Tag Archives: death

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.


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.


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.


Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

Eighteen years ago today I was at work.  I called to check on my best friend/sister-in-law who was ready to give birth to her first child any day.  She was doing great but was experiencing an uncontrollable urge to, well, to put it as delicately as possible, have a bowel movement.  “DON’T PUSH, and get to the hospital!!” I told her.  Not long after that Richard arrived.  WHAT a cutie.  He was named in honor of his two grandfathers, Richard and Daniel.  A first grandchild and grandson for the both of them.  I was a very excited and proud first-time auntie.

Four years ago today I was working my last, and for the most part, rather uneventful shift in the ER.  I had turned in my resignation and was planning my move from Los Angeles to Colorado which was to take place in just a month.  I was excited about the new life which awaited me and all the adventures I was to have.  And I was thinking of my oldest nephew, Richard, who was on vacation with friends but was turning 14.

Just a couple of hours before my last shift was to end I got the phone call that didn’t change any of that, but changed absolutely everything.

Instead of long and tearful good-byes with my co-workers, I started the longest and most tearful good-bye of my life.  One that, as of today, has lasted four years.

I no longer count the time Connie has been gone in minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks, or even in months, but in years.  It’s still surreal to me.  I miss her every minute.

Congratulations on your 18th birthday Dicky Dan.  Your mother would have loved to see you and the man you have become.

I love you both, to the ends of the earth and to the highest heaven.

Dreams and Sadness

Every once in awhile I get to dream about her.  I often remember my dreams.  I am lucky.  My brother would love to dream about her.  Or better, remember the dream if he had one.  Maybe I get the dreams because I remember them.  I hesitate sharing my dreams with Phil.  It’s hard on him.  He wants so much to see Connie again, even if it’s in his sleep.  But he’s told me he wants to hear about the dreams anyway, even though it wrecks him.  Grief is never far from us.

I got “a Connie dream” sometime on Saturday before rising.  I remember the jeans she was wearing.  I remember them because I was surprised she was wearing them.  She always thought they were “too tight”.  They weren’t, but she thought they were.

I also remember that she came to me to share something that had been on her heart. 

As Christians, we are taught that there is no sadness or grief in heaven.  Connie wanted to let us know that even though there is not “sadness” there, that she is not unaware of OUR sadness and that she has deep emotion about our grieving.  I have no idea if this is Biblically accurate or not, but it was comforting to me to think that she is perhaps able to see us and know that we miss her, and that she, having gone before us, is looking forward to the day when we will reunite again, and there will be no more tears.  I often tire of crying.  I cry so easily since she died. 

I have no idea how heaven works, except that the joy of being with our Savior must be beyond measure. 

One of my niece’s school friends, only 14 years old, died suddenly while at school earlier this week.  And the sister/daughter of friends of mine passed away Saturday after a long illness.  A friend of mine called me from work yesterday.  She was waiting for the family of a young husband and father who collapsed and died playing basketball to arrive at the emergency department so that they could be told of their loss.  One completely unexpected death, one not wholly unexpected death, and the death of man to whom I have no connection, has touched my life this week.  And Connie.  Somehow this “visit” of hers to my dream has comforted me. 

My heart grieves as each of these families is only beginning to deal with the loss of their loved one.  I can’t help but remember what these first days were like for me and my own family.

To the families of Megan, and of Jan, and of this unknown young man, you are in my thoughts and my prayers.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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