You Know You’re on an International Flight when…


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Below are some random observations I have made on flights to and from West Africa.  Do you have any to add?

You take a bus to the plane.

The bus ride is 30 seconds long.

A man gets up to give a woman his seat on the bus.

A young man gets up to give an old man his seat on the bus.

The vast majority of people on the bus don’t speak your language and are holding various colored passports.

You understand what some of the people are saying because you speak their language.
You are the foreigner.

The bus takes you to the waiting plane on the tarmac where you carry your carry-on up a huge flight of stairs while wishing you had packed lighter.

The safety demonstration on the plane is done in 2 languages.

The safety demonstration suggests loosening your tie and removing your high-heeled shoes in the event of an emergency. I mean seriously, how many ‘westerners’ still wear ties or high heels when they fly?

Actual food, not just pretzels, is served on the plane.

There’s a good chance the food will be appetizing.

More food is served on the plane.

Nearby passengers have prayer beads.

Nearby passengers pray those prayer beads.

Nearby passengers bow down in the aisle and pray towards Mecca.

Passengers have multiple and massive carry-ons – causing you to wonder how they get them up those stairs.

Passengers argue with flight attendants about what they are allowed to keep in their seat.

‘Carry-ons’ are plastic bags, boxes, cages, suitcases, and anything else you can imagine.

There are a variety of smells-many unpleasant -on the plane.

The bathrooms get really nasty by the end of the flight.

The airlines typically use their ‘older’ planes for these flights.

You often have to go the ‘wrong’ direction to get to your destination i.e. Travel east before you go west.

Most men are wearing suits or long flowing african attire.

Most women are in fancy african dress complete with head tie and scarves long enough to hide several children.

You’re underdressed.

In what seems like a matter of minutes you go from being surrounded by darkness and an amazing blanket of stars to bright sun while zipping through time zones.

You see breathtaking sunrises and sunsets on the same flight.

You ugly sleep – mouth open, drool.

More food is served.

Upon landing, flight attendants walk through the plane spraying some type of ‘safe’ insecticide because you’ve come from a malaria infested country.

Your departure airport is hotter than you know what, but you wish you had a parka upon your arrival.

Your bus ride from plane to terminal upon arrival is much longer and further than the departure bus ride.

You have no idea what time it is where you are, where you came from or where you’re going.

You have a connecting flight to the ‘West’.

Your layover is either very long or very short.

Getting food or drinks in your connecting airport can be difficult because you don’t have their currency.

You learn that you can’t assume that the connecting gate listed on the monitor is correct.

You assume that your listed gate will change.

Sadly you can spot (or rather hear) an American from across the airport with expletives like ‘Oh sh**!’ Etc.

You wonder why people (Americans) are so annoyed with rather than appreciate extra security, particularly in an airport where recent attacks have taken place.

You may not have to take a bus ride from the terminal of your connecting flight to the West.

Passengers clap when you land.

You join in the clapping and dream of a bed.

Wogging. Still writing about it.

So here I am again.  It’s like visiting an old friend.  My blog.  It’s interesting that considering all of the experiences I’ve had since I last wrote (March), that I would choose to write again on the same topic as my most recent post (which isn’t recent at all).   It was a letter to myself, to get my rear in gear and be committed to my workouts.  Which I did. For a month.  In spite of hot season, I did my jog/walks (wogs) consistently.  In fact my record temp for running was 108.  No – not MY temp, the air outside!  And that was just stupid.  But that’s how committed I was.

What happend between then and now?  Well, quite a few things….

We have a well-drilling project underway, and beginning in March, we had 9 people in varying combinations, from various nations coming and going over a 3-4 week period. All of these people stayed in our home.

Above team, together with us and the local team we were training, went to the village where we were attempting to drill a well (a 2 hour drive, 1way) multiple times.  Well,  daily.

It was 115 degrees, daily.

Pipe stems got stock 180 feet underground. (They’re still stuck, but we expect to free them soon!)

A part on the drilling rig broke.

Tried to fix the part over and over again – to no avail.  A new part is needed from China.  (That part was delivered this week!)

I discovered I had gallstones.

I had Malaria while I had gallstones.

Went to Paris with Neal and had my gallbladder removed. Yep, Paris.

Returned to Niger and hosted another team.

Traveled to the US for 2 months,  logging 18 flights and changing locations 21 times.

Got to see our 2 incredible grandkids 2 different times.

Had an amazing time with family and friends all over the US.

Spoke 14 times in various churches/groups.

Returned to Niger – Thank God for rainy season!!

So, in my defense, it’s been somewhat busy.  And although I missed working out for 8 weeks (and I did miss it), I am happy to say that I kicked it back into gear 1 day after arriving into the US.  It was rough, but it was 5 weeks post surgery so I was trying to give myself a break.  Or at least an excuse!

Running the US is so lovely.  Well, the running isn’t at all lovely.  But the fact that I can wear anything I want and no matter where I am I can step out the door and run at any time of the day I choose.  Because nowhere was it about 108 degrees, and I knew that was my threshold!

I got to run in some pretty cool places all over our great nation.

Here’s one of them.  I got to run right along that beautiful ocean – and the temp was about 68.  I barely broke a sweat!

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From the East Coast, to the South to the West Coast to the North.  I ran by rivers, lakes, and mountains, through forests and in commercial areas and neighborhoods.  What’s not to love?  Well, the actual running part, but I can overlook that.

I just checked my journal and I am happy to say that I wogged 38 of the 62 days we were in the U.S.  I’m ok with that.  I would have preferred it be more, but I’m not complaining.  I averaged 3 miles each time.

Now, I’m back in Niger.  And between preparing to travel, actual travel and jet lag (which apparently I’m still dealing with because it’s 3:14AM while I’m writing this), I missed 8 days in a row.

But I got back out there this past Monday – back to my old stomping grounds.  And you know, I quite enjoyed it.  While slogging (that’s a slow jog) up the hill, memories came back of the last time I was running there.  I was sick and it was sickeningly hot.  But rainy season is now here, and since I went at 6:45AM (I am NOT a morning person, but Tobi’s school schedule is what got me out at that time) it was not hot.  It was really, really humid.  But it was not hot.  It was somewhere in the 70’s.  And that’s a far cry from 108.  And that 8 day break did me good because the 12 laps around the  ¼ mile loop that is ½ hill was much easier than I expected it to be.  That, too, was lovely.

No matter that the rains are washing away the road.  Look at all that green!

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And besides, this is home.

 

 

 

 

iPhone was lost but now…

I have an iPhone.  It’s a 4S so yeah, I know it’s old.  But it’s mine and it works just fine.  I got it brand new and unlocked nearly 4 years ago.  It’s served me well in many countries.  And I’m sure it will continue to serve me well – even though it has a very slow response time….  The other day my son Trae was trying to convince us that it’s time to upgrade.  I told him that Dad might (he also has a 4S), but only because his has a cracked screen.

Yesterday Neal and I were out doing some errands.  The errands aren’t a big deal – but getting to them is.  Traffic in Niamey has become, how shall I say, HIDEOUS!  You get behind the wheel and you have to work at maintaining your salvation.   Going out to do the simplest things has become an event. The craziness that ensues is worthy of it’s own blog post.  That said, I decided to make a call while sitting in traffic.  Had an enjoyable chat with Lola, my friend and co-missionary working in Maradi.  She’s always encouraging – which is great considering the traffic.  We finally arrived at our destination  We were going to look at tile for the guest house we are building in Tamou.

We went in to the lovely air conditioned store, greeting the guard as we went.  We found lots of gorgeous tile with less than gorgeous prices.  But we did find one that would be a possibility.  We said thank you and headed back to the car as it was time to pick up Tobi from school.  This meant crossing the river.  That’s a big deal.  We wave to the guard and are on our way.  Within seconds I decide to check for my phone.  I can’t find it.  Think.  THINK!  When did I last use it?  Oh yes – my chat with Lola, just before we arrived at the shop.  That means it should be with me.  Neal pulled over and quickly called my phone.  It rang several times, then just quit.  Unfortunately, we didn’t hear any ringing.  This required further research.  What had I done with my phone?

I thought about it- and realized the most likely thing was that after saying good-bye to Lola, I set the phone in my lap instead of back into my purse.  And if that was true, the next likely thing that happened was that when we arrived at tile mart, I got out of the vehicle and my iPhone fell off my lap – OUTSIDE.  It’s important to note here (in my defense) that the parking ‘lot’ is sand.  You pull your vehicle just off the street (the one full of traffic) in front of the storefront.  So I’m sure my phone just dropped soundlessly into the sand and I went on my merry way, clueless.  I may have even buried it!

We hadn’t driven very far so I rushed back to the tile store to look around.  Nothing.  Except sand.  I explained my situation to the guard who was sitting on a bench with some of his friends.  We communicated using 3 languages, and he finally understood.  I of course knew it was entirely possible that he himself saw the phone and pocketed it, and he also knew that I was entertaining that thought.  He dramatically told me that if he found something like that he would take it in the store.  There wasn’t much more I could do but thank him.  And pray.  Though I did go back into the store – just to cover my bases – and ask if anyone had turned in a phone.  I knew how unlikely that was.  Due to language issues, their first response to my question was ‘we don’t repair phones here’.

The guard was still working on convincing me of his innocence while I walked back to our vehicle.  I actually didn’t think it was him, because any amateur detective could see that his view was of the drivers side, not the side where the phone dropped out.  But talk about a sick feeling in your gut.  Like anyone, I have everything on that phone.  LOTS of information.  While feeling sick, thinking of all that was lost, I also found myself praying.  But it seemed so impossible.  The phone was long gone.  And let’s face it.  The phone wasn’t stolen.  It was found.  By someone other than me.  On the way to get Tobi, we called my phone a few times but it was obvious it had been turned off.  We were now late for Tobi and I figured he had called.    I sent my phone a text message in Hausa that if the person that found my phone called this number there would be a reward.  Of course calling the number would be tricky if you couldn’t open the phone!

We are on our way to get Tobi and Neal was trying to make me feel better.  Which was extremely sweet of him — he could have been really upset with me, since it was my fault.  Instead he was reminding me of the age of the phone, and that when we get new phones we usually just give our old ones away, so just consider this giving it away.  A bit early. See what I mean?  Sweet.  We tell Tobi our reason for being late and he was bummed for me too.  He helped my try and activate ‘Find my iPhone on Neal’s phone, but the cell data signal was to weak to make it work.

We were on our return journey home (believe me, it’s a journey) and were processing what might need to be done, and what I would do for a phone.  While feeling quite hopeless, I said outloud, “God, you know that I have always turned lost things in – whether it be money or stuff.  Now it’s time for my harvest on that”.  That’s it.  And honestly, I went back to thinking whether I needed to change personal info etc.  

We were close to home, stuck in the thick of everything when suddenly Tobi is shoving his phone to the front seat, telling me its my phone calling.  What?  I didn’t realize it, but he had called my number again – even though it had obviously been shut off.  This time ‘it’ answered.

” Uhh, hello?  You have my phone?  Where are you?”

“Yes.  I’m at BIA” (BIA is a bank, across the street from the tile place).

I hand the phone to my husband who has stopped our vehicle in the midst of the chaos around us.  I wanted to be sure I heard correctly.  “Yes”, I heard him say, “We’re coming.  We’ll give you 10,000 for ‘calling’.” (10,000 is around $20)

“No problem” said the voice on the other end.  Of course this was all done in Hausa.

We wondered as we made our way back through the maze of traffic if he would actually be there when we got there.  We would know soon enough.

The hope of recovering my phone made rush hour traffic a bit more bearable.  I began thanking God for such a quick and amazing answer to prayer – in spite of my doubt.

We pulled up to the bank and called my phone again.  Neal and Tobi got out to see if they could spot the voice in the midst of so many people.  Who was he?   It was kind of amusing.  Felt a bit like a scene from a movie.  Any one of the people around us could be the one who ‘found’ my phone.  I saw them walk around a bit more, call again.  Then we see 2 young thugs guys dressed in black jeans and t-shirts.  One of them needed his drawers pulled up – but at least his unmentionables were black as well (and by that I mean his undergarments).

The transaction happened quite quickly.  He held up the phone, Neal took it and handed him 10,000 CFA with a thank you.  Mr. findmyphone and his sidekick walked away very quickly, twenty bucks richer.

We’re pretty sure that our benefactors were watching from across the street to be sure we didn’t bring the law with us before they revealed themselves.  The fact is however, they didn’t steal the phone.  Based on my synopsis of what happened, I lost my phone.  They found it.  Now, given where we were (a well-known area for petty theft, pick-pockets etc), I have little doubt that given the opportunity to steal they would have.  But this particular phone just fell into their laps (and out of mine!).  If you were to ask me to describe what petty thieves looked like, I would tell you to look at these two.

Let me add here that I’ve never felt scared/nervous walking around Niamey.  People are generally quite friendly.  Yet they themselves know that thieves are lurking around.  While I’ve never had anything stolen while on the street, I have had strangers walk up to me and highly recommend that I zip my purse up.  Don’t I know there are thieves around?  We laugh and I thank them.  And try to remember to keep my purse zipped and close to me.

I’m not sure what made those boys turn the phone back on and answer that call.  Was it because they realized that without the passcode they couldn’t even make a call, let alone get into the phone?  I realize that it’s not that difficult to wipe a phone like that, but I’m sure these guys didn’t have the know how. They could easily find someone who did, but not without lots of questions.

Or was it just the Holy Spirit moving in answer to prayer.  He does that.

As we backed out, phone in hand, I prayed for those 2 guys – that they would be confronted with the reality of the Gospel.  I felt like celebrating.  Maybe a bit like the lady and the lost coin.  And wow – this is how Jesus feels when 1 lost sinner turns to Him.  I get it.

Regardless of the reason, what seemed a hopeless situation was turned around by the simple fact that God is faithful!  He always has been and always will be.  And that’s one thing I can take to the bank!

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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.

Exercise is Good for the…Body.

Four blog posts in a span of 11 days?  I’m on a serious roll! I said I was back…

I exercise for 2 reasons.  Well, there are probably more – but 2 that I know of.  One, because the Bible tells me my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I need to take care of it.  And two, because I don’t want to get old.  In that order.  Hopefully.

I’d like to say that this post will now transition to how I exercise spiritually, but then I wouldn’t be telling the truth. And that is certainly not spiritual! (Let me be clear. I do believe in and practice exercising spiritually – but that’s not the topic of this post!) What this post is about is a new workout I’m doing.  And I’m writing about it because I’m rather proud of myself.  (Insert photo of me patting myself on the back).

I’m not athletic.  At all.  I’m not coordinated either.  And no one would look at me and go,  “Oh well look at her.  I bet she works out every day”.  And I’m probably not the best advertisement for consistent exercise if you base it on shape/weight alone.  But what you can’t see are my insides.  I can’t see them either.  But I know they’re healthy.  My heart is healthy.  My muscles are healthy.  I’m pretty sure my blood is healthy too.  Oh and my bones.  All of these years of working out are surely going to pay off with me not having osteoporosis.

It all started when I enrolled at Oral Roberts University (ORU).  ORU’s vision is ‘Educating the whole man – spirit, soul and body.  And that meant aerobics points. Every week.  I suspect at some point someone will probably find this blog post with a search term such as ‘how many aerobics points do I get for walking up 3 flights of stairs’.  If that’s you, I’m with you.  I feel your pain.  Or at least I feel you grasping for every point you can get for every movement you make.  I’m pretty sure running to the elevator should count for something!

While at ORU, I did get a vision for exercise.  In spite of the fact that what terrified me most about attending ORU was the required 3 mile field test – every semester!  I used to get sick in junior high on presidential fitness testing day when I was required to run 600 yards.  A measly 600 yards would make me sick to my stomach!  I’m not even kidding. That’s how much I disliked running.  That’s why my first year at ORU I ran my first (OK, my only) 10K.  Yep.  From panic attack at 600 yards to a full blown 10K.  Our PE teacher offered us an A on the field test if we signed up for and ran this 10K in under 75 minutes.  I knew good and well that it would be the only way I could get an A on the test.  It was that, or fail the 3 mile test.  So, the night before the 10K Run my friend Patti and I signed up for The Tulsa Love Run.  Love my foot!   To be honest, Patti and I had been running together pretty regular like – but we’d only run up to 3 miles.  And slowly.  Never more than that.  Long story short, we did that run.  And we did it in 74 minutes flat.  No laughing guys – we got our A!

So from that point on, I have exercised pretty regularly.  Oh there have been hiatuses of different lengths.  Mostly when having babies.  Like the time Tanika was born – my first C-section.  After that, I seriously thought my body would never be normal again and I would certainly never exercise again.  But 1 month later, to the date,  I started my aerobics video back up.  There was another C-seciton – Tobi.  In South Africa.  I was even in ICU after that one.  But I was able to get going again not too many weeks later.  Part of my motivation was because while in South Africa, I had the luxury of an actual gym to join.  That was fun.  Kind of.

Fast Forward to today.  My friend Sharolyn who knows I like to work out gave me a new set of DVD’s this past summer while we were in the US.  (Thanks Sharolyn, I think).  I didn’t really look them over until we were back in Niger about 3 months later.  I had been on one of my exercise hiatuses for about a month due to team hosting and children’s camps, but knew it was time to get started again.  I knew because of how my clothes were feeling.  If I’m not exercising, my clothes shrink.  It’s quite odd really.  I like to start new things on Mondays, so Monday, September 15th was my day.  It took my almost a week to talk myself into this.

The new workout is called Rushfit.  I had never heard of it and part of the reason it took so long to get started was because it seemed so complicated.  Running, as much as it is not my friend, is so much easier. And when I’m in the US it’s really easy to do – logistically speaking.  I can just step out the door wherever I happen to be and run.  And I do use the word “run” loosely.  I think to be fair I would have to call what I do a slow jog.  A slog, lets say.  When we’re in the States, we’re never in one place long so I can slog and look like a dork anywhere.  It’s not my neighborhood.  They’re not  my peeps.  They’re not likely going to see me again. Oh, and it’s not 100 degrees. In Niger, it’s not that simple. I can’t just step out my door in my shorts and running top.  Well I could, but it would be extremely inappropriate and offensive.  And that wouldn’t be good at all – given that we’re here to reach and influence the people with the Gospel.  And it’s often more than 100 degrees.  I’ve run in that – it’s not fun.

Back to Rushfit and its complications.  It’s 6 DVD’s.  Six!  You follow a particular 45 minute workout 6 days a week for 8 weeks. Every day is different. Then you’re supposed to be buff.  Not sure what happens after that… Being that I’m not a novice to exercise, and not having a clue what Rushfit was, I chose the intermediate plan.  What was I thinking?  I pushed play on September 15th and  when I finished the first workout, I felt like jello.  I don’t even like jello.  By that evening, I was sore.  Really sore.  The next day?  Let me just say doing basic things (like sitting on the throne) were almost impossible.  I spent the better part of that week literally hobbling around.  I have NEVER been that sore from any exercise I’ve ever done.  But I kept pushing play – through my pain!  Now I can’t stop because if I do, I’ll get sore all over again.  That can’t happen. What have I gotten myself into?  The warm-up is 10 minutes.  Warm-up they say. Right.  You’re thinking loosening up, stretching – right?  Wrong!  The warm up consists of multiple sets of squats, lunges, push-ups, plank thingys, and sit ups.  Not a single stretch!  He says, “This is to get you ready for the work to come”.  Seriously?  That should have been my first clue.

I’ve never not been able to do something in a workout.  At least 1 time.  There are at least 2 things in the various workouts that I cannot physically do.  Instructions are given.  I know what I’m supposed to do, but I can feel that my brain does not make the connection. It’s tempting to include some picture or video here of me doing some of these crazy moves.  But I’m just vain enough to stop at a description. You’re on your knees.  Without using your hands, you jump your feet forward out from under your body and then jump up. Back down and repeat this move for a minute.  Can’t do it.  At first I didn’t ever want to.  Now – I think I might try. Eventually.  Because as I said, I”m almost finished with week 4 of Rushfit.  It’s growing on me.  And though my fitness will not be rushed, it is there.  I can feel it in this 49 year old body.  Most days.

The Crunch Finale: Lessons Learned

Well, here it is.  The end of the longest accident story ever.

I got my frazzled self home, made a cup of tea.  No, it was a mug.  A mug of tea.  I went to my room, turned on the AC, (it was too hot for tea but I really needed some, so on the AC went – and after all, I deserved it!). I got on my bed and opened my Bible to the day’s reading.

Now I’m not sure how effectively I communicated how frustrated I was during this entire process.  And feeling justified in my frustration because after all, everyone knows how crazy taxi drivers are.  And the police!  Well, there was just one that made me angry.  But he made me more annoyed than one man should have the ability to do.

Back to my Bible reading.  September 11.  Psalm 55.

God understood how I was feeling.  Check this out. The whole chapter was about me.  My paraphrase:  Listen to my prayer, answer me.  I am distraught at the voice of the police enemy.  They bring suffering on me.  Oh, that I had the wings of a dove I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert (Ok, the desert part was just kind of funny).  Confuse the wicked.  I see strife in the city.  Destructive forces are at work there.  Threats and lies never leave its streets.  But I call to God and the Lord saves me.  I cry in distress and he hears my voice.  (God, it’s NOT my fault!  Can’t you do something about these taxi drivers?)  Cast your cares on the Lord – he will sustain you.  You God will bring down the wicked!

I kid you not.  That was my scheduled Psalm for September 11.  I was feeling pretty good about this.  God used His Word to speak to me, to encourage me.  He knew exactly how I was feeling.  He’s good like that.

I moved on to the Old Testament reading for the day, wondering what other good news about being justified was awaiting me.  Isaiah 8 & 9.

I’m reading along, sipping my Earl Grey and this is what jumps off the page.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as a people rejoice at the harvest.”  Isaiah 9:2,3

There are places on this earth where people are walking in darkness.  Niger is one of those places.  That’s why we’re here.  To expose them to the light.  So many are living in the shadow of death and don’t even know it.  I’ve read these verses before.  Even have them underlined in my Bible.  But golly did they speak to me in a new way this time.  In light of my day.  In light of my attitude.  In light of me feeling all high and mighty and justified.  I am supposed to be that light. ME.  Why in the world would I expect any of the people I dealt with today to behave any differently than they did?  Are they believers?  No.  Do they have THE light?  No.  As the Bible clearly tells us, they CAN’T understand the things of God unless the Holy Spirit reveals stuff to them.  And it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the LIGHT of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.  Oh my.

I was supposed to be that light today.  The great light that Isaiah 9 talks about. Now I didn’t cuss anybody out.  But not losing my head and being a light are two very different things.   My pride could rise up and try and tell me how well I handled myself considering the frustrations and injustices.  After all….  But was I a light?  Did I shine?  I think not.  I just felt sorry for myself.

I know good and well that God did not cause this fender bender so I would hear him or so He could teach me something.   He speaks to us today through His Word and through the Holy Spirit.  And today, he spoke clearly to me through His Word.  And what’s more, long ago my God knew what my day would be like on September 11, 2014.  He knew that I’d be sitting on my bed with the AC on, drinking a hot cup mug of Earl Grey and casting my cares on Him.  He knew that I’d need comforting.  He also knew that I needed some correcting.  I could almost see Him up in heaven looking down at me, mug of tea in hand, smiling, as He gently said, “Yes, cast your cares on me.  I’ll be there for you.  But don’t forget – YOU are the light to the people walking around in the dark.  Now act like it.  And remember, I love you.”

The blogger (or not) is back. Crunch Part 1

It’s shameful.  I’m shameless.  I call myself a blogger and my last post was May 13, 2014.  Wait.  I don’t call myself a blogger…never have.  But my last post really was over 4 months ago.  Long enough for us to travel from Niger to the US, travel a zillion miles in the US, travel to S. Korea to visit a very special family member, travel back to Niger, host a team from the US in Niger and conduct 2 children’s camps.  Long enough for me to forget how to login to WordPress and forget my password.  And long enough that one of my offspring was actually begging me to write in my blog.

So.  Here I am.  Other than lack of time, I have no other excuse.  And the time (or lack thereof) excuse doesn’t really fly either.  Oh maybe it did at first, but then I just got in the habit of blogging in my head and never transferring it to the screen. Head blogging is so much faster/easier and can be done without any electronic devices.  Imagine anything being done these days without any electronics.  But I’m quite sure the that even as technologically advanced as we are, there is no way that the next generation will be able to extract the blogs from my head once I’ve moved on.  And that’s really my goal in writing.  To record my history.  In my words.  Rambling and all.

So, I could pick from quite a large number of things to write about, since life really has been quite full since May 13th.  (Who am I kidding?  Life is always full!)  But I need to ease back into this slowly, so will only pick one thing to write about.  Because I know that I’m really adept at jumping from one subject to another (aka rambling).

Just over 2 weeks ago, I was leaving Sahel Academy where Tobi is an 8th grader.  The school is about 7 miles from our house.  A reasonable commute most would suppose.  Unless you lived here in Niamey – then you would suppose differently.  But look at that – I’m already getting off my topic and I haven’t even stated it yet.

I left my house at 7am to head to school for the Mom’s in Touch (MIT) prayer time.  It’s there mom’s gather to pray for the school/students/families and other needs every Thursday morning.  After an effective prayer time I was on my way to visit my mom-in-law (MIL, as opposed to MIT).  I had been back in Niger for nearly 3 weeks and had yet to visit them at their place (there’s that ‘no time’ excuse rearing it’s head again!)  Because of construction going on, the roads are all messed up and the bridge is only open for vehicles crossing the river to the Harobunda side.  That’s the side Sahel is on.  The side I don’t live on.   As soon as you cross the bridge, you’re almost at the school.  But leaving – that’s another story.  And a LONG way around.   As you leave the school, the bridge is there – right there – to get you to your side of the river.  But you are not allowed to cross it going that direction.  I don’t really understand why, but then again what do I know about road construction.  Not much.  Except that until it’s complete, it’s a real pain.  That I know.

Here’s the original bridge- to the immediate right.  The one in the distance is the ‘new’ bridge, aka ‘the Chinese bridge’.

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Here’s a better picture of the Niger River.

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So.  I (and everyone else in a motorized vehicle) have to get across the river using the new bridge.  New things usually sound better.  And the new bridge is 4 lanes, not 2 like the original one.  That means more room for camels and donkeys and bikes and motos to cross together with all the vehicles.  That is better.  But in this case it’s not really better, since it spits you out in a different part of the city than you wanted to be in. Downtown.  But alas, without a ferry to drive my car on to to forge the river where it’s close to my house, drive around I must.  (Just yesterday Neal, Tobi and I discussed the idea of building a ferry near us – where we are closest to the river, to get us across.  It would save an exponential amount of time, and the headaches it would save.  And I mean literal headaches.   Unless of course your vehicle sinks into the Niger River.  That would be a really big headache.

Here’s the road to the new bridge.  I know.  It looks pretty nice.  But  shouldn’t have to be here!

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And a cool sunset view.  At least there’s that.

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Back to the new bridge.  I did finally cross it – and as always found myself heading towards downtown.  It was about 9am.  I navigate speed bump road and enter the big circle (Niger loves circle intersections.  My directionally challenged self loathes them).

Speed bump road – the road you enter when you leave the bridge.  I shouldn’t have to be here either.  (As you can see, these pics were  not taken on the day of this incident – as evidenced by dusk/sunset).

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I think there are 5 ‘spokes’ off of this particular intersection.  I needed to go to the one straight across.  I was either stopped or  just starting to move (I can’t really remember) and I hear the sickening sound of a collision.  And that sound was very close to my vehicle.  Darn it!  It WAS my vehicle.  I had collided with a taxi, or a taxi had collided with me.  Both of us had different viewpoints.  Now as much as I loathe round points (circle intersections), I loathe taxis even more.  Not the drivers personally, but the way they drive their vehicles.  It’s lawless.  The collision was at such a slow speed (remember, I’m not sure I was even moving), that my seat belt didn’t even catch.  What I think happened is Mr. Taxi was coming in from my right, but very close to me.  I was stopped and just started to go as he slithered up the right side of my 4Runner, and it appeared (in hindsight) that he was trying to make a U-turn around me.  His back driver’s side door ran into my right front bumper as he was turning.  That was the sickening sound.  My fiberglass bumper cracked a little bit and his door was banged in a bit, but there was no broken lights or glass.  I stayed put inside my vehicle and he got out of his vehicle and came to me.  He wasn’t an unpleasant man as far as taxi drivers go.  We both asked each other what the other was doing/thinking.

Here’s the intersection where it all happened.

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I’m going to stop my story here. Partly because it’s already getting long and partly because I’m hoping to motivate myself t write more frequently than every 4 months.

I will say this – Regardless of whose fault it was, I wish I would have offered Mr. Taxi some compensation and been on my way.  But I didn’t…. And that I will regret for a long time.  But there were some things to be learned…

 

 

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 Dowry has Been Delivered

I recently  experienced something new.  I’ve been to lots of weddings during our 15 years in Niger, but I’ve never been part of delivering the dowry.

Before I go on let me say that I have decided I must break out of my chronological rut.  I have several blog  titles waiting to be written – still in month 2 of our 5 month journey – but I’m realizing that I am going to have to insert current stuff in the midst of those posts, or none of it will ever get written.  So here’s to flexibility.

Back to dowry day…

Sukala, aka Ibrahim, has been a part of our family since we arrived in Niger in 1998.  He and Trae ‘grew up’ together, even though he’s several years older than Trae.  Sukala learned English by spending most of his time in our house.  He calls us Mom and Dad.  He call’s Neal’s parents Grama and Grampa.  If you’ve ever visited us in Niger, you will remember Sukala.

He and Tobi painting the Cornhole game

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He’s now and grown and works with us in the ministry.  He is a man of many talents, some of the strongest being children’s and music ministry.  I’m convinced he’s ADD and that has driven him to figure out how to fix electrical and plumbing stuff, play the piano, drums, guitar and who knows what else.  He can work as an interpreter and he can cook.  Yesterday he was out chopping down (with a hatchet) a huge branch that broke off our mango tree in the dust storm.  Today he’s helping to lead the youth meetings with a drama team we are hosting from the U.S.  He is a great multi-tasker (also known as getting off focus!), is very giving, and often the life of the party.

He also helps put up Christmas trees.

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He loves God and he has finally found the love of his life.  Rakkiya.  We’re excited for him.  We met Rakkiya when she interviewed for a teaching position in our primary school.  Neal and I liked her immediately and felt she’d be a great teacher.  When she left our house, I told Neal that this is exactly the kind of girl that Sukala needs.  But we didn’t / couldn’t say anything to him.  I did however pray in that direction.  While we were in the U.S. this summer we talked with Sukala and he told us that he ‘met’ someone.  I was quite excited when he told me that someone was Rakkiya.  It was then I told him my thoughts about her.  He was happy about that!

Culturally in Niger when you ‘meet’ someone, that typically means it’s someone you are interested in marrying.  Sukala talked with Rakkiya’s family and also with his pastor, Pastor Moctar.  Everyone was in agreement but they were waiting for us to return from the U.S  before setting a date.  The setting of the date is similar to an engagement.  And there are several things that need to take place – protocols if you will.  Since I am the ‘mom’ (one of them, Sukala has several people he would consider mom), I was asked, along with a group of 3 other ladies to bring the sadaki (dowry).  The dowry had already been arranged between the family and the pastor.  Sukala and Rakkiya wanted to do all the protocols at one time, which suited me just fine!

Here’s what was required of Sukala:

1. Alkawali or Tambaya (the promise or the ‘will you marry me’ question) – ~ $100

2. Valise – the giving of a suitcase filled with new clothes, shoes and other personal things for the bride.  This is given to her family.  ~ $200

3. The actual Sadaki (dowry)  ~$600

4. Goro (kola nut)  This is given to be handed out to people when they are told about the wedding.  It’s part of the celebration.  ~$40

The prices are set by the family of the bride.

As I said, this was all new to me and I had much to learn.  The delivery date and time had been set.  So off we went.  Salamatu, Me, Mariama and Natalie.  These are all ladies I know well and I was so happy to be in their company.

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Here is Sukala modeling with the suitcase (4 suitcases it turns out) and the big bag of kola nuts in the back of our truck just before we leave for the event.  I think he’s a bit nervous.

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Have I mentioned that I’ve not done this before?  Though my friends had much more of an idea what to expect than I did, I think we were all surprised when we arrived at the house to a large group of ladies waiting for us.

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Since I was the one that was expected to deliver the ‘envelope’, I made sure someone was nearby me at all times, whispering instructions in my ear.  One thing I did understand is that this was serious business and setting a good foundation with the family was important.  I didn’t want to do it wrong.

We took off our shoes, went into the house,  sat on mats and chit chatted for a bit.  I asked some questions and tried to figure out who Rakkiya’s mom was.  A woman who was quite up in years was pointed out to me and I was quite surprised since I know Rakkiya to be in her 20’s.  I talked some with the ‘mom’ and she was happy to know that I spoke Hausa.  This was a large group of Hausa women which rather intimidated me.  I can manage in Hausa pretty well when I’m speaking to people who don’t use Hausa as their first language.  We’re both on the same page then.  But now I’ve been thrown into a room of experts.  A bit scary.  Water was served and then Natalie whispered to me that after the water we should go back outside and I would give the envelope to the man sitting outside the house – in the  courtyard area.  There were actually 3 men out there.   We put our shoes back on and the 4 of us went out.  You must picture this – the doors and windows are all open so the ladies inside can see us outside, and vice versa.  The man you can see in this picture is the first man I gave the money to.

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I wasn’t sure what I was expected to say but I carried the envelope with all the cash out and handed it to the man sitting there (making sure to use my right hand).  I said that we were very happy to receive Rakkiya into our family.  He took the envelope, took out the money and counted it.  Good, we’re done then.

Nope.  He puts the money back into the envelope and hands it back to me!  Ummm, Natalie!?  Help?  She indicates that I should now give the envelope to the other man.  He takes it and hands it to the man sitting next to him, who proceeds to hand it back to man #2, who then hands it back to me!  Again!  NATALIE?

Natalie and I were getting pretty skilled at communicating with very little communication (she’s so gracious and doing her best to make me look good), and I figure out that I’m to go inside and give the envelope to the woman who I was told is the mom. Turns out she’s Rakkiya’s aunt.  Culturally neither Rakkiya or her family are around for this event.  I’m wondering the same thing you are.  Why?  I don’t really know the answer except to say ‘it’s cultural’.

She takes the money and there is some discussion about counting it.  I didn’t follow it all but was later told that they said there was no reason to count it because I was a white person.  I’m just telling you what was said so no discrimination comments!

Now it was time to unwrap the suitcase(es).  It was a big box that we ladies carried in together with the big sack of goro (kola nut).  Another woman was given the honors.  She got the box off and tried to open the suitcase.  It was locked with a combination.  After an appropriate amount of attempts and fails, I decided I should try and help.  No directions, no combinations given.  I decided to try 000. It worked.  Thankfully.  We did this 3 more times.  I found it funny that there was a plastic hanger in each suitcase.  The discussion ensued about the suitcase.  Often the groom will fill the suitcase himself.  I explained, as Sukala had explained to me, that he would rather just give the money and let them do it.   Then I said, “Well, I’m sure Sukala knows you will know much better than he what to put inside.”  For some reason that brought gales of laughter.  Yep. Gales.  I’m not sure why, but maybe under clothing is included in that and they found it funny that Sukala didn’t want to deal with that.  Anyway, they were happy.

Unwrapping the suitcase.  The kola nuts are on the right.

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Displaying the suitcase.

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After the unveiling of the suitcase, the aunt began to dance and sing around it and everyone joined in.  I knew the song too, so that was fun.

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We sat for a few more minutes and I asked my ladies if it would be appropriate for me to share a testimony about Rakkiya and Sukala.  I was given the go-ahead by all so I stood up.  I first asked if they were understanding my Hausa.  Affirmative.  I started by saying how much we had appreciated Rakkiya in our school and that she had an excellent testimony there.  Then I shared the story of the interview and our decision that this was the girl for Sukala.  They loved hearing that, so I’m glad I shared it.  There were gasps and comments like ‘aikin Ubangiji! (the work of the Lord).  I then asked Salamatu to pray before we got ready to leave.  After that some of the ladies brought out some drinks and yogurt and some kola nut.  There was also sugar and a bucket of millet paste (used to make the traditional millet drink called fura).  I thought they were going to pass them around to everyone there.  But they sat it next to me.  Then they handed me some money (about $40).  They said this was a sign of their thanksgiving, and their acceptance, really, of Sukala. It was pretty cool.

Here they are before we put the stuff in the car, discussing what is to be done with it.

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Culturally, I guess when something like that is done, it’s ‘shared’ between the dowry deliverer’s and the groom.  Again, new to me.  But not surprising.  So we made our way back to my house, where Sukala was very anxiously waiting.  He was outside the gate when we pulled up.  He was jumping around like a typical ADD person.  I got out and said to him, ‘Sorry, they didn’t agree’.  I then went to open the back and he said ‘I know there’s nothing in there!’.  He thought I was opening it to show them that his suitcase and kola nut were still in there – unreceived.  So he let out a shout (a loud shout) when I opened and told him all these things were given in thanksgiving.

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Sukala is excited!

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We unloaded it and my ladies began to divide everything into to piles of 5.  One for the groom, and one for each of us.  The stuff in the front is the millet.  Tobi’s excited too!  He and Tobi are like brothers.

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This is what the kola nut looks like.

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It was a great experience and one I was honored to be a part of.  I overheard conversations and have found that the job of we 4 Musketeers has just begun.  The dowry delivery was only the beginning of our wedding responsibilities.  I don’t  know what else will be expected of me, but I’m confident my friends will let me know!

Oh, by the way, the wedding date has been set for September 21st.

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It was an honor to be a part of this significant event in Sukala’s life and I’m so glad I agreed to do it.  I’ll admit I hesitated for a tiny second when he asked, only because we have been back in the country less than a week after 5 months away, I was still very jet-lagged (functioning on 3 hours of sleep in 2 days), and preparing for a team from the US arriving in 2 days.  But there are just some things  you do no matter what.  This was one of them.