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

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