So here I am again. It’s like visiting an old friend. My blog. It’s interesting that considering all of the experiences I’ve had since I last wrote (March), that I would choose to write again on the same topic as my most recent post (which isn’t recent at all). It was a letter to myself, to get my rear in gear and be committed to my workouts. Which I did. For a month. In spite of hot season, I did my jog/walks (wogs) consistently. In fact my record temp for running was 108. No – not MY temp, the air outside! And that was just stupid. But that’s how committed I was.
What happend between then and now? Well, quite a few things….
We have a well-drilling project underway, and beginning in March, we had 9 people in varying combinations, from various nations coming and going over a 3-4 week period. All of these people stayed in our home.
Above team, together with us and the local team we were training, went to the village where we were attempting to drill a well (a 2 hour drive, 1way) multiple times. Well, daily.
It was 115 degrees, daily.
Pipe stems got stock 180 feet underground. (They’re still stuck, but we expect to free them soon!)
A part on the drilling rig broke.
Tried to fix the part over and over again – to no avail. A new part is needed from China. (That part was delivered this week!)
I discovered I had gallstones.
I had Malaria while I had gallstones.
Went to Paris with Neal and had my gallbladder removed. Yep, Paris.
Returned to Niger and hosted another team.
Traveled to the US for 2 months, logging 18 flights and changing locations 21 times.
Got to see our 2 incredible grandkids 2 different times.
Had an amazing time with family and friends all over the US.
Spoke 14 times in various churches/groups.
Returned to Niger – Thank God for rainy season!!
So, in my defense, it’s been somewhat busy. And although I missed working out for 8 weeks (and I did miss it), I am happy to say that I kicked it back into gear 1 day after arriving into the US. It was rough, but it was 5 weeks post surgery so I was trying to give myself a break. Or at least an excuse!
Running the US is so lovely. Well, the running isn’t at all lovely. But the fact that I can wear anything I want and no matter where I am I can step out the door and run at any time of the day I choose. Because nowhere was it about 108 degrees, and I knew that was my threshold!
I got to run in some pretty cool places all over our great nation.
Here’s one of them. I got to run right along that beautiful ocean – and the temp was about 68. I barely broke a sweat!
From the East Coast, to the South to the West Coast to the North. I ran by rivers, lakes, and mountains, through forests and in commercial areas and neighborhoods. What’s not to love? Well, the actual running part, but I can overlook that.
I just checked my journal and I am happy to say that I wogged 38 of the 62 days we were in the U.S. I’m ok with that. I would have preferred it be more, but I’m not complaining. I averaged 3 miles each time.
Now, I’m back in Niger. And between preparing to travel, actual travel and jet lag (which apparently I’m still dealing with because it’s 3:14AM while I’m writing this), I missed 8 days in a row.
But I got back out there this past Monday – back to my old stomping grounds. And you know, I quite enjoyed it. While slogging (that’s a slow jog) up the hill, memories came back of the last time I was running there. I was sick and it was sickeningly hot. But rainy season is now here, and since I went at 6:45AM (I am NOT a morning person, but Tobi’s school schedule is what got me out at that time) it was not hot. It was really, really humid. But it was not hot. It was somewhere in the 70’s. And that’s a far cry from 108. And that 8 day break did me good because the 12 laps around the ¼ mile loop that is ½ hill was much easier than I expected it to be. That, too, was lovely.
No matter that the rains are washing away the road. Look at all that green!
And besides, this is home.
In my defense, I have tried a few times to write but the dog ate it. Ok. Obviously that excuse won’t fly. Unless the dog ate my computer. But I don’t have a dog. What I do have though, is poor, poor internet. And honest to goodness the 2 times I tried to write, I couldn’t even get the cursor off the Title line. And it was NOT a user error.
But it’s obviously working right now. So, where was I? Oh yes. Mr. Taximan and myself were pointing fingers – at each other.
One more look at the scene of the crime…
Keep in mind that this is a ‘circle’ and traffic comes and goes from 5 different directions and I’m quite sure vehicles were dropping in from above as well. There was much more activity going on than this picture lets on. Excuses, excuses. ANYway, after the ‘crunch’, I stay in my 4Runner while Mr. Taximan (henceforth known as ‘Mr. TM) stops, gets out, and walks to me. We just kind of stare at each other. Also keep in mind – I’m in a foreign country. And even though I’ve been here for 16+ years, in this situation, I’m definitely a foreigner-as will later become clear. Oh, and Mr. TM and I are trying to communicate in 3 different languages. That’s a dead giveaway to the foreignness of things.
While trying to blame him, I grab my phone and call Neal. Mr.TM grabs his phone and calls….well, I’m not sure who he calls. I am sure he doesn’t have a Neal. All while this exchange is going on, traffic is moving on around us – coming from every which way. There was even another tiny fender bender next to my vehicle while we were sitting there. Those people were smart and just kept going. Also, all the while, there was some traffic police standing at one of the ‘V’s in the circle. Mr. TM went to talk to them. They were not the police that deal with accidents, and according to them, they didn’t see anything anyway. They were kind enough to call the police that deal with accidents.
Neal showed up within 10 minutes of my call. He was on his way to teach at the Bible School and willingly detoured to come to my aid. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want to have around in this type of situation. Well, he’s quite nice to have around in lots of situations. He began talking with MR. TM using Hausa, and Mr. TM was responding in French. He finally got that we don’t speak French, so attempted to use Hausa as well (neither of our first languages).
After waiting about 15 minutes, the accident police come and start asking questions. They first ask me if I’ve been hurt (again in French but my Hausa response gets us on the same page – at least as far as language is concerned). I said no, that I was fine and thanks for asking. Then they stood with what I would call both suspicious and questioning looks on their faces. They extracted a tape measure from somewhere and measured the distance from my vehicle to Mr. TM’s. Which I thought was funny, since he did a U-turn around me and drover several yards before stopping. They didn’t bother with the skid marks on the right of my vehicle where the impact happened. Then they drew a picture (crudely) of where we were in the intersection and wrote their measurements down. After this, they directed us to move the vehicles out of the middle of the circle, which I was happy about, but which I’m quite sure didn’t make much of a difference to the traffic patterns. While we waited for 1 of the policemen to fill out the report – having taken all our car papers and drivers license – I chatted with the other policeman. We had quite an interesting conversation about how crazy the taxi drivers were and how they had no regard for anyone on the road but themselves. He was in full agreement.
The next step was to go to the police ‘station’, for lack of a better term. These two policemen would take our papers there, and it was there we would have to go to collect them and finish the process. Neal needed to get to class but didn’t want me to go alone, so he called Pastor Zabeyrou to come and go with me. I bid Neal goodbye and waited for Pastor Z. He arrived on his motorcycle pretty quickly, and I got in the vehicle to follow him. The actual distance from Point A to point B was probably about 4 miles. But it took us at least 20 minutes (you know, the traffic and all). As minor as the accident was, I felt a little shaky as I drove. That was kind of weird.
I hadn’t been to this police station before so didn’t know what to expect. Trying to park was interesting because there is what appears to be a perfectly roped off area right outside the wall of the station that looks like its for parking. Which I did. AFTER I locked the vehicle and got out, a police lady at the gate informed me that this was not for parking and I’d have to park on the OTHER side of the rope. She of course couldn’t have said that while she watched me park. But I could tell she was enjoying her job too much when I observed someone stepping over the rope to enter the police compound and she literally made them come back, step back over the rope, and go around. Pastor Z. and I entered (properly) and I was shocked to find inside literally hundreds of motorcycles piled up on top of each other. Hundreds! I was told these bikes were seized for one reason or another, and not reclaimed. Then I saw the same type of pile made out of bicycles. Mr. TM was there and kindly showed us where to go. We entered a building towards the back of the compound. There were several offices off to the right and left of a narrow hallway. ‘Our’ office was in the back on the left. I use the term ‘office’ loosely. We entered a crowded room, me being the only female (and foreigner for that matter). Desks surrounded the perimeter of the room, except for the metal bench that was to our immediate right on entering. That bench was full of people, as well as were the chairs that were scattered in the remaining space in the center of the room. We stood for a bit, until one of the policeman asked us to sit down. All the desks were occupied by policemen who appeared to be working quite diligently. The only seat available would be made if everyone sitting on the already full metal bench, well, squished. And squish they did. And sit down I did. Sort of. Pastor Z. and I chatted about everything and nothing while waiting to get my car papers back. I discovered the room was full of people who had all had accidents…that morning!
After about 30 minutes or so, we decided to inquire on the status of my papers. The policeman was nice enough and looked through the stack he had. Nope. Not there. So he went the extra mile and called the police from the scene. He was speaking Hausa so I could understand when he told the man to bring my papers – that we were waiting. I was actually a bit surprised. Some more time passed and I finally saw the officer from the scene enter the small, crammed room. He passed off the papers then immediately left with no conversation and the man at corner desk began working on them. More time passed and he finally indicated for me to come forward. Pastor Z and I did and he explained that I would now have to go to the insurance and show them the accident report and get their stamp. I would then return to the police station where they would return to me my car papers, but would keep my drivers license. Hold the phone. Keep my license?
“Why”? I inquire.
And this pleasant man who I had been chatting with looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Well, because it’s your fault”.
Now take note. This man was basing this on a piece of paper he received with no other communication. On this paper was a pencil ‘drawing’ of the intersection and the two vehicles. Not sure what else, since it was in French. But Mr. Pleasant was the one to make the judgment about who was at fault based on this piece of paper. I know. Didn’t make sense to me either.
I said, “You’re saying it’s my fault because I’m an American”. All he did is smile at me.
By this time, Neal was on his way back from his class, and Pastor Z. had other things he needed to do. I made my way back through town and met Neal at our insurance office. Noon traffic was horrendous. I finally made it. It was 12:35. We walked in to the large room and everyone was sitting behind their counters but didn’t look like they were interested in helping us. We were finally told that they closed at 12:30 and would re-open at 2:30. WHAAAAT???? We were not happy campers. Going home would be downright foolish. Even though the distance was probably about 6 miles, it could easily take an hour to get there. It had just taken us 15 minutes to drive 200 yards. We hadn’t had lunch and we had a 2 hour wait. But we didn’t want to drive. So in spite of the fact that it was close to 100 degrees, we decided to walk rather then drive to a place to have lunch. We passed our time staring at each other and discussing how ridiculous it was that Mr. Pleasant said he would take my license. We made it back to the insurance office by 2:30. Two-thirty is really just a suggested time for re-opening. But re-open they did. Finally.
Now insurance around here is a waste, but very important to have. What I mean is if you don’t have it, you go to jail. Having it provides nothing, even in case of an accident.
The insurance people proceeded to fill out their report, based on the report we gave them from the police. This took some time. They asked me what happened and I explained it to them. And told them it was not my fault. Then I told them the police were threatening to take away my license. I didn’t know why. What I did know, is that if they really did get my license, the process of getting it back would be long and hard. And maybe expensive. But even the not-so-concerned-about-customer-service insurance people thought that sounded odd.
Having obtained the coveted stamp on the police report, it was time to take it back to them and collect our car papers. Driving without them can be risky if/when you are stopped. We were in 2 vehicles and it would be downright idiotic to intentionally drive 2 vehicles across town. So we stashed one (at a restaurant) and I jumped in with Neal, happy to NOT be driving.
Armed with knowledge this time I could accurately direct Neal where to park and instruct him not to step over the rope but to go around it. Then I got to see his awe over all the stacked up moto’s. Wisely, Neal knew it would be better to have a national with us – so as not to look like dumb Americans. We call Habibu, our primary school director and he comes to our aid right away. The 3 of us walk back in to the office I’m feeling pretty familiar with now, determined to walk out with my license in hand. Mr. Pleasant was there, and his face brightened when he saw me walk in. (‘Time for my pay-off’ I suspect he was thinking). I handed him the stamped report and he said, “And your license”.
“No. I’m not giving you my license.”
“You have to turn in your license until the case is judged.”
As I’m getting more and more agitated my husband steps up and says, “Well where is the taximan’s license then?” Habibu is also standing there.
“We only need your license because you were the one at fault”.
My husband: “OH, then that means you HAVE already judged the case.”
Me: “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh. Etc.”
What followed is Neal and Habibu arguing (almost good-naturedly) with the man, while I grabbed my phone and said (In English), “I’m calling the embassy.”
I had recently been to the embassy and talked with the security officer. He gave quite a positive report and explained how they are in close contact with police – specific to security issues. He also explained that the head hancho was not a friend of bribes and wanted to know of any issues that may come up. I put the embassy guy’s number in my phone.
I was serious about calling the Embassy, as I was totally frazzled from the day’s events and wanted to be done. Neal told me to put my phone down and Mr. Pleasant pleasantly laughed and said: “In America you have your laws and do things a certain way. In Niger, we do things a certain way. But what you don’t understand is that we’re just playing. You can keep your license.” Then he proceeded to find a staple remover and carefully remove all my car papers from his report. He handed them over and he and Neal continued chatting – saying how next time they met each other it wouldn’t be because of an accident. I mumbled and murmured things I probably don’t want to remember as we extricated ourselves from the police station.
We made our way home – yes through much traffic, arriving sometime after 4. I left the house at 7. It’s not at all how I planned my day. I was frustrated and felt totally worn out. Dealing with what feels so unjust, in a foreign language, in extreme heat and awful traffic left me frazzled.
After all that, can you believe that I’ve yet to get to the part about the lessons learned? But again, I’ve gone on much too long. Not really. This is my blog and the place where I can be as wordy and detailed as I like.
That Thursday morning I didn’t do my Bible reading or have my tea. I’m following a read the Bible in a year plan. After arriving home I decided that would be a good time to not be around anyone (for their sake) and do the reading.
I was looking to find some comfort in the day’s scheduled reading, and find it I did. For a second. But then I read on…
It’s shameful. I’m shameless. I call myself a blogger and my last post was May 13, 2014. Wait. I don’t call myself a blogger…never have. But my last post really was over 4 months ago. Long enough for us to travel from Niger to the US, travel a zillion miles in the US, travel to S. Korea to visit a very special family member, travel back to Niger, host a team from the US in Niger and conduct 2 children’s camps. Long enough for me to forget how to login to WordPress and forget my password. And long enough that one of my offspring was actually begging me to write in my blog.
So. Here I am. Other than lack of time, I have no other excuse. And the time (or lack thereof) excuse doesn’t really fly either. Oh maybe it did at first, but then I just got in the habit of blogging in my head and never transferring it to the screen. Head blogging is so much faster/easier and can be done without any electronic devices. Imagine anything being done these days without any electronics. But I’m quite sure the that even as technologically advanced as we are, there is no way that the next generation will be able to extract the blogs from my head once I’ve moved on. And that’s really my goal in writing. To record my history. In my words. Rambling and all.
So, I could pick from quite a large number of things to write about, since life really has been quite full since May 13th. (Who am I kidding? Life is always full!) But I need to ease back into this slowly, so will only pick one thing to write about. Because I know that I’m really adept at jumping from one subject to another (aka rambling).
Just over 2 weeks ago, I was leaving Sahel Academy where Tobi is an 8th grader. The school is about 7 miles from our house. A reasonable commute most would suppose. Unless you lived here in Niamey – then you would suppose differently. But look at that – I’m already getting off my topic and I haven’t even stated it yet.
I left my house at 7am to head to school for the Mom’s in Touch (MIT) prayer time. It’s there mom’s gather to pray for the school/students/families and other needs every Thursday morning. After an effective prayer time I was on my way to visit my mom-in-law (MIL, as opposed to MIT). I had been back in Niger for nearly 3 weeks and had yet to visit them at their place (there’s that ‘no time’ excuse rearing it’s head again!) Because of construction going on, the roads are all messed up and the bridge is only open for vehicles crossing the river to the Harobunda side. That’s the side Sahel is on. The side I don’t live on. As soon as you cross the bridge, you’re almost at the school. But leaving – that’s another story. And a LONG way around. As you leave the school, the bridge is there – right there – to get you to your side of the river. But you are not allowed to cross it going that direction. I don’t really understand why, but then again what do I know about road construction. Not much. Except that until it’s complete, it’s a real pain. That I know.
Here’s the original bridge- to the immediate right. The one in the distance is the ‘new’ bridge, aka ‘the Chinese bridge’.
Here’s a better picture of the Niger River.
So. I (and everyone else in a motorized vehicle) have to get across the river using the new bridge. New things usually sound better. And the new bridge is 4 lanes, not 2 like the original one. That means more room for camels and donkeys and bikes and motos to cross together with all the vehicles. That is better. But in this case it’s not really better, since it spits you out in a different part of the city than you wanted to be in. Downtown. But alas, without a ferry to drive my car on to to forge the river where it’s close to my house, drive around I must. (Just yesterday Neal, Tobi and I discussed the idea of building a ferry near us – where we are closest to the river, to get us across. It would save an exponential amount of time, and the headaches it would save. And I mean literal headaches. Unless of course your vehicle sinks into the Niger River. That would be a really big headache.
Here’s the road to the new bridge. I know. It looks pretty nice. But shouldn’t have to be here!
And a cool sunset view. At least there’s that.
Back to the new bridge. I did finally cross it – and as always found myself heading towards downtown. It was about 9am. I navigate speed bump road and enter the big circle (Niger loves circle intersections. My directionally challenged self loathes them).
Speed bump road – the road you enter when you leave the bridge. I shouldn’t have to be here either. (As you can see, these pics were not taken on the day of this incident – as evidenced by dusk/sunset).
I think there are 5 ‘spokes’ off of this particular intersection. I needed to go to the one straight across. I was either stopped or just starting to move (I can’t really remember) and I hear the sickening sound of a collision. And that sound was very close to my vehicle. Darn it! It WAS my vehicle. I had collided with a taxi, or a taxi had collided with me. Both of us had different viewpoints. Now as much as I loathe round points (circle intersections), I loathe taxis even more. Not the drivers personally, but the way they drive their vehicles. It’s lawless. The collision was at such a slow speed (remember, I’m not sure I was even moving), that my seat belt didn’t even catch. What I think happened is Mr. Taxi was coming in from my right, but very close to me. I was stopped and just started to go as he slithered up the right side of my 4Runner, and it appeared (in hindsight) that he was trying to make a U-turn around me. His back driver’s side door ran into my right front bumper as he was turning. That was the sickening sound. My fiberglass bumper cracked a little bit and his door was banged in a bit, but there was no broken lights or glass. I stayed put inside my vehicle and he got out of his vehicle and came to me. He wasn’t an unpleasant man as far as taxi drivers go. We both asked each other what the other was doing/thinking.
Here’s the intersection where it all happened.
I’m going to stop my story here. Partly because it’s already getting long and partly because I’m hoping to motivate myself t write more frequently than every 4 months.
I will say this – Regardless of whose fault it was, I wish I would have offered Mr. Taxi some compensation and been on my way. But I didn’t…. And that I will regret for a long time. But there were some things to be learned…
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.
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.
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.
The sun is behind us this time.
The open road. Sort of.
All 6 of us, ready for the long journey. Again – sort of.
This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.
Often turn into this…
No potholes! And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side. Often, we share the road with them.
Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.
Check out the camels on the left. Another mode of transportation.
There are countless small villages along the road. All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!
No, we weren’t off-roading. This was a detour of sorts.
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?
It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.
And to be on our way.
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!
Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.
These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.
And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.
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.
Getting close to a town. Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.
Tight squeeze. The trucks really are road hogs. But check out the palm tree!
This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.
More water being transported by the beast of burden.
Following trucks also causes this problem.
This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.
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! =)
The ladies bathroom.
The ladies exiting the bathroom.
And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time. Fried locusts!
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!
Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.
Not me. I’ll stick with fried fish. (Thanks to the last team that was here!)
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.
Some sections of the road are quite nice. And what a view! You should see it during rainy season.
This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…
This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory… We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.
Another town, another mosque.
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.
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?
This man is carrying a generator on his head. Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!
Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.
More positive signs of road work.
Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.
More onions for sale.
And it’s full service!
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.
Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.
This camel really is owned by someone.
So are these cows.
We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.
This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.
The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…
This is what happens.
As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!
Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle. That’s what the sign on the right is.
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.
These little boys are just having fun in their cart.
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.
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!
This is a market place. But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.
Yet another overturned truck.
This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.
For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.
The people you see walking are students. It’s noon, and the schools are out. They will go back at 3pm.
The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.
I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.
Dosso city gate!!
Yep – there are even traffic lights here!
This station looks pretty much like the first one. We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.
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.
I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.
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.
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.
This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.
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.
This one is a bit fancier.
Mango trees! And they’re starting to bud.
The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like taking pictures of tractors.
The top of the van is loaded with goats.
Pretty impressive section of road. It’s all about perspective…
Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.
Outskirts of Niamey.
This is called the Peage. This is where you pay your road tax. You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.
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.
Niamey city gate!!
The airport is off to the right.
Airport entrance. You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.
Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.
This young man is selling boxes of kleenex. The Grand Mosque is in the distance.
There it is as we drive by. This is the main mosque for Niamey.
Getting close to the new overpass.
Going under the new overpass. It’s really quite fancy.
I really like those carpets on the left. They’ve been displayed there for quite some time. I wish someone would buy them!
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).
A bike and a car meet unexpectedly. Unfortunately a common occurrence.
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.
A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.
Thanks for the memories.
Sukala heading into his home.
Continue on to our home.
Our road. Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.
Home Sweet Home.
Guess she missed her pillow.
More stuff to unload!
Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days. I think.
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.
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.
We were fed an overload of carbohydrates for breakfast, on our way to Abuja, Nigeria. The orange juice, tea and fruit were lovely.
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!
A little bit mountainous.
Landing in Abuja, Nigeria
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.
The 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.
Landing in Lome, Togo. That’s our shadow!
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.
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.
What I do remember is that it was cold. Check out Neal’s winter ware!
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.
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!
I think we got some sleep on this flight. Getting ready to land in Delhi.
We’re in India!
We had to collect our bags, which both showed up – even though Neal is wondering…
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!
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.
Pretty nice place to wait. I dozed, Neal read.
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.
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.
It felt so good to be on the ground. Our bags came last, but they came!
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.
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.
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.
Coming in for our first landing – we had a stop in Johannesburg before moving on to Durban.
Even more developed than we remember 13 years ago!
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!
Here’s the place we stayed – quite close to the water.
We ate breakfast here one morning.
It was quite lovely.
Close enough to walk.
So walk we did.
The boys wasted no time getting in.
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.
What follows are pictures of beach fun. Lots of pictures…
Claire bravely battling the waves.
Sans boogie boards.
Check out Luke’s hand on Tobi’s face.
Watching these guys walk with their boogie board/bathing suit rash was pretty comical.
Serious about digging.
Grace adding some artistic touches.
One more wave.
Scott – you can caption this yourself….but I must say you’re looking pretty proud of yourself!
This is how beach chillin’ is done. Complete with McDonalds umbrellas.
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…
I believe Uncle Scott is pointing out downtown Durban from the Oyster Box.
We enjoyed a great make your own yogurt shop before continuing our tour.
Next stop was a little amusement park near the ocean. This looked pretty harmless (non dizzying).
Off they go.
What we didn’t consider was how high this thing really was.
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.
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.
Happy to be on the way down. Geez that’s high!
Seriously, can you just hold still?!
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.
Luke should have been part of the cast!
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.
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.