Our Final Day in Congo

Waking up that morning knowing that it was the last time we’d see the rising sun in Congo (for a while at least) was bittersweet.  We had fallen in love with the people of Congo and their rich, rich culture.  We had time to bond with Odette without the distractions that home would have.  But, we were ready to go home.  We were ready to give Odette a new normal.  We were also ready for it to just be the three of us.

Odette and our guide, PJ, had a very special bond.  He was the one who took her to all of her appointments and such that needed done before she could come home.  He often visited the orphanage and played with the kids.  They knew each other very well.  They loved each other.  They each brought huge smiles to the other’s face and they raced into each other’s arms every time they saw each other.  PJ often asked Odette if she would forget about him when she got to America and she always said no.  Odette had been told about was happening.  She knew that we were going to be her mama and papa and that she was going to America.  She knew she would get on a big airplane and go to her new house.  She invited PJ to come to visit her in America.  On this day, our last day, PJ was again talking to Odette about getting on an airplane.  He told her not to worry because she was getting on the plane to go to America today, but he would come tomorrow.  Oh my.  It might have helped to ease her worries, we’ll never know.  But we do know that for days she asked about PJ.  We are eternally thankful for the love PJ gave to Odette when we couldn’t, but we wanted her to establish that special bond with us.

*I have a post coming up soon about how Odette is doing now that we are home (VERY well!) and I will update you all on the PJ factor.

We went out with a bang as far as breakfast goes.  The meat/cheese/fruit option for the day was sardines.  We got Odette started on toast, but when another family mentioned that their son loved sardines I thought we would offer them to Odette. I could hardly stomach removing the Saran wrap and putting in on her plate.  She dove in.  In fact, I think she ate 4 of them.


And yes, there is a sucker on her plate.  At least she took it out of her mouth before eating the fish.

We were meeting PJ at 9 to head to the art market and fabric market before sending our luggage to be checked in.  We stopped up at our room to get our stuff together and Miss O spotted some of her clothes that we had set aside to donate to ZAPE and insisted on changing her outfit.


I wanted to take one last walk around St. Anne’s to snap some pictures of things that I thought were interesting.

Here is the wireless modem out in the hallway.  On the night we arrived there had been a huge storm.  It knocked out the internet.  Thankfully someone figured out that if they unplugged this and plugged it back in things would work again.


We had heard there was a nice view from the top floor.  Maybe it was nice compared to some people’s views, but the view from our room was nicer.


The renovations of the two rooms was coming along. It seemed like they worked on them in the mornings.  We would hear pounding and banging from about breakfast until lunch.   It never bothered us, but we were on the floor above.


I was frightened by the looks of this wheelchair.


While out and about we saw lots of these UN vehicles.  This one belonging to a nice woman who has been staying at St. Anne’s for over three years.


Jeff used the map in the bar to explain to Odette that we would be flying from Congo to Brussels.



Huge fruit growing on a durian tree out in the play yard.


This is an odd place for this picture, but it is the remote control to the air conditioner in our room.


By the time I drug Jeff and Odette around to all the spots I wanted to get last minute pictures of, it was time for us to meet PJ for some shopping.  We had stopped by the art market on Sunday, but there were only a few people selling so we decided to go back on another day.

We learned from our first day at the market to split up how we carried our money.  We went with 5’s in one of my pockets and 10’s in the other.  Jeff did the same with 20’s and 50’s.  (We didn’t even touch the 50’s-nothing was that expensive.)  This way when we offered a price they didn’t see us with more money in our wallet and ask for more. It seemed to work.  Jeff and I walked through the market and PJ carried Odette.  Everyone was very kind.  I never once felt threatened or worried.  They were pushy, but I have seen much worse.  PJ told us to “share the price by 2”  I think by that he meant to offer half of what they say.  It worked for us.  We really just paid what we wanted to pay.  We bought a painted canvas that we spotted on Sunday and paid more than what we needed too, but we loved it and just paid what he asked for it.  We later discovered that it was too big to fit in our luggage so we had to pry the canvas off of the wooden frame.

We also bought a maraca type thing for Odette, 2 crucifixes, wooden carving of a lady grinding casava, and a wooden carving to set aside for Odette when she is older.  We only paid 70 for all of this.  PJ told us later that all of the stuff is shipped into Congo because their factories are shut down.  Oh well.  We tried.

I didn’t take any pictures there, but PJ had some that he let us have.


After the art market we stopped by a grocery store.  Jeff wanted to get some pilli-pilli (no idea how it is spelled) to take home.  The grocery store was just like they are in the US.  You could get anything and everything you wanted and the prices were about the same as the US.  Jeff got what he wanted and we got Odette a little yogurt and small cup of ice cream.  She didn’t seem to have much experience with holding anything cold.  She shrieked when I touched it to her.  It is so very hot in Congo and I knew the ice cream would melt quickly, but we didn’t have a spoon for Odette to eat her ice cream.  I tried showing her to lick it, but she didn’t have any interest.  I then used my mommy brain and took her sunglasses off her head.  I used the earpiece like a spoon and fed her the ice cream. She seemed like she could take it or leave it.


By then we were back at St. Anne’s and got all of our checked luggage packed up.  For $20 we could have someone from St. Anne’s take it to the Brussels Airline office downtown to check and to check us into our flight.  Some of the best $20 $30 (mysterious $10 charge for the bag) we spent.  It was scary handing over our passports, yellow fever cards, luggage, and our $50 a person exit fee money to a stranger.  It worked out fabulously and saved us from 1-2 to 3-4 hours of standing there ourselves.


After we handed over our lives to the stranger we went to the fabric market.  It was just up the street from St. Anne’s.  PJ said that Odette would stay in the car with the driver, his nephew, while we shopped.  I did not like that idea, but we did it.  The fabric is absolutely beautiful.  Everywhere you look in Congo you see people wearing clothes from the traditional fabric.  There were about equal number of people wearing western clothes as traditional.  PJ walked us up to a booth and picked out three pieces of fabric.  Jeff and I each got one and we picked one for Odette.

I didn’t get any pictures, but it looked a little like this Google image.  We hope to have a dress made for Odette and maybe some blankets.

The fabric market was our last stop.  From there we went back to St. Anne’s and hung out.  Odette had a couple more Fanta’s and had some last fun with PJ.


We went upstairs at about 1:30 to take final cold shower and pack up all of our stuff into our carry-ons.  Our clothes were still slightly damp from being washed the day before, but we made due.  We left Odette in the clothes she was wearing because I didn’t want her to get anything on her “coming home” outfit.  We were going to get something to eat before we headed to the airport, but then decided we could just eat our snacks.  We said one final goodbye to our room and headed for the airport around 4.  Odette grabbed our stuff and walked over to the door.  She seemed to sense that we were leaving.


The drive to the airport was long.  Traffic was not moving.  It took us about an hour and a half to get there.  We were nervous because we were still a ways away when PJ got a call from our airport escort that our plane was there.  Um, yes, that’s fine it’s there, but we still shouldn’t leave before 8:30.  We got to the airport and went up to the Grand Hotel restaurant on the other side.  We sat and had one last Primus with John.  Odette loved looking at the airplanes.


Our escort met us there and the real fun of the Kinshasa airport began.  We were lugging our backpacks and Odette through a crowded and very hot, unaircondtioned airport.  Thank God for our guide.  We handed our packet of paperwork (and some money) over to him and he led us to each line we needed to be in.  At one point he went into a small room and met with someone.  We were really nervous at that point.  He came back asking for more paperwork and after a few minutes said we were good.  I never felt unsafe, but just wanted all of our paperwork to be in order so that we could leave.  He then told us he was done with all his work and we could proceed to the gate to wait.  Our plane was to leave in about 45 minutes, so we just sat and enjoyed the airconditioning.  There was only one gate, but we weren’t sure how we would know when it was our flight.



After about 20 minutes Odette looked up and said “Ko suba”.  Ahh.  That was one of the first phrases PJ taught us.  She was telling us she needed to go to the bathroom.  I picked her up and walked around in search of one.  I was not going to leave the gate for any reason.  Thankfully a kind man read my mind and pointed the way.  This was the worst bathroom we encountered our entire trip (except for the squat potty at the orphanage).


We got back to Jeff just as the crowd was making their way to the door.  Jeff caught them saying something about Brussels so we gathered our stuff and made for the door.  While in line for the plane we said goodbye.


We handed over our exit fee receipts and climbed aboard.



Odette seemed so excited about her first airplane ride.


We showed her that we fastened our seatbelts and being the rule follower that she is was, she fastened her’s right away.  We were greeted on the plane by the flight attendants telling us that they got a message from our “Aunt Kathleen ——something or other”  She specifically said Jeff and Sarah, but we don’t know who Aunt Kathleen is.  Anyone know??

We asked how long it would be until we ate and they said right away.  We kept Odette up so that she could eat.  She enjoyed looking through magazines.


They brought her a special kids meal.


There was also swedish meatballs but we were trying to get her to eat some vegetables first.  We still use this trick.  Smile  Once her belly was full she was out like a light.


Jeff and I didn’t sleep much.  We woke her up to have some breakfast just as we were nearing Brussels.  She had a croissant and bread and butter.  She wouldn’t eat the fruit or yogurt.


We landed in Brussels and made our way to our connecting flight.  Because Odette isn’t an American citizen (yet) and she didn’t have a visa she couldn’t get into the main terminal.  We made our way to the international terminal and explored a bit.  Upstairs there were a couple restaurants and not much else.  There was lots of open space and chairs.  We ran Odette around a bit to try to keep her awake.  I went into the bathroom to freshen up and found a gift from God.  A SHOWER!  That’s right.  Upstairs at the Brussels airport there is a shower.  It was in the restroom, but in a private, locking stall.  I ran out to Jeff, grabbed Odette and our luggage, and jumped in.  Odette had her first warm shower in the Brussels airport.  Nice.


We left all of our toiletries at St. Anne’s thinking we wouldn’t need them again.   Our shower consisted of nothing more than warm water, but it was nice.  We also left our towel at St. Anne’s so we used a blanket we brought along for the plane instead.  When we finished Jeff took his turn in the shower.  It was a fantastic mental boost.  We would in fact get home afterall.  After our showers we went in search of a Belgian waffle.  When in Rome Belgium.


We played for a bit and it was time to board the plane for the US.


Odette fell asleep pretty quickly, but we woke her up a couple hours into the flight to eat.


They served chicken and rice, her favorites.  (soso and loso)  She didn’t like the sauce on her rice, but still had plenty to eat.  This flight was rough.  There was turbulence and Odette didn’t go back to sleep.  We walked her up and down the aisles, colored, watched videos, sang songs, looked at pictures on my phone.  She didn’t sleep so we didn’t sleep.  Just like the flights over, the air pressure took a toll on us.  Our sinuses were going crazy and we were coughing a lot.  Actually, we were pretty much sick the entire time we were gone.  I started with a bug before we left.  It was made worse on the plane, and the polluted air of Congo made it worse yet.  Most nights I slept with a cough drop in my mouth and propped up against the wall to get some sleep.

We landed at Newark airport and got in line for customs and immigration.  We unburied the VERY important, do NOT break the seal, envelope and handed it to the kind gentleman.  He looked over our passports and called someone over to led us to a small room with about 70 empty chairs and a handful of officers.  There were only 2 other people in there waiting.  They called our names and said we were fine to go.  We walked over the threshold and onto American land as a family.

While at Newark we charged our phones and played.  Our final flight wasn’t for a couple hours.

Our plane to Indianapolis was tiny.  We did not have seats together.  Hilariously, Jeff and I did, but Odette was seated 8 rows back.  Obviously that wouldn’t work.  I sat next to Odette and Jeff sat behind us a ways.  Because the plane was tiny (less than 50 people) Odette had a window seat.  At this point we had left St. Anne’s about 26 hours ago and she was on little sleep.  She wanted to sit our her knees and look out the window.  All was good until it was time for her to put her seatbelt on.  She had done it so well on the first two flights, but the window was a tease to her.  After asking several times, I pulled her down and attempted to put her seatbelt on. This was the first look into her strong will.  She was NOT having it.  She screamed, cried, pushed, hit.  I tried giving her toys, food, begging, but nothing worked.  I could feel all eyes on me.  Tears streamed down my face and I looked up to the Lord asking for help.  Seconds later a gentleman behind us handed me a box of yogurt covered raisins to give her.  It was the perfect distraction as she shook the box.  The seatbelt was on.  Unfortunately, we waited about 40 minutes before actually taking off.  During this time there was more crying (by both of us), screaming, and squirming her way out of the seatbelt.  The flight wasn’t long but it was horrific.  She needed to potty, but someone was in there. Then someone stepped in front of us and went in. Then she wanted to see out again and the seatbelt light went on.  Longest stretch of the trip.  All the while Jeff was in the back snacking on dry Ramen noodles.

The moment we touched down in Indianapolis I took her seatbelt off and told her we were in America.  She seemed to be excited.  Maybe it was because I was.  We were expecting family and friends to greet us at the airport so we stopped for a quick potty break and made our way out of the terminal…

Sarah Signature


2 thoughts on “Our Final Day in Congo

  1. So happy to hear that all went (relatively!) well on your flight home… what a lucky family.
    Washington DC

  2. “Aunt” Kathleen–is actually Kathleen Welsh a St. Bavo parishioner and good friend of mine. She has a friend who is a stewardess and flies the Brussels flight–so when she found out where you were flying from–she started trying to contact her to see if she was scheduled for that particular flight. (First the Friday one and then the Wednesday one) Turns out her friend is now flying a different route, but she in turn contacted the stewardesses that would be on your flight and asked them to take very good care of you! So glad they did.
    Mom & Grandma!

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