From Africa to the Florida Gulf Coast

It’s been a full couple of weeks. In my last message I wrote about the trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the house dedications in Bolomba with the promise to finish the tale. In the meantime I joined the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure for the last leg of their 1300 odyssey from Michigan to the Gulf Coast. Now I’m high over the plains on my way back to Colorado Springs for a short break before the Millard Fuller Legacy Build in the Chattahoochee Valley, which starts August 31.

I’ll take a turn back to Africa, first. After the trip up the Ikalemba to Bolomba we returned to Mbandaka and then to Kinshasa. The next phase of the trip involved crossing the Congo River for Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo. The river between Kinshasa and Brazzaville is really more of a lake, called the Stanley Pool after the 19th century explorer. There are a number of ways across, all involving watercraft. There’s a ferry, but it’s a little scary. They pack in as many people as possible—many more than they should—onto the vessel. Policemen with canes help herd the crowds. When I had better connections at the embassy I could cadge a ride on the embassy boat, which is a speedboat that the two US embassies, in Kinshasa and in Brazza, use to stay in touch. Then there are a number of ‘VIP’ boats that take passengers for a fee. We opted for one of these.

Getting across the river isn’t a major undertaking—it’s a 20 minute trip and the river isn’t rough. The challenge, though, is getting through passport control. Twice. The process is not an easy one on either side, and for every minute we spent on the boat we spent 10 being processed in or processed out.

We made it, though, and were greeted by the ROC Fuller Center leadership. We partner there with the International Partnership for Human Development, a US based NGO that is involved with a number of humanitarian pursuits. Their former director, Jim O’Brien, was serving as our country director and when he moved on his replacement, Kristina Brayman took over. She and Landry Koufoundila from the Embassy are keeping things moving at our project in the village of Makana II. We had four in our party—Hon. Maloka, his assistant Thomas Denga and Gabriel Sobila from the TV station joined me for the trip. We all climbed aboard the IPHD Nissan and, cheek to jowl, made our way through Brazzaville and on to Makana. This is an easier journey than the one to Bolomba. There’s a road the whole way and it’s a short 1 ½ hour drive.

We got to Makana at about noon and the village members were waiting at the Chief’s house. We talked philosophy some, and program. There has been some discussion about which families really want to participate in the program. It looks like there are 21 who have a good understanding of how things work and want to be a part of it. There are four houses standing, so we have another 17 to go. The pace has been slow in these early days, but the experimentation is done now and I think things will be begin to move quickly.

We returned to Kinshasa and I left for home on Tuesday evening. It was an uneventful trip except that we were late getting out of Paris so the connection was very tight in Minneapolis (an odd reentry site I thought), so my luggage didn’t get all the way to Americus until Friday. I got to Atlanta on the Wednesday evening, had a couple of days to rest up, then on to Florida for the Bicycle Adventure!

On Saturday I rode the last 30 miles of the bike trip from Tallahassee to the beach. It was a grand event. Apparently, though, I have a city rather than a road bike. The big differences appear to be weight, which wasn’t much of a problem, and gearing, which was. I could pedal just as hard as the real bicyclists and not go as fast. So my role turned out to be the sweep rider. I likened it to being the good shepherd, bringing in the lost sheep to put as good a face on it as possible. The result was that I was generally the last man in. But Jesus said that the last shall be first, so I was feeling pretty good about myself. What I got out of it was two and half hours of peace as I pedaled my lonely way across the coastal plain. It was really quite pleasant.

We arrived at the beach ahead of a storm and the intrepid bikers dipped their front tires in the Gulf—they’d dipped the rear tires in Lake Michigan five weeks earlier, so the adventure was now complete. What a great group! The ride was billed at 1300 miles, but they actually rode 1400, stopping all along the way to raise awareness about our work and to help build Fuller Center houses. Through it all spirits were high and attitudes positive. Ryan Iafigliola will have a special jewel in his heavenly crown for making the ride possible.

Now I’m looking forward to a few days of quiet before heading to the Chattahoochee Valley for the Millard Fuller Legacy Build. It’s hard to keep up with a movement!

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