Wednesday, December 31, 2014

     Christmas is a very different animal in Burundi.  A family will save up money for weeks in order to buy some meat for Christmas dinner.  Gifts are not given much.  Perhaps parents will be able to get a piece of clothing for their kids.  (Perhaps.)  For those of you totally against the commercialization of Christmas, Burundi is the place for you!  We even had to buy birthday wrapping paper to wrap the small gifts for the missionaries, as there is not even any Christmas wrapping paper available.

These are the little trees we saw being sold on the side of the roads.  We did see a decorated fake tree in the lobby of a hotel and in a nicer market.
On Christmas Eve, Gary and I got up early, turned on our "tree", put on Christmas music and opened up a wonderful big box of gifts from my sister and my kids.  It was so much fun!  I'm sure we had the best Christmas in Bujumbura!

Later that day we drove to the Market of Sion to pick up Kim's adopted son from Rwanda, Emmy. He took the bus to Bujumbura to be with us. It was great to have him join us for the Christmas holidays!

On Christmas Day, we hosted all the full-time missionaries, one of our gate guards, and Emmy for a big Christmas dinner.  There were 17 of us in all.  The main course was fou-fou, lovingly made my one of the sister missionaries, Sister Nkuka.  For the un-initiated, fou-fou is simply corn flour, manioc flour, and water, cooked on top of the stove until it is thick.  (Have any of you ever made play-dough?)

Fou-fou is a popular dish among the Congolese because it sits heavy in your stomach,  and you feel full.
We also served rice, a meat sauce, green beans, a cabbage salad, fresh fruit, bread and rolls, tarts and frosted cake.  And all the Fanta your little heart could desire.

This is Emmy, our Christmas guest, along with me and Gary who is so pleased with his Christmas tie!

After dinner, we sang carols and read from Luke.  Then we played 3 games which were crazy and fun.  And then there was singing from the Elders and the Sisters.  They really got into it!

Merry Christmas to Kim from Emmy and Susann!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Our first Christmas activity was a dinner for the 5 branch presidents and their wives on Dec. 18th.    We held it at Gian Franco's house, and it was so much fun----and a cultural learning experience as well.

All of the guests rendezvoused at our house so we could go over to Gian Franco's together.  The first thing we learned about the Congolese culture this evening was that the woven basket I have on our coffee table has meanings beyond what we realized.

Our Congolese guests from Uvira told us that if you have this basket on the table it means you will have visitors.  And those who come to your house and see this basket on the table will know that this family is warm and welcoming.  This basket is also used at the dote ceremony.  The groom's family places the dote (money for a bride) in the basket, and then the parents of the bride take the basket  in the bedroom and count the dote.

This is Gary at the beginning of the party attempting to carry this box the way everyone here does.  Not much success, however!

This is our group at the dinner table.  We had a wonderful meal which included 4 kinds of meat, 3 different kinds of salads, fries, fried bananas, and a fruit cup for dessert. When it was time to eat, many of the guests went to wash their hands because they chose to eat with their fingers even though silverware was provided.  Meat was the most popular item on the table---we had goat, lamb, chicken and beef. I noticed several people were piling their plates high with food that there was no way they could eat.  One of the branch presidents explained that in the Congo, when you were invited to dinner, you took all leftovers home with you.  Sure enough, most went home with a plastic bag full of food from their plates!

After dinner, we read the Christmas story in Luke and sang several Christmas carols.  Then the Van's provided some impromptu dancing which was fun for everybody.  We did the Chicken Dance, a line dance, the Hokey-Poky, and the Maquarena.

Everyone seemed to have a great time.  They said this was the first time ever that the group of presidents and their wives had been together socially.  We enjoyed being with them and feeling the joy that they expressed through word and deed.  Great evening for all!!


     We find ourselves in a strange place for Christmas this year.  Even stranger than last year spending Christmas in a motel!

     In Bujumbura there is no decorating for Christmas in public places.  The only Christmas lights we have seen are the ones we brought with us from home.  Christmas trees, the real ones, are nonexistent .  There are a few cheap artificial trees we have seen that are about 3 feet high.

     So far, we have not seen any Christmas wrapping paper available for purchase.  We are going to have to get creative in order to wrap some little gifts for the missionaries!

Here is our Christmas tree.  We made it out of lights we brought with us, and we duct taped it to the wall.  Pretty dang festive, right?  Nothing says Christmas like duct tape!

This is our only other decoration, a nativity scene made of leaves(?).

Today we are having a Christmas party with the 5 Branch presidents and their wives, and we are having it at Gian Franco's restaurant. (home)

On Christmas Day we will be hosting 12 full time missionaries, the Van's, a guard and my sister Kim's "adopted" son from Rwanda, Emmie.  This is our Christmas tree with our present from home underneath the tree.

We want to wish all of our family and all of our friends the merriest of Christmas's!  We miss you all and look forward to spending next Christmas together!  Give each other hugs and kisses from us.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

     Do you remember when I posted about our new gate guard and how his little 3 year old daughter had died?  About 30 days after a death, the family then hosts an end of mourning party, officially closing the mourning period.  Our guard, Dieudonne, invited us to come to his family's end of mourning party which was held about 30 miles outside of Bujumbura.  We took with us the Branch President of branch 3, President Dieudonne, and the 2 sister missionaries who are currently giving our guard the discussions.

     When we arrived, we found that our guard had spent considerable time and effort in constructing a pieced together tent on the hillside.  We were led inside and seated at the chairs on the highest side of the tent, the highest on the hill.

People inside the tent were singing songs with great African harmonies, accompanied by one person on a makeshift drum.

 This is so great!  Somehow my camera took this picture, but it must have been taken with some special  effect that is available on the camera because it looks more like a painting than a photo.  Accidental art!

     After the singing and some talks, they started bringing in plates of food for everyone there.  President Dieudonne leaned over and whispered, "Don't eat that."  He sweetly made excuses for the four of us, saying that we would not be eating because we were fasting.  I guess if a local tells you not to eat it, you just don't eat it.  I still do not know exactly why, but  I assume it is because it may have made us sick.

     At one point, people were coming up to where we were sitting to take our picture.  It felt a little odd to have 3 or 4 people coming up at a time taking our picture.  Not long after the food was distributed, the 4 of us made our exit, walking down through the middle of the tent to the entrance.  We got to greet everyone on the one side of the tent with a handshake and a "Bonjour."  For everyone on the other side of the tent, we waved and said "au revoir."  They responded with waves and "goodbyes."

The amount of food served was impressive, as was the size of the tent and the singing.  This is a big undertaking for a poor family.

 We will leave you with a picture of some of the children.

Monday, December 15, 2014

     Saturday night Gian Franco merely wanted to share with us the information he had found on the internet about the Church.  He was very excited about the information he found concerning the bishop's storehouses and the ability we have to send food and other necessities to people in need.

     On Sunday, he came to Church and brought his 3 daughters.


     The elders and sisters in our zone, 12 of them, got together on Monday for a zone activity which consisted of going to the "zoo"  together.  It was a gorgeous day, and we had lots of fun!  This "zoo" is small and doesn't have many animals, but the one outstanding thing about this zoo is that you can get up close and personal with the animals.

This beautiful young leopard came from the Congo.

 He loved getting attention, having his back scratched.  Kind of like a big pussy cat.

     Here we each got to go inside the crocodile's pen and touch him.  I kept asking myself, "Why doesn't this croc move?" I still don't understand why, but I remain grateful that he didn't budge.   One unexpected scare came when my knees gave way as I was crouching down to touch him.  I nearly landed on top of him, but was able to fall just beside him.  Darn knees!

     There were 2 chimps in a cage together.  One seemed a bit cranky, but the other one was calm enough.  He liked to have his back and arm petted and scratched.

It's hard to see all these animals in small cages.  I doubt there are any rules about the treatment of animals in Burundi.

Next stop is the snake department!  We were allowed to wear the green snakes like jewelry, passing them from one missionary to the other for photo ops.

Next is  the python which was passed around.  I hope these snakes don't catch something from all of us and die!

Here is a picture of all 12 of our missionaries.Cute, huh!  And check out the cool tree behind them!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

     We have a friend named Gian Franco who is an Italian who has lived in Burundi for 18 years.  His entire life has been spent in working with various aide organizations to help people.   By training he is an attorney, an attorney whose passion is cooking Italian food.  We have eaten at his restaurant often and have entertained groups there as well.  Recently he has moved his restaurant to his home.  He is married to a Burundian woman named Nicole, and they have 3 darling daughters.  He and his family have been to our house to watch "Frozen."  After seeing "Frozen", the girls asked to take the video home and watch it.  They took it home and watched it repeatedly, as little girls do.  Last Saturday when we went to dinner at Gian Franco's, we asked them if they knew the words to "Let it Go."  Did they ever!  The 3 of them stood up and sang the entire song, complete with actions!  It was so cute!!  Especially in French!

This same night Gian Franco asked if he could come to Church with us on Sunday.  He is Catholic (of course!) but he has some questions that he wonders about.  One of his questions has to do with revelation.  To him it makes no sense that God no longer speaks to his children here on the earth.  He was intrigued that we have a prophet who receives revelation.  We have talked with him a bit about the church, giving him a couple of pamphlets and the New Testament and Book of Mormon stories for children.  This night we also gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and explained that it was a second witness of Jesus Christ and a record of a people that lived on the American continent anciently.

On Sunday he appeared at Church and stayed for the full 3 hours.  He agreed to meet with the missionaries and told us he had started to read The Book of Mormon.

During the week he met with the missionaries twice.  This morning (Saturday) he called us to say he needed to talk with us about some "very important things."  Don't know quite what to expect, but we are going to his house at 4:00 for dinner and a conversation.

Friday, December 12, 2014


     President Dieudonne mentioned to us at the end of a meeting that the Relief Society was having an activity and wanted to invite us.  I was pretty happy that they were actually having an activity and so gladly accepted the invitation.  It was on a Thursday afternoon.  Gary and I arrived at the branch the day of the activity, planning to sit on the back row and observe.  We walked in and were immediately steered to 4 plastic chairs that were draped with a bit of Christmas tinsel.  They were set apart from the other chairs, and I realized these were special chairs reserved for the 2 "muzungu" missionary couples.  There was a long bench in front of the chairs that had a tablecloth and a vase with plastic flowers in it.

The activity was a demonstration of how to decorate a cooked chicken with spaghetti and a vegetable crown.  The whole chicken was sitting upright on a bed of rice.   This meal is one you serve on a special occasion, maybe for the holidays.

This is the chicken before he receives his spaghetti cape and his veggie crown.

And, Voila!  He has the spaghetti wrapped around his headless shoulders and a crown made of a tomato and a cucumber!

 After the demonstration, it was time to eat.  They had prepared plenty of rice, peas, and carrots to go with the chicken, but there was only one chicken to feed the 25 or so people.  They brought Gary and me the 2 whole legs of the chicken, which was embarrassing when you saw the little mouthful of chicken on everyone else's plate.  (We had them take some of our chicken back in hopes they would give more to someone else.)

We were the only ones to receive silverware or drinking glasses, so everybody else went to wash their hands in preparation for eating with their fingers.  The entire room full of people was scooping food into their mouths with their fingers while we used forks. And we were the only ones to be served French fries.

We were happy to see the Relief Society having an activity and happy to have been invited.  But, as Gary said, it was all very humbling and a little uncomfortable to receive extra attention and honor for no other reason than you are the missionary couple.  These are sweet people, very loving.  And we are blessed to be serving here with them.

Because Susann would no post this herself I am taking liberties..  This E-mail was sent to Susann after she expressed to the family the honor of them recognizing her by naming their new born child after her.
 This ain't pretty but it's heaven!  Because I did it.
                Dear Sister  Neeley ,
it is a great privilege and delight for us and it is a great honor to name our baby Susan as your name really a name that she will take here on earth and in the heaven. We have taken that name for you because of your great attitude and enthusiasm and sociability between people. While you are here in Bujumbura my wife and I have enjoyed you tremendously as we took time to talk .
And we 're very grateful that our child will be good like you.
Also your reaction has been good to say that it is a great honor for you really!

We know that the Lord will bless you because of your kindness and sacrifice
Of time and money to serve here in Bujumbura and Uvira . The contribution that we Offer to build the kingdom of God on earth will lead us up to the exaltation .

Always going forward!
President Jean Rene & Wife

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

     The night before Thanksgiving, our tall, elegant friend, Aloys, called and asked us to come to the hospital to give his sister a blessing.  She had had a stroke earlier that day and was in intensive care at a local hospital.  We got there after dark, and Gary helped Aloys give his sister the blessing.  She was very ill,  shaking.   After the blessing she seemed to recognize Aloys, which she hadn't earlier.  On Friday, however, she died.  She was 53 years old.  It seemed to me that people don't live very long in Burundi.  In fact, going to a hospital here is hazardous to the health.  I looked up some facts concerning life and death in Burundi and this is what I found:

Burundi is ranked 167 out of 177 countries in life expectancy.
Life expectancy at birth for females is 51.3 years.  For males, it is 48.5 years.

Infant and maternal mortality rates are among the worst in Africa.
Maternal mortality rate in 2010 was 970 deaths out of 100,000 live births.
If the baby is a boy, 70.22 of boys out of 1000 live births die.
For girl babies, there are 63.44 deaths out of every 1000 live births.  For comparison sake, the number of deaths per 1000 births in the U.S. is 6.  In the Scandinavian countries and Japan, it is 2.

If you are a female, the percentage of your surviving to age 65 is 47,9%.

     Before I leave this topic, I wanted to mention something I found quite unusual at the morgue viewing for Aloys' sister.  As we all filed past the open casket,  each of us in turn was handed an aerosol can of room deodorizer and expected to squirt her on her forehead before we moved on.  It was quite bizarre.  It did't feel right doing it, but when in Rome….

Time to lighten the subject matter, don't you think?

Here is a picture of our newest addition to the wall of masks.  The top one is our latest model:

Remember the 4 orphans?  The youngest one, Anna, was baptized last week!  We had contacted the older sister in Australia who is a member of the Church to get her permission to teach the gospel to her siblings.  She agreed, and Anna is the first to be baptized.  Anna is the little one on the front row.

     Our cute sister missionaries are the "Four Amigos."  When we got word that one of them was leaving to go home, the girls went out and had matching dresses made.  They cried at the drop of a hat for the week prior to her departure, and the airport was awash in tears.  Serving here in Bujumbura was the first time they had been out of the familiar Lubumbashi and away from the watchful eye of the mission home.  First time out of the Congo or Madagascar for them all, too.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

     On Wednesday, we went to the funeral for Frida and Aimable's baby.  First we went to the morgue at a local hospital, the only hospital in town that has refrigeration to keep bodies. ( Aimable returned from his business trip on Tuesday, so the funeral was scheduled for Wednesday.)   There was another family there having a ceremony for a 4 year old boy who had died.   After they finished and moved out, we all filed into the morgue.  The baby was in his little casket on a morgue table that had been covered with a white cloth.  The refrigerated holding cubbies lined one wall.  The group of mourners walked in, looked at the baby and then formed a circle around him.  There was a short service which consisted of a hymn, a prayer, and a short talk by the branch president.  After this, the baby's casket was loaded in the back of a Landcruiser for the trip to the cemetery.   A bus was there to transport people to the cemetery, and the bus plus several personal vehicles formed a procession with blinking lights.

We were following the cruiser with the baby.  Here we are on our way to the cemetery.

The cemetery is vast, full of trees, grass and dirt roads.  Quite beautiful, really.


When we arrived, we found a grave had been dug.  It was small, lined with bricks.  Over the top of the hole, a piece of sheet metal had been placed.

The ceremony at the gravesite consisted of a grave dedication by Jean Paul and some hymns.

The baby's casket was then lowered into the grave by two men using two straps to gently place it in the tomb.

Close relatives then approached the grave and dropped flower petals in.

The piece of sheet metal was put back on top of the hole, after which a single layer of bricks was laid on top of the metal.  A batch of cement was mixed on the ground, and then they proceeded to cover the entire grave with the concrete.  During this process, we sang hymn after hymn until it was completed.

     The parents and grandparents placed flowers on the grave.  You can see his name on the cross is Precious Burundi.  (Burundi is his father's last name.)

     From the cemetery, we all drove to a covered reception hall for a final meeting of the day.   Before  entering, each one of us did a symbolic washing of the hands.  When you participate in a burial, you need to wash your hands to become clean again.  Everyone there "participated in the burial" by attending the funeral.  This is Gary washing his hands.

There were about 150 of us gathered in the reception hall.  Of course, we all had a Fanta to drink.  Then a member of the family stood and thanked everyone for coming, and we went home.
It was a hard, hard day for Frida and Aimable.  I think the most excruciating fact is that their baby did not have to die.  With good medical attention, he would be alive today.