I’m a Wogger.

Yep.  I’ve decided.  I used to call myself a ‘Slogger’, which was my word for the way I run.  Not run really.  It’s a slow jog. A very slog jog.  More like a shuffle really.  And ‘slog’ just feels like what it probably looks like.  In fact the average person that happens to see me as I trudge along would probably think something like – ‘well isn’t she motivated – just slogging along like that’.

But in all honesty, I don’t slog anymore.  I Wog.  My new word for what I do.  I Walk/Jog.

I went wogging on Wednesday.  For the first time in exactly 14 weeks.  Now for those who know me, you know that that is a VERY long time for me to go without intentionally exercising.  But it happened.  I’m not happy about it, but it’s a reality.  So just move on, right?  But the consequences? Those come with regret.

Another one of my realities (not whining here, just facing the facts)  is that I need to exercise regularly to simply maintain my weight.  Losing weight takes more drastic measures then a 3 mile wog 5 or 6 times/week.  So combining my exercise hiatus with eating being in the US,  we’re looking at 15 pounds. And believe me, they can be clearly seen.  Add that to the fact that I should have actually been losing 15 pounds,  and you get – well, you can do the math.

So, that’s where I am right now.  Thus, the wogging.  And why do I wog?  I think it’s because I can’t or won’t jog for long distances.  Especially uphill.  I walk up hills.  I’d rather do burpees than jog UPhill.

And believe me this is much steeper than it looks!

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Despite the heat in Niger I have a pretty nice place to wog.  It also happens to be where my mom and dad in-law live.  Here’s my ‘track’.

This is the top of my ‘track’.  It’s kind of like a teardrop.  I walk up the hill on the right, to where I’m standing taking this picture, then I begin my ‘slog’ down the hill on the left.

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From the tip of the teardrop and around, it’s ¼ mile.

I knew I was out of shape, but I had no idea how bad it really was.  I started off at a walk, to warm up don’t ya know.  I walked up that hill and Oh. My. GOSH! I began to wonder if that’s what it felt like to sprint a marathon.    Now the fact that it was 130 degrees (ok, so it was only 97) might have had something to do with it, but man were my muscles screaming!  It was quite pathetic really.  When I get to the downhill side of the teardrop I jog.  When I picked up my pace, I kept turning around, wondering what was back there.  Until I sadly realized it was just me.  The extra 15 pounds of me.  Ugh!!

My goal was to wog between 30 and 45 minutes for starters.  After I felt I had been going for a good long while, getting pretty close to my goal, I allowed a quick glance at the time.  Lord have mercy it had only been 12 minutes.  TWELVE MISERABLE MINUTES!  Why is it when I allow myself 15 minutes to look at Facebook, then I guesstimate my time, 30 minutes have actually passed?

So I wogged on.  And on.  I was trying to keep track of my laps, but I think I lost track.  I walked for about ⅓ of each lap, then jogged the rest.  When I finished what was either my 11th (2 ¾ mile) or 12th (3 mile) lap, I looked again at the time.  42 minutes.  That meant I had to go one more lap.  To make the 45 minute goal.  Which I exceeded. =)  And whereafter I felt like I had completed an Iron Man competition.  And I looked like it too.  Ask anyone who saw me. I was redder than my friend Patty’s very red and very beautiful homegrown tomatoes.  Yep.  I actually let people see me looking like that.  I was even going to take a picture and show it here, but I forgot.

Instead, I’ll include this one of the last time I ran 14 weeks ago.  I remember my last run because we were in Georgia, and I took a picture because Tobi ran with me.  That doesn’t happen very often.

This right here is a scary photo!

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So, in spite of the heat, and in spite of my screaming muscles and my red face, I will continue to wog along.  And go from there.

The Seed is in You

I’ve had lots of people ask me when I’m going to add another blog post.  As I’ve said before, I’ve written lots of blog posts – in my head.  But until I make time to write a new one, I’m going to post an article I wrote for Daring Daughters in 2012.  So though it’s 3 years old, it’s still relevant.  And it also answers another question I’m frequently asked.  “How did I know I was called to missions.”

The Seed

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years!  I’ve been a missionary in the West African country of Niger since July, 1998.   There are two questions I am often asked: Did I always know I wanted to be a missionary? Did I always know God wanted me to be a missionary?  No, and no.  But God knew.  Here’s my story.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

I was saved at the age of 7 and was raised in a Christian home by wonderful Christian parents.  I’ve walked closely with the Lord since but it wasn’t until adulthood that I became  acutely aware of God’s grace.  I used to think that I didn’t really have a ‘story’.  But a revelation while singing ‘Amazing Grace’ changed my mind.  I did have an amazing story.  It was the grace of God that saved me.  He not only saved me from my sins, but He saved me from the powers of darkness of this world and kept me walking in His light all these years.  It wasn’t my personality or my own determination or discipline that spared me from all the world had to ‘offer’.  Simply put, it was God’s amazing grace.  Now, the older I get, the more I see… and the more I see, the more thankful I am for that grace that saved me.

But I wasn’t just saved to be saved, I was called.  So are you. My calling was to be a missionary, reaching the unreached.   But fulfillment of that calling wasn’t going to just drop in my lap.  I had some responsibility.

The seed was in me – as a 4 year old.

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The Bible is full of instruction for our lives.  There are a multitude of passages that talk about the blessings that follow us and our children when we walk in the way of the Lord.

We see in 1 Kings 2 where King David is at the end of his life and is giving instructions to his son Solomon.  Solomon was called to succeed David on the throne.

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: 2 “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. 3 And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; 4 that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me…”

Solomon’s calling came with requirements:  Keep the charge of the Lord, walk in His ways, keep his commandments…  Then you will prosper and the Lord will fulfill His word concerning you.

 For God’s will and plan to be fulfilled in our lives, we must walk in His ways.

After high school, I attended Oral Roberts University.  My sophomore year I met Neal.  I was a chaplain and he was a freshman on my brother wing.  He came straight from Nigeria, where he was raised as a missionary kid.  He intrigued me.  He was, as I like to describe him, ‘bush’.  He spoke with a Nigerian accent and he thought downtown Tulsa was a huge metropolis.  As the girls’ chaplain I had the responsibility of pairing the brother and sister wings with prayer partners.  I did this by drawing names from a hat, but not before first pairing myself with Neal.  Sneaky, I know.

A friendship began to develop into something more and on our 2nd official date Neal informed me that he was going to be a missionary.  My thought?

“Whatever.  He’s a business major.  Once he gets going in his field, he’ll get over the missions thing.”

It’s not that I was opposed to full-time missions, I just wasn’t awakened yet to my calling.  I had a natural trust in God and a desire to do exactly what He had planned for me.  The seed was there, but it remained dormant.

Our relationship progressed as did Neal’s intensity for missions. I continued to trust God and prayed that if this was the man for me, that an actual desire to do missions would surface.  As an upperclassman I would get frustrated when I would hear my friends talking specifically about their careers, how many children they would have, the type of home they would live in –  all the way down to paint color!  I didn’t have specifics on any of those things – and I didn’t really care about a white picket fence.   All I knew for sure was that I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.   I later realized that if I had predetermined my exact job and house color, it would not have lined up with Neal, and I may have assumed he wasn’t the one.

Here we are at ORU, the seed in both of us. Any guesses to the year? Hint: Big hair.

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Our love grew and in 1989 we married.  I graduated with a degree in Social Work and Neal, Management Information Systems.  We both got jobs in our fields, while still pursuing ministry.  We found a church home and were asked to be youth pastors.  It wasn’t missions, but it was something that our hands found to do and we were determined to do it with all our might.  It was preparation time.  During our 5 years as youth leaders we sent kids on more than 30 summer mission trips, while patiently (sometimes) waiting our turn.

God continued to lead us and 8 years of marriage and 2 great kids later, the Lord directed us to attend Bible School to officially prepare for the field.  During Bible School we received confirmation that the country of Niger would be our field.

We spent 10 months raising our support and during that time an amazing thing happened.  I was sharing in my mom and dad’s church about how I had recently come across some of my elementary school papers and discovered that I had written a report on the country of Nigeria the same year Neal moved there.  Coincidence?  I think not.  It was a germinating seed.  I told also of a report I had written in junior high titled ‘Understanding Africa’ where I wrote that I wanted to be a missionary in Africa.  I don’t even remember writing it, but my name was on it.   The seed was there.

Later that evening my mom questioned me.

“Don’t you remember the prophecy spoken to you when you were 12?  That you would be a rose, blooming in the desert?”

It wasn’t until she said that that the memory came back.  Mom continued.

“What about the time I found you crying because you couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t know Jesus?”

I was 7.  The seed.

Our family in 1998, just before moving to the 10/40 nation of Niger, Africa.   Trae, Danette, Tanika, Neal

Family

Our family in 2001 with Tobi, our new addition.

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The amazing thing about a spiritual seed is that it won’t die.  It’s in you.  Even if you haven’t been pursuing God as you should or are new in your walk with Him, it’s not too late!  God’s seed, His plan for you – it’s in you.  Even if it’s dormant.  Wake it up!   Begin germinating it by pursuing hard after Jesus and by walking in His ways.  In Jeremiah 2:21 God said to the Israelites,

“Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.”

You are full of high quality seed!  

Just Another Saturday

It started like any old normal Saturday.

Wait.

Rewind.

What is a normal Saturday?

We don’t have those so let me start over.

It was a Saturday.  This particular one looked to be quite low-key. Neal was in Diffa (a 2-day drive away) and we were looking forward to him arriving home on Tuesday. Tobi had spent the night with Grama and Grampa so I was on my own.  Nice!  My plans were to finish up the class notes for the Roots of Character class I would start teaching Monday, have lunch with Erin, go to Tobi’s soccer game, and pick up a guest at the airport who was going to be staying with us for 2 weeks.

So, I finished my notes.  Erin came over and we had a nice lunch in a moderately air conditioned restaurant.  This is significant since it was very hot outside – 111 by my outdoor thermometer placed in the shade.  So when I say ‘moderately’ I mean probably cooled to 85 or 90.  Which isn’t 111!  We enjoyed our time together (well, I know I did), which is winding down, since Erin will be leaving in June.  Back at my house we continued to chat (while sweating because my house is not air-conditioned –not even moderately).  I told her she should come to Tobi’s soccer game with me, secretly joking, since the only reason I was going was because I had to – being such a good Mom and all.  (I should give kudos to Grampa here too, since he brought Tobi to his game early, and planned to stay and watch).  I told Erin that I was kidding.  No one except blood relatives should have to go sit out in that heat.

Erin left and I went on my way to be at the game for the opening kick.  Just as I left our house, I took note of a few clouds overhead. Wait. Clouds?  Well if that isn’t just a blessing straight from God.  I wouldn’t have to sit with the sun beating down.  Oh, and the boys wouldn’t have to play soccer in direct sun. That’s good too.

As I continued to drive, I noticed it seemed a bit dark.  Then I made a turn and lo and behold this is what I saw.

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I knew right then we had the makings of a great sand storm. And I was in just the right place at just the right time to get some pretty cool pictures of it.

You can see the red cloud gathering – separate from the ‘real’ clouds.

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To my delight, traffic on the road was seriously reduced- another blessing! And, I was able to snap these pics.

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Maybe that’s what the ‘red’ sea looked like when it was parted.

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I love how the sun is shining behind me as I drive into the storm.

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Wonder if the red car thinks it’s being followed…

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Just about to turn onto the bridge.  So is the sand.

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Guess the red car is crossing the bridge too…

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If you look closely, you can see the people on the right – running.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t get anywhere inside before the sand hit.

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Sun still shining on the sand and the dry river – though not completely dry.

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Headfirst into the sand.

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Heading to the school.  There is a vehicle in front of me.

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Right in the middle of it.  That poor guy.

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When I got to the entrance of the school, I thought at first that no one else was there.  Then I saw a camera flash in the distance.  There were 50+ people there.  Here I’m parked and am facing the soccer field.  Those crazy kids!

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I know the feeling though.  In spite of the sand being, well, sandy, it was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat that we’ve been dealing with.  And that’s not just a pretty color of orange.  It’s sand blowing around and getting into everything and everyone.  I knew my house would be a huge mess when I got home (at least I remembered to take the clothes off the line before I left), but it was OK.  I was happy for the change too.  And I don’t think I was alone.

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I’ve experienced quite a few dust storms over the past 16 years, but none as big or long as this.  And the pics I usually get are from inside the storm – the dark orange look.  This time I was able to be on the outside looking in.  And then be on the inside too.  Usually everything gets dark and within 5-10 minutes the sun is shining again.  This baby lasted a good long time!  I ventured out of the car when the ‘bulk’ of the storm had passed.  I almost went into shock over how cool it was!  And I’m not kidding when I say that I got a chill.  It was only for a millisecond, but it was a chill nonetheless.  Even a couple hairs stood up.  And do you know I didn’t sweat one molecule (that I’m aware of) for the entire game?!  Probably the best soccer game I’ve ever been to.  And to top it off, our guys won!

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They waited for about 20 minutes or so and finally started the game, even though there was very low visibility to the other end of the field.  If 111 degrees isn’t going to stop these guys, certainly a little sand won’t either!  Tobi is somewhere in this picture, covered with sand so we can’t see him.

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We left after the game – happy campers.  Tobi quietly rejoicing in their 3-2 victory (I heard him say to himself, “I really like to win”.)  And me, rejoicing that for a short period of time I was sweat-less.  And I saw the proof of that when I arrived home.  When I left, it was 111 outside and 102 in the house.  When I got home, it was a frigid 89 outside and 101 in the house.  The house had some catching up to do.

Thus my ‘normal’ Saturday comes to an end.  Funny thing is, when you live in Niger it really is rather normal.

A Journey Through the Desert

We’ve made the trip between Maradi and Niamey, Niger over the last 15 years countless times.  Literally.  But I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a blog post specifically to the trip.  So here goes.

Niamey, the capital of Niger, is located in the south-western part of the country.  The majority of the population also lies on the southern border, known as the Sahel Region.  Not many people live up in the north, because that’s the Sahara Desert.  So this journey takes us about halfway through the country, from West to East, along the Southern border.

Niger Map

We once completed the 388 mile road trip  in 6 hours 45 minutes.  That was years ago. And I know that’s not going to win the Indy, but when compared to our longest time…. What was our longest time you ask?  Well that’s up for debate.  Do you count the trip with the 6 flat tires?  Or the one where the front tire actually flew off the vehicle?  Or what about the time the whole thing seized up and we had to leave our vehicle on the road and take public transport the rest of the way home? Or how about when the brakes went out and we had to completely turn around and go home to get them fixed and leave again the next day?   I could go on.   But I won’t.

This particular journey was just a couple of weeks ago.  We went to Maradi to celebrate the New Year.  Tanika was home visiting and hadn’t been in Maradi in a few years.  Since she spent nearly 9 years of her life there, it was time for a visit.  But I digress.  This is about the actual road trip.  Besides Neal and myself and Tanika in the vehicle, Tobi was of course with us, as well as Sukala and his new wife Rakkiya.  So the 4 of them were pretty cozy in the back seat. But the fun made up for the squishiness.  I think.

The road is always in various stages of repair and since we’ve lived here has never been completely good.  By that I mean there has always been a significant section of road that is in bad shape.  And I mean really bad shape.  Right now it’s the portion between Guidan Roumdji and Birnin’ Konni, closer to Maradi.  I can’t really say the actual distance, but it takes about 3 hours to get through it.  It shouldn’t take that long.  Fortunately, it is being worked on.  I’m trying not to notice the part of the road that is starting to deteriorate which will soon become the next really bad section.

Most of the rest of this post will be photos, most taken on our return trip to Niamey from Maradi.  But a few pics are actually from the trip to Maradi from Niamey.  Like this one.  This is the Niamey gate as we are leaving the city.  The sun is coming up.  We are driving toward the sunrise.  Pretty, but makes for a couple of squinty hours, even with sunglasses.

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And now here we are on the other end.  Leaving Maradi, January 2nd, 2014 – the Maradi city gate.  We left at the same time as we did in Niamey 4 days earlier, but sunrise here is earlier.

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The sun is behind us this time.

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The open road.  Sort of.

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All 6 of us, ready for the long journey.  Again – sort of.

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This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.

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Overloaded trucks.

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Often turn into this…

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No potholes!  And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side.  Often, we share the road with them.

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Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.

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Check out the camels on the left.  Another mode of transportation.

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There are countless small villages along the road.  All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!

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No, we weren’t off-roading.  This was a detour of sorts.

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On a journey like this, one does not like to hear unfamiliar noises coming from any part of the vehicle.  A couple of hours in, we heard such a sound.  And it wasn’t a good one.  First thought – a blown tire?  I can’t really describe the sound except to say it was loud and sounded like kind of a big deal.  We slowed and stopped with no problems (except for the sound).  Sukala jumped out and immediately saw the problem, which turned out not to be much of a problem at all.  The bull guard came loose/off.  Wonder how that happened?

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It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.

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And to be on our way.

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Lots and lots of trucks on the road today – both directions.  A railroad system in this country would go a long way to saving the roads!

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Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.

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These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.

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And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.

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This is the time of year that dry season farming is done.  There is no rainfall to speak of, but it is done in areas that can be irrigated.  These are onions growing.

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Getting close to a town.  Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.

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Tight squeeze.  The trucks really are road hogs.  But check out the palm tree!

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This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.

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More water being transported by the beast of burden.

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Following trucks also causes this problem.

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This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.

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Time for a pit stop.  Boys on the left side of the road, girls on the right.  I’m guessing Tobi and Sukala didn’t know I took their picture!  =)

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The ladies bathroom.

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The ladies exiting the bathroom.

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And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time.  Fried locusts!

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I’m not kidding.  These guys really love them.  In fact it was a request Tanika had when she got here.  Tobi looks like he’s enjoying these bugs way too much!

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Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.

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Not me.  I’ll stick with fried fish.  (Thanks to the last team that was here!)

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When homes are made out of the ground they are built on, they can be pretty hard to spot.  As can be seen (or not), by this village in the distance.  The white structure that can be seen is the village Mosque and is located in the right, front part of the village.

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Some sections of the road are quite nice.  And what a view!  You should see it during rainy season.

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This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…

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This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory…  We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.

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Another town, another mosque.

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This is Galmi Hospital.  A hospital that is run by SIM, a mission organization that has been working in Niger since the 1920’s.  They have served thousands and thousands of people using medicine and the Gospel.  I actually had surgery here when I was pregnant with Tobi.

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One of countless cell towers erected in the middle of nowhere.  What stood out to me was the dish covered in red dirt…Anyone got a hose?

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This man is carrying a generator on his head.  Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!

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Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.

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More positive signs of road work.

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Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.

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More onions for sale.

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Fuel stop.

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And it’s full service!

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This is not Quick Trip, but there are lots of things that can be bargained for – Tanika and Tobi I think were buying bread.  And check out the King Tat candy bars being held out for Tanika to consider.

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Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.

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This camel really is owned by someone.

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So are these cows.

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We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.

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This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.

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The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…

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This is what happens.

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As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!

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Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle.  That’s what the sign on the right is.

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More onions!

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This is a section of road that was repaired a couple of years ago.  There’s water here most of the year, but I have no idea the source.

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These little boys are just having fun in their cart.

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Islam, the predominant religion in Niger, is required to have beggars because they have to ‘give alms’.   So  as sad as it is, seeing beggars of all shapes and sizes is part of the culture and landscape of this nation.  This man is camped out at a speed bump, asking for those alms – or anything one wants to give him.

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A church!!  There aren’t many as you make your way across the land, but there are many more than there used to be.  And they will continue to increase as we stand on God’s Word that He is giving us every place we put our feet!

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This is a market place.  But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.

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Yet another overturned truck.

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This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.

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For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.

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The people you see walking are students.  It’s noon, and the schools are out.  They will go back at 3pm.

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Another one!

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The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.

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I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.

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Dosso city gate!!

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Yep – there are even traffic lights here!

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This station looks pretty much like the first one.  We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.

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Horsin’ around.

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Standin’ around.

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This station actually has a locked toilet that as far as I can tell is reserved for foreigners.  It flushes and has running water.  BYOT.P.  Unless of course all you need is the plastic tea kettle conveniently located.  As nice as it is, this isn’t always the best plan though,  because as opposed to the ‘bush toilet’ where everyone can go at the same time, this is a one -umm, ‘seater’,  so takes more time.

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I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.

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This is a common way to carry babies, even on motorcycles.  There are 3 people on this one.  The little guy is tied to his Mom with a piece of cloth.

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As we get closer to home, we have the option of getting fresh chicken at a ‘drive-through’.  We turned down the opportunity though, as it was a bit too fresh for me.

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This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.

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You know those transport busses I mentioned.  These passengers got an  unplanned break.  They’re probably waiting for another bus to come and rescue them.

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This one is a bit fancier.

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Mango trees!  And they’re starting to bud.

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The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.

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I don’t know what’s inside this truck, but the all those things hanging off the sides are plastic teapots – like the kind in the fancy bathroom.  These are very common in this culture, because the Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they go through a ritualistic washing process before every prayer time.  That’s one of the main things they use these little kettles for.

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Firewood is being loaded onto this vehicle.  It will likely be taken to Niamey and will be sold.  So I guess you could say this is the warehouse.

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Same thing here, and believe it or not, they are going to add the firewood to that load.  There is always room for more stuff.

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Getting close now.  This is the entrance to the ‘giraffe reserve’.  By entrance I mean the place you go and pay and pick up a guide.  By reserve I mean that the giraffe are protected, but as far as I know not really followed that closely.  We rely on the guides who rely on their good or not so good tracking skills.  Some are definitely better than others.   You drive your vehicle into the bush with the guide on the top, armed with a stick.  We’ve done it tons of times and it really is a pretty cool experience.   Not today though.

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I like taking pictures of tractors.

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The top of the van is loaded with goats.

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Pretty impressive section of road.  It’s all about perspective…

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Water tower.

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Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.

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Outskirts of Niamey.

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This is called the Peage.  This is where you pay your road tax.  You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.

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I snuck this picture a little closer.  That’s one thing I didn’t get pictures of that are a major part of this journey.  All the checkpoints.  Not a good idea to have your camera out at these.  A checkpoint is essentially a rope that crosses the road, that is often hard to see.  But that’s ok, because you can pretty much expect them in every village.  And there are 2 types.  Sometimes they are together and sometimes separate.  One is simply checking that you actually paid your road tax.  The other one is a police checkpoint.  More often than not they just wave you on, but sometimes they want to see your papers, and sometimes they just want to chat.  Especially if they discover you speak Hausa. Over the years, I have found that almost always the people at these checkpoints are very friendly and they smile a lot.

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Niamey city gate!!

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The airport is off to the right.

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Airport entrance.  You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.

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Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.

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Getting busier.

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This young man is selling boxes of kleenex.  The Grand Mosque is in the distance.

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There it is as we drive by.  This is the main mosque for Niamey.

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Getting close to the new overpass.

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Going under the new overpass.  It’s really quite fancy.

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I really like those carpets on the left.  They’ve been displayed there for quite some time.  I wish someone would buy them!

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Some might find this sweet or productive, but for some reason it drives me crazy!  There are several intersections in town where these little guys sneak up from behind with their squeegees and wash your windows, uninvited.  They always startle me because they just appear, even when you’re looking for them!  I think the thing that annoys me is that even if you tell them not to smear your windows, they never listen.  (And to their credit, they actually do sometimes clean them).

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A bike and a car meet unexpectedly.  Unfortunately a common occurrence.

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We have arrived at Sukala and Rakkiya’s house.  Unloading their stuff.  They are both from the Maradi area, and this was their first trip their since their wedding.  So they are unloading gifts they were given.  Well, that and the bull guard.

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A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.

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Thanks for the memories.

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Sukala heading into his home.

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Continue on to our home.

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Our road.  Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.

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Our gate.

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Home Sweet Home.

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Unloading…

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Guess she missed her pillow.

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More stuff to unload!

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Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days.  I think.

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So, there you have it.  A trip through the nation of Niger!  It’s not for the faint-hearted.  But much can be learned about the country and the culture as you journey across this vast and beautiful desert land – especially if you have a breakdown.  Which thankfully, we did not.  This time.

The Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

My last post was titled ‘The Dowry Has Been Delivered’.  I intended to write lots between then and now, but between our schedule and our internet (slooowww), that hasn’t happened.  So I will now write about the wedding (for which the dowry was delivered), and hope to catch up on other stuff ‘soon’.

Sukala.  He’s been a part of our family since we moved to Niger in 1997.  That means he’s been friends with Trae and Tanika since they were little kids.   Tobi too.  Here they are now.

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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He’s the guy that saw Tobi take his first steps. MVC-862F

Over the years, through ups and downs, ins and outs and thick and thin, Sukala (his real name is Ibrahim), has maintained a place in our family, referring to us as Mom and Dad.  Neal’s parents are Grama and Grampa, and rightly so.

Though I could digress down several different roads (some paved, some full of potholes)  with lots of stories, I’m going to do my best to stick to the big wedding.  But no guarantees.

As I said in my last post, we met Rakiya last year right about this time when she interviewed for an assistant teaching position in our school.   (Well look at that, I’ve already veered from strictly wedding writing).  Though a tiny slip of a girl, she had a great personality and presence about her.  She was someone who obviously loved children, but had a level of confidence and sophistication that I really liked.  Though respectful, she wasn’t intimidated by us (Neal) =).  When she left our house I said to Neal something along the lines of, “This is exactly the kind of girl Sukala needs.”  You see Sukala isn’t just an ordinary guy.  He loves Jesus with all his heart,  is a musician, is great with kids, has lots of other gifts, is hard working, very generous, can do about whatever  you ask him to or will figure out how, and is part man and part boy.  He’s spastic and I’m convinced he’s an ADHD personality that is heading in the right direction.  Most of the time.   Not the kind of guy for just any girl.

Other than expressing my thoughts to Neal and Erin, the missionary/teacher she would be training under, I mentioned this ‘match made in heaven’ to no one else.  Erin agreed with me and even tried to get them in the same place at the same time whenever Sukala would be helping at the school.  Rakiya would have none of it.

We left for our ‘world tour’ in March, (which I’m still not done blogging about !), and soon Erin left for the US for the summer.  Sometime during the summer, we talked to Sukala by phone and he informed us that he was interested in a girl.

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

I maintained my composure on the phone, while grinning very loudly to Neal.  I still said nothing but that we were happy for him, and gave him a few other words of ‘advice’.  “Thanks Mom”, said he and we hung up.  I was quite excited and I told Neal so.  And I offered a prayer of thanks.

The next phone call included the explanation that they wanted to get married.  Wow.  That really was fast.  In spite of the appearance of spontaneity, we were in agreement.  The only stipulation was that it could not be during children’s camp.  Sukala is a huge part of our camps, and to do them without him would be really challenging.  A hardship really.  It was currently July and the camps would be the first 2 weeks of September.

We arrived back to Niger on July 22nd and officially congratulated the happy couple.  The date was set for September 21, and wedding plans were under way.  As well as TTC drama team plans and CLC children’s camp plans.    When I asked Sukala what specifically he wanted me to do, he told me that he wanted me to walk him down the aisle, just like I did with Trae.  I said I would be happy and honored to do that, but also explained that in fact Trae was walking me down the aisle.  But who’s really ‘counting’?

The day quickly arrived.  Friday night, the plan was for Tobi and Sukala to spend the night with Alfred, the ‘other’ best man.  Sukala had been busy all day.  Well, all week really.  One of his biggest responsibilities was to secure a house for he and his new bride.  Sukala has been living in a room on our compound for almost 3 years.  We offered for them to continue living there post-wedding, but Rakiya preferred to get their own place.  Understandably.  So before camp started, Sukala found a place and even paid 4 months rent.  Monday before  the wedding, (we had just returned from camp in Maradi), he went to get the key to his house to begin preparing it, only to find that the landlord – or more likely the guy that is looking for a renter for the owner – decided that he would give the house to someone else while we were gone.  Someone else had already moved in.  Downright mean.  He did get his money back.  Sukala was stressed and the house hunt was on once again.  Wedding: T-5 days.  Having a house was a requirement, because what happens culturally the night of the wedding is that the bride is brought to her husband in the house that he has provided for her.  More on that later…

Long story short and lots of blood, sweat and tears later, a house was secured.  Sukala threw up a paint of coat and we (Neal and I) convinced him that he needed to install a fan in at least one of the 3 rooms.  He argued that he didn’t have money and we argued that we would help. It was HOT and it’s amazing the difference a fan makes when it’s that hot.  I was actually thinking of Rakiya and didn’t want the memory of the first night in her new house to be all about sweating!  The ceiling fan was purchased (this is on Friday) and Sukala asked someone to install it.  Check that off the list.

So Tobi and Sukala were headed to Alfred’s on Friday night.  Here they are just before they left.

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And here’s the next time I saw them – Saturday morning.  Sukala is nervous and Tobi is tired!

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We arrived at the church at 9am for the 9am wedding.  Lots of other people were there too, but it wasn’t yet full.   Weddings  are chronically late but there’s nothing fashionable about that when it’s 150 degrees.  Ok, it’s not that hot, but when you’re wearing lined lace that weighs a ton, it sure feels like it!

Since I was going to be walking Sukala down the aisle (remember, it’s what he wanted), I went out to see him when he arrived and that’s when I took the above picture.  I asked him how he was doing and he just sort of nodded as a tear ran down his cheek.  I don’t think he will mind me sharing…

The sun was hot (have I mentioned that?) so I opened the door, he moved over, and I got in.  A church member loaned Sukala this really nice vehicle complete with driver for the day.  It had AC.  And God bless the driver for letting the vehicle run while we were sitting there.  Waiting.

Waiting for what?  And why the tears?  Well first, lack of sleep.  It’s no mystery there that missing major chunks of sleep over a week will make you feel a bit more emotional than normal.  And normal for Sukala is already emotional.  Because Sukala is almost always ‘up’, he can’t hide it very well when he’s not up. He can’t hide it at all.  Up and bouncy are also his normal.  Unlike myself.  There’s not much variation between my high, medium and low.  So one may not quickly perceive my mood.  But with this guy, it’s easy.   He was fighting tears and feeling very emotional.  And waiting for the bride to show up was not helping.  There were several phone calls back and forth.  They were on their way to the church in two vehicles, one of which apparently had ‘broken’ on the way.  I heard Sukala insist that they leave the broken vehicle there and just come – ‘that you are the one everyone is waiting for.’  I correctly assumed he was speaking to Rakiya. More time passed, people continued to come, the church started to fill up.  I told Sukala some stories from my own wedding to pass the time.  I think Tobi was sleep sitting.  I checked to see if the AC fan in the car was on high.  He was getting agitated because he knew that everyone was waiting for this thing to start.  I assured him that everyone was fine.  Look, people are still coming.  And today, this day, was about Rakiya and him.  People don’t mind.   Finally she showed up – I honestly don’t know if the 2nd vehicle came or not – and he started to loosen up and cheer up.  Relief.

We waited still longer for our cue to begin our walk up the aisle.   My best guess is that so far the wait had been about 30 minutes.   The guests had been singing the whole time.

The time had finally come for this guy to get married!

The car had started to feel pretty warm, but when we stepped outside I realized that comparatively we had been enjoying a refrigerator.

We began our walk into the church compound, took a left and proceeded to walk to the back of the church, from the outside.   Even though the guests were inside, we did the traditionally slow walk – even outside.  Well, Sukala did.  I took off at what seemed a hare’s pace (in spite of my heels sinking into deep sand) when compared to the expected snail’s pace.  Sukala reminded me to slow down.  I then remembered  all the weddings I had been to in Niger where the betrothed walk down the aisle with their supporters at a painstakingly slow pace.  Not exactly sure the reason but I say let them have their day!

I was doing my best to keep time with Sukala and reminded him to smile.  I told him in the car that if he walked in all somber like is traditional, I would walk away.  That’s not the first time he’d heard me say that.  There’s a cultural thing here, even among Christian weddings that I dislike very much.  It stems from Islam.  First, the groom  comes in with a group of his friends escorting him.  And even though they may be excited, throwing confetti and spraying perfume, the groom looks like he’s walking in to a funeral.  The same thing happens with the bride.  That’s one area that we have tried to change in this culture.  Wedding’s are a joyous occasion and should be celebrated as so.  We’ve been told that they walk in with such somberness as a sign of humility.  Anyway, both our bride and groom agreed that they wanted to walk down the aisle in a non-traditional way – smiling.

Here are Sukala and I, finally walking into the church.  Followed by lots of supporters.  The best men are behind us.  If you look closely you’ll see some white specks in the photo.  Those aren’t spots on the lens, it’s the traditionally thrown confetti, thrown by the supporters.  Perfume is liberally being sprayed everywhere!

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And now for the big moment.  Here comes The Bride!  Waiting expectantly.

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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It was during this time that my wardrobe issues started.  After leaving Sukala, I walked up to sit down in my seat next to Neal on the platform.  As I sat down, I felt a sudden breeze rush down my back.  My pretty lace top, that zips all the way down the back, came unzipped.  Completely.  Now as refreshing as that breeze felt, I’m pretty sure wearing a backless dress for the wedding would be severely frowned upon.   My mother-in-law to the rescue.  She’s one of those people that will always have whatever you need.  Thankfully she was sitting right by me.  She had a scarf and quickly helped me get it around my shoulders.  I then backed over to her and she began working on the zipper.  It took a couple of tries but we were finally successful.  Fortunately there was no one behind us, and no one else was really paying attention to us anyway.  I don’t think.  I was back together and trying to be careful with my every move so as not to irritate the zipper again.  When I wore this lace in the US, the same thing happened, but with the skirt.   But in defense of the tailors in Niger, (and in my defense as well- it wasn’t too tight!)  their sewing isn’t  the problem, but the materials they have available.  Inferior zippers.

But where were we?

Oh yes.  First a message was preached by Rakiya’s pastor.  Her ‘home’ church is not the same as ours.  In fact one of the great things about this wedding is that it brought 3 large ministries together and everyone had a part.  After today, Rakiya is officially a part of Vie Abondante though, and we’re happy to have her!

I couldn’t find a picture of her pastor preaching – though I thought I took pictures of everything.  Unfortunately I wasn’t as organized as I like to think I am and my camera batter was flashing empty.  I thought about it the night before and was sure the battery was charged.  Think again.  No worries though, isn’t that why I carry a spare?  Insert spare and it too is flashing…empty.  So I was conserving the time I had the camera on.   I spied an extension cord in front of the pulpit and at first dismissed the idea of trying to plug in my charger during the service – right there in front of everyone.  But this was a big event and I wanted pictures.  So as carefully and discreetly as I could (not very, remember I’m wearing  lined lace complete with fragile zipper), I plugged my spare battery in.

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After the message, it was time for the vows, the ‘daure aure’ (Hausa).  Our very own Pastor Nelson was the director of the whole event and he did an incredible job.  He called Neal up to do the knot tying.

“Who gives this woman…” This is another interesting cultural difference (different from American culture).  The father isn’t the one  who does the giving.  It’s a representative for the family.  In the case I think it was an uncle.  Here he is giving Rakiya to Sukala.  Check the packed out church!

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Neal is asking Sukala to move the veil back so we can see her face.  Often we have found that they like the veil to stay in place til the end, but when Neal does a wedding he always asks for it to be ‘opened’.

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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Repeating the vows.  Neal did the vows in Hausa and I thought he did an excellent job.  He was later told that our Hausa pastors were congratulating him on how good his Hausa was too.   I was right!  The Big B guy is hold a mic so they can be heard.

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Rings.  A tradition not always followed.  But it seems to be getting more and more common.  I’m glad.  Sukala purchased silver bands for both of them.  Notice the henna tattoos on Rakiya.  This is very traditional here.

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Sukala’s ring.

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‘You may kiss the bride’.  Another thing that would be a rare find during a Niger wedding ceremony.  Remember, typically there’s not even a lot of smiling done, let alone looking at each other.  This wedding was unique in several ways.  What isn’t rare though is the whooping and hollering that is done by the guests after the vows are said.  So you can imagine the whooping after the kiss!  (I should note that it was a kiss on the cheek).

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Next, the newlyweds kneeled down and all the pastors that were there came up and laid hands on them and prayed.  Check out the paparazzi!

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Neal then asked Sukala if he wanted to sing.  That’s one of his many gifts.  He certainly did and quickly grabbed the mic and began to sing – leading the guests in some praise.

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While singing, another cultural thing occurred that I realized would be foreign to a foreigner.    When people are enjoying the music/musician, they will come to the front and ‘press’ money on them.  By that I mean one would take coins or paper money and press it on to the person – usually onto the forehead.  Usually that person is sweating  (Niger being the Sahara desert and all), so the money will stay put for a second or 2, then fall to the ground.   Someone designates themselves to collect the money and give it to the ‘performer’.  That’s what the woman in this picture is doing.

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It was now time for the happy couple to make it all official like and sign their marriage certificate.  Here they come up on the platform.  So happy that they are so happy!

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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One of the choirs singing.  They were great.  There were choirs from 3 churches that sang.

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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The guests were invited to come up and greet the new couple and bring an offering.   Sorry about that pesky fan in so many pics, but believe you me, if you were here you’d totally understand that the fan was a necessity.  No, a requirement!

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The final prayer prayed by our very own Pastor Mercy.  Habibou is interpreting and Pastor Nelson is on the right.

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Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim Sukala!  Spray confetti and perfume filled the place!

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This would be a good place to talk about names.  It’s all rather confusing really.  A person is given a first name when they’re born.  Typically there are no middle names.  Their last name becomes the first name of their father.  And when a woman marries, she takes the first name of her husband as her last name.  For example, our son Tobi would be ‘Tobi Neal’.  And my name would have changed from ‘Danette Don’ to ‘Danette Neal’.  Simple enough.   However this is Sukala we’re talking about and nothing is ever really simple.  Sukala’s name is really Ibrahim Ismaila.  Sukala’s father was our guard so was around us a lot.  His name  is Ismaila but his nickname is Sukala and he was referred to by both names.   When our Sukala was young, we typically called him Ibrahim, but Ibrahim (Abraham), is a really common name here – something akin to ‘John’.  So when referring to our Ibrahim it was usually followed by someone asking,  ‘Ibrahim Sukala’?  Because of that, we just started calling him Sukala, to make things ‘easy’.  Yea, right.  Now there is also the name ‘Mailiou alou’ in the mix.  I honestly can’t figure out where that came from, except as a form of Ismaila.  So officially, at least according to the marriage certificate pictured above, Sukala’s name is “Ibrahim Mailou Alou”.  Sukala isn’t even there.  But he asked Neal to present he and Rakiya as “Ibrahim and Rakiya Sukala.  So, figure that out!  I have no idea what name their kids will take.

Ok.  Now that we have that all figured out, lets get to some more pictures.  I had intentions of trying to take some nice ‘wedding party’ pics, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.

The crowd followed Mr. & Mrs. Sukala out and EVERYONE wanted pictures with them.  So every time I’d try and ‘set up’ a picture, a bunch more people would photo bomb it.  So I just took as many as I could with as many as I could.  It was quite joyous really.  Except for the heat.  That was nasty.  Especially in my lined lace.  I wore that lace outfit in the US this last summer almost every time we were in a church (a lot), and never had a problem with it.  The skirt just zips up and there isn’t really a waist band or anything.  So it sort of slips down, but it wasn’t a big deal to pull it up every so often.   Today was the first time I wore the lace in Niger (heat).  Churches in the US are freezing and I often wish I had a blanket.  But pulling up that skirt when when you’re soaked with sweat is a different story.  Not trying to be gross – just telling it like it is.  I couldn’t pull it up with just one hand because the lining was stuck to me.  So it was like trying to pull up something that was glued on.  That was a problem because there was never a time that I wasn’t carrying something and I only ever had 1 hand, and sometimes no hands.  I started to feel like I might be looking like a gangsta with my skirt riding way low on my hips.  Fortunately my top came down far enough to cover any indiscrepencies – as long as I didn’t move in a way to make the zipper break and cause everything to come flying out.  And I can assure you, people would be paying attention this time.

Here we are with the happy couple, me showing no sign of how uncomfortable that skirt really was – well, maybe just a little.  (Note to self: only wear lace during cold season).

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Dad

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Mom

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I should mention here that though Sukala’s Dad wasn’t able to make the loooong trip from Maradi to the wedding, his mom was here.  She used to be a cook in our Bible School year’s ago.   Sukala started calling us Mom and Dad quite some time ago, since he really was part of our family.  But this is his mom and we were so thankful she was able to be there.  As you could see with Rakiya’s family, the parents traditionally don’t have much to do with the ceremony.  But they’re busy behind the scenes.

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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Pastor Hasimu.  He’s not only been Sukala’s pastor for many years, he is a regional director in Vie Abondante.  So happy he was able to be at the wedding, in spite of the long, hard journey.  And look who’s photo-bombing this one!

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Pastor’s Moctar and Mercy and their family.  Pastor Moctar is Sukala’s pastor here in Niamey, and is the other regional director for Vie Abondante.  However, he isn’t in this photo because he had a previously scheduled trip out of the country that prevented him from being there.  But he was quite involved up to the wedding.

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Pastor’s Nelson and Rose.  They are missionaries from Nigeria and are on the Vie Abondante leadership team.  They have been a huge part of Sukala’s life since he was a boy.

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Here are Jessica and Erin, also missionaries that work with us.  Jess – on the left- works at Sahel Academy (the missions school here) and Erin works in our primary school.  Rakiya was Erin’s teaching assistant last year and she’s the one that was working behind the scenes trying to get these two together.

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Oh, and all he matching outfits?  Another tradition here is for the bride’s family to pick some cloth and the groom’s family to pick some cloth and give the guests an opportunity to purchase the cloth and have an outfit made with it to wear to the wedding to show their support.  I got to be the designated ‘cloth-picker’ and looking at these pictures I think I did a pretty good job!  I was trying to pick something that would favor all skin shades.

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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Another friend who jumped in to have his picture taken and is obviously enjoying himself!

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This is a candid shot I snapped but didn’t see the flower girls off to the side until I later looked at the pictures.  Those looks are priceless.  They are missionaries here with another ministry and are quite close to Rakiya’s family.

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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And a few more of our handsome groom and beautiful bride.

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Rakiya.  Though it’s been much more popular in recent years, the ‘western’ type wedding gown isn’t what’s traditionally worn here.  Typically they will pick out cloth and have something sewn specifically for their wedding, but it wouldn’t resemble a gown.  It would be more like a skirt or wrapper with a matching top.  The white wedding gowns have become much more popular now, but there is no such thing as a bridal store.  There are a few people that have started businesses that rent wedding gowns.  That’s what Rakiya did.  And it was surprisingly more expensive than what I would have thought.  If memory serves, she paid about $80  to rent her dress.  It is beautiful!

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

IMG_6946The getaway car!  No, not really.  It is however the vehicle that took them to the reception that was held at our primary school.  That story, and what happened the rest of the day/night  is going to have to wait for another post.  It was all quite fascinating to me.  I’ve been to lots of Niger weddings, but I’ve never been as closely involved as I was with this one and I can tell you I learned a thing or three!

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God Bless Sukala and Rakiya – truly a match made in heaven!!

Victoria Falls — Up high and down low.

Where to begin.  I feel like I’m pedaling backwards – have you ever tried to do that?  It ain’t easy!  We’ve been to so many places and seen so many amazing things since we visited the Ahhh-mazing Victoria Falls in Zambia.  But I just can’t write out of order.  So I’m trying to catch up.

Let’s see.  Where was I?  Ahh yes.  We were leaving Lusaka, Zambia and all the new friends we made there (as well as some old ones), to head to Vic Falls by bus. Not only were we undaunted by the 6 hour bus trip, we were looking forward to it.  Because we knew that it could only improve from the busses we are familiar with in Niger.  And we were right!

Check  out this luxury liner.

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It’s not a great picture of the bus, but you can take my word for it.  I wasn’t sure what ‘facilities’ might be available on the journey, so I decided it best to take advantage of what was at the bus station.  You had to pay to enter – which actually gave me a level of confidence for the condition of the bathroom.  Until I entered…This is what was hanging on the wall.

IMG_0856your nose on the floor?  Really?  And if one was so inclined to do such a thing, were there undercover bathroom police to catch the offender?  Fortunately I didn’t slip as I did my thing. But I was left to wonder why washing my face in the sink would cost me a dollar.

Back to the bus.  As you can see, there are screens on each seat.  But even more entertaining and surprising was the man in the white shirt in front of the bus.  He was preaching!  From what we could figure, that was pretty standard for bus rides.  He preached for about the first 20 minutes of the trip, and then spent a few minutes talking about his needs and then came around and took an offering.  On the bus!  All I could think is that we are NOT in Niger!

IMG_0857We stopped once for lunch and had about 15 minutes.  We couldn’t leave anything in our seats so had to carry our computers with us to the facilities.  This time there were no warning signs about blowing your nose on the floor.  What a relief that was because I wasn’t sure where I was going to blow otherwise!

Here we are carrying all our stuff back to the bus.

IMG_0858The bus was so big I wasn’t able to see much.  But I did manage to snap one picture on our way.

IMG_0861 I think I took this picture close to our arrival in Livingstone.

IMG_2021We were able to book a hotel online and were told that any taxi would know where it was upon our arrival in Livingstone.  They were right.  There were many taxi’s that were more than willing to take us where we wanted to go.  Here this man is convincing us that he can fit all our bags (remember, we have all our stuff for 5 months) into his taxi.  And he could.  Left very little room for Tobi and I in the back seat – but we’re used to traveling like that.  And it was a short trip to our hotel.

IMG_0865After checking into our hotel, we employed our same taximan to take us out to see what we could see.  We only had a couple of days so we wanted to make a plan.  Here we are driving up to where you can take a helicopter ride.

IMG_2023Our taxi driver suggested we visit this place.  It was sunset and was beautiful.  It was on the Zambezi River and was where you could get a big boat for a river cruise.

photoWe made plans to take a helicopter ride over the Falls the following morning and the anticipation of that made us hungry.  Not to mention that we hadn’t eat since lunch on our bus trip.  This is where we ate and not only can I not remember where it was, I can’t remember what type of food it was.  But I’m sure it was good!

IMG_0875The next morning the helicopter place picked us up at our hotel.  Wasn’t that nice of them?  I was excited and nervous at the same time.  Not nervous because I am afraid of helicopters (though none of us had ever been on one), but nervous because of my stomach…

IMG_2024The helicopter was showing some other people around so we decided to do our own looking around.

Check out this tree!

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Looks like we should carve our initials or something into it!

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While waiting for our turn, we had this view of Victoria Falls.  It’s also called ‘The Smoke That Thunders’.   Any guesses why?

IMG_2025Chillin’  – but why are we facing the wrong direction?

IMG_2029Our helicopter is on the way!

IMG_2030This was a really big day.  We started out by seeing Victoria Falls from the sky, on both the Zambia and Zimbabwe side.  After that, we walked right through the falls, and then we hiked down into a gorge and saw them from below.  It was all incredible. I’m posting lots of pictures because even though the pictures can’t capture it all, I figure the more I post, the more the majesty is seen.  By the way, Victoria Falls is 1.7 kilometers across and is 2/3 in Zambia and 1/3 in Zimbabwe.

Here’s our chopper!

IMG_2044I got to sit in the front.  Sometimes there are benefits to being the designated photographer.

IMG_2047This was a first.

IMG_2050For all of us.

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IMG_2084We’re taking off…The smoke that thunders – spray is thrown hundreds of feet into the air and can be seen for miles.

IMG_2054Getting closer…

IMG_2056Now I’m just going to post a bunch of pictures I took while viewing the Falls from all different directions.  If you think the pictures are amazing, imagine what it looked like in person!

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IMG_2063Check out the bridge.  You’ll see this from lots of angles.

IMG_2065Rainbows!

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IMG_2069Now we’re in Zimbabwe.  That’s the town of Livingstone in the background.

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IMG_2072All is still well!

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IMG_2079This is our pilot.  He takes people up and down on 15 minute helicopter rides all day.  (wonder if HE needs dramamine).  I asked him if he ever gets tired of it.  He simply said, “No”.  Can you figure out why?!

IMG_2081I guess we could consider this a field trip.

IMG_2083Leaving the area.

IMG_2086There’s that bridge again.

IMG_2093Landing.

IMG_2097Back on the ground.

IMG_2111We decompressed while Tobi tried his hand at this xylophone.

IMG_2115Cool silhouette.  Thundering ‘smoke’ in the background.

IMG_2117After our incredible chopper excursion (and I might add 15 minutes up there was quite enough for me), we made our way to the entrance of the park.  Here’s Tobi, ready to go.

IMG_2120I got a few pictures with my good camera, but then we had to put it away.  Fortunately we were advised NOT to purchase the raincoats for the walk through, as it was not possible to stay dry.  I put my camera in a double ziploc in the case, and the case in another bag.

IMG_2122Beautiful, I know.

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IMG_2125Now comes the fun part…Thankfully I had my iPhone in a Lifeproof case so I could take pictures.  But there was so much ‘thunder’ that I mostly could only guess what I was taking pictures of.

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water on the bridge was ankle deep and this is where Tobi just sat down, threw his head back and shouted, “I LOOOOOOOVE THIS!!!”  It was priceless.

IMG_0885Here’s a few seconds of video.  You can hear the thundering.

IMG_0887I know those look like icicles, but it really wasn’t cold.  I don’t like cold and I especially don’t like wet and cold.  And I was fine.  So it definitely was not cold.

IMG_0888It was hard to even open our eyes!  Every once in awhile a breeze would blow the mist and you could see how close you were to the Falls.

IMG_0894So cool!

IMG_2133We made it to the other side

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Soaking wet but so in awe.

IMG_2138What a cutie…

IMG_2140Or not… Oh, and there’s that bridge again.

IMG_2141Very not cute…  But what was amazing was how just down the path everything was dry.

IMG_2146We happened upon David Livingstone – a missionary/explorer who was the first European to see Victoria Falls.  The town the Falls are in – Livingstone, was named after him.

IMG_2147It’s a huge statue.

IMG_2150Neal is also a missionary / explorer.

IMG_2152The park didn’t have a commercialized feel at all, and there were monkeys everywhere.

IMG_2155Tobi wasn’t too sure what to think of this guy.  Frankly, I wasn’t either.

IMG_2158More eye level view of the smoke.

IMG_2160You can see a glimpse of the Falls on the right.

IMG_2163Did I say uncommcercialized?  We walked along the river for a bit while seeing no one.  And if we wanted to, we could have walked right into it and ‘swum’ down those Falls.

IMG_2168We didn’t want to.

IMG_2181The base of the Falls – or whatever it’s called right before it crashes over the rocks – is right above Neal’s head.

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IMG_2186Swimming anyone?  That’s living on the edge right there!

IMG_2205More death-defying edge living.  Not really, but it sounds impressive.  It sure would be easy to walk to that edge though.

IMG_2213So we’ve see the Falls and the bridge from the sky, from eye level so now it’s time to have a look from below.  We were hungry and thirsty after seeing such incredibleness and were actually on the search for some food.  But instead we came across a path that led, well, down.  We may not have noticed it except there were a couple of people walking up.  We asked what it was and they said it was a pretty good hike but was worth it.  We then noticed a sign that suggest the hike time, including a warning that one should carry water to drink.  But we, being the amazing people that we are, said “Hmmph.  Who needs water.  We live in the desert.”

So off we went.   And after seeing that kind of beauty, who can think of their thirst glands?  Is there such a thing as thirst glands?

IMG_2217Down we go.

IMG_2218Now we’re looking up at the monkeys.

IMG_2219There’s the bridge again!

IMG_2222We thought it quite nice of them to have put a resting bench on the trail.  It was even more useful on the hike up.

IMG_2225“The splendor of the King, clothed in majesty.  Let all the earth rejoice”, is what comes to mind.  This is a rejoicing earth if ever I saw one.

IMG_2228Wow.  Just wow.

IMG_2231I have obviously been walking behind these guys – taking pictures.

IMG_2232We walked through this!

IMG_2238See?

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IMG_2245I really was there.

IMG_2250Crossing a stream close to the bottom.

IMG_2252There she is again!  We could have bungee jumped off that bridge.  But we didn’t.

IMG_2258That spray is from the Falls – even though we can’t see them from here.

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IMG_2266Basking in the Zambia sun while being cooled by the spray of the Zambezi River.

IMG_2270It was at this point that we again remembered that it had been a good number of hours without food or drink so we decided we should begin our hike upward, so as to not have to spend the night on the river.  I might be a bit intimidated by that.

IMG_2273Remember the thoughtfully placed bench?  We made good use of it.

IMG_2280We made it to the top and saw this bridge – it’s a different bridge.  It was the one we walked on through the Falls.

IMG_2282There it is a bit closer.

IMG_2283That’s the jungle we just walked out of.

IMG_2288I noticed that the path continued on past the entrance to the gorge hike.  There was no food or drink for sale anywhere that we could see close by.  I was tired – we were all tired.  But I didn’t want to miss out on something.  There was uncharted road ahead.  I also knew if we went far to find food, after eating we’d be too tired to come back.  So with tummy’s grumbling and palets dry, onward we marched.  Here’s one of the things we saw.

IMG_2292Another angle.

IMG_2293Zooming in on the bridge we saw there were also train tracks that ran parallel with the road.

IMG_2294We (or so I thought) continued on down the path.  I soon found that I was alone.  I stopped and waited for a minute or two thinking I must have missed something wonderful.  I backtracked.  This was the something wonderful I found.

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They quit on me.  Literally laid down and quit.

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They could have been monkey lunch.

IMG_2303Or we could have made the monkeys our lunch.  I think Tobi is thinking about it.

IMG_2307This guy (or, umm, lady) wasn’t interested in moving.

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Finally got by and they returned to their whatever they were doing.

IMG_2315We had been advised that there was a particular hotel – a very fancy, expensive (to the tune of $700/night expensive) that we should visit.  Maybe just have  a meal there.  We asked around about it and were told it wasn’t too far down the road.  So there we were.  Three tired, hungry, dehydrated American Nigeriennes marching down the road in the sun.  ‘Not far’ was in all actuality not far – less than a mile.  But in our condition, it might have been a marathon.  And have I mentioned that I had been wearing sandals all day?  We finally made it.  We decided that no matter what, this is where we would eat.  The tables were around the fancy pool and we enjoyed sitting there in such a fun atmosphere, trying our best not to nod off.

IMG_2319We enjoyed some live music – helped keep us awake.

IMG_2318Once we were refueled, we decided to go the other suggested fancy hotel to check it out.  We acted like we knew what we were doing and got a shuttle that took us from one hotel to the other.   Fancy it was.

Check out that view!  Those are the Falls in the background.

IMG_2322And with such beauty all around, who could stay tired?

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We thought it wise to get a taxi back to our hotel (me being in sandals and all).  What a day it was.  One that will be remembered forever.  And when I look at these pictures, I can only think of the splendor of God, and how much He must love us to have created such beauty.

IMG_2317The next day we walked around in Livingstone some – bought a few souvenirs in the market, and ate at a local restaurant.  For being home of one of the natural wonders of the world, Livingstone is quite a sleepy little town.  I didn’t even take pictures – I guess because nothing was really remarkable.  Well, except for the Falls that is.

Here’s our hotel room.

IMG_2332And for some reason we decided Tobi needed a haircut before our next trip to Durban, South Africa.  Both the haircut and the sunburn were free.

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Lusaka, Zambia, here we come!

Thanks to the coffee I shockingly enjoyed, I slept not at all the night before our flight to Lusaka, Zambia.  Have tried but not enjoyed coffee since.  I’m a tea person through and through.

Here are more airplane shots – I could probably use the same ones over and over again, but I did take photos on each flight – partly to help me document.   Here we’re leaving Addis Ababa.

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It’s a direct flight to Lusaka, Zambia.  These guys are big fans of the personal screens.

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Just 3 1/2 hours later we touched down in Lusaka.

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Things are a bit greener here…

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Customs/immigration was relatively simple – as immigration goes.  Visas can be purchased at he airport and we were prepared with cash to pay for them.  We were pleasantly surprised when they returned some cash and informed us that Tobi was free.  The boy was saving us money!

Our plan in Zambia was to be a part of Africa Outreach – a ministry started by our friends Walker and Haley Schurz.  They are fellow ORU grads and they are the ones who helped us settle in South Africa 13 years ago when we went there for Tobi’s birth.  We were only in South Africa for 5 months and the Schurz’ moved from there to Zambia a few years later.  They  are now pastors of Miracle Life Family Church and they started and operate Rhema Zambia – a bible school.  Brandt and Pam Prince joined Africa Outreach recently, and they are the family we stayed with.  Amazingly, they are Agape Missionary Alliance Missionaries just like us.  But as is the MO for missionaries, we’re not home very often – so we had only met these folks briefly one time – back in 2001.  So what a blessing it was for us to get to know them and to stay in their home.  They  and their 4 kiddos were fun hosts. And we had some of the best food!  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Brandt picked us up at the airport and took us to meet Pam for lunch.  In a Tai restaurant!  We then made our way to their home, met the rest of the family and got settled in our room.  We were quite amazed at how developed Lusaka was.  The Prince’s appreciated our amazement because having lived in the Congo for many years, they felt the same way we did.  Incidentally, Niger and Congo are at the bottom of the pile of developed countries.  So we shared our shock and awe of the ‘niceness’.

Tobi was pretty pleased with our accommodations because they came complete with 3 boys and 1 sweet 2 year old girl.  Here’s Tobi with Austin, Tyler and Ben.

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Juliana gets a photo of her own – she’s adorable.  The Prince’s are in the midst of adopting her from the Congo.

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The following pictures are some of the first we took – the things we were amazed by and made us feel like we weren’t actually in Africa.

Pam goes to the grocery store a lot!  But we’re glad she did because she made some amazing meals.

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The mall.

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It really is a mall!

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Not only were there real toilets -they came equipped with toilet paper!

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Appliance store.

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Escalators!

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Are we really in Africa?

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Sunday lunch at KFC.  Yep. The real Colonel and everything.

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Our first Sunday we went to Miracle Life Family Church.  We were so encouraged to hear that 90% of the money used to build this church came from the Zambians.

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Pastor Walker invited us to greet the congregation.

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This isn’t a great picture but it’s the front of the church.  It’s a big one!

IMG_0846We arrived in Lusaka on March 7th.  Tobi’s 13th birthday was the next day.  Pam graciously volunteered to make the teen-to-be a cake and told us about a paintball place right down the street from their house.  Paintball would be a perfect birthday gift.  Austin, the Prince’s oldest son had a knee issue so couldn’t ‘paintball’.  Ben was too young.  But Tyler was all for it.  So off we went.  The paintballers and the spectators.

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Tobi and Austin.  Nothing like making a brand new friend and then trying to shoot him!

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This was new to Tobi so lots of instruction was given.

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Even Brandt gave Tobi some pointers.

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Is the helmet really necessary?

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The guy running the show was having fun just watching and instructing our 2.

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They had several different competitions.  And they had the battleground to themselves.

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This is the spectator window from where Neal provided much instruction…And at the end, high 5’s for a job well done.

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I don’t think there was a clear winner, but when it was all said and done, the boys were still friends.

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Pam made one of Tobi’s favorites for dinner, and even a few more boys joined for the festivities.

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Then there was a really yummy cake.

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Our youngest is officially a teenager!

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Then the electricity went out.  We’re pretty sure that was for our benefit – to remind us that yes, we were still in Africa.

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It’s always so much fun to watch people open presents.  Please excuse the wrapping job…

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He’s wearing his Nigeria soccer journey and loved getting a Zambia jersey.

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We’re proud of our 13 year old.

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Did I mention how well we ate at the Prince’s home?

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This is just one of many wonderful meals.  Grilled chicken and twice baked potatoes.

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The broccoli was special for Tobi.  He loves the stuff – he’s kind of strange that way – and it’s rare that we get to eat it.

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One of our reason’s for going to Zambia was to teach in the Rhema Bible School there.  Neal taught Bible Doctrines to the first year students, and I taught Children’s Ministry to the 2nd year students.  What fun we had!

Here’s Neal teaching his class.

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Makes you wanna know what he’s saying doesn’t it?

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I, too, had fun teaching a great group of students.

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They were so responsive and I know they received revelation on how important ministry to children is.  That was my goal.

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I like to teach with lots of object lessons…

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This one used popped popcorn and popcorn seeds.  Any idea what  lesson that taught?  Hint:  what happens when you add heat and oil…

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At the end of the class I had a group of students do a ‘practice children’s service’.  It was so fun and I was impressed.

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In addition to teaching in the school, Walker and Haley invited us to speak at their first annual Rhema alumni meeting.  Here we are together.

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Walker giving the vision of the Alumni program.

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First Neal spoke.

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Then me.

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Then we spoke together.  I don’t remember what was being said here – but it looks interesting…

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Of course a meeting is never complete until we introduce the rest of our family.

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Speaking into these lives was an honor we will always remember.

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The Bible School has chapel services and Neal preached there as well.

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We were also asked to meet with the children’s workers of Miracle Life Family Church.  We had a ‘pre-meeting’ to discuss what they wanted us to cover.  We were amazed at what they already have established.   Everything we brought up they were already doing.  We did meet with them on a Saturday morning and just encouraged them and brought a few new ideas.  But it was truly a mutually encouraging time.

The lady on the left is the Children’s ministry director.

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Many of the students are already pastors and we were invited to minister at Mount Moriah – with Pastor Julius Mwanza.  We were SO blessed!  We walked into the church and felt right at home and the music was wonderful!

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Neal preached…

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The room to the right is the overflow room.  They could hear but not see.

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It was the Sunday that the children were receiving their Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes and they had a special presentation.  Every one of these children quoted a scripture verse of their choice.  From long ones, to “Jesus wept”.

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This little guy dressed for the occasion!

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Tobi and I got to help hand out the boxes.

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They opened their gifts as soon as they got them outside.  I talked to this sweet girl and when I asked her what she got.  She replied, “There was a letter inside and they said they were praying for me.”   So if you’re involved in Operation Blessing / Samaritan’s Purse and have told someone you’re praying for them — I hope you are.

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Pastor Julius and his family.

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They took us to a great place for lunch – burgers!

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Everywhere we’ve been, Tobi has been diligent to do his school.  He’s had lots of different work areas.  This is his classroom at the Prince’s house.  The boys went to school, we went to the bible school and Tobi stayed at the house and did his school.  Well, except for the day he came to visit our classes and greet the students and hear his Dad preach in chapel.

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Then the boys would get home and rescue Tobi.

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Movie time our last night there.

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We enjoyed spending time with friends – but our time went so quickly.

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Had fun at the Schurz home – volleyball!

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Ping pong!

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Serious ping pong!

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I’ll let you guess who won.

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But lots of games were played.

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The only competing I did was to try and get as tall as Haley.  That’s never going to happen….

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Neal cooked his famous Nigerian rice and stew – minus the pepper.  As always, it was a hit.

Dishing up dinner.

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Walker and Neal enjoying dinner.

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The boys table.  And apparently no one else was welcome to join them.

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As I already mentioned, Walker and Haley are the friends and supporters who hooked us up in Johannesburg when we went there for Tobi’s birth in 2000.  We were so blessed to be a small part of their ministry in Zambia and are impressed by their ministry there – Africa Outreach.  Thanks guys.  We had a blast!  And we’re expecting your visit to Niger.

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And a special thanks to Brandt and Pam Prince who we had so much fun with.  They were the best hosts!

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Our journey thus far has been more than we could have expected (that’s just like God, eh?). Eve though our  time in Lusaka was coming to a rapid close,  we were excited about the next leg of our trip – a bus ride to Livingstone – and Victoria Falls!  Hopefully I’ll get to that soon…because it was truly amazing!

Exploring Addis Ababa

As I mentioned in my last post, we were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by ‘force’.  Our goal was to get to Lusaka, Zambia, but what choice did we have but to follow our itinerary?  And since it appeared that we would have a 12 hour layover in Addis, I decided to go out on a limb and see if there would be any price difference if we were to stay, say, a day or two longer.  Turns out, there wasn’t!  Except of course for lodging.  We specifically planned this travel year quite some time ago, which is the reason Tobi is homeschooling this year.  So we can have these experiences together.  So we decided that a few nights of lodging was very worth the experience we’d have.  We were right.

I ended my last post with details of Z Guest House were we stayed, and of our wonderful host, Todd.  Again, highly recommend this place for lodging.

After pizza and our brisk walk, we had a great night sleep.  Awoke to lovely sunshine streaming in, cool breezes, and English breakfast served in our room.  That was wonderful until I poured a steaming hot cup of what I thought was tea – but it quickly became clear that my tea was really coffee.  It was an English breakfast for goodness sake.  Don’t the English drink TEA?!  But ahhh, I thought, we are in Ethiopia, and if memory serves, they are known for coffee.  However, I still don’t like coffee.  Neal doesn’t like coffee.  Our parents and our kids (minus Tobi) drink it with a faithfulness that is to be commended.  I’ve tried to like it.  I’ve been told I will learn to like it.  I’ve had my sister doctor it to what she deemed to be irresistible.  Nope.  Still easily (and readily) resisted.  However, I have become and avid tea drinker.  Especially Earl Grey.  Or Lady Grey.  Or Russian Earl Grey.  I really love the Grey family.  But any tea will do.  As long as there is milk (preferably evaporated milk – learned that in Nigeria).  Love cream too, but try to avoid that.  So I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when the dark fluid that poured from the lovely TEA pot was in fact coffee.  I was really looking forward to enjoying my tea in the cool morning sunshine.  Todd had been wonderfully accommodating so I decided to go knock on their door and see if tea would be a possibility.  I gingerly tried to explain that if possible, we would prefer tea over coffee (didn’t want to offend an Ethiopian and his coffee!).  He quickly obliged and even apologized, saying they normally serve both tea and coffee the first morning, and then take note of whatever the guest consumed and serve that thereafter.  I got my tea.  I should mention here that there is a reason that I went into such a long discourse over coffee/tea that will be uncovered in my next post.

Following our leisurely breakfast, we hit the road.  We got some basic direction from Todd and were on our way.  The weather was lovely so a walking we did go.

Neal was particularly impressed by the staircase on this school.  He’s always looking at architecture like that.  Getting new ideas for buildings…

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We found it interesting that even though it was pretty cool (cool to me is 70’s/80’s), many people used umbrellas in the sun.  In Niger, where 90 – 110 is the norm, seeing an umbrella would be rare.

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The streets were busy, but there were walkways over them for pedestrians.  It was around here we changed some money so we could pay Todd back for the Birr he lent us the night before.

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We walked and walked and walked.

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And we came across Niger street.  Pretty fun!

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Even though the roads/traffic had a Western feel, the vegetable sellers on the side of the road (well, in the road) reminded me that we were still in Africa.

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From a distance we weren’t sure what we were looking at here.  Was it really a slanted building, or were we just looking at it at a strange angle?

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Nope, it really was slanted.

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For some reason, and I’m not sure why, I thought that Ethiopian’s spoke English. I took a little while to realize that this wasn’t the case.  At first I just thought they didn’t understand my accent.  There were some that had enough English to understand us in a restaurant – mostly.  However the majority didn’t speak English, but Amharic.  Tobi was quick to recognize that that sounded like a language spoken in the Bible.  He was right – Jesus spoke Aramaic.

We walked on.  One of our goals was to find an internet place -which we figured a big hotel would have.  So we were pointed in the direction of the Hilton but after what felt like several miles, we still couldn’t see it.  Shouldn’t a hotel like that be able to be seen from a distance?

We went to the leaning building and asked there – but the English thing was a problem.  By the way, the bottom floor of that building was a car dealership.

We continued in the direction that looked like a hotel of Hilton Status might be.  We stopped at a park and tried our luck with English again and were told that the Hilton was right there – right across the street.  And so it was.  No fanfare.  Not recognizable until we got closer and saw the H – but it was very understated.

We weren’t sure if ‘non-residents’ were allowed in, so we made an inquiry at the desk as to the price of rooms, to appear interested.  I wasn’t interested in staying there, but I was interested in the price – which was if I remember right, about $400+/night.  Made me really appreciate our $80/night sunny place.

This was leading up to the entrance.

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What we were really after was internet.  We had yet to inform family (or anyone) that we had in fact safely arrived.  ‘Z’ has internet and I tried to use it, but I was paying per minute, and I literally sent 20 minutes trying to send an email and finally gave up.  I knew it wasn’t much per minute, it was the pain of sitting there waiting for something to happen that caused me to give up.   H had internet as well, and I can’t remember the exact price, but I think it was about $5 for 30 minutes.  Perfect.  Plenty of time to do what we needed to do.

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News sent to loved ones and we were on our way.  However our feet were expressing their desire for us to use a different mode of transportation so we decided to look for a taxi.  They were plentiful outside of The Hilton, but taxi’s waiting there charged more than twice what a taxi should cost.  We knew that because Todd had told us what to expect to pay for a taxi.  We explained we weren’t guests at the Hilton and that they price of the taxi should be half that.  Mr. Taximan reluctantly agreed.

It was beyond lunch time and the only place we knew of was the place we had eaten the night before.  We asked the taxi man to drop us there (it was amazing how much shorter the distance seemed from a vehicle).   We happened to mention to him that we were going to eat and he informed us that he had just the place.  Fortunately that place was close to where we wanted to be.  And it looked promising.  We excited the vehicle and entered the Museum Restaurant.  We were beginning to see a trend.  We would have missed the restaurant altogether if we had not been dropped in front of it.  Like the Hilton, it was hidden from the outside but lovely inside.  It was an indoor/outdoor kind of place,with  beautiful flowers and landscaping.  The food was lovely too.

As you can see, we are thoroughly enjoying it.

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Since we had just finished a wonderful and re-energizing lunch at The Museum Restaurant, In only made sense that we visit the museum  next door.  It was pretty cool.  This picture is in the shape of Ethiopia.

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There is so much history in this country.  This is one of the Emperor’s thrones.  You can get a perspective of how massive it is if you notice the person standing nearby.

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If I remember correctly, this was the first vehicle driven in Ethiopia.  It was, of course, a Ford.

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Pretty nifty.

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There was a special temporary museum of art from many nations set up.  This was the only picture I got, before I was told no camera’s were allowed.  Bummer.  Some of the art was pretty impressive, some, looked like my kids art when they were very small.

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We were allowed to take pictures from the outside of the museum…

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After the museums, we remembered that we wanted to get in touch with a high school friend of Neal’s that was living in Addis.  We had his info on FB – but no internet.  Out on the street however, we saw an ‘internet cafe’ sign that we decided to try.  We’ve seen many such signs in our neck of the woods (Niger), but they don’t always deliver.  But we decided we had nothing to lose.  So down the street, through a restaurant and down an alley we went, following hand painted signs.  Success!  We came to a small room (very small) with a young man at a counter and about 10 computers.  How much was internet there you ask?  $.50/ 30 minutes!  No kidding.  We successfully found the info we needed to call Neal’s friend.  At those rates, I was tempted to stay and write a blog post!

Our fatigue – I know, that sounds so dramatic – demanded however that we go back to our rooms for a bit.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time in our lovely accommodation, with the sun streaming through the windows.  Todd kindly allowed us to use a phone and make plans with Steve and his family for the following day.

We headed back out on foot on the route that had become pretty familiar to a place we checked out that was near the internet cafe.  We were confused at first, because their sign said they close at 5 o’clock.  But it was a pizza place!  What pizza place isn’t open at night?  Made no sense.  So we began investigating.  It wasn’t military time either.  Finally we figured it out.  It was Bible time.  That’s not what they officially call it, but that’s what it is.    You remember in Acts when those in the Upper Room were accused of being drunk and Peter responded by saying, “How can we be drunk?  It’s only the 3rd hour”.  That really meant 9am.  That means that 5 means 11 pm.  And they really go by those times.  Even the taxis.  Though they understand ‘our’ time as well.  They would verify which time we meant.  I found that very interesting…

We can’t seem to get enough pizza, and this one was especially good…

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Don’t worry, it wasn’t really Mouse Pizza.  (I hope)  And I can’t remember what was on it.        They had very memorable fresh pineapple juice too.  It was so fresh, it wasn’t even cold!

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Thus ended our first full day in Addis Ababa.  It was a wonderful day and we were wonderfully blessed and tired.

Next, Day 2.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Finale – Our trip home

Well, this is it.  What a journey it’s been.  Even though we do it all the time it always amazes me when we make a plan, then execute the plan, then go on to the next plan.   We are now home and ready to execute the next plan.  Well almost.  But that’s another story.  On a side note, we know that God orders our steps but we have to take those steps once we hear His direction.  Thus, we make and execute plans.

And now on to our 3 day journey back to Niger…

Just as we were getting ready to leave Benin City on Thursday morning we received a phone call from the Bible School asking if we could stop by on our way.  So with our vehicle loaded we headed back to the school.  We were met by some representatives of the student body expressing their love and appreciation for our coming and for Neal’s teaching.  They handed us an envelope explaining that they had taken an offering for us and wanted us to know how much they had received.  Wow!  We stood there grateful, blessed and shocked.  We know what it’s like to be a student.  After more hugs and goodbyes and promises to return, we had to hit the road.  What a sweet send off.

Leaving Benin City

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Not only are there creative business names – check out this bumper sticker.  It had to have been created by a Nigerian!

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Takes a long time to get through the city.

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A LONG time.

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I think this guy was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of 3 days of this…

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Finally some open road.

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Love these plantations.

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Lots of ‘markets’ on the side of the road.  Would have loved to bring some of that stuff home!

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Lots of curves in these jungle roads.

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That’s one way to look at life… but not fun to be behind him!

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On and on we go.

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Entering another town.

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Thought this was funny.  “Progressive Remedial Class”.

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From Palm trees to traffic.

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Lots of traffic!

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Another interesting business – Islamic Store and Honey Depot.  Really?

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Lunch! The food here was good – well, the rice.  We weren’t as impressed with the chicken and the tables were literally covered in dirt.  Fortunately I travel with wet wipes.

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More markets.

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More trucks.

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More cracked up cars.

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MorIMG_1511e Jungle.

More city.

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We weren’t this packed.

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Some of the ba-zillion trucks we had to pass.

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Now this looked familiar to us.  These Fulani people were probably from Northern Nigeria, and maybe even Niger.

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The guys on motorcycles were traveling with their counterparts on donkeys.

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Cattle!

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This truck was at one of the places we stopped for fuel.  And I can testify that those are some of the best pineapple you’ll ever eat.

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Entering Abuja.  Our stopping place for the Night.  Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city.  The part we were in was quite modern.

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When we were here over 3 weeks ago, we had a taxi man direct us to our hotel.  We took his phone number.  We were able to find him again and he helped us get there again. Yes, it was the same place, and no – we couldn’t remember how to get there.  In fact we told our taxi man that we’d meet him where we did before, only to find out we had no idea where that was.  He found us.

We checked into our room.  It was 4:30.  The journey had taken us 7 1/2 hours.  We felt like visiting the city (at least the part we were in) more than we did when we arrived from Niger.  That’s a longer part of the trip.  Of course we only explored the parts we could walk to, and that before dark.  So that gave us about an hour.  As I said, this part of the city is very developed and modern.  If I didn’t know from where I had just come and where I was going, but had been airlifted and dropped right on this street, I might assume I was in some city in America.  Keep in mind that my perspective is Niger….  Anyway, we spotted a little place called “Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven”.  That looked intriguing.  But I also wanted to visit the grocery store I saw.  There we purchased a few packages of Oreo’s to give as gifts (and to eat- we needed food for the trip of course).  We made our way back to Cupcake Heaven and decided to have dessert before dinner.  Scandalous.   Neal and I both had ice cream – go figure, since we were in Cupcake Heaven.  But Tobi had his eye on a peanut butter cupcake.  Then he had his mouth on it.  He gave great reviews, and the ice cream was pretty delectable too.  I didn’t have my camera, but as always when I don’t, I wish I did.  So, no pictures of peanut butter cupcakes.  Oh – on a side note, while we were in the grocery store, I saw a young white lady.  I specify that she was white because it was the first white person we had seen that we didn’t know in almost 4 weeks.  It was remarkable and we quietly commented to each other – “Hey, look!  A white person!”  Then we saw a 2nd one getting cupcakes.  What a novelty that was.

We made our way back to our hotel, had dinner (more rice and spicy red stew), then made our way to our ultimate goal of sleeping.  While we were relaxing, Neal (who has better hearing than I), heard a sound in our air conditioner.  Not a big deal thinks I, who supposes it’s a lizard.  We like lizards.  They eat mosquitoes.  But he’s not convinced it’s a lizard.  Because he can see little ‘hands’ reaching up and grabbing pieces of wood from the frame around the AC.  Lizards don’t have hands.  Rats do.  Sort of.  Lizards we can do.  Rats, not so much.  We made a call to the front desk to explain our situation.  They said they’d be right up.  I think it was close to 11pm.  Right up they were with with I think was mosquito spray.  If it had been a lizard, he would have taken care of the mosquitoes.  They explained that the place had recently been fumigated.  Good to know.  They sprayed and we thanked them.  The scratching stopped.  We knew the critter wasn’t’ dead, but hoped that he had moved on to greener pastures.

My mind was going way too fast and the wave of exhaustion that wafted over me while eating ice cream in Cupcake Heaven was gone.  The internet at this hotel was so fast and I wanted to take advantage of it.  But I knew I needed to sleep.  After almost 2 hours of working really hard at getting to sleep, I finally got up.  I got some stuff done on our website of all things.  Until 3:30 am.  Then it took probably another hour to get to sleep after that.  At least I wasn’t driving…

Six o’clock came right on time, just as I had gotten into an amazingly restful sleep.    That ended quickly as we got up, repacked the car and tried to eat breakfast but discovered it was just too early to eat.  Taxi man was there waiting to lead us out of the maze we were in.

On our way were we with a beautiful sunrise and lovely view of Zuma Rock.

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This is as far as Taxi Man needed to go.  We stopped on the road to pay him.

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The rock is big.

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So we were able to see it for a long time.

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Quite a long time.

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It looks like there’s a face etched into the face of the rock.

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Here’s a closer look.  It’s upside down.  Tobi noticed it first.

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We weren’t done with trucks.

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Or open roads.
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Or tiredness.

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Or trafficIMG_1554.

Or cities.

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OrIMG_1561 markets.

This is the only picture I got but if you look closely on the right you’ll see a small sign that says ‘Yes Fuel’.   This is because there are loads of fuel stations on the road, but only a small percentage of them actually had fuel.  Thus the sign.

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Getting closeIMG_1565 to the Nigeria/Niger border.

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Thought this was a funny truck.  Grabbed a snap even though it was in line at the border.

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When we were traveling down from Maradi to Abuja on our first day it took us 11 1/2 hours.  We made much better time today and arrived in only 9 1/2 hours.  That thanks in part to the iPad that told us where we were going with a little blue dot.  It was extremely helpful.  We knew where we needed to be and that knowledge combined with the little blue dot and we could see which way to go.  We didn’t get lost once.  And though driving through Northern Nigeria can historically be a big hairy deal, we had no problems.  My Nigerian husband (don’t worry, I didn’t get married again in Nigeria, I’m talking about Neal) is a pro at talking with the police.  One of the police even said ‘You’re the white man that speaks Hausa’.  He remembered us.  So we had no issues at police check points, no one demanding puppies or road rule books.  (see previous posts).

We are not fearful by nature, but we do like to be wise.  And that means at the very least not driving into crowds.  We got to one small city and we could see from a distance that there was a crowd.  But there was no where else for us to go.  People were obviously dressed up and heading somewhere.  The further we drove, the bigger the crowd got.  Neal kept saying, “This isn’t good.  We shouldn’t be here.”  I pointed out that this appeared to be an organized demonstration/event as there were guys in uniforms directing traffic.  Sort of.  So in spite of the excitement and Arabic banners we counted on this being something peaceful.  Maybe a party of some sort….

We were traveling behind a transport vehicle that was packed full of people.  We were in a Toyota 4Runner, but this truck was much bigger than us so the people could look down into our vehicle.   I’m guessing we looked pretty conspicuous, being white and all.  They just stared at us as I resisted the urge to whip out my camera and begin snapping pictures of whatever this was.  Because I was smart enough to know that that is the very thing that could turn an intended peaceful event into something not so peaceful (aka: Riot)  The crowd grew larger and more colorful, and finally swelled at the entrance to a big mosque, which was obviously the final destination.  For them, not us.  We were able to quietly move along.  The whole procession I’m guessing was about 2 kilometers.

Other than that little bit of excitement, our trip to the border was uneventful.  And the border was pretty uneventful too.  They remembered us and asked if we liked their country which we of course responded in the positive.  And it was true!

Tobi and I stayed in the car and I snuck this picture while waiting.  They’re writing down all our passport info by hand.

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Entering Maradi.

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We spent the night with Jonathan and Dani, our friends and fellow missionaries in Maradi.  We had a great meal (chicken enchiladas) and a quick night of fellowship.  They got an earful about our trip, as they were really the first we talked to about the amazing adventure we had been on.  Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures there either.

Fortunately I was able to increase the hours of sleep, as did Neal, and we were on our way to Niamey (home) early the next morning.

Leaving Maradi.

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This is looking more like home.

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Such a stark contrast to where we’ve just come from.

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At least they’re working on the roads…

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Now that’s the Niger I know!

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8 1/2 hours later we arrived in Niamey.

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For now, there are more mosques than churches.  But we can see what can be in a West African country.  If God can do it in Nigeria, He can do it here!  And I believe he is calling the Nigerians to help.

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Downtown Niamey.

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The Niger River in the distance.

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Our gate is straight up ahead. Under the big tree.

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Home sweet home

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We’re thankful that God ordered our steps to Nigeria and back, and I know we’ll be processing all that He did for some time to come.  We so appreciate everyone who spent time praying for us.  Prayer works and we know that is why this trip was such a great success and something we’ll always remember with great joy.  And we believe that there were seeds that were planted that will produce fruit – fruit that remains.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria – Part 8 ‘Final Days’

My last post was about our last Sunday in Nigeria.  After that, we had 5 more days before beginning our journey back to Niger.  Here’s what those days looked like.

Neal continued his last week teaching missions at ANFCBII.

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This is the road he took every morning to get there.

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The entrance.  The Bible School is on the same campus as Benson Idahosa University (BIU)  We didn’t have a chance to be involved there as they were in exams, but we hope to next time.

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Bible School classrooms on the right, University at the back.

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into all the world…

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This is also part of the Bible School.  Mostly offices.  There is a large auditorium at the back.

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Neal in the office where he spent time between classes.

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This is one of the foundations of the school.

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The Hausa class.

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French class giving Neal a gift.  During the last class, one of the students was so moved he took off his watch and rushed up while he was teaching and put it on the pulpit as a gift.  Neal was so touched.

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The students were great and so grateful for all they received from Neal’s teaching.

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The French interpreter.  Yes, that’s sweat.

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The Hausa prefect.

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Neal was blessed to preach to all the students at once in one more chapel service the day before we left.

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You may or may not understand Neal, but you can understand the reaction of the students!

He’s talking about being in position.

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He even loosened his belt!

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See and hear for yourself.

This was kind of a cool effect.  I noticed a mirror in the back and could see the front of Neal whenever he walked by it – which he did a lot.  So I decided to see if I could get a picture of it.

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I can see him from the front and back at the same time!

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The students were so responsive and cheered when Neal started and finished.

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At the end of the chapel, the faculty, staff and students prayed a powerful prayer for us!

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Then we went out for lunch to what we’ve been told is the nicest restaurant in Benin City.

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Neal & I with Rev. & Mrs. Andrew Daniels.

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It was good and we were hungry!  Can’t imagine why since we’d been eating 3 squares a day…

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This is where we ate them.  Breakfast.

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We also took some time while here to tour the Church of God Mission (CGM) international offices.  Beautiful!

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who now resides in heaven.  God used him to change Nigeria, Africa and the world.

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His wife and partner is the presiding Archbishop and continues the legacy of this incredible ministry.  We are so thankful to be part of this family and so appreciative of how they have hosted us so graciously in their home – even in their absence.  Next time we hope to come when they’re around.

Archbishop Margaret Idahosa (Mama)

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Their son, Bishop Feb Idahosa, is the President of Benson Idahosa University.

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Tobi and I chatting in Mama’s office.  OK, this is posed.  But it could have looked real if one didn’t notice the snicker on Tobi’s face.

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The International Office is 4 stories high and has pretty cool architecture.

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This is Pastor Blessing.  He remembers Neal’s family.  He gave us our tour.

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This is IMG_1324some of the staff from the publication department.   Fun people!

From the top floor of the offices I was able to get some good pictures of the whole complex.   This is Faith Arena – the church.

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Yes He is!

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The Buildings at the back of the photo are just part of Faith Christian Schools.  Another arm of this ministry.

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View from another side.

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One of the busses and the generator house.  The electricity is off more than it’s on so a generator is pretty standard equipment.  We were thankful for that!

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Back on the home front….I mentioned that we changed rooms and would include photos of our new diggs.  Here they are.  Here it is.  It was very comfortable.

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From the other end…
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We had lots of space.  Which was so nice.  One thing that is challenging to me with all the travel we do is not having much space.  I’m not very neat and do better when everything can have a place.  This was wonderful for my organizational addiction.   It doesn’t look particularly neat right now, but that’s only because we were getting ready to pack…

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And of course there was a lovely bathroom!

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We also took a few trips to different markets.  As you know I live in Africa.  Niger to be specific.  So an outdoor market is not an unfamiliar thing to me.  But I discovered that being a foreigner in Nigeria is much different than being a foreigner in Niger.  In Niger there are so many NGO’s (non-profit organizations) that I am only one of probably hundreds of westerners here.  So seeing faces other than African in the market isn’t that remarkable – especially here in the capital city.  That combined with the personality of people here (friendly but passive) you will find the experiences in the two places are as different as hot season and cold season.  Now consider the bold, aggressive, take charge Nigerian.  He or she is confident that you want to buy what they have to sell.  You are a target because you stick out like a white crayon in a box of colored ones.   If you’re me, you probably look like you don’t know where you’re going.  Not a good look in a market.   Our group was 6 in number, 1 of us being officially Nigerian.  I was looking for cloth.  Lace to be exact.  Lots of people sell lace.  And every one of them has a better quality then the person next to them.  To the untrained eye they all look the same…beautiful.   So thankful Augusta was with us.  After looking, finding and purchasing some lace, the other members of our group were interested in looking at soccer jerseys.  After all, Nigeria had just won the African Cup – and we were there to see it!  The jerseys weren’t in that market, but across the street.  So our small band of white crayons started very conspiculously making our way.  However there was some lace that I saw that I didn’t buy and I kept thinking about it.  We continued to walk the other direction.  I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn’t go back and get that cloth so I informed the others of my plan.  Augusta graciously said ‘OK, lets all go back in’.  It was hot and very sweaty and our time was running short. I didn’t want to waste any of it.  I assured her that I’d be fine on my own and that she should continue on with the others to the next destination.  She showed me where it was (across several ‘lanes’ of traffic on the 2nd floor of a large 2-story building) and the plan was if I didn’t see them there that we’d meet at our car.  Off I head back into the market. I’m pretty directionally challenged so thankfully the place we had been was pretty close.  Down one alleyway past seller after seller, turn left, more sellers (all wanting me to buy and telling me so), take a right – yep, more sellers and more offers to ‘just look’, another left, and now to find the lace I remember seeing hanging somewhere on the left.  Or was it on the right?  Keep in mind my directional issues.  You must understand, there are 100’s, no, 1000’s  of pieces of cloth hanging in the stalls.  I spotted my lace!  In spite of being proud of myself I attempted to maintain a calm ‘not caring if I really get it or not’ demeanor so as not to cause the price to go up.  You’d be proud.  I was.  I almost walked away.  But I did get my cloth and I did manage to make my way out of the market without getting lost – even though I came out a different way than going in.  I ‘threw my face’ across the street (that’s Nigerian English for turned my head, or looked) to see if I could see a gaggle of tall white guys + Tobi.  Couldn’t be that hard to spot in the midst of so much bright color.  Not to be seen.  So rather than make my way across the sea of people and their goods, I decided I’d just head to the car – through a different sea of people and goods.  That’s when I started to feel, well, it’s hard to describe.  I wasn’t at all fearful.  But I felt so obvious.  Like everyone was staring at me – wondering what this white lady was doing by herself in their market.  And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t imagining it.  I was the focus of attention for many.  I’m sure there were many thoughts going through many heads as I’m seen making my way through the people and ropes and gutters to get back to our car.  It was so different than in Niger.  I don’t really think twice in the market there.  Sure I get approached by sellers there in hopes that I’ll buy something but it’s different.  In Niger, I’m a dime a dozen so to speak.  But in Nigeria, I think I (we) really were a novelty.   I then began to think about it.  It occurred to me that other than the few foreigners that were there working with Church of God Mission, I realized that I had not seen one single white face since we’d been there.   Not one.  Then I began thinking why that was.  And I came to the conclusion that Nigeria doesn’t need foreigners helping them.  They are more than capable of leading and developing their own nation.  That doesn’t mean that it’s always being done the right way, but it’s not for lack of ability or resources.  That goes hand in hand with my theory that all of Africa and probably the remaining unreached world could be reached if Nigerians made a decision to do it…

But, I was talking about the market.  Anyway, I literally stood out like a sore thumb as I waited by the car for the other foreigners to arrive.  People were pleasant enough, of course greeting – but with an edge of ‘whatever are you doing in our market?’  I tried to call Neal but of course his phone was in the car – where I was standing.  They finally arrived after I’d sweated a couple of buckets, soccer jerseys in hand.  And because of Neal’s expert driving we were able to drive out of the crowded market without incident.  Quite remarkable really.

I took these pictures as inconspicuously as I could with my phone while I was waiting.

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Unloading the bread truck.

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From that market we headed to the silver man – he had some pretty stuff.  One of the benefits of living in Africa – jewelry design.

Danette with silver guy

The day before we left, I made sure to get some pictures of new friends.  Tobi had a blast with these two – Osassu and Osagie.  They are 2 of Archbishop Margaret’s adopted children.  Fun guys!

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Osagie really was quite the ham.  I think they enjoyed hanging with Tobi too.

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This is an incomplete group of guests and staff at the house while we were there.

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These 2 guys are from Tulsa and were there when we arrived.  They were on a short term trip and were involved in various aspects of the ministry – churches, university, hospital.  Michael and David.  Again, Tobi had a great time with them as well.  Kind of like having 2 big brothers!

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This is Stephen.  He was invaluable to us and our ‘go-to’ guy for whatever we needed.  Such a sweet servant.

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We were blessed with a gift from the University – we love souvenir type stuff.

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Even though soccer was usually played on Saturday mornings, I think this impromptu game was for Tobi’s sake – since we would be leaving the next morning.

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The drive (aka running track) is around the permitter of this field / home.  I reached my goal of running 3 miles before we left.   This was my view and my final run.  Well, this and the soccer match.

Sunset while running

Didn’t take pictures of packing up.  It would be nice to be home but we were feeling a bit sad about leaving.  We’d had such an amazing time.  I guess that’s how it should be though.  Leaving on a high note – wishing there was more.  And we certainly didn’t want to wear out our welcome.  God had truly blessed us and we believe there will be fruit that remains from this journey.

The next and last post about our trip will be the journey home…which is where we are now.