Category Archives: Africa

The last leg of the journey

Today we should be flying down to Kinshasa, the capital of the country.  A huge sprawling city of umpteen millions. Most of those people are unemployed, live in poverty or scrounge for a living.  And there are also people at the other end of the economic spectrum – the very wealthy. 

The one thing that is striking about cities like Kinshasa to NorthAmericans are the walls.  All yards, except of the poor are walled.  High walls with shards of glass or spiles on the tops.  And every walled yard has it’s guard at the gate.

My girls should be able to spend a few days getting reaquainted with some of their birthfamily.  These may be emotional days.  Pray for Sara and Grace.

I will also be renewing acquaintences with a dental friend – Dr. Kasuku and his wife who is a final year dental student.  Dr. Kasuku came up to Karawa to spend time with me before he opened the clinic down in Kinshasa for the church.  He was teachable.  He didn’t know much about the actual practice of dentistry – like how to do a filling – but he was willing to learn, even from the guys I had trained who were not “real dentists”.  That kind of humility was, to say the least, uncommon among the educated elite.

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Live update, from Linea

This just came in today from Linea:

The past two weeks here at Karawa have gone too quickly.  I have been so
busy that I haven’t even had time to think about how much I miss being able
to blog.  Actually, it is like living on another planet.  Work here starts
at 7 and they work through with no break till 2 and then are done.  It gets
a bit long for me with nothing to eat or drink but they are used to only
eating one main meal a day so it works out well for them.  I learned to
take along a bottle of water.

After 2 I eat, then a short siesta.  Then it is almost like I am sort of
visiting personality – I receive visitors till about 7.  They just keep
coming.  Some is talk about problems I need to help them with at the
hospital.  So I listen and although I have no real say I give them my
advice – for what it is worth.  Yesterday afternoon we were talking through
the problem that one of the students I trained deserted his place of
work.  He also took off with a lot of the instruments and then was invited
by the medical co-ordinator to attend the course I gave.  Needless to say
it caused a few questions of the hospital administration and of Songo who
is the longest serving dental therapist.  So we were dealing with that.

They have a local FM station on the mission so last night after I finished
receiving visitors, I had to spend half an hour talking on the radio.  Most
of what we talked about was dental health issues.  That was a first for
me.  Fortunately, I remember most of my Lingala so that is the language we
used.  More people speak that than French.  The radio is a useful tool for
getting information out.  It is something we didn’t have when we were here.

Tomorrow we will be on the road again – back to Gemena.  Then down to
Kinshasa on Tuesday.  I think the time there will pass quickly.  There are
people I am supposed to see to see if we can get dental health issues
covered in the health project funds.  And the personal things we need to do
will take time too.

I do look forward to a nice long hot shower again.  Half of our time here
we have had no water.  Part of the time we have had no electricity.  By the
end of the hot and humid day if there is no water for showers – we have a
serious problem.  I have taken a complete shower in less than a gallon of
water!  Not only that but if one leans over a bucket while showering there
is some water collected with which one can flush the toilet.

Hopefully I can get access to the internet in Kinshasa.  Otherwise I have
not has access to my e-mail other than through the Gustafson’s or Jacques.

I miss all of you.  I will have lots to tell you when I get back.  My
journal is fairly full.

Greet everyone at church.  Tell them all thanks for their prayers.


Posted by Randall


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After Karawa

I should be returning to Gemena this weekend.  I am not sure what the day will be – probably Monday or Sunday pm.  This will be a road trip.  It is about 80 Kms from Karawa to Gemena.  Back in the good old days when the roads were really well maintained we could do this in a little under 2 hours.  Now – who knows.

I hope I have been able to send out some e-mails over the past few weeks for Randall to post to this blog.  If there are none then something prevented me from sending e-mails.  It is a very untechnical world out there in the jungle where there are no phones to speak of.

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Live update, from Linea

This came in from Linea this morning:

I will try to sum up some of my most memorable experiences of the past week.

First of all there was the trip from Gemena to Karawa.  75 Kms  Three and a
half hours.  Jacques Kongawi has a joke that began to take on a new
meaning.  “how do you tell if someone in Canada is DWI?  They weave all
over the road.  In the Congo anyone caught driving straight down the road
has to be inebriated.”

The actual distance covered as one weaves the way around the holes in the
road (these are holes, penza!) and down into and out of holes filled with
stagnant pools of water that threaten to cover the hood of the Land Cruiser
is without a doubt longer than the 75 Kms.  The speed – how about 10 to 30
Kms an hour?  30Kms on the straight stretches without holes seemed pretty
fast – horn blaring so people and animals would get out of the way!

We arrived at Karawa late on Sunday afternoon.  Songo came by a few minutes
later.  Hugs all around.  So, so good to see him.  He is the first person I
trained to do dentistry.  Saw our old cook – he cooks for the guest house
so is again cooking for me this week.  Still bakes wonderful bread.   Other
familiar faces too.  The names are gone from my memory for most people but
they are gracious and do not mind reminding me of their name and how I
should know them.

Everyday, I teach from 8 till noon and then again from 2:30 till 5:30 or
so.  We are spending good time together.  Subjects covered are a whole
range from my prepared lectures to what they have had to deal with –
including war wounds.  the digressions have actually been the best.  From
their talking about how they can co-operate to their how to improve their
working conditions.  Today they are getting paid for their wages from
March.  They are so poor!  They have to do so much with so little, deal
with so much pain.

When I return home in the evening, there is another group of people waiting
to say hello.  Finally dark comes and it is my time – I can take a shower
and get ready for the next day.  We are fortunate to have electricity here
so I can read till I fall asleep.  I don’t know that I could keep up this
pace but so far I am very glad I came.

(Posted for Linea, by Randall)

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Moving on

On Monday I will begin giving the courses which I prepared for the guys I trained back in the days we lived at Karawa.  It is hard to know what is relevant so I will follow up on any specific requests for info as I can.  I’m sure we will talk about many things besides dentistry too.  Some of the dental topics we are going to be doing are infection control, manifestations of diseases of the mouth, local anesthesia techniques, and some different restorative techniques. 

Songo sent me a message that he ahs a couple of difficult cases he wants me to see.  I hope I am up to doing whatever they need.  Difficult cases out there could mean surgical stuff that I haven’t done for years. 

I also want to work through a few topics with them on spiritual issues.  One of the things that I am happy about is that all the guys that I taught are alive.  As far as I know not one of them has developed AIDS – and they have remained respected leaders in the community.  That may seem like it should be a given but since we left, many of the nurses and leaders at the hospital have died.  Aids is a big killer in a promiscuous culture – and it is that.  I spent a lot of time with these guys as I was training them – pretty much one on one for a period of two years at a time.  Although I did not specifically teach them Biblical subjects while they were getting their dental training we would discuss Christian ethics and moral values.  And I tried to hold them to certain standards of honesty and respect for the patients.  It will be very good to hear their faith stories.

I should be at Karawa teaching and working until July 10.

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Somewhat live, from Linea

This came in from Linea, Friday June 25.

Not quite a week has passed for us here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  If you check a map of this part of the world, I am north of the Congo River, north of the equator, south of the border between Congo and the Central  African Republic. About in the middle of that corner of the Congo at a town called Gemena.

I am staying in the home of Jacques Kongawi a doctor with the American Leprosy Mission.  I am typing this on a azerty keyboard and that in itself is a challenge.  This will be sent by SAT phone in few minutes.

Since arriving I have become reacquainted with many people.  Tonight we went to the Catholic mission where an old friend Pere Marcel is living.  He was like a grandfather to my children and so we spent time looking at photos together.  He visited us once in Canada and has fond memories of that visit. The priests at this mission stayed throughout the war.  As he said” What did we have to lose by staying.  We had no families to worry about”.  That made a big impression on the people here.

Next door to Jacques lives a man who has begun what is a fairly popular way to extract money from the poor.  He has his own private brand of religion – pseudo Christian – and people bring him their earnings and produce.  There are lots of these cults springing up.  These false leaders seem to have no fear of God.

Today I had visitors from the CEUM – that is the local church of the Covenant variety;  two women who want to see their daughters go on in their education.  They have finished high school.  Without  funds that are sure- some sort of scholarship or bursary they will be faced with an impossible dream.  Or be forced to obtain their marks by what is  referred to as CST “cĂ´tes sexuallement transmis” or sexually transmitted marks.  Not what any parent would wish for their daughter but a reality in  this promiscuous society.

I hope to send some more reports by e-mail.  I have no access to the internet and I am missing that.  So are my girls – deprived of their MSN.

Greetings to all,

(Posted for Linea, by Randall Friesen)


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Live update, well sorta.

This email was sent by Linea June 21. She wrote:

We are back in the Congo.  It is a bit incredible!  No flights missed, no
luggage lost.  No hassles getting stuff through customs either here or in

Today we flew by small plane(SIL) from the Central African Rep. to  Gemena
in the Congo.  Part of our cases of dental supplies came today and the rest
will come tomorrow.  We received all of our luggage but other people
traveling with us lost all of their luggage en route.  Those of you praying
for us as we traveled – thank you – but don’t stop now.

This part of Africa has not made a lot of progress in the thirteen years
since we left – in some things.  In other things, the change is incredible!
My girls just got off the phone with Grace’s great aunt in Kinshasa.  No one
could ever just pick up a telephone and call back in the days!  And they
watched TV this afternoon powered by battery, received by satellite.

But there are more buildings abandoned, sometimes with visible evidence of
bullet or mortar fire.  And the roads are thirteen years worse.  Glass was
mostly gone at the airport.  But the people were still there to see the show
and we were it!

The smell of wood smoke is in the air tinged with the slight flavor of the
palm oil used for cooking.  And then there is the smell of the roasted corn
that lingers on my hands from our afternoon snack.  My hopes of loosing gobs
of weight on this trip are going fast.  But I like it here anyway.  The
senses are reawakening to Africa.  It is good to be here.  It is good of God
to have brought us here again.


(posted by Randall Friesen, for Linea.)


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