Thursday, May 29, 2008

On The Road Again

I love driving! When I was a kid, I could hardly wait to be old enough to drive. Since getting my license, I’ve taken and enjoyed every opportunity to drive that came my way. Some of my favourite jobs were those that involved being behind the steering wheel of some vehicle: a farm worker driving tractors, trucks, and combines, a pizza delivery driver, a courier driver, and various kinds of truck driver. Well, skip courier driver. Not knowing the city very well, trying to find parking spots and avoid parking tickets, and having the dispatcher constantly on the radio pressuring me to deliver stuff ever faster made this one extremely stressful job! I was glad when it was over!

But I still love driving. And I’m glad that our ministry here in Canada (and in Burkina) involves a fair bit of it. Besides the stimulating challenges of eye-hand-foot co-ordination and trying to get ahead of everyone else on the road, I find it a good time for thinking about stuff. Lately, however, Kathy’s been spending more and more time behind the wheel instead of me. No, not because she thinks I’m a daydreaming traffic hazard or an aggressive driver (who, me???). It’s because I need the extra time to work on language data conversion and preparing presentations.

It’s actually kind of cool to be able to sit in the passenger seat with my laptop on…well… my lap, my mouse at my side, and the power cord attached to a converter that’s plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. It’s also kind of funny sometimes. We often see people come zooming up behind us or getting ready to fly by in the passing lane when suddenly, they slow right down. We drive a Chevy Impala, a car that is also used by the police to patrol our Ontario highways. The outline of my computer screen towards the passenger side also somewhat corresponds to the outline of the on-board computers used by the police to check licenses or plates. Matching our speed, they follow along behind us in either lane until they finally figure out we’re not actually a police car. Then they speed up again and leave us in the dust (see, I am NOT the fastest or most aggressive driver on the road!).

Got a fun and busy weekend ahead of us. Tomorrow morning we’re off to Ottawa. We’ll be staying with our friends, Gerry & Diane, and look forward to spending some fun time with them before things kick off on Saturday evening. That’s when we have an informal meeting with the Missions Committee of Grace Baptist Church, one of our corporate partners in ministry. On Sunday, we’re scheduled to do a presentation for the adult Bible study group at Grace, bring the morning message during the church service, and then head down to Athens (near Brockville) to do a 2-hour presentation called “An Afternoon With Wycliffe” in support of a couple that are preparing to go as support personnel (in IT and administration) to the Philippines.

Well, Kathy’s gathering our stuff together and packing for the trip. I’d better work on my message and the presentations. Although we use much of the same material for our various presentations, I still like to spend some time rearranging things and customizing each one to fit the audience, purpose, and venue. And I may not have enough time in the car tomorrow to do that!

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's Saturday Night... And Sunday's Coming!

It was Saturday evening after supper and I’d been staring at my computer screen for quite some time. Nothing was happening. I was scheduled to speak at our partner church in Toronto (Lisle Memorial Baptist) the following morning, and nothing was happening! I’d been at it on and off virtually all day and had no more than a few paragraphs written down. Scary? You bet! But it’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

Pastors that I know all write their Sunday morning messages earlier in the week. One even has his done by Monday! I’ve tried that. Several times. I never get anywhere. It’s ALWAYS Saturday night. Try as I might to put something, anything, together earlier in the week, I merely end up wasting my time. Nothing comes of it.

You’d think that after all these years, it would get easier. Well, it has to some extent. I’ve learned to not waste my time trying to work on a message during the week. I make better use of the days, including doing a wide variety of reading in books, magazines, and on-line to fill my mind with ideas and potential message material. But as the deadline approaches, I still have to fight off the panic attacks!

All day on Saturday, I ask God for help and jot stuff down. But it never starts coming together until after supper. Weird, eh? Could it also have something to do with the good meals Kathy makes on Saturday nights? No doubt :) Whatever the case, the words and ideas start rolling, and I begin to write in earnest. Sometimes I’ll hit a mental block and can’t seem to go on. Sometimes I get lost in the details and lose track of the overall picture or direction. And it’s getting close to midnight.

Often, I’ll have to leave it unfinished and go to bed. The first time this happened, I was sick with worry. But it was 2 a.m. and I just couldn’t go on any more. My brain had shut down completely. So I asked God to wake me up in time in the morning and give me the rest of the message then. And He did! It was absolutely amazing!

And He’s done it numerous times since then, to the point that when it’s late and I’m not getting anywhere, or I’m just too tired to go on, I quit trying and simply go to bed to get some much-needed sleep, confident (more or less) that God will wake me up in time and give me what’s needed to finish the message. He’s never failed to do so yet. It’s just the way He works with me.

Some of the greatest difficulties I’ve encountered in the Christian life have been as a result of trying to be a Christian like everybody else. The above is just one example, trying to put together messages earlier in the week like others do. It took me a while to figure out how God works on this in my life, and when I did, things went much better.

Same with devotions. Everybody said you had to do them first thing in the morning. Oh boy, did I try! On the farm, I used to get up before 5 a.m. on cold winter mornings, light the wood furnace, and try to spend an hour or so with God and His Word before it was time for the morning milking. Besides shivering so badly that I could hardly concentrate, my mind was already racing ahead to what I had to do that day. Warmer temperatures didn’t change that. Gradually, I discovered that evening was a much better time for me (though not too late, or I’d be drifting off!). Nowadays, mid-afternoon tea-breaks are best if I can get them and am not on the road somewhere.

Anybody else found out that God works differently from the accepted norm in their lives?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

This past Thursday, we did something that was a first for us. We held a public relations training seminar. Can you imagine that? A couple of ex-dairy farmers, small town hicks, and introverted ordinary working linguists like us trying to inspire and encourage others to be outgoing, dynamic, and entertaining presenters of the work God is doing through the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators? Yeah, we have trouble believing it too! It’s not something we ever thought we’d be doing, but that’s exactly what happened.

Several Wycliffe folks who had seen the “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” or “An Evening With Wycliffe” presentations we had developed over the past couple of years thought they were an interesting and effective way of presenting the ministry of Wycliffe to churches. Though far from professional, the presentations received a lot of good feedback from church members that saw them, with many saying that they had never seen a missions presentation like that!

As a result, the Wycliffe folks thought that other Wycliffe representatives could also use these kinds of presentations to encourage God’s people to get involved in the work of language development and Bible translation, as well as individual members looking to assemble a team of prayer & financial partners for their individual ministries. So they asked us to hold a training seminar before we took off for Burkina Faso again this fall.

About a dozen people came to the seminar, and we spent an afternoon trying to pass on some of the enthusiasm we felt, the materials we had created or developed, and the lessons we had learned. That evening, we did an actual presentation of “An Evening With Wycliffe” at the Waterloo Pentecostal Assembly so that the seminar participants could see how it actually looked in action, and the impact it had on those who came to see it. It did not come off perfectly. We deliberately made a few mistakes so that they could learn from these also :)

We have to admit that although this is something we never thought we’d do, we love doing it! We love meeting and talking with people, entertaining folks with our presentations, helping fellow Wycliffe members carry out their ministries, and being used by God to mobilize His people for the remaining Bible translation task. Soon we’ll be heading off to our other lives in Africa, but for the time being, we wouldn’t trade places with anyone!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SLM DNK - It Might Not Be What You Think!

Just the other day, I was reminded of how much culture (or subculture in this case) influences how we see and understand things. Of course, having lived and worked in multicultural Toronto and overseas, I already knew this to be true when it comes to people who are from different cultures. Because of differences between their cultures, two people looking at, hearing, or reading exactly the same thing can “see” or interpret it in two entirely different ways.

We also encounter this when it comes to Bible translation. In our presentations, I usually give several examples of how actions in Bible stories can be interpreted differently by those of another culture. For instance, in the story Jesus told of a Pharisee and a tax collector, we understand that the tax collector beating his chest was showing remorse for his sins. However, in other cultures, beating your chest doesn’t indicate remorse. It indicates anger!

However, I was amused to find that this kind of thing sometimes happens within our own culture as well.

A man had the letters SLM DNK put on a licence plate for his car. If you haven’t figured out what the words are supposed to be yet, it’ll probably help if I tell you that he was a basketball fan. So SLM DNK stands for “Slam Dunk” (a basketball term for a particular type of shot in which a player jumps in the air and manually propels the ball downward through the basket to score points).

Anyway, one day the man was taking a female client to lunch. As they walked towards his car, the woman said, “Have you met many women with your license plate?”

Mystified, he said, “No, why?”

“Because of what it says on your plate,” she replied.

“What do you think it says?” he asked.

“Well,” she responded, “that’s simple. It says ‘Single Ladies Man, Divorced No Kids’.”

She was obviously not a basketball fan! She was a single woman in her 30s who mentioned that she was looking to get married and start a family. In her world, SLM DNK had an entirely different meaning than it did in his world, even though they were both part of the same, larger North American culture.

Have you run into this kind of thing somewhere in your experience?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Plodding Along With Modern Technology

Two days of re-entering Kusaal data and I’m already going cross-eyed! Good thing there’s e-mail, Windows Messenger, and Facebook to provide the occasional distraction… I mean, change of pace, as people pop on to send messages, chat, post photos, and update their status to inform others on-line what they’re up to. It’s so cool to be able to sit at alone at home (or in a room at Wycliffe’s Toronto office like I am today) and still feel networked to the larger world! Yesterday, I was chatting with Josh in Kitchener, a friend in Waterloo, and a Brazilian living in England that I first connected with when she was a linguistics student in the USA.

So far I’ve got almost 300 of the 2000+ words in my database converted to the new Unicode compatible font. Hope you don’t mind me being honest, but much of this work is really boring & repetitive! I thought that one of the major benefits of computers was that they could automatically do a lot of the sheer repetitive stuff and leave us human beings freer to do the creative thinking stuff! Guess it doesn’t apply to everything yet.

There’s probably a little program out there somewhere that will convert older fonts to newer Unicode compatible ones, but finding one that will handle the particular font I was using, and employing it successfully, is a bit daunting to a non-techie like me. And trying to find a Wycliffe or SIL techie to help is like pulling teeth! Most are so busy that they don’t have time for minor stuff like this. It often takes decades to get replies to e-mail (okay, I know I’m exaggerating a bit here, but work with me, okay? :)

Someone suggested that I phone instead, so I tried that. After an hour of talking to receptionists, being transferred to various places, listening to and leaving voice mail recordings, talking to various technical folks who recommended that I talk to other technical folks, and dialling back and forth between North Carolina, Texas, and British Columbia, I was no further ahead than when I’d started! If you know of any computer people that have realized that they are merely a cog in a machine somewhere rather than changing the world like they thought they would, and who are now looking for a chance to be really helpful and important, please send them to Wycliffe! We need them desperately.

However, manually re-entering the data does give me a fresh chance to look at it and listen to the sound files again. And you know what? I’ve noticed things I never saw or heard before! This allows me to refine the data and make it (hopefully!) even more accurate, which will facilitate better analysis too.

I’m scrambling to get as much of this done while I have time to do it. A busy couple of weeks are looming on the horizon:

  • A training seminar and Evening With Wycliffe presentation in Waterloo later on this week.
  • A speaking engagement at Lisle Memorial Baptist Church (our main ministry partner) in Toronto on Sunday.
  • A meeting with the Missions Committee of Grace Baptist Church (another ministry partner) in Ottawa the following weekend.
  • A speaking engagement at Grace Baptist on the Sunday morning.
  • A two-hour Wycliffe presentation later that same Sunday afternoon at a church in Athens, ON.
  • A one-day Discover Wycliffe seminar in Toronto the second weekend in June for more serious inquirers who want to know what’s involved in serving with Wycliffe.

Okay, I think this change of pace has gone on long enough (insert sound of whip snapping here :) Back to data entry!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Caught in the Gears of Change

Ah, the joys of modern technology! Computers and language software have greatly helped people in our kind of work to analyze languages and translate God’s Word into them. However, it’s also a field where things are constantly changing. I just got caught in one of those changes.

The newest version of the language analysis software I’ve been using has just switched to a new format called Unicode. This means that anyone who wants to help analyze Kusaal and downloads the free software on the Internet will not be able to open my Kusaal language database because the font I used to input the linguistic data is not Unicode compatible.

So what does this mean for me? Lots of slogging on the computer. I downloaded a new Unicode compatible font and now have to re-enter much of my Kusaal data using the new font. Well, with everything switching to Unicode, this is something I’ll eventually have to do anyway. Good thing I’ve only got a few thousand words in my database :) And it’ll be a good chance to re-familiarize myself with all those Kusaal words.

Wow, and I was just wondering what I was going to do with myself during this entire long weekend!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Trying to Connect

I’ve been trying for just over a week without success to contact our Kusassi co-worker, Pastor Emmanuel, in Burkina Faso. Since coming home in September of 2005, I made arrangements to talk with him by phone every 3-4 weeks to encourage him and see how he and his family are doing, how the pastors and churches in the Kusassi region are doing, and to catch up on what’s happening in his part of the world. But calling Pastor Emmanuel in Burkina is not nearly as easy as calling someone here in North America!

First of all, he doesn’t have a phone in his home. So, in order to take my call, he has to travel a couple of kilometres from his home to a telephone centre in town. This is a place where people can make or receive calls for a certain fee or rate. The centre is run like a business, with an employee reading the digital fee meter and collecting the money owed following the call.

Secondly, unpredictable things can happen to disrupt our established call time. Either he or I may miss the appointed day and time due to unexpected situations or events. The phone on his end may not be working properly, or the line may be down somewhere following a storm. I may not be able to get through for some reason on my end. And sometimes even when we do succeed, the connection is so bad that we can barely communicate.

This was especially the case in the beginning. Echoes, static, intermittent voice cut-out, and delayed response all plagued our early conversations. But things gradually got better, to the point where, for the past year or more, I could have sworn Pastor Emmanuel was right in the next room each time I called him!

Before hanging up, we always made arrangements for the next call in terms of date and time. If either one of us missed it or we were unable to connect for some other reason, the agreed-upon procedure was to try again the following day at exactly the same time. If we still didn’t connect, we’d try again the next day, and the next, until we succeeded. In the past, 2-3 days was the longest we’d had to go.

This time, however, we were on the eighth day. For most of my previous tries, I’d simply been unable to get through. Since it’s the beginning of the rainy season in Burkina, a time of violent rainstorms, I thought perhaps the telephone lines had been damaged over there. However, on a couple of occasions, I was able to get through to the tele-centre employee on duty and leave a message that I would try again the next day.

Today, after 3 tries, I finally managed to get Pastor Emmanuel himself. But it was the most awkward connection we’d had in a long time. There was a full 5-second delay in our words reaching the other person. At first we simply thought the other person couldn’t hear us. Then we ended up talking over each other. Finally, we each resorted to the old telegraph method of saying, “Stop” or “I’m finished talking” when we were done, thus signalling the other person that it was his turn to speak. It made for a rather awkward conversation, but it worked.

I was relieved to hear that Pastor Emmanuel and his family were fine, as were the church leaders in the region. Also that he was able to get the funds we sent him last month for food supplies. Due to an overabundance of rain last year, his crops were largely ruined and what he did manage to harvest was not sufficient to see him and his family through until the next harvest.

We made arrangements for me to call again in 3 weeks. I sure hope we have a better connection next time!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shifting Into a Higher Gear

Kathy & I were back in the Wycliffe office in Toronto on Monday, answering the phone, welcoming visitors, and doing whatever else needed to be done. I got an intriguing message on Facebook that afternoon (yes, I know many offices don’t allow their employees to be on Facebook during working hours, but since I was the chief administrator there that day, I gave myself permission :)

A lady who is the missions committee chair for her francophone Baptist church in New Brunswick first got in touch with me just over a month ago about the possibility of doing a presentation in their church before we go back to Africa. Although this is something we would certainly consider doing, we had our hands full at the time with a trip to the USA and several upcoming presentations right here in Ontario. She, however, has not given up and has continued to drop hints, encouraging us to come to New Brunswick too.

Yesterday, she tried something more direct. She suggested the possibility of coming to do our “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” event at a weekend retreat for four francophone Baptist churches in the area. Kathy & I talked it over and said that if she would be willing to suggest it to the planning committee, we’d be willing to come and do it. If they accept, we’ll take it as clear direction from God to go. If not, well… that’s an answer too!

Ever since coming home in the fall of 2005, we’ve been searching for new, more dynamic ways to present both our ministry and the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators in general. A simple PowerPoint presentation just didn’t cut it anymore. We were putting ourselves to sleep! We needed something that was more entertaining as well as informative.

So we prayed, looked around, stole… I mean… borrowed stuff & ideas from other people and places, experimented with some different arrangements and, after a bit of trial & error, gradually put together a couple of programs called “An Evening With Wycliffe” and “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback on both of them. People say that they’re different from any missions presentation they’ve ever seen before. We’re hoping that’s because they really are, not because it’s the only one they’ve ever seen :)

In any case, we’re praising God for the ideas and the response, but are also praying that He will use these presentations to move people beyond mere entertainment to some real action. If the 2200+ people groups still waiting for God’s Word in their own language are ever going to get it anytime soon, we as God’s people are going to need to shift into a higher gear to do it because it’s not gonna fall from the sky!

Later on this month, we’ve been asked to hold a training session for some other Wycliffe folks who are involved in rep work too. Since we’re leaving soon, they thought it would be good if others could learn to use and further develop some of the stuff we’ve put together. Sounds good to us! If others can do presentations like that or even better, maybe we’ll even have some time to pack and get our stuff in order before it’s time to climb on the plane back to Burkina in September!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Home Sweet Home!

I’m thinking of renting a unit in one of those self-storage facilities here in Barrie. It seems that we’ve been away from home so much lately that our townhouse is mostly functioning a place for storing our stuff. So why pay rent (and utilities) on it when a storage unit would just be so much cheaper? Now that we’re moving into warmer weather, we could probably even set up our bed and sleep in the unit once in a while without freezing to death!

We sure seem to have hit the ground running upon our return from the US. The first part of this week was spent in the Wycliffe office in Toronto. The regular personnel are away, so Kathy & I filled in to answer calls and welcome visitors. Then Kathy continued to help out there while I spent the last couple of days at the Biennial General Conference of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) at the Doubletree Hotel in Toronto (since I had to be there so early in the morning, this included a pretty nice hotel room too!). The conference was basically a time for Pentecostal church leaders and overseas workers to come together to do business and network, but they also invited organizations that had links to the PAOC to set up displays highlighting their ministries and provide representatives to answer questions that anybody might have. Since Wycliffe and the PAOC recently signed a partnership agreement, we were one of those organizations and I spent Wednesday and Thursday there. It turned out to be a great way to meet pastors who otherwise would never let me, as a Wycliffe rep, through the front door of their church. I don’t mean that to sound negative; it’s just a reality due to the pressures and responsibilities these church leaders already have. More about this in our next EMU coming out on Monday.

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend, so we don’t have any presentations or speaking engagements scheduled for a change. Wow, a weekend at home! I can’t believe it! Wait a minute… I want to see my mom on Sunday, and she lives a couple of hours away. And I still need to get something for Kathy… Guess I’d better go and get my shoes on and find the car keys.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Canada / US Differences - On The Road

Here’s our second instalment of Canada / US differences, this time focusing on highway travel. During our recent 7,500-kilometre (4,500 mile) trip through the States, we saw some interesting variations between things on the nations’ highways.

The first thing we noticed was speed limits. Virtually all the interstates we traveled on had a speed limit of 70 mph (almost 113 km/h), which is somewhat higher than the 62 mph (100 km/h) speed limit found on most major highways in Canada. And while Canadian police will generally allow you to go an extra 10 km/h (6 mph) over the speed limit without stopping you (at least in Ontario), American state troopers appear to allow at least an additional 10 mph (or 16 km/h). We thought we were already going plenty fast enough at 70 mph, but there were not a few vehicles that had us eating their dust as they flew past.

Interestingly, the speed limit for tractor-trailers and other large vehicles was 10 mph lower than that for cars (it's the same for all vehicles in Canada). The 60 mph limit may be a pain in the butt for the truck drivers in a hurry to reach their destination and deliver their cargo on time, but it sure made for a nicer view in our rear-view mirror! No big machines constantly riding our tail so that all we could see in our rear-view was their front-end grill!

In an effort to encourage you to reduce speed through road construction areas in Canada, signs warn you that fines are doubled for speeding through these areas when workers are present. In the USA, they have an additional incentive: A $7,500 fine plus 15 years in jail for injuring or killing a roadside construction worker! Interestingly, it rarely made anyone slow down! However, we rarely saw construction workers on these sites. Could there be a connection there somewhere...?

Many US states take roadside littering far more seriously than we do in Canada. We saw fines ranging anywhere from $400 to $2,000! Most were significantly higher than anything we’d see in Ontario, at least. However, Canadians appear to take recycling more seriously. We rarely found any place along US highways and at travel centres to deposit recyclable materials like plastic water bottles and Coke cans, and often ended up stockpiling such things in the trunk until we found one. Guess we didn’t realize how effective all that recycling advertising really was on us till now!

Didn’t see any of those Mercedes Smart Cars in the States either. Maybe we just didn't travel in areas that had them.

One final thing that caught our attention was the fact that many states that had seatbelt laws allowed motorcycle riders to drive without helmets. Not sure what the rationale behind that is, but it struck us as somewhat ironic.

Well, guess I’d better go and get some supper. Think I’ll get a good old-fashioned hamburger and fries. With a Diet Coke. Gotta watch my figure!

Monday, May 5, 2008

You Park, You Preach!

The minister at Home United Church near Brampton nearly lost his reserved parking spot on Sunday morning. I had been invited to speak at the church’s 148th anniversary service, thanks to a long-time member and friend who made the arrangements with the church board. Even though Kathy & I arrived half an hour early to touch base with Bonnie who would introduce us, parking was already at a premium.

As we drove around the church, we saw an open parking spot right next to the back door. However, there was a sign on the wall in front of it: “Reserved Parking for Minister. You Park, You Preach”. Well, I wasn’t the minister, but I sure was tempted to grab that spot! In my case, I figured that the reverse could also apply: “You Preach, You Park”. Why not? Kathy tells me I’m partly dyslexic anyway. Later on, when the minister arrived, I confessed my temptation and he just laughed. Apparently the church is well known for its lack of parking space, and his wife had told him that morning on the way to church that in light of the additional visitors for the anniversary service and my coming, he had lost his spot for sure!

Kathy & I had first attended this church 23 years ago when I worked on a nearby farm for the summer. It was our second summer in the city of Toronto after moving there from the family farm to attend Ontario Bible College, and I had a bad case of culture shock. I wanted to be out in the country again for a while, working with things with which I was familiar, like cows, hay, and tractors. So I got a job working on Brian & Bonnie’s dairy farm for that summer. And attended Bonnie’s church nearby. So on Sunday, I had that déjà vu feeling all over again!

Today, Kathy & I had to get up far too early and join the daily morning exodus to Toronto in order to help man the Wycliffe office there. We’ll be doing that for the next several weeks on Mondays and Tuesdays because the regular personnel for those days are away. Well, it gives us a different window to look out of for a few days. Maybe we’ll gain a different perspective on life too!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Canada / US Differences - Purchasing Power

On our recent trip through the States, we definitely noticed some differences between the two countries. Some were good, some were puzzling, and some were just... well... different! :)

The first was Purchasing Power. We definitely felt like we got more value for our money in the States! Especially now that the dollar is virtually at par. Gas was quite a bit cheaper, going as low as $3.16/gallon. Even when it rose to $3.75/gal on the last leg of our trip, it was still a better deal than the nearly $5.00/gal we're paying here in Canada. One man in Iowa said that he and his wife had planned to make a trip to Canada's east coast this summer, but decided to cancel it in light of the current high gas prices. I didn't dare tell him about how much we were paying in Canada! He might have had a heart attack! However, we found it interesting that a state like Iowa, which we do not normally associate with a high cost of living, had some of the most expensive gas prices. Could the biofuel industry be starting to have an impact on this corn-growing state?

Motel rooms were more for the money. In Canada (or in Ontario, at least), it's hard to get even a Motel 6 room for less than $70/night for 2 people. In the US, this price (and usually even less, depending on location) would get you a room in many higher quality motels like Comfort Inns, Quality Inns, Baymont Inns, La Quinta Inns, Heartland Inns, and more. And that includes high-speed wireless Internet service and free continental breakfast! Many are entirely smoke-free. Others, like Days Inn, Super 8, and even Motel 6, are even less. We used to frequent Motel 6 when we traveled as a family. Their "children-stay-free" policy made it hard to beat for price. But now that there's just the two of us, our standard for quality has risen a bit. We found some Motel 6s are simply takeovers of existing older motels and are thus not nearly as nice or clean as newly-built facilities. You usually can't tell which they are until you arrive there. And by the time you factor in the price of a second person, they're really (in most cases) only a few dollars cheaper than a somewhat better quality motel with free continental breakfast!

And food... the prices were cheaper and amount per serving was larger. A nice steak dinner that would cost over $20 in Canada usually cost $15-$16 in the US. Not that we did that very often, but hey, just because we've been married for a long time doesn't mean we still don't like to go out for a romantic dinner now and again! (and Burger King, Pizza Hut, or Denny's just doesn't cut it :) In reality, we often found it impossible to eat all of a single serving each. Several times, Kathy & I ordered only one meal and then split it. If we were planning to have a nice dinner together, however, we'd eat little or nothing for the entire rest of the day (except for our Starbucks!) in order to have room for it. This is rarely an issue in Canada!

We paid the US price for books and magazines! This was a welcome change from the relatively higher prices in Canada. Don't you find it ironic that even though the Canadian dollar is pretty well on par with the US dollar, they won't allow us to pay the US price on a book or magazine in Canada? We're still required to pay the significantly higher Canadian price printed on it. That just doesn't sound right to me... I think we should follow Oscar the Grouch's advice and "stand up and complain"! :) I'd suggest a boycott, but I know that many of us love our books and mags too much to stop buying them completely, even at the higher prices.

By the way, for those of you buying books from Chapters (a Canadian bookstore chain), you can often get the same book significantly cheaper (or at least somewhat cheaper) by buying it on-line rather than in-store. Why? Incentives? Lower overhead costs? I don't know. And shipping is free if the total purchase value is over $39 before taxes. Even at lower on-line costs, it would only take a few books to qualify for that.

More on other Canada - US differences later!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Home Again

Wow, we had a great trip! It was so good to be able to see and visit with friends and partners in the US again before heading back to Burkina for a few years in September. It's also so good to sleep in our own bed again :)

We arrived back home after midnight last night. And unloaded the car. Better than doing it this morning when I had to get up early to go down to the Wycliffe office in Toronto, about an hour's drive away. Kathy & I are manning the office on Mondays and Tuesdays for the next few weeks and I had to get a key and the alarm code for when we start this coming week.

Spent the rest of the day catching up on correspondence, making an oil change appointment for the car, wading through a pile of mail, and working on a presentation while Kathy unpacked, did laundry, put stuff away, and went grocery shopping. In a few days, our US trip will seem like a distant dream, but I've got a ton of pictures to help keep those memories alive. Good things to take back to Burkina with us, for the days when we get homesick, lonesome, and depressed. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, those days do come to bite us in the butt now and then :)

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who hosted us, housed us, fed us, entertained us, and listened to our stories. You were God's blessings to us. We hope that in some small way, we were a blessing to you too.

Our American Journey - Day 24

Well, we did have a few glitches during our stay at the Baymont Inn in Kalamazoo after all. Once we got settled into our room, we decided to grab a short siesta before heading out for supper. Not long after we closed our eyes, we heard yelling and whistling in the parking area at the back of the motel, right below our fourth floor window. Looking out, we saw what we thought was a delivery van backing up to the building. We closed our eyes again, thinking the disturbance would soon be over.

Suddenly there was more racket. This time it sounded like it was happening in the room right beside us! Looking out again, we saw hoses running from the van up to the window of the room beside us. The man below was yelling at the man above, and the man above was yelling back. It was obviously some kind of cleaning operation. Sure enough, soon the howl of a powerful vacuum machine started up in the van. When we looked out in the hallway, we could see someone working at the far end of the hall, vacuuming the carpet.

At that point, we probably should have asked for another room on the other side of the building. Instead, we figured we might as well just go out and get our dinner. Surely they would be done by the time we got back. We were surprised that they would be working at this time of the day anyway when people would be checking into their rooms instead of between noon and 4 p.m. when there would be the least number of guests in the building.

We were just getting changed when there was a loud knock on the door and a voice yelling, “Maintenance!” When I finally opened the door, the man apologized, saying that he had thought the room was empty. Sounds like the motel administration could’ve done a better job of informing the workmen which rooms were occupied so that they wouldn’t disturb guests.

After enjoying a good night’s sleep and an excellent continental breakfast, we went back up to our room to catch up on e-mail, Facebook, etc. Within minutes, we heard yelling in the parking area below our window again. Sure enough, the men with the van and the hoses were back. I hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the outside of our door. Soon we heard the howl of the vacuum machine starting up again.

Not much later, there was a knock on the door. We couldn’t believe it! When I opened the door, I was surprised to see the maid rather than the vacuum cleaner man. “Oh,” she said. “The front desk has you listed as having checked out!” I smiled. “Not yet, but we’ll be leaving soon,” I replied. The noise from the vacuum machine was starting to grate on our nerves anyway.

On the way out of the motel, the lady at the front desk asked us how our stay had been. It was the opening line I was looking for since this motel seemed to be the only one we’d stayed in that didn’t have a feedback form of some kind. “It wasn’t as restful as we’d hoped it would be,” I said, and went on to describe our experience. Her response? “I’m sorry.” That was it.

Hmmmm… maybe their service guarantee doesn’t cover disturbances like that. I wasn’t interested in getting our room for free, so didn’t pursue the issue. But I went away feeling somewhat disappointed. Well, the chances of something like that happening again at another Baymont are probably pretty slim, so we’d still recommend the motel for its nice rooms and clean, attractive facilities.