Sunday, December 30, 2012

This is a letter that Elder Wheatley and I wrote to family about Christmas:

December 30, 2012
Dear family,

I want to share a few things about our Christmas in the Congo. I will try to make it brief so as to not bore you.  We had only been in the Congo about nine or ten days when we experienced our first Christmas here.  I think we came away with the feeling they didn't celebrate.  This year we saw the bigger picture and realized that for many of the people Christmas is celebrated much like it is in the United States just on a much smaller scale.

We started our Christmas by putting up the artificial tree that was left by the previous couple.  There were a few ornaments and a strand  of lights  When Sister Wheatley went to plug in the lights the plug disintegrated, not unusual for electrical appliances here.  Elder Wheatley tried unsuccessfully to do a repair job but failed.

When we looked at the price of tree lights in the French store we determined that our tree would go without lights.  However a few days later we got lost in the Grande Marche, and Sister Wheatley saw a store with artificial trees outside.  Inside she found some affordable lights.  Then an investigator that the Elders had brought to our house that had noticed our bare tree brought more ornaments and a string of lights.  Our tree ended up very decorated.

We noticed this year that a few homes put up lights, the French store put up a big pine tree and even sold real  trees. There was even a small tree lot.  We saw some "talking" Santa Claus'. Sister Wheatley managed to capture a picture of a lady with bananas and pineapples on her head standing next to one.  Lots of toys showed up along the roads and in front of the shops, mostly plastic cars like we see in the states, also lots of small bicycles. Dolls, too, seemed to be popular, even though they all seem to be white.There should be beautiful black dolls, like beautiful black people!

A few days before Christmas, 2 neighbors each gave us a bunch of bananas and we weren't sure if it was connected to Christmas or not.  Elder Wheatley had made banana bread (he is getting really good at that task), and so we took a loaf of it, and some little gifts for our neighbor, Angel and her family, and a bowl of popcorn over and knocked on her door.  We had fun sitting in her yard and trying to carry on a conversation with her very limited English and our very limited French.  In the next few days, we saw her little nephew and grandson playing with the marbles, so that was nice.  It was our understanding that she was going to Cabinda (a tiny piece of Angola next to Congo) to be with family after Christmas, and she seemed very happy about that.

In the English class we teach we asked the students to stand and talk about Christmas in their homes.  Most indicated that they attended Church services and then spent the day with friends and family.  Like most countries where there is a strong Catholic influence, attending mass on Christmas is a long standing tradition. We noticed on Christmas Day that among the families of wealth that all of the young girls had new dresses and their hair done up with a new wig.

None of the three branches here did anything extra.  Sunday services included Christmas carols and talks.  The Pointe Noire Branch's Sacrament Meeting was a program put on by the Primary, including children being a live nativity.

For us, Christmas became  a time of concern and a time of small miracles.  In advance of Christmas Sister Wheatley had arranged a skype schedule with the elders' and our families back home.  Each Elder was allowed forty minutes.  She also had asked each family to e-mail a special letter that we would print and give to the Elders on Christmas Day.  Sister  Wheatley also made each Elder a Christmas Stocking out of African looking material.  Along with the Elders, we drew names within the zone so we would all have a gift. (Christmas packages from home are almost an impossibility here)

The week before Christmas became a time of one electrical interruption after another.  We have a small generator that will generate enough power for one or two appliances at a time.  Maybe the refrigerator and an air conditioner.  Typically only the water pump.  For some reason a curling iron takes a lot of  power. The electrical oven is an instant overload.  The intra-net is very questionable when using power from the generator.  We worried about families back home standing around their computers waiting for a skype message that might not come.

We agreed with the Elders that we would meet with them Monday afternoon, as a P-Day activity, to exchange gifts, have pot luck, visit and play games.  On Christmas Day they would come again in the afternoon to skype with their families and enjoy a Christmas dinner together.

Things were going well and then the power became a problem. After days of interruptions the power went out Sunday Morning,  We also knew our water supply was running low, at our home. We have a small reservoir and the water company disperses water through the city by sending water thru the lines and it fills up your reservoir. This is what you have until they put water in your line again.  When we get low on water we figure out ways to economize like catch the shower water to flush toilets with. Elders can go through lots of water when they visit, so we have containers with hand-washing water.  Another concern was the one letter from home had turned into letters from grandmas and grandpa's, aunts, uncles,and friends. We could only print them when we had power, printer cartridges cost money, and we worried that one Elder might get a single letter and another ten or fifteen letters.  The Sunday morning outage lasted through the night.  Monday morning still without power we had faith that we could still make cookies and bake bread.  Soon we were watching several small pans of bread rise as the yeast began to do its job.  With no power the bread dough was made into flat pieces of fry bread and cooked in a frying pan on the gas burner.  The Elders really like Sister Wheatley's bread. She makes it with some of the flour being wheat flour when she can buy it, and they say it tastes like the bread their moms make.  We made potato soup, filled the stockings with kinder eggs and candy bars, and stapled the e-mails from the Elders' families together.  After much worrying, we decided our gifts for the secret Santa would be a carved elephant and a box of packages of capri-sun (many of the elders love this taste of home).  It was getting late into the afternoon and the elders would be arriving. Still no power. 

The elders arrived, they brought potato chips, cheese and bread for grilled cheese sandwiches (a great treat) and  chili they made.  We exchanged gifts, some were useful, most were rather ridiculous.  We each received a tee-shirt, white with a red heart and the words I love Camdon, only Camdon was crossed through with a black marker.  Elder Wheatley's shirt now said, "I love Theresa." and Sister Wheatley's said, "I love Keith."  We really think they are cool.  We sat down to eat as the light was starting to disappear.  In the dining area we get no light from the generator.  The bread loaves turned into fry bread became a small miracle as the Elders spread their chili beans on them and ate them like Navajo Taco's.  Then about 6:00 P.M. the power returned.  We finished our potluck, the elders cut and baked cookies and then decorated and ate them. They played games and it was time for them to go home. Before they left Sister Wheatley smuggled their Christmas stockings to the district leaders and asked them to lay them out where they would find them on Christmas Morning.  We gave them their e-mails from home.  They were most grateful and excited...

The power stayed on through the night.  We arose Christmas morning and each opened a Kinder Egg.  Elder Wheatley's had a little top inside.  Sister Wheatley's had a little cardboard puzzle. Our computer sounded  telling us someone wanted to skype with us.  It was Joe and Trudy, what a blessing.  They told us that they attended midnight mass in a cave.  We are grateful for  those who have fought for our freedoms as their story unfolds. We will always be grateful for this time they skyped with us. We prepared pulled pork, rice, beans and frog-eye salad (as close to frog-eye salad as Sister Wheatley could get with substitutions), green beans and French bread.  Special chocolate and coconut cupcakes would be our desert. 

About 12:30 P.M. the Elders began to arrive.  They were early and caught Sister Wheatley without her hair curled.  They let us know they were here by climbing on our outside wall and sitting there singing Christmas carols (the gate was locked and some of the barbed wire is down due to adding some brick to the wall).  We do love the elders!   We have two laptops and at 2:00 P.M. two of the Elders  skyped with home. It worked without any problems, clear picture and voice.  One after another thru the afternoon the Elders visited with their families, while the rest of us talked, played games, and just relaxed.  We had a nice supper together.  Then we all expressed our feelings about our Saviour Jesus Christ.  This was most touching.  After a prayer together they departed. It was now our turn to skype with our children.  Then as an added bonus Colin and Cindy showed up on line. Visits from Holland (Joe and Trudy working for the U.S. Government there), Germany (Colin and Cindy serving a temple mission there) , Australia (Amy and Josh) and from our children in the United States all on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day . We went to bed with grateful hearts,knowing we had experienced a wonderful Christmas. When we lost power again the next morning we understood that even here in this isolated town in the Congo, God was watching out for us on those special days.  A small group of Mormon missionaries were not forgotten.

The water supply held out until Thursday evening, then we were blessed that our neighbor, Angel, had water in her line and allowed us to get some from her.  This morning (Sunday) we could hear water dripping into our reservoir!  Yea!!!  Monday is supposed to be wash day isn't it?  Lots of laundry to do and housekeeping to catch up on.  Water is good - and what a blessing it is to have good water in the U.S.  We have a wonderful filtering system here, which the church provides at great cost to all missionaries around the world where there is not good water. We will always be more appreciative of pure water in our lives.  Now on to a New Year!

Love from Congo,
Elder and Sister Wheatley
This is a letter we wrote to family earlier in December, about Christmas and December activities:

December 12, 2012
This morning we took President and Sœur Jameson to the airport – they were here for 2 nights and one whole day.  They arrived from Gabon, a nation to the north west of us, which is included within our mission  borders, but which has not had an established branch of the church, or missionaries.  President Jameson called a branch president so a branch can be established there.   The man he called to serve as president had served as a counselor in a branch presidency in another African country,  then he moved to Gabon.  He also called one counselor, who just happens to be a young man who is working for the U.S. Embassy there, and who has a wife and 5 young children.  In a branch, there doesn’t have to be a whole presidency called to become established.  This counselor and his family have just recently moved to Gabon.  He is a returned missionary (speaks French) and they will be a great strength to the branche President and the branch.  The country has not yet been dedicated for preaching the gospel, but the work can still begin as far as preparation.  President has been hoping to get a French speaking couple called to this mission so he can be prepared to open the country for missionary work, and send 4 missionaries.   He and Sœur Jameson met with some real estate people, reviewed what is available for shopping and apartments, etc., for a senior couple and missionaries.  A security man was also sent by the church to check out the overall safety of the place, which is another interesting part of this process of establishing the church officially in a country.  This security man e arrived in Gabon a day ahead of the Jamesons and there was something wrong with his Visa, so they ‘detained’ him in jail.  Sounds bad, right?  BUT, because he is a very smart and inspired man (French speaking returned missionary), he had soon made friends with the guards, was out watching a soccer game with them on their TV, and learned more about the safety of Libreville (the capitol of Gabon), the neighborhoods, the police, etc., than he ever could with an official visit to the police to ask about it, which he usually does during his advance visits.  The Lord works in mysterious ways!  He told the Jamesons that Libreville is the nicest city he has ever been in, in Africa – it is more modern (streets are paved, streetlights, shopping, etc.), and there does not appear to be a lot of crime (no ‘guardians’ sitting outside of every nice home and no barbed wire or broken glass along the tops of walls around homes).  All of the Elders say, “send me, send me” and that is the way I feel, too – but they need a couple who speak French so they can do housing contracts, etc.  Too bad for us!

That experience, on top of the recent visit of Elder Holland, for which there is a link on the church news website, and the Jameson’s blog, are all so inspiring and so abounding with miracles.  The work is going forward rapidly in this part of Africa – even though it seems like at a snail’s pace to those in towns and cities all over this huge continent, who don’t have the official church presence yet and long for it. 
Today on the Jameson’s blog I was reading about their visit to South Africa for a Mission President’s conference, and how they met some families they had known and loved in their first mission, in Lubumbashi and Burundi.  When they had just a few hours of break from the conference, friends now serving their mission in that area, invited them to attend a temple sealing in the Johannesberg Temple.  As it turned out, when they walked into the sealing room, they discovered the sealing was for  2 wonderful families that they had known there.  One of the families had saved their tithing for 5 years, as they waited for the church to become established where they lived, so they could pay it  and also baptize their children.  The second family there was one that President Jameson baptized the father of.  There is an inspiring story about how that happened, as well, on the blog.  When some of the members of the family wanted to be baptized, they had to ask their father – and he said it was OK.  Then he also decided to be baptized.  If you read their blog, Jamesons mention there were special circumstances that had to be addressed before he could be baptized.  It is because of that special permission, that President Jameson didn’t think he would have time to baptize the father before they left for America.  The permission was miraculously approved within just a few hours of it being sent, and President Jameson baptized him, I think, the evening before he left.  President and Sister Jameson were called to be the mission president while they were still on their mission in Burundi, so they were given permission to leave a few months early and have about 4 months at home to get ready to return for 2 more years – almost 4 years away from their families, and they weren’t home for 4 Christmases, so why am I feeling sad about not being home for Christmas? 

One of the reasons that require special permission to be baptized is if someone has ever participated in a polygamous marriage.  President Jameson said that when he meets with anyone who is currently in a polygamous marriage who desires baptism, that he counsels them that they do the honorable thing to stay with their family now.  That is the covenant they have made with their spouses.  They will be given the opportunity at a future time, to have all the blessings of the gospel – that is how Christ’s atonement works.  Everyone who desires it and lives worthily will have the opportunity of receiving all blessings and covenants – that is one of the miracles of Christ’s Atonement. 

We spent the evening with the Jamesons on Tuesday night, asking questions and requesting guidance about our work.  Then all day Wednesday, we met with the Elders.  We had instruction from President and Sœur Jameson, watched the First Presidency Chirstmas message program, then had a fun activity, then I fixed a ‘Christmas’ dinner: 
·         Chicken enchiladas (no tortillas here, so I made flour ones from scratch and no cream of chicken soup, so I made that, too);  homemade salsa and tortilla chips from the store (I can find them here!);    rice with chicken flavoring; a canned fruit bowl and 2 bowls of fresh pineapple (an investigator had given a HUGE pineapple to some of the elders – perfect!); homemade chili with Mexican spices (the French store has some spices);  French bread (a must at every meal, to help fill up the hollow legs of the Elders);  and for dessert, I made brownies, then topped them with vanilla ice cream (glace) and chocolate sauce and put a Ferro Rochett (lights are out so I can’t see how to spell it) on the plate – you know, the little round yummy chocolate balls wrapped in gold foil, that are so expensive?
When I bought a lot of groceries one day, the manager of the store brought me a bottle of wine as a gift at the checkout, but since he speaks English a little (I think he is Lebanese or Indian), I explained that we don’t drink alcohol and so he gave me a box of them, instead  - Yahoo!!!

The Jamesons gave each elder a sack of goodies, including a pair of socks, which cost them in South Africa, less than an orange does in Kinshasa (Sister Jameson says oranges cost about $3.00 each).  This is Africa, so they surprised us with a gift that included some candy that is the closest to M&Ms as we can get here (once I found peanut M&Ms and bought 2 bags, but have never seem them again until just the other day – in the French super market they are about $30.00 U.S.  a pound, a kitchen towel that has darling little African children embroidered on it (won’t ever be used, too cute), a small ribbon flower that Sœur  Jameson made, for me to put on my dress – perfect!!!, and a box of real Ziplock bags – hooray!!! I have been using the ones Liz and Meg sent in my package disaster, but had to throw away the ones the rats chewed on.

I made them each a Christmas stocking out of African fabric (my hand sewing skills are improving a little at a time),trimmed them with bright yellow fancy lace (lot of that kind of stuff here and the men like it as much as the women do) and we put some chocolate santas (from the French store), and an apple and orange in them,  and a handwritten note from each elder and one from us.

Today, we were parked as close to the side of a dirt street as we could get, while Elder Wheatley went with the Elders to do an interview with a baptismal candidate.  A Taxi came along and passed with no problems, but then a large van came by and hadn’t pulled over as much as he could, and stopped part way past and thought he couldn’t pass without hitting us.  I went and got Keith and even though there were a couple of inches of give, he decided to move the truck.   The trouble was, when he started
to move, the truck slid on some large rocks and scraped the side of the van, leaving some blue paint on the white van.  The man got out, of course, because now it was our fault,  and then traffic started piling up behind the van.  People had to get out and shout for awhile, then the van moved out of the way and I went and got the missionaries to come and help us communicate with the van driver.  A man from the house the elders were teaching at, came out and talked with them, and they pounded on the inside of the van for a few minutes (was it dented a little?) and then the missionaries and Keith rubbed the blue paint off, and eventually the driver was OK enough to leave.  And that was that.   Anyway, it was a blessing that the van driver was OK and drove away instead of demanding a bunch of money.  We know the Lord blesses us each time we go out, and we pray a lot before and while we are out.  It is just very scarey!  I need to have more faith and not worry so much, but it is hard to do that.  I have prayed a lot about it and have done better today, and then this happened and I need to concentrate on the blessing of it turning out OK.  
The power was on the whole time the Jamesons were here – unusual!  Then about 2:00 it went out and stayed off until about 7:30.  This time, though, when we were using the generator, about 6:30,  the power surged, knocked the generator off, and then when it came back on, we had more power than we usually do – it powered more than one light and stayed good until the electricity came on.  Makes no sense to us – and now the power is off again!  Guess I will send this if/when it comes back on tonight or whenever it does.  It doesn’t do me any good to get upset – I try so hard not to, but it is difficult to be patient about the power issues –all the time, day after day after day.  I think it must be like this in many places around the world, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier for a woman spoiled with the good and dependable blessings in life.

Today is Sunday and I wrote the above on Thursday night.  Power issues continually, but I am grateful that we do have one light and some air conditioning when the generator runs.  We can even use either the water pump or the fridge or the stove, if we do it and turn everything else off J

Yesterday we had a challenging day again, with the truck.  We noticed that someone had scraped the front driver’s side fender and left some deep scratches.  It must have happened when we were parked, because it didn’t happen when we were in it.  Then, as he was backing out, and I was supposed to be directing him, I didn’t say STOP fast enough and he backed into a brick wall just outside our gate and broke one of the back lights.  It still works, thank goodness.  I felt so awful but it is one of the few times I have to make myself be OK with the “it’s OK, it’s Africa” when it happens and there is nothing to be done and so it goes…… We use that phrase frequently – like when someone dents the truck, steals a piece off of it, or anything else that can’t be helped.  It is hard to believe that the truck is less than a year old – it is showing a lot of wear and tear.  But that is what it is for, and when elders hop in dirty as all get out from a service project, or it has been raining and there is mud everywhere, there is nothing to do but get in and get on with it!  We are grateful it gets us safely to where we need to be. 

Love from Pointe Noire
Elder and Sœur Wheatley

Fishing and Hair.....

These fishermen are in a wooden canoe, fishing with nets.  I took a lot of pictures of them riding the crests of waves, but none of them turned out.  We see several of them in the mornings when we walk on the street by the beach.  

This fisherman is using a net to catch fish in a small river just out of town.

His is pulling it in, but didn't catch anything.
He decided to go into the water - he made several dives, and we couldn't see if he every caught anything.

A big part of fashion here is - hair.  Especially for Christmas, we saw every little girl with lots of decorations in her hair.  I didn't get many pictures, but here are a few.  The women have all kinds of wigs and hair pieces - there are people selling braids and extensions everywhere along the streets and in stores.  Most men shave their heads, but there are some who have braids.

Here is the little girl and her mother, who has a beautiful hair piece.  This was at a wedding.  Everyone comes dressed in their finest and with their hair either very fashionable or with a wonderful cloth wrap.  I hope to learn how to do some of the hair cloth wrappings.  When you buy fabric for a dress, there is enough for an extra piece to wrap around your waist as an extra skirt, put over your shoulders, or wrap around your head.

These pictures are after Christmas, but on Christmas Even and Christmas Day, the little girls wear beautiful dresses.  We think everyone gets dressed up to go to church on Christmas.  We didn't go out on Christmas Eve Day or Christmas Day because the traffic was horrendous Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Day we were home all day.

In both of these pictures the little girls have their loaves of French bread - what everyone eats for/with basically every meal.

Christmas in Pointe Noire


     Pointe Noire  Sunsets in December
The elders wanted to do a Secret Santa gift exchange - do you think the elder in the middle is showing a 'scrooge' face?  The elder on the left received a box of Capri Sun and an elephant.  The elder on the right received a cool maybe the elder in the middle didn't get anything?  Yes, he did, just not yet.

The 'after' picture of opening Secret Santa gifts - they were very creative in their gift giving!

Relaxing, playing games and making and eating cookies (notice the EMPTY tray).  We made sandwich cookies out of round crackers, lots of chunky peanut butter, and melted chocolate on top.  They must have like them because they dissapeared in no time!  Nothing seems to dampen their appetites, though, when it is dinner time.....

On Christmas Day, we scheduled time for elders to skype with their families starting at 2:00 PM Congo time.  They didn't want to be late for such an important date, so about 12:30, we heard caroling, looked out our door, and there on top of our wall, were 4 elders singing Christmas songs (the gate was still locked).  Lucky for them and us, the barbed wire was off while more bricks were added to the wall!  I didn't have my hair curled or my makeup on, but I have learned those details aren't so important  anymore.  We welcomed them in and started our Christmas Day celebration.

The elders really wanted to make and decorate sugar cookies, so I made the dough and we all prayed and prayed for electricity.  Our power had been out for a looong time and the generator won't power the oven.  I thought we would have to try to cook them in a frying pan (stove is gas), but just as dinner was ending, voila - the power came on.  This was their P-Day activity, since Monday was P-Day and Christmas Eve. This was after opening presents, as you can see the nice looking hat that just had to be worn.  The two elders at the far end of the table are playing chess.