India: Getting There.

Well, I did it. I went on my first official missions trip. Laugh if you must, but it’s true. I live on the mission field. I’ve hosted countless mission teams. But I’ve never been part of team myself. Until now.

I enjoy hosting people very much – particularly because I love that they are coming to Niger and leaving with a part of Niger in their hearts, and leaving a part of their hearts in Niger. I like helping to facilitate that process. But I must say, I also very much enjoyed being ‘hosted’. Showing up to a place to stay, wonderful meals prepared and ministry all set up for us to step into. In other words, the only thing I had to plan was what to put in my suitcase. Well of course there’s ministry preparation, but that’s a different category of preparation.

Ministry prep done, house organized and details regarding Tobi and his stay with Grandma and Grandpa were more or less done by Tuesday.  Mostly.  Wednesday was packing day.  Packing takes a good portion of my brain cells, and I’m pretty sure it kills a few in the process.  Packing is one of my least favorite things to do.  Probably because I’m no good at it.  Which is odd, considering how often I do it.  But every time I put that open suitcase on my bed I stare at it like it’s the first time I’ve seen a suitcase before and have no idea where to begin.  What makes it all the more annoying infuriating is that Neal throws his bag up on the bed and within 30 minutes – 45 tops – he’s ready to go.  So sparing all the gory details, I finally got packed.   Just in time to leave for the airport at 5am Thursday morning.  No – just kidding.  We actually had a pretty relaxing evening and a decent night sleep.  Tobi moved to Grandma and Grandpa’s that night before so he didn’t have to get up at 4:30.  Grandpa took us to the airport – yep, at 5am.  What a guy!

Niger is developing, but there aren’t very many airlines that fly into our humble international airport.  So though our flight to India was on Ethiopian Air, one must use one of their ‘partner’ airlines, Asky, to get out of Niger.  We flew on Asky when headed to Ethiopia earlier this year and I was pleasantly surprised overall.  The Asky office told us to be at the airport at 5:30am for our 8:15 flight.  The Childs family is very well known for its’ timeliness and today would be no exception.  We arrived at 5:20.  I guess no one else got the 5:30 memo because we were pretty much alone.  The door to the check-in counter/room was closed and it was dark.  Though not surprised I couldn’t help but think about the additional 30 minutes (or more) of sleep I could have had…

Some time later….

There was movement behind the closed door and lights started turning on.  Other travelers were arriving and had the nerve to walk to the front of the line — in front of where our bags had been sitting for the better part of an hour!  I seriously wanted to express to them that we had been sitting there for some time now and who did they think they were to march right to the front of the line without even passing Go?  Someone should acknowledge that we followed Asky’s rules, even if we were alone.  And I should add that we have known this airline to take off an hour or more before scheduled flight time, without telling the passengers…so better wait than sorry.

We got through check-in with no problems, making sure that even though we had several stops, our bags were checked through to Delhi.  We made our way through immigration, said goodbye to the police and went to the ‘gate’ to wait some more.

I pulled out the homemade breakfast burritos and we enjoyed those while waiting to board the plane.  We took off more or less on time, and here we are somewhere over Niger.  We were obviously not on a large plane – check out the propeller.

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We were fed an overload of carbohydrates for breakfast, on our way to Abuja, Nigeria.  The orange juice, tea and fruit were lovely.

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We landed first in Abuja, but didn’t have to leave the plane – it was kind of like a bus stop.  Here we are descending in Nigeria – though it’s our neighbor, what a contrast!

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A little bit mountainous.

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Landing in Abuja, Nigeria

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I honestly don’t remember the time on the ground so it must not have been very long.  Next stop was Lome, Togo.  There we would change planes to a ‘real’ airplane for the journey from the west of Africa all the way to the east.

Here we are on the plane to Lome.

IMG_2196The airplane food was endless with so many flights, and I was dreaming about my breakfast burritos…I do however always enjoy drinking tomato juice when I fly.  And they even served it with fresh lemon.

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Landing in Lome, Togo.  That’s our shadow!

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By the time we got our boarding passes and seats we didn’t have long to wait before boarding.  And before we knew it – we were landing in Addis.

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We had several hours in the Addis Airport so we cruised around some shops for a bit, but that’s cumbersome with carry-ons and computer bags.  So we found a restaurant to kill time in because once we went through security, there was no food or drink allowed, and no ‘facilities’.  While sitting there, we noticed there was pizza on the menu.  We remembered how we enjoyed the pizza when we spent 3 days in Addis back in March, so we figured we should get some, you know, for old times sake.  It was worth it.  And here’s Neal, looking all bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of an already long day.  And I have no idea what time of day this really is.

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What I do remember is that it was cold.  Check out Neal’s winter ware!

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I was seriously cold.  Cold enough that it didn’t matter how dorky I looked.  These are my travel socks.  I always keep them in my purse when I travel be it by road, air or sea.  And they came in handy.  

Everything blurs together, but I do remember the walk to the plane was a long one.  Several ramps. And  the plane – it was huge!  Called a Dreamliner I think.  And we got exit row bulkhead!!  That is also huge.  And no one else was sitting in the 3rd seat in our group of 3.  We were counting our blessings.  This was the longest of the 5 flights.  And yes I actually walked to the plane looking like this.  

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And again, more food.  We usually accepted it, but then didn’t really eat it.  I think this is chicken.  Enjoyed my tomato juice though!

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I think we got some sleep on this flight.  Getting ready to land in Delhi.

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We’re in India!

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We had to collect our bags, which both showed up – even though Neal is wondering…

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Immigration / Customs was a breeze and the officials were very friendly, welcoming us to their country and seemed sincerely happy that we were there.  It was a nice welcome and helped to revive me a bit.  I found myself smiling.  The journey had been pretty long to this point, and we still had an 8 hour wait until our next flight to Chandigarh.  Knowing what we know now, we probably would have just found a taxi and made the 5 hour road trip.

Things at this point were a bit confusing…We were feeling so excited to actually be in this country, but we didn’t know where to go.  We had to figure out how to leave the international section and get to the domestic section.  The airport was pretty secure, with guards/police at all the entrances.  We were hoping to be able to check our bags right away, so we didn’t have to sit with all our stuff for 8 hours.  We inquired and were told we had to go to such and such counter.  That counter was through a door that was being guarded.  The only hard copy evidence of our upcoming flight was a printout of all of our flights, and it didn’t have our names on it.  Without proper documentation, we weren’t getting in.  Babu shigowa – no entry.  We were told to go to such and such counter and get a print out of our ticket.  We explained that we had already tried such and such, but they wouldn’t let us in.  Because we didn’t have the right printout.  We finally found a way in, waited in line and were then told we had to pay 10 rupees for the printout.  We didn’t have 10 rupees.  We had plenty of dollars, but no rupees.  And to go change our dollars required us to go beyond the doors that we weren’t allowed because we didn’t have the printout.  Get the picture?  It was all quite confusing.  And probably even more so since little sleep had been had in the previous 30 or so hours.  The counter lady had mercy on us and gave us the printout for no dollars or rupees.

Printout in hand, we headed to domestic flights to hopefully check in.  When we got to such and such counter, they looked at the printout and smiled at us like we were overly excited about our flight and explained that this flight wasn’t until much later in the day.  I think it was just after 8am.  We smiled back and said we knew that, but we just arrived and were hoping to check our bags.  Counter lady  explained that there was an 11am flight to Chandigarh (ours was at 5pm) and she was concerned that they would be put on that flight so wisely advised us to wait until after that flight left.  She also explained that we were only allowed 15 kilos each.  We had more than that— forgot that international and domestic baggage allowances are not the same.

Waiting until after 11 gave us time to shuffle some things around in our bags, and add some heavier stuff to our carry-ons.  So in the end we only ended up paying about $20 for our excess bags.  They were quite gracious about it.  Could have (should have) been much higher.

Finally freed of our bags we could now wander around the terminal.  We found the food court!  KFC, McDonalds etc.  But none of that for us.  And keep in mind that beef is not eaten – so don’t be expecting two all beef patties. (But I think it’s debatable that McDonalds in beef-eating countries can claim ‘all beef’ patties either) We went straight for the Indian food.  And it was quite tasty.  Chicken biriyani, samosas, daal and some really tasty sauces.  Hit the spot!

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Now to go and find a place to clean up and wait for our last flight.  It was a pretty big terminal, and surprisingly sparse.

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Pretty nice place to wait.  I dozed, Neal read.

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But first, we took turns in the bathroom.  In Niger, the bathrooms in nicer homes or hotels all have boudets (it’s a French word that I have no idea how to spell)…kind of a cross between and sink and a toilet.  I’ve never used them – because to be honest, I don’t really know how.  Well the toilets I’ve seen here so far all have a spray hose/drain.  Again, something I probably wouldn’t use under normal circumstances.  But we haven’t had a shower in awhile, and that sprayer complete with water (it worked, I checked), looked like it had great potential.  Armed with my baby wipes and a hand towel, I took a mini-shower in the bathroom.  Washed my feet in the toilet.  No – not IN the toilet.  I held  my feet over the toilet, soaped them up with my travel shampoo and sprayed them off.  Nothing like clean feet!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face (no, not in the toilet!) and emerged feeling semi-clean and ready to complete our journey.

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Our 8 hour wait was finally up and we boarded the plane for our less than 1 hour flight.  Here we are landing in Chandigarh, India.  I know I’m not supposed to take pictures at airports with security around etc, but I got this one on my phone while I was walking away from he plane.   Managed to actually get a picture of our plane.  Interesting that our journey started and ended with a plane this size.
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It felt so good to be on the ground.  Our bags came last, but they came!

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We were being picked up by our host, Pastor James Chacko, whom we had only met via email/Facebook.  He was standing right outside the airport and graciously welcomed us and made us feel right at home.  Which is how we felt when we made the drive from the airport to his home. Driving in India may have the reputation of being crazy, but it really did make us feel at home. If you’ve been to Niger, you know what I’m talking about.

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It was Friday evening and we arrived at Pastor James and Usha’s beautiful apartment and were shown our room and got settled.  We enjoyed some Chai tea and got to know each other, and then Usha cooked for us.  Yep.  More food.  But this was by the far the best we had eaten, and it was only the beginning!

I’ve been wanting to write about this journey since arriving back in Niger almost 2 weeks ago, but today is literally the first day the internet has been good enough to do so.  Blogging with bad internet is quite tedious, but I’m determined to record the details of this amazing journey we had the privilege of making.

For now, I need to go make some Chai.

Nigeria Missionary Journey Part 1

It was a journey that would take 3 full days of driving.  It was a journey that would take us to Neal’s childhood home.  It was a journey that would take Tobi to Nigeria for the very first time.  It was a journey that would take me back to the first time I ever left the US – with a 9 week old Trae in tow.   It is a journey that God placed on our heart nearly 2 years ago.   It’s a journey that we are believing we will place the passion to preach the Gospel to all people in the hearts of many.

We departed Niamey on Monday, January 28th.  We left our home packed up for a 4 week trip.  First stop was Maradi where we had our Annual Pastor’s Meeting.  It was an encouraging time of hearing testimonies from our pastors about what God did in 2012, and of pouring forth vision for the upcoming year.  Every year it’s bigger and better because there are more pastors and more mature churches.

Here’s the annual photo of some amazing men that God has raised up.   They are all pastoring churches in Niger.

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January 30th we hit the road at 6:30am.  The sun was just coming up.  You can see our trusty Google instructions on the dashboard.

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The border from Maradi to Nigeria is only about 30 minutes away.  We arrived on the Niger side just after 7.  There is no electricity there so inside the immigration ‘building’ it was still a bit dark.  The customs official there held a flashlight in his mouth while he wrote down all our passport information in his book.  I was sorely tempted to take pictures but resisted the urge.  It’s possible I’d be writing this from jail if I hadn’t exercised self control.

The difference between the Niger and Nigeria borders was drastic.  For those who don’t travel much, when you leave one country and enter another, you must have your passport stamped with an exit stamp when you leave.  You have to have all your car papers and other various documents in order to be allowed to leave.  Then you drive through ‘no-man’s land’ which can sometimes be miles long.  In our case, however, you can see the Nigeria side from the Niger side.  When you arrive into the next country you again go through all the official steps to be ‘checked in’.  The 2 sides are drastically different.   As I mentioned, there is no electricity on the Niger side.  The immigration offices are few, small and sparse.  The officials are friendly and quiet and basically do their job.  You don’t get the impression that they are trying to cook up some way to get something from you.  They are dressed in simple uniforms and most were wearing flip-flops.  There was one official there who was practicing his English and stood there saying ‘New York, San Francisco, Rockefeller’.  I think he was just trying to come up with any English he had learned.  He enjoyed practicing with Tobi.

In spite of having our information all hand-written, the process took only about 15 minutes on the Niger side – including our car documents.

Next stop – Nigeria.  Not only was there electricity, there were several big fancy buildings outfitted with air-conditioning.  One man directed us one way.  We got out of the car and locked it up.  Another man told Neal that no, he would have to move the vehicle.  Which he did – about 3 feet…  There were many officials and they were all very welcoming and very loud.  They were dressed in snazzy uniforms with trim – I’m sure the ‘trim’ had purpose and meaning, I just didn’t know what it was.  Their feet were outfitted with shiny black dress shoes.

First stop was to fill out more paperwork.  One form for each of us to to complete with our life histories.  Not really, but it was getting redundant.  After that, several people directed us in several different directions – all at the same time.  At first, Tobi and I were told that we could wait in the vehicle while Neal finished up the paperwork for that.  Then they discovered that Tobi spoke Hausa and I think they invented ways to keep us there longer so they could talk with him.  I was sent to one building with passports to have some more stuff written down.  Neal was sent to another building for vehicle stuff.  And Tobi – well, we’re not sure where he was.  But a great thing about Nigerians is that they love kids so we weren’t the least bit concerned.  We knew he was in good hands.  And he loved it.  Again, I would have been able to get some classic pictures, but had I taken them it’s possible that neither they, nor my camera would have survived to tell the story.  So you’ll have to use your imagination.  It was all quite colorful.  Forty-five minutes later we were on our way.

It’s kind of funny that in spite of the fact that we’ve had some crazy things happen while living in Niger – and that right now there’s stuff going on there since we’re part of the war in Mali, I’m actually more intimidated by traveling in Northern Nigeria.  I don’t exactly know why.  I didn’t realize how stressed I must have been until we arrived at our destination in Abuja.  I was aching, and my body temperature was all over the place.  I’ve learned that my body processes stress in weird ways.  I usually don’t even recognize I’m stressed until the stressor is over and my body relaxes – and reacts!

I got a bit more ‘daring’ with my camera after we were through the borders, but was always ready to hide it as we came upon the many, many police checkpoints.  Actually, with all going on in the world these days, we can be thankful for those checkpoints.  And for the most part, they went smooth.

There was one thing that was always consistent among the police and soldiers.  They were ALWAYS friendly and welcoming.   And most were legitimately checking our passports/visas.  We are aware and prepared for those who see us and see dollar signs written all over us.  We know that you are required to travel with a fire extinguisher and triangle and to wear seat belts.  At one particular stop after the friendly greeting they asked if we had an extinguisher.  Of course we said with a big smile as we produced it.  Good.  What about a triangle?  Certainly!  Good.  Now then, what about your ‘road rule book’.  What?  Seriously?  Yep.  You are required to travel with it.  I’m sitting in the car going ‘you’ve GOT to be kidding me!’  Which is why I was in the car and Neal was outside talking with them.  He knows how to talk to Nigerians.  He kind of is one.  So I hear things like ‘turn around’, ‘impound your vehicle’.  Then the ‘supervisor’ comes over.  Neal then plays the “Pastor Card”.  “I’m a pastor”, he says.  “Oh”, says the supervisor.  “Well, just do ‘something’ for them”.  They have to save face you know.  We brought with us some of our 2013 Planners that are given to the ministry every year by Kingdom Life Fellowship in Richlands, NC.  We had just passed them out to everyone at the annual meeting and we brought some with us for ‘such a time as this’.  Neal leans in the car and tells me to get some planners out.  “How many”, I ask.  He said 2 or 3.  Then I hear a booming voice say, “We are 4 in number”.  Alrighty then.  Four it is.

They were all smiles as we drove away.

All the other checkpoints were pretty basic and legit.  Just had one funny soldier ask us if we had a puppy for him.  Seriously.  A puppy.

Nigeria is 50% Christian and 50% Muslim.  Mainly, the Muslims are in the North and the Christian’s in the South.  Though there were quite a few churches/ministries along our way, there were still more mosques.  There is definitely a difference though in the Niger Muslim and the Nigerian Muslim.  They carry the influence of their own cultures.  We found the Nigerian’s to be so friendly – rambunctious even.  We had to stop for directions multiple times and every time there were so many people looking to help us and vigorously showing us the way.  Many even said, “Shall I take you there?”

Speaking of directions, Neal had diligently looked up and printed out Google maps and directions for our trips.  But an FYI – don’t depend on Google to get you  through Nigeria.  The maps were helpful though to show us what towns/villages were upcoming.  Then we would ask if we were on the right track for the next town.  And so it went.

We always enjoy traveling to places where the language is English.  But all 3 of us discovered that we also enjoyed that the English was mixed with Hausa, our ‘other’ language.  According to Neal it was ‘delightful’.  Yep, he really said that.

We also really enjoyed stopping along the way and talking with the old Hausa men.  They’re just fun guys.

I’m going to end this blog with pictures from the first day of our journey.

There were TONS of trucks on the road.  They’re painted with all kinds of stuff.  On of my favorites is ‘Horn before overtaking’

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4 lane ‘highway’!

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Mosques are prevalent in Northern Nigeria.

IMG_0429 But there are beautiful churches as well!

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It was so nice to see some road signs – there weren’t many!  Made us appreciate driving in the US.  Of course with lots of road signs we wouldn’t have had as many opportunities to talk to the cool old Hausa guys.

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Traffic started to pick up.

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That’s a real rock  – not just a funny image in the photo.  It was a really dusty (cool) day.

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It’s a really, really big rock.  Those are some decent sized houses in front of it.

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Such  variety on the road…

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The sign by these houses was ‘This is a Housing Scheme’.  Thought that was funny.

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The city of Kaduna.  A part of the city we ought not to have seen…but we won’t go there.

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Here’s where we had lunch.  It was a fuel station in Zaria called “Al Mochtar Restaurant”  Rice, spicy red stew, beans, salad and coke for $3 each.  Loving us some Nigerian food!

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Eleven long hours later we arrived in the Capital City of Abuja – our home for the night.  But arriving and finding our hotel were very different things…We got smart when we saw the massiveness of the city and realized our Google map was googly glop.  We hired this taxi #3877 to take us to our hotel.  It was $6 VERY well spent!

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Another Mosque… the sun is almost set.

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Our home for the night.  A Nigerian friend of ours and supporter of our ministry not only made arrangements for our night here – he also paid for our stay and left a food credit for us to eat.  Such a HUGE blessing!  Thank you Sola.

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It was so wonderful to arrive.  SO wonderful.  We thank God for answered prayer and I was  thankful to know that so many were praying for our journey.  That fact came to mind quite a few times along the way.

Part 2 soon…