Tuesday Oct. 12, 2011
After switching planes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we were all settled on our new flight and headed on to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. It is their capital city and is directly across the Congo River from Kinshasa…our final destination. Brazzaville looked more like what I was expecting Africa to look like. As we sat on the plane there for about an hour, watching some passengers get off, and some new ones board, my tummy was going crazy. I was getting more nervous by the minute. The flight attendants were upset with us because we were moving seats now that the plane was not as full so that we could be together as a group. Well, that, and for some reason they didn’t want us even standing up during the 1 hr. stop. You try sitting there with your stomach in a knot not doing anything for an hour!
But soon, we were on our way. It was less than a 10 minute (14 mile) flight over the Congo River to Kinshasa. It seemed like a waste of jet fuel to just go that far. But that’s what happened, and soon, we were on DRC soil. It truly felt like a miracle that we were there. The months of waiting and wondering what this would be like! And here we were!!!
The plane had to do what seemed like a 17 point turn around on the runway – there was only one strip for the whole airport. So you land on the runway, come to a stop, and then turn around and go right back down it to get to the terminal. They have these trams that meet you at the plane to take you to the building, and we hopped on that and rode to immigration. This was the portion of the trip that I was most fearful of. We had heard about what a horrible experience the Kinshasa airport is, and while it is completely unlike anything here in America, I was surprised – the first portion of it was air conditioned, I didn’t see men armed with machine guns, and most of the people were friendly. There was some concern with our yellow fever cards because the month and day dates were reversed, but we were able to show them how that’s just a cultural thing. While we write August 11, 2010 as 8/11/10, they’d write it as 11/8/10. While it freaked us out momentarily that they weren’t letting us pass through and giving us all sorts of looks and telling us there were problems, they did let us through.
We soon met Bob*, the guy that works with DGM (Congo’s immigration) – and we were so happy to see someone sent by Pastor Peter! (I’m calling him Pastor Peter because he is an amazing man…truly a rock to all of us! In the Bible, Jesus called Peter the rock that He’d build the church upon.) It was crazy to me that I was the one in the group with the best French, and I struggled to put together any French I could (it had been like 14 years since I had studied French!) so I could communicate with Bob. Thankfully, I had a pocket dictionary where we could look up what we wanted to say and point.
It took awhile for our bags – it was a little stressful because of the language barrier and the fact that it was very hot (the air conditioned portion of the building didn’t last long!) Finally, we got our bags, but people kept carrying them off after our American attorney, Diana (I would call her Wonder Woman because she is that amazing, but that would feel a little strange to read an ongoing story about Wonder Woman. I googled Wonder Woman’s real name, and apparently it’s Diana. Who knew!?! Anyways…I digress…) told us not to let them leave with your bags! She had told us just to sit on them if necessary! It was quite a scramble. But again, we made it through just fine. Pastor Peter and Diana pulled up in a van outside the airport to pick us up – it was wonderful to see them!! We left for our guest house. At this point, I was so grateful that we made it through the part of the trip I was most nervous about, and I was just filled with excitement. Well, excitement and sweat. Yes, the sweat. Did I mention it was hot? But who cares!?! We were here!!! We really were here!!!
It was about an hour journey to the guest house, and the streets of Kinshasa were fascinating to watch. Some things stood out to me right away. First, I was amazed by all the dirt. Roads weren’t necessarily paved, and there really wasn’t any grass. Just dirt on the roads, dirt along the side of the roads, dirt everywhere. The streets were very narrow. However, there were very wide “shoulders” with tons of people selling things, just hanging out, etc. There were people everywhere. The buildings were very old and run down. We did come to an area of Kinshasa that felt much more urban, but there were still people everywhere.
The traffic was downright crazy. The first one there wins. It seemed crazy to me that in a city of upwards of 10 million people, there were no stop lights! Some intersections had multiple police officers trying to direct traffic, but there were cars everywhere. It was like a giant game of chicken.
But soon, we arrived at the guest house!! There were several families there already, one of whom lives in our hometown and I had met a few weeks before. It was great to see them all, and see them with their children! We were told Blake and Lauren would be there in about an hour. Diana showed us our room – it was air conditioned and had a private bathroom! Wow! We sure weren’t expecting that! It was very humble, but nice. The only problem we saw was that there were ants everywhere. They had left water in pitchers for us. We were grateful as we were very thirsty, but we noticed that one pitcher was left open and ants were swimming in it! (We found out later, they do this on purpose to attract the ants to just one container.)
We had only been there a few minutes and had started to unpack when someone called our name and said, “Your babies are here!” EEK!!!! Ohmygoodness, the moment…the one we’d been waiting for!!! We were about to meet Blake and Lauren!!! I started shaking, grabbed the cameras and went to the common area. Everyone had their children but us. We missed their “gotchas!” I was bummed that we had missed that, but I began frantically looking around the crowd for Blake and Lauren. They were on Mama Grace’s lap and she was sitting along the wall. Totally overwhelming. Amazing!!! I started crying. There aren’t words to describe what it was like to see the babies! No more needing to kiss their picture on our refrigerator. They were here and I could be with them!! I was so grateful to Mama Grace (their foster mother). I just cried, staring at my babies, and saying over and over again through my tears, “Merci beaucoup!”
So, my first impressions? Blake looked limp – his head was just hanging backwards. Both of them were very tiny…much smaller than I was anticipating. But oh man, were they beautiful!! She handed them to us. It was so amazing to hold them after all this time!!! Lauren was really content and Blake fell asleep on my shoulder after just a couple of minutes. It felt surreal. After months of loving them from afar, we were finally together.
We took pictures, ate dinner, hung out in our escorts’ room, Skyped with the kids and my mom (who was also in tears, getting to see her new grandson and granddaughter!), had a little meeting with the whole group (there were nine families altogether, plus Diane, and two escorts), then went to bed. Oh, what a day!! Thank you, God, for the blessings!!
*For the sake of security, and because I don’t have permission from these people to put their names out on the internet, I have changed all names.