Visa Victory!

21 09 2007

On Monday, I drove down to Lome to renew our Togo visas. (I had tried to do it in August but I was denied due to the fact that our visas were still valid for a month.) I was not looking forward to this process, but it had to be done as the visas expired… on Monday.

Since I asked many of you pray for my trip and our visa renewals, I wanted to let you know that the trip was successful and the hand of God was with me.

First, the grumpy customs dude who rudely denied my request to renew the visas in August was actually helpful when I made the same request on Monday. He suggested (demanded?) that I change the wording of my explanation of why we were in Togo – which could be seen as being nit-picky, but since he gave me whiteout and didn’t force me to do my work back out in the crowded lobby, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. (Beside you guys were praying for me so – influenced by a holy hand – his motives had to be partly altruistic right?)

A huge burden was lifted off of my chest when the visa applications were accepted with out a fight. Answer to prayer #1.

Answer #2 came when I returned to the visa office on Tuesday. They had told me that I could pick up our passports at 4pm — too late in the day for me to make the drive home to Kara. So, I arrived there just before noon hoping that they had the visas done AND would give me the passports.

Things were looking up when I saw that grumpy customs dude was not at his desk.

Then one of the other customs guys starts talking to me in Kabiye saying, “Hey there! What’s up? You remember me right?” I indicated that there was a good chance we had met before but that I couldn’t remember where. Turns out, he used to work the customs checkpoint I drive through every week to get to one of the villages where I work.

Things were looking WAY up.

After more greetings and pleasantries, I humbly inquired as to whether our visas were done and if so, could I please get them now so I could drive home.  Since our common bond as Kabiye speakers had melted the bureaucratic ice, it was only a short matter of time before I had our 5 passports, which contained new Togo visas, in my hands. Praise God!

I thanked my Kabiye ‘brother’ and customs ‘saviors’ and happy hit the road for home. I was home by dinnertime and reunited with my family a full 14 hours before expected.

Thanks for praying for this trip and our visas. Rest assured, those prayers were answered.

Resoundingly.

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Pics from Pendjari 2007

9 09 2007

Our teammate Becky Reeves returned from a trip to the US this past week which means that I was finally able to see the pictures I took during our last 3 safaris — 2 at Pendjari in Benin and 1 at Masai Mara in Kenya. (Film processing here in Togo is not very good so I always wait to have my film developed back in the US. Maybe someday we’ll get one of those nice 35mm digital cameras…)

Anyways, I’d been anxious to see how the pictures turned out and I was happy to see some good ones. I’ve scanned a few of my favorites and I’ll be posting them throughout the week. (I’m also hoping to use some to change the header of the blog from time to time too.) Here are a couple of pictures I took in Pendjari – along with the stories behind them.

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We saw these elephants at Mare Bali during a trip in mid January. Isaac, Graham and I went with David & Elijah Reeves and Brett Emerson. I think we later met this group while driving back to our campsite.

Another highlight of that trip was getting lost and having to drive around the park until 10pm – a big no-no. We stayed at Mare Bali until it was almost dark waiting to see the lion we heard roaring nearby would reveal itself. It didn’t. Since it was dark, we drove by the turn off for the park campsite, searched for it for about 2 hours and we eventually found to be abandoned. So we drove for another hour and camped at an unmanned guard post.

While it doesn’t sound like much of a ‘highlight’ it really was. We saw lots of animals which aren’t out during the normal park view hours including 1 cerval, 4 jackals and a crested porcupine. We also came across a big buffalo who looked like he was more lost than we were! I digress…

Here is a picture of the buffalo kill and 2 of the 4 lions we saw near it during our February trip to Penjdari with our teammates and friends from Tabligbo. The kill was maybe 20 yards off of the road so we had a great view.

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The buffalo was killed during the night so we got to watch the ensuing post-kill drama throughout the day. We watched as the lions kept a wary eye on a nearby herd of buffalo (mourning relatives?) and took turns chasing off the increasing numbers of opportunistic vultures. In the afternoon, the vultures had free reign of the carcass but the lions were back at the kill around sundown. By the time the next morning rolled around, the kill had been reduced to a pile of skin and bones.

Lions are difficult to see at Penjdari so this was rare treat. That the whole family – indeed, the entire group of 35 people – got to see these lions up close and with a kill made it all the more sweeter.





Emergency! – Update

4 09 2007

Good news on both fronts!

Ezra & Esther are doing well at the Tsiko hospital. The doctors are pleased with their progress and hope to be able to release them by the end of the week.

Rosaline, from Po Wayi, had the infection in her foot surgically removed on Saturday night. No need for amputation!!! (She did say, though, that the doctors were amazed at the size of the wound.) She is being cared for at a hospital here in Kara. She’ll be there is doing well. I visited her today and she looked better than I had seen her in some time.

Please continue to pray for these precious people and for God’s healing power to be a witness here in Kabiyeland.





Emergency!

2 09 2007

emergency_title_screen2.jpgRemember the late 70’s tv show Emergency!? I don’t remember all that much about about the show except that it was about paramedics and there were lots of sirens.

When I was little, I had an irrational fear of sirens. (I think some older kids in the neighborhood told me the sirens meant the police were coming to take me away.) So, I would run crying to my mom whenever I emergency1.jpgheard a siren, whether it was nearby or far off in the distance.

Anyways, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to watch Emergency! so that I could learn that the people driving those vehicles with sirens were actually the good guys. Evidently it worked. I’m not afraid of sirens any more. In fact, I wish my truck was equipped with one.

It would have come in handy as I played the role of ambulance driver over the past two days….

On Friday, I took our day worker, Joseph, his wife and their preemie twins, Ezra (pictured here) and Esther to a mission hospital in Tsiko, Togo (a 4 hour drive). The twins were born here in Kara on August 17th at least 6 weeks early. They were released from the hospital lasttwins3_aug07-medium-web-view.jpg week on Tuesday, but they were taken a back in on Thursday. Esther was having trouble breathing and here heart rate had dropped precariously low.

God had providentially led us to ask Edith Friesen – an SIL missionary who lives in Kara and has experience working as a nurse in a neonatal ward – to help with the care of these babies. Edith noticed Esther’s complications during a house call and rushed her to the hospital. She also twisted arms (diplomatically of course) at the hospital until they gave Esther the care she really needed.

Once we realized that the twins weren’t going to get the best of care without our continous badgering, we decided to take them down to Tsiko where they’d be watched by American doctors and a more competent staff.

It was the right decision for sure. The looks of relief (and hope) that washed over Joseph and Germaine’s face as swarm of nurses placed the twins in a incubator, took their vitals and set up IVs told me so.

The twins are doing okay. Esther is being treated for malaria and Ezra may have it as well. They are eating well and are staying hydrated via the IV. They will remain in the hospital until their health improves and they make steady weight gain over a 4-5 day stretch. Please pray for these little ones, their parents and the medical staff at Tsiko. Thank the Lord for his providence which is working in their lives.

I drove home on Saturday morning and then headed out to Po Wayi – a good ways out in the Kabiye bush — in the afternoon. I went there to visit Rosaline, one of the Christians there who had a nasty infection in her foot. We had given her some antibiotics but after consulting with a doctor in the US, I decided that she needed to come to the hospital here in Kara to have the infection removed surgically.

Sadly, the infection had only gotten worse since I had last seen her. She now has a huge abscess in her heel and it appears that her skin is being eaten away. (No pictures. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to see them.) Myself and couple of other Christians visited with Rosaline and prayed for her while we sat and waited for her children to come in from the fields. Once they arrived, one of the men carried her piggy-back style to the truck so I transport her back to Kara. (Cue the siren…)

She was admitted into the hospital last night, but I do not yet know what has been done about the infection. I’m afraid that the infection may be so bad they will have to amputate her foot. Please pray that Rosaline will be healed completely and will be able to keep her foot.

Thank you for your prayers. I’ll do my best to keep you posted on these situations.





Last Things

26 08 2007

Our family is moving back to the States next May. We’ve known since the end of 2006 that this was going to be our last term in Togo, but it took us awhile to decide when we’d actually be moving back.

May 2008. Now we’re less than a year out from it, I’ve started noticing all the ‘last things’ we are experiencing. (Tracey calls it “The Long Goodbye”.)

This summer we hosted our last group of interns. (What a fantastic group! We went out with a bang for sure.) Isaac just had his last birthday in Togo (unless we’re back here visiting on July 24th). I realized yesterday that we’re living through our last rainy season. Before we know it, it will be last harvest, last harmattan, last safari, last retreat, last prayer time….last goodbyes.

It makes me sad.

There are a ton of things I’m going to miss about our lives here. I doubt I’m even aware of them all. And, I’m certain that with time, I’ll forget some (most?) of them.

Well, I’ve decided to start a running list of “things I’ll miss about Togo”. Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic about something, I’ll try to write it down and then post it here for prosperity’s sake. Hopefully it will help me remember Togo as I see it now and remind me of ‘where I came from’ once I’m a resident American again.

Things I’ll Miss About Togo…

  • Stepping out on my front porch and seeing the Kabiye mountains.
  • Stepping out on my front porch, looking east and seeing a big thunderheads that will dump on us in the next few hours. (The big storms almost always come from the east here.)
  • The nervous excitement of wondering if the truck’s 4-wheel drive is going to get through that really big mud hole in the road.
  • The overwhelming generosity of the Kabiye men who end up covered in mud after they drop what they are doing to help you get unstuck from that big mud hole. (Not that I drive through big mud holes looking to get stuck!)
  • Sunsets behind the Kabiye mountains coming home from Ketao.
  • The view out the north window of the Soumdina Po Wayi church building on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Blue sky, green mountains, the sun making the top of the grassy fields glow.

That’ll do for now.





Designated Driver

21 08 2007

On May 27th, 2007, I had the most surreal village visit of my career as a missionary. It took place on a Sunday in the village of Legue Legue, which is about as far out in the Kabiye boonies as one can go. Now, the church in Legue meets for worship around 7am and since it is an hour and a half drive out there, I had planned to get up super early to leave by 5:30am. That plan failed, however, as I slept through the alarm and didn’t get on the road until 6:30. I hit the road rushed and tired, hoping that the coffee (and bumpy road) would eventually wake me up.

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With the late start, I debated whether I should even go or not since the worship service would probably be over by the time I arrived (which turned out to be the case). But, I knew it had been awhile since that church had had any visitors and I figured I could at least track down a few Christians at their homes (or their fields) and give them some encouragement. So I drove on, mildly optimistic about the morning’s possibilities. If only I had known…

At this point in my story, I’m going to skip ahead to what transpired on the drive home from Legue. The village visit itself is worth at least two posts and I’ll write those later.

When I started off for home, I had 3 more passengers in the car with me – two young girls and an older man. The girls were getting a ride to have their grain ground at the mill which was about 2 km away. The man – the father-in-law of one of the Legue Christians – was returning to his home village and was going to ride as far as Sanda Kagbangda (about a 50 minute drive from Legue).

In the small world that is Kabiyeland, I actually knew this man since I passed his house regularly on the way to another village I work in. I’d given him a couple of rides before and he and his sons helped to dig out my truck when it had gotten stuck near their place.

Still, when I saw him at Legue, I didn’t recognize him. (And he certainly didn’t recognize me!) You see, he was SO drunk his appearance had changed. It took me 3 or 4 double takes before I decided that, yes, I knew this guy.

So, off we went. Me driving, two young girls sitting in the back with their corn and the drunk old man (DOM) who didn’t know me (or himself?) from Adam riding shotgun. I had given the old man the seat of honor in the truck (an error in judgment I was soon to discover.)

When we arrived at the girls’ stop, I got out to help them unload their corn. DOM got out too. I thought he needed to take a leak, but when I got back behind the wheel, I realized he was thinking this was his stop too. It took a little bit of explaining, but I was able to convince him that this wasn’t his stop and get him back in the car. We forged on.

Not 5 minutes later, DOM asked me (in Kabiye), “Where are we going?”

“We’re going to Kagbangda” I replied.

“This isn’t the road to Kagbangda,” he said. He seemed genuinely confused and concerned.

Trying to keep him calm I said evenly, “This is the way to Kagbangda. In fact, it’s the only way to Kagbangda by car. You probably came to Legue a different way because you were on a moto.” But that didn’t seem to ease his concern.

“This is not the way to Kagbangda! I want out of this car!” he exclaimed while trying to open the door by pulling on the window crank.

At this, I quickly reached across him and locked his door, thinking that his inexperience in riding in cars and drunken stupor would keep him from successfully unlocking the door, opening it and flinging himself out of the truck as it bounced along the road (we were on an extremely rough stretch of road, by the way). Thankfully, I was right about that, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

I kept trying to reassure him that I knew where I was going and that he was going to have to trust me. He calmed down (or forgot where he was and what he was doing – I’m not sure) and I breathed a sigh of relief. I did not want leave DOM alone to try to find his way home through the Kabiye boonies (think occasional cultivated fields and small villages sprinkled within a jungle) while he was drunk, alone and on foot!

Well, after 5 minutes of uneasy silence, DOM grabs the door handle (by chance, I think) and states, “I want out of this car. This is not the road to Kagbangda!”

Oh boy. Here we go again!” I thought. “Good think I locked that door!

I tried to calm him down again, but this time DOM wasn’t having it. As we had turned onto another, less bumpy dirt road, he continued to yell, “Let me out of this car! What are you doing to me?!”

“Help me!” he yelled at another car which was approaching us from opposite direction. “This white man won’t let me out” Then, DOM reached over and grabbed the steering wheel and proclaimed, “I’m going to wreck this truck!”

Acting quickly, I was able to stop the truck before it ran into the trees on the left. Then, deciding that I needed some help, I began to signal to the other car to stop by waving my arm up and down out of the window. (This is the universal signal for “stop” in W. Africa.) The car slowed but kept on rolling past us. Everyone in the car had a confused look on their face.

I quickly hopped out the car and kept signaling to the car to stop for us. I could tell that they were conflicted because the car slowed, accelerated and then slowed again. I could just hear them saying, “Should we stop or not?” “Yeah, lets stop.” “Okay, but what if he is a serial killer?” “You’re right! Keep going!” “Naah, let’s stop and see what is going on.”

When I saw they had stopped and were getting out of the car, I let DOM out of the truck (I didn’t trust him in there alone!) and then went to meet the 3 men who’d finally stopped to help, or at least satisfy their curiosity. Thankfully, they all spoke Kabiye and I was able to quickly explain to two of them the situation, while the third guy took on the task of deciphering DOM’s slurred speech.

I asked them what I should do with DOM, they quickly responded, “Leave him.” I really didn’t want to do that, and started asking them about the appropriateness of that action. They explained that someone would take him in until he sobered up enough to walk home and that I shouldn’t have to deal with this.

While I was getting this advice, the third guy who was talking with DOM, interjected “HE GRABBED YOUR STEERING WHEEL?!” That pretty much solidified the idea in my advisors’ heads that I should leave DOM to fend for himself and I resigned myself to leaving him behind.

But as I was leaving, DOM asked the men if the road we were on went to Kagbangda. They explained to him that it did and that I was trying to do a nice thing for him. After some more explaining (and repeating) DOM seemed convinced that I was going the right way and he announced that I was going to take him home. Great!

We went back to the car. This time I put DOM in the back seat and made sure that the child safety locks were activated on both back doors. (If I had had a chain link partition to put up between the front and back handy, I would have put that up too!)

Over the next 20 minutes on that road, we had the “Is this the way to Kagbangda?” discussion about 3 or 4 times. A couple of those times DOM tried to open the door. Thank goodness for those drunken old men locks!

Then, just before we came to the paved road which would take us to Kagbangda. DOM saw some women carrying wood into town and started shouting at them (and me) “Let me out of this truck! Where are you taking me?!”

Frustrated and tired of trying to reason with a man incapable of reasoning, I stopped the car and let DOM get out. Then I got back in the car. DOM was on his own now. Still, I paused as I watched DOM go over and talk to the women.

They chatted for awhile and then, sure enough, the women came to talk to me. “Sir, please take this man to Kagbangda,” they pleaded. “It isn’t that far.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” I said as I got out of the car to let DOM back in to his secured backseat position.

Then, as DOM was getting back into the car I asked him, “Do you know who I am?” No answer.

I continued, “Do you remember when a white man’s truck got stuck in the road near your house during a big rainstorm and he had to leave it overnight and the next day you and your sons help dig the truck out of the mud?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s the missionary who goes to Po Wayi.”

“Well,” I said, “I AM that missionary! THIS is that truck! You have got to trust me. I am taking you to Kagbangda!”

“Oh,” DOM replied and we continued on our way.

Thankfully, DOM didn’t have any more “episodes” the rest of the way. The only thing I remember him saying was when were getting closer to our destination – probably about 20 km. outside of Kagbangda – he exclaimed, “Okay! Now I know where we are going! This is the road to Kagbangda! Thank you!” Finally, he sees the light!

We arrived at Kagbangda and he thanked me profusely for giving him a ride. I was little worried that he still might not be able to find his way home. But, as it turned out, he made it just fine. (I saw him on my way to Po Wayi a few weeks later and he gave me a big smile and a wave.)

As I pulled away and headed for home, I just smiled, shook my head and thought, “Who knew ‘designated driver’ was the role the Lord wanted me to fill today.”

All in a day’s work!





Climbing Day

9 01 2007

Yesterday, Isaac, Graham and I took a hike in the Kabiye mountains. They boys had been excited about going since we had decided make the outing a few days ago. We didn’t hike to far, nor climb too high, but we did have a lot of fun together. Here are a few pictures…

This is the rock formation we climbed on and around. Isaac kept wanting to go higher and higher, but a wiser head prevaiedl and he had to settle for middle ground. Graham is peeking out from the opening just below Isaac.

At first, Graham wasn’t too sure about how the day was going go. He had all kinds of concerns. But, to his credit, he soldiered on and it wasn’t too long before he found his courage and climbing legs. I am very proud of him!

I had forgotten how fearless of a climber Isaac can be (a trait I’d like to encourage, and curb all at the same time). He was eager to explore and found many new paths, nooks and crannies. He found this opening in the rock and climbed right in. What cool kid!