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  The family information is outdated, but the message remains the same.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.

Family

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?

Danette & lady

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.

The Seed is in You

I’ve had lots of people ask me when I’m going to add another blog post.  As I’ve said before, I’ve written lots of blog posts – in my head.  But until I make time to write a new one, I’m going to post an article I wrote for Daring Daughters in 2012.  So though it’s 3 years old, it’s still relevant.  And it also answers another question I’m frequently asked.  “How did I know I was called to missions.”

The Seed

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years!  I’ve been a missionary in the West African country of Niger since July, 1998.   There are two questions I am often asked: Did I always know I wanted to be a missionary? Did I always know God wanted me to be a missionary?  No, and no.  But God knew.  Here’s my story.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

I was saved at the age of 7 and was raised in a Christian home by wonderful Christian parents.  I’ve walked closely with the Lord since but it wasn’t until adulthood that I became  acutely aware of God’s grace.  I used to think that I didn’t really have a ‘story’.  But a revelation while singing ‘Amazing Grace’ changed my mind.  I did have an amazing story.  It was the grace of God that saved me.  He not only saved me from my sins, but He saved me from the powers of darkness of this world and kept me walking in His light all these years.  It wasn’t my personality or my own determination or discipline that spared me from all the world had to ‘offer’.  Simply put, it was God’s amazing grace.  Now, the older I get, the more I see… and the more I see, the more thankful I am for that grace that saved me.

But I wasn’t just saved to be saved, I was called.  So are you. My calling was to be a missionary, reaching the unreached.   But fulfillment of that calling wasn’t going to just drop in my lap.  I had some responsibility.

The seed was in me – as a 4 year old.

Danette 4 years

The Bible is full of instruction for our lives.  There are a multitude of passages that talk about the blessings that follow us and our children when we walk in the way of the Lord.

We see in 1 Kings 2 where King David is at the end of his life and is giving instructions to his son Solomon.  Solomon was called to succeed David on the throne.

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: 2 “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. 3 And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; 4 that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me…”

Solomon’s calling came with requirements:  Keep the charge of the Lord, walk in His ways, keep his commandments…  Then you will prosper and the Lord will fulfill His word concerning you.

 For God’s will and plan to be fulfilled in our lives, we must walk in His ways.

After high school, I attended Oral Roberts University.  My sophomore year I met Neal.  I was a chaplain and he was a freshman on my brother wing.  He came straight from Nigeria, where he was raised as a missionary kid.  He intrigued me.  He was, as I like to describe him, ‘bush’.  He spoke with a Nigerian accent and he thought downtown Tulsa was a huge metropolis.  As the girls’ chaplain I had the responsibility of pairing the brother and sister wings with prayer partners.  I did this by drawing names from a hat, but not before first pairing myself with Neal.  Sneaky, I know.

A friendship began to develop into something more and on our 2nd official date Neal informed me that he was going to be a missionary.  My thought?

“Whatever.  He’s a business major.  Once he gets going in his field, he’ll get over the missions thing.”

It’s not that I was opposed to full-time missions, I just wasn’t awakened yet to my calling.  I had a natural trust in God and a desire to do exactly what He had planned for me.  The seed was there, but it remained dormant.

Our relationship progressed as did Neal’s intensity for missions. I continued to trust God and prayed that if this was the man for me, that an actual desire to do missions would surface.  As an upperclassman I would get frustrated when I would hear my friends talking specifically about their careers, how many children they would have, the type of home they would live in –  all the way down to paint color!  I didn’t have specifics on any of those things – and I didn’t really care about a white picket fence.   All I knew for sure was that I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.   I later realized that if I had predetermined my exact job and house color, it would not have lined up with Neal, and I may have assumed he wasn’t the one.

Here we are at ORU, the seed in both of us. Any guesses to the year? Hint: Big hair.

Neal & Danette

Our love grew and in 1989 we married.  I graduated with a degree in Social Work and Neal, Management Information Systems.  We both got jobs in our fields, while still pursuing ministry.  We found a church home and were asked to be youth pastors.  It wasn’t missions, but it was something that our hands found to do and we were determined to do it with all our might.  It was preparation time.  During our 5 years as youth leaders we sent kids on more than 30 summer mission trips, while patiently (sometimes) waiting our turn.

God continued to lead us and 8 years of marriage and 2 great kids later, the Lord directed us to attend Bible School to officially prepare for the field.  During Bible School we received confirmation that the country of Niger would be our field.

We spent 10 months raising our support and during that time an amazing thing happened.  I was sharing in my mom and dad’s church about how I had recently come across some of my elementary school papers and discovered that I had written a report on the country of Nigeria the same year Neal moved there.  Coincidence?  I think not.  It was a germinating seed.  I told also of a report I had written in junior high titled ‘Understanding Africa’ where I wrote that I wanted to be a missionary in Africa.  I don’t even remember writing it, but my name was on it.   The seed was there.

Later that evening my mom questioned me.

“Don’t you remember the prophecy spoken to you when you were 12?  That you would be a rose, blooming in the desert?”

It wasn’t until she said that that the memory came back.  Mom continued.

“What about the time I found you crying because you couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t know Jesus?”

I was 7.  The seed.

Our family in 1998, just before moving to the 10/40 nation of Niger, Africa.   Trae, Danette, Tanika, Neal

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Our family in 2001 with Tobi, our new addition.

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The amazing thing about a spiritual seed is that it won’t die.  It’s in you.  Even if you haven’t been pursuing God as you should or are new in your walk with Him, it’s not too late!  God’s seed, His plan for you – it’s in you.  Even if it’s dormant.  Wake it up!   Begin germinating it by pursuing hard after Jesus and by walking in His ways.  In Jeremiah 2:21 God said to the Israelites,

“Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.”

You are full of high quality seed!  

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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Exercise is Good for the…Body.

Four blog posts in a span of 11 days?  I’m on a serious roll! I said I was back…

I exercise for 2 reasons.  Well, there are probably more – but 2 that I know of.  One, because the Bible tells me my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I need to take care of it.  And two, because I don’t want to get old.  In that order.  Hopefully.

I’d like to say that this post will now transition to how I exercise spiritually, but then I wouldn’t be telling the truth. And that is certainly not spiritual! (Let me be clear. I do believe in and practice exercising spiritually – but that’s not the topic of this post!) What this post is about is a new workout I’m doing.  And I’m writing about it because I’m rather proud of myself.  (Insert photo of me patting myself on the back).

I’m not athletic.  At all.  I’m not coordinated either.  And no one would look at me and go,  “Oh well look at her.  I bet she works out every day”.  And I’m probably not the best advertisement for consistent exercise if you base it on shape/weight alone.  But what you can’t see are my insides.  I can’t see them either.  But I know they’re healthy.  My heart is healthy.  My muscles are healthy.  I’m pretty sure my blood is healthy too.  Oh and my bones.  All of these years of working out are surely going to pay off with me not having osteoporosis.

It all started when I enrolled at Oral Roberts University (ORU).  ORU’s vision is ‘Educating the whole man – spirit, soul and body.  And that meant aerobics points. Every week.  I suspect at some point someone will probably find this blog post with a search term such as ‘how many aerobics points do I get for walking up 3 flights of stairs’.  If that’s you, I’m with you.  I feel your pain.  Or at least I feel you grasping for every point you can get for every movement you make.  I’m pretty sure running to the elevator should count for something!

While at ORU, I did get a vision for exercise.  In spite of the fact that what terrified me most about attending ORU was the required 3 mile field test – every semester!  I used to get sick in junior high on presidential fitness testing day when I was required to run 600 yards.  A measly 600 yards would make me sick to my stomach!  I’m not even kidding. That’s how much I disliked running.  That’s why my first year at ORU I ran my first (OK, my only) 10K.  Yep.  From panic attack at 600 yards to a full blown 10K.  Our PE teacher offered us an A on the field test if we signed up for and ran this 10K in under 75 minutes.  I knew good and well that it would be the only way I could get an A on the test.  It was that, or fail the 3 mile test.  So, the night before the 10K Run my friend Patti and I signed up for The Tulsa Love Run.  Love my foot!   To be honest, Patti and I had been running together pretty regular like – but we’d only run up to 3 miles.  And slowly.  Never more than that.  Long story short, we did that run.  And we did it in 74 minutes flat.  No laughing guys – we got our A!

So from that point on, I have exercised pretty regularly.  Oh there have been hiatuses of different lengths.  Mostly when having babies.  Like the time Tanika was born – my first C-section.  After that, I seriously thought my body would never be normal again and I would certainly never exercise again.  But 1 month later, to the date,  I started my aerobics video back up.  There was another C-seciton – Tobi.  In South Africa.  I was even in ICU after that one.  But I was able to get going again not too many weeks later.  Part of my motivation was because while in South Africa, I had the luxury of an actual gym to join.  That was fun.  Kind of.

Fast Forward to today.  My friend Sharolyn who knows I like to work out gave me a new set of DVD’s this past summer while we were in the US.  (Thanks Sharolyn, I think).  I didn’t really look them over until we were back in Niger about 3 months later.  I had been on one of my exercise hiatuses for about a month due to team hosting and children’s camps, but knew it was time to get started again.  I knew because of how my clothes were feeling.  If I’m not exercising, my clothes shrink.  It’s quite odd really.  I like to start new things on Mondays, so Monday, September 15th was my day.  It took my almost a week to talk myself into this.

The new workout is called Rushfit.  I had never heard of it and part of the reason it took so long to get started was because it seemed so complicated.  Running, as much as it is not my friend, is so much easier. And when I’m in the US it’s really easy to do – logistically speaking.  I can just step out the door wherever I happen to be and run.  And I do use the word “run” loosely.  I think to be fair I would have to call what I do a slow jog.  A slog, lets say.  When we’re in the States, we’re never in one place long so I can slog and look like a dork anywhere.  It’s not my neighborhood.  They’re not  my peeps.  They’re not likely going to see me again. Oh, and it’s not 100 degrees. In Niger, it’s not that simple. I can’t just step out my door in my shorts and running top.  Well I could, but it would be extremely inappropriate and offensive.  And that wouldn’t be good at all – given that we’re here to reach and influence the people with the Gospel.  And it’s often more than 100 degrees.  I’ve run in that – it’s not fun.

Back to Rushfit and its complications.  It’s 6 DVD’s.  Six!  You follow a particular 45 minute workout 6 days a week for 8 weeks. Every day is different. Then you’re supposed to be buff.  Not sure what happens after that… Being that I’m not a novice to exercise, and not having a clue what Rushfit was, I chose the intermediate plan.  What was I thinking?  I pushed play on September 15th and  when I finished the first workout, I felt like jello.  I don’t even like jello.  By that evening, I was sore.  Really sore.  The next day?  Let me just say doing basic things (like sitting on the throne) were almost impossible.  I spent the better part of that week literally hobbling around.  I have NEVER been that sore from any exercise I’ve ever done.  But I kept pushing play – through my pain!  Now I can’t stop because if I do, I’ll get sore all over again.  That can’t happen. What have I gotten myself into?  The warm-up is 10 minutes.  Warm-up they say. Right.  You’re thinking loosening up, stretching – right?  Wrong!  The warm up consists of multiple sets of squats, lunges, push-ups, plank thingys, and sit ups.  Not a single stretch!  He says, “This is to get you ready for the work to come”.  Seriously?  That should have been my first clue.

I’ve never not been able to do something in a workout.  At least 1 time.  There are at least 2 things in the various workouts that I cannot physically do.  Instructions are given.  I know what I’m supposed to do, but I can feel that my brain does not make the connection. It’s tempting to include some picture or video here of me doing some of these crazy moves.  But I’m just vain enough to stop at a description. You’re on your knees.  Without using your hands, you jump your feet forward out from under your body and then jump up. Back down and repeat this move for a minute.  Can’t do it.  At first I didn’t ever want to.  Now – I think I might try. Eventually.  Because as I said, I”m almost finished with week 4 of Rushfit.  It’s growing on me.  And though my fitness will not be rushed, it is there.  I can feel it in this 49 year old body.  Most days.

The Crunch Finale: Lessons Learned

Well, here it is.  The end of the longest accident story ever.

I got my frazzled self home, made a cup of tea.  No, it was a mug.  A mug of tea.  I went to my room, turned on the AC, (it was too hot for tea but I really needed some, so on the AC went – and after all, I deserved it!). I got on my bed and opened my Bible to the day’s reading.

Now I’m not sure how effectively I communicated how frustrated I was during this entire process.  And feeling justified in my frustration because after all, everyone knows how crazy taxi drivers are.  And the police!  Well, there was just one that made me angry.  But he made me more annoyed than one man should have the ability to do.

Back to my Bible reading.  September 11.  Psalm 55.

God understood how I was feeling.  Check this out. The whole chapter was about me.  My paraphrase:  Listen to my prayer, answer me.  I am distraught at the voice of the police enemy.  They bring suffering on me.  Oh, that I had the wings of a dove I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert (Ok, the desert part was just kind of funny).  Confuse the wicked.  I see strife in the city.  Destructive forces are at work there.  Threats and lies never leave its streets.  But I call to God and the Lord saves me.  I cry in distress and he hears my voice.  (God, it’s NOT my fault!  Can’t you do something about these taxi drivers?)  Cast your cares on the Lord – he will sustain you.  You God will bring down the wicked!

I kid you not.  That was my scheduled Psalm for September 11.  I was feeling pretty good about this.  God used His Word to speak to me, to encourage me.  He knew exactly how I was feeling.  He’s good like that.

I moved on to the Old Testament reading for the day, wondering what other good news about being justified was awaiting me.  Isaiah 8 & 9.

I’m reading along, sipping my Earl Grey and this is what jumps off the page.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as a people rejoice at the harvest.”  Isaiah 9:2,3

There are places on this earth where people are walking in darkness.  Niger is one of those places.  That’s why we’re here.  To expose them to the light.  So many are living in the shadow of death and don’t even know it.  I’ve read these verses before.  Even have them underlined in my Bible.  But golly did they speak to me in a new way this time.  In light of my day.  In light of my attitude.  In light of me feeling all high and mighty and justified.  I am supposed to be that light. ME.  Why in the world would I expect any of the people I dealt with today to behave any differently than they did?  Are they believers?  No.  Do they have THE light?  No.  As the Bible clearly tells us, they CAN’T understand the things of God unless the Holy Spirit reveals stuff to them.  And it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the LIGHT of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.  Oh my.

I was supposed to be that light today.  The great light that Isaiah 9 talks about. Now I didn’t cuss anybody out.  But not losing my head and being a light are two very different things.   My pride could rise up and try and tell me how well I handled myself considering the frustrations and injustices.  After all….  But was I a light?  Did I shine?  I think not.  I just felt sorry for myself.

I know good and well that God did not cause this fender bender so I would hear him or so He could teach me something.   He speaks to us today through His Word and through the Holy Spirit.  And today, he spoke clearly to me through His Word.  And what’s more, long ago my God knew what my day would be like on September 11, 2014.  He knew that I’d be sitting on my bed with the AC on, drinking a hot cup mug of Earl Grey and casting my cares on Him.  He knew that I’d need comforting.  He also knew that I needed some correcting.  I could almost see Him up in heaven looking down at me, mug of tea in hand, smiling, as He gently said, “Yes, cast your cares on me.  I’ll be there for you.  But don’t forget – YOU are the light to the people walking around in the dark.  Now act like it.  And remember, I love you.”

The Crunch: Part 2

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

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

One more look at the scene of the crime…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why”? I inquire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.  I’m not giving you my license.”

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

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

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

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

Me:  “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh.  Etc.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s a better picture of the Niger River.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the intersection where it all happened.

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

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

 

 

Just Another Saturday

It started like any old normal Saturday.

Wait.

Rewind.

What is a normal Saturday?

We don’t have those so let me start over.

It was a Saturday.  This particular one looked to be quite low-key. Neal was in Diffa (a 2-day drive away) and we were looking forward to him arriving home on Tuesday. Tobi had spent the night with Grama and Grampa so I was on my own.  Nice!  My plans were to finish up the class notes for the Roots of Character class I would start teaching Monday, have lunch with Erin, go to Tobi’s soccer game, and pick up a guest at the airport who was going to be staying with us for 2 weeks.

So, I finished my notes.  Erin came over and we had a nice lunch in a moderately air conditioned restaurant.  This is significant since it was very hot outside – 111 by my outdoor thermometer placed in the shade.  So when I say ‘moderately’ I mean probably cooled to 85 or 90.  Which isn’t 111!  We enjoyed our time together (well, I know I did), which is winding down, since Erin will be leaving in June.  Back at my house we continued to chat (while sweating because my house is not air-conditioned –not even moderately).  I told her she should come to Tobi’s soccer game with me, secretly joking, since the only reason I was going was because I had to – being such a good Mom and all.  (I should give kudos to Grampa here too, since he brought Tobi to his game early, and planned to stay and watch).  I told Erin that I was kidding.  No one except blood relatives should have to go sit out in that heat.

Erin left and I went on my way to be at the game for the opening kick.  Just as I left our house, I took note of a few clouds overhead. Wait. Clouds?  Well if that isn’t just a blessing straight from God.  I wouldn’t have to sit with the sun beating down.  Oh, and the boys wouldn’t have to play soccer in direct sun. That’s good too.

As I continued to drive, I noticed it seemed a bit dark.  Then I made a turn and lo and behold this is what I saw.

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I knew right then we had the makings of a great sand storm. And I was in just the right place at just the right time to get some pretty cool pictures of it.

You can see the red cloud gathering – separate from the ‘real’ clouds.

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To my delight, traffic on the road was seriously reduced- another blessing! And, I was able to snap these pics.

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Maybe that’s what the ‘red’ sea looked like when it was parted.

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I love how the sun is shining behind me as I drive into the storm.

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Wonder if the red car thinks it’s being followed…

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Just about to turn onto the bridge.  So is the sand.

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Guess the red car is crossing the bridge too…

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If you look closely, you can see the people on the right – running.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t get anywhere inside before the sand hit.

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Sun still shining on the sand and the dry river – though not completely dry.

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Headfirst into the sand.

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Heading to the school.  There is a vehicle in front of me.

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Right in the middle of it.  That poor guy.

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When I got to the entrance of the school, I thought at first that no one else was there.  Then I saw a camera flash in the distance.  There were 50+ people there.  Here I’m parked and am facing the soccer field.  Those crazy kids!

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I know the feeling though.  In spite of the sand being, well, sandy, it was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat that we’ve been dealing with.  And that’s not just a pretty color of orange.  It’s sand blowing around and getting into everything and everyone.  I knew my house would be a huge mess when I got home (at least I remembered to take the clothes off the line before I left), but it was OK.  I was happy for the change too.  And I don’t think I was alone.

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I’ve experienced quite a few dust storms over the past 16 years, but none as big or long as this.  And the pics I usually get are from inside the storm – the dark orange look.  This time I was able to be on the outside looking in.  And then be on the inside too.  Usually everything gets dark and within 5-10 minutes the sun is shining again.  This baby lasted a good long time!  I ventured out of the car when the ‘bulk’ of the storm had passed.  I almost went into shock over how cool it was!  And I’m not kidding when I say that I got a chill.  It was only for a millisecond, but it was a chill nonetheless.  Even a couple hairs stood up.  And do you know I didn’t sweat one molecule (that I’m aware of) for the entire game?!  Probably the best soccer game I’ve ever been to.  And to top it off, our guys won!

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They waited for about 20 minutes or so and finally started the game, even though there was very low visibility to the other end of the field.  If 111 degrees isn’t going to stop these guys, certainly a little sand won’t either!  Tobi is somewhere in this picture, covered with sand so we can’t see him.

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We left after the game – happy campers.  Tobi quietly rejoicing in their 3-2 victory (I heard him say to himself, “I really like to win”.)  And me, rejoicing that for a short period of time I was sweat-less.  And I saw the proof of that when I arrived home.  When I left, it was 111 outside and 102 in the house.  When I got home, it was a frigid 89 outside and 101 in the house.  The house had some catching up to do.

Thus my ‘normal’ Saturday comes to an end.  Funny thing is, when you live in Niger it really is rather normal.

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.