Welcome to the Scharrer family's real life story! Most of our story is written for, and about, our four kids and the spice they add to our lives. It's our story of happiness, craziness, and sometimes ridiculousness. We've journaled through childbirth, the terrible two's, private school (and our public school experience), an autism diagnosis, medical school, residency, and long-term mission work in Africa.

Now we're following a new adventure, which involves a 45 foot motorcoach, homeschool, and as many ski slopes as we can go down in one year.

For posts from while we were living in Zimbabwe and updates about our future plans in Zimbabwe, please see our mission blog...

www.ourzimbabwejourney.blogspot.com.

The Congo, February 2014

This page contains words that have been transcribed from our journal that we kept while we were in Impfondo, Republic of Congo in February 2014.  To read our blog posts leading up to our trip, please see:  Impfondo, Republic of CongoWills, Visas, and Shots, OH MY!Our Destination, and It's the Night Before Departure.


February 1, 2014

We made it!  We are in Brazzaville!  Our trip started yesterday (Or maybe it was two days ago?  The time change has really messed me up!!) afternoon when a taxi from the shuttle service picked us up at home.  Obviously, we forgot to tell them we were traveling with 226 pounds of luggage (not including our carry-ons) and it was a very tight squeeze.  The taxi driver brought us a few miles away to the Microtel, where we waited for the shuttle to get us.  We waited inside since it was quite chilly out.  While we were there, a very chatty lady, sitting in the corner of the hotel lobby in a small recliner with a blanket on her lap and a stuffed animal tiger on her shoulder, wished God's blessings on us.  She told us that she would be praying for us and she hoped we'd come back to the Microtel sometime and tell her about our trip after we return.  I had no idea that people actually lived in hotels, but apparently they do - ?  We were picked up by the shuttle service, a few minutes late.  We were told by the front desk that it's very typical and that they would get us to our flight on-time.

The shuttle was an over-sized van, already completely full of people!  Not all of our luggage fit in the luggage compartment in the back of the van (which wasn't a surprise!), so the driver squished some of it under our legs in the van.  I wasn't able to sit by Erik, but luckily I sat on the end of a bench seat so I wouldn't cough on anyone.  I'm not sure if Influenza is contagious this long, but it's been a week and even though I'm feeling better, I still have a bad-sounding cough.

We arrived at the Minneapolis airport in plenty of time to check in.  We were both allowed two bags, each 50 pounds or less, plus carry-ons.  However, three of our bags were over by a long shot!  Erik showed them his military ID and they waived the fee we should have paid for the extra pounds!  That was really nice.  We plan to leave most of our clothes in Africa, along with everything we brought over for the missionaries and hospital, so our trip home should be much lighter!

Erik lost his boarding pass within 10 minutes of being in the airport, but soon found it and we buzzed right through security.  For once we didn't have to run 20-some gates down the concourse and we made ourselves at home in a cute little restaurant right beside Gate G6, where our plane was to depart from.  We had an hour to sit.  We ordered and ate some lunch while we spent time on the phone and computer, tying up loose ends before leaving the country.  I took a minute to just sit and watch.  I laughed to myself as I realized how different life would  be in just 24 hours.  The restaurant had two iPads at every table that were there in place of servers.  Each customer used the iPads to view the menu and place an order!  There were also several games on the iPads to keep you entertained while you eat, along with free internet and plug ins to charge phones or tablets.  There wasn't one single person in the restaurant not on some kind of electronic device!

The first flight to Paris, France, went very well.  We watched "We Are the Millers," ate dinner, took a nap, and then ate breakfast!  Our connection in Paris was seamless and the second flight from Paris to Brazzaville, Congo went well, too.  Erik watched movies and I slept!  We had a couple meals and filled out the forms to get into the Congo.  I was extremely worried about landing in Congo.  I think the language barrier scared me the most.  I'm not quite sure what I thought was going to happen to us, but I was worried.  I took time on the flight to pray for several hours and I also reviewed all the information that Dr. Harvey, from the Pioneer Christian Hospital in Congo, sent to us a couple weeks prior.  He gave us a detailed description of where to walk when we got off the plane, how to say, "I'm here to work at the Pioneer Christian Hospital," in French, and how to act as we went through security.  I quick changed out of sweatpants and into a long black skirt under my blanket in the airplane seat.  As we flew into Africa, all we could see was sand!  Mountains of sand!  As we came into Brazzaville, it was BEAUTIFUL, like nothing I've ever seen before.  Rolling hills of lush, green rainforest.  I took time to soak it all in.

We stopped at the bathroom as soon as we got off the plane.  I admit, I was afraid to go into the girls' bathroom alone.  I have no idea what I was scared of!   I've been to several other countries before and never felt this way.  Maybe I was uneasy about leaving the kids behind and it was affecting my over-all feeling of security?  Maybe every other country I have been to, I have been able to speak at least a little bit of the language?  Maybe I had heard horror stories about African countries, the Congo in particular?  Whatever it was, I was put more at ease when an African lady smiled nicely at me as I passed her in the bathroom.

We followed Dr. Harvey's instructions that eventually led us down some stairs where we came to a big line.  We got in line because it appeared that there was no where else to go.  Eventually we got to a lady standing behind a podium and she asked for our yellow cards.  We had them out and ready to show.  The yellow cards prove that you have gotten the yellow fever vaccination, which is required to enter the Congo.

Next we got in another line.  We had no idea what the line was for, but they were calling people up individually to small booths.  I asked Erik if we could go together so we could help each other if there were any problems, but he told me to just follow what they told us to do.  We were soon separated from each other for a brief period when I was instructed by a worker to go to a different line. Erik and I frequently made eye contact with each other as we waited in line.  I got called up first.  I handed the man behind the glass my passport, along with a letter written in French by Dr. Harvey, explaining that we were there to work with the hospital.  The guy read through the letter, gave my passport a stamp, and then motioned for me to move forward.  There were no questions asked, no problems, and small smiles which I then realized is the same in every language and very easy to communicate with.

Our next stop was baggage claim, which was very crowded and hot.  As we waited, I took note of how nicely dressed all the Conglese people were dressed!  Most men were in suits and the women in nice, bright-patterned clothes.  Babies and toddlers were carried on backs, attached with a single pieces of material tied around the mother's belly.  I didn't see any young kids anywhere and I never saw a family traveling with more than one child!  Our bags actually came out all together, which was nice.  Erik grabbed the bags off the carousel as I searched for the paper in my folder of the picture of Adolphie, a travel agent hired by the Global Outreach to meet guests and help them through baggage claim and off to the Hotel Bravo.  After we got our bags, we had to put them onto another belt, walk around the machine they went through, and meet them on the other side.  I think it was some kind of security thing.  On the other side, we waited and waited and waited.  Aldophie never showed up!  Luckily, another guy named Reol recognized us and motioned for us to come with him.  He knew very very very little English and we knew no French.  I was worried that we were going with the wrong person, but eventually he managed to say in English, "Adolphie sleep.  No here."  So we got in his old white Toyota Land Cruiser and off we went!

The traffic was crazy.  Much like driving in New York City!  People honking at each other and no one waiting their turn for anything.  It was dark, so we couldn't see much of the city.  When we arrived at Hotel Bravo (a larger house with lots of bedrooms, supported by Global Outreach for traveling missionaries) we unloaded our luggage and then met Reol's wife Jeannichelle (they are the caretakers).  She showed us to our room, just off the living room/office.  It was nicer than I expected.  The furniture was a bit old, a little dusty, and made out of wood. The bathroom was attached to our room and was covered in pink tile!


Jeannichelle, who is also Hotel Bravo's cook, made us an amazing dinner of white rice, stew made of potatoes, green beans, and some kind of meat.  For dessert we had fried bananas.  After dinner, we tried to call Dr. Harvey to let him know that we made it, but the cell phone they gave us to use while at Hotel Bravo didn't work very well.  After that, Erik and I tried getting on the internet.  It was so slow that it took about a half hour just to load Gmail's homepage and then Gmail didn't recognize the country we were trying to sign in from, so we shut down and never used the internet while we were there.

Erik and I spent some time rereading through all of our information that we had received from Dr. Harvey and Samaritan's Purse.  Then Reol helped us call the kids to let them know we made it.  We used a phone card to do this.  It was pretty cheap to call the states.  Before bed, Erik showed Reol pictures and videos of our kids on his phone.  It was a nice way to end the night.  I now just crawled under the mosquito net, ready for a good night sleep.  In the morning we will go to church with Reol and Jeannichielle.

February 2, 2014

Front porch of Hotel Bravo
Last night I woke up to an animal crying.  It started when we went to sleep and sounded like a whimpering dog.  The more I listened, though, and the louder it got, the more and more I convinced myself that it was a monkey!  When we got up in the morning, I mentioned to it to Erik (who had slept through the hours of crying) and told him that I thought it was a monkey.  He laughed and told me that I was crazy to think it was a monkey.

We were planning to go to church with Reol and Jeannichelle, so while Erik rested a while longer, I decided to shower.  A nice, warm shower sounded nice.  I walked into our pink tiled bathroom and realized that there was no shower.  Oh well, a bath sounded just as good.  All I really needed was clean hair and shaved legs since I needed to wear a skirt.  I turned the bath faucet on and dribbles came out.  No mater which way I turned it or pushed it, only dribbles came out.  There was an already filled bucket of water sitting at the other end of the bath and I wondered if I was supposed to use that water to wash with.  As I was staring at the water, trying to decide what I should do, a enormous cockroach came running out from behind the bucket, straight at me!  I screamed and jumped out of the bath!  Erik came in when he heard me scream and I showed him the bug, still running aimlessly around the inside of the tub.  He rolled his eyes and tried to take care of it, but the bug was such a fast runner, it got away.  I pretended that it wasn't there, ever, and tried to wash my hair in the super small pink sink with only cold (freezing cold) water.  I don't think I got all the shampoo or conditioner out and I decided against shaving my legs.  Tomorrow we will get to Impfondo.  Maybe I'll have a better chance at shaving there.

Jeannichelle prepared a nice breakfast for us.  She came and knocked on our bedroom door at 9:00 while Erik was trying to bathe and said, "Your food. [deep breath] Ready here come."  She did not know any English and I appreciated her trying her very hardest to communicate with us.  It was very sweet.   We were supposed to  be ready to go with Reol at 10:00, so we felt pretty good about being ready early.  After breakfast, we sat in the living room, read our Bibles, and chatted about the day ahead.  10:00 rolled around.  10:15 rolled around.  10:30 rolled around.  Erik took a walk around the house and there was no one around, except for the security guard sitting at the gate of the fence that surrounded the Hotel Bravo's property.   Earlier, while Erik was bathing, I thought I had seen Reol leave on a motor cycle, so we figured he was still gone.  As it got later and later, we started to wonder if we had gotten the time wrong.  Reol eventually came (on "African time")  to take us to church.  As we were walking to the car, we saw a monkey - THE monkey!  I punched Erik in the shoulder and said, "I TOLD YOU SO!!!"  Reol and Jeannichelle have a pet monkey who was very unhappy all night the night before.
The little guy kept me up all night!

Church had already started by the time we got there.  We entered through the back door during one of the songs.  A younger girl seated us.  The church was worshiping in a rather large building, however,  they were only using a small portion of the building.  I'm still not really sure what the rest of the building was used for.  They had while plastic lawn chairs to sit in, a small stage up front, microphones, an electric keyboard that played every song rather loudly, and a projector that only showed a picture of stars for about three minutes of worship (not sure what the significance of the stars was).  The songs were very loud, with everyone either clapping, raising their hands, or dancing.  Some prayers consisted of everyone praying out loud at the same time, which sounded really cool!  The entire service was in French.  There was a nice young man who came and sat by us and translated everything into English.  After the lesson, they asked for everyone who was new or visiting to stand up and introduce themselves.  We stood up and Erik introduced us in English.  Our translator translated it into English and everyone clapped for us.
"poto poto" means "market"

After church, the only other white couple at church (who also stood up and spoke at the end - all in French, though), came and introduced themselves.  They were originally from Canada and had lived in Impfondo at the hospital as missionaries for four years!  They were back for a visit.  They knew everyone at the church and had very good French.  We exchanged phone numbers and they asked us if we'd like to meet for dinner.  We had them tell Reol in French so that he understood, too.

Right after church, we tried to find an ATM.  Erik and I hadn't planned well enough and didn't bring enough money to last us the whole trip.  Rumor has it that there is no ATM in Impfondo, so we needed to get it in Brazzaville.  With Reol as our driver, we found the bank with an ATM, but the ATM didn't work.  We think Reol tried to tell us that it didn't work because it was Sunday, but who knows what he was really saying!  We decided just to go to the market and exchange some money so that we at least could use the money we had!  Reol knew a guy in a t-shirt shop who exchanged our money.  Erik wondered if we were getting the best exchange rate this way, but we didn't question it.  After that we came home and took a nice nap under the mosquito net.  After our nap, a very nice older couple from New York arrived at Hotel Bravo.  We were expecting them to arrive with us the night before, but their plane got delayed and they got stuck over night in Addias Ababa. As we ate lunch with them, we learned a little more about them.  This was their first mission trip and their first trip out of the country.  They know the Harvey's from New York through their church and Don is going to the hospital to work on accounting stuff.  Margo used to be a dental assistant and is hoping to teach people about dental care.

Erik and Reol in the pharmacy getting malaria meds
After lunch, we went back to the market so they could exchange their money.  We also realized by this point that we had misplaced or forgotten our malaria medicine (which is sorta important!).  We didn't know if there would be access to get some in Impfondo, so we decided to try to get some from a pharmacy in Brazzaville.  Erik was able to finally get a hold of Dr. Harvey (after several dropped calls) and he recommended a specific medicine for us.  Erik was able to get enough from the pharmacy for both of us.  We went back to Hotel Bravo for a quick snack and then left again at 5:00 to Meet Jinny and John Pierre for dinner.  We talked Reol and Jeannichelle into coming with us.  Reol said, "No money eat," so Erik told them if they came, we would pay for them (with the money we didn't have - ha!).  Don and Margo came, too.

We heard lots of good stories about Impondo.  I got really excited about what lies ahead of us!  I am convinced that it was such a God-thing that Jinny and John Pierre were passing through Brazzaville today and were in church this morning.  It is nice to have some reassurance about the place we were going and little tips about things to eat or do.  I ordered a couscous dish that was AMAZING and Erik got steak!  We drank Passion Fruit Fanats, which were really good!  It was nice to have some carbonation.  We got home around 8:30 and we had to quick repack our bags for our flight out tomorrow morning.  Since Erik and I are low on cash, we had to be really careful not to go over on our pounds so that we can afford to get all of our stuff there.  We are planning to leave a lot of our clothes at the Hotel Bravo in the bedroom closet.  We plan to be back for a day or two before flying back to the US, so we will take care of them then.

February 3, 2014

We woke up early to fly to Impfondo.  Reol had already purchased our tickets and Adolphie (the travel agent who never showed up when we landed) was supposed to meet us at the airport to help get us to the right plane.  Margo and Don were on the same flight, which was good, so we could help them.

Adolphie was waiting at the airport for us.  We put all of our luggage on a big cart and got in a long line of people waiting to check in.  The airport was beautiful and modern. Our flight was supposed to depart at 8am, but we didn't even check in until after 8. Part of the reason why it took so long to check in was because there was such a fight to get up to the check-in counter.  The Africans all around us went around and secretly collected everyone's passports.  They handed the stack to the person behind the counter.  Then, instead of everyone being checked in in the order that we were standing in line, they called names of the passports.  I was unaware of what was happening at first.  I just thought, "Wow, there must be a big group of people traveling together," but pretty soon it was obvious that these Africans were going to make us wait until the end.  They had collected passports from the people behind us in line, too, so everyone got called up except us.  We stood there for about two hours.  Adolphie tried to get our passports up there sooner and argue that we had been standing there first, but security was there to wave him back.  I have never felt so little and hated for my skin color.

Adolphie guided us through the airport.  Erik helped me with my backpack.  To avoid being over the weight limit for our checked bags, we put the heavy skin grafter (that we were bringing over for the hospital) in my backpack since I had room for it.  It was so heavy for me and was hard to hold it on my back the whole time we stood in line, but Erik kept whispering, "Don't act like it's heavy!  I don't want them to know how much weight we have in our backpacks!"  We had to take our bags to a separate area to check where each bag went through a security camera.  Margo had a suitcase of dental supplies that they asked to search, but the rest of our bags went through security without a hitch.  They gave us all baggage tickets that corresponded with our suitcases and Adolphie made sure that we knew we had to keep track of these.  Next we moved on to a folding table where a lady licked a stamp and put it on our tickets.  I'm not sure what the significance of this was.  We then went through security ourselves, where our carry ons were searched and we walked through the metal detector.  The workers in this area knew English and were the nicest people I had talked to all day!  After security, Adolphie showed us to our gate and then he got a phone call and left.  Even though it was way past our departure time, we waited some more.  Everyone that had budged ahead of us in line were waiting there, too.

After waiting for a while longer, everyone who had checked in with us got up and started running down a
flight of stairs.  We decided to follow.  At the bottom of the stairs, there was a small room where everyone was crowding and pushing.  I hung onto Erik and we kept Margo and Don close, too.  There were several security guards that were looking at boarding passes and making a red line on them.  There were two sets of doors on the wall that everyone was facing and pushing toward.  Pretty soon a shuttle pulled up and the doors opened.  People were shouting and pushing.  I saw several people generously make room for women with children and elderly people.  No one was making room for us, though, and it was obvious.  The shuttle filled up, the doors closed, and off it went.  A saw a little girl loose a shoe in the mess, but no one stopped to pick it up.  It got stepped on and kicked and she went on without it.  Soon another shuttle came up, the doors of the building opened, and out ran everyone else still left in the crowded room.  We were the last ones on the second shuttle.  I planned on picking up the shoe, but thankfully someone in front of me picked it up first (I'm not sure if I could have bent down with my 50 pound backpack on!).  A very nice African man got up out of one of the few seats around the perimeter of the inside of the shuttle and had Margo and I sit down.  I said, "thank you very much," in French.  I really appreciated it.  When we got to the plane, everyone pushed and shoved out the door.  They all shoved their way onto the small narrow metal staircase leading up to the plane door, too.  There were no seat assignments and whoever didn't get a seat on this plane, would have to wait until another plane went out.  There was really no real flight schedule, so when the next plane would leave was very unpredictable. Some of these people were traveling back and forth for work and I understood their need to either get to work or get home to their family.  Just like when we flew into Brazzaville, all of the Congolese men were wearing suits.  The women were all in brightly colored dresses, most with head wraps to match.  Women with babies carried their babies on their backs with a matching baby wrap.  Everyone looked very nice.

We got up to to the metal staircase, of course we were the very last ones.  Partly because we got shoved out of the way and also partly because the shoving and pushing other adults was totally out of our culture to do, so we stood back or willingly let others get in front of us.  They were loading live goats in the luggage department of the plane as we boarded.  Erik and I got up the stairs first and as Margo and Don were coming up, we wandered down the skinny plane aisle.  There appeared to be no seats.  The flight attendant was very nice and pointed out two toward the back.  I sat down and Erik walked toward the front of the plane to make sure Margo and Don made it on.  They were on, but no seats were left for them.  To our surprise, the flight attendant invited them to sit in first class!  How awesome! Erik took his seat in the back, a couple rows behind me, and we took off shortly after.

Since there is no real flight schedule, it's never really known until the last minute if the plane will stop half way, in a town called Ossaelo, or if it will continue onto Impfondo.  To make it even more confusing, sometimes the plane would stop of Ossaelo on the way to Impfondo and sometimes it would stop on the way back from Impfondo.  Knowing this, I watched out the window as we landed.  Not only could I not understand the announcements (that were now in Lingala), but the speaker system on the plane wasn't the greatest.  As soon as I saw "Ossaelo" on the airport front, I mouthed to Erik that this wasn't us.  Several people got up to get off.  As I was watching out the window, I saw Don and Margo get off the little metal staircase and start walking toward the airport!!!  I alerted Erik and he ran up front, trying to explain to the flight attendant that they had gotten off at the wrong stop.  Finally he jumped off the plane and grabbed them.  They were very thankful to have us with them!

The rest of the flight was short and went well.  I tried to sleep a little bit, but there was a cute Congolese baby that I couldn't take my eyes off of!

((To be continued....))

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We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospection.”
~Anais Nin