You Know You’re on an International Flight when…


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

You take a bus to the plane.

The bus ride is 30 seconds long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More food is served on the plane.

Nearby passengers have prayer beads.

Nearby passengers pray those prayer beads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most men are wearing suits or long flowing african attire.

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

You’re underdressed.

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

You see breathtaking sunrises and sunsets on the same flight.

You ugly sleep – mouth open, drool.

More food is served.

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

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

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

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

You have a connecting flight to the ‘West’.

Your layover is either very long or very short.

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

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

You assume that your listed gate will change.

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

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

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

Passengers clap when you land.

You join in the clapping and dream of a bed.

Wogging. Still writing about it.

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

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

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

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

It was 115 degrees, daily.

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

A part on the drilling rig broke.

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

I discovered I had gallstones.

I had Malaria while I had gallstones.

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

Returned to Niger and hosted another team.

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

Got to see our 2 incredible grandkids 2 different times.

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

Spoke 14 times in various churches/groups.

Returned to Niger – Thank God for rainy season!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And besides, this is home.

 

 

 

 

The Crunch: Part 2

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

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

One more look at the scene of the crime…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why”? I inquire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.  I’m not giving you my license.”

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

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

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

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

Me:  “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh.  Etc.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s a better picture of the Niger River.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the intersection where it all happened.

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

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

 

 

A Journey Through the Desert

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

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

Niger Map

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

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

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

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

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

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The sun is behind us this time.

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The open road.  Sort of.

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

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This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.

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Overloaded trucks.

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Often turn into this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And to be on our way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More water being transported by the beast of burden.

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Following trucks also causes this problem.

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

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

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The ladies bathroom.

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The ladies exiting the bathroom.

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

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

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Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.

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

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

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

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

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

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Another town, another mosque.

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

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

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

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

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More positive signs of road work.

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

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More onions for sale.

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Fuel stop.

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And it’s full service!

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

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

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This camel really is owned by someone.

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So are these cows.

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

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

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The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…

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This is what happens.

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

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

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More onions!

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

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These little boys are just having fun in their cart.

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

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

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

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Yet another overturned truck.

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

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

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

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Another one!

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

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

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Dosso city gate!!

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Yep – there are even traffic lights here!

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

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Horsin’ around.

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Standin’ around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one is a bit fancier.

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Mango trees!  And they’re starting to bud.

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The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.

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

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

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

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

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I like taking pictures of tractors.

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The top of the van is loaded with goats.

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

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Water tower.

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

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Outskirts of Niamey.

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

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

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Niamey city gate!!

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The airport is off to the right.

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

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Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.

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Getting busier.

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

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

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Getting close to the new overpass.

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

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

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

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

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

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A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.

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Thanks for the memories.

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Sukala heading into his home.

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Continue on to our home.

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

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Our gate.

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Home Sweet Home.

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Unloading…

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Guess she missed her pillow.

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More stuff to unload!

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

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

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.

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

HIMG_1742ere’s the cathedral that was at the top.  Love the colors!

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!