Monday, June 29, 2015

Motherhood Moments #2

Sometimes motherhood looks like this...

Sister absolutely could not wait for me to get her homeschooling supplies ready for the day and promptly sat down and began devouring anything presented to her. In the meantime, Brother was anxious for playtime, so I handed him a pile of toys which he immediately spread out like a hot pancake breakfast.

It was a messy moment but one filled with happy kids!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Is There a Doctor in the House?

The other day, my worker was not feeling well and decided to go to the doctor. I dropped her off after work on my way to run an errand. The next day when she returned for work, she asked if I could help her purchase the medication.  I was comfortable with that option but when she presented me with her list of medications, my jaw hit the floor.

There were 8 separate items listed! No matter how ill someone is, I have (personally) never known a doctor to prescribe 8 medications at one time for one illness. I asked her if she was certain these were all for her and not for different people in the family. Nope. The doctor prescribed them all just for her. I asked her if some were to be taken later and not all together. Nope. The doctor prescribed them all to be taken/used at the same time. Yikes!

Let me interrupt this narrative to provide some cultural information about Congolese doctors.  The average cost to visit a doctor is about 3500 francs, or about $4. Sounds pretty cheap, right? Unfortunately, the average salary for a worker is around $5 daily. So in USD terms, image you make $7.50 an hour for 8 hours (one day of work) for a total of $60. But the cost to visit a doctor must be paid up front at a total of $48. That is a lot of money for someone to pay.

Therefore, if you were to visit a doctor, you wouldn’t just go for something minor like a cold. You would go for something more serious. If you must spend 4/5 of your daily salary to “hire” someone, you expect some sort of return on your investment. And this is what will often happen - the Congolese doctors will prescribe a medication, even if it is useless just because people expect something out of the doctors. This very thing happened to me when I thought I was experiencing a miscarriage with Solomon. I was prescribed a medication for abdominal spasms which if taken, could have been dangerous. The doctor did not know what to prescribe in my circumstance (as far as I am aware, there is no “cure” for a miscarriage) so he wrote a prescription for something he thought would be a placebo. Luckily, I knew there was no cure and was hesitant to take the medication and contacted an American doctor who knew what was going on over the phone.

The other problem is a follow-up visit. Ideally, a doctor will prescribe you something and remind you that if you don’t feel better in “X” number of days, to please call back to schedule a follow-up visit. There is no such thing here. No one can afford to take two days off of work and pay out of pocket almost two full days worth of work in money. Thus, a doctor will often over-prescribe medication in an attempt to cover any and all problems eliminating a need for a follow-up - which in itself is very dangerous.

When my worker presented me with a list of 8 medications, I knew that she was over-prescribed but I could not determine which ones were “placebos” or “useless” and which ones were dangerous if mixed. So I called for back-up! I contacted two doctors, a nurse, and a translator/friend/missionary. A few hours later, we were able to go back to her root complaints and cross-reference the medications prescribed. Only one needed to be purchased and we were able to substitute two others with basic over-the-counter medications we brought with us. In all, had she attempted to take all of those medications at once, she would have felt worse from all the side effects than how bad she originally felt. I am glad my worker trusted me enough to talk to me about what was going on and I am so very blessed to know medical personal here that are willing to help.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Motherhood Moments #1

Continuing with my "Life At Home" theme, I would like to introduce to you a new series (at least until I forget) titled "Motherhood Moments." Each Monday, I am going to post a photo of what motherhood looks like to me while living here, similar to my photo challenge photos. Some photos will be similar to an American lifestyle and others will reflect my life living in Africa. I hope you enjoy the photos!

Sometimes motherhood looks like this...

A sad child. Today, we woke up to the proprietor chopping down our "swing tree." Sweet pea had a swing hanging from this huge tree and we are not certain yet if it is still there. Since we are renting this property, we did not have to be informed of their beautification changes and choices. Sweet pea has been standing at the window for the past half hour crying the words "tree" and "swing" over and over. I am hoping they leave the swing and the swing branch but will have to wait and see.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Car Parts and Repairs

One of the challenges we experience here has to do with vehicles. Cars are definitely an indispensable item. They help us to go to and fro running errands, visiting friends, shopping, and going to church. They are a much needed item for my sanity. There are some days when living behind walls can feel like a prison. But our poor cars go through a number of daily challenges.

One problem is the poor quality of roads. There are always surprises that await you - pot holes, ditches, cracks in the pavement (if there is any), and bumps where they paved over anything they found in the way.
Big hole on the right side of the road
Another challenge is the lack of drainage. You might find some drainage ditches in the city where we are located but they don't work well. People will throw trash in them or the street sweepers will sweep the garbage into them. When they are full and flooding, people will come by and dig the drainage ditches and place the refuse right back on the side of the road, blocking much of the flow of traffic. Until dry season when the street sweepers sweep the trash back.
Normal sight right after the rain
A third problem is bridges. Many of the materials used to build bridges are not very sturdy and often break. You never know if you vehicle will be the one the cracks the materials or not. Our car can attest to this challenge as it has lost once before. No one wants to pay for good materials for a bridge because often times people will steal them in the middle of the night. You think I kid? Concrete slabs have been known to disappear in minutes once the sun sets.
Wooden bridge
One of the biggest challenges one faces deals with parts. It is very difficult to find car parts and if you do find them, they are most often used or of poor quality. We don't exactly have an Auto Zone or handy car parts store nearby. We recently needed our breaks replaced. So we paid a buyer to go find what we needed. He then returned with what he could find. We have lost quite a bit of money trying to find parts before. If you find something used and it does not work, you have to find a new seller yourself. There are no "exchanges or refunds" to be found here. Or if the item is of too poor a quality for safety, you have to wait for someone traveling this way from the U.S. to bring a better one.
Used tires for sale
The last challenge I am going to mention is traffic or the in-knowledgeable drivers. Most people will call those lovely little dents and scrapes "Congo Camouflage" on their car, but everyone gets them. These come from cars who have misjudged space and distance in their need to fill in the road gaps and get where they want to go. Too many of those fender benders can be quite rough on a car.
Which direction is correct?
So what do you do when the buyer brings back the wrong parts? You let you daughter play...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Family Vacation

I promised myself honesty when I started this blog, and let’s be honest, missionary work is not simple. There are many struggles with day to day living that I don’t mention. Like how I spend more time in the morning filling bottles of filtered water for drinking than I do on the never ending pile of laundry. Or how I sometimes hand wash baby cloth diapers because we have not had electricity is so long that we are about to go naked. Or when it is too hot to cook that I serve a jar of peanut butter as lunch to my toddler.

That being said, our family needed a break. We needed time alone together in a different setting. So we took a vacation. We had planned one for later in the year, but based on other families and their needs and schooling schedules, we took one this past May.

This having been only our second vacation together as a family in the almost 9 years of marriage, we all agreed on one thing – tranquility. Vacation for us is a time of rest, together, as a family. It is a time to refresh and regroup, a time for connection, a time for prayer, and a time to meet often ignored needs. This vacation we chose a place that spoke English and was in the same time zone – England. We found a flat for rent with reliable electricity, and consistent high speed internet. For two weeks, we were together without any interruptions. We went for daily walks, we went to restaurants, we went shopping, we explored museums, we played in the public parks and enjoyed going barefoot in the grass without having to be concerned about what parasite we could pick up, we celebrated a birthday, we ate our weight in fresh berries and fish, we went to church, and we rested. We felt free and anonymous, no stares, not having to constantly keep our guard up to see who may be trying to target us because we stood out.

I cannot begin to describe to you how important a break in mission life is. I have heard of several missionary families who lost prayer and financial partners because they took a family vacation when it was expected for them to remain in their host country the entire term; or the families who were shunned for the decision to seek relief together; or even broken friendships from those who do not understand how human we all are sometimes.

Kevin and I have been very blessed to have so many of you who encourage us to take a break, who ask us how our marriage is faring, and those who want to make certain our children are doing well. So without further ado, here are a few photos of our time together:

Eager and ready for church!

Reliving our first sort-of date, 12.5 years later
First taste of hot chocolate

First moments in grass and enjoying them
(African grass is quite unforgiving and not a good option for bare feet)

Relishing nap time snuggles

Indulging on one our missed food items -
smoked salmon salad with Caesar dressing  
"Look mommy! Sean the Sheep!"

First time swinging

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Road Trip!!!!

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So perhaps it’s finally time I (Kevin) write a post or two. A few weeks (more like a month) ago, I was on Facebook and I posted a comment regarding a road trip I was to take the following day to inspect a brand new airstrip for a potential first landing. This is the rest of the story…

The company that built the airstrip sent a driver to the airport to pick me up early in the morning. We had to hit the road early to get everything accomplished if I wanted to be picked up by plane later that afternoon. Even by departing at 5:45 AM, we hit some pretty gnarly traffic trying to leave Kinshasa. It took the better part of 2 hours just to get out of the city.

Once the city was behind us we were able to take one of the few decently paved roads in the country for about 80 Kilometers (50 miles), passing through multiple customs and immigration checkpoints, and too many broken down or turned over vehicles to count. After about an hour and a half of open road, we made a quick turn and said goodbye to pavement. The next 55 kilometers (34 miles) were some of the most brutal and quite honestly, the most frightening bits of road I have ever been on. I wish I had been able to take more pictures, but on the really hairy stretches of road, I was too busy trying not to bounce my noggin off the passenger door window.

The rainy season was still going strong and it had been pouring in this area for the last 4 days. This driver was good. Really good. We were going down very steep, very slick ravines that were so rutted, the oil pan of the engine and transmission were dragging the middle of the “road”. There were several occasions that water started coming in to the Land Cruiser from the bottom of the doors. We only got stuck once, but once he dropped the transmission into 4 wheel low, we were eventually able to free ourselves.

Finally, after nearly 3 hours of bouncing, slipping, banging, and off-roading while still on the “road”, we were about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the site. We had just passed a small village and began to descend off a small mountain. The road at this point had been carved out of this mountain and was bright red, wet clay. It was so narrow and so slick the back end of the Toyota would skid to one side, smack the side of the mountain, and bounce back to smack the other side of the hill. Then, we turned around a bend and he had to slam on his brakes.

A large and grossly overloaded (which is quite the norm here) cargo truck was nearly wedged in between the two sides of the mountain, and there in front of him on the ground, on the fenders, and all over the place, were his clutch, exhaust driveshaft, and transmission… in pieces….in the dirt…. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere for a while. We were long since out of cell phone range, but were able to back up the hill and find a signal for the SAT phone I brought along to call the camp and have them send another vehicle to the back side of the broken down truck to pick me up.

So after leaving Kinshasa at 5:45 AM, I had at last arrived at the airstrip around 2 PM.  I checked the width, length and hardness, called back to our home base in Kinshasa to inform them the results of the inspection and discuss some of the other qualities of the strip. We had to wait for some weather to clear, but around

4 PM, we heard the Cessna 182 arrive and make a smooth landing on the new (and still very wet) strip. I hopped in the plane, grateful I wouldn’t have to go back to Kinshasa by car, and then did a few landings there myself to get acquainted with the new airstrip. The flight back to Kinshasa took 25 minutes and that was only because we had to be vectored around due to other landing traffic at the international airport.

Although this strip was built for a buisness, most of the places we fly to were built for Christian or Humanitarian purposes. This particular strip is only 40 miles by air from Kinshasa. The next closest one is more than 100 miles away (Kikongo), and the drive time and difficulty increases exponentially. In fact the missionary at Kikongo said it is actually cheaper for him to take an MAF flight than to drive, This is why we are here!