Tamou Guest House. It’s Not the Ritz, But It’s Pretty Close!

I began but never finished the following blog post nearly a year ago…. Why? I have no idea. Right now we’re in another cold season and are looking forward to being at the guest house again next week for children’s camp.

March 16, 2016
Today we went to Tamou. Tamou is our Discipleship Center in the Gourmantche region. The headquarters of the region is the Tamou Church compound. In addition to the church there is a discipleship school, men’s and women’s student dorms, the pastor’s home and we’ve recently built a guest house on the compound so we can spend more time there.

Here’s the church.  The dorms being built (now complete) are to the left.  The Guest House is at the back of the church – the green door at the back right is the entrance.img_0668

You see Tamou is a 90 minute drive (Neal’s driving, so longer if you’re not with him). It’s a pretty remote location without many amenities. So when someone from Niamey goes to teach in the school, it’s best to teach for the whole morning, 4 hours, to maximize your effort, and then drive back. It makes for a long day.

We’ve also done events in Tamou – all day events. And not many people go all day without having to ‘use the bush’ as we affectionately call it. When in Tamou, there is no place to use said bush – not really even any bushes – and certainly no place to rest or have any down time. But it’s a place we love to be, and a place God is moving.

Thus the guest house. Really, it’s a thing of wonder. It’s tucked behind the church and has it’s own wall so is quite private. But if you step outside the door you’re right there with everyone. Best of both so to speak.

The guest house is back to back with the church.

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Welcome inside!  This was taken as construction was being finished.  The 2 square holes are for trees.  We dug about 10 feet down, removed rocks and fertilized well in advance.  A picture at the end shows the progress of the trees.

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Neal and I have stayed in the newly built guest house a few times, trying it out, getting the kinks out, before we had our first team visit. That happened in February — last month. We had a children’s camp with a team of 6 from the US. It was WONDERFUL! Better even than we had hoped. That could be partly because it was such a great team. Thanks Bob and Team Christian Life! (Note: that was Feb 2016).

When you walk in (door on left like in above photo) you see the kitchen/common area to the right.  That is where this picture is taken from – the dining area.  From here, you are looking at the 2 guest rooms.  They mirror each other and there is a small veranda in between.  Each has it’s own bathroom.  If you look to the top at the center, you see the roof of the church.  Also, take note of the spots on either wall reserved for planting.

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And just for perspective, here’s what you see when you walk out that green door. The church is to the right.

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The dining/common area is open, but is attached to a kitchen that can be closed.  The kitchen is where this photo is taken from.

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And here’s the kitchen- from the outside in….

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And from the inside out…

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Like I said, that was February. February is still considered ‘cold’ season. And relatively speaking, it is cold. Like cold enough for me to wear a sweatshirt early in the morning. Of course I’m in a sweatshirt if the temperature drops below 72….you be the judge.

Until right now, March 16, 2016. February was our last visit to Tamou, on account of our trip to India and Philippines. But for pete’s sake it’s only been a month. Where did this heat come from?

This is our first time to stay out here during hot season. We’ve done all we can to make the place comfortable. Because we really enjoy being out here, and we feel that we can make much more of an impact when we can spend more time with the people. More time than just teaching in a classroom setting. But I’m not gonna lie. I really enjoy a real toilet. With toilet paper. And lights. And running water. We even have hot water (though one might wonder why, but when it’s only 72 degrees…) AND, drumroll please—we have air conditioning.

Yep. We’ve outfitted the guest house with AC. It was wonderful during the days of cold season – because the days still get quite toasty – 90’s. And at night it wasn’t even needed.

Here’s one of the the guest rooms – the one on the right.  Picture is taken from the bathroom.

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And here’s ‘our’ room.  Or the room we use when we’re here.  But it’s also a guest room.

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You can see from this angle where the bathroom is (white door). It’s a mirror of the bathroom in the other room.

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And here’s one of the bathrooms.  They’re both the same.  Strangely I don’t have any pictures of it finished.  It looks quite nice.

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And here’s the veranda between the 2 rooms.

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Hot season though, that’s the real test. And we’re in that test right this minute. Today, it was 107. So while hot, 107 is still not THAT hot, compared to what will be coming. Needless to say, the AC came in handy. It would be interesting to note that Tamou doesn’t have 24/7 electricity. It’s a ‘town’, but an up and coming one. The town has a large generator that provides electricity from 10am – midnight each day. Except for Wednesdays. Lovely Wednesdays. Power comes on at 12 noon on Wednesday and because Thursday is market day, it stays on straight through to midnight on Thursday. In other words, 36 hours of beautiful, uninterrupted power.(Well, barring any generator issues…) Being the strategists we are, we try to plan our overnight trips to include Wednesdays/Thursdays…

However, so as not to be powerless in Tamou, we also purchased a small generator for guest house usage. Here’s what we now know.

We’re thankful for the generator.

There are 2 rooms for sleeping (each with an AC), and our generator is only strong enough to run 1 AC at a time.

The one AC takes the edge off the heat but isn’t strong enough to properly cool the room during hot season. In other words, walking into a room cooled to 90 feels like an arctic blast when it’s 115+ outside–until you’ve been in ‘cooled’ room for a few minutes and realize you’re sweating.

One working AC is better than none.

If a group of people is staying at the guest house, someone has to make the decision as to which subset of that group gets to stay in the AC room, providing a great opportunity for character growth.

Eventually, we will get a larger generator and install stronger AC’s.

My husband is not only a missionary, a great preacher, and great Bible teacher and a whole host of other things, he’s a great architect.

The Tamou Discipleship Center is amazing. We’re so grateful to those who gave to make it a reality. The guest house really has helped to advance what is happening there. Churches in the region continue to be planted, disciples are being made, and pastors are being trained.

Tamou Guest House update February 2017:
The guest has continued to be a blessing. Not only for ministry teams, for Bible School teachers, but also for the well drilling team. The first Vie Abondante wells were completed recently and the team was able to stay in the guest house multiple times for long periods, enabling them to spend more hours drilling rather than driving back and forth to Niamey (you may remember that’s a 90+ minute one-way trip journey).

The Christian Life team has come and gone- just a couple of weeks ago. We had a successful camp with 225 kids and about 50 volunteers. Neal and I stayed with the 6 member team in the guest house for 4 days/3nights. Why I didn’t get pictures of the 6 of us ladies crammed into 1 room with mattresses covering all available floor space, I don’t know. But what an awesome time we had.

And last, here’s the picture I promised.  Pastor Samuel is helping me show perspective on the size. These 6″ trees were planted about 9 months ago.  Nine months!  And check out the greenery on the walls.  This happened because of the diligence of Pastor Sule, the director of the Tamou region.  He not only waters the leaders and members of the now 14 churches in the region, has faithfully watered our trees 2X/day, month after month.  This is all fruit that will remain!

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Note to Self

Dearest Danette,

WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!?!!!??!

It’s been months since your last walk/jog (aka WOG).  You really have no excuse.  None.  You turned 50 continued working out for a short time and then stopped.  You skipped working out nearly all of ‘cold’ season.  For no reason that is legitimate.  So today you decided it was time to pick it back up again.

In the past you’ve never needed someone to work out with, an online buddy or a workout journal to be consistent. In fact you prefer to go it alone.  But obviously something has changed.  So I’m writing you this note for all to see (if they so desire), as a committment to continue – cigaba – swagaliga.  You are going to workout a minimum of 4 times/week, but preferably 5 or 6.  Keeping your word is pretty important to you, so with this in writing, there’s no turning back.

After much contemplation (days & days & days, ok – weeks) you decided that today was the day to start.  Again I ask, WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!?!? It was 105 degrees out there.  But if you were going to start anytime in the next 2 or 3 months, those temps (not to mention humidity) will only get worse.

So out you went.  And remember you have witnesses to your craziness.  Neal & Tim saw you.  But they were just as crazy, because they were playing tennis in the heat.  And I think the heat was doing something to the message center in their brains because they continued to play for quite awhile after you finished.  And you wogged for at least 45 minutes.  That’s usually your average.  Not sure of the distance since your running app stopped working – it was too hot in your pocket.

And after you finished, you did your push-ups. (Girl  style) And you will continue to do them. No matter that a few short months ago you could do 3 sets of 30.  The 3 sets of 15 today was better than nothing.  Much better.  Keep it up!

Here are the tennis players.


Now lest you get discouraged or tempted to quit, you took a few pictures to remind yourself that it’s really not that bad…

Here’s your view – at least the downhill side.  Quite lovely.  Who wouldn’t want to jog here?  (What one can’t ‘see’ is each one of those 105 degrees). But we don’t need to dwell on that – not with the beautiful Niger River in the background.


The uphill side is a bit more challenging, but keep in mind the downhill side is right around the corner. The picture just doesn’t do justice to the upward slope.  But remember, this is where you do the walking part of your Wog.  So it’s all good.


And remember the lovely smells you smelled?  You had great opportunity to suck in those smells.  Panting some might call it.  So you got nostrils full of flowery smells.  Keep in mind that most places you go don’t smell nearly as wonderful.  And some places there’s nothing wonderful at all about the smell.  And let’s talk about the butterflies. Well, you only saw one today, but I’m sure there are more.  He was lovely too. 
And you even had a laugh, in spite of your panting.  Remember?  You allow yourself a drink after every 2 laps.  You were greatly anticipating that water as you came around the bend –on account of your throat sticking shut.  But when you reached the place you stashed your bottle, IT WAS GONE!!  You started to panic just a little as you tried to unstick your throat.  Then you looked at the tennis players, and thought to yourself “I’ll bet Tim took your water as a practical joke”.  Yep, your mind went there.  And you didn’t find the humor in it.  But just as you started to accuse him, you spotted the missing bottle.  Right where you left it – in the drainage ditch.


But in your defense, you thought you put it here, just a few feet away.   
Looks pretty similar, right?  AND it was 105 degrees. The synapses in your brain may have been misfiring. Give yourself a break.

Also keep in mind how much you like music pumping into your head.  This is the perfect opportunity for that – without interruption.  And – some of your best prayer times are while on the ‘track’.

So dear self, this is a note to you.  Just in case you forget or think this all a dream.  It wasn’t.  It was real.  You are real, and you will run.  Or Wog. No matter how you feel in the morning.

I don’t need any more stories. I’m good.

We are in the midst of youth camps.  Three of them.  Yesterday was Day 1 of the final camp.  It was out in Tamou where we have a ministry among the Gourmantche.  Over 100 were gathered for 3 days of teaching – growing in the Lord, and taking hold of your destiny.  The first 2 camps of more than 200 youth were awesome.  They were in Niamey and Maradi respectively. (cities 8 hours apart) Great response, great youth, great disciples in Niger.

Here’s a couple pics of yesterday’s meetings.

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Needless to say by this last camp, we were “swagaliga-ing”.  If you haven’t heard Neal’s message on that, it means ‘pressing in or moving forward’.  This camp is a 90 minute drive from our home, and since there is no place to stay out there, the plan was to make the drive back and forth every morning and evening.  We went in 2 vehicles on Monday morning because Neal had to leave camp early to come back and teach in our evening discipleship school.

Honestly, the whole day was challenging.  First of all, it rained all morning.

This is just before the storm.

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Because of the hot dry desert sand,  there is nowhere for the water to go, so it just piles up.  Quickly.

This is the church compound after a couple minutes of rain.

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So this meant that all of our activities had to be inside the church.  And not only did we have about 100 active youth, they are people that are not used to being inside for long lengths of time.  But swagaliga is what we continued to do.

And you know how people talk about the lovely sound of rain on a tin roof?  Believe me, it’s not quite so lovely when it drowns out the  message or the rules of the game you are trying to get across- using 3 languages.

We were encouraged though by those who were diligently working on their pressing toward the mark worksheets, and others who can’t read or write were following along.

As I said, Neal had to leave early.  Which he did – at about 3pm.  By then, the rain had stopped.  Before he reached home, he called me to let me know about an issue on the road.  There is a place where the road is completely gone for a distance of about  30  feet, and the ravine it creates is about  15  feet deep.  Thankfully, there is a temporary road (not sure how long a road can be called temporary, this one has been there for over a year) that goes down into the empty riverbed, and around the bad section of road.  We’ve driven on it countless times.  I’m sure I have a picture of it somewhere…. As I said it is an empty riverbed.  We passed it that morning on dry land.  But then it rained for a few hours.  Neal told me that he had no problem getting through on his way back – even though there was a transport vehicle stuck.  No surprise there, they’re always stuck in something.  He just wanted me to be aware of it – and reminded me that when going through water, you don’t let up on the accelerator.  I remembered that, because I learned that lesson firsthand-and the hard way.  But that’s another story.

The team and I  left 3 hours later – at around 6pm.  Since it hadn’t been raining for nearly 4 hours, I fully expected the area to have less water.  After all the flooded area of the church compound in the picture above was already dried up.

We arrived on the scene.  To this. The expanse of water wasn’t like the Red Sea, but it was probably about  120  feet across.

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Huh.  What to do, what to do.  If I wasn’t driving, I would have twiddled my thumbs for a moment or two.

In our lovely white 2004 Toyota 4Runner was Pastor Scott, Josiah & Tara from the US, and Delphin, one of our ministry team members on ground here.  Pastor Scott and Delphin got out, rolled up their pant legs, and entered the water to see what they could (or couldn’t) see.

That’s Delphin looking at us – probably thinking I was a crazy person…And possibly he was right.

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Yes, those are 2 other vehicles stuck in the rushing water.

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But Neal told me he went to their left.  What neither of us knew, was that rather than seceding  the water level had risen significantly.

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I called Neal and told him what things looked like.  I tried to think like him.  And the Neal I know would go through that water.  And then…a Hilux (a double cab Toyota pick up), came through that water from the opposite side.  He even smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up as he drove by.

That’s all we needed.  If he could do it, we could do it.  I held my breath, I heard other car members praying and I hit the gas.

You may notice my change in pronouns here – to try and spread out the responsibility for my actions….

I’ve been told that I need to keep my blog posts shorter.  So I’m ending the story here.  I will write the remainder in the next post – which I will start right now.

I can’t keep quiet.

I’m not much into discussing controversial stuff on Facebook or on my blog – or at all for that matter.

But the recent Planned Parenthood stuff, well, I can’t keep quiet.

Except I have no words. Only tears. I see the videos and read the articles and am almost speechless as I’m taken back to when our daughter was born at 24 weeks. She looked like the baby in this photo.  Those could be my hands.  She was born on August 7, 1992.

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This baby girl was born in Feb. 2007 after just under 22 weeks in the womb. (AP File Photo)

Here I’m holding a 2 month old Tanika – she’d already changed our lives.

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There are countless people in the world whose lives would be different today if Tanika Childs​ wasn’t a part of them.  Not to mention the direct and indirect impact she will have on people over the course of her life to come.

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So that makes me ask, “What are our lives missing today, what is my life missing today because of the 1000’s of babies -100’s of 1000’s of people – that have been murdered?”  And as I think, I realize that my thoughts are even selfish.  I feel like I’ve been ripped off.  We’ve been ripped off.

But what about those babies?  Torn limb by limb for the sake of convenience and yes, for profit.  Why are we more concerned for lions and underfed puppy dogs then we are human life?  I can’t wrap my head around it.  I don’t want to.

And Moral Compass? How about we just start with what God says about all this? I’m picturing Him right now standing, not sitting on His throne, but standing, looking down and weeping.

God deliver us.

Jesus Thinks About Me

This is an article I wrote over a year ago, but never ‘published’.  The family information is outdated, but the message remains the same.  I’ve added a family update at the end.

The other night I caught myself thinking about my children….again. And I began to realize that my thoughts turn towards them multiple times a day – without me even realizing it.

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Trae, my oldest, is married to Christi – which blesses me with another child to think about. They are teaching English in South Korea and are expecting our first grandson in a matter of weeks. I’ve already spent lots of time ‘thinking’ about him!

Trae and Christi

Tanika is just finishing her junior year of college, studying special education.

Tobi lives with us in Niger and is almost done with 7th grade. He attends an international mission school in the town we live in.

I appreciate that I’ve seen where each of them are living life right now. It helps me when I’m missing them to picture them where they are.

As I lay in bed thinking about my offspring, I realized that I wasn’t really thinking about them, I was praying for them. And I do that often. And then I heard the Lord whisper to me,

“You think your thoughts turn towards your kids a lot? You have NO idea. You – you’re my kid. And you’re always on my mind.”

Then Psalm 139: 17,18 popped into my sleepy head.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

And here I am thinking that I think about my kids a lot!

God’s thoughts towards me cannot be numbered. I live in a desert, so I can tell you from first hand experience, grains of sand cannot be counted! NOT possible.

Neal & Tobi in sand

As I see Tanika in her dorm room or standing in line at the salad bar, and I picture Trae and Christi leaving their cute (tiny) apartment to get on the bus that takes them to their job and the classroom they’ll be teaching in, or I see Tobi playing soccer with his friends, Jesus sees me. Me! He knows exactly where I’m living my life. The creator of the universe spends time thinking about me!

And more than that, He’s praying for me. Romans 8:34 tells us that not only did Jesus die for us and return to life, but he is sitting at God’s right hand….interceding for us! As a Scottish friend of mine says, ‘Have a think on that’! Jesus himself, praying for me!

Why do I think about and pray for my kids? Because I love them. Why does Jesus think about and pray for me? Because He loves me. And I love him – because He first loved me! I hope you’re following my logic here.

The Bible says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. So that got me thinking (guess I’ve been doing lots of that recently) about how I could show Jesus my love. The answer is pretty straightforward.

By keeping His commandments. There are multiple scriptures that talk about this. Here are a few:

  1. Jn 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
  2. Jn 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me
  3. 1 Jn 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments
  4. 1 Jn 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
  5. 2 Jn 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

But I particularly love I Jn 5:2 –…. His commandments are not burdensome. He wants us to succeed in obeying Him.

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He’s not expecting something impossible from us. One of the main reasons He wants us to keep those commandments is so He can bless us.

Now let me go one last step with my thinking. What are His commandments? Well, as a missionary the first thing I think of is the Great Commission.

Probably the most well known version of the Great Commission is Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission

…18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Bible is full of examples of both God’s heart for the lost and His instruction to us to reach them.

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And His heart cry is clearly shown in the Gospels. In Matthew 23 Jesus is preaching to his disciples and to the crowds. He preached this message just a few days before he was crucified.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

Isn’t that how we feel when our children face danger, discouragement or difficulty? Or when we see them walking a destructive path? We want to protect them. To gather them to us and shelter them. It grieves us when we have the answer to their problem and they reject it. It can cause us to shed tears.

Do we shed tears over the lost?

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Jesus was weeping over the tragedy of the missed opportunity of salvation. Their answer was walking right there among them and instead of receiving him, they crucified him. This hurt his heart.

In Luke 19 He starts to weep as he approaches Jerusalem and says almost the same thing He said in Matthew 23.

Why was Jesus weeping? He was weeping because He is not willing that any should perish. The Bible clearly says this.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Pet 3:9

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He was thinking of me. He was thinking of you. And He expects us to think of, no, to reach the lost. He’s given that responsibility to us. He wants us to finish what He began. Honoring and loving Jesus by obeying His call to reach the nations is something He has equipped us to do.

Are you thinking about the unreached? Are you weeping for the lost? Are you reaching them? Are you rejoicing when they find salvation?

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If you love Jesus, you will obey his commandments.

FAMILY UPDATE:

Trae and Christi have our precious 1 year old Judah Neal Childs, and have just announced officially that #2 is on the way (major happy dance here).  They are living in Baton Rouge, LA and are working for Pastor Larry Stockstill and Bethany Church.

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We were hoping to take the little guy with us…

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Tanika has graduated from Oral Roberts University with her degree in Special Ed/Elementary Ed and will be going to Nigeria to teach school in Benin City Nigeria in August.

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Tobi is getting ready to start High School at Sahel Academy in Niamey, Niger – he’s an awesome kid.  Here he is with his nephew.

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Clearly, we are blessed.

Grateful. Humbled. Amazed.

Our churches in Niamey were violently attacked just over 3 weeks ago. In the wake of that, while working to restore, replace and rebuild, Boko Haram rears its ugly head in Diffa – trying to penetrate the Eastern border of Niger where we have another church. I am amazed. I’m not amazed because of the political/Islamic attack of churches in the west, or because of the evil extremists terrorizing the east. I am amazed by the response of the Niger Christians. Humbled, really.

These pictures were taken after the attacks.  After churches were burned.  After homes were looted and destroyed.

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The joy can be seen, but I wish it could be felt through this picture.  It was real.  I know it was real because I was there.

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A few weeks ago we were in Diffa with our family.  We were there to encourage the church.  So many members have been directly affected by Boko Haram and fled to Diffa from Nigeria.  Of course they and their faith ended up encouraging us.

Here’s a link to an article on what’s happening there.

This is Pastor Abdu & Aisha, and their children Caleb, Samuel and Nassara.

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Our son Trae preached a timely message while we were in Diffa (with no knowledge of coming attacks of course).  He preached about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how Jesus will always be with us in the fire.

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Early this past Sunday morning (Feb 8), we got a phone call from Pastor Abdu in Diffa.  He told us that gunfire could be heard from the church (and their home).  Boko Haram was trying to cross the border over the bridge.  This is the place we used to hang out when we lived in Diffa.

Neal and Tobi looking across the border into Nigeria.

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We used to swim in this river!

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We lived in this town for almost 2 years.

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Pastor Abdu wasn’t fearful, just informing us.  We assured him we’d be praying.  It’s times like these that I’m especially grateful for Facebook.  I know that in a matter of an hour, hundreds were praying.  And that soon multiplied to thousands.

I called Aisha, P. Abdu’s wife to see how she was doing.

She said it was a bit scary hearing the gunfire, (ya think?)  but that she and the kids were doing fine.  She was very encouraged to know that so many were praying.

Later that day a bomb was detonated in a nearby market.  We knew the place.  Though things calmed down during the day, we got another phone call early Monday morning that the fighting went on through the night and was continuing.  Then the prison was attacked.  The prison is right by our church.

We all agreed that it was time for the wives to leave with the children, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea and all transport vehicles were full for the next several days.  I so wanted to go and pick them up myself- but that would have been idiotic.  Once again God intervened and a vehicle was found to get them out.  I still don’t have all the details, but I know they left last night.  I talked with P. Abdu in Diffa this morning and he said that many have left but that things have quieted down.  There is only scattered gunfire.  I then talked to Aisha who was on the road and she assured me they were all fine.  They had made their first destination around 11pm last night and were heading to Maradi today.

Since the attack in Niamey, Pastor Zabeyrou and Salamatou (who is 6 months pregnant) and their 3 kids have been staying with us in our home.  They lost everything – home and church.

Here they are – smiling.  What an honor it is to labor together with them.  Several years ago, they were the pastors of the church in Diffa, so the situation there is very close to home for them as well.

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This morning, when I was talking to Aisha who was still on her journey, I thought it would be a good idea to have Salamatou talk to her too.

That’s when it hit me.  The amazing part.  Salamatou, who is homeless and without her belongings, is on the phone encouraging Aisha who with her children is running for her life.  And they’re laughing.  And talking about the goodness of God.  And thanking me for praying.  Thanking me.  I have no more words.

Except to say how humbled I am to call these two beautiful ladies my friends.

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The Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

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

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

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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

But where were we?

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

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

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

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

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

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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

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

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Sukala’s ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dad

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Mom

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

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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

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

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

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

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

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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

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

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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

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

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

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

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

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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Exploring Addis Ababa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We walked and walked and walked.

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And we came across Niger street.  Pretty fun!

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

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

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Nope, it really was slanted.

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

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

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

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

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

This was leading up to the entrance.

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

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

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

As you can see, we are thoroughly enjoying it.

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

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

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

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Pretty nifty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, Day 2.

Journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My guys…

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

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Fly the friendly skies…

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

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

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

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Enjoying our first meal in Addis Ababa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thus began our 5 month journey.

Next up:  Exploring Addis Ababa!