Monday, February 25, 2008

We're off to Luputa

The next 6 blogs are an accounting of our new water project in Luputa. We wanted to let you experience this wonderful region and get a feel for this gentle countryside. In the posting the first two posts got switched so the account starts with the second blog and then reads through chronologically about our experience. Enjoy the pictures as that is what it is all about.
Life in the Congo is a great experience and this trip was a keeper. Scroll down to "The Water Project" and then come back and read from the beginning.

There are roads and then their are roads but some roads should not be called roades!

Heavy loads for those transporters using bicycles

The trucks travel very fast thinking that if they hesitate they will get stuck. consequently the pedestrians hear the cars cooming and scatter into the tall grass and then peak out after you have passed. They are probably also trying to stay out of the way of the flying mud.

The scenery on our trek was amazing with the landscape of palm trees, lovely villages, beautiful farms all along our path. The roads were a different story. Have you ever ridden on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland? Well, multiply that by 3.5 hours and you now understand the rigors of our trip to Luputa. All along the road we passed women carrying babies on their backs and large bundles or baskets on their heads. Men had their bicycles loaded down with large bags of corn and produce taking it back to Mwene Ditu, pushing their bikes all the way. This trip, taking produce to Mwene Ditu can take a full week before they arrive back home and will earn them about $10. The young men in Luputa who want to go on a mission earn the required funds by making these trips. To go on a mission they have to come up with $240 for their passport and visa then the church funds the rest of their mission.

We arrived in Luputa in the early afternoon and went straight to the church, a nice rented building with an additional building for classrooms and offices in the back yard. We were greeted by the District Presidency, Pres. Benini, a gracious, gentle man who is a farmer. His wife runs a nursery school right next to the church. The members here want a new chapel and they are growing and need a bigger place but the cost of building out in this remote area is in the Millions and the church cannot justify the amount of money it would take to do this. We visited with the members who had come to greet us and the hundreds of children who came running as soon as they saw the white faces in town.

We had to check in with the government and register with the immigration office. We were greeted with much enthusiasm and everyone knew why we were there. They were more excited than we were that they were going to get water. We met some of the water committee and the government engineer who we had heard about from the Christensens. He had a baseball cap from a Pizza place in Nephi, Utah. When he came to meet us he had on his cap and remembered that it was pretty famous. We told him that the Christensen’s were going to take the picture of him in the cap back to the pizza place and make him famous. He loved that. You will find him in his Nephi hat in the picture with the Water Committee. He is wearing the red baseball cap but you can't see Nephi written on it.

The Water Committee

This is Relief Society meeting at church where the women are learning how to sew beautiful baby clothes. I bought little girl dresses and a sweater set for the new granddaughters. Very special and they were delighted that I wanted to buy their handiwork.

The bed

the shower

the water closet that doesn't work but then Leopoldville has been gone for a very long time. It is now called Kinshasa

We had arranged to stay at a Catholic Mission. It has a generator so we would have some electricity. Turned out we had electricity when we arranged for it and paid for the fuel to run the generator. The mission is a beautiful spot with a chapel, a school and living quarters. We were using 5 rooms in the mission which is all the rooms they had to rent out. The rooms were pretty bare, not clean and the beds were something else but we brought our own linen to cover the beds and mosquito nets to put over the beds. The Facilities were . . .a . . interesting as the toilets needed to be flushed with a bucket and the shower was a room with a drain so showering was out of a bucket. It smelled like the camping outhouse so we just pretended we were camping out and it worked just fine. We all shared one bathroom which meant we had to space our use but it worked and we were glad for a bucket of warm water every night to wash the dirt away. We had access to a dining room with a large table where we could fix our meals and eat.

The team, the Frandsens, Robert and us, had important business to conduct. We had to choose a site monitor for our project. The site monitor acts in behalf of the church as their representative to monitor the project and report back to us what is happening. Because this project is big and expensive we had to choose a very responsible person that we could count on to take care of our interests. We needed someone who could ride a motorcycle (his transportation to the project), work a computer (write reports and email them to us), use a camera and transfer pictures to email, use a phone responsibly and be honest and forthright in working with ADIR and in reporting back to us. Pres. Benini had 3 candidates for us to interview. We interviewed each candidate separately. One man was a farmer and needed the work but had no computer skills. The second candidate had a degree in Agronomy and had limited computer skills and he had a license to drive a motorcycle. The third candidate was a recently returned missionary, good computer skills and eager to learn. They all interviewed well but after we considered the three and prayed for guidance we all felt very strongly to choose the recently returned missionary , Daniel Kazadi. We didn’t inform Daniel till the next day, then we took him with us to see the water source. He was so very excited and somewhat emotional when told he was our new site manager. He later told us that he and his new wife prayed every day for a way to earn enough money so he could take her to the temple. He knew that this was the Lord’s blessing so that they could fulfill their goal.

Daniel Kasidi, our site manager.

We needed a little walk so took a stroll and ended up in the market. This is an open air market as most markets are in the Congo. People put together wooden stahls and sell their wares. We have never seen so many expert bicycle repairmen or so many bicycle parts than in this market. . I wanted to find a straw hat. It was very hot and I knew we were getting sunburned. We found this lady dressed very elegantly, selling in her stall. There were several women selling termites covered in oil to keep them from flying away. There were live caterpillars and they kept trying to get us to eat one. Elder Frandsen bought some for a boy if he would eat one and he pretended to eat one but never really did. We have seen them before roasted and the kids eat them then. Many of the bikes here are very old and I am sure I saw one just like the bike I got when I was 7 years old. I never did find a hat but we did get to see the train come in. There were several men and women sewing beautiful Congolese fabrics. The Congolese are known as the fashion setters of Africa and sewing is a real art. I must get a dress made before we return home.

That night we celebrated by eating our MRE’s and our bleach washed pineapple and counted our blessings.

Our first night took a little getting used to our accommodations but by the 3rd night we sat on the veranda and looked at the stars and fireflys and started planning how we could serve a mission and live in Luputa. The place was starting to grow on us. Luputa has a peacefulness, a serenity that is hard to find these days.

The Luputa Water Project

The Water Project:
The greatest problems in Africa can be directly linked to the need for clean water. Over twenty years ago a water engineer from the Congo saw great potential for capturing a natural water source up in the hills of the Kasi Oriental region and bringing it down through the small villages and into Luputa. It became a dream project that he would pursue with anyone who would listen. The Humanitarian missionaries, the Christiansen’s (our predecessors ), contracted with this engineer, Dominique Sowa of ADIR to do a 5 phase water project in the Kinshasa area. This is the water project we are completing at this time (Camp Luka, Laloux etc.) Dominique took the Christensen’s along with the church water engineer specialists Dave and Lena Frandsen to Luputa in February 2007 to see his dream project. Bro. Frandsen, a retired water engineer with a wealth of experience was elated with the project as it had many positives for such a remote area. (1) It was a quality water source (2) The project could be gravity fed ,eliminating the need for a pump, electricity or a well, making it virtually maintenance free (3) it would serve up to 200,000 recipients. (4) the project would take water over a route through 4 villages over 30 Km. The only problem was that the cost of such a project exceeded the cost of any previous water project the church had ever funded.

The Christensen’s and the Frandsen’s returned to Kinshasa and proceeded to write up the project for submission to the church. This is where the Barlow’s enter this wonderful story. The last thing the Christensen’s did before leaving the Congo at the end of their mission was to submit this project for approval. Now the long process of questions and research and reassurance started as the project went through the church Area Authorities on to Salt Lake City to the church Humanitarian Services to the presiding bishopric and then to the first Presidency. This was a long process and one which had its ups and downs but, in a way, very reassuring as we experienced the rigorous process that a project goes through before your humanitarian dollars are spent. The proposal was reworked and rewritten several times.

During this time Luputa natives were praying for the Lord to bless them with clean water. They have such great faith and know that Heavenly Father knows who they are and are aware of their suffering. In the first of December 2007 we were notified that the project was approved and we could proceed with the legal documents, the contract etc. When we notified Dominique Sowa of the acceptance of the project, he shed tears of joy. He said this is a dream come true, something I have dreamed for 20 years. No one was more excited than Dominique.

A trip was planned and the Frandsens and Robert Hokason, in charge of all church water projects made arrangements to visit the new water site. To start, meetings were held in Kinshasa with the ADIR staff. Contract issues were ironed out and agreements were reached. Now it was time to go to Luputa.
We wanted to celebrate with our Luputa friends. We scheduled our trip to Luputa for Feb 7-12. The head of water projects for the Church, Robert Hokanson, had never been to the Congo so it was only right he better come see where all the money was going. The Frandsen’s needed to come and recheck the site and work on the contract. Pres. and Sis. Livingstone (the mission President) had to go to a Church District Conference in Luputa and we had to get some hands on Luputa experience, pick a site monitor to monitor the project and participate in telling the villagers they were going to get clean water. We were quite an entourage heading for Luputa.

The trip was difficult and required we take our own food and water with us. We would spend the first night in Mwene Ditu, 3 nights in Luputa and one night in Mbuji Mayi The first leg was a flight from Kinshasa to Mbuji Mayi on Central Africa Airways. The plane wasn’t bad but when we landed safe and sound everyone cheered and clapped, kind of made us wonder if we should have been a little more leery of flying CAA. We were met in Mbuji Mayi by the branch Pres. who had arranged for us two 4W drive vehicles rented from a Catholic organization. Actually we only had one vehicle reserved with a previous driver Omer who scrambled to find us a second vehicle and a driver Alphonse. We had been warned that the trip was arduous and that the chance of getting stuck in the rainy season was very high.

Omer and his son Patience. Patience was the look out and the puddle measurer (literally. . . he measured the depths of the Grande Puddles.

Alphonse was our driver for most of the trip. He was new as a driver for the mission as Omer has driven the Pres. and missionaries since the time the Christensens came to Luputa. Alphonse found the Mormons to be a tad different than most people he has driven . . .Hmmmmmm.

Mbuji Mayi was much like Kinshasa but much smaller. We had to fill the cars with gas and get 75 bottles of water (1.5 liter bottles). We also bought bread at a bakery there. We were off to Mwene Ditu to spend the night at a little hotel. The church also has a small branch in this little town. The roads were mostly paved this far with the usual potholes that we know and love. Our hotel was fairly clean. We brought our own bedding to lay on the bed and we ate MREs for dinner. We took a walk before dinner and saw some of the town , gathering many curious eyes, a grundle of children and some great pictures of people. We had to flush the toilet with a bucket and shower from a bucket while standing in a tub but that is all part of the adventure.

In the morning we had granola, powdered milk and some great rolls left from last night’s dinner. We loaded up and were off to Luputa. Barely out of Mwene Ditu and we were on the red sandy roads bouncing from one end of our vehicle to the other. The vehicles had the front seat and the back was two benches on the sides of the vehicle facing each other. We piled our luggage and food behind the driver and four of us rode in the back of our car. We had the Frandsen’s, Bro Hokanson, actually by now he was Robert (that wasn’t hard since he is the same age as Mark and looks, laughs and utters puns just like Ben). Robert rode up front with Alphonse and the four of us got cozy in the back. I didn’t think I could stand the ride as I get so car sick but blessings come and I didn’t have a problem.

Luputa General Hospital

Hospital Administration
The next morning we were off to see the source of the water for the project. We had a little time before we could meet the contractor, ADIR and Dominique Sowa, so we decided to go to the Luputa General Hospital and check up on one of the nurses that came to our NRT Training, Marie Josee. The church had paid for Marie to fly to Kinshasa to attend the NRT training and we had talked to her several times since on the phone.
One Sunday she called and was so excited we couldn’t understand what she was saying. She said she had just saved a baby that before the training she would not have known how to help. She was crying and yelling “Praise the Lord, Praise the church for inviting Marie Josee to the training so that she could come back and teach everyone how to save babies, We are saving babies in Luputa!” She had us in tears and we were so grateful for the NRT program and being able to host the program so Marie could come and learn how to save babies. Supply Closet in Surgery


The hospital is very simple, not really a true hospital but all that they have in Luputa. The operating room had an obscure light strung to a battery over the surgery table. The autoclave was something out of the 1920s and was heated by a Bunsen burner. They had a supply closet that was 8 feet tall and 2 feet wide and their supplies only filled two shelves. Keep in mind there is no electricity and no running water. They are doing surgery here in spite of the conditions as it is the only place they have.

Scrub room

The maternity ward had 6 women who had given birth by cesarean section and there was a set of twins that looked just the same size as Christie and Carrie when we brought them home from the hospital at 4 pounds each. The best part of the tour was seeing the NRT Algorithm hanging on the wall in the birthing room. There is so much needed at this hospital and whether we do anything or not they will continue to do emergency surgery and birth babies , just as they are. We hope we can do an area initiative for the hospital to strengthen them. They have a great, dedicated staff and they are doing the best they can with what they have.

Surgery operative
OR Table note surgery light

Half way through the tour our contractor Dominique showed up but declined to finish the tour with us saying it would make him cry, so he would meet us when we were finished.

We finished the tour but wondered how this hospital was providing the medical support for this community. Marie told us that the ones that are the hardest to help are those who get in trouble during delivery at home and they climb on a bike and come to the hospital for help. Can't imagine a bike ride while in distressed labor. That made us all cry.

Let's go see the Source of water

We still fit two more bodies in the back of this truck before we headed to thewater source.

We went to find Dominique and Jewells (ADIR engineer) so we could head up to the water source. When we found them the whole water committee was waiting and wanted to go with us to the source. We didn’t know where we were going to put them but Farrell said it was their project so they better go with us. We piled ten people in the back of our 4X4, 5 on each side and three in the front seat. We realized that our commvie dream ride was coming true. We were getting to ride in a commvie at last (see previous blog). We were packed in and actually it was somewhat easier as you bounced off of each other rather than the sides of the truck ,as you went over the terrain. Across from Farrell sat Maree Josee (Yes, she is one of the water committee ,a real community advocate). Our legs were all tightly bunched side by side and Marie’s legs were between Farrell’s We went over a big bump and everyone went flying and Farrell grabbed Marie's knees to keep her in place and keep her from coming on top of him. She cracked up and Farrell told her she needed to stay on her side of the truck. That really cracked her up.

We traveled through 4 villages. We stopped in each village and the people came running. The government water engineer told the crowd that the water project had been approved and would start very soon. There was much yelling and singing and tongue warbling (if you have been to Africa you know what that is). Everyone was very excited. This will be such a blessing to all of these people . Approximately 200,000 people will benefit from this water.
Walk from here!

When we got to the top of the hills we thought that Omer would stop and we would walk up but he just kept on trucking and we were bouncing up the mountain, a real four wheeling experience. He finally gave up and we got out and walked. The source is down a ravine and the hill we walked down was very steep with footholds to stick your feet in. I knew if I started to fall I would just roll to the bottom. We had an entourage of village children who had followed us up and so there was quite a crowd with all of us , the water committee, the ADIR team and all the children. We reminded ourselves that people walked this trail everyday with 60 lbs of water on their head.

The Water Committee

This is the owner of the property where the source is located. He was carrying a machete to clear his path through the brush.

Elder Frandsen pronounced the water source as good and strong as before and everyone had a drink of the beautiful water. Well almost all of us. Some of us stuck with the bottled water.

There are three sources they are going to capture and pipe to a large reservoir and then the water will gravity feed down to 4 villages ending in Luputa. The source is large enough to give a good flow all the way down. What a blessing water is. We just keep thinking about the mothers who have to spend so much time getting water for the family and how much easier this process will be and the gift of time it will give to families when a large chunk of their day can be devoted to something other than getting water.

Well, when you go down you have to go back up and so now we had to hike back up that steep climb. I started up doing pretty good when all of a sudden our site manager, Daniel, came up beside me and said something in French. He grabbed me by the wrist and started hauling me up the mountain. I could hear Farrell laughing down below me saying Daniel’s responsibility is to always take care of Sis. Barlow. Now this boy was moving. He had me climbing at top speed. My butt was burning but I didn’t dare slow down as he was moving and I knew I would get dragged so I just kept climbing. This was like climbing up a step ladder. By the time we got to the top I could hardly catch my breath and I was gasping for air. Daniel got a good laugh out of that and at that point I felt my legs turn to rubber. Daniel has been doing those bicycle trips to market and he looks like one solid muscle. Farrell forgot to tell him I have very little muscle.
Second source

We all felt so rewarded for our trip. The project was on its way. We had our site manager. The people had been told and were overjoyed at the prospect. The water committee was ready and the source was as good as ever.

Robert could return to SLC and report that all is well in Luputa and calm the fears of all those who are worrying about the $2.7 million dollars being spent on a water project in a little village in Africa.
My partner on the hike

ADIR Engineer who will manage the project