Samoutou Family Blog
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About This Blog...

Family of 5 
from Gabon, Hong Kong and the UK   

Living in Impfondo,   
Republic of Congo   
Since April 2012 

Blog by Joyce the mum, 
Homeschooling novice, 
Eye Charity founding doctor / director. 
Reluctant domestic goddess 

Passionate about sashimi, 
helping people see 
physically and spiritually,   
and Jesus   


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Recent Posts

Trip to Gabon Part 1 (To be continued)
August 8, 2013



It has been a long awaited trip.  We have not taken any annual leave or holiday for nearly 2 years!  Last year, we didn’t take them because our hospital director was in the States on furlough. A few weeks ago, Henri’s elderly and blind father in Gabon fell and became bedbound.  We therefore decided to make a trip to Gabon to see him, as well as spend some time with our dear friends in Bongolo Hospital, where Henri and I met and served.


Before we could travel to Gabon, we had to first renew our long-term visas for Congo.  Our humanitarian aid visas were supposed to be free, but the immigration staff asked us to pay USD2000!  They told us that if we did not pay, then the application process could be ‘indefinite’.  When we explained about Henri’s frail father, they said that if we really wanted to travel, there was nothing stopping us from abandoning our visa application, leave Congo and not come back.  They knew about our non-profit medical work, but they acted like they could not care less about our efforts to help their country.  I wondered if perhaps our clinic did not matter to them as they could afford to travel to France or South Africa for their own medical care.  As I started to fume, I realised that subconsciously, I felt that Congo should be somewhat grateful to us, and that they should support our being here.  I was forced to examine my arrogance.  I swallowed humble pie as I was reminded to love as Christ loves us and wants us to love – unconditionally - without any expectation of recognition or appreciation. 


Last year, Congolese Immigration lost all our passports without an apology.  We had to do our own detective work to retrieve them!  This year, after 9 lengthy visits to an initially hostile immigration office and lots of deep breaths, we finally received our visas!  They ended up being free (Ya-hoo!).  They were supposed to be for 3 years but Immigration only gave us 1 year.  I guess God knows that I will need more practice in patience again in a year!


Cherissa and I have not been back to Gabon since we left 5 years ago.  Ezra and Karis, our younger two, have never been.  They have never met their Gabonese grandfather and family.  It has been wonderful to see them connect so naturally with our family, discover their roots and take pride in their breathtakingly beautiful country.  For them, Gabon used to be an abstract country on the map.  The night we arrived, Cherissa said, ‘I am starting to remember… Now I really feel like a Gabonese!’  Our children knew that they were half Gabonese, but now they feel it in their bones! 


As for me, it has been very emotional.  I desolved into tears as I jumped with excitement when I was reunited with friends.  I swelled with pride and happiness as I witnessed the amazing work our former colleagues have accomplished through hard work, faith and sacrifice.  From the pavillion where Henri and I met, to the things that we gave away, to our grateful patients who can now see again, there were just too many memories.  When I first met Henri, God gave me the following bible verse, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” This trip is the first time that I have ever felt the Gabonese to be my people.  Here, unlike in Congo, I am welcomed, accepted and loved.  I can belong.  All of me screams, ‘Why should we serve in Congo when we can serve in Gabon?’


The non-profit eye centre that we left behind in Gabon continues to be self-sufficient, performing on average 100 operations a month with a 9-month waiting list.  The precious village church we planted continues to grow and shine.  The hospital we served is thriving and has several exciting projects in the pipeline.  It has grown into a fantastic team of 17 doctors, 3 nurses, a mechanic, an administrator, a bookkeeper, a pharmacy / warehouse co-ordinator, a teacher, a logistics agent and a visitors’ co-ordinator.  In contrast, our hospital in Congo, with us away, only has 1 doctor who is on call 24-7 in addition to fulfilling several non-clinical roles.  If we were to come back to Gabon, we could be part of something incredibly exciting, adequately staffed and well run.  Everywhere, Henri is bumping into patients and staff sincerely and enthusiastically asking us to come back. ‘Why should we serve in Congo when we can serve in Gabon?’


Here in Gabon, we feel like we are living in a 5-star hotel (Never thought I'd say that when we lived in the rainforest before.  It's all relative.  I wonder how we will cope when we revisit the developed world!).  Oh the joys of stable electricity, internet, TV, lovely fans, lights that are not dim, and cookers that are not camping stoves / fire hazards!  It is AMAZING to have hot showers rather than buckets of cold rusty water.  Our children are discovering the new world of washing machine, microwave, toaster, freezer and electric kettle.  (FYI, the reason we can’t run these mod cons in Congo is because our electric system cannot support them, and our town is often out of fuel.)  We keep forgetting that we can now put toilet paper down the toilet rather than in a bin.  Call me sad, but I love having laundry soap that makes our clothes smell nice and keeps our towels soft.  Dishwashing is actually enjoyable because the water pressure is not dribbling and who knew liquid soap could bring such delight!  We are completely overwhelmed by the variety of food that is available.  Normally, when we are in Congo, we can only buy 48 items of food where salt, pepper, oil and tea bags count as individual items.  When I talk with the amazing teacher for the lovely Missionary Kids in the well-equipped schoolroom and library that we helped set up, I had to fight mother’s guilt with all my might.  Since we left Gabon, there are now good roads bringing supplies from the capital.  There is even a plane and pilot for the hospital!  I battle with jealousy as I think of the Gabonese hospital having a plane when they now have good roads, when we don’t even have a road to our hospital in Congo!  For sure our friends in Gabon have their own set of challenges and difficulties, but for us visiting, it is so refreshing and liberating not to live in a place where so many things seem to be lacking!  ‘Why should we serve in Congo when we can serve in Gabon?’


It was hard visiting our old home here in Gabon.  It was such a stark and painful contrast to our living conditions in Congo.  It brought back all the memories of how it made no sense to us when God told us to leave Gabon 5 years ago.  We were enjoying a fruitful ministry, wonderful friends, a big beautiful home that we lovingly renovated, and a lifestyle that we could cope with with relative ease.  Now we are faced with what seems like obstacles upon obstacles, challenging isolation and living standards that are far inferior to what we enjoyed.  Congo doesn’t seem to even want us, let alone appreciate us!  ‘Why should we serve in Congo when we can serve in Gabon?’


We tell ourselves that compared to our Congolese neighbours who struggle even to put food on the table, we should be thankful.  We tell ourselves what a privilege it is to be able to restore sight and transform lives.  We tell ourselves that people in Congo are much poorer, that their needs are much more desperate, and that very few people seem to be interested in helping them.  We tell ourselves that we are only beginning in Congo and that one day, with hard work and perseverance, things will change.  But I know that deep down, the honest truth is that I care a lot more about our immediate comfort and our children’s development than anyone else, no matter how poor and needy they are.  So for selfish, spoilt and impatient me, it comes down to this and this alone: God called us to Congo.  We trust Him.  We follow Him.  Is it hard?  You should have seen me swallowing hard the ugly head of self-pity and fighting back tears.  Do I struggle?  Hell yes! As I kick and scream like a crazy toddler, God quiets me with His indescribable love (Well, He is working on it). 


This Saturday, we will travel to the beach where I first responded to God’s call to Africa 13 years ago.  I am looking forward to going back to my Bethel, hear God speak, build an altar and lay my life down again.  I am struggling at the moment, but I am expectant.  Watch this space.

Filed under: Musings, Food, Living in Congo, Developing countries, Homeschooling, Raising children, Third Culture Kids and MKs, Make a difference


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