We’ve made the trip between Maradi and Niamey, Niger over the last 15 years countless times. Literally. But I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a blog post specifically to the trip. So here goes.
Niamey, the capital of Niger, is located in the south-western part of the country. The majority of the population also lies on the southern border, known as the Sahel Region. Not many people live up in the north, because that’s the Sahara Desert. So this journey takes us about halfway through the country, from West to East, along the Southern border.
We once completed the 388 mile road trip in 6 hours 45 minutes. That was years ago. And I know that’s not going to win the Indy, but when compared to our longest time…. What was our longest time you ask? Well that’s up for debate. Do you count the trip with the 6 flat tires? Or the one where the front tire actually flew off the vehicle? Or what about the time the whole thing seized up and we had to leave our vehicle on the road and take public transport the rest of the way home? Or how about when the brakes went out and we had to completely turn around and go home to get them fixed and leave again the next day? I could go on. But I won’t.
This particular journey was just a couple of weeks ago. We went to Maradi to celebrate the New Year. Tanika was home visiting and hadn’t been in Maradi in a few years. Since she spent nearly 9 years of her life there, it was time for a visit. But I digress. This is about the actual road trip. Besides Neal and myself and Tanika in the vehicle, Tobi was of course with us, as well as Sukala and his new wife Rakkiya. So the 4 of them were pretty cozy in the back seat. But the fun made up for the squishiness. I think.
The road is always in various stages of repair and since we’ve lived here has never been completely good. By that I mean there has always been a significant section of road that is in bad shape. And I mean really bad shape. Right now it’s the portion between Guidan Roumdji and Birnin’ Konni, closer to Maradi. I can’t really say the actual distance, but it takes about 3 hours to get through it. It shouldn’t take that long. Fortunately, it is being worked on. I’m trying not to notice the part of the road that is starting to deteriorate which will soon become the next really bad section.
Most of the rest of this post will be photos, most taken on our return trip to Niamey from Maradi. But a few pics are actually from the trip to Maradi from Niamey. Like this one. This is the Niamey gate as we are leaving the city. The sun is coming up. We are driving toward the sunrise. Pretty, but makes for a couple of squinty hours, even with sunglasses.
And now here we are on the other end. Leaving Maradi, January 2nd, 2014 – the Maradi city gate. We left at the same time as we did in Niamey 4 days earlier, but sunrise here is earlier.
The sun is behind us this time.
The open road. Sort of.
All 6 of us, ready for the long journey. Again – sort of.
This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.
Often turn into this…
No potholes! And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side. Often, we share the road with them.
Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.
Check out the camels on the left. Another mode of transportation.
There are countless small villages along the road. All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!
No, we weren’t off-roading. This was a detour of sorts.
On a journey like this, one does not like to hear unfamiliar noises coming from any part of the vehicle. A couple of hours in, we heard such a sound. And it wasn’t a good one. First thought – a blown tire? I can’t really describe the sound except to say it was loud and sounded like kind of a big deal. We slowed and stopped with no problems (except for the sound). Sukala jumped out and immediately saw the problem, which turned out not to be much of a problem at all. The bull guard came loose/off. Wonder how that happened?
It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.
And to be on our way.
Lots and lots of trucks on the road today – both directions. A railroad system in this country would go a long way to saving the roads!
Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.
These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.
And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.
This is the time of year that dry season farming is done. There is no rainfall to speak of, but it is done in areas that can be irrigated. These are onions growing.
Getting close to a town. Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.
Tight squeeze. The trucks really are road hogs. But check out the palm tree!
This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.
More water being transported by the beast of burden.
Following trucks also causes this problem.
This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.
Time for a pit stop. Boys on the left side of the road, girls on the right. I’m guessing Tobi and Sukala didn’t know I took their picture! =)
The ladies bathroom.
The ladies exiting the bathroom.
And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time. Fried locusts!
I’m not kidding. These guys really love them. In fact it was a request Tanika had when she got here. Tobi looks like he’s enjoying these bugs way too much!
Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.
Not me. I’ll stick with fried fish. (Thanks to the last team that was here!)
When homes are made out of the ground they are built on, they can be pretty hard to spot. As can be seen (or not), by this village in the distance. The white structure that can be seen is the village Mosque and is located in the right, front part of the village.
Some sections of the road are quite nice. And what a view! You should see it during rainy season.
This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…
This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory… We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.
Another town, another mosque.
This is Galmi Hospital. A hospital that is run by SIM, a mission organization that has been working in Niger since the 1920’s. They have served thousands and thousands of people using medicine and the Gospel. I actually had surgery here when I was pregnant with Tobi.
One of countless cell towers erected in the middle of nowhere. What stood out to me was the dish covered in red dirt…Anyone got a hose?
This man is carrying a generator on his head. Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!
Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.
More positive signs of road work.
Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.
More onions for sale.
And it’s full service!
This is not Quick Trip, but there are lots of things that can be bargained for – Tanika and Tobi I think were buying bread. And check out the King Tat candy bars being held out for Tanika to consider.
Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.
This camel really is owned by someone.
So are these cows.
We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.
This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.
The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…
This is what happens.
As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!
Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle. That’s what the sign on the right is.
This is a section of road that was repaired a couple of years ago. There’s water here most of the year, but I have no idea the source.
These little boys are just having fun in their cart.
Islam, the predominant religion in Niger, is required to have beggars because they have to ‘give alms’. So as sad as it is, seeing beggars of all shapes and sizes is part of the culture and landscape of this nation. This man is camped out at a speed bump, asking for those alms – or anything one wants to give him.
A church!! There aren’t many as you make your way across the land, but there are many more than there used to be. And they will continue to increase as we stand on God’s Word that He is giving us every place we put our feet!
This is a market place. But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.
Yet another overturned truck.
This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.
For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.
The people you see walking are students. It’s noon, and the schools are out. They will go back at 3pm.
The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.
I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.
Dosso city gate!!
Yep – there are even traffic lights here!
This station looks pretty much like the first one. We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.
This station actually has a locked toilet that as far as I can tell is reserved for foreigners. It flushes and has running water. BYOT.P. Unless of course all you need is the plastic tea kettle conveniently located. As nice as it is, this isn’t always the best plan though, because as opposed to the ‘bush toilet’ where everyone can go at the same time, this is a one -umm, ‘seater’, so takes more time.
I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.
This is a common way to carry babies, even on motorcycles. There are 3 people on this one. The little guy is tied to his Mom with a piece of cloth.
As we get closer to home, we have the option of getting fresh chicken at a ‘drive-through’. We turned down the opportunity though, as it was a bit too fresh for me.
This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.
You know those transport busses I mentioned. These passengers got an unplanned break. They’re probably waiting for another bus to come and rescue them.
This one is a bit fancier.
Mango trees! And they’re starting to bud.
The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.
I don’t know what’s inside this truck, but the all those things hanging off the sides are plastic teapots – like the kind in the fancy bathroom. These are very common in this culture, because the Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they go through a ritualistic washing process before every prayer time. That’s one of the main things they use these little kettles for.
Firewood is being loaded onto this vehicle. It will likely be taken to Niamey and will be sold. So I guess you could say this is the warehouse.
Same thing here, and believe it or not, they are going to add the firewood to that load. There is always room for more stuff.
Getting close now. This is the entrance to the ‘giraffe reserve’. By entrance I mean the place you go and pay and pick up a guide. By reserve I mean that the giraffe are protected, but as far as I know not really followed that closely. We rely on the guides who rely on their good or not so good tracking skills. Some are definitely better than others. You drive your vehicle into the bush with the guide on the top, armed with a stick. We’ve done it tons of times and it really is a pretty cool experience. Not today though.
I like taking pictures of tractors.
The top of the van is loaded with goats.
Pretty impressive section of road. It’s all about perspective…
Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.
Outskirts of Niamey.
This is called the Peage. This is where you pay your road tax. You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.
I snuck this picture a little closer. That’s one thing I didn’t get pictures of that are a major part of this journey. All the checkpoints. Not a good idea to have your camera out at these. A checkpoint is essentially a rope that crosses the road, that is often hard to see. But that’s ok, because you can pretty much expect them in every village. And there are 2 types. Sometimes they are together and sometimes separate. One is simply checking that you actually paid your road tax. The other one is a police checkpoint. More often than not they just wave you on, but sometimes they want to see your papers, and sometimes they just want to chat. Especially if they discover you speak Hausa. Over the years, I have found that almost always the people at these checkpoints are very friendly and they smile a lot.
Niamey city gate!!
The airport is off to the right.
Airport entrance. You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.
Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.
This young man is selling boxes of kleenex. The Grand Mosque is in the distance.
There it is as we drive by. This is the main mosque for Niamey.
Getting close to the new overpass.
Going under the new overpass. It’s really quite fancy.
I really like those carpets on the left. They’ve been displayed there for quite some time. I wish someone would buy them!
Some might find this sweet or productive, but for some reason it drives me crazy! There are several intersections in town where these little guys sneak up from behind with their squeegees and wash your windows, uninvited. They always startle me because they just appear, even when you’re looking for them! I think the thing that annoys me is that even if you tell them not to smear your windows, they never listen. (And to their credit, they actually do sometimes clean them).
A bike and a car meet unexpectedly. Unfortunately a common occurrence.
We have arrived at Sukala and Rakkiya’s house. Unloading their stuff. They are both from the Maradi area, and this was their first trip their since their wedding. So they are unloading gifts they were given. Well, that and the bull guard.
A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.
Thanks for the memories.
Sukala heading into his home.
Continue on to our home.
Our road. Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.
Home Sweet Home.
Guess she missed her pillow.
More stuff to unload!
Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days. I think.
So, there you have it. A trip through the nation of Niger! It’s not for the faint-hearted. But much can be learned about the country and the culture as you journey across this vast and beautiful desert land – especially if you have a breakdown. Which thankfully, we did not. This time.
Well, this is it. What a journey it’s been. Even though we do it all the time it always amazes me when we make a plan, then execute the plan, then go on to the next plan. We are now home and ready to execute the next plan. Well almost. But that’s another story. On a side note, we know that God orders our steps but we have to take those steps once we hear His direction. Thus, we make and execute plans.
And now on to our 3 day journey back to Niger…
Just as we were getting ready to leave Benin City on Thursday morning we received a phone call from the Bible School asking if we could stop by on our way. So with our vehicle loaded we headed back to the school. We were met by some representatives of the student body expressing their love and appreciation for our coming and for Neal’s teaching. They handed us an envelope explaining that they had taken an offering for us and wanted us to know how much they had received. Wow! We stood there grateful, blessed and shocked. We know what it’s like to be a student. After more hugs and goodbyes and promises to return, we had to hit the road. What a sweet send off.
Leaving Benin City
Not only are there creative business names – check out this bumper sticker. It had to have been created by a Nigerian!
Takes a long time to get through the city.
A LONG time.
I think this guy was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of 3 days of this…
Finally some open road.
Love these plantations.
Lots of ‘markets’ on the side of the road. Would have loved to bring some of that stuff home!
Lots of curves in these jungle roads.
That’s one way to look at life… but not fun to be behind him!
On and on we go.
Entering another town.
Thought this was funny. “Progressive Remedial Class”.
From Palm trees to traffic.
Lots of traffic!
Another interesting business – Islamic Store and Honey Depot. Really?
Lunch! The food here was good – well, the rice. We weren’t as impressed with the chicken and the tables were literally covered in dirt. Fortunately I travel with wet wipes.
More cracked up cars.
We weren’t this packed.
Some of the ba-zillion trucks we had to pass.
Now this looked familiar to us. These Fulani people were probably from Northern Nigeria, and maybe even Niger.
The guys on motorcycles were traveling with their counterparts on donkeys.
This truck was at one of the places we stopped for fuel. And I can testify that those are some of the best pineapple you’ll ever eat.
Entering Abuja. Our stopping place for the Night. Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city. The part we were in was quite modern.
When we were here over 3 weeks ago, we had a taxi man direct us to our hotel. We took his phone number. We were able to find him again and he helped us get there again. Yes, it was the same place, and no – we couldn’t remember how to get there. In fact we told our taxi man that we’d meet him where we did before, only to find out we had no idea where that was. He found us.
We checked into our room. It was 4:30. The journey had taken us 7 1/2 hours. We felt like visiting the city (at least the part we were in) more than we did when we arrived from Niger. That’s a longer part of the trip. Of course we only explored the parts we could walk to, and that before dark. So that gave us about an hour. As I said, this part of the city is very developed and modern. If I didn’t know from where I had just come and where I was going, but had been airlifted and dropped right on this street, I might assume I was in some city in America. Keep in mind that my perspective is Niger…. Anyway, we spotted a little place called “Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven”. That looked intriguing. But I also wanted to visit the grocery store I saw. There we purchased a few packages of Oreo’s to give as gifts (and to eat- we needed food for the trip of course). We made our way back to Cupcake Heaven and decided to have dessert before dinner. Scandalous. Neal and I both had ice cream – go figure, since we were in Cupcake Heaven. But Tobi had his eye on a peanut butter cupcake. Then he had his mouth on it. He gave great reviews, and the ice cream was pretty delectable too. I didn’t have my camera, but as always when I don’t, I wish I did. So, no pictures of peanut butter cupcakes. Oh – on a side note, while we were in the grocery store, I saw a young white lady. I specify that she was white because it was the first white person we had seen that we didn’t know in almost 4 weeks. It was remarkable and we quietly commented to each other – “Hey, look! A white person!” Then we saw a 2nd one getting cupcakes. What a novelty that was.
We made our way back to our hotel, had dinner (more rice and spicy red stew), then made our way to our ultimate goal of sleeping. While we were relaxing, Neal (who has better hearing than I), heard a sound in our air conditioner. Not a big deal thinks I, who supposes it’s a lizard. We like lizards. They eat mosquitoes. But he’s not convinced it’s a lizard. Because he can see little ‘hands’ reaching up and grabbing pieces of wood from the frame around the AC. Lizards don’t have hands. Rats do. Sort of. Lizards we can do. Rats, not so much. We made a call to the front desk to explain our situation. They said they’d be right up. I think it was close to 11pm. Right up they were with with I think was mosquito spray. If it had been a lizard, he would have taken care of the mosquitoes. They explained that the place had recently been fumigated. Good to know. They sprayed and we thanked them. The scratching stopped. We knew the critter wasn’t’ dead, but hoped that he had moved on to greener pastures.
My mind was going way too fast and the wave of exhaustion that wafted over me while eating ice cream in Cupcake Heaven was gone. The internet at this hotel was so fast and I wanted to take advantage of it. But I knew I needed to sleep. After almost 2 hours of working really hard at getting to sleep, I finally got up. I got some stuff done on our website of all things. Until 3:30 am. Then it took probably another hour to get to sleep after that. At least I wasn’t driving…
Six o’clock came right on time, just as I had gotten into an amazingly restful sleep. That ended quickly as we got up, repacked the car and tried to eat breakfast but discovered it was just too early to eat. Taxi man was there waiting to lead us out of the maze we were in.
On our way were we with a beautiful sunrise and lovely view of Zuma Rock.
This is as far as Taxi Man needed to go. We stopped on the road to pay him.
The rock is big.
So we were able to see it for a long time.
Quite a long time.
It looks like there’s a face etched into the face of the rock.
Here’s a closer look. It’s upside down. Tobi noticed it first.
We weren’t done with trucks.
This is the only picture I got but if you look closely on the right you’ll see a small sign that says ‘Yes Fuel’. This is because there are loads of fuel stations on the road, but only a small percentage of them actually had fuel. Thus the sign.
Thought this was a funny truck. Grabbed a snap even though it was in line at the border.
When we were traveling down from Maradi to Abuja on our first day it took us 11 1/2 hours. We made much better time today and arrived in only 9 1/2 hours. That thanks in part to the iPad that told us where we were going with a little blue dot. It was extremely helpful. We knew where we needed to be and that knowledge combined with the little blue dot and we could see which way to go. We didn’t get lost once. And though driving through Northern Nigeria can historically be a big hairy deal, we had no problems. My Nigerian husband (don’t worry, I didn’t get married again in Nigeria, I’m talking about Neal) is a pro at talking with the police. One of the police even said ‘You’re the white man that speaks Hausa’. He remembered us. So we had no issues at police check points, no one demanding puppies or road rule books. (see previous posts).
We are not fearful by nature, but we do like to be wise. And that means at the very least not driving into crowds. We got to one small city and we could see from a distance that there was a crowd. But there was no where else for us to go. People were obviously dressed up and heading somewhere. The further we drove, the bigger the crowd got. Neal kept saying, “This isn’t good. We shouldn’t be here.” I pointed out that this appeared to be an organized demonstration/event as there were guys in uniforms directing traffic. Sort of. So in spite of the excitement and Arabic banners we counted on this being something peaceful. Maybe a party of some sort….
We were traveling behind a transport vehicle that was packed full of people. We were in a Toyota 4Runner, but this truck was much bigger than us so the people could look down into our vehicle. I’m guessing we looked pretty conspicuous, being white and all. They just stared at us as I resisted the urge to whip out my camera and begin snapping pictures of whatever this was. Because I was smart enough to know that that is the very thing that could turn an intended peaceful event into something not so peaceful (aka: Riot) The crowd grew larger and more colorful, and finally swelled at the entrance to a big mosque, which was obviously the final destination. For them, not us. We were able to quietly move along. The whole procession I’m guessing was about 2 kilometers.
Other than that little bit of excitement, our trip to the border was uneventful. And the border was pretty uneventful too. They remembered us and asked if we liked their country which we of course responded in the positive. And it was true!
Tobi and I stayed in the car and I snuck this picture while waiting. They’re writing down all our passport info by hand.
We spent the night with Jonathan and Dani, our friends and fellow missionaries in Maradi. We had a great meal (chicken enchiladas) and a quick night of fellowship. They got an earful about our trip, as they were really the first we talked to about the amazing adventure we had been on. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures there either.
Fortunately I was able to increase the hours of sleep, as did Neal, and we were on our way to Niamey (home) early the next morning.
This is looking more like home.
Such a stark contrast to where we’ve just come from.
At least they’re working on the roads…
Now that’s the Niger I know!
8 1/2 hours later we arrived in Niamey.
For now, there are more mosques than churches. But we can see what can be in a West African country. If God can do it in Nigeria, He can do it here! And I believe he is calling the Nigerians to help.
The Niger River in the distance.
Our gate is straight up ahead. Under the big tree.
Home sweet home
We’re thankful that God ordered our steps to Nigeria and back, and I know we’ll be processing all that He did for some time to come. We so appreciate everyone who spent time praying for us. Prayer works and we know that is why this trip was such a great success and something we’ll always remember with great joy. And we believe that there were seeds that were planted that will produce fruit – fruit that remains.
My, my, my how the weeks fly by! That’s a good thing because even as much fun as we’re having, January 7th can’t get here soon enough!
We had a great few days in Dickinson, Texas with Pastor’s Carter and Laura Ware. What an honor it was to be there for the church’s 1st anniversary. They have been supporting the work in Niger since they opened. And we love their church name and vision: “Faith For All Nations: Our mission is the Great Commission!” What a vision! Had a great time with their family and loved spending time with several church members. Wonderful people! Pastor Carter ‘forced’ us to go to their kick-boxing class. Now I have been doing pretty good keeping up with my workouts while we’re traveling (it’s the eating part I’ve NOT been doing well with) but that workout was downright mean!! I’m pretty sure people would have paid dearly to watch Neal and I attempt to become black-belts in 1 hour. 2 days later we were both so sore that bringing food to our mouths was painful. Tragic! Thanks Master Garza! “I buffet my body….make it my slave…. Yeah, right.
From Dickinson, we moved on to Conroe, Texas, to another new church pastored by some old friends. They’re not old, mind you, just been friends for awhile. It has been amazing to us how God has really connected us with new churches or new beginnings on this trip. We had a fantastic time with Pastors Alan & Donna Anglin, pastors of Conroe Christian Center, a church that is going to multiply. What an honor to be a part of that! Donna not only supplied ‘our’ room with all kinds of goodies that we loved (but certainly did not need), we enjoyed lots of home-cooked meals. We attended the Conroe Cajun Catfish Festival and met ourselves some real live rednecks. (Is it okay to say that?) It was just nice to reconnect with friends and make new ones. God is doing big things there.
Next, we flew from Houston to Minneapolis to see our kids! We were excited! This was on October 12th and our flight from Houston was delayed because of the snow in Mpls! In October! Despite the cold, we had a great time with Tanika and Tobi. They have fit into their new but temporary world quite well. My mom and dad picked us up at the airport and after a nice breakfast/lunch (yep, more food) with them, we went straight to the church, where we were going to meet Tobi at his choir practice. Tanika met us there as well. It was so great to see them and I had to make myself not think about the fact that we would be leaving again only 4 days later. Tanika is quite busy with the online classes she is taking, and her 2 day a week babysitting job. Great experience as she is taking care of a 1 and 3 year old. Keeps her hoppin’! But she’s great at it! Tobi was ‘Star of the Week’ at school and we were his show and tell. After he introduced us as his parents and missionaries, we all sang a song in Hausa while Tobi played the drum. It was obvious how loved he is by his classmates, and by his teacher. The feeling is mutual. Then we answered questions from the kids like ‘Has Tobi ever been lost in Africa?’, and ‘Does Tobi ever get in trouble at church?’ It was very comical. Tanika has helped in the classroom and it was very evident that the kids LOVE her as well. One of them even told me she was his best friend. Very sweet. Though I’m more than thankful to be raising our kids in Niger, I’m also thankful for the experience in American culture that they are getting – just for a few months. And they are making great memories with family that are priceless. While I was wrapped in blankets (yes, plural), Tobi seemed to embrace the cold. He would run around the house in his boxers. It made me cold to look at him. He was so sweet all week – wanting to make sure we were happy with him. But the week did come to an end. It was hard to leave again. But as hard as it was, it was one of those things that we knew was for the best. Tobi did much better this time around, crying only once. Tanika and I were fighting tears as well. The tears won.
Back we went for 1 more night in Conroe with the Anglins (and more goodies). From there we traveled to Little Rock and though we weren’t able to stay with our good friends the McGowan’s, we were able to stay with our good friends the Dorsch’s. My we are blessed with good friends! We LOVED being back at Agape church – enjoying our first Sunday morning service there in over 11 years. We ministered on Sunday night and loved it. Neal said it was one of the easiest places he’s preached. Monday night we had a get-together with Arkansas friends and really enjoyed meeting some of our partners for the first time. Tuesday, after lunch with Pastor Pat and Kathy Dezort, we made our way to Tulsa – an unexpected trip. Having a condo (Neal’s mom and dad’s) and a son there is a big draw. We used the few days to get a lot of stuff done, the biggest being the mailing of gifts to the partners we weren’t going to see. Trae is doing great and was quite busy with all the things a motivated college freshman has going on, complete with a significant other. We were happy to be able to spend time with both Trae and Christi and look forward to being back in Tulsa next week. Trae turned into an official adult on Oct 11th- He was in Michigan on his fall break at the time. That’s the first birthday we’ve not been together…
We returned to Little Rock for one more night, and were met with an incredible steak dinner prepared by John and Cathie Dorsch. Our meal even included rasberry sorbet to cleanse our pallet. What a treat!!! Then on to Bay Saint Louis, MS. Though new to us, this church has supported Neal’s parents for 31 years. In fact the first check the church wrote was to their ministry. Pastor Tyrone and Carol were wonderful and soon after we arrived they whisked us away to a local seafood restaurant, where the food was prepared the only way they know how to do it in the South – stunningly. (For lack of a more dramatic word). We discovered incredible people and amazing testimonies/miracles as we were given first hand tours of the effects of Katrina in this area. This church- Word of Faith, was a center for 3 years for teams that came from all over the US to help rebuild. Amazing stories. It was an honor to be among them.
Moving right along to Covington/Slidell/Mandeville, LA we moved in for a few days with our good friends John & Deb Mauterer. John is planning his 3rd trip to Niger in February – a medical team from Church of the King. It was so much fun to meet with the team while we were there. Because of John’s PR skills and our friendship, we believe divine connections were made in this area that will produce great fruit in Niger – and North Africa. In addition to all the connecting, many memories were made. First, they fed us what we have now dubbed ‘missionary crackers’. Crackers that expired in 2007. Rancid! That’s all I can say. In their defense, they did claim to have purchased them only 2 weeks earlier… Then there was the Dakota’s fiasco. They showed us the gift certificates they had for this high end restaurant and we were pretty sure that as good as we were at eating that we would not be able to consume that much food. Oh, how wrong we were. The atmosphere was wonderful, and it seemed as if we each had our own server. More seafood. Oh, incredible seafood. And to think I used to dislike the stuff. That must have been in a past life. The entree’s were pricey, but sounded so wonderful. So when they asked if we would like a salad we were shocked to find that the salad was not included with the entree. But alas, no worries. We had gift certificates. So salads we ordered. As well as beverages, appetizers and desserts. They even brought us a complimentary appetizer – which is worthy of it’s own post! Yep, we did it all. Then comes the bill. Neal, in his indirect/direct way asked if the certificates covered it. You see, we’ve never eaten food that expensive. Ever. John says ‘It’s cool. All we’ll have to pay is what we would have paid if we had gone to a ‘normal’ restaurant.” Hmmm. Okay. Out come the certificates. One of the servers brings them back a couple of minutes later and says “Excuse me sir, do you happen to have the plastic cards that came with these certificates?” John pauses a bit and says, “hmmmmmm. let me think. Ohhhhhh. Oops. I just remembered, we’ve already used those.” Ooops? That’s all you can say????? You mean you now have to pay for this entire meal? Can we give back the salads? Or, could we wash some dishes? John covered it very well, acting like it was no big deal. And in the whole scheme of life, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But right then and there, Neal and I felt his pain. Thanks John. As time passes, the memories that were made that night will be well worth what they cost! Despite the blunder, we had a great week and as I said, many connections were made. And I was peopled out!
From there, we headed up to Shreveport, LA, another new church for us (we have really been believing God for open doors to new churches/support/partners this trip). Eugene and Christy McBride are new pastors of Life Tabernacle, a church started in 1940. A church that has a very rich history. It was an honor to be in their pulpit. After the service? Well, we’re still in Louisiana so we ate. This time it was smoked chicken and brisket, baked beans, potato salad and rolls. It was Pastor Eugene’s daughter’s bridal shower. So in addition to all of that there were loads of sweet things, complete with a chocolate fountain. Homemade candy – all in the chocolate family. It was heavenly. Just what we needed for our road trip back for the last time to Little Rock. Which is where we are right now. It is our 37th stop. Which is why January 7th can’t come soon enough!
We packed the car on Friday night. Due to the fact that we were getting up at 4:30am on Saturday and there was a good chance that something could get left behind at that hour. Maybe even a kid.
We travel with our food and water, as there are no Kwik Trip’s or Taco Bell’s along the way. That was also prepared on Friday night. So Saturday morning was quite smooth. Everyone grabbed what he/she was supposed to, and we were out the door. The journey had begun.
Since we were leaving so early, we had almost 2 hours of driving in the dark. Not fun. But we did see the sunrise. That was fun. It’s about a 3 hour drive to the border between Niger & Benin Republic. It was about 8am when we arrive there. We sat on very old benches to fill out our paperwork BYOP-(bring your own pen). Not a computer was in sight. Each one of us was required to fill out a form with various birth, address, and other unecessary information. The form was in French so for the parts we couldn’t figure out we had to ask the ‘officials’ in Hausa what it said in French so we could write it in English. The thing that always strikes me at places like this is not just the primitiveness(it is a national border), but the inconsistencies of how things are done. The forms we filled out were inconsistent. When we pointed this out, they had us refill them out. Our names (at least some of our names) got written in a big ledger where they use a ruler to draw straight lines to divide the names. I couldn’t quite figure out if they got all our names there or not. They were giving us a really a hard time with the forms – one official telling us one thing, a different official telling us something completely different. Neal was starting to get frustrated. We all were. Especially when busses full of people pulled up, and came and went while we are still sitting there with our forms – papers that have probably since been used to start cooking fires. Finally Neal says (in Hausa) “are you treating us like this because we are Americans or because we are Christians? You’re wasting our time!” The man started saying ‘No, no, no’. Then he immediately began to stamp our passports. They do not like to be accused of favoritism. Neal said “I’m sorry for getting hot. We have a long trip.” The man told us no problem and by the time were on our way, we were laughing together. We crossed the bridge into Benin and had to fill out similar forms. But these were written in both English and French. And these officials even helped us fill out our forms. That went much quicker. In all, we spent just over an hour at the borders.
We were on our way South. The road at this point starts out very bad. Filled with potholes. Unavoidable potholes. This and the fact that it is a 1-lane road posing as a 2-lane road and is the main truck route from the port in Cotonou, Benin to Niger, and you may be able to picture it. Though all the overloaded trucks were a nusciance, we enjoyed the changing scenery from desert to tropics. And the road did improve. And then it got bad, then better again. One thing we were really excited about was the price of fuel. Right now in Niger, we are paying about $6.64/gallon of diesel fuel. In Benin, Fuel was only $4.30/gallon! Now that is a great example of perspective – when one can be excited about fuel costing $4.30/gallon!
The trip was uneventful – as uneventful as can be when traveling on roads as described above. I might add though, that even though our children are able to sleep on these trips, the average visitor would be white-knuckled right out of the starting gate.
We arrived in Cotonou some 14 hours after departure. Our kids are great long distance travelers. It’s something they’ve grown accustomed to. Believe it or not, we only stopped to ‘use the bush’ twice in those 14 hours. (Again, no Kwik Trips nearby) I think we have unknowingly learned to synchronize our bladders for road trips.
Traveling with us also, was Rufus. Rufus is from Benin and he and Trae are good friends. In fact they were roommates last year when Trae was in boarding school. Our traveling to Benin was a great opportunity for Rufus to be able to visit his family, and for Trae (and all of us) to meet them. It made the car more crowded, but we managed.
The traffic in Cotonou was incredible. It makes Niamey look like a village. We dropped Trae and Rufus off at his house, planning to meet the next morning at church. The rest of us made our way to the SIM Guest House. SIM is a huge worldwide mission organization. We were originally ‘signed up’ for the room that had an AC. We were told 2 days before departure that that room was no longer available for us but that the fans should be sufficient. Oh how wrong they were. We are coming from the desert. Yes, it’s hot (116 when we left) but we are living in probably single digit humidity. Benin is in the tropics and is just starting it’s rainy season. At first, it almost felt like we couldn’t breathe. The air was so thick and heavy. Temps stayed around 90 – 95, but with the high humidity, I thought we might melt. The fan didn’t cut it. We all took showers and slowly (so as not to build up a sweat) got into bed. We were exhausted after the trip, but sleep wasn’t easy. We just kept sweating. Fortunately there were enough beds for us each to have our own. I think around midnight the electricity went out. At this point, we would just be thankful for a fan – who needs AC? (There’s that pesky perspective again!) But Alas! I hear a generator starting up. Alas my foot! It was from the compound next to us. Our curtains were open and windows were up – to maximize the use of the non-existent breeze. The generator was so close it could have been a running lawnmower stationed right outside the window – fumes wafting into our room. And for some reason, even though it’s the middle of the night, that generator was running all the lights in that house next to us – and they were shining into our room! I got up and passed out wet wash-cloths to everyone, more of a token, really. They didn’t do much to cool us. The lights came back on after about 90 minutes. I finally gave up trying to sleep and went into the common room to read – something to keep my mind off my sweaty body. And I began dreaming about the place we would be in the very next night. A nice beach chalet with crisp cold AC – wonderful after a day at the beach. That got me through the night.
This ends Day 1 of our adventure in Benin.
It’s Friday again. The kids are on Easter break this week and next. It’s nice for them to have some time off, some change in scenery so to speak. They have kept their social calendars pretty busy between movie nights, swimming at the rec center and Grama & Grampa’s, and sleepovers. It is nice for us to not to have to pick them up and drop them off at school, but we do still have the same Bible school schedule. So unfortuantely, not a whole lot of ‘sleeping in’ going on – that’s the kind of image I conjure up when I think of ‘break’. Sleeping in. As my family, and anyone else who knew me in my college days knows, I am not a morning person – at least by design. I am only a morning person by force. Once I am up and out of bed – even when it’s very early in the morning – I think how nice it is to be up early in the morning, before anyone else. It’s the waking up part that is so painful for me. That’s why I don’t take naps. I don’t like having to wake up again. It’s like I’m starting all over again in the morning, and why would I want to experience that two times in the same day? Am I a glutton for punishment? I think not!
It’s official. Tobi is growing up. The last 2 times we have been out and about and I’ve held his hand – he’s pulled it away. I don’t think it was even a conscious decision for him. We were walking down the street, I grabbed his hand, he let go. It’s happened twice. Did I mention that? Well, he is 8 now. The other night I was putting him to bed (he still likes to be tucked in) and I asked him if he liked going to school, or if he preferred the break time. Without hesitation he said, “I love being at home and I love school.” There you have it. He is a home body, but he is also very social. Every night when he goes to bed he verifies who is dropping off and picking up the next day. And will Tanika or Trae be with him. Then when he leaves in the morning his last words are always – “See you when I get home.” I’ve realized that that is his way of letting me know that he expects that I’ll be here when he gets home. He needs me to be here when he gets home. One particular day he came home and I was in the back (I’m usually at the desk, right by the front door). When he didn’t see me, I heard him start shouting what I can only describe as a terror filled shout. “Mom? MOOOMMM! MOOOOOOOOM!!!!” I walked out of the bedroom and he was fighting tears but when he saw me he looked at me sheepishly and tried to smile. When I asked what was wrong he couldn’t really put it into words. I just told him that if for some reason I wasn’t going to be around when he got home, that I would always tell him and that someone would be here. But he still reminds me every morning that he’ll ‘see me when he gets home.’
Tomorrow morning we are traveling to Cotonou, Benin. It’s anywhere between 13 and 16 hours, depending on who you ask. Of course we’re hoping for the 13 hour version. Several months ago, Neal was invited to speak at a conference a church there is having to celebrate their anniversary. It was the 2nd invitation he received from them. The first one he had to turn down. This time, we realized that it fell over the kids Easter break and that it would be a great opportunity to make it a family trip. (Yes, there will be a few sleeping in days!) The meetings start on Wednesday. About 2 hours from Cotonou (which happens to be a coastal country!), there is a place called Awale Plage – on the beach. That’s beach – ocean included. We get our fill of beach living in the desert, minus the water. That is where we will be staying. We will go to church on Easter, and from there, head for the beach! The schedule includes 4 speaking opportunities – Wed, Thur, Fri nights, and Sunday morning. Neal has asked me to speak for one of them. I agreed (in a weak moment) and he let the pastor know. Now, I’m not sure what I was thinking!? I’m going there for vacation – not to be stressed out! Neal, who is in his element when preaching before large crowds (we honestly have no idea whether there will be 50 people or 500), I, am not. I do enjoy it, but there is certainly a fair amount of stress and nervousness I feel. I have my message ready, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ll be nervous until I finish next Friday night. I guess I can believe that those nerves will help me speak to the people exactly what and how the Lord will have me do it! We’re leaving at 5am – so much for sleeping in!
I’m trying to post a picture of my kids – taken on Tobi’s bday. If it works, I will write again and post a picture of Sido.
Well, lets see. Alot has happened in the last 2 weeks since I’ve written.
Trae and Neal returned from the softball tournament in Ouaga. Neither team won. Neal’s team made it to the semi-finals and Trae’s team didn’t make it that far. So they didn’t end up playing each other. But Trae hit 2 homeruns, so that was exciting. They both had a lot of fun. And Neal brought back strawberries for me! Fresh strawberries! What a treat!
What else…My class is going well at the Bible School. I gave a test (in 3 languages!) and most of them did quite well. Last week I took a day to show them how to use puppets. It was quite funny, and one of the girls was terribly afraid of the puppet. She jumped into the lap of the girl next to her when I brought it out. It took some time, but she got over it and reluctantly ‘tried one on’. I have divided them into 6 groups and each group is preparing a 20 minute children’s service using all they have learned so far. We’ll see all those this week. Next week I’ll start my teaching “Training your children”. Sido continues to do well. The persecution has escalated at home though, so he had to move into the dorm with the other students. Since he lives in Niamey, he was living at home and going back and forth to school each day. He has asked Pastor Abdu when he gets to start preaching! Last week he told me he wanted to change groups because they had set a time to practice their children’s service and one of the members didn’t come on time. He said that he can’t work with someone who is not motivated. I told him that I wouldn’t change groups and that they would have to work it out -that this was a good opportunity to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. This is when it really counts! In church this morning I asked how it was going and he said they are ready. Because of a bonus question, he got 101 on his test!
We’ve recently finished up with a 3-person medical team that came from Kentucky. They were great and saw something like 6-700 people in a week. This is really a great opportunity for outreach because the people come to us. Just like poverty, medical needs are rampant and drives people to get help. Then we can witness to them and pray for them. Each one. I think the count was 52 that prayed to receive Christ. Several of our pastors were there at each clinic and will be involved in the follow up. I believe the recent medical teams we are having are only a precurser to the hospital we will one day build.
Friday after school, Trae and Tanika went with a group of about 25 other people from their school to the town of Tera – about a 2.5 hour drive out of Niamey. Then they have to cross the river on a ferry. It is an outreach trip where they are helping to put up some structures for school classrooms, and do some children’s ministry. They will be home today.
Neal, along with his Mom and Dad, went to Maradi yesterday for the Executive Council meeting. Thanks to Mom and Dad for driving, which left me with my preferred vehicle. In other words, I haven’t had to drive the beloved beamer. Good thing too, because the AC stopped working again and it’s getting hot! It’s a short trip and they’ll be back tomorrow.
So that leaves Tobi and I here together. We’ve had a nice weekend. Yesterday we invited one of his classmates over to play. Tobi and Morgan are very different personalities but got along quite nicely. Morgan is a very outgoing confident little guy. Also very athletic. Here’s a part of a conversation I overheard / saw.
While playing with matchbox cars:
Morgan: I’ll have the 2 fastest cars, since I’m faster than you.
Tobi: Blank stare that turned into an ‘I get it’ stare and then said “OK”.
Off they were to continue playing with the cars. Tobi is very matter of fact about these things. Every once in awhile I get a ranking of speed levels of he and his classmates. It doesn’t even sound competitive (but I’m no fool, it has to be!), just very factual. Last night we watched the original Charlotte’s Web animated movie from 1972. It was really good! I’d forgotten that it’s really a musical. Tobi had already seen a part of it so he kept telling me what was going to happen. Wilbur was going to ‘get dead’. Like death is something you go and get. We even had popcorn!
Today on the way home from church I asked Tobi if he had any ideas for lunch. He did not. I said – how about tuna – because I had some already made in the fridge. His reply? Are you ready for this? Picture fist clenched in excitement and a shout of ‘YES’ as he pumps said fist. The guy loves tuna! And hummous, zucchini and hot sauce. Not so interested however, in things like roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy.
I’m afraid (I know I shouldn’t fear) but I really am afraid of the heat that is here – and even more – the heat that is on it’s way. When we left for the US in early April last year, it was 120. That’s hot enough for a seatbelt to double as a branding iron. We have been resisting the use of our air conditioners but last night I finally caved. It was March 1st for goodness sake. That’s officially hot season. Even with our window open and fan on it was still 87 in the room at 11pm. Tobi has been asking for quite awhile now to use his AC. We’ve refused the poor kid. When I went to bed last night, I couldn’t in good conscience use the AC while he remained hot. It also didn’t make a lot of sense to have 2 AC’s running. So I moved him into my room when I went to bed. He was all sweaty…poor guy. Sometime in the night the electricity went out. When it came back on, I would have had to get up and turn the AC on again. I decided to leave it off, (too lazy to get out of bed) hoping the room was cool enough to sleep the rest of the night. It worked. We were both comfortable. This morning it was only 81 in the room.
There’s always an adjustment when hot season arrives. It’s hot most of the time, but March and April stand alone when it comes to heat. I heard of a publication that said Niamey was the hottest capital city in the world. Niger was also described as having 2 seasons. Hot, and hotter then hell. We thank God for the AC’s we have in our bedrooms – and the money to run them. And we thank him for His son, Jesus, who has saved us from eternal fire!
Today Neal and Trae went to Ouagadougou (Wa-ga-dew-goo) For those of you who don’t know, ‘Ouaga’ is the capital of Burkina Faso. It is also where Sofanwet is being held this weekend. Every October there is a softball tournament here in Niamey. The teams are made up of foreigners here in Niger, as well as people from Ouaga. This past October both Trae and Neal were on teams. Trae’s ‘Social’ team won the championship, and Neal’s ‘competitive’ team won their championship. A similar tournament is held in Ouaga each February. That’s where they are now. Or they are enroute. The trip is only about 7 hours, but there are also borders to cross. They are both on different competitive teams, and it’s possible they could end up playing each other in the finals.
All that to say that I had to drive to school today in our beloved Beamer. Actually, I have to drive it all weekend if I plan to go anywhere. I’m considering re-arranging my schedule so that won’t be necessary! Driving it is a real lesson in gratefulness. First, I feel like I’m in a roller skate. It’s so close to the ground that motorcycles (dirt bikes) that pass tower over me. It’s rather intimidating, when I’m the one used to doing the ‘towering’. I don’t tower intentionally, it’s just the nature of the Toyota I usually drive. Second, I’m afraid to touch or adjust anything in the car. But it’s not possible for me to drive after Neal has been in the car without at least moving the seat forward and adjusting the rear view mirror. Which I did this morning… and while adjusting, said mirror came off in my hand.
But, I am thankful it has airconditioning. No matter that it only works on one speed. That was a major criteria for us to purchase this vehicle. AC. So what that we’ve already had to have 4 holes in it fixed, and have it recharged. It works. I’m thankful that it’s not overheating right now. And I’m thankful that when we were getting the overheating problem fixed, another issue (I don’t really know what it was), was exposed and repaired. I am thankful that I am in a vehicle and not on one of the many donkey carts I pass, or riding a camel in one of the camel trains I have to wait for to cross the road. (Although both of those tower over me!) And I’m thankful that it brought to my class this morning.
It was a good class. I’m teaching Children’s ministry to both our leadership and discipleship students. Many of our discipleship students are like newborn babies themselves (in their walk with God). But what better time to instill in them the importance, no, requirement we have to minister to children. I’m basing most of my aspects of teaching on the Prodigal Son. Stories, object lessons, drama’s, memory etc. About 1/2 of them hadn’t heard the story yet.
Last Friday the assignment I gave them over the weekend was to witness to 3 children. This week we have been spending a bit of time each day sharing those testimonies. They are often humorous, and they show the ignorance (in the purest sense of the word) of the new Christians. One of them said they asked a child if they had heard of Jesus. The child’s response was that he was someone who did magic. So the student discreetly threw a small coin into the sand and then told the child that if he looked over ‘there’ he would find money. Yesterday we talked about lots of fun ways to learn memory verses. When reviewing today, one of the students said we could promise the child money if he learned his verse. I gently corrected them both, letting them know that they will be having a whole course on evangelism this year. I appreciate their zealousness.
After I closed class today, Sido (whom I wrote about earlier) raised his hand. He wanted to know if it was possible to pray for someone who was far away. The ignorance (innocence?) is so touching. Of course I was able to give examples of how Jesus himself did that, but it also reminded me of an email I received yesterday. One of our supporters wrote and wanted me to let the students know they were praying for them. What a great opportunity for Sido to be encouraged, really, for the whole class to be encouraged. For that, I am truly grateful!