A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

We’re traveling to the US in 2 days.  So right now I should be packing.  Because I haven’t even started.  But I can’t. Because I have to get my thoughts down and I think my blog is the most convenient avenue for me to do that.

Today is Sunday, so of course we went to church.  We are usually in a different church each Sunday.  Neal is often preaching.  Today we went to the village of Fera.  Fera was started because Pastor Omar of Nikoye started evangelizing there.  It wasn’t long before there were new believers needing a church and needing to be discipled.  So Pastor Omar goes back and forth between his village of Nikoye and Fera.  He used to do that on his motorcycle, but we have learned that it is out of commission so now he walks.  About an hour 1 way.  In the hot sun.  With a smile.  Pastor Omar is always smiling.

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And here’s his beautiful wife, Aishatu.  She’s always smiling too.

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So we left this morning  and on our way out of town we picked up Pastor Jacques.  He’s coming to interpret because Fera is a Gourmantche village and Pastor Omar doesn’t yet speak Gourmantche.  But he obviously didn’t use that as an excuse not to evangelize.  We drove on the paved road for almost an hour where we met Pastor Omar and Aishatu waiting for us.  (They walked an hour to meet us there).  The drive (in our 4Runner) to Fera from there is 20 minutes into the bush.  Distance is difficult to nail down, because of the ‘road’ conditions, and direction is difficult too – which is one reason Pastor Omar was with us.  We’ve been several times, but still don’t know the way on our own. Don’t judge, if you saw the place, you’d get lost too.

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Had fun conversation about family as we bumped and jostled along.  We were in Maradi a couple of weeks ago where Pastor Omar’s daughter is part of Abraham’s Place.  I showed them pictures I took of her and told them how she is thriving there.  More smiles.  We talked about the church and its growth.  We arrived to the people gathered and already singing. The church is meeting in a thatch structure right now, but we are building a church there that will be completed in a few months.  The bricks are made on site, and the foundation is in the process of being dug.  And that is NOT an easy job.  The ground is incredibly hard and rocky.  So – just pour water on it to soften it.  Good idea.  Except that water comes from a well, and has to first be pulled up and then carried from a long way away.  In the hot sun.  The church members are helping with that.

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Here are bricks fort the new church.  The current church is in the back right.

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After some lively worship and dancing, the choir sang.  The choir is made up of young girls who are quite talented.  They do choreographed dancing while singing.  The dance moves are not something that you should try.  Unless you want to put your back or neck out.  Or unless you have Gourmantche in your blood.

I love taking close-ups of faces.  Here are a few from today…

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Then came time for my favorite preacher to preach.  That’s Pastor Jacques interpreting for him. He preached a message about ‘Invitation’.  Jesus goes where He’s invited.  It was a great message and the people were very engaged.  At the end they all prayed and invited Jesus into various situations in their lives.  Then we prayed for the sick.

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Then I greeted the congregation and encouraged them to act on what they’d heard.

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At the end of the service Pastor Omar asked Tobi to come and greet the people.  Omar asked Tobi to greet in Hausa so he could interpret for him himself.

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After the service we all shook hands with everyone.  Everyone shook hands with everyone.  Which everyone always does.  We did that outside of the church though, because only the children could stand up straight in most places inside.  Even me- as short as I am.  That made me feel tall, a very foreign feeling…

Outside as we were investigating the building materials for the new church, a dust storm rolled in.  It had been very windy all morning, And finally the dust came.  I had just made the mistake of applying lip gloss.  Bad decision.

Here’s a picture of our drive back home – to get an idea of why lip gloss wasn’t wise…

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We got back in our 4Runner with Tobi, Pastor Jacques, Pastor Omar & Aishatu.  We basically retraced our steps.  When we dropped Pastor Omar, we asked him about his moto.  He basically said it’s not worth repairing and that in fact with what he’s spent on repairing it, he could have bought a new one.  So they walk.  Another hour.  In the hot sun. (Note to self.  Help Pastor Omar get a new moto).

So. Back on the main road we were and we began talking with Pastor Jacques regarding his ideas about new pastors in villages that have believers but no pastors.  When one particular man was mentioned he just kind of laughed.  Neal asked him what was up.  He said basically that that guy wasn’t serious. “Why?” We asked.  Because he wants Nigelec and things like that.  What is Nigelec you ask?  Electricity!  Jacques very matter of fact like said that this man was not ready to be a pastor because he wanted, of all things, ELECTRICITY!  Can you believe it?  The gall of that man.  And there I sat, comfortable in our air conditioned vehicle thinking, “well I darn sure want Nigelec!  What does that say about me?

You’d be amazed to see the hoops we jump through to keep our electricity constant.  In fact that could be its very own blog post.

On our way back, we decided to stop by and visit Pastor Ibrahim and Hawa.  They have been pastoring a church in the town of Torodi for several years.  (It may be interesting to note that they don’t have electricity either).

The service was over but there were still lots of people hanging around.  Pastor Ibrahim and Hawa’s home is right there with the church.  They have the luxury of a well in the compound and people were lined up pumping water.  It’s not open during service, but starts up right after.  It’s a huge blessing for the people of Torodi and a great testimony for the church.

Unfortunately I left my camera in the car when we hopped out to greet.  I regret that, because so much took place in a matter of about 10 minutes that was photo worthy.

Hawa informed us that Pastor Ibrahim was meeting with some people in the church. She called him out.  Ibrahim was happy to see us, and brought out the group of men he was meeting with.  Turns out, they were guys from 4 villages where pastor Ibrahim has been evangelizing.  The villages are from 30-60 minutes away (again, in a proper vehicle), and are places that don’t yet have a pastor.  Ibrahim has a motorcycle with a small trailer so he sends someone from his church to pick them up and bring them to Torodi for service.  Then he takes them back home.

Oh, and yesterday we were told about an attack that was made a couple of nights ago on one of our village pastors and his family.  It was at night but they were still awake so they themselves captured the attacker and brought him to the village mayor.  He said his reason for attacking the pastor was because he doesn’t want Christianity in their village.  They didn’t warrant it big enough news to tell us about it immediately.

So why the play by play of our Sunday worship?   I think its because I started thinking about the contrast of where we’ll minister just 1 week from today, compared to where we worshiped today.

The way we worshiped today is considered ‘normal’ for our pastors and church members here. Just as ‘normal’ as the service we’ll be in next week.  The things are pastors here do and the things they face in order  to evangelize and disciple are considered normal, when in our reality there is nothing normal about it. Perspective.

I write because as I sit here in my electricity filled home I realize again how humbled, honored and proud I am all at the same time, to be serving with men and women like these.  People who consider things like running water and electricity to be frivolous and unnecessary to spreading the Gospel.  When Jesus said go into all the world, He didn’t mean go only where you find Nigelec.

This has been a great reminder to me as we struggle during this hot season.  It’s been a tough one.  We moved into a wonderful new home, but the electricity doesn’t come in at full power.  And then sometimes it’s not on at all. I can’t do some important things like run the microwave and toaster.  And then there’s the heat.  Did I mention how hot the sun was? Some days 112+ degrees hot.  With no relief.  I have an unfinished blog post about how much I detest hot season.  (I may or may not finish that one).

Seriously?

These men and women that we are privileged to work so closely with are really the ones who are daily laying down their lives for the sake of the call….with no electricity and smiles on their faces.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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 Crunch: Part 2

In my defense, I have tried a few times to write but the dog ate it.  Ok.  Obviously that excuse won’t fly.  Unless the dog ate my computer.  But I don’t have a dog.  What I do have though, is poor, poor internet.  And honest to goodness the 2 times I tried to write, I couldn’t even get the cursor off the Title line.  And it was NOT a user error.

But it’s obviously working right now.  So, where was I?  Oh yes.  Mr. Taximan and myself were pointing fingers – at each other.

One more look at the scene of the crime…

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Keep in mind that this is a ‘circle’  and traffic comes and goes from 5 different directions and I’m quite sure vehicles were dropping in from above as well.  There was much more activity going on than this picture lets on.  Excuses, excuses.  ANYway, after the ‘crunch’, I stay in my 4Runner while Mr. Taximan (henceforth known as ‘Mr. TM) stops, gets out, and walks to me.  We just kind of stare at each other.  Also keep in mind – I’m in a foreign country.  And even though I’ve been here for 16+ years, in this situation, I’m definitely a foreigner-as will later become clear.  Oh, and Mr. TM and I are trying to communicate in 3 different languages.  That’s a dead giveaway to the foreignness of things.

While trying to blame him, I grab my phone and call Neal.  Mr.TM   grabs his phone and calls….well, I’m not sure who he calls.  I am sure he doesn’t have a  Neal.  All while this exchange is going on, traffic is moving on around us – coming from every which way.  There was even another tiny fender bender next to my vehicle while we were sitting there.  Those people were smart and just kept going.  Also, all the while, there was some traffic police standing at one of the ‘V’s in the circle.  Mr. TM went to talk to them.  They were not the police that deal with accidents, and according to them, they didn’t see anything anyway.  They were kind enough to call the police that deal with accidents.

Neal showed up within 10 minutes of my call.   He was on his way to teach at the Bible School and willingly detoured to come to my aid.  He’s exactly the kind of guy you want to have around in this type of situation.  Well, he’s quite nice to have around in lots of situations.  He began talking with MR. TM using Hausa, and Mr. TM was responding in French.  He finally got that we don’t speak French, so attempted to use Hausa as well (neither of our first languages).

After waiting about 15 minutes, the accident police come and start asking questions.  They first ask me if I’ve been hurt (again in French but my Hausa response gets us on the same page – at least as far as language is concerned).  I said no, that I was fine and thanks for asking.  Then they stood with what I would call both suspicious and questioning looks on their faces.  They extracted  a tape measure from somewhere and measured the distance from my vehicle to Mr. TM’s.  Which I thought was funny, since he did a U-turn around me and drover several yards before stopping.  They didn’t bother with the skid marks on the right of my vehicle where the impact happened.  Then they drew a picture (crudely) of where we were in the intersection and wrote their measurements down.  After this, they directed us to move the vehicles out of the middle of the circle, which I was happy about, but which I’m quite sure didn’t make much of a difference to the traffic patterns.  While we waited for 1 of the policemen to fill out the report – having taken all our car papers and drivers license – I chatted with the other policeman.  We had quite an interesting conversation about how crazy the taxi drivers were  and how they had no regard for anyone on the road but themselves.  He was in full agreement.

The next step was to go to the police ‘station’, for lack of a better term.  These two policemen would take our papers there, and it was there we would have to go to collect them and finish the process.  Neal needed to get to class but didn’t want me to go alone, so he called Pastor Zabeyrou to come and go with me.  I bid Neal goodbye and waited for Pastor Z.  He arrived on his motorcycle pretty quickly, and I got in the vehicle to follow him.  The actual distance from Point A to point B was probably about 4 miles.  But it took us at least 20 minutes (you know, the traffic and all).  As minor as the accident was, I felt a little shaky as I drove.  That was kind of weird.

I hadn’t been to this police station before so didn’t know what to expect.  Trying to park was interesting because there is what appears to be a perfectly roped off area right outside the wall of the station that looks like its for parking.  Which I did.  AFTER I locked the vehicle and got out, a police lady at the gate informed me that this was not for parking and I’d have to park on the OTHER side of the rope.  She of course couldn’t have said  that while she watched me park.  But I could tell she was enjoying her job too much when I observed someone stepping over the rope to enter the police compound and she literally made them come back, step back over the rope, and go around.  Pastor Z. and I entered (properly) and I was shocked to find inside literally hundreds of motorcycles piled up on top of each other.  Hundreds!  I was told these bikes were seized for one reason or another, and not reclaimed.  Then I saw the same type of pile made out of bicycles.   Mr. TM was there and kindly showed us where to go.  We entered a building towards the back of the compound.   There were several offices off to the right and left of a narrow hallway.   ‘Our’ office was in the back on the left.  I use the term ‘office’ loosely. We entered a crowded room, me being the only female (and foreigner for that matter).  Desks surrounded the perimeter of the room, except for the metal bench that was to our immediate right on entering.  That bench was full of people, as well as were the chairs that were scattered in the remaining space in the center of the room.  We stood for a bit, until one of the policeman asked us to sit down.  All the desks were occupied by policemen who appeared to be working quite diligently.  The only seat available would be made if everyone sitting on the already full metal bench, well, squished.  And squish they did.  And sit down I did.  Sort of.  Pastor Z. and I chatted about everything and nothing while waiting to get my car papers back.  I discovered the room was full of people who had all had accidents…that morning!

After about 30 minutes or so, we decided to inquire on the status of my papers.  The policeman was nice enough and looked through the stack he had.  Nope.  Not there.  So he went the extra mile and called the police from the scene.  He was speaking Hausa so I could understand when he told the man to bring my papers – that we were waiting.  I was actually a bit surprised.  Some more time passed and I finally saw the officer from the scene enter the small, crammed room.  He passed off the papers then immediately left with no conversation and the man at corner desk began working on them.  More time passed and he finally indicated for me to come forward.  Pastor Z and I did and he explained that I would now have to go to the insurance and show them the accident report and get their stamp.    I would then return to the police station where they would return to me my car papers, but would keep my drivers license.  Hold the phone.  Keep my license?

“Why”? I inquire.

And this pleasant man who I had been chatting with looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Well, because it’s your fault”.

Now take note.  This man was basing this on a piece of paper he received with no other communication.  On this paper was a pencil ‘drawing’ of the intersection and the two vehicles.  Not sure what else, since it was in French.  But Mr. Pleasant was the one to make the judgment about who was at fault based on this piece of paper.  I know.  Didn’t make sense to me either.

I said, “You’re saying it’s my fault because I’m an American”.  All he did is smile at me.

By this time, Neal was on his way back from his class, and Pastor Z. had other things he needed to do.  I made my way back through town and met Neal at our insurance office.  Noon traffic was horrendous.  I finally made it.  It was 12:35.  We walked in to the large room and everyone was sitting behind their counters but didn’t look like they were interested in helping us.  We were finally told that they closed at 12:30 and would re-open at 2:30.  WHAAAAT????  We were not happy campers.  Going home would be downright foolish.  Even though the distance was probably about 6 miles, it could easily take an hour to get there.  It had just taken us 15 minutes to drive 200 yards.  We hadn’t had lunch and we had a 2  hour wait.  But we didn’t want to drive.  So in spite of the fact that it was close to 100 degrees, we decided to walk rather then drive to a place to have lunch.   We passed our time staring at each other and discussing how ridiculous it was that Mr. Pleasant said he would take my license.   We made it back to the insurance office by 2:30.  Two-thirty is really just a suggested time for re-opening.  But re-open they did.  Finally.

Now insurance around here is a waste, but very important to have. What I mean is if you don’t have it, you go to jail.  Having it provides nothing, even in case of an accident.

The insurance people proceeded to fill out their report, based on the report we gave them from the police.  This took some time.  They asked me what happened and I explained it to them.  And told them it was not my fault.  Then I told them the police were threatening to take away my license.  I didn’t know why.  What I did know, is that if they really did get my license, the process of getting it back would be long and hard.  And maybe expensive.  But even the not-so-concerned-about-customer-service insurance people thought that sounded odd.

Having obtained the coveted stamp on the police report, it was time to take it back to them and collect our car papers.  Driving without them can be risky if/when you are stopped.   We were in 2 vehicles and it would be downright idiotic to intentionally drive 2 vehicles across town.  So we stashed one (at a restaurant) and I jumped in with Neal, happy to NOT be driving.

Armed with knowledge this time I could accurately direct Neal where to park and instruct him not to step over the rope but to go around it.  Then I got to see his awe over all the stacked up moto’s.  Wisely, Neal knew it would be better to have a national with us – so as not to look like dumb Americans.  We call Habibu, our primary school director and he comes to our aid right away.  The 3 of us walk back in to the office I’m feeling pretty familiar with now, determined to walk out with my license in hand.  Mr. Pleasant was there, and his face brightened when he saw me walk in.  (‘Time for my pay-off’  I suspect he was thinking).  I handed him the stamped report and he said, “And your license”.

“No.  I’m not giving you my license.”

“You have to turn in your license until the case is judged.”

As I’m getting more and more agitated my husband steps up and says, “Well where is the taximan’s license then?”   Habibu is also standing there.

“We only need your license because you were the one at fault”.

My husband: “OH, then that means you HAVE already judged the case.”

Me:  “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh.  Etc.”

What followed is Neal and Habibu arguing (almost good-naturedly) with the man, while I grabbed my phone and said (In English), “I’m calling the embassy.”

I had recently been to the embassy and talked with the security officer.  He gave quite a positive report  and explained how they are in close contact with police – specific to security issues.  He also explained that the head hancho was not a friend of bribes and wanted to know of any issues that may come up.  I put the embassy guy’s number in my phone.

I was serious about calling the Embassy, as I was totally frazzled from the day’s events and wanted to be done.  Neal told me to put my phone down and Mr. Pleasant pleasantly laughed and said: “In America you have your laws and do things a certain way.  In Niger, we do things a certain way.  But what you don’t understand is that we’re just playing.  You can keep your license.”  Then he proceeded to find a staple remover and carefully remove all my car papers from his report.  He handed them over and he and Neal continued chatting – saying how next time they met each other it wouldn’t be because of an accident.  I mumbled and murmured things I probably don’t want to remember as we extricated ourselves from the police station.

We made our way home – yes through much traffic, arriving sometime after 4.  I left the house at 7.  It’s not at all how I planned my day.  I was frustrated and felt totally worn out.  Dealing with what feels so unjust, in a foreign language, in extreme heat and awful traffic left me frazzled.

After all that, can you believe that I’ve yet to get to the part about the lessons learned?  But again, I’ve gone on much too long.  Not really.  This is my blog and the place where I can be as wordy and detailed as I like.

That Thursday morning I didn’t do my Bible reading or have my tea.  I’m following a read the Bible in a year plan.  After arriving home I decided that would be a good time to not be around anyone (for their sake) and do the reading.

I was looking to find some comfort in the day’s scheduled reading, and find it I did.  For a second.  But then I read on…

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…

 

 

India: Getting There.

Well, I did it. I went on my first official missions trip. Laugh if you must, but it’s true. I live on the mission field. I’ve hosted countless mission teams. But I’ve never been part of team myself. Until now.

I enjoy hosting people very much – particularly because I love that they are coming to Niger and leaving with a part of Niger in their hearts, and leaving a part of their hearts in Niger. I like helping to facilitate that process. But I must say, I also very much enjoyed being ‘hosted’. Showing up to a place to stay, wonderful meals prepared and ministry all set up for us to step into. In other words, the only thing I had to plan was what to put in my suitcase. Well of course there’s ministry preparation, but that’s a different category of preparation.

Ministry prep done, house organized and details regarding Tobi and his stay with Grandma and Grandpa were more or less done by Tuesday.  Mostly.  Wednesday was packing day.  Packing takes a good portion of my brain cells, and I’m pretty sure it kills a few in the process.  Packing is one of my least favorite things to do.  Probably because I’m no good at it.  Which is odd, considering how often I do it.  But every time I put that open suitcase on my bed I stare at it like it’s the first time I’ve seen a suitcase before and have no idea where to begin.  What makes it all the more annoying infuriating is that Neal throws his bag up on the bed and within 30 minutes – 45 tops – he’s ready to go.  So sparing all the gory details, I finally got packed.   Just in time to leave for the airport at 5am Thursday morning.  No – just kidding.  We actually had a pretty relaxing evening and a decent night sleep.  Tobi moved to Grandma and Grandpa’s that night before so he didn’t have to get up at 4:30.  Grandpa took us to the airport – yep, at 5am.  What a guy!

Niger is developing, but there aren’t very many airlines that fly into our humble international airport.  So though our flight to India was on Ethiopian Air, one must use one of their ‘partner’ airlines, Asky, to get out of Niger.  We flew on Asky when headed to Ethiopia earlier this year and I was pleasantly surprised overall.  The Asky office told us to be at the airport at 5:30am for our 8:15 flight.  The Childs family is very well known for its’ timeliness and today would be no exception.  We arrived at 5:20.  I guess no one else got the 5:30 memo because we were pretty much alone.  The door to the check-in counter/room was closed and it was dark.  Though not surprised I couldn’t help but think about the additional 30 minutes (or more) of sleep I could have had…

Some time later….

There was movement behind the closed door and lights started turning on.  Other travelers were arriving and had the nerve to walk to the front of the line — in front of where our bags had been sitting for the better part of an hour!  I seriously wanted to express to them that we had been sitting there for some time now and who did they think they were to march right to the front of the line without even passing Go?  Someone should acknowledge that we followed Asky’s rules, even if we were alone.  And I should add that we have known this airline to take off an hour or more before scheduled flight time, without telling the passengers…so better wait than sorry.

We got through check-in with no problems, making sure that even though we had several stops, our bags were checked through to Delhi.  We made our way through immigration, said goodbye to the police and went to the ‘gate’ to wait some more.

I pulled out the homemade breakfast burritos and we enjoyed those while waiting to board the plane.  We took off more or less on time, and here we are somewhere over Niger.  We were obviously not on a large plane – check out the propeller.

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We were fed an overload of carbohydrates for breakfast, on our way to Abuja, Nigeria.  The orange juice, tea and fruit were lovely.

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We landed first in Abuja, but didn’t have to leave the plane – it was kind of like a bus stop.  Here we are descending in Nigeria – though it’s our neighbor, what a contrast!

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A little bit mountainous.

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Landing in Abuja, Nigeria

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I honestly don’t remember the time on the ground so it must not have been very long.  Next stop was Lome, Togo.  There we would change planes to a ‘real’ airplane for the journey from the west of Africa all the way to the east.

Here we are on the plane to Lome.

IMG_2196The airplane food was endless with so many flights, and I was dreaming about my breakfast burritos…I do however always enjoy drinking tomato juice when I fly.  And they even served it with fresh lemon.

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Landing in Lome, Togo.  That’s our shadow!

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By the time we got our boarding passes and seats we didn’t have long to wait before boarding.  And before we knew it – we were landing in Addis.

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We had several hours in the Addis Airport so we cruised around some shops for a bit, but that’s cumbersome with carry-ons and computer bags.  So we found a restaurant to kill time in because once we went through security, there was no food or drink allowed, and no ‘facilities’.  While sitting there, we noticed there was pizza on the menu.  We remembered how we enjoyed the pizza when we spent 3 days in Addis back in March, so we figured we should get some, you know, for old times sake.  It was worth it.  And here’s Neal, looking all bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of an already long day.  And I have no idea what time of day this really is.

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What I do remember is that it was cold.  Check out Neal’s winter ware!

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I was seriously cold.  Cold enough that it didn’t matter how dorky I looked.  These are my travel socks.  I always keep them in my purse when I travel be it by road, air or sea.  And they came in handy.  

Everything blurs together, but I do remember the walk to the plane was a long one.  Several ramps. And  the plane – it was huge!  Called a Dreamliner I think.  And we got exit row bulkhead!!  That is also huge.  And no one else was sitting in the 3rd seat in our group of 3.  We were counting our blessings.  This was the longest of the 5 flights.  And yes I actually walked to the plane looking like this.  

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And again, more food.  We usually accepted it, but then didn’t really eat it.  I think this is chicken.  Enjoyed my tomato juice though!

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I think we got some sleep on this flight.  Getting ready to land in Delhi.

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We’re in India!

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We had to collect our bags, which both showed up – even though Neal is wondering…

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Immigration / Customs was a breeze and the officials were very friendly, welcoming us to their country and seemed sincerely happy that we were there.  It was a nice welcome and helped to revive me a bit.  I found myself smiling.  The journey had been pretty long to this point, and we still had an 8 hour wait until our next flight to Chandigarh.  Knowing what we know now, we probably would have just found a taxi and made the 5 hour road trip.

Things at this point were a bit confusing…We were feeling so excited to actually be in this country, but we didn’t know where to go.  We had to figure out how to leave the international section and get to the domestic section.  The airport was pretty secure, with guards/police at all the entrances.  We were hoping to be able to check our bags right away, so we didn’t have to sit with all our stuff for 8 hours.  We inquired and were told we had to go to such and such counter.  That counter was through a door that was being guarded.  The only hard copy evidence of our upcoming flight was a printout of all of our flights, and it didn’t have our names on it.  Without proper documentation, we weren’t getting in.  Babu shigowa – no entry.  We were told to go to such and such counter and get a print out of our ticket.  We explained that we had already tried such and such, but they wouldn’t let us in.  Because we didn’t have the right printout.  We finally found a way in, waited in line and were then told we had to pay 10 rupees for the printout.  We didn’t have 10 rupees.  We had plenty of dollars, but no rupees.  And to go change our dollars required us to go beyond the doors that we weren’t allowed because we didn’t have the printout.  Get the picture?  It was all quite confusing.  And probably even more so since little sleep had been had in the previous 30 or so hours.  The counter lady had mercy on us and gave us the printout for no dollars or rupees.

Printout in hand, we headed to domestic flights to hopefully check in.  When we got to such and such counter, they looked at the printout and smiled at us like we were overly excited about our flight and explained that this flight wasn’t until much later in the day.  I think it was just after 8am.  We smiled back and said we knew that, but we just arrived and were hoping to check our bags.  Counter lady  explained that there was an 11am flight to Chandigarh (ours was at 5pm) and she was concerned that they would be put on that flight so wisely advised us to wait until after that flight left.  She also explained that we were only allowed 15 kilos each.  We had more than that— forgot that international and domestic baggage allowances are not the same.

Waiting until after 11 gave us time to shuffle some things around in our bags, and add some heavier stuff to our carry-ons.  So in the end we only ended up paying about $20 for our excess bags.  They were quite gracious about it.  Could have (should have) been much higher.

Finally freed of our bags we could now wander around the terminal.  We found the food court!  KFC, McDonalds etc.  But none of that for us.  And keep in mind that beef is not eaten – so don’t be expecting two all beef patties. (But I think it’s debatable that McDonalds in beef-eating countries can claim ‘all beef’ patties either) We went straight for the Indian food.  And it was quite tasty.  Chicken biriyani, samosas, daal and some really tasty sauces.  Hit the spot!

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Now to go and find a place to clean up and wait for our last flight.  It was a pretty big terminal, and surprisingly sparse.

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Pretty nice place to wait.  I dozed, Neal read.

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But first, we took turns in the bathroom.  In Niger, the bathrooms in nicer homes or hotels all have boudets (it’s a French word that I have no idea how to spell)…kind of a cross between and sink and a toilet.  I’ve never used them – because to be honest, I don’t really know how.  Well the toilets I’ve seen here so far all have a spray hose/drain.  Again, something I probably wouldn’t use under normal circumstances.  But we haven’t had a shower in awhile, and that sprayer complete with water (it worked, I checked), looked like it had great potential.  Armed with my baby wipes and a hand towel, I took a mini-shower in the bathroom.  Washed my feet in the toilet.  No – not IN the toilet.  I held  my feet over the toilet, soaped them up with my travel shampoo and sprayed them off.  Nothing like clean feet!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face (no, not in the toilet!) and emerged feeling semi-clean and ready to complete our journey.

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Our 8 hour wait was finally up and we boarded the plane for our less than 1 hour flight.  Here we are landing in Chandigarh, India.  I know I’m not supposed to take pictures at airports with security around etc, but I got this one on my phone while I was walking away from he plane.   Managed to actually get a picture of our plane.  Interesting that our journey started and ended with a plane this size.
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It felt so good to be on the ground.  Our bags came last, but they came!

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We were being picked up by our host, Pastor James Chacko, whom we had only met via email/Facebook.  He was standing right outside the airport and graciously welcomed us and made us feel right at home.  Which is how we felt when we made the drive from the airport to his home. Driving in India may have the reputation of being crazy, but it really did make us feel at home. If you’ve been to Niger, you know what I’m talking about.

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It was Friday evening and we arrived at Pastor James and Usha’s beautiful apartment and were shown our room and got settled.  We enjoyed some Chai tea and got to know each other, and then Usha cooked for us.  Yep.  More food.  But this was by the far the best we had eaten, and it was only the beginning!

I’ve been wanting to write about this journey since arriving back in Niger almost 2 weeks ago, but today is literally the first day the internet has been good enough to do so.  Blogging with bad internet is quite tedious, but I’m determined to record the details of this amazing journey we had the privilege of making.

For now, I need to go make some Chai.

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.

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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