clyde Kilough on

Hi Joel - longest day, longest blog, and best one yet! I will share some of it, the part about the baptisms, with the members here in northeast Ohio today. So very encouraging. Glad Daniel is with you; it has to make the travel a bit easier to have companionship. Hello to him too from all of us here. Take care!

Andrea West on

I really appreciate being able to read and "share" a little bit in the lives of the brethren there from your blog posts; plus, being able to grasp some of the effort it takes for you and for Daniel to be there teaching, baptizing and sharing your lives with them during this special time of the year. Thank you!

mary on

What a long and frustrating day with the inconveniences of travel and lost luggage. We read your notes hoping that the baptisms counterbalance the difficulties. Hope the next days bring you encouragement and that all goes smoothly for you and Daniel. We appreciate all the pictures that bring a glimpse of brethren and how they're doing.

Tess Washington on

Mr. Meeker, this is your most hilarious blog! Thank you for giving us a very descriptive travel experiences! And seeing the work that you and Daniel have accomplished in Kinshasa with 10 people getting baptized and working with Nathan and Moise were truly amazing...far-away countries with different languages and culture...in words and pictures!

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