Tag Archives: Friends

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.

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Fire, Flashback, and Fever

On Tuesday, while my phone was silenced for work, I received numerous texts.  I retrieved them as I was leaving my office in Denver for home in Colorado Springs.  Fire.  Fire in the Black Forest.

As I made the long drive home, I could see the huge plume of white and gray smoke climbing in a massive column into the sky off in the distance.

Probably shouldn't have been taking pictures while driving....

Probably shouldn’t have been taking pictures while driving….

Closer to home and farther off into the distance I could see the smoke from yet another fire in the Royal Gorge creeping its way across the horizon from behind Cheyenne Mountain.

Different fire, different smoke.

Different fire, different smoke.

When I reached the exit for New Life Church, I headed that direction.  I parked on the side of the road and watched the fire.  The nearest edge was only a mile or so away.  Chinook helicopters were already chugging their way back and forth dangling Bambi buckets filled with water beneath them to, and empty from, the fire.  They looked like mosquitoes dropping trickles of water into hell.

Not again.  These fires are only supposed to happen once in a couple of lifetimes.

But last year at almost this exact time, there was a fire burning in the mountains behind my own house.  It started in Waldo Canyon, one of my favorite hiking spots.  I had been out shopping when I looked up into the mountains and saw smoke rising.  By the time I got home a short time later, it had doubled in size.

Almost home, the Waldo Canyon fire had been burning for an hour.

Almost home, the Waldo Canyon fire had been burning for an hour.

It seemed like it was far enough away that it wouldn’t threaten my neighborhood.  As it burned, I had to keep my house sealed up as the smell of smoke was so strong.  It was so hot.  No air conditioning, no breeze through open windows.  I would go to sleep (fitfully at best) at night with those fires burning “back there” praying none would be caught unawares in the middle of the night.  I would wake up in the morning with a lurch because of the smell, and I’d check the news and look around outside in search of fire.  Always with the smell of smoke in the air.  No one thought the fires would reach as far as the city, but I evacuated my dad who was on vacation and staying with me, just in case.  I didn’t want to have to try to have any future evacuation any more complicated than need be.  And a couple days later, devil winds picked up and blew that fire like a river down into the beautiful Mountain Shadows neighborhood just a couple of miles from my own neighborhood.

I had been taking photographs at a local school that looked down into a number of the canyons that were on fire when the winds inexplicably “collapsed” over the mountains and tripled in velocity.  I watched in horror as the fire began to run out of the canyons and around the mountains seemingly directly toward my home.  As I rushed to my vehicle and to home, I could feel my heart racing.  When I reached home, I could see the flames not too far in the distance.

The view from my window as the fire entered the city.

The view from my window as the fire entered the city.

As I was taking pictures of the fire from my bedroom window, I all of the sudden realized, I needed to leave.  The smoke and flames were getting awfully close very quickly.

Not too much later and the smoke was just down the street.

Not too much later and the smoke was just down the street.

I had already packed up in “pre-evacuation”, so I took a quick video tape of all the things in my house rapidly explaining in a very shaking voice what it was I owned, and what I thought things might be worth…for insurance purposes, and to remember.  Smoke was blocking out the sunshine and burning my throat.

Within moments the smoke was filling my neighborhood.

Within moments the smoke was filling my neighborhood.

I caught and loaded up my cats and picked up a few last minute items and headed out as the smoke and embers blew into my own little neighborhood in a toxic choking cloud.  I said good-bye to my neighbors as they also evacuated and thanked my next door neighbor as he watered down our building one last time before he and his family left.  As I was leaving, I got an electronic reverse 911 call instructing me it was time to get out NOW.  I had already resigned myself to losing nearly everything I owned and was at peace about that.   By the time I reached safety, everything I had evacuated with, including my cats, smelled like forest fire.  I thought watching from a distance as the fire consumed everything in its path, that all of Colorado Springs was going to be ashes by morning.  But it wasn’t.  Miraculously, the fire was contained to, and stopped in, Mountain Shadows.  The fire had been traveling a half a mile an hour, and the nearest burn to my house was only a mile away, but I lost nothing.  Not true for so many.  I thanked God for graciously sparing me.  But 346 families’ homes were a total loss, quite a few those of friends.  That fire was declared the worst in Colorado history.

But that record was not to stand for long.  On Tuesday, less than a year later, the hellish quadrad of high winds, high temperatures, near zero humidity, and a longstanding drought lead to a another fire of epic proportions raging out of control through one of the most lovely areas in all of Colorado Springs.  As I watched from New Life Church, I saw pops of black smoke rising out of the gray.  That was homes burning.  So awful to watch, even from a safe distance.

For the past five days, I have been experiencing that same sick and uncomfortable feeling remembering my own experiences a year ago.  This fire was 10 miles away.  I could see the smoke out the same bedroom window, only looking in the opposite direction.  Across town, thousands and thousands and thousands more new evacuees were experiencing the same emotions and fears that we on this side of town experienced last year.  I could feel it again like it was happening to me.  There was one morning in particular, when I was awakened early to the smell of smoke, that I felt that shaky uncertain sort of scared feeling in my chest again.  I quickly got up and looked out all of my windows, went outside to look for evidence of fire, and checked the news to see if there was a new fire, perhaps nearby.  I had this feeling I should be packing up and going somewhere, just to be sure.  I didn’t like it.

I had put the word out that my home was open for fire refugees, but no one took me up on my offer.  Which turned out to be a good thing as a few nights ago my phone rang at 1:30.  Those early morning phone calls are never good news.  It was my friend Abner.  And he was calling to tell me he was very sick.  He was in Casper, Wyoming for work, and it sounded like he had malaria.  I told him my house was available and to get here as soon as he could.  What a weird thing to have happen in the middle of a totally different kind of crisis.  So, as Abner, a malaria refugee, was getting over the worst of his fever and other symptoms, the heat lifted, the humidity rose, we got some rain, the fire abated, and evacuees started to return to their homes.  Those who still had them.

As of tonight, 483 homes are a total loss.  The death toll is two.  Two souls trying desperately to evacuate who were captured by the flames.  And, just like that, less than a year later, we have a new worst fire in Colorado history.

Things eventually begin to return to some normalcy.  My windows are open and I don’t smell smoke.  Abner was well enough to get to his parents’ home to spend Fathers Day with his pop.   My mother, two sisters, nephew, and their cats, who were all evacuated the evening the fire broke out, have returned to an undamaged house.  And that jittery feeling is abating for me.

Colorado Springs is an amazing city.  For the second time in a year, the community absorbed 10’s of thousands of evacuees.  Lines for donating food, water, and other supplies stretched for miles at various drop off locations.  By basic standards, it’s a large city, but it acts like a small town.  People line the streets cheering the firefolks who run in when others run out.  When I had to evacuate last year, I had a dozen people offer a place in their home to me.  I imagine that this is the same story many others would tell.  It is likely that last year’s evacuees returned the favor to the exact same folks who took them in.

I am blessed to live in such a great place.  I am blessed that all I have had to endure with these fires is some temporary inconvenience and a ongoing sense of  uncertainty about future fire.  When I lived in Southern California there would be times when it seemed more quiet than usual…more still than usual…warmer than usual.  The birds would be quiet.  There was no rustling of ocean breeze through the vegetation.  Even the bugs were silent.  We called it “earthquake weather”.  Now, when it gets hot here, when the humidity dips into single digits, and when the winds kick up, it will be “fire weather”.  And I will pray that epic firestorms are a thing of the past.  I pray that lightening does not strike my wonderful community three times.


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.


First World Problem

For anyone who has traveled and spent any amount of time in underdeveloped (third world) countries, the concept of “first world problem” is not an unfamiliar one.  First world problems are ones that either simply don’t occur in the third world, or aren’t something you would put in the “problem” category due to the rather unimportant nature of them in the big picture.

Yesterday my friend Krista posted this status update on facebook:

”  first world problem: I have cookie crumbs in my papercut. 😦  “

I laughed.

I spent the summer a number of years ago with Krista in the bush in Zambia on a mission trip.  Her duffel bag with everything she would need for the summer didn’t get to Zambia with her.  She spent the entire summer using other people’s stuff and wearing their clothes.  And she never complained, not once.   She was a trooper.  Having nothing?  A third world problem.  But hey, in the first world, a paper cut can sting when it gets cookie crumbs in it!

This morning in my inbox there was an e-mail from a company called “Fab”.  They sell all kinds of really cool and mostly totally unnecessary stuff.  Today a link to some very fun looking brightly colored small kitchen appliances caught my eye.  I would love to own a number of them if only I had room for them in my kitchen (first world problem).  And then I saw it.  A mini s’mores maker.

Really???  Is that a solution to a first world problem or what??

Or does it just take all the fun out of s’mores?


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.


Reason #427 Why Men Are Awesome

And on a completely different non-African adventure subject….

When I had the broken stereo in my car replace a few months ago, the broken old one had a CD stuck in it that I just couldn’t get out.  But it was an INXS CD, and I wanted it.  So I held on to the radio in hopes I could find help to get it out.

About two weeks ago the screw-on lid to my flour canister got stuck on the jar as it jumped its threads.  I could not get it off.  I had a few visitors to my house try, and they (all females) failed as well.

When I returned from my trip to Africa, my front passenger car door’s leading edge rubbed on the front fender in one little spot every time the door opened and shut…like the fender got pushed in.  The paint had been rubbed off and it needed to be fixed before the damage got worse.  I was loathe to take it to a mechanic as I know they would have charged me too much to do something totally easy.

These three things were things that I knew were an easy fix, and despite my relatively good skills at managing my own “problems”, I was stumped on each of them.  And I needed my flour!!!  🙂

This past weekend I went to the house of some friends for their garage sale.  I had a small pile of things to sell, but not enough stuff to have my own garage sale.  And, since I wanted to hang out with them, I went over and joined their sale.

One of those friends is James.  He fixes stuff.  Although it would mean admitting I was weak and inadequate, :-), I grabbed my radio and my flour jar and stuck them in my car.

I handed the jar to James and he had the lid off in about one and a half seconds.

He had the CD out of the stereo in about 15 seconds.

He had the fender fixed in about two minutes.

Men are awesome.  James especially so!

Thanks, Stephanie, for letting me borrow your husband to do my pitiful little chores!


“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!

 


Scanning Stuff

So I had a few hours to “waste” yesterday.  I dug out my handy dandy ION slide and negative scanner, and starting me some scanning. 

Here’s one from 1982 of one of my besties, Kevin, and me, on the great wall of China…wearing Mao hats so that we could be like a billion Chinese people, cuz back in 1982 pretty much everyone in China wore a Mao hat…

Lou and Kevin on the GW of C


28.99%

My friend Donna is a small business owner.  She has poured heart and soul into her retail business for the past two years and has been starting to show regular profits. 

If you’ve been paying attention to things in the news lately, you know that Bank of America is one of the banks that should be out of business, but instead was handed over FORTY FIVE BEEEEEEELION dollars of bailout money. 

That’s 45 billion of your dollars, my dollars, and Donna’s dollars.  Now, Donna has been an excellent customer of Bank of America and has tied all of her business accounts to the financial giant (she did this before it became clear that the lunatics were in charge of the asylum).

And in thanks for all the bailout money it got from Donna, and in thanks for Donna’s excellent support of said institution, the interest rate on her small business credit card was jacked up to….yep, you guessed it….a whopping and usurious TWENTY EIGHT POINT NINE NINE PERCENT.

How many small businesses are out there who also got the “Dear Customer” letter?  Donna’s not sure how she’ll get rid of her business’ credit debt before this onerous interest rate suffocates her business.  That interest rate gobbles up the profits she is making.

I reallllly need a very good explanation as to why this country is not letting bad businesses fail.  Failure isn’t a bad thing!  In some circumstances it’s the BEST thing.  B of A should be dead and buried by now and not sticking its bony zombied hands into every single pocket that they can.

I ask you, who in their right mind would seek out B of A in the future with interest rates like that?  Will this cost it customers?  Certainly it must.  If it costs enough customers, will it do well as a business in the future?  Certainly it cannot.  If it continues then to fail as a business, will we again have to bail the Loan Sharks out?  I guess we will.  So, in order to keep from having to let the Loan Shark stick its skeletal hand into our left pocket, we have to let it stick it into our right one by doing business with it???  We can no longer vote with our feet when it comes to Bank of America (GM, Chrysler, ETCETERA).

This is stupid.  This needs to stop.  Bank of America should not get the “good try award”.  It needs to go away and if it figures out a better way to do business, then it should come back, but not until then!

We should look at it like Thomas Edison did when it took 10,000 attempts at making the lightbulb…

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison

If Edison were alive today and making the 8,972nd iteration of his light bulb, I’m sure the American government would be forcing us to buy bulbs that lasted 42 seconds even thought they were crap because Edison was “too big to fail”.  We might never gotten our light bulb.

How many bigger and better things are we going to lose out on because we are propping up businesses where being not good enough IS good enough and where there’s no incentive to be the best because you’re going get your money one way or the other?  And how many small businesses who are trying to be good enough, and maybe even trying to be the best, go out of business because these not good enough businesses aren’t allowed to suffer the natural consequences of being bad?


Photo Friday – “Clocks”

So, this week’s Photo Friday topic is “Clocks”.  I LOVE love love love love timepieces.  I have two clocks in my house that are particular faves.  This one is a “Baby Ben” and it was given to me by my friend Heather many years ago to remind me that some clocks, like friendships, require regular windings and occasional resettings when the time gets off.

 Baby Ben by you.

This second clock was given to me by a patient many years ago.  He made it by hand.  I have been given many lovely gifts over the years by people for whom I have cared.  This is my favorite!

 Awesome Clock by you.

These pictures were taken within minutes of each other…both of the times are wrong!  🙂

And finally, this one is especially for Jan of the blog A Curious State of Affairs, because this is the stupid kind of stuff Americans do!  🙂

Little Bitty Big Ben by you.

 For you players, you know the Mr. Linky drill!

Coming up on Photo Friday:

Friday 10th April: Author’s choice: Easter Celebrations

Friday 17th April: Mrs Nascar’s choice: Statues

Friday 24th: Tall T’s choice: Heritage (something that reminds you of your nationality or your heritage)

Friday 1st May: Tall T’s choice: Future (something that you look forward to in the future, or something that reminds you of the future)

I have not suggested a topic for future Photo Fridays in AGES.  Do you have any ideas of something you might like to see interpreted?  If you do, please share!


Photo Friday – “Photo Gadgets”

This week we are revisiting photo gadgets on Photo Friday.  I really wanted to Obamafy myself, but was unsuccessful with my attempts.  And I love the Warholizer, so I decided to revisit that as well. 

Recently, Becky (from my Malawi team this past summer) came out from PA to spend a couple of weeks with me.  The day that I had planned for us to drive up to the summit of Pikes Peak it unexpectedly snowed.  So I dragged her to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo instead.  It was cold, but clear.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves.  When we left we were informed that we were visitors number four and five to the zoo that day!  In total, there were only seven!  The animals that weren’t indoors because of the cold (like the zebras) or in quarantine because of a new arrival (like the elephants) were pretty much out and about.  The tigress was one of those animals.  I’ve never seen the tigress except for a brief glimpse of orange and black and white through the brush before.  She is a glorious animal.  Her name is Helga. 

Tigress by you.

And Warholized:

Tigress Warholized by you.

Here’s Mr. Linky:

You know what to do!


Photo Friday – “Unlucky”

“If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” – George Jetson

In “honor” of the second of three Friday the Thirteenths we will have this year, today’s Photo Friday topic is “unlucky”.

Recently my friend Donna visited me from California.  It was her first time out here.  We had a GREAT time!  This visit, though five days long, was about a month too short.  We never have enough time, no matter how much time we have!

A reasonable and lovely drive’s distance away from where I live is a delightful little Victorian mining town called “Cripple Creek”.  They have legalized gambling there.  It’s like a little Las Vegas, really.  All the lights, and bells, and clangings of Vegas, but at about a millionth the size.  Donna loves her some Vegas, so we, along with my sister Whitney, decided to make a day of it and go throw some money down a rathole.

I say throw money down a rathole, because I never, NEVER, EVER win at gambling.  So I try to make my 20 or 30 bucks last as long as possible while I watch other people win!  🙂   BITTER!!!!  Donna in the end didn’t lose too much, but she did win during the course of the day.  Whitney it seems won at every machine she played.  I think she won the most on the penny slots, which is crazy, but true.

Here are Donna (left) and Whitney (right) in fronto of the Brass Ass…

The Brass Ass by you.

If you’re playing, don’t forget to add your link to Mr. Linky.  If you’re not, please visit the other players and drop a comment!

Coming up on Photo Friday:

Friday 20th March 2009: Author’s choice: Photo Gadgets (back by popular demand! Author herself!) Photos you’ve gadgetised or photo-shopped etc!

Friday 27th March: Author’s choice: FRIENDS, I HAZ ‘EM! (a  selection of photos of friends – you could use a mosaic maker if you choose – or any other photo gadget if they don’t want recognisable pics of themselves on the internet)


Hot Pots (Not To Be Confused With Hot Pockets Or With Mongolian Hot Pots)

This past weekend I did something that was one part rock, one part water, one part mist, one part heat, one part cold, one part darkness, one part light, and 1/100th part creepy.  There were some other parts in their, too, but I think these reflect the most important ones.

I spent the holiday weekend in Utah, in the Heber Valley area.  Dotting the landscape were columns of whispy steam rising in the crisp winter cold.  These whisps were emanating from rounded mounds of what appeared to be snow covered earth.  But which turned out to be rock. 

Homestead Hot Pot by you.

BAD picture quality, but its the best one I got! 

These mounds are Hot Pots.  Formed over the eons by heated water bubbling up from underground lakes, as the water would overflow the minerals within it would eventually form a mounded “crust”.  The visible mounds surrounded small bodies of this heated water.  One local entrepreneur blasted a hole in a rather large mound which was located on his property.  This hole was blasted at the base of the mound and extended hundreds of feet through the rock into the interior of the mound.  This provided easy access to the fresh smelling mineral rich waters within. 

Hot Pot Entrance by you.

Becky and Bill entering the mound…

Inside the mound there is a place to remove outer clothing and to don a life jacket.  Down the tunnel all you can see is mist.  In warmer weather the air is clear, but the mist adds a wonderful and ethereal quality to the space!  As you enter the mist the water comes into view.  Dimly lit from below by a few lights, it dances green and warm.  A small hazy shaft of light comes down from above through a small natural vent at the top of the mound. 

Hot Pot Vent Hole by you.

The water  below is 45 feet across in each direction, and extends 65 feet deep.  Though it is 20 degrees outside, it is warm inside.  The water remains fairly constantly 94-97 degrees.  And it gets warmer the deeper you swim.

 Soaking in the Hot Pot by you.

Becky, Susi, and Bill warming in the seated area before entering the swimming area

We shared our swim with scuba divers who come to get their certification, usually for a winter vacation to somewhere warm.  What a great place to get excellent diving experience.  I will admit that the when these divers swim underneath you that the bubbles which arise from the bottom of the little warm lake can be a bit disconcerting, and creepy feeling when you aren’t expecting them.  It is mostly dark down in the water and it’s easy to imagine monsters and slimy things reaching up from the deep to grab unsuspecting bathers!  We were assured however, that these waters do not support any life.  🙂

There are some of these warm lakes which haven’t formed the mound yet and are open and free to the public.  When we first decided to get warm and wet, we weighed the option of using one of these random free ponds or pay to go in the big hot pot.  “Free is good” was my initial response.  But when we arrived at the location, we had to drive through mud to get there, and the pond was filled with what looked like possibly naked, maybe beer swilling local types with the requisite hound running around.  And since it was outside and not surrounded by the mound, it looked wicked cold!!!  “Free is good, but sometimes paying is better” became the new mantra.

It was worth the $10 bucks admission, that’s for sure.

A dreamy little vacation within a vacation! 

I attempted to find more information on the pots to share here, but there is very little to be found.  Not even a Wikipedia entry, which surprised me! 

In the end, if you ever find yourself in the Heber Valley part of Utah, make sure you add this to your list of things you must do.  The pay to enter Hot Pot is at the Homestead Resort.  Check out the website.  Click on “The Crater” for more info and a few more pics.  Call and ask for the activities desk to make reservations.  You won’t be sorry!  And you should stay at the Invited Inn while you are there.  It’s a fabulous little swiss style B&B with the most delightful proprieters (Bill and Susie, pictured above in the hot pot.)  More on this lovely Inn in a post to follow.


22 X 2

It’s an odd favorite number, but it’s mine.  Been mine for a looooong time, but not as long as it’s been Hollister’s favorite number, in that Hollister was “established” in 1922. 

I have a bunch of original “22” pictures, but they are all still stuck on my old computer with most of my picture files.  So I borrowed one!

Today was my 44th birthday!  (More technically, it’s the 22nd anniversary of my 22nd birthday!)  It was a great day from start to finish!

My little bro (Low, in from out of town) and nephew Mitchell drove up to the mountains to spend the day.  To the spectacular ski resort of Breckenridge to be precise.  Our goal?  Find snow to play in and take pictures.  We succeeded at both of those, and also I got to see Sarah from my Zambia 2006 team!!!  She was also in from out of town working as a nanny of sorts for a family who were there for the holidays.  I was so excited to see her (our visit lasted about 20 minutes!) that I forgot to take a picture!  BUT I do have some pictures of playing in the snow!

Low Airborne by you.

Mitchell Airborne by you. 

We found a baseball field that was, at least until we got to it, untouched!  It was about 18 inches deep in fluffy white snow.  Low took a few flying leaps into it, and he also tossed Mitchell into it a few times.  I of course had to take one of my world famous (hahahahaha) foot pictures which was actually more of a leg picture!

Snow Feet by you.

During our drive up to the slopes my car hit a paricularly slick spot in the road.  I couldn’t get past it and I had to break out my chains for the very first time since moving to Colorado!  And on a beautiful warm and sunny day of all times!  My sweet brother Low slapped them on my tires and we made it the last 100 feet up the hill!

Back at home we met up with family and friends for a great Mexican dinner with my favorite cake for dessert (chocolate chocolate chip with powdered sugar) and presents!  One of my best birthdays ever.  Only I ate too much, and now I think I should go to bed and sleep off too much fun and too much food!  Thanks to everyone who helped make this a most memorable birthday!

Happy Birthday to me!


Chico and Grass Valley

Kari and Michael are Ian and Colin’s parents.  Ian was “one of my kids” on my mission trip to Sicily in 2007.  Colin is Ian’s little brother.  I love the boys and they let me, which is pretty cool, cuz I’m just an old lady.

This week I got to meet their parents, who live in Chico.  The ladies on my mom’s side of the family get together every December for a shopping trip.  This year we met up in Grass Valley.  Kari and I, who have become friends without actually meeting in person, have been wanting to meet, and they live “sort of close” to Grass Valley, so I extended the trip a bit and planned on making that happen.

I flew into Sacramento and was very glad that I hadn’t checked any bags because I don’t think I would have been able to find it in piles of luggage in the baggage claim area!  🙂

Sacramento Lost Luggage by you.

I retrieved my rental car (a Ford Focus which got nearly 34 mpg, btw) and had the most lovely and serene drive from the airport there to Chico.  This sunset was happening out my driver’s side window.  The smell of freshly turned earth was in my nose.  The mist was settling into the valleys and around the hills.  Geese, swans, and heron were settling in for the night in various water filled rice fields.  The grass was emerald green between the groves of fruit and nut trees.  It was one of the most nearly perfect drives I have ever taken.  It was too dark for pictures, but the sunset made it all magical.

99 Sunsets by you.

Kari and Michael?  Love them.  I stayed with them before going to Grass Valley for the weekend.  I drove out to Grass Valley and pulled up to where I would spend the next two days…a beautifully restored victorian home, A Victorian Rose.  There I met up with my mom, my aunt Leslie, my aunt Lynne, my cousins Jane and Jeannie, Jane’s mother-in-law Norma, and an old family friend Susie.  We spent time together, laughed together, dined together, and shopped together.  We had the house to ourselves and we made ourselves at home.

A Victorian Rose Breakfast by you.

My Mom, Jeannie, Jane, Norma, Leslie, Susie and Lynne enjoying dinner together

We left there on Sunday morning with a light snow falling.  Perfect.  I returned to Michael and Kari’s to spend more time getting to know them and fellowshipping with them.

Michael, (Lou), and KARI!!!! by you.

 Michael, Me, and Kari in Bidwell Park by the redwoods

Good times with family.  Good times with new friends.  But it’s always good to get back home, isn’t it?

Thanks to all for making this trip a wonderful one.  And thanks to Vickie for taking care of “my girls”, Mew Ling and Lu Na, once again.


Photo Friday – “Thanksgiving”

If you are reading this post, you will know that I was unable to access my computer to update it and have scheduled an automatic posting of this. 

I headed to Aspen yesterday morning with my cousin, Julie, and her kids to spend the holiday with another of our cousins, Jean, and her family.  I took my computer in hopes of gaining internet access, but haven’t.  I will update this with a true PF post upon my return.

As of this writing, there is snow in the forecast, so the roads might be messy and our plans might have changed due to that at any point going or coming home!

Thanks to my friends Vickie and Carmen for taking prodigious care of my kitties in my absence!

Check back!


John On Jeopardy!!

A forever family friend of ours, John Goodreau, (since he is making himself public in what he’s doing, I am feeling free to use his last name), is going to be on Jeopardy tonight!

I sure hope that someone tapes (or Tivos or DVRs) the episode (and hopefully many subsequent episodes) for me so that I can see it!

GOOD LUCK, JOHN!  I know you’ll do well!  Represent!!  🙂

And I have another Happy Birthday send-out, too.  This time I’m wishing a happy one to my niece, Natalie!  Happy Birthday, Nan.  I love you and miss you and hope to see you soon…

(Posted in absentia)


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