Category Archives: Wanderings

Entertaining Angels – Part Two

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  

Hebrew 13:2 KJV

After spending what I’m sure was a wonderful week or more in California, I hit the road back to Colorado, this time taking the southern route through Arizona.  Despite being late September, it was a brutally hot day as I drove towards Phoenix.  Along the 10 freeway in this part of Arizona, there are few exits, and even fewer places to stop for gas, food, or the bathroom.

As happened on the way to California in my previous post “Entertaining Angels – Part One”, I saw a figure walking in the distance along side the freeway.  And I knew.  I’d be picking this person up, too.  Only he wasn’t hitchhiking.  He was trodging, head down.  And he was in trouble.  Even though the temperature was pushing 110 degrees, as I pulled up next to him I could see that he wasn’t sweating.  He was beet red and he was panting and he had no belongings, no water.  He was wearing probably all the clothes he owned, including a heavy jacket.  The sign for the next place where there were “services” indicated it was 10 miles down the road.  I drove along side him with the window open telling him he needed to get in so I could get him cooled off.  He was muttering to himself.  I finally drove a little in front of him, got out and opened the car door telling him to get in.  He did but he told me it wasn’t a good idea.  I was busy wetting down a towel and some fast food napkins and putting them all over him, so I didn’t care if it wasn’t a good idea.  I made him drink water.  With all my years of experience as a nurse to help me, it wasn’t hard to determine two sobering things.  One, this man was less than an hour from death and would not make it to the next gas station.  And two, he was deep in the throes of paranoid schizophrenia.

I wasted no time in getting back on the road with the AC cranked to maximum and heading for that exit while the man sitting beside me had a conversation with someone unseen about how no, he wasn’t going to hurt me, because I was helping him.  I sped up.  He was rocking back and forth telling me to hurry because he didn’t want to hurt me.  I kept encouraging him to hang in there, that it would just be a few more minutes, and told him to keep drinking water.  Man, I was nervous.  I was just praying that if I had to die that it would be quick and painless, but asked if I was going to get a prayer answered, let it be that I could just get the guy out of my car and to safety in time.

That was probably the longest six minutes of my life.  But we made it.  He had started to sweat by then (as had I) and wasn’t nearly as red, and he jumped out of my car as soon as we hit the gas station.  I gave him some money.  And I got the heck out of there.

No deep spiritual lesson in this one.  Just that sometimes doing the things the Lord wants you to make you reeeeeally uncomfortable.  I don’t know if either of these men I stopped to help ever made it to their final destinations, but I do know that both of them helped me along my way to mine.


Entertaining Angels – Part One

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  

Hebrews 13:2 KJV

I have a long and, well, colorful, if you will, “relationship” with hitchhikers.  I was not brought up to pick up random people off the street, but I learned at a youngish sort of age that my path would often lead me to places where I would do just that.

My driver’s license was not even dry yet before I had my first experience with a hitchhiker.  It was dusk and I was driving alone down a long stretch of road.  The road was chain link fenced on both sides and I was the only car on it.  I passed a young man going the same way as I with his thumb out.  Without a thought I drove right past him.  Women alone in cars don’t pick up strangers, right?  But I immediately felt the Lord prompt me that I should have offered the man a ride.  I made a U-turn as soon as I could to go back, but the man had disappeared.  To where?  There was no one else on the road, and there was no way to get off the road.  I had thoroughly missed an opportunity.  And I decided that in the future, if I could help it, I would not let that happen again.  Over the years I practiced listening to that prompting and picking up people that I felt I was in the right place at the right time to render aid to.  I never felt much in the way of hesitation.  Until eight years or so ago…

Instead of flying on my annual September pilgrimage from Colorado to California to visit my people, I was driving this time.  The sun was just rising as I crossed from Colorado into Utah.  I found myself alone on the vast expanse of the freeway winding my way through the high desert.  Off in the distance I saw a figure walking along the edge of the road.  “Please Jesus”, I begged, “please don’t make me pick up someone out here in the middle of nowhere.”  I slowed down as I drove past him.  He looked pretty rough, was unshaven, and was barefoot.  I kept him in my rear view mirror so I wouldn’t lose sight of him as I briefly argued with God, ultimately pulling over and stopping about 200 yards in front of him.  He walked up to my window as I was tossing things into the back seat from the passenger seat next to me.  He was rather incredulous as I told him to get in and asked where he was going.  I knew full well this guy might be in my car all the way to Los Angeles.  Offering him a ride stretched even my usual calm reserve about picking up hitchhikers.

No, I don’t remember his name.  He was on his way to Phoenix and I told him I wasn’t on a schedule and offered to take him there.  He declined that offer.  We decided on Moab.  A big detour, but what the heck.  As we talked I learned that he’d been trying to get to Phoenix from the East Coast for months.  It had been a huge struggle.  He’d walked most of the way as few had been willing to stop and pick him up for more than a few miles at best.  His shoes wore out some time ago.  He hadn’t bathed in weeks.  He was hungry.  He had absolutely no money.  His little kids were in Phoenix and it had been years since he’d seen them.  We ate breakfast out of my cooler.  When we got to Moab, we went shoe shopping.  I gave him money, offered one more time to take him to Phoenix, and prayed with him.

But none of that was all that important.  After he first got into my car, he told me why he almost couldn’t believe that I’d stopped for him, and it’s truly amazing…

“I slept out in the desert last night.  I was cold and I was wet.  It was the worst night of my life.  I was feeling desperate, and I was feeling so angry.  This morning I stood up and raised my fist to the sky and shouted at God at the top of my lungs…WHY WON’T YOU SEND SOMEONE TO HELP ME?????  That was fifteen minutes ago.”

This man learned that God sometimes answers prayers immediately, even ones that weren’t asked in the nicest way.  And I learned that I never want to forget what it felt like to know that had I not listened to that voice I would have missed out on the opportunity to be the almost instantaneous answer to that desperate shouted prayer.  Now, instead of waiting to hear the voice, I ask God if I’m supposed to pick up this or that person.  I even offer rides to some people who are not asking for one.  Part Two of this particular story takes place on the way back to Colorado on this same trip.  Stay tuned.  (Click HERE for Part Two)

But don’t tell my dad.


דוד (David)

My friend Abner was recently traveling over in the Middle East.  “Meet up with me for a few days in Israel”, he messaged me.  He would cross the border from Jordan, and I would fly into Tel Aviv where we would connect and head to Jerusalem.  I’ve been wanting to go to Jerusalem for a long time, and if I could work out the details, I wanted to go.  I got the time off almost last minute, arranged for a cat sitter, packed a backpack, and went.

Being a person who is both fascinated by and terrified by politics, seeing the Knesset and watching the public debates was on my “to do list”.  We were only there for four days and saved the Knesset for the last day, Tuesday.  Unfortunately, that is the day that the Knesset isn’t open to the public until 4:00.  We got there at 11:00.  This is as close as we got:

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So we went across the street to sit in the Wohl Rose Park to discuss our Plan B.

The first thing I saw in the garden was a tent.  A tent that looked like it had been there for a long while.  Repaired with strips of colored tape and surrounded by stones, it seemed that someone was living there full time.  The area around the tent was neat and tidy and it looked like it might be cleaning/airing out day as the fly was open and bedding was folded and piled onto a chair outside the tent.

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Then I saw the probable occupant of the tent.  An elderly looking gentleman was washing dishes at the drinking fountain nearby.  As a lover of people’s stories, I knew I had to talk to this man.

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So I put some shekels in my pocket and although I had a full Nalgene bottle of water, I headed over to use the fountain using the pretense of wanting a drink to strike up a conversation.

I asked him if that was his tent, and introduced myself.  It was.  His name was David.  He spoke English very well, but in a thick Hebrew accent.  “Do you live here all the time?” I asked.  He did.  Under my questioning he told me was there to protest, “a private matter”, he said.  He’d been protesting there for eight and a half years.  He asked where I was from.  He’d never been to Colorado, but wanted to go some day.  He had lived in the states before and served in the U.S. Army.  I could tell he wasn’t used to casual conversation, and I didn’t want to pry further.  I offered him a blessing and asked that God would incline his ear towards this man through the Knesset so that his issue could come to resolution.  I gave him the money I had put in my pocket, and we shook hands.  He told me I was a “very kind lady”.  I thanked him, wished him well, and left.  He returned to his dish washing and I to planning Plan B.


The List of Fifty – “Go To Machu Picchu”

“Go To Machu Picchu” has been on The List of Fifty since it’s inception when I was a 10th grader.

However, I rather always thought that when I would go, I would go the hard way, you know, by hiking up there on the Inca Trail.

That was not to be.  You see, the opportunity to go came too late…for my knee.  I have a bit of an arthritis problem.  My left knee has just gotten worse and worse over the years and it is no longer trustworthy.  The discomfort it gives is tolerable, but it lacks the strength and stability needed for rigorous activity.

So when I was invited to Peru last month to visit a friend there, even though I was disappointed that I would not be doing the hike, I jumped (not literally, of course, can’t really do that either) at the chance.  🙂

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Mag.  Ni.  Fi.  Cent.


Why I Do Not Make a Good African Woman – Reason #2

Chickens.

The actual bird is not problematic.  Chickens are actually kinda cute, some are downright beautiful.  I’m not afraid of chickens or anything.  I’m okay with them being alive.  I’m okay with them dead all ready to be cooked.  And I’m especially okay with eating them.

I.

Love.

Chicken.

Bake it, fry it, roast it, whatever.  Yum yum yum.

Where I fail as an African woman is getting said chicken from that live state into that ready to be cooked state.

Throughout Africa, it is not unusual to see a woman on the bus or minibus carrying a live chicken (the eating kind, not the laying kind) tied into a plastic bag with only its head out, or in a basket, or the like.  This chicken is for dinner.  The African woman will kill it, pluck it, and break it down in order to cook it for her family.  (And it will be amazing because African chicken is soooo much better than any chicken I’ve ever eaten in America).

The only time I’ve been faced with any part of that process was in Zambia back in 2006.  In case you’re new to my story, prior to my summer in Zambia, I had done very (VERY) little actual cooking.  Didn’t really know how.  I had never even made fried chicken.  However, being very brave, I had purchased a number of chickens in order to make fried chicken for my team of TWENTY SEVEN people.  Knowing it was likely that I wasn’t accustomed to slaughtering chickens, the woman from whom I purchased them quietly did that business out of my eye- and ear-shot and brought the now-dead chickens to me.  She must have seen the rather horrified look on my face when I saw the pile of white feathered headless bodies as she immediately smiled and asked if I knew how to clean them.  Which of course I didn’t.  I also didn’t have a knife that would cut through bones even if I wanted to tackle the butchering part.  So I paid her a little bit extra to do the job for me (and told her she could have all the “insides”).  Less than an hour later, she returned with a big bowl of chicken pieces that looked a whole lot more like what I was used to seeing at home.

How I was used to seeing chicken for sale...

How I was used to seeing chicken for sale…

...what the chickens I bought in Zambia looked like...

…what the chickens I bought in Zambia looked like…

I would have tackled the plucking part, but it would have taken me about a day or two to do the job.

I’m not sure I would ever be able to do the killing part.

And for that, I would not make a good African woman.


Why I Do Not Make a Good African Woman – Reason #1

And this is a big one!

In many parts of Africa there is a form of transportation called a “bike taxi”.

The bike taxi strikes fear into my heart.

Take a battered bicycle and put a “seat” on the back of it over the rear tire, and you have a bike taxi.

Like this one?

I wish.  No.

Like these ones.  (These have really good seats on them, by the way).

I recently went on another adventure to the African continent.  The trip in a nutshell went like this:

Fly to Dubai, meet up with Abner, hang out in Dubai for a bit waiting for our next flights, and sleep in the airport.  Fly to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania…me via Qatar, Abner direct.  Meet up with Abner again.  Spend night in DAR.  Take boat to Zanzibar.  Spend time in Zanzibar.  Take boat back to DAR.  Spend night in DAR.  Take buses and minibuses from DAR to Malawi.  Spend time in Malawi.  Take buses/minibuses to Mozambique.  Spend time in Mozambique.  Fly from Mozambique to South Africa.  Say good-bye to Abner as he heads to Lisbon.  Fly home.

This post is about the middle part of the trip.  The part where we meet up with friends in Sani/Nkhota Kota, Malawi.  There’s a lot of stories to tell up to this point, but this is as good a place as any to start.

In Malawi, especially in the rural “bush” areas, women wear skirts.  So, I was in a skirt.  And we were backpacking, so I had a big pack on my back, and a smaller one on my front.  And I’m not a young thing anymore…pushing 50 in fact.  And we’d been on the road for over two days, so I was tired and sore.

As we neared the place where our bus would drop us off to meet our Malawian friends, I began to wonder how, in the dead of night (it was after 10 PM) we would get from the roadside drop off point to Sam’s house (about 10 km) into the bush.  Is it too remote for a regular bush taxi?  Would we walk?  Or, please God, no, would he have arranged for bike taxis?

As you have probably guessed, it was the latter.  I took one look at those taxis and pictured myself trying to jump up onto the back to ride it sidesaddle with all my gear, and in a skirt, and I nearly died.  That was SO not going to happen.  “Fortunately”, once the “taxi drivers” saw the color of my skin, the previously agreed to price all of the sudden became seriously inflated.  I took that as my opportunity to encourage their immediate dismissal, opting instead to do the long walk.

Sam was quite amused.  African women have literally no problem with this form of transportation.  Even the very old ones with a parcel on their heads and one grandbaby in their laps with another one their backs.  And they are graceful while doing it.  Of course, they’ve been doing it their whole life.  This would have been my first time.

I seriously hate being a “problem” like that.  I try very hard to do the best I can to just quietly do what needs to be done.  And normally, I am extremely “game” in most travel circumstances.

But not this time.  I just couldn’t do it.  So we walked.  So I made all of us walk.  😦  And I was glad we did.  It was so very dark and the dirt road was bumpy and full of washed out areas, rocks, and potholes.  Even if I’d have gotten up there, I’m pretty sure at some point I would have fallen off, and possibly injured myself.  This is what I tell myself to make myself feel better about not doing it.

Perhaps the next time I find myself faced with a bike taxi I won’t be in a skirt, I won’t be loaded down, it won’t be dark, and there would be a step stool.  I’d give it a whirl if so.

But not this time.

In this particular case, I did not make a good African woman.


Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!!

“Dear Lord,
Give me a few friends
who will love me for what I am,
and keep ever burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope…
And though I come not within sight
of the castle of my dreams,
teach me to be thankful for life,
and for time’s olden memories
that are good and sweet.
And may the evening’s twilight
find me gentle still.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!


La Mort En Rose

Some Parisian cemeteries are destinations.  We (okay, it was me, not we) picked Cimetière du Père Lachaise because it is where Edith Piaf (singer of La Vie En Rose) is buried.  Also, it’s famed for its beauty in all of Paris.

We went on Halloween, just because, well, why not?  This was part of the decoration of one of the “sepulcres”, and seemed appropriate for the day:

There were many other visitors to the cemetary.  And lots of chrysanthemums, which I learned after returning home is the flower best known for remembering the dead (the article pointed out that mums should never be taken as a hostess gift).  So, there were not just touristy types at the cemetery that day, but people coming (often with mums in tow) to honor loved ones and notables who had passed.

I was expecting a large and beautiful gravesite for Edith Piaf.  But it was small and simple.  In fact, if not for the other people visiting the site, we might not have found it.  Edith Piaf was not her given name.

Fittingly, those visiting her grave brought roses…

The cemetery was laid out much like a randomly plotted city.  There were winding cobblestone roads marked with street signs.

In a number of strategic locations there were “roadmaps” to assist in the location of gravesites.

This “city” is also the final resting place of Modigliani, Molière, and Jim Morrison.

The “notable” M’s

We didn’t look for Modigliani’s or Molière’s graves, but we did seek out Jim Morrison’s.  I also expected somewhat of a spectacle for his grave.  But it was even more simple than Edith Piaf’s.  His was, however, surrounded by a low fence to keep his fans from getting too close.

Nearby trees and light standards have been turned into message boards of a sort for those who come to visit.

Even the wads of gum stuck to the tree have messages written on them.

There is no shortage of beautiful art or architecture in this city within a city.

As it was late fall, the leaves had mostly turned color and many had fallen.

Those that remained in the trees lining the cobbled streets made the place just a little bit golden, and a whole lot beautiful.

This trailing vine was hanging on to its smashing color and looking mighty fashionable as it decorated a grave largely forgotten over time…

While it was not in the least a creepy place, I don’t think I’d want to be there during the night time.  But if you ever are lucky enough to get to go to Paris, add “visit the Cimetière du Père Lachaise” to your “must do” list.


La Toussaint: Sur Le Coin

We decided to save Les Catacombes (the catacombs) for our last day in Paris.

November 1st.

Bad decision.

In France, November 1st is called La Toussaint, or All Saints Day, and it is a national holiday.  Which means the catacombs were fermés , closed.  Daaaaaaaaaaang.  Being a national holiday, pretty much everything “touristy” was closed.

It was a gray and darkish overcast day, our day for the catacombs.  It would have been PERFECT!  But, c’est la vie (c’est la mort??), our plans for the day required reworking.  As we had not had breakfast we decided to eat at a corner cafe called Café Du Rendez-Vous, which was right down the street from the catacombs…and it was open!  We picked a place outside so we could observe the bustle of the corner from a close perspective.

We settled in under the white and red striped awning and ordered the not so very frenchy sounding “Breakfast” from our waitress who spoke absolutely lovely English.  🙂

It started with a generous basket of fresh breads with butter, jams, and Nutella.  My choice was the croissant which I smeared with Nutella and would have died a very happy woman, had I died that is.  Orange juice, café crème, water basted eggs, and a little glass pot of plain yogurt (into which I stirred just enough apricot jam to make it a wee bit fruity) rounded out the meal.  I could have had bacon with it, too, but I passed on that.  When the plates of food were brought out, another small pail of bread joined the jumble of dishes, and glasses, and cups filling two small round cafe tables.

As we dined, the rain started.  And it was a GOOD rain, too!  So, in sight of the closed entrance to the catacombs, we sat, and talked, and watched…and I took pictures!

And while we sat and just enjoyed being in Paris, others who planned their day around Les Catacombes came and went away disappointed…

I allowed myself to be disappointed as I really wanted to see this bizarre sight.  But the rain and clouds lifted after a few hours and the rest of the day was spent enjoying long walks down broad boulevards, coffee on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, window shopping at Cartier and Louis-Vuitton, and a walk along the Seine to watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower ignite for the last time.  We came across a photography exhibit and river house boats.  And the smell of something sweet and delicate wafted through the air.  We followed our noses to a street creperie where ordered crêpes chocolat.  The guy making the crêpes was an artist.  So cool to watch him fry up those delicate circles.  And the final result was even better than the my earlier “could have died happy” croissant with Nutella.  After one last look at the preposterously gorgeous Eiffel Tower, we made our way back to the 2nd arrondissemont and our apartment where we packed to get ready for an early leave back to the Charles de Gaulle airport the following morning.

Paris far exceeded my expectations.

“Go to Paris” was never on my list…but I daresay “Go back to Paris” is.


La Vie En Rose

“Go to Paris” has never made it to The List of Fifty.  In fact, historically speaking, I’ve never much wanted to go to France at all, despite having studied the language (la langue d’amour) for four years in high school.

But I am SOOOOOO excited to be going!  My friend Abner (same friend of the Timbuktu/West Africa adventure) and I decided we wanted to go on a trip to a place where we could drink the water, not have to take malaria meds, and leave the sleeping bags and mosquito nets at home.  We wanted to eat bread and drink wine, and listen to music while sipping coffee in street cafes, and cross bridges and take pictures of loveliness.  And Paris just seemed like the exact right place to do it!  PLUUUUSS, being late fall, it should be nice and chilly and maybe drizzly and rainy and gray and perfect for taking moody Fronchy photos!  🙂

ALSO, ever since I read about the catacombs under the streets, I decided I needed to see them, if ever I went to Paris.  Other things I am hoping to see?  La Tour Eiffel, l’Arc de Triomphe, the gardens of Versailles, Notre Dame, and I would love to cross all 23 bridges.  I am sure that a week will not be long enough to completely explore the city, but it will be long enough to get a feel for what life in Paris is like.  However, no matter what we do or do not do, if this song ever plays anywhere where I can hear it while I am there, I will consider my trip complete!

I rented an apartment for the week we’ll be there, and it’s in a real neighborhood with real Parisian neighbors.  How cool is that?


Remembering…

January 1991.  Taken from the Statue of Liberty crown observatory.


The Wonder Tower

Roadside kitsch.  LOVE IT!

Yesterday my dad, my nephew Mitchell, and I, headed out to Genoa, Colorado for a day trip to “The Wonder Tower”.  It was soooo much better than I even imagined it would be!  There is a maze of dusty rooms filled to the gills with all kinds of strange and wonderful collections.  The tower is a series of themed rooms (the red room, the yellow room, the big room, etc.) which houses a number of creaky worn out wind-y staircases and ladders that lead to a lookout platform way up at the top.  You can see the air above six states, supposedly.

From the minute I saw it from the freeway I knew I was in for a treat!

If you like weird collections and oddities, and especially if you like to take pictures….this place is the place for you!

Maybe I’ll see you there!


Don’t Buy a Fish in the Water

Day 17, April 2nd, 2011

Mopti, Mali

Early the morning that Abner and I were to travel from Mopti, Mali, to Ouagadougou (love saying that!), Burkina Faso, we encountered two young peace corps volunteers who were returning back to Ghana after spending time in Mali.  We hung out with them at the “bus station” waiting for our transport to be ready.  Lara and Raphaela were in their early 20’s and were from Belgium and Germany.  They would be on the same bus as us.  Because of all their time in Ghana, they’d gone a bit “wild”.  Raphaela had gone swimming in the Niger River (wow, a really bad idea) and was sporting a pretty “nice” case of impetigo (bacterial staph infection) on her face, neck, and torso.  They ate with (exceptionally) dirty hands.  I don’t know how wild I would go if I spent a year in a place like Ghana…but I think I would probably always eat with clean hands.  🙂  The girls were fun to be around for the next day and a half.  Westerners were a rare thing to run into on our particular itinerary.  It can be rather exhausting trying to communicate in a language (French) that you don’t speak well at all, and these girls were kind enough to speak with us in English.

Anyhow, while I cannot remember exactly what precipitated their sharing this lesson, I remember the lesson.

“Don’t buy a fish in the water” I was cautioned by one of the girls.  This was something they had learned from the Ghanaians they were living with.

It’s an excellent warning on knowing what you are getting before you invest in it.

Two young buys fishing the Bani River in Mopti, Mali


Hôtel Saint-Louis Sun

March 17th and 18th, 2011

Days 1 and 2;  Dakar Senegal

We’d originally planned on staying in Senegal for a few days, but because we were blowing our budget by the hour, we decided that once we had our Malian visas, we’d head for Mali where we knew the cost of things would be much less than in Senegal.  We’d looked into finding cheaper accommodations than the Sun, but weren’t successful.  Besides, the Sun was centrally located and pretty nice, all things considered!  So we splurged and stayed there.

The hotel was located on a very narrow, very busy street in the inner city of Dakar.  Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but upon entering, there is a peacefulness that is palpable.  Very friendly front desk people.  We initially had to wait in the courtyard for our room to be ready.  The wait turned into a few hours long, but it was a pleasant few hours spent discussing our plan of action, talking about how we couldn’t believe we’d actually made it to Dakar and were starting our grand adventure, and updating facebook statuses, that sort of thing.  I needed to check in with the young lady who was watching my cats to see if Mew Ling was taking her antibiotic pills okay.  Mew Ling every once in a while develops a urinary tract infection, which she did apparently in the days leading up to my trip.  The only time I could get her in to see the vet was the day before we left, so I was worried that she would give Lisa a problem taking her meds.  Lisa got back to me…Mew was fine, and taking her pill hidden in treats.

And we started taking some of our first photos of the journey, of course.  After shaving the next day, Abner decided he was giving up shaving for the remainder of the trip.

The rooms were upstairs and over looked the small open ceilinged courtyard.  Downstairs was a bar, a restaurant, the lobby, and a couple of meeting rooms.  We were in room three.  To enter the room required opening two doors.  The outer door was wooden slatted to provide privacy and allow in a small amount of light, the second was panes of glass.  I struggled getting the keys to work.  Why is it that African keys are always a problem???  Anyone else out there who has spent time in Africa find that keys and locks are a challenge for them?

The open courtyard was quiet despite the very busy city right outside the main entrance.  There were birds, weaver birds maybe, building nests in the trees which provided light shade from the heat of the day.  The walls were decorated with peeling but brightly colored murals.

This is the  first of quite a few very interesting key chains.  And check out the keys!  They look very similar to each other, but there’s a different one for each of the doors.

The room was a bit small, but very clean and completely adequate for our needs.  No evidence of bed bugs here!  We turned on the AC immediately figuring we should probably enjoy a little bit of cool when we could.  We had decided to come at the hottest time of the year because it:   1)  worked well for both of our schedules, 2)  would mean the least amount of mosquitoes as it was well into the dry season, and 3) would be the lowest time of the year for other travelers, so we wouldn’t be fighting as many people for the better hostel rooms, etc.

Our room was en suite…no shared bathroom facilities…not yet anyway!

We even had a closet and more wall art to enjoy!

If you ever get to Dakar, this is a good place to stay!  The food at the restaurant was good.  The beer (Flag was our choice) was COLD.  You can walk to the docks to catch the ferry to Île de Gorée.  The cost for taxi rides to the embassies for other African countries or to Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine are reasonable.  And you feel VERY much like you are in Africa!


Fear of Falling

April 10th, 2011

Day 25:  Kakum National Park, Ghana

When I was younger, I was kinda fearless.

I’m older now, and I have phobia baggage.

I’m afraid of falling.  It’s kind of like being afraid of heights, but not exactly the same.  I am fine with being in planes.  I love roller coasters.  I’m fine up in REALLY tall buildings.  As long as I am enclosed in some way I’m okay.  No, it’s not really heights that bring me to near panic…I’m afraid of falling.  There’s a couple of types of fear of falling.  There’s basophobia, which is the fear of falling, but it leads people to not want to stand up at all.  That’s not what I have.  There’s climacophobia, which is the fear of falling down stairs.  That’s incorporated into my phobia, but mine is bigger than that.  There’s bathophobia, which sounds like the fear of taking a bath (that’s called ablutophobia), but it’s actually the fear of falling from a high place.  THAT’S what I have.

I came by this fear rightly.  There were two specific events that took place in my life that set me up for my fear.  The first was when I was 16.  I was on a mission trip to Haiti.

(Me, laying block in Haiti)

While standing on a rickety scaffolding and concentrating deeply to lay concrete blocks, one of the missionaries’ kids grabbed my ankles and shook me.  The fear got a hold of me then and grew over the years.  I eventually began to struggle with getting up on my stepladder to retrieve items from upper shelves in my kitchen.  Ridiculous.  I got tired of being that afraid, so I worked on desensitizing myself.  I got over (mostly) the worst of it…I could climb my stepladder!  🙂   And then some years later, the second event took place.  On a trip to Chicago with my big bro, his wife/my best friend, and one of my other good friends, we went to the top of Sears tower.

(Taken from the top of the Hancock Building, not the Sears Tower, but close enough!)

I was deep in thought and standing by a window looking down down down at the ground so very far away, and my brother came up behind me and shook my shoulders and made a “aHAHAHahahah” yell.  The fear returned with a vengeance.  Since then I have been challenging myself to get better, again.  I am better with being high up, but still very fearful in certain circumstances, especially if there are people anywhere behind me.  I just don’t trust them.

My high up place doesn’t even have to be very high.  I don’t like looking over cliffs.  I don’t like walking across bridges.  I don’t like open ferris wheels (closed ones are just fine).   I want to sky dive.  I want to bungee jump.  I want to walk over insanely high bridges.  I want to not feel like I can’t breathe and that I’m going to die if I need to jump over an open ditch.

Abner also has a fear of heights/fear of falling thing.  Which begs the question…”why on earth did the two of us decide to go on a canopy walk in the rain forest?”.  Excellent question!  Because we NEEEEEEEEDED to.  And because I trust Abner with my life, I decided if I could walk across swinging rope and wood bridges high up in the trees with anyone, it would be with Abner.  You’d have to ask him what his impetus was!

While we were in Cape Coast, Ghana, we were very close to the Kakum National Park…and they had a canopy walk there that we heard about.  The walk was comprised of seven of these “bridges” hundreds of feet up in the air over wild jungle.  We hiked up to where the walk started.  It was rather hot and humid.  I’m very sweaty, BUT I’m an official green card carrying NGA!  A Non Ghanaian Adult.  🙂

Since a major component of my fear is having someone behind me, we waited until the rest of the people in our group had set off across the first bridge.  Abner went before me, and I went last.  I was confident and walking without my legs shaking beneath me until I felt the bridge shaking behind me.  Oh great.  My biggest fear, and it was making ground behind me.  There’s no place to pass on these 10″ wide bridges.  And this guy ended up so close behind me that he was clipping my heels as I walked and he was stressing me to move faster.  I called to Abner to make the guy back off before I freaked out.   He did, and I collected myself.  I let the guy pass me at the first opportunity, and once he did, I was able to actually enjoy myself.

We walked all those seven bridges.  We didn’t see any wildlife, but we heard the birds in the trees.  It was really a cool thing we got to do.

Five years ago I tried to walk across the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge here in Colorado.  I got out about 15 feet and I started to panic.  I want to conquer that bridge!  Abner and I will get around to trying sometime in the near future.  Cuz we’re rock stars!  And we can do it!


Dying To Get A Visa

Days 5 & 6, Bamako, Mali

Figuring out which countries you will need a visa for and how is the best way, or only way, to get them, is one of the challenges of international travel.  Abner figured it all out for us for our trip.  Ghana, the last country we’d be visiting, was going to be the trickiest visa.  Ghana requires that visitors obtain their visa in their country of residence.  So we’d need to get in the States before leaving for our trip.  The embassy is in Washington, D.C.  So, we mail off our passports and all the requested information and the application in duplicate along with passport photos and pray for the best.  Which normally wouldn’t be cause for much concern…however I needed my passport for my trip to Haiti, and would have to send it in when I got back…which would give me less than two weeks for the turnaround.  Abner did most of the legwork, including coming to my office to pick up my paperwork and taking it to the Fed-Ex office and doing the calling to check on the status.  I got my passport back with my faboo Ghana visa in it just a few days before leaving for West Africa.  What a relief it was to have that in hand.  Only two more visas would be needed for our travels.

Senegal did not require a visa for Americans.  We’d obtain our Malian visa in Senegal.  We’d obtain our Burkina Faso visa in Mali.

Hyperbole aside, I nearly died getting our Burkina visa in Mali.  I was as close to being in a medical emergency as I’d ever been.  It was well over a hundred degrees in Bamako.  That was just the air temperature.  There was scorching heat coming up from the ground beneath us.  The air was toxic.  People riding motorcycles often wore medical masks to help filter the pollution from it.  On our first day in Bamako we left our hostel, La Mission Catholique, in the late morning to head to the Burkina Faso embassy.  Lonely Planet did not provide an exact address, but gave seemingly good directions on how to get to the location.  It was just a few miles from our hostel.

We’d arrived that morning after a 36 hour bus trip (that story is another post!) and we were tired.  The cabbie we’d hired to bring us to our hostel didn’t know quite know where the hostel was, and didn’t know any of the street names provided on the map we had.  He got us to the general neighborhood and then after asking around, finally pulled up to our location.  We thought his not knowing his way around well was a fluke…wrongo.

We flagged down a taxi to take us to the embassy because it was already oppressively hot and we didn’t feel like walking even a mile in the heat.  This taxi driver had literally no idea where the embassy was.  We had a map, but he did not read and could not understand maps.  We found this over and over again with the subsequent cabbies we’d hailed.  We finally decided we’d just walk there…seemed easy enough…well, easier than trying find a cab was turning out to be.

Wrongo.

Getting our bearings wasn’t too difficult.  We each had a Nalgene bottle of water with us.  We figured we’d find the embassy before our water ran out.

Wrongo.

Man, it was hot.  I live at altitude, and so I am naturally blood doped.  Despite that, I needed to stop frequently to drink water and try to stand in whatever shade I could find to try to cool down.  It didn’t take us too long to get to where we knew the embassy had to be close…only we couldn’t find it.  We asked and asked, but no one knew where it was.  Down one street that seemed to be the one the embassy was right off of, we saw a guy in a uniform.  Turns out he was a private security guard for some nice secured housing.  He knew where it was and sent us off in the right direction…”down the road, cross the big street, and then go down the street on the right”.  He said it in French though.  It wasn’t far.

Sooo,  off we went.  My water was gone, but we’d come back to the little store we passed along the way once we’d dropped off our passports.  Only that’s not quite how it went.  We went down the road, and we crossed the big street, and we found a road on the right, and we walked down that road, only there was no embassy.  We walked around a bit seeing what we could see, only we couldn’t see anything ebassyish looking.  We found an official looking building with official looking uniformed men and so I asked them, in rather clear and concise French thank you very much, if they knew where the BF embassy was.  By the way they looked at me, you would have thought I was speaking Bikya.  I asked and reasked, slowwwwwly and clearly…nope, nada, or should I say, rien!  But then a groundskeeper who overheard my attempted conversation approached us and said he knew where it was and that he would take us there, and that it was close.  HE understood my French.  I understood HIS French.  What was with those military guys anyway????  He took us back down the road we’d abandoned, then turned down another dusty little road, and there, just a few hundred meters down THAT road was the embassy!  Woo Hoo!!!  We’d found it!!!  Thanks groundskeeper guy!  Here’s a nice tip for you for your help!

By now I’m hot.  And beet red.  Abner is sharing his precious water supply with me, and soon, his is gone too.  We approach the guardhouse and make our request.  We are told to return in about two hours, that this is when the passport office is open again.  We head off in search of fluids.

IT IS REALLY HOT.  We realize that there is a bit of a short cut if we take a different route, so we head back to the little store we passed on the way to the embassy.  My heart is pounding and pounding fast.  I’m getting redder, and hotter, and drier by the minute.  My pulse is 140.  My usual resting heart rate is half that.  I’m feeling woozy.  It’s at this time that I tell Abner that I’m not feeling well at all and that we need to get to some liquids pronto.  The shortcut takes us past rotting chicken remains alongside the road.  The smell of death makes me even sicker.

I’m about a minute away from delirium and heat stroke when we make it to the store.  A couple of men outside the store take one look at me, and they give up their lawn chairs for us.  A few liters of fluid and soda and an hour later, my heart rate is down to a hundred, I’m sweating again, and my color and skin temperature has returned to normal.  Crisis averted.  And lesson learned.  No matter how tired I am and now matter how heavy it is, both Nalgene bottles need to go with me all the time.

We trudge back down the road, across the big street, through the shortcut, past the rotting flesh piles, and back to the embassy we go.  A short wait and we are allowed access to the embassy’s passport office…

Where we learn that passports are picked UP in the afternoon, but they are dropped OFF in the morning.  We’d have to come back tomorrow.

TIA, my friends…This Is Africa.

Since we are pretty certain that no cab driver will know how to get us back to our hostel, we decide to walk back.  I was feeling fine to make the walk.  Only our walk back didn’t quite go as planned either.  At first it was all good.  We walked with confidence!  We found our way back to the neighborhood we were staying in.

And then we were lost.  We got disoriented and turned around.  Nothing looked familiar and everything looked familiar.  We knew we were close, but we couldn’t find where we were supposed to be.  We asked a dozen people for help.  No one knew street names.  No one knew where the mission was.  Abner was getting frustrated.  I was starting to panic.  I was overheating again.  And as all the life-saving water I had imbibed earlier had worked its way through my system, I was now nearly in a bathroom state of emergency.  I’d been praying often on this trip already…but now I’m praying out loud.  “Please, Jesus, send us someone who knows where we are and how to get us to where we want to be”.  I was begging.

Then, like a beautiful black angel, a young man,  working a jigsaw puzzle of all things, motions us over to him.  Without even asking him for help, he tells us that the place we are looking for is down this street, turn left at the corner, and then left at the next corner, and it will be on the right.

And it was.  And we were safely back to where there was water and a bathroom.

The next day we returned to the embassy early in the morning and dropped off our passports.  And we made it back in the afternoon to pick them up.  And we stopped for shawarmas on the way “home” where we took victory photos of us and our freshly minted Burkina visas.

It was looking like we’d both be filling all the pages of our passports on this trip!  I’ve never filled up a passport before!!  At the shawarma restaurant:  my Ghana visa on the right, our hard won Burkina Faso visas on our lefts!

None the worse for wear in the end, but getting this visa was a bit scary there for a minute.  This was a good place to learn the water lesson.  Further down the road, having plenty of water was going to be even more important as finding it would be more difficult.

After shawarmas, and without making a single wrong turn, we made it “home” once again.  Feeling a little contented, and a lot jubilant.


Don’t Apologize…

There are some activities in which I engage that are purely for my own enjoyment.  “Wandering” (hiking, for example) is one of those activities.  Sometimes it feels like I’m wasting time, that I could be more productive doing something else…like volunteering at a food bank or something…something more, well, philanthropic, if you will.  Recently a friend of mine told me to look up Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, “The Apology”.  I’m taking this poem as my response to myself if ever I should find myself thinking that spending time out in creation is something to feel badly about…

The Apology

Think me not unkind and rude,
That I walk alone in grove and glen;
I go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.

Tax not my sloth that I
Fold my arms beside the brook;
Each cloud that floated in the sky
Writes a letter in my book.

Chide me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought;
Every aster in my hand
Goes home loaded with a thought.

There was never mystery,
But ’tis figured in the flowers,
Was never secret history,
But birds tell it in the bowers.

One harvest from thy field
Homeward brought the oxen strong;
A second crop thine acres yield,
Which I gather in a song.

  ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for that, Ralph.

And thanks, Dennis, too, for letting me in on Ralph’s poem.


“I Don’t Like Mangoes”

Finding fresh fruits in Senegal and Mali was rather difficult.  Bananas we could find, but that was about it.  Most of the fruit available was overripe, underripe, or just plain gross looking.  By the time we got to Burkina Faso I was dying (okay, maybe not DYING…maybe aching, yeah, that’s it, ACHING) for something fresh to eat from the plant family.  On one of our walk-abouts in Ouagadougou (I love that I’ve been to Ouagadougou!) we happened upon a street full of excellent produce stands.  Abner saw some mangoes that he had to have.

“I don’t like mangoes.”  (That was me sayin’ that)  There’s something about the flavor, something that lingers in my mouth that I really don’t care for.  But, since it had been a long time since I’d had a mango, I figured I’d try one again.

I’m very glad I did.  I didn’t have any idea what it was that I’d tasted in the past that put me off of them so badly.  But wow, were those mangoes unbelievably delicious.  Maybe I was just that hungry for fruit…but maybe not!

Abner, who took prodigious care of me on our journey, did THIS to the mangoes to make them easier to eat!  Apparently it’s not some new invention or anything, but I’ve never seen it done!  And I was terribly impressed.  🙂

Yummy mango! Who knew????

On another fruit shopping trip, Abner picked up some more mangoes.  He wanted some that weren’t quite ripe yet as he loved them that way, too.

When I tried one of those, I got that taste in my mouth, the one that made me not like mangoes…

Note to self:  you do not like GREEN mangoes… you LOVE ripe ones!

 


Veggie Tales…West African Style

We stopped on our bus rides across West Africa.  We stopped (and broke down) a LOT.  Most of the stops have blurred together in my mind.  But, it WAS somewhere in Mali.  I’m sure of that.  I see a guy walking down the street towards Abner and me and he was wearing a white shirt with what appeared to be a familiarish cartoonish green cucumber on it.

Me to Abner:  “Look!  How funny!!  That guy is wearing a Veggie Tales shirt in the middle of nowhere Mali!”

Abner to me as the shirted man gets closer:  “Uh, that’s not a veggie, that’s a condom!”

So it was.  (It was an HIV education shirt).  And much laughter ensued…

🙂


Bon Anniversaire, Abner!!

Happy Birthday, Abner!  Thanks for bringing so much awesomeness into my life!  🙂  Here’s to the next visa and the next stamp in our passports…

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