It is only by your grace we are not cadavers this morning

“Ee -o”, they reply. We are back on our cycle rides in the countryside, and this is the cheerful response we get when we pass the ladies going to the market with their loads on their heads, and we call out “CiCi-O!” (‘tsitsi-o’= hello).

We love cycling in the countryside, much more than in the town where you get many more call-outs from drunk/drugged young men: “Eh Mundu/Mundele, donne-moi le vélo” (white person, give me the bike). In the countryside, the people are invariably very friendly, want to know where we are going, and whether we need any help. Only a tiny minority ask for money.

Recently we have made some lovely cycle trips, in particular one around Leri near the Ugandan border, and another in the region of Buranga, our bishop’s village. These bicycle trips are genuinely the highlight of our week. People think Peter’s bike looks really funny, with its very high saddle and its motorbike handlebars welded on. You just have to accept the laughter, which is never badly meant, and laugh along. Our part of Congo is the last place to feel embarrassed by one’s looks or attire as the local appearances are extremely diverse!

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Yellow blossoms beside one of our cycle paths

Our work: Palliative Care is going well, and improving quality in the hospital at the moment is threefold:

  • Using the fundraised money in the UK to protect our staff by offering Hepatitis B vaccinations to staff who have not been exposed to the virus.
  • Using the fundraised money to buy new mattresses and mattress covers which make them impermeable. Our fund will be helping to clean the beds.
  • Our little hospital took out a loan to redecorate, starting with the maternity ward. Once the new mattresses and covers are in place, and the beds cleaned and painted, it should look so much better. There is a long way to go and keeping everything clean will yet be another matter. Our DN (Directeur de Nursing) is keen to have a local committee to supervise standards.
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The old delivery couch – prior to receiving its new mattress and cover

Patricia’s other task: improving the quality of care in the diocesan health centres may remain difficult since the relatively sudden death of the leader of the Service Medical has brought this supervisory work to a stop. Overall, I really like the palliative work and working with the ITs = Infirmier(e) Titulaires in the peripheral health centres and visiting people at home. The motorbike journeys are really tiring, but when you then see the state of people’s dwellings, clothing and needs, I always feel humbled when they express such gratitude for so little.

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Patricia gave some of her blood to this baby – a very direct way of improving quality

Peter has a bunch of very lively students, the majority still very young, with a few older students. We had them all round to our house in three groups and like last year, we enjoyed their very diverse stories. One student told us about his family’s remarkable journey of travel to Aru taking three weeks: from somewhere several hundred km west of Kisangani, they cycled, five of them on 3 bikes, to a river port where they took a dugout canoe to go up the Congo river for several days to Kisangani. This mode of travel is very dangerous at night. There, they took a bus to Bunia, and from Bunia another bus to Aru. The bus journey from Bunia to Aru takes the best part of a day due to those untarmac-ed roads being in such a dreadful state. The challenges of trying to set up a meaningful and durable Christian Education program fills him with some dread, but he is encouraged by the real desire amongst the congregations within the parishes. Finding the right level, language and course is difficult, not to mention how to fund the program into the future.

Another student told us of his calling to come to Aru to study to be a pastor. He was very reluctant, and like Jonah, tried to escape the Lord’s calling, by joining the police as an alternative career. However, he then found himself becoming a police chaplain, and from that position was selected to receive a bursary to come to study theology in Aru (as he said, the big fish had spewed him out on the dry land of Aru).

We joined in the Diocesan Christmas celebrations again, wearing our newly bought Congolese outfits, in matching material. This time we were alert to the fact that we would have to dance up in front of everyone else to receive our token Christmas present – a large mug with a Diocesan logo. We entered into this enthusiastically, and received a great cheer of approval (although afterwards people told Peter that he wasn’t dancing in a Congolese style – he thought he was!)

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Our matching Christmas outfits

We have spent a lot of money and a lot of time on the construction of a new bamboo fence around our property. It was a major project, involving two “trips” (a unit of measurement) of bamboo from the village of Erekele 40 km away, a team of somewhat unreliable workmen, and the purchase of many other items, including a large weight of very expensive nails. Our Robert did a great job of managing this project, and we are extremely pleased with the result, as are the Congolese, who think that it has greatly improved our parcelle.

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Part of our new fence with a hibiscus flower in the foreground

Patricia’s colleague nurse Anguyi and cannon Agupio, took us recently to ‘Mont Awa’, a small mountain we can see from our home. We could not visit without first visiting the local Chef de collectivité in Yuku, nearby the above-mentioned  ‘Mont Awa’. He walked with us to the top of the hill from where we could see Aru and the mountains along the border with Uganda. It was an enjoyable trip. Before the walk we were also greeted by the wife of the same chef who approached us on her knees (a local custom we feel quite awkward about). We handed over a kilo of sugar, which is an accepted standard of present. The chef told us during the walk that his grandfather had been king of a whole area which goes up to Pakwach in Uganda, which is 140 km away.

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On top of Mt Awa, by the Vodacom antenna. L to R: Le chef du collectivité, Peter, Agupio, Anguyi.
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A new-born calf and her mother on the track up to Mt. Awa. When we arrived, the calf was so young it was still lying on the ground.

Finally, we end this posting with a prayer often prayed at the morning prayers in the hospital: “If we are not cadavers this morning it is only thanks to Your grace”. We find this in many ways amusing, but of course it is true: it is only by God’s grace we wake up every morning … we just wouldn’t put it like that!

4 thoughts on “It is only by your grace we are not cadavers this morning

  1. Dear Peter and Patricia,

    Just a few lines to thank you for your regular updates and to say how much I am in awe of what you are both doing. It was so good to see you in the Summer but it must have been hard for you to leave your children to go back to the Congo. Your emails always remind me to be grateful for all the modern conveniences that we take so much for granted. All well here, including your stuff in the garage!

    I continue to be quite busy with my book clubs, literature class, Samaritans and the Bridge not to mention family and trips up to London. I saw my grandson in a performance of Christmas Carol recently. It was a great joy, he was excellent and it’s such a wonderful story. I met my children for lunch recently to celebrate what would have been Patrick’s 80th birthday. I still miss him terribly and as you say we have to make the best of our time on earth.

    I have been meaning to write for ages but it was the alarming title to your current post that finally provoked me into action ! It reminded me strangely of a prayer I was taught as a small child which ended ,“if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take”.

    Lovely to think of you cycling in the country side and hopefully getting a little bit of relaxation.

    Thinking of you both, keep safe.

    Helen (Simmons)

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  2. Hi guys. Is that the prayer in its entirety? If not, would love to have the whole thing! Would also love to hear about one of your motorcycle journeys in more detail some time! (the kinds of people you are meeting etc)

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  3. Lovely to hear all the news. I feel we have little to say except that it is raining and we don’t yet have Covid 19…….sounds like some malevolent mechanical crow! We were in Birmingham until recently – or have I already told you that? – as Jackie attempted to help the authority update their special needs care plans. Some hope! All the planning committee could think of was showing a clean bill of health when OFSTED return in June. She started to help them take on more staff for the work, having first had to persuade them that they couldn’t update 9,800 plans without doing so, only to learn that they intended a paper exercise only – none of the statutory consultation with the parents and children which she planned to deliver. You can imagine what she thought of that! She just walked out when it became clear they wouldn’t listen, and tried to bully her into proceeding. Now she is looking for more work, networking, and doing some odd bits of report writing. I am doing my usual things, but I haven’t got on with my letter writing campaign. Shame on me! There is Greta changing the world and barely out of the cradle! She doesn’t really have much support because no one wants to talk about the western world reducing its consumption. Britain’s much-vaunted Carbon-neutral targets are a joke because our demand is fuelling the factory fires of Asia. My new bicycle frame is unlikely to have come from a ‘clean’ Taiwanese factory…….. It is virtually impossible for us discipline ourselves because we can’t admit to our own decadence and enslavement to Mammon. Imminent disaster on several continents might do the trick. If the Thwaite Glacier fails rapidly we could have immediate sea level rises beyond our ability to manage them. Events are moving rapidly now. My focus in my feeble letters to journalists is on Britain. I want to convey urgency, a conviction that unless we act quickly rural southern Britain will be gone along with most of the present remnants of our wildlife. The trouble is, our overwhelmingly urban/suburban population doesn’t really care, because countryside, village and country town life is an abstraction to them. Nature is increasingly a virtual experience. Many will be rather pleased than otherwise that there are so few insects now. When did I last see a really large flock of birds over our island? Not for some years…… Blah blah blah! The trouble is – the thing that makes it hard to speak out – is that one has to address net immigration levels, and therefore be labelled a racist, xenophobe, nationalist or even ( the latest sneering term from certain columnists) a nativist! What is that? I haven’t heard of nativism; but clearly it isn’t good. I must be boring you with all this. Perhaps I am not in that good a mood as the Chingford cancer cluster is gracing the tennis club with its attentions. One of the Wednesday group is in his very last days, and the wife of another (did you meet Tom from Singapore?) has just been diagnosed stage 4 ovarian cancer, which I believe is the most advanced stage. Does Patricia think she has a chance of surviving for long? Before I finish I must tell you that when I last spoke to brother Peter he was seeming to agree to socialise like family members instead of cold-shouldering Jackie. I would really appreciate prayer that they live up to that on their imminent return from India. I will keep you up to date! Love from us, Alan

    Sent from my iPad

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