Friday, August 29, 2014

     We commissioned a carpenter named Claude to make 4 bulletin boards, one for each branch. We have used Claude before to make furniture for the missionaries in Uvira.  When we went to pick up the bulletin boards, we discovered that the board surface itself was actually pieces of styrofoam, glued together.

Needless to say, that was kind of tacky and not very durable.  Turns out, there is no such thing as cork in Bujumbura---no one even knows what it is.  So we returned to Claude with fabric to cover up the styrofoam bulletin boards and hopefully to add life to the boards as well.  When we got there, we found  the missionaries were there to give Claude and his family a lesson.  They are being baptized on Saturday!  We were included in the lesson, and I got to explain about how to pay tithing, and I got to bear my testimony.  Gary also got to bear his testimony, which I had to translate.

This is Claude, his wife, Agrippen, and their son Patrick.

                                                 Here they are with the missionaries.

          This is one of their children who was having a bath while we were there visiting.  The "tub" looks like some kind of pod or shell.  Bath occurred outside in the yard.

     Monday was an interesting day.  To start with, 2 exciting things happened:  1.)  Desire's mission call arrived at our door!  (Desire is the young man with the new smile.)  He is going to Kinshasa, Congo on Oct. 30th.   2.)  While we were at Branch 2, Desire (the young man who just graduated and is an aspiring poet) presented us with a wrapped gift.  We opened it and were blown away.  He handmade for us a picture out of banana fibers and manioc root that said, "I love you, Elder and Sister Neeley."

We were touched by the gift.

Also on Monday we went to investigate a school for Domine's son.  She wants him to learn English along with his French, and that isn't possible in the public schools in Bujumbura.  We also went to look at a 2nd possibility for a new building for Branch 3.  Jean Paul came with us to take measurements and develop a plan for remodeling the current building to make it work for a Church.  Following that, we had a meeting with the 3 Branch presidents and Aimable at Gian Franco's.  (He is the part owner and chef at the hotel near us.)  We needed to have a conversation with all of the above concerning 4 orphans who are about to come to Bujumbura to be placed to Australia and wants to bring the 4 siblings to live with her there.  Gian Franco is an attorney who has been involved with refugees, especially children, most of his life.  We are concerned that these children may be unable to make the move.  Perhaps Australia will not allow the sister to bring them.  Maybe she won't have money to pay for passports, visas, transportation.  How long will the kids be living with members?  What happens if they can never leave?
Last surprise of the day was receiving a phone call from Elder Ngongo and Elder Muhemedy, 2 of our full-time missionaries.  They had been in a downtown area and were stopped by the police.  Unable to provide passports, they were being detained.  We grabbed the 2 passports and zone leader Elder Kapata and headed to "centre ville."  There we found the 2 elders in the back of a large covered police truck.  When we provided their passports, they were released.  The police official told us they were making a sweep of that particular area in an effort to break up bands of pick-pockets.  Kind of a funny way to end the day!

Should have had your name tags on, Elders!  Even if it was P day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We found a cute little fruit bat in our yard last week.  Originally we thought he must have stayed out past his curfew and had to find somewhere to sleep till night time came again.  Last we saw him, he was hanging upside down in a short tree that gave him lots of shade and protection.


Sadly, this little guy died in our yard, so his stop-over was probably due to illness, not sunrise.

Friday, August 22, 2014

                                           INTRIGUE AND DEATH IN BUJUMBURA


Crazy day!  Monday, August 11 we were broadsided by 2 different sets of allegations.  The first one was that some missionaries had been meeting girls on different occasions.  The second allegation, reported to us by 2 of our full time missionaries, was that Branch Pres. Jean Rene had taken 2 girls to a bar for beer on 4 occasions before their baptism and once after.???  This is what the 2 girls' older sister had told the missionaries when they were at the girls' home checking to see why the girls had not been to church since their baptism.  Must get to the truth of these allegations.

Turns out, the missionaries accused of meeting girls have already left our fair city.  Whew!  The second issue is a bit stickier.  President Thomas told us to go talk with the 2 converts and ask them what they know about the beers and Jean Rene situation.   The trick is they don't speak French, only Kirundi.  And, we have never met these 2 sisters.  Time to put on our Sherlock Holmes hats and begin the investigation.

Since our friend Domine speaks Kirundi, we asked her to come with us to translate from Kirundi to French when we met with the 2 sisters, Nadine (22 years old) and Evelyn (19 years old.)  Domine arranged for us to meet the sisters at a busy open market and was told what the sisters would be wearing, as none of us knew what they looked like.   While we waited in the truck, Domine made the contact and brought them back to the truck for our conversation.   With Domine's help with Kirundi, this is what we discovered:    The girls' family are very strong Catholics and will not allow the girls to attend the L.D.S. Church.  When the family learned the girls had been baptized, they arranged for a large group of  fellow Catholics to come to their home, one of them holding a cross.  They placed the cross in the girls' hands, and the girls stated that shortly after having the cross placed in their hands, they both became sick.  They are afraid of this cross, and their family told them they would disown them if they went to the L.D.S. Church again. This threat is also frightening if you are a young woman in Africa living with your parents.  You risk having no family AND nowhere to live.  Both girls said they still believe everything the missionaries taught them.  Hopefully one day things will change for them and they will be able to attend Church.  As for the charges against Jean Rene, they said their older sister who has been instrumental in this whole process of intimidation, made up the story about Jean Rene to try to make the Church look bad and lose face.  Jean Rene is cleared.  Case closed!


Monday, August 18th we got a call from branch President Jean Rene telling us a little boy in the branch had died in the night and asking if we wanted to accompany him to visit the grieving family.  We said"yes."  On the way, we learned that this was the little boy for whom we had tried to locate a wheelchair a few months ago.  He was only 6 years old and had struggled with health issues since his birth.  We arrived at their home, a small building with a piece of fabric hanging in the doorway which served as their door.  The home was surrounded by a tall wall and had a dirt courtyard area in front of the house.  There were about 25 family members and friends sitting in front of the house, with several more inside the house where the little boy lay.  As we were meeting with the mother under the lone tree in the courtyard, 3 men entered the yard carrying a small pine casket covered in purple fabric into the house, and not long after, we could hear the sound of the lid being nailed onto the casket, one nail after another.  The mother broke down crying, as did many others, including me.  They then carried the little casket out of the house, out through the courtyard to a small pick-up truck, the crowd of mourners following behind the man carrying the boy's casket.  Three men jumped in the bed of the truck with the casket and stood facing forward behind the cab, holding a crude cross fashioned out of 2x4's which they had written on with a ball point pen.  We had watched them write on this cross in the courtyard but weren't close enough to see what thy had written.  And then the short trip to the burial site.  From death at midnight to burial at about 1:30pm the very same day.  There is no embalming, so things need to happen quickly in this warm, humid climate.  But no matter how different from home the customs surrounding death are, one thing remains constant no matter the country, the language, the customs-----a mother's love and her profound grief at the loss of a child.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

     At last!  The unveiling of Desire's new smile!  You remember when this young man who was missing a front tooth went to the dentist to have the tooth replaced and had two more whittled down to nubs?  Well, he had a bad infection following the procedure and suffered a lot of pain until the infection was cured.  Now, here are the results of all his pain and suffering!

He is about to receive his mission call.

Our power situation has been ridiculous lately, averaging between 3-4 hours of power in a day and never knowing when those hours of power will occur.  Our generator has been broken and even after having been taken to be repaired, it doesn't work at all.  So, we spent a good part of 2 days trying to find one the right size.  We finally made a purchase, but when we got it home, it wouldn't start, so then we had to go on a quest to find somewhere that could charge our new battery that was in the new generator.  I tell you, absolutely nothing is easy!

Here is Gary hooking up our new generator.

Friday, August 15th started with meeting Branch President Jean Rene to go to a hospital where an 11 year old boy was awaiting hernia surgery.  The family changed which hospital they elected to use, and when we pulled up, the "hospital" didn't inspire much confidence.  It was actually a small house with one car in the driveway.

The boy was already hooked up to an IV and surgery was scheduled for 3:00pm.  Gary and Jean Rene gave him a blessing, using oil Gary brought.  Our main purpose was to pay for the boy's surgery, so having done that, we left, leaving the boy and his mom waiting.  Hope all goes well.

Later this afternoon we went to a graduation "party" in honor of a cute young man named Desire, ward clerk in Branch 2.  I call him my favorite poet ever since he composed a long poem entitled "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."  He presented this poem in a very dramatic fashion in a missionary training meeting,  walking, strutting, gesturing dramatically, his voice rising and falling as he 
paced back and forth in front of his audience.  He graduated with a degree in doing lab work, in identifying various illnesses, microbes, virus, and bacteria.  But if all else fails, I still believe there's a 
coffee house in NYC waiting for Desire to do his groovin' and jive poetry!  The graduation party again consisted of sitting in a somber circle, with people standing at will to share thoughts about Desire, about the accomplishment of his graduation.  And then the proverbial Fanta!  There were about 20 of us there, and our car was the only vehicle in the parking lot.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

     Thursday's trip home from Bukavu was much slicker and quicker.  On the way home we stopped and bought tomatoes, pineapple and papaya from a roadside market.  Then we all came here,  and we threw together what we could for lunch for everyone.  We dropped the President and the Clawson's at the airport at 1:15pm and went home, spent.  But as we were semi-dozing on the couch, the phone rang.  It was Aimable, the young man getting married, and he invited us to his "dot" party, which was to start at 6:00pm.  We dragged ourselves over to the dot (pronounced dote) party and were glad we did.  It was a real Burundian wedding tradition, the giving of the "dot", or bride price.  The bride-to-be was not present at first,  and the dialogue between representatives of both families was kind of an ancient traditional game of "Who are you seeking?"    African drums, woven bridal baskets filled with different foods given to the bride's parents by the groom, the sound of a cow mooing when the dot was presented and accepted (dots used to be cows), and a grand entrance by the bride-to-be, complete with singers culminated the ceremony.  Fanta drinks and juices for all!

This is a wedding basket that they fill with food (rice, avocados, etc.) for the bride's parents.

     Two days after the dot was presented, the wedding took place.  The couple got married civilly at noon and then came to Branch 1 for what they called a Church blessing.  This consisted of advice being given to the newlyweds by Jean Paul and his wife Egenie, a couple of songs, and then advice and a prayer given by President Mabingo, the Branch president.   Frida looked beautiful in her wedding dress, and of course, Aimable is as handsome as he can be.

                             I got to wear my official Burundian dress to the wedding.

     Their reception began after the Church blessing and, boy, was it boring!  All the reception consisted of was everyone sitting in chairs listening to men from both sides of the family bloviate.  Refreshments again consisted of a Fanta drink.  The event began about 3:00pm (at least that is when we were told to be there for the blessing), the Van's made their exit at 7:00pm, and we stayed till Aloys told us to go up and present our gift to the happy couple at about 8:00pm.  No fun had by anyone at the reception!  Aimable and Frida had warned us about Burundian receptions, and they were right!  No socializing, so dancing, no eating, no singing. no drums.  This is definitely something we do better in the States!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

     Wednesday started out being that "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."  The members of the Church in Bukavu had written a 6 page letter requesting physical support, like manuals, hymn books, missionaries, a place to meet, visits from the mission president or his representatives, and this trip with the mission president was in response to their requests.  We brought with us a large box full of supplies for them.  The day of this trip, at the last minute, we had to go to meet with one of the ministers in the government.  We picked up Jean Paul and Domine, then picked up "the general", and then appeared at the minister's office so we could ask for help in getting visas for the missionaries.  He asked us to re-do a letter we brought because he wants to see what the Church has done and is doing for the people in Burundi.  Not in building character and faith but in how much money have we shoveled into Burundi.  A project for another day.  We then hurried to the Rwandan Embassy to pick up our visas for our trip to Bukavu, Congo.  We were, at this point, running about 1/2 hour behind our planned departure.  We were thinking we would hit the road about 10:00am.  HA!  We sat there in the Embassy office waiting to have the Thomas' passports and visas given to us.  They are Canadian, and I guess things aren't so good between Canada and Burundi because they made us sit there for 11/2 hours before they produced said documents.  Now instead of leaving at 10:00am, it was 12:30pm for our departure.  And every border crossing we hit on the way---that being 4 ----was long and drawn out, issues with papers being raised, looking for papers, back-tracking. (I think mostly due to inexperience.)  It was 5:00pm when we finally arrived in Bukavu.  People there had been waiting between 3 and 6 hours to hear from President Thomas, as our meeting was scheduled to start at 2:00pm.    He started speaking at about 5:20pm and had to end at 5:30 because about half of the 60 people there had come to Bukavu from Rwanda and needed to get back across the border before the border closing at 6:00pm.  Actually arriving and being with the people, seeing their faith and love of the gospel made this difficult day all worth it.  After half of the members left, the President opened up the group to questions and answers.  He unexpectedly shared the privilege of answering the questions with the senior missionary couples, giving us a couple of doozies to respond to------1)  Was the process of revelation Joseph Smith experienced the same as what Mohammed experienced?  2)  What is the Church's position on homosexuality and polygamy?

This is the attic room where the meeting in Bukavu was held.

By about 8:00pm we were headed down a narrow dirt road to our hotel, the Orchid Safari Club.  It was a pleasant surprise, the hotel being beautifully situated on Lake Kivu.  So nice!  We had dinner in their dining room and got to our room about 10:00pm.

Masks available for purchase at the hotel.

These next shots are of the auspicious sounding Ruzizi International Bridge.  Otherwise known as the rickety, wooden bridge that you cross to go from Rwanda to  Congo.  They made us get out and walk over the bridge while our driver (Gary) drove over.

Some pictures on the way to Bukavu.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

     The day after the 3 branch conference, we started our day by going to visit the head dude at Immigration again.  We thought we had our missionary visa situation worked out, but last week when we went to immigration to pick up 5 visas for the elders, the chief of visas refused to give them to us unless we paid $210 for each missionary's 3 month visa.  This was the same issue we had last time we attempted to get visas, the same issue we talked to the head of Immigration about.  Long story short, I exchanged some unhappy, angry words with the head of visas to the point that I was just shaking with emotion.  SO, Monday morning all 8 of us "whitey's" went back to see the head of Immigration.  He advised us to write a letter explaining what the Church was all about and give this letter to 4 different ministers in the government.  The rest of the day we spent at the Rwandan Embassy, applying for visas so we could all go to Bukavu, Congo via Rwanda.  In the evening, after missionary interviews, we all went to Silhouette for dinner.
                                      Here are the elders, kicking back and enjoying dinner.

On Tuesday, our group of 8 headed to Uvira to meet with the branch presidents there.  But President Mabishwa asked if the President could meet the members in the 2 branches, so there was a meeting when we got there in honor of the new mission President's visit.  President Thomas spoke, and then, out of the blue, he asked if I would come up and bear my testimony.  Surprise!  

                       This is President Thomas and his wife.  Notice the chapel is actually a tent.

The day ended back in Bujumbura with setting apart a missionary who leaves for the Ivory Coast in 2 days.  And then dinner at Club Lake Tanganyika.

Friday, August 8, 2014

     Three times this week we have had our beauty sleep interrupted, and believe me, that is something you don't want to mess with at our age!  Sunday we took three missionaries to the airport to catch a 2:45am flight,  Wednesday we went to the airport to pick up 3 new missionaries who landed at 1:45am.,  and Saturday we picked up the new mission president, President Thomas and his wife at the cheery hour of 1:30am.

     Sunday was an exciting day.  All 3 branches met together at Branch 1 for a special "conference" meeting to meet the new president.  There was a great spirit of anticipation as people started gathering.  We had hired 3 buses to bring members from branches 2 and 3 over to Branch 1.   We picked up the mission president from his hotel and arrived at the branch about 20 minutes before the meeting began.
It went well, the theme being "Real Growth in Faith, Conversion, Retention, and Activation."

               This is President Thomas greeting Branch President Mabishwa from Uvira.

             This is President Mabingo from Branch 1 and President Dieudonne from Branch 3.

For me, the best part of the meeting was our elders singing "The Spirit of God" in English,  a cappella, with so much feeling it brought tears to my eyes.
     Afterwards, the president did interviews and Gary did his presidents' training meeting.  While this was going on, I sat under the big tree with Sister Thomas, Sister Clawson and Sister Van.  Later we all came to our house and we had dinner for eight.  Wow!  Entertaining in Bujumbura!  We had Gian Franco prepare a delicious grilled chicken, green salad and bread, to which we added rice, fruit, my sour dough bread, brownies and beignets.  Elder Van also brought cassava bread wrapped in banana leaves so we could all taste it.  Thumbs down on the cassava bread!

                            This is cassava bread.  Don't buy it 'cause you won't eat it!

It was fun being with everyone and visiting and laughing.  More white faces in one spot than I have seen in 5 months!