"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dolisie Weekend Visit

A few weeks ago we were privileged enough to have the opportunity to travel to Dolise, the third biggest city in the Republic of Congo, and the site of the Mercy Ships Food for Life Agricultural Program. Dolisie is about 160 km from Pointe Noire which took us about 4 hours. The road is amazing once you get out of Pointe Noire and onto the tollway which has no toll yet - 4 lane wide smoth, new tarmac. In fact some was so new it was still hot and steaming! We were blessed to be able to travel in two Mercy Ships Toyota Land Cruisers.

The amazing blacktop road.

What a Tree

Harry asleep on Dad's lap in the back.

Tammy and her amazing small group - Kat and Sarah Kate

Look carefully on the trunk - there are about 10 live chickens (roosters) tied on!

We checked into our hotel first to find that the rooms in one of the hotels we had booked had been given to someone else as Rwanda were playing Congo in football in Dolisie that weekend. However some swift work by Eliphaz and Josh found us enough suitable rooms in another hotel. Once checked in we headed out to the agriculture site.

Our accommodation.

Jack with a big storm coming our way

The Food For Life Agricultural program teaches, trains and equips individuals in holistic agriculture techniques. Also potential food crops and animal projects can be experimented with, tested and identified as viable food sources. In Congo there are about 26 participants from all over the country. They will hopefully take the knowledge they have gained through the training back to their local communities to train others to make better use of their farmland.

Eliphaz explaining the compost producing they are teaching

Honestly, I questioned where this program fitted with Mercy Ships core activity of running hospital ships. However having witnessed first hand the great work Eliphaz and Josh are doing backed by Ken Wineback and Charlie back in Texas, I am convinced it is a great program.

They use all locally available seeds and equipment and set up control crops using traditional methods then various techniques on other crops to experiment and demonstrate what is more and less effective. Having studied agriculture at school, it was very similar to what our agriculture teacher had us do so that we could learn by our own small scale mistakes what worked and what enhanced our quality and quantity of yield. As an engineer I really appreciated the scientific approach they took offering not one but many alternative methods and techniques that the students could take away with them to their own communities.

Cutting of Moringa tree

Mick checking out the watermelons.

Mark and Harry with Eliphaz.

Banana seedling bed

As well as the growing of crops, they were breeding rabbits, teaching the students the best ratios of males to females and how to maximize their growth. Mark and Harry only wanted to go to Dolisie to see “the bunnies” and spent almost all their time at the site with “les petits lapins”. Although both boys understood they were being raised for food, Eliphaz had also promised not to butcher or eat any whilst we were there.

Mick showing Harry how to hold the rabbits

A very happy Harry

Mark with one of les lapins - the rabbits.

Mademoiselle Yolande with Mark and Harry holding baby rabbits.

Harry with a rabbit - he soon learned to pick them up!

The students were also being taught how to value add to their crops manufacturing ginger syrup, soy milk and yoghurt. So after a tour of the facilities we all had a chance to join the students in various activities for a few hours, carting water, planting, watering and preparing soy milk and ginger syrup.

Kat, Sarah Kate and Tammy

Josh, Nikki, Kathy and Tam making ginger syrup.

Jack helping make the ginger syrup

Finally about 5 pm we headed back to the hotel briefly and out to dinner. We went to the restaurant at Josh and Eliphaz’s hotel as they had pomme frites which we had promised the boys. Well I think the 18 of us overwhelmed the kitchen and the cook who also doubled as the waitress and reception attendant. The choices were fish or chicken and pomme frites or rice. We helped ourselves to drinks and Eliphaz took the orders. After a while the message came that there were only 5 serves of pomme frites so a few of us settled for rice. After about an hour our fantastic friend and science teacher, Kat, took the initiative and joined the chef in the kitchen helping to chop and cook. Harry came and got some bread she found in the fridge and brought it around to the tables. Then after about 2 hours food began to come out. It was delicious and worth the wait. What was super impressive was how well behaved our boys were with minimal complaining about the delay. We were super proud of them.

The most awesome Kat Foley.....and the Chef

We then went back to our respective hotels where we found there was a night club across the road that played loud Congolese music till about midnight! Despite this we all slept pretty well in double beds with mosquito nets. They boys all thought this was pretty cool.

Next day we walked up the road to a great cafĂ© next door to the boulangerie. Dolisie is not a tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination and by the way some of the local kids reacted I am pretty sure that Jack, Mark and Harry might well have been the first live white kids they had ever seen walking up the street – almost definitely the first Australian kids ever to have visited Dolisie! We had a fantastic breakfast of coffee, tea, pain-au-chocolat, omlettes, baguettes and ice creams.

Omelette Provencal and Cafe au lait

Breakfast of champions
After that we headed to the central market which was much nicer then the Grande Marche in Pointe-Noire. It was in a large three story concrete building, well laid out, clean and cool. We wandered for an hour or so, buying some beads for Mark and Harry, some avacadoes and a plastic laundry bucket, before heading back to the hotel to eat lunch, pack up and start the drive home to Pointe-Noire.

Dolisie had a really nice covered central market area.

Wandering in the markets on Sunday

On the way we plyed a new game called spot the sheep, goat or geep! Fair dinkum, I have no idea if some of the animals we saw were sheep or goats or if in fact there is such thing as a geep.

These were goats, not sheep or geep

On the road. There were many stops for road works.

A fairly common site on the road - slow moving logging trucks.

Typical African rainstorm on the way home!

Italian Navy Visit to Pointe-Noire

Last weekend we had three very special visitors to Pointe-Noire - the Italian Navy's 30th Naval Group. The flagship was the aircraft carrier, Cavour, escorted by the guided missile frigate, Bergamini and the replenshipment ship, Etna. They are currently conducting a circumnavigation of Africa, promoting Italian industry, exercising with regional navies, showing the flag (diplomacy) and humanitarian operations.

Italian Aircraft Carrier Cavour arriving in Pointe-Noire

The 30th Naval Group are circumnavigating Africa

Jack and Mark both got the opportunity to tour the Cavour on the weekend whilst I was duty engineer onboard. Jack went with his awesome science teacher, Kat, and Mark went with his best buddy, Eli.

Jack and his awesome science teacher, Kat

Jack and an Italian Marine Helicoptor

Jack, checking out the hardware.

Jack and Kat on the ski ramp before they were shouted at in Italian to get down.

Jack on the flight deck

Sarah Kate, Jack and Kat

Kat and Jack

I had the chance to go over the afternoon they arrived to discuss assistance they wished to offer us and for a brief tour. It is a beautiful ship, very well fitted out and more modern than the US carriers I have visited before.

Africa Mercy across the harbour

Bergamini and Etna

Whilst in port the engineers from the carrier group gave us some assistance fault finding on one of our main freezer systems that has been giving us some problems and the divers from Etna plugged one of our overboard discharges so I could repair a valve that had failed.

Escort by Congolese Navy patrol boat

Harry, waving goodbye.

Cavour, sailing......no tugs required.

Cavour, departing.

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