Like many of us here in the United States, our family went to the beach this past weekend for one last outing before the school year begins. It used to be our family tradition to go to the coast each year at least a few times, but our summer was so busy that we had not been there yet.
When we go to the beach, my girls love to venture out into the freezing cold ocean with the bobbing waves… and I love to fly a kite. I have a kite shaped like a blue Navy jet. It has a long tail of streamers which looks like the fire coming out of the jet engines as they shake in the breeze. One of the sticks that holds the kite in its jet-like shape is missing, so I used a long seagull feather in its place.
I didn’t do a lot of kite flying at the beach that Saturday. There was little to no breeze, so I spent most of my time wandering around the shore, trying to feel where it might be at its strongest. I found that the wind blew the most near the lifeguard’s seat, so I hung around there a long time, kite in hand, feeling for some breeze and trying to get the kite to fly into the air. Oblivious to those around me, my senses were focused on finding a breeze as I watched the treetops for some movement, or felt the air lightly touch my neck.
It was late afternoon, just before we had to leave. I was enjoying the conversation with my father-in-law as I sat in my green fold-up chair. At last, I heard a rustling in the trees. As soon as I could politely excuse myself, I ran with the kite toward the place where the breeze was strongest, and just in time, and for only a few minutes, the kite was flying in the sky! My daughter got to hold it for a short while, and was thrilled to be flying daddy’s kite.
This moment was possible because I spent time getting to know the beach and what was going on around me while the breeze was calm.
I thought about this as I sat in the parking lot of a church the next afternoon. The sign said that Sunday evening worship began at 5 PM, so I set up that same green fold-up chair and read, prayed and waited. At 4:30 PM, the parking lot was the same as it had been for the past two hours. Then came 4:45, and 5:00 PM. Still no one, not a car, not a person. So I picked up trash in the parking lot and prayed for this church, and for the “wind to blow” in this state and region. Then I started on to the next church to see if they had a Sunday night service.
I felt like I was looking for a breeze so that my kite could soar.
Apparently while I was in Africa, Sunday night services fell out of fashion, at least in this part of the United States. I do not blame the pastors, or even the people, really. It just seems like there isn’t a hunger for time spent in His presence like there used to be. Such things cannot be forced or evoked by pouring on the condemnation, so what can be done?
Having been in a town in Africa for the past four years where we had no church we could go to on Sunday, my hunger for time in His Presence is more acute lately. I just can’t help it, and it doesn’t make me better than anyone else, just as a hungry person is no better than someone who has just eaten a delicious meal.
As a teenager, God used those times our family spent in the Sunday night services to call me to be a blessing to Chad. The lights were dimmed, and the church was filled with children, senior citizens, parents and teens. Arms on shoulders, kneeling or walking back and forth, we were praying for each other, and dedicating ourselves to God late into the evening. I pitied the poor piano players who would play and play until it was time to go home.
It wasn’t a chore to be there; all of us just enjoyed being in His Presence.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that I was feeling the strong winds of revival. And so, I’m traveling around this state and its neighbors, searching for a breeze.
And once I find it, I will never take it for granted again…
Like many of us here in the United States, our family went to the beach this past weekend for one last outing before the school year begins. It used to be our family tradition to go to the coast each year at least a few times, but our summer was so busy that we had not been there yet.
We are back in the US, and lately, our whole family is driving halfway across the United States to attend a conference.
As we watch the miles pass by, we wake up each morning in the hotel or motel we paid for with help from a coupon we found in a magazine at a welcome center. After getting dressed, we head to the lobby of the hotel for cold cereal, packaged muffins or toast. After watching the Weather Channel or Fox News in the lobby, we pack the car and head to our next destination.
We have been especially grateful for our relatives and friends who have broken up this monotony by graciously welcoming us into their home. You have been SUCH a blessing to us, and we do not take your gift of hospitality for granted.
Part of our daily routine each evening is to log on to the household or the hotel’s wifi, and check online for the gas prices ahead of us. Which website do we log on to? Well, that depends on which state we are travelling through when we will next need gas. Just go to www “dot” (name of state, all one word) gasprices “dot” com. For example, if we need to gas up in New Mexico, the website address is “www.newmexicogasprices.com”.
We especially appreciate the “Gas Price Heat Map”-s on the websites, where each county is colored in a certain color according to the gas price there. Typically, a high gas price-county is dark orange, and a low gas price-county is deep green. Everything in between is a yellowish or brighter orange or green.
By using the “fuel econ” button in the van we can find out what the “DTE” is (distance till empty). From the DTE, we try to guess how far we can go before we run out of gas. We then look for the best gas price colored county that is between where we are now and where we will run out of gas, then zoom in on the Gas Price Heat Map, and voilà! The gas prices at each station in that county are highlighed!
What a thrill it is to find a dark green county, surrounded by orange, especially when it’s on the way to where we are going! We quickly write down the name of the treasured find, and its street address on our clipboard, and load it into the GPS for tomorrow’s trip.
The first such “Gas Price Oasis” we found was in Irving, New York. For some strange reason, there are no signs along Highway 90 to warn you that one of the best fuel prices are up ahead… And you’ll need the help of your GPS to know where to get on and off the highway, ’cause you won’t see any signs pointing to Irving until you’re almost there.
Because these half dozen gas stations are on a Native American Reservation, this noble community is free to set their own taxes and are exempt from the Federal Fuel Taxes. A visit to the town of Irving is a quick lesson on how much of what we pay at the pump is actually a federal, state or municipal gas tax. We paid 25 to 50 cents less per gallon than the prices we had seen all day.
We found another great gas-saving price along the way in Toledo, Ohio: Gas & Go, 1530 Cherry Street. While the gas prices all around her were $3.59 per gallon, we paid $3.39 per gallon!
Gas & Go (aka “Clark’s”) is a small gas station along a three-lane street. The dumpster reeks of beer and other spirits. The guys were whistlin’ at the pretty girls who were trying to fill up their compact vehicles and get out of there. At Clark’s, you pay first, then you fill up.
I brought in my bank card to pay; the one-man show behind the counter wanted to see my Driver’s License. When other customers went in to pay, I noticed that they locked their car doors first.
We saw a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant across the street. It was lunchtime, so we decided to fill our stomachs after having filled our gas tank. The parking lot was quiet…too quiet. Most of their customers were using the drive-through; it was lunchtime, but we were the only ones eating in.
When it comes to being aware of my surroundings, I’m a little slow at times… but when I finally noticed that the cashier and cooks were behind bullet-proof glass, I realized that this was perhaps a dangerous neighborhood.
But we stayed anyway, and ordered our meal. We spoke clearly into the microphone, then slid our card under the glass. The meal was given to us on a turntable of the same bulletproof glass, just as if we were at a bank. The staff was very nice to us, and gave us an extra soda for free.
Eventually the manager, a burly man, came out to sit out in the dining area with us to make sure everything was ok.
While looking for the best gas prices in America, we found ourselves in an unfamiliar situation. But there, as has been true for us in our visits all over the world, we found nice people who helped us find our way.
Ironically, the best gas price we found didn’t come by way of careful research. We stayed overnight in Salem, VA, and while looking for a quick meal in the area, we saw a station selling gas for $3.20/gal. What a find! Before leaving town, we quickly filled the tank, whether we needed to or not.
When travelling, we put so much focus on the destination and all we will do when we get there. The journey to get there is seen as the price we pay to enjoy what awaits at the end of the road.
It was not always like this. From the stagecoach to the train, to the bus and the car, from the hot air balloon to the airplane… with each improvement in getting us to where we wished to go, the journey was always meant to be part of the fun.
Even in Africa, a journey can be fairly predictable and uneventful, a race against the sunset, when I’m travelling in Twila, our Speed The Light vehicle. But last week, as our family returned home to Abéché from N’Djaména, we had a serious flat tire that destroyed one of our two spare tires. We cannot easily replace it just yet, so, when a journey to help a refugee friend became necessary, I was forced to depend on the public transportation system of Chad to get me there. And because the connections are never assured at each step, the journey is often as interesting as the destination.
The first key to facing an unpredictable situation is to get up as early as you can. So this morning, I woke up at 5:15 am, and left the house for the N’Djaména bus station. The rickshaws and clando taxi travel more frequently from there than from our street.
At 6:00 am, I bought a few packages of tissues and caught a moto taxi to the bus station. The wind was cold against my face all the way, and I was glad I had brought my winter coat.
At 7:00 am, I had eaten some beignets with tea at a small restaurant and was in the front seat of a pickup truck. I like my beignets with salt rather than sugar, and was able to find the salt at a meat restaurant preparing to open.
When there were only two of us passengers, it seemed like a good idea to ride in the front. But, three passengers later, the ride quickly became a game of twister as I tried to keep my left leg out of the way of the shift while making the best of the three inches I had on the right to sit next to the passenger beside me. There was no middle seat, so I put my briefcase in the gap to hold up my left side.
The sun was rising as we left town, and time passed quickly with the conversation and landmarks that passed us by.
By 8:00 am, I was already in the town where we turn off to go to the refugee camp. I asked a few motorcycles for a ride to the camp, but they wanted me to pay as much as I just paid to get to this town. So I hesitated.
A helpful soul showed me where to wait, but, after a while, I decided to try to walk toward the camp, just in case there was no one to bring me there.
At 8:30 am, a convoy of NGO vehicles going to the camp was passing me by, and they almost did not stop except that one of the passengers recognized me. I found a spot in one of the Landcruisers, and, along the bumpy road, these people quickly became good friends.
I caught up with my refugee friend, and he showed me around the camp during the rest of the day.
Through him, I met a lot of patient, kind people who, after ten long years, still find themselves trapped between a host nation who is struggling, but doing what it can to help, and a birth nation who is still too unsafe to welcome them home.
The camp is full of children, for, as one of my refugee friends put it, there isn’t much for families to do, especially after dark. These children are the hope of a brighter future for Darfur, and each of them is welcome in this world, and a source of healing to their parents.
I was especially impressed by the World Food Program’s food distribution that was taking place today, and the RET Secondary school, full of students with dreams of a bright future pushing them to study hard.
I am just back from a trip to Iriba, and to Dana, where the camel is. I have a friend who is trying to settle in Iriba, and this was a chance for him to be up there and to see what sort of houses are available for his family.
On the way up to Iriba, I wanted to mark the turnoff that avoids the dangerous crossing of the Wadi Fira, a right turn that avoids your vehicle having to climb vertically up the wadi cliff. We brought a can of red spray paint with us this time around, so I was able to spray an arrow on a flat rock at the turnoff. Then, when I accidentally took the right turn just before Ba Si that takes us toward Kalaït, I painted a small Sodom’s Apple Tree red. It looked like a pitchfork, but that pitchfork will keeps us, and many others, from heading helplessly north, possibly to our peril.
In order to be home in Abéché on Thursday, we loaded up the car on Wednesday, and got a late start, sleeping in Dana that night under the starry but moonless sky. Because of the Kalaït turnoff mistake, we were obliged to follow the GPS into the village in the dark. I felt like I was navigating my way in a submarine, being only able to see maybe ten feet in front of me. At a certain point, Y, who had come to the village ahead of us, found us because of our headlights, and helped us finish the trail, which was good since the biggest wadi, the one with lots of trees and drop-offs on the edges, is close to his village.
The next morning, our challenging journey was rewarded by being able to see the camel saddle that had been prepared for us. It is beautiful! I am told it has the features of a saddle for a married man, but is fancier. It makes the coming journeys feel that much closer…
On our way back from Iriba, we brought back some things that were being stored up there, several of which are making our lives a little bit easier back here in Abéché. We have a second Katadyn water filter once again, which keeps us from having to work late into the night so that we have enough filtered water. We are also thankful for three other cabinets, which means that the floors in the kitchen, living room and girls’ bedroom are much less cluttered.
I tried to establish contact with the new Sultan while in Iriba, but he was not there. I was told that he was in Biltine, so, on our way back, I stopped by the compound marked as the “Sultan’s palace of the Biltine Zs.” I approached the front porch, and saw that someone was sitting on a chair. It was Sultan Bokhit Abderahman Haggar, our old friend. It was great to catch up with him again over a cup of tea.
9/19/2013(Th): Early this morning, I was taken to see the camel we were buying. He is an albino camel of twelve years old, and let me mention two faults I thought I saw that will make those of you who know camels laugh out loud at my ignorance, as did all those present who were there to see which camel I would choose. Number one: it looked like he had a wound in the back of his head, but apparently all camels apparently have a gland there that sweats oil. Number two: it looked like its back legs crossed a bit too much at the knees, but, as I compared his gaunt with other camels, it seems that this is also perfectly normal.
Now I don’t know very much about camels, and I freely admitted that to everyone concerned… but through this process, I am learning, thanks to my teachers. I watched my camel walk around, then asked to see a younger one do the same, one that outwardly looked like it was in better shape. When they were both kneeling on the ground, they both seemed to be the same height, but the legs of the younger one were longer and thinner, which struck me as less capable of carrying a load than the original one offered to us.
After settling on which camel I was going to buy, I paid the amount still outstanding, which was only 15,000 CFA ($30). I then received an intensive course in camel saddles, of all the pieces involved and why each one is important.
As is typical in this kind of transaction, I did not have enough money with me, having only half of what was needed for all of the accessories. So when I come back to the village, we will complete our payment for all of the accessories to begin making trips to distant villages.
The rest of the day was spent driving my friend’s father around to the main town and to different villages, as he is an important official in this part of Chad.
These visits were to mostly people in neighboring villages who were sick or in mourning. Then, there was a quick stop at his office to check on what was happening there. From these visits, I learned that my friend’s father truly cares for those around him, and wants to tarry and take time with people rather than rush off to his next meeting.
Wherever I was walking today, burrs and thorns were sticking into my toes and feet; from time to time, I had to stop to pull one out before continuing. However, I was rewarded very handsomely for serving as his chauffeur, by being able to take all sorts of pictures of homes and some truly beautiful places… especially from the village on the mountain, where another friend’s grandmother was suffering with stomach issues. The number of visitors who had come from many different villages to wish her well was hopefully very encouraging to her.
I was awakened at 10:30 PM for a late supper of roasted sheep meat by moonlight. It was fairly soft and delicious… but I am SO thankful I brought dental floss!
Like my mother taught me, what you don’t finish up for supper, you’ll see again at breakfast. After another pleasant encore of re-roasted goat meat, I spent the rest of the day waiting for Yusuf’s father to arrive. It was a chance for me to help charge other people’s cellphones, to prepare SD cards using a solar-powered duplicator, to read and to rest. Scattered throughout was a battle to have my rug where the wind was not blowing too much, and where it was coolest, while not being too windy or where the flies were the worst. I fared best outside, but had been forced inside at noontime when the hot wind was less bearable. I was then forced out again by a mighty army of flies landing all over me, but aiming especially for my nose, mouth and eyes.
Time spent waiting is not time wasted. We spend so little time in the US doing basically nothing in a pleasant environment that we have to take time off each year and call it a vacation. It’s really too bad, since waiting can be somewhat refreshing if you have an active mind. It has a way of clearing our heads and preparing us for what is coming. I am also learning that it buys us cred to ask things to hurry up a bit. When you can preface your plea with “I’ve been sitting here doing nothing for three days!”, almost anything you want is possible!
Around 4:00 PM, the waiting became too much for my host, and he decided to go with his friends to the hole in the wadi where they get water. To get some exercise, I decided to go with them. All the way there and back I collected samples of thorny seeds that stick to your pants and shoes. On the way, there was a place in the field where the camels had eaten up everything a few weeks back. We arrived at the well just in time to help a girl whose heavy load of water had fallen off her donkey as she tried to climb the steep edge of the wadi.
I walked back, satisfied from my little bit of exercise for the day, then fell asleep. When I woke up, there was my friend’s dad, sitting in front of me! It was time to eat, and the boule (millet paste) was delicious. As I was washing my hands, out from the rock near my hand came a large scorpion! He was more scared of me than I was of him, and for good reason: someone eventually found a flashlight and a long stick, and soon he was no longer a danger.
We got a late start to my friend’s little village, leaving town at around 8:00 AM. It seems as if the rains have ended, leaving behind places here and there where the road is washed away, especially as we got closer and closer to our destination. However, each of these bumps and narrow places testify to a rainy season that will surely meet the need of each farmer and herdsman who was not so discouraged by the way it began to give up.
We did not see a variety of wild animals along the way as we often do, as if these families of foxes, felines and other furry friends were satisfied, sleeping in thanks to what this season had produced. What we did see was a wide variety of birds, especially hawks, falcons and other birds of prey. The large number of turtledoves and birds of vivid blue, yellow, black and white helped explain what might have brought out the hawks.
As we made our way across the 6.3 km from the main road to the village, we came across a pair of magnificent secretary birds. I had just been reading about these birds in science class with my youngest daughter, how they can eat poisonous snakes because their long legs are immune to snake bites. I was glad they are “on the case” against poisonous snakes, but nervous at the same time of what their presence in the neighborhood meant.
As soon as we were on the modest hill upon which this village is built, the Airtel signal from the big village nearby kicked in. I had prepared for this trip by buying an Airtel SIM card for my old cellphone. I’m glad to have this way to have this way to stay in touch with my family.
The moon is full tonight; we can walk almost anywhere in the village without a flashlight, including the “bathroom” behind the hill. The stars and moon and cloud wisps are pleasant and peaceful; it difficult to close my eyes to go to bed.
We had a great trip back to Abéché. From time to time along those 900 kilometers, we kept running into rain. Even here at our destination, it is raining as well. We are thankful to God for this, mostly because of the blessing it is to our many friends with fields this year that need to grow, but also because of the cooler temperatures this brings. We are often able to leave our windows open in the house until 11 AM or noontime!
The next morning after we got home from N’Djaména, I was on the roof of our house. It was Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration feast after the fast of Ramadan ends. It was a thick cloudy morning, permitting me to dare work on the solar panels without the fear of being electrocuted. Our solar panels had been giving us very little power, and I wanted to investigate why as quickly as I could.
As I checked everything, I discovered that one of the solar panels’ internal wiring was loose. Because we had two pairs of solar panels wired in series, this little error was probably the reason why two of our solar panels had been useless to us. After re-wiring everything in parallel, we now have refrigeration that freezes the bottles! And surprisingly, the rainy weather is not affecting the solar electricity much.
And now we have town electricity, and town water! It will always stand out to me that the day we arrived back, when all the water barrels were empty and every water guy was on vacation because the Ramadan fast was over, the water spigots began to run in our neighborhood. God provided once again for us in a desperate situation! And so now, the water comes on overnight, and we make sure that all the barrels are filled as quickly as possible.
It is taking time to adjust to having these blessings. We forget to turn on a light in a room, or a fan for naptime, even though these utilities are at our fingertips more often than not these days. I chuckle when I end up spending a few hours in a dark room when I didn’t have to – but mostly, I feel very grateful, every time I can turn on a fan or a light that normally would have to stay turned off. How easy it is for us to become so used to deprivation that we forget the new blessings God has provided for us.
We have begun using one of the outer rooms available to us for storage. It took a few days to make this adjustment, but now the library and office area does not feel so crowded. And I like that the amount of storage space we have allows us to keep each category together, like electronics, Christmas or tools.
Cleaning out the storage means we came across some of the clothes for when the girls get older, which was a good thing for Susan and Deborah, but especially for Deborah. She is outgrowing her clothes, and needed some new ones. She is really happy about the new-to-her pretty dresses that fit her so well.
One of the outfits has some jean Capri pants which fit her lengthwise, but not around the waist. You cannot buy belts for young children here. We tried putting a clothespin or a safety pin on to a fold at the waist, but it did not work. So, from all the work with house wiring, I took a spare piece of blue wire and had her thread it through the belt holes. Then I got out my wire cutters, cut it to the right length, and twisted it till it was snug. She is very happy with this; she yelled, “Now I can run (with these pants on)!”
We have been in N’Djaména since last week. Our friends were not quite settled in their new home when we left. It would have been better for their sakes that we leave a week later. However, our reservations for a room in a guesthouse had been made a long time ago, so we went and left the house in their hands, and with the refrigerator still not at its best.
The primary reason we came was to renew my visa, but I was also able to make some progress in our media work. We found a long stapler for booklets in the market, and a paper cutter at an office store that was no longer using it… So now we have all we need to publish Z booklets at home!
It has also been a fun time in many ways for the girls. They have caught up with some of their friends, normally scattered in many regions of Chad and Africa but in town for summer vacation. We are using the better internet connection here to begin looking at flight schedules. Two of our girls had their birthdays while we were here; both asked to go to Amandine for their birthday meal. We had ice cream there!
It has also been a great time to stock up on supplies we cannot find in Abéché, such as ramen noodle packs, sponges, popcorn, windshield wipers, Foster Clark drink mixes… And a new feature to the repertoire: Oreo Cookies! We keep a small stock of Kit Kat bars in Abéché as prizes when the girls work hard; I go to one store in town just to get the big boxes at a good price. Things have totally changed in Chad since I first came here twenty-one years ago.
The girls are sick with a stomach bug, so we are staying a few more days, hoping they will recover enough for the trip home. This gives us a little more time to enjoy the large trees, flowers and herbs in this beautiful guest house.
The Ice Riots
Getting ice for our cooler has been one of the things we do throughout the week. It allows us to supplement our supply of cold water and drinks. We usually go to the nearby “Boulangerie” (bread store) to get it, and pay 1,000 CFA per bar.
But since Ramadan, the passion for ice has grown massively. Every Muslim in this desert climate goes without water throughout the day, and a chance to have a drink of ice cold water or orange drink is a special treat for them.
Ice sells really well. The Chadian government has mandated that the ice companies sell their ice for the 1,000 CFA (CAN$2.00), but the going price on the street has risen to 3,500 CFA (CAN$7.00) per bar since Ramadan began. So each bar is providing a 250% profit!
All it takes to enter the ice market is six dollars (3,000 CFA), a long bag, a motorcycle and a heavy metal bar to break up the ice. I have seen many spontaneous ice merchants being mobbed by a small crowd of over twenty people. The four bars tied to the back of their motorcycle do not last long as piece after piece is put into each customer’s cooler.
Fast money, high returns. No wonder the ice companies are being mobbed each time their doors are opened! The police forces are unable to protect the companies from the wave of people who push their way inside, demanding ice. And woe to ice company whose machines break down under the Ramadan moon!
Normally, the Mayor’s Police go around seizing merchandise being sold above the government mandated prices. But in this climate, they wouldn’t dare confiscate a merchant’s ice for selling it too high because of the riot they would cause.
When I woke up this morning, the ice in our cooler was all gone. I began to think like an ice company, and decided to check if the ice was being handed out. My reasoning was that at sunrise, most people would be at home, resting after having to prepare food and finish eating it an hour before sunrise.
I was right about the ice being distributed, but wrong about the crowd. It was huge! Hundreds of people were shoving their way to the front of the ice tubs, all shouting out the names of the poor men whose work it was to distribute the ice. Men and women alike held money in their hands, and with a pleading look begged them to give them a bar or two.
But I came to discover that very few of these people were buying ice for their families; most were sent by the bigger ice merchants to get as much of a share of the ice as they possibly could. I know this because I help a small woman carry her bag of two bars, which she could never have carried herself. Instead of walking home, she dropped them off beside several other women, all waiting for someone to pick the ice bars up.
It bothers me that this dangerous insanity could easily be resolved by allowing the ice companies to set their own prices. If the price at the “Boulangerie” rose to 2,500 CFA a bar, the mob would quickly disappear… And perhaps the price could slowly fall again.
If there is ever an “ice riot” near you for hard-to-find food or supplies, I would suggest either paying the high price on the street, or going without it for as long as you can.