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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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.

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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.

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 Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

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

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

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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

But where were we?

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

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

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

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

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

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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

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

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Sukala’s ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dad

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Mom

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

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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

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

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

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

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

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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

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

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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

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

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

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

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

Durban here we come!

We were finishing up Tobi’s haircut in Livingstone at the end of my last post.  We are now Durban bound.  Our final night in Livingstone involved swimming in the hotel pool (well, Tobi swam and we watched.  It was too cold for our desert blood), eating, and watching a movie.  All vacation type things.  We arranged our taxi to take us to the airport the following morning for our flight to Durban.

We had to include Durban into our trip because Tobi had heard us talk about it so much, and had seen the pictures of himself on the beach in a baby bed (he was TINY!).  We looked into staying at the same place we’d stayed when we were there in 2000 – The Oyster Box – but it had been ‘renovated’ and was over $300/night.  So we figured a simple visit to the hotel would be enough of a walk down memory lane.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…First, we boarded another plane.  Here we are walking to the plane.

IMG_0922Still walking…

IMG_0924 “Seriously Mom, do you have to take my picture on every flight?”

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Coming in for our first landing – we had a stop in Johannesburg before moving on to Durban.

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Even more developed than we remember 13 years ago!

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The thing that was really cool about this trip is that the Louts were meeting us in Durban as well.  The Louts consist of Scott & Sarah (Sarah is Neal’s sister), Luke, Grace and Claire.  Sarah was with us in 2000 when we visited Durban with Tobi so she remembers the Oyster Box too.  Scott works for World Vision and is currently the National Director for the country of Lesotho.  They graciously agreed to make the 6 hour drive to Durban with the family so we could hang out there for a few days.  We don’t get to do that very much – hang out.  So they took off Tuesday morning by road, and we by air.  They made all the lodging arrangements and while the family got settled in there, Scott picked us up at the airport.  It was great to be together and Neal and I got the long end of the stick regarding accommodation – Scott and Sarah hung with all the kids and Neal and I got our own room!

The first day dawned beautiful and sunny.  Grama was anxious for a picture of the kids together so we quickly took this one before heading to the beach.  Claire, Grace, Luke & Tobi.  Tobi is one year older than Luke but they have always been the same height.  And even though it’s out of both of their controls, their height has always been a point of competition.  Tobi has finally passed Luke.  Those are some good looking kids!

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Here’s the place we stayed – quite close to the water.

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We ate breakfast here one morning.

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It was quite lovely.

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Close enough to walk.

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So walk we did.

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The boys wasted no time getting in.

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C’mon Dad!

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I can tell you that the Indian Ocean is FREEZING this time of year!  And everyone was jumping around in it like they didn’t even notice.  And even though there are no pictures of me (I have an aversion to being photographed in a bathing suit), I really did get it.

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What follows are pictures of beach fun.  Lots of pictures…

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Claire bravely battling the waves.

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There’s Grace!

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Tobi!

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The men.

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Sans boogie boards.

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Check out Luke’s hand on Tobi’s face.

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Watching these guys walk with their boogie board/bathing suit rash was pretty comical.

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Contemplating.

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Still contemplating….

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Contemplating over.

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Serious about digging.

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Dads helping.

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Grace adding some artistic touches.

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Bobble head?

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One more wave.

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Scott – you can caption this yourself….but I must say you’re looking pretty proud of yourself!

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This is how beach chillin’ is done.  Complete with McDonalds umbrellas.

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We had 2 days to enjoy the beach, and we spent a day visiting our old stomping grounds.  Well, I guess stomping grounds is a bit exaggerated, but we were there 3 times in the year 2000, so that should count for something!

I’ve already mentioned the Oyster Box and how it upgraded to a fancy hotel.  No worries.  The thing we remembered about it was this lighthouse, and that was still there.  We had to go through security to enter the hotel, but we did that like we knew what was going on.  Then on we went on a self guided tour.  It was near this lighthouse that we played in the tide pools and found octopus.  Tobi was in a carry baby bed and we’re missing Trae and Tanika, but other than that it was just the same…

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I believe Uncle Scott is pointing out downtown Durban from the Oyster Box.

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We enjoyed a great make your own yogurt shop before continuing our tour.

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Next stop was a little amusement park near the ocean.  This looked pretty harmless (non dizzying).

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Off they go.

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What we didn’t consider was how high this thing really was.

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It was really high.  And these dudes are looking down – not with their eyes but with their bodies.  Neal and I were behind them and I was taking note of the loosely fitted bar that was holding us in.  Which is what was holding them in.

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I’m not easily afraid, but I must admit I felt quite nervous flopping around up there. And our kids flopping around up there. I would have preferred a nice tight harness or something of that sort.

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Happy to be on the way down.  Geez that’s high!

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Seriously, can you just hold still?!

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Next stop was to a really cool, really huge mall.  It holds some claim to fame like the biggest mall in the Southern Hemisphere — not exactly sure.  But it was impressive.  Here’s Claire being part of the OZ family.

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And Tobi.

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Luke should have been part of the cast!

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As I said, this mall was impressive.  We saw The Croods, rode a virtual roller coaster and just had a fun time.  As you can see, the family is pretty cool.

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We intended to play more games in the evenings, but we were so tired everyone crashed.  Well, I think everyone.  Now that I’m thinking about it, the kids were with Scott and Sarah…

We had a great few days in Durban reminiscing and  creating new memories.  The next leg of our journey would take us to the Lout’s home in Lesotho.  I hope to write about that soon.

Victoria Falls — Up high and down low.

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

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

Check  out this luxury liner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out this tree!

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

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

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

IMG_2029Our helicopter is on the way!

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

Here’s our chopper!

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

IMG_2047This was a first.

IMG_2050For all of us.

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

IMG_2054Getting closer…

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

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

IMG_2065Rainbows!

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

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IMG_2072All is still well!

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

IMG_2081I guess we could consider this a field trip.

IMG_2083Leaving the area.

IMG_2086There’s that bridge again.

IMG_2093Landing.

IMG_2097Back on the ground.

IMG_2111We decompressed while Tobi tried his hand at this xylophone.

IMG_2115Cool silhouette.  Thundering ‘smoke’ in the background.

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

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

IMG_2122Beautiful, I know.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0894So cool!

IMG_2133We made it to the other side

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Soaking wet but so in awe.

IMG_2138What a cutie…

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

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

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

IMG_2147It’s a huge statue.

IMG_2150Neal is also a missionary / explorer.

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

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

IMG_2158More eye level view of the smoke.

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

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

IMG_2168We didn’t want to.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2217Down we go.

IMG_2218Now we’re looking up at the monkeys.

IMG_2219There’s the bridge again!

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

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

IMG_2228Wow.  Just wow.

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

IMG_2232We walked through this!

IMG_2238See?

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IMG_2245I really was there.

IMG_2250Crossing a stream close to the bottom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2282There it is a bit closer.

IMG_2283That’s the jungle we just walked out of.

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

IMG_2292Another angle.

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

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

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They quit on me.  Literally laid down and quit.

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They could have been monkey lunch.

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

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

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

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

IMG_2319We enjoyed some live music – helped keep us awake.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our hotel room.

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

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Lusaka, Zambia, here we come!

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

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

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

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

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Things are a bit greener here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The mall.

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It really is a mall!

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

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Appliance store.

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Escalators!

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Are we really in Africa?

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

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

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Pastor Walker invited us to greet the congregation.

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

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

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

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

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Even Brandt gave Tobi some pointers.

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Is the helmet really necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

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Then there was a really yummy cake.

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Our youngest is officially a teenager!

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

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

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

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We’re proud of our 13 year old.

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

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

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

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

Here’s Neal teaching his class.

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

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

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

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I like to teach with lots of object lessons…

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

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

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

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Walker giving the vision of the Alumni program.

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First Neal spoke.

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Then me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neal preached…

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

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

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This little guy dressed for the occasion!

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Tobi and I got to help hand out the boxes.

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

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Pastor Julius and his family.

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

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

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Then the boys would get home and rescue Tobi.

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Movie time our last night there.

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

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Had fun at the Schurz home – volleyball!

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Ping pong!

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Serious ping pong!

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I’ll let you guess who won.

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But lots of games were played.

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

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

Dishing up dinner.

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Walker and Neal enjoying dinner.

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

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

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

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

Exploring Addis Ababa Part 2

Well.  We have enjoyed our rooms and lovely breakfast served with tea each morning.  The only thing lacking is a more comfortable bed.  Over the last 15 years we have traveled to the US about every 2 years for about 3 months.  While there, we move around quite a bit, usually not staying in one place for more than 2 nights, and often just 1.  It used to be no big deal — the sleeping in a different bed on a different pillow every other night thing.  It’s become more of a big deal now.  Wonder why that could be…?  ANYWAY – the fact is that these days it takes more than 1 night to get used to a new bed.  In other words, we don’t really get used to any beds when we travel.  Our bed at ‘Z’ was the only downside to its many ‘ups’.  First of all, it was a double.  We don’t both fit very well into a double.  It’s doable, but difficult.  Then this particular bed sort of sloped on both sides, making it seem even smaller.  Add to that it was quite hard.  Quite.  On the 3rd night, Neal gave me the bed and he moved to the couch in Tobi’s room.  He slept much better which was great given his sacrifice.  I however was awake most of the night – but I don’t think it was because of the bed.  More on that later in this post…

We had planned our day the night before.  Visit some cathedrals, go to  Entoto Hills (overlooks the city), and end at Little Italy.  In the evening Neal’s high school friend, Steve Olson,  invited us to come for dinner.  We were ready to start our day!

Since it was going to be a pretty full day, a taxi was in order.  Todd arranged one for us and taximan was on time.

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First stop was St. George’s Cathedral.  You can see it in the distance.

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The cathedral was built in 1896 by Italian prisoners of war.

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We were dropped off at the bottom of the hill and we walked up.  There were people everywhere.  Not crowds of people, but just people everywhere.  We assumed the cathedral was catholic, but we were wrong.  It’s Orthodox – the main religion in Ethiopia.  There was a very reverent feel as we walked around outside. People of all classes were there from beggars to business men in 3-piece suits.  They would walk up to any part of the cathedral and kiss it and bow down to it.  It was fascinating.

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While we wandered around a man approached us (we were a little conspicuous) and asked if we’d like to see inside.  It wasn’t a mass time, so all the doors were locked.  We of course said we would, and hoped that he had the authority to take us inside.  He explained that we should first purchase tickets for the museum, and the inside tour would be included in that.  There was a small museum on the cathedral’s grounds.  We went and purchased our tickets and our guide, who was now dressed in a white robe, returned to take us into the building.  He explained that we should first remove our shoes and meet him at the door.  He had to go around to open and enter.  In the next picture Tobi is taking off his shoes while worshipers kiss the door.  The door you see is the door we went in.  Fortunately we were allowed to keep our shoes inside.  It felt awkward though asking the kissing people to move so we could go inside their cathedral.

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Once inside, our mild-mannered guide was suddenly in character.  Here, he is demonstrating ‘slow’ worship.

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Next he modeled ‘fast worship’ where he danced around, sang (chanted) while he played the drum.  He even asked us to clap.

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The cathedral is an octagon so we walked the perimeter of it while he gave us the history.  It was quite interesting and he was well versed.  Sadly, I can’t remember a whole lot of what he told us.  I should have taken notes.  In writing this post I did search a few things, but I’ve decided if anyone is interested they can search for themselves.  I am so behind in my writing so I’m going to be as quick as I can.  That means resisting the urge to research.

The center – where only the priests are allowed to go – was the holy of holies, modeled after the Holy of Holies in the jewish temple which was home of the Ark of the Covenant.  (The Ethiopians claim to have the Ark of the Covenant, but no one is allowed to see it).   During mass, the masses of people are allowed inside – but only around the perimeter.  We felt fortunate to be getting our own personal tour.

What I do remember is something I’d not heard before.  In the Book of Kings, the Bible tells us that the Queen of Sheba (from Ethiopia) heard of King Solomon’s wealth and had to come and see it for herself.  She was awed by it and blessed Solomon’s God.  King Solomon then gave her everything she desired and asked for.  I knew that part.  What I had never heard was the ‘rest of the story’ according to Ethiopian Legend.  Apparently he seduced her and after she returned home she gave birth to Menelik I who became Ethiopia’s 1st Emperor.  So the story goes.  I have no idea if it’s true because the Bible isn’t clear on that, but knowing what we know about Solomon, it wouldn’t surprise me…

The artwork inside was pretty impressive.  Our guide also wore the photographer hat for us.

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I felt awkward taking pictures outside, but I was fascinated by the variety of people that were there.

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We finished inside and our guide escorted us over to the museum where it seemed again we would be getting a private tour.

This guy greeted us in front of the museum.  I can’t remember his name.  But I know he was significant.

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It was a maze as we walked through, and it displayed a throne, stained glass art and items and clothing of the Emperors of Ethiopia.  Unfortunately we  weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.

At the top of the museum was a working bell.  Eleven tons of brass.  It was impressive and we were invited to climb to the top.  Which we did.

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It wasn’t an easy climb.  Mostly because it was narrow and had no guard rails.  A bit intimidating.

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This is one serious bell and I was glad it didn’t bong while we were up there!

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This is just a replica.

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Needing to find some ‘facilities’ before our next event, we decided to ask our multi-talented guide.  He said that yes they had what we were looking for but he wasn’t sure if they were up to our standards.  I felt like saying, “You jest.  Do you have any idea where I live – and what type of ‘toilets’ I’ve experienced?”  But I held my tongue and assured him that whatever they had would be just fine.  And they really were.  Real toilets with water in them.  When we were done, he even turned the water on so we could wash our hands.

Next up was to find a taxi and negotiate a price to Entoto Hills.  All we knew was that this place was high and overlooked the city and that there was another cathedral up there.  I remember when we were talking with different taxi drivers I overheard one comment that he wasn’t going to ruin his taxi going up there.  I didn’t know what he meant until we were on the way.  We did find a taximan that agreed to take us and wait for us while we looked around, and then bring us back.

The road was steep.  And rough.  Our taximan didn’t really speak English.  He just kept saying ‘yes’ to everything we said.

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Some scenery IMG_1736along the way.  Not sure what it is, but it says, “Jesus is Lord.”

It was no surprise to us when the taxi overheated.  Now I understood the other taxi drivers comment about ruining his car.   This was a seriously rough road and it was all uphill.  It was clear though, that this wasn’t a first occurrence.  He was equipped with a bottle of water and the skill to continue to reuse the same water to cool his engine down.  It only delayed us about 15 minutes.

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We finally reached the top.  This is Addis Ababa but it’s hard to see because of the smog.  Sad, I know.  IMG_1747

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Again, we were approached by a man who inquired if we wanted a tour.  This was becoming familiar…  We weren’t invited inside the cathedral, but we were given a tour of Emperor Menelik’s ‘Palace’.  I don’t know if he was Solomon’s son, but I do know that this was some ancient history!

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This is inside his house.

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This is what I call the ‘pantry’, where the fresh meat was hung.

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There were priests and nuns currently living here.  But the nuns have to beg to live.  Didn’t sound right to me….

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There were also beggars around the cathedral.

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And people worshiping.

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A statue or picture of Mary is behind the curtain.

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Lots of people sitting around.

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There was another museum here as well.  No pics allowed.  It was small and mostly contained clothing of Emperors and their wives.  Though fancy and all, made me thankful that I’m living in this century.

We finished with this tour.

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And were ready to make our way down the mountain to find some food!  This was the entrance/exit.

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For some reason our taximan took us a way that seemed much easier — even though it involved incline/decline, it didn’t involve a rocky dirt road.  Maybe he just wanted to show us what his little taxi could do.

On our way down we saw something that to me was heartbreaking.  I know it’s part of the culture there, but it still made me sad.  Which is interesting since I live in a nation that has again recently been determined to be the poorest nation on earth (Niger).  So I see heartbreaking things there every day.  However I realize that because I see them so much I can get immuned to them to a degree.  That ‘commonness’ doesn’t make them any less heartbreaking.  Just normal.  Sadly.  It was kind of a wake-up call or reminder.

So on our way down the mountain we passed many women loaded down with what I learned to be loads of eucalyptus wood on their shoulders.  They were carrying these loads on their shoulders all the way down the mountain.  I can only imagine how heavy they were.

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I could only get pictures from behind because they were going down the mountain, the same direction as us.  But they weren’t young people, that I can tell you.

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Niger isn’t the only place that has lots of donkeys.  What I wonder though is why these old woman have to carry those loads of wood when there are donkeys that can do it.

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Lots of donkeys.

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I wish pictures could capture the full beauty.

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We made it down the mountain and asked our taximan to take us to the ‘Italian District’ for lunch.  He dropped us off here.

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Can’t get enough Italian (pizza), but we also wanted to have some real Ethiopian food as well.  Probably the most well known Ethiopian food (my opinion) is injera – a sponge like bread.  It’s made with teff flour (no idea what that is) and has to have a starter that takes 5 days to make.  But once you have that, apparently it’s a cinch.  And I’m pretty sure the locals eat it every day.  From what I can tell, injera is really an edible utensil of sorts – to carry whatever other food you are eating.  So we ordered our faithful pizza, some italian pasta and a traditional ethiopian meal and shared.  You can see the injera rolled up on Neal’s plate.  That’s how it’s served – in rolls.

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It was all good, but wouldn’t compare to the meal we had that night.

We made our way ‘home’ for a brief rest before venturing out to another part of the city to meet Steve at his workplace.  The traffic wasn’t as bed as anticipated so our taxi dropped us off earlier than anticipated.  That gave us some time to people watch.  Well, maybe people were watching us.  This is where Tobi would have been pick-pocketed if he would have anything in his pockets to pick.  (Say that 3 times, fast).  A sneaky looking older boy got very close to us when we were getting out of the taxi.  I turned around and saw him by Tobi trying to be sneaky and man did I react – I started chasing him away.  He only went a short distance and turned him around.  I just stared him down.  I was surprised by my response. Anyway….

Steve arrived.  He was in Neal’s high school class in Jos, Nigeria and has done many exiting things and lived in different places.  It was fun to hear his stories.  Seven years ago (I think), he married his beautiful ethiopian wife who’s name was as beautiful as her but hard to pronounce.  The English version is Jerusalem.  Though it’s something they normally do on Sundays, they planned a coffee ceremony for us.  What an honor!  It starts with roasting fresh beans over a fire.  Did you know fresh coffee beans are green?  My, being the coffee connoisseur that I’m not, didn’t know that.

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Here everything is set up for the traditional coffee ceremony.

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The beans are getting darker.

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They’re done.  Next step is to grind them.  And that won’t be done by your run of the mill electric coffee bean grinder…

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They are pounded by hand….

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With mortar and pestle.

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Outside.

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Now that’s fresh-roasted coffee!

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In the meantime, we looked at wedding photos while Jerusalem worked on dinner.  She didn’t want me to help – said her kitchen was too small for more people.  I think she was just being gracious.  They have 4 children ages 6 and down. All sweet and social.  Tobi drew pictures together with the 3 older ones.

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He enjoyed the kids and they enjoyed him.

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Meanwhile, our coffee is being served.

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You may remember in a previous post that I described in a fair amount of detail my dislike for coffee and my love of tea.  So here I am, being honored at a real Ethiopian coffee ceremony and I have no intention of not drinking what’s offered to me.  However, neither do I have an expectation of enjoying it.  And this is some SERIOUS coffee.  It’s not the picture that’s making it look that dark.  It is that dark.

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Hey Mikey!  She likes it!  And I’m not kidding.  I am more shocked than anyone. I don’t know if it was the ceremonial part of it or what, but I amazed myself.  I wanted more!

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Neal liked it too.  Despite the momentary look of concern on his face.

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That was just the first round.  I suspect it has an official name.  But the same grounds are used again, and maybe again.  All I know is that I had 3 cups of this black liquid.  Infused with sugar of course.

With me still amazed at my new love, dinner was served.  This too was the real thing.  Injera.  Here Steve is passing it to Neal.  You roll it out on your plate and add whatever else is being served with it.  Notice the lack of utensils.

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In this case that was lentils, beets, green beans with tuna, spinach and eggs.   You pull off a piece of injera and fill it with what you want to eat and pop the whole thing in your mouth.

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The kiddos had their own table.  Tobi loved this stuff!

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What a wonderful time we had with a wonderful family.
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The Chef Extrordinaire

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By the way, this family runs a tourism business – setting up all kinds of tours in Ethiopia (and believe me, there’s a lot to see – all over the country)  If you’re in need of his services, contact: EthioGuzo Tour and Travel plc.

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What a special ending to a wonderful day.  Steve graciously drove us back to Z where we were faced with packing our suitcases for the next part of our journey.   The taxi would be picking us up at 6:30am to get us to the airport.   One of my very least favorite things to do is pack.  Funny, I know, since I do it so much.  You think I’d be better at it.  But I’m not.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned I didn’t think the bed was the reason I didn’t sleep all night?  My last ‘shot’ of coffee was somewhere around 7 or 8pm.  And that coffee was introduced to a system not at all used to it’s effects.  So sleep?  Wasn’t gonna happen.

Next up – Lusaka,  Zambia!

Exploring Addis Ababa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We walked and walked and walked.

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And we came across Niger street.  Pretty fun!

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

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

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Nope, it really was slanted.

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

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

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

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

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

This was leading up to the entrance.

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

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

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

As you can see, we are thoroughly enjoying it.

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

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

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

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Pretty nifty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, Day 2.

Journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 4, 2013

We got back from our amazing trip to Nigeria and I was thankful that we had 1 full week to prepare for the next journey.  We will be gone from Niger until July 21.

Our next destination was Lusaka, Zambia.   But to get anywhere from West Africa (Niger specifically) is no easy assignment.  Unless you happen to own your own flying machine – which we don’t.  But rather than despair over the itinerary, we decided to take advantage of it.  We entered the plane – Asky Airlines in Niamey, Niger.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the aircraft we were boarding.  It was much nicer than I expected.  And contrary to its reputation, it was on time.

Grama and Grampa (Neal’s parents) took us to the airport at 6am for our 8:30am flight.  They were armed with bacon and egg muffins and bagels which were very appreciated and hit the spot while we were waiting for boarding.

Here we’re on the bus at the Niamey airport being shuttled to the plane – which is about 20 yards from where we had been waiting.  No joke.

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I didn’t know if they would be annoyed with me and my camera, so I attempted to snap this picture secretly as I got to the top of the stairs before entering the plane.  No small feat as I was carrying a carry-on, computer bag and purse.

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The first flight was 45 minutes and was from Niamey, Niger to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  Here in Ouaga we’re waiting to board our Ethiopian Air flight to Addis Ababa.

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Here’s some snaps of us on the plane….  This one is a bit scary (of me), but shows how we were sitting.

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My guys…

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Tobi has learned to slumber anywhere.  Notice the African man next to him with the blanket on his head.  Chilly!

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Fly the friendly skies…

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But you may not want to eat their food…Actually, I usually find airline food to be quite edible.  This time, not so much.

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It was dark in Addis Ababa when we landed – but this is the outside of the airport.

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All our our flights were on time and the guest house pick up was waiting for us.  We booked a guest house online – based only on reviews.  In addition to its price being less expensive than hotels I checked, a big selling point was that it not only offered breakfast, but free airport pickup as well.  The man who picked us up was the owner of the guest house.  Z Guest House to be specific.   I’d call it more of a B&B though.   Our host was obviously awed by the amount of luggage we had.  We only had 1 suitcase each, but they were at their max weight.  And what he didn’t know was that this was our ‘stuff’ for the next 5 months.  So I say that 50 pounds each is pretty good!  Fortunately he came prepared and had some ropes to tie a couple suitcases to the top of his little car.

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Enjoying our first meal in Addis Ababa.

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The observant observer would recognize that we are wearing the same clothes we wore when boarding the plane in Niamey…and all through the journey.   It was close to 9pm when we arrived at the guest house.  We were hungry and asked our host about restaurants in walking distance.  He gave us directions and quickly sent us on our way in hopes that they would still be open.  Thus no wardrobe change.  Oh – and we asked if we needed to change money or if they would accept U.S. dollars. He responded by handing us about $40 worth of Birr, the local currency.  We’re already recommending this as a great place to stay!

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We began a quick jaunt at a quick pace (walking with Neal is always done at a quick pace) down streets that were unfamiliar.  After several minutes of walking in the dark it was hard to miss the car coming up and slowing down right behind us.  None of us are alarmists, but it was a bit unnerving.  When the vehicle stopped just as we were getting out of the way, we recognized our host.  Wonder what he wanted?  He quickly explained that after we left he began worrying that maybe the recommended restaurant was closed so decided to come after us and drive us there himself, or to another place if in fact it was closed.  What a host!  Again, we highly recommend the Z Guest House and we haven’t stayed there a night yet.  Turns out the restaurant was in fact closed.  Todd (our host had a difficult name and told us to call him Todd for short)  drove us to a street that had quite a few eating establishments and though further, was still in walking distance.  Especially for we who had been on a plane traveling since 6am.

Tobi ordered beef stir fry, and though it looked or tasted nothing like what we expected stir fry to taste like, it was wonderful.  He shared.  Neal and I got pizza and it was equally wonderful and cheesy (we’re a bit cheese deprived, given the price of cheese in Niger).  We shared too…  It was quite a fun cafe type place and they were happy that we were so pleased with our food.  I might add though, that when it comes to food, we are quite easy to please!  We enjoyed a very cool walk ‘home’ – I’m guessing about at least 2 kilometers.  Fortunate, given the pizza…Sleep tonight would be sweet!

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This is a picture of the guest house taken from Todd’s house. Our room is the bottom right – where Neal is walking out.

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And this is Todd’s house taken from our room.  He and his wife are retired (except for running the guest house) and live here with their children who help them operate the business.  The place is small, but the landscaping beautiful.

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This is the living room / Tobi’s bedroom.  I LOVED the big windows and all the sunlight.  This might be a good time to mention the weather was incredible!!  The nights were sweatshirt chilly which was quite a novelty for us.  And those windows.  They are open, allowing in some wonderfully fresh cool air – no screens required!

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This was our room.  There is a feeling I love, that brings back memories of my Minnesota childhood.  In the Spring, when it began to thaw, I used to love to sit by any window that had the sun streaming through and let it warm my skin.  That’s what this felt like.  It was wonderful.  In Niger, one does all one can to prevent the sun from streaming into the house.  By all means.  So this was a nice change.

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The bathroom though cozy, was sufficient.  There was also a fridge which we used, and a small stove which we did not.  (Too many eating places to experience!)

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Thus began our 5 month journey.

Next up:  Exploring Addis Ababa!