Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Ferry

Last Friday the SPTs (Sisters of Perpetual Togetherness) had to make a trip into "civilization" for meetings. Trips to the big city, the Greater Banjul area, have their benefits- restaurants, air-conditioning, satellite TV, grocery stores and other stores, but they also have one major drawback--the ferry crossing. While the city isn't far away, it sometimes requires a major time commitment to get there because of the wait at the ferry. A typical Banjul travel day begins early since we try to be on the road by 6AM. We drive about 17 miles to the weigh station where there may or may not be someone there to sell us our vehicle ticket. After getting our ticket, we go another couple of miles to the ferry terminal and pray that the line isn't too long yet. Last Friday, we found that the line was already formed outside the gate and around the corner, not a good sign at 7 AM. I didn't take pictures here, because we arrived at the terminal while it was still dark. Our wait that day wasn't bad. We didn't get on the first ferry, which left at 7am, but we were on the second which left around 8 am. Here's one of our lovely ferries passing the ferry that we were on.
We were parked right on the front of the ferry so I was able to take this picture across the river so you can see where we were going. Because of tides and currents, the ferry actually heads out to sea slightly instead of making a straight run across. This is the mouth of The Gambia River so the ocean currents do affect it. The crossing takes anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour depending on the condition of the engines. It isn't unusual to go across backwards because one set of engines is better than the other.

We were on the biggest ferry. See how we are packed in. In an emergency, you would have to go out the car window.

I won't bore you with an account of all our shopping and meetings during the 5 days that we were in town. Suellen may have some accounts of the sisters' activities on her blog. Suffice it say, we went out to eat several times, enjoyed air-conditioning, TV and hot showers, purchased our supplies for the next 2 months and then had to tackle the ferry again from the other direction.

On the Banjul side, we have more things to look at we wait and we usually wait longer because we don't get up before dawn to go to the ferry. We pack the car, take care of any last minute purchases and go to get in line.

As we wait, sellers come by offering all kinds of things. Look carefully and you'll see that you really can buy almost anything while sitting in line at the ferry.
If you're really hungry and adventurous, you can even buy a meal at one of these "sidewalk cafes".

Of course the worst part of not crossing a sunrise is the long wait in the sun. On Wednesday, we got in line around 11 AM and got on the ferry around 2 pm. So for 3 hours we sat and waited in the hot midday sun. We block out the sun as much as possible while still trying to allow some air flow.

While we wait, we read, chat, sleep, eat and fend off the sellers. Some of the ladies selling clothes are very persistent because they have been selling there for years and some of the missionaries purchased from them regularly. Now they think that we all have an obligation to buy something from them.
One of the trickiest things about waiting a long time at the ferry is striking that fine balance between dehydration and having to use the bathroom. Trust me, dehydration is preferable. I usually hit this balance fairly well, but sometimes err too far into dehydration and get a headache. Even on my longest ferry wait (over 14 hours), I've never had to use the facilities at the terminal or on the ferry.
Finally we get on the ferry and head for the North Bank and home. Getting off the ferry is always a challenge as cars and foot passengers are all trying to use the ramp at the same time. Ferry workers are yelling at drivers to "Go, go, go!", while mothers with small babies on their backs and bundles on their heads are walking directly in front of the car.

Finally we clear the terminal and head for home. Just thought I would show you that we do have one paved road on our side of the river. It starts near the weigh station and continues up river for quite a ways. It runs directly past our village, so we have an easy trip. This picture is also a picture of the one that got away. I had just taken one picture and was zooming in for another when a monkey ran across the road and then another. Unfortunately, monkeys are fast and a bump in road made me take a picture of the sky instead of the monkey.

Ahhh, home, sweet home! We arrived at 3:30 PM after leaving the guesthouse at 10 AM. All in all a fairly typical trip. We don't consider a 3 hour wait all that unusual. It was extremely hot that day though. Too bad I didn't have my thermometer with me. Maybe I'll take it next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A weather event

Sometimes weird weather happens even here. It's funny that just after I write about the weather, we have a weather event. I didn't exactly see it happen, but I saw the remains.

This morning we woke up to a cool, cloudy day (70's). My first thought was, "It looks and feels like rain,...but it's February!" A few minutes later, I heard a few sprinkles on the corrugate metal roof, but it wasn't enough to even see on the ground. The metal roof often makes nothing sound like something. Sprinkles like that don't happen very often, but it's not unheard of either, so I didn't think anything about it.

I had a meeting about 15 miles up the road this morning (a very boring, government sponsored "sensitisation" workshop- which in this country usually means giving information about something). As I was driving to the meeting I started noticing that the road was wet! A little further up the road and I was driving through actual puddles in the road! Just a few miles from here had a big rain and I missed it! At least I got to drive through the puddles :-)

I know, I know, what can I say? It doesn't take much to entertain me.

For those of you still trying to figure out what the event was, it was the rain storm big enough to leave puddles in the road. We are in the middle of dry season. Our dry season doesn't mean little rain, it mean NO significant rain for 6-8 months. I remember one January when it was cold and rainy for 3 days in a row, but that was so unusual, we still talk about it. Even that rain didn't leave puddles in the road. It just kind of drizzled for 3 days.

Someone told me that commenting on the blog isn't always easy, so please, keep trying. It's been fun to hear from some of you that I didn't even know were out there. I know there are more of you though. I had 30 hits and only 6 comments.

Some of you didn't do your assignment. (Said in a sing-song voice.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A weather report

If you ever wanted a cushy job, become a weather forecaster in The Gambia. Most of the time the forecast would be the same, sunny and hot with no chance of rain. That may be why the Gambia TV news doesn't have a weather forecast. Of course during the rainy season, the forecast would change slightly to hot and humid with a chance of showers. We do have occasional changes in the weather, but so seldom that they are more like events- dust storms, electrical storms, wind and heavy rains. When things like that happen though, we talk about it for days. Of course, we also comment on the heat and the cold and every other slight variation of weather as well. I guess we are easily entertained.

Anyway, yesterday I was noticing what a perfect day it was. The sky was "postcard blue" and a comfortable 92 degrees in the shade. In the sun was a different story. This close to the equator, even the February sun can be pretty intense. I took the thermometer outside and held it in the sun for only a few minutes and watched the temperature zoom from 92 degrees to 112 degrees. Is it any wonder that Gambians and those of us who live here, make it a point to be in the shade if at all possible? In my house, it was a cool 80-85 most of the day. Then the cool ocean breezes started in the evening. (We are about 15 miles inland, but the land is so flat, the ocean breezes reach us very nicely.) By morning it was about 68 degrees outside (brrr) and a chilly 75 degrees in the house. Nice sleeping weather! When it's that cool we cuddle under comforters to sleep and if we have to be outside for any length of time, we wear sweatshirts.

We are heading into some of the hottest days of the year (April). I will try to record some of our hottest temps. with pictures of the thermometer in case you don't believe me. I don't usually notice it being hot until it's over 100 degrees unless it is also humid, but it doesn't usually get humid until May.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Just curious

When I first started writing this blog, I didn't know if anyone would read it, but I figured that I would give it a shot. I got some positive feedback from a few people who read it, so I've made an effort to post regularly. I really started getting excited when I put the counter on the blog page and saw that people really were reading the blog. Not tons of people, but enough to encourage me.

Now, however, I want some more feedback. If you check this blog regularly, post a comment so I know who's reading. Even if I don't know you, post a comment. That makes things even more fun! Tell me something you want me to blog about. Maybe one of my earlier blogs sparked a question in your mind. Ask me the question. I have lived here in The Gambia for a long time. Many things that seem pretty normal to me, don't seem normal to you.

Okay, all, comment away!

If I don't get any comments, I'm going to think that Lutz family logs on several times a day, just to make me feel better. :=)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Sisterhood Observed

One of the challenges of the sisterhood is the observation of our every activity. As you can see the simple placing of a sign drew a crowd composed of our yard workers, watchman and the shopkeeper from across the street. It was fairly early in the morning otherwise the crowd would have been much bigger. You see, our Gambian friends and neighbors find the sisterhood a bit strange. We do not deny our strange behaviors, but embrace them. Gambians, however, find the concept of women with no men strange to the point of being unbelievable, not to mention impossible. That disbelief leads to a multitude of marriage proposals to members of the sisterhood. So far the sisters have not been tempted by these offers since sharing a man (as in having 2 or 3 co-wives) and becoming a Gambian wife holds NO attraction for us.

Keep on keeping on

Our regional administrator's wife just brought us a book that she said she wishes she could have read before going to Africa. After reading it, I agree. For those of you interested in missions and wanting to know a little bit about life and missions in West Africa, find a copy of a book called, Beyond Surrender by Barbara J. Singerman, published by Hannibal Books.

I'm sure many people wonder why the 3 women missionaries in The Gambia continue to live and minister here when people are resistant to the gospel, living conditions are difficult and work load enormous. The author of this book expresses my thoughts about the matter so well that I decided to quote her here. These ideas go against the grain of much of American Christianity, but this is the truth that we need to return to.

"I am convinced that many people forsake their calling-God's will for their lives-- when they allow their minds to think what they ought not to have been thinking. They toy with the thought, "This is too difficult for me." Gradually negativity consumes them. The lives of those suffering without Jesus lose significance. They abandon God's highest for their lives and give in to their ruling emotions.
A great danger is to walk into God's calling with the thought, "If I don't like it, I can always quit." This person will. He has already programmed himself for defeat and escape before he has begun."
Besides dumping emotions into the "too-difficult" cauldron is the tendency to swim in the boiling mud of "happiness thinking". Many Christians allow their wayward thought to determine that God wants them "happy". But God cares more about the perfection of our characters than our momentary happiness. Consider the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 7:4, "I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction." Paul was toughing it out. This was not an easy time. Was he happy? Was he grinning every moment? Was he having fun? I doubt it. But he had joy- overflowing joy. James 1:2 exhorts us, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (NIV). It doesn't say, "Run from the pain and by happy!" It says to considers trials as pure joy. .....
A fixation on happiness causes people to be impatient with God and to lose faith. Because of faulty "happiness" thinking they believe God is not capable of pulling them through heartache, difficulty or trauma. They think that since they aren't happy, God couldn't possibly mean for them to continue on. They bail out. Their spiritual lives are stifled. They sacrifice deep joy and contentment on the flimsy altar of temporary happiness. Don't give up. Determine to walk on through. Maintain your commitment. Be patient. At the other side is more than all you are seeking."

Barbara J. Singerman in Beyond Surrender