Monday, December 28, 2009

I Need Air!

The air conditioner in our living room began acting up the week before Christmas. It no longer cooled properly and the fins became rapidly blocked with ice and frost every time we turned it on. At first, I thought the condensation water drain tube was blocked and backing up. But I couldn’t find anything wrong there. Fortunately, it’s not the hot time of the year, but Kathy wasn’t looking forward to having to cook Christmas dinner without some A/C to help cool down the living room and kitchen area of the house!

So I called our trusty Burkinabè electrician, Daouda. He and his team came over last Monday morning to check things out. They discovered that the unit was low on Freon. Since we’d not even had the machine for a year yet, this meant there had to be a leak somewhere. So they removed the unit and took it somewhere for testing and repair.

By Wednesday, I still hadn’t heard anything. And Christmas was coming up fast! So I called Daouda. He said they were still testing the machine but hadn’t found anything yet. I began to frantically think of a way to motivate him to do his best to get the thing back in place and functioning in time for the holidays. Finally it came to me.

“Daouda,” I began, “you’ve got to help me out here. If that unit isn’t back in place and working before Dec 25th, I am not going to get anything to eat on that day because my wife won’t cook a meal for me without it.” For a Burkinabè man, things can’t get much worse than that, and Daouda immediately promised to do his utmost.

The air conditioner was back and working by mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t there to thank Daouda and his team for their effort on my behalf because I was busy with the young lady who’d run into our truck. But I sent him a thank-you message on his cell phone.

On Christmas morning, I get a phone call from Daouda. “Is your wife cooking you a nice Christmas dinner?” he asked. “As we speak,” I replied, “thanks to you and your team!”

It was a great Christmas dinner :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Lucky Girl

Christmas Eve was a day off for everyone at the SIL Centre in Ouagadougou and I was looking forward to a day mostly at home in order to get ready for Christmas. All I had to do first was run a quick errand for a friend and pick up a new battery for our truck in town. I should have known better. It didn’t turn out that way at all.

To begin with, it was an absolute zoo downtown. It took me 15 minutes to get through one intersection alone! I should have known better than to go at this season of the year, but our truck battery has been hinting that it’s getting ready to give up the ghost over the last several months and I was afraid that it would leave us high and dry somewhere right during the holidays.

However, it was on the way back home that the really unexpected happened. I decided to pop into Decorama, a Lebanese-owned store in the Zone de Bois area of Ouaga, to see if they had some of those LED Christmas light sets. A few of ours have been giving us trouble (I think the cat’s probably been chewing on a few wires). Anyway, as I was approaching the store, I threw on my right turn signal and began to slow down for the turn into the parking area. Just as I began to turn, I glanced in my right side mirror and, to my horror, saw a young lady on a moto come barrelling up on my passenger side, going far too fast and obviously oblivious to my turn signal. I slammed on my brakes but it was too late. She frantically tried to swerve to miss me, but didn’t really have enough room to manoeuvre. Instead, she grazed the side of the truck, bounced off, lost control, and careened off towards the storefront before hitting the pavement hard and sliding to a stop. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

Leaving the truck where it was, I ran over to where the young lady was crawling out from under the bike. Gasoline and oil were dripping out of the engine, and a few plastic body parts lay scattered nearby. The young lady made an effort to get up but couldn’t do it. She ended up rolling over onto her back, crying from shock and pain of her accident. A crowd of people quickly gathered.

Holding her hand in an attempt to provide some initial comfort, I told someone to get something to put under her head, and checked her over visually for injuries. Apart from a scratch on her neck, a small scrape on her elbow, two bigger scrapes on her foot (she’d only been wearing sandals and these had come off in the accident), and dirt on her jeans, she seemed to be in one piece. No bones appeared to be broken. She wasn’t wearing a helmet (most people here in Burkina don’t), so she was darn lucky she hadn’t hit her head!

After a few moments, we got her up and inside the store where the young Lebanese manager got us chairs to sit on, as well as a bottle of water, a box of tissues, and some rubbing alcohol for the girl. She nearly hit the roof when he tried to clean her wounds with the alcohol! It must have stung something fierce but she hardly made a sound, just squirmed violently in her chair from the pain. But eventually we got her settled down enough to call someone from her family. I ended up sitting there with her for two hours before two young women arrived. And they appeared to be none too happy with me! They probably assumed that it was me who had hit her!

Anyway, we took the injured girl to a nearby clinic where they cleaned her up and prescribed some painkillers, as well as an antibiotic to guard against infection. After this, one of the young women took her home while the other young lady and I went back to Decorama to look at the moto. It was soon clear than it was not driveable. So I offered to put it in the back of my truck and take it to her home. Home turned out to be in Ouaga 2000, a ritzy new part of the city for the wealthy and upwardly mobile.

As we were driving there, I pointed out how fortunate the girl in the accident had been. It could have been a lot worse, like what happened to our son Josh back in 2005 when he crashed into and went flying over the hood of a truck that cut him off. He ended up breaking his arm and had to have a metal plate inserted to help the bone set properly. The girl riding with me said that a similar thing had happened to her, except that it was her leg that had been broken. Pulling up part of her dress on one side, she showed me a long scar on her upper leg, the only visible indication of what must have been a pretty traumatic experience at the time.

Yesterday morning, on Christmas day, I called the injured girl to see how she was doing. Apart from her throat, which was still quite painful, especially when she tried to talk (it’s likely that this is where she connected with the handlebars of her moto when she fell), she said she was fine. Tongue in cheek, I pointed out that her sore throat was not necessarily a bad thing. Her family would no doubt be quite thankful for a respite from her constant nagging and complaints!

Fortunately for me, her sense of humour was fine too :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Fun

Every year at this time, employees of SIL-Burkina Faso receive a Christmas card with the equivalent of about $20 in cash in it. This might not sound like a lot to a North American, but it is a significant amount to the average Burkinabè worker. As the Administrative Services Director and I prepared these for distribution, we hatched a plan to have some fun in the affair!

In the envelope of a number of strategically chosen employees (those we suspected would react in an interesting manner), instead of cash, we placed the following note (which I’ve translated from French here):

“The Minister of Social Services thanks you for having decided to voluntarily donate your annual Christmas gift of 10,000 F CFA to the victims of this past September’s disastrous flood.”

As you can imagine, we had reactions alright! A few were relatively mild, with people coming back into the office wearing puzzled expressions. Others were more vocal, like that of our Centre Hostess who called me from her office: “Hello? Is this the Minister of Social Services? I’m afraid there’s been some kind of mistake here!” Haha, we could both hardly talk for laughing!

And then there was the lady from the computer department. She came into my office already giggling. When I tried to hand her the envelope with her card and gift, she refused to take it, asking me to open it for her! Of course, I refused, saying that it was hers and I couldn’t open it. I finally convinced her, amid much laughter, to take it and sign for it. As she was signing, I asked her why she was so hesitant to take it. Did she suspect me of something? She was giggling so much that she couldn’t answer. As she was leaving, I asked if she wasn’t going to open the envelope to make sure that what she had signed for was in there. So she did.

The funny part about this is that her envelope is one of those that we did not tamper with! But someone had let the cat out of the bag to her about what was going on and she assumed the same would happen to her. We both ended up having a good laugh about it all.

Now we have to start thinking about what we’re going to do next year...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dealing With Disaster

This past Saturday afternoon, I drove out with our day guard to take a look at his place. He, his wife of several years, and their two year old daughter live as squatters in an outlying area of Ouaga that has not yet been subdivided into lots. People do this in hopes that when the area is finally surveyed and subdivided, they will have first dibs on the piece of property on which they have been living. For ordinary folks, this is the cheapest and probably only way they will ever have a chance of owning their own piece of land. Buying a piece of property that has already been subdivided is far beyond their reach.

The drawback is that it isn’t worth it in the long run to build anything permanent in the interim. When the surveying is finally done, it’s almost inevitable that they will have to break down whatever they have built in order to accommodate the new property lines. However, in the meantime, they do need a place to live and a way to have some privacy. Thus, houses and courtyard walls tend to be built of mud brick rather than cement block, minimizing the initial cost, and the subsequent loss when subdivision finally occurs (mud bricks cost 25 francs and cement blocks cost 200 francs).

When the torrential rains fell one day this past September, our guard’s place was inundated. Water flooded the courtyard and reached a height of several feet even in their house. Within hours, the water had soaked into the courtyard wall, softening the mud bricks that it was made of, with the result that it simply crumbled and fell. They were afraid that the same thing was going to happen to their house. The only thing that saved it was that our guard had had the foresight and resources to place it on a cement foundation.

Now he wants to do a similar thing with a new wall, building the bottom three courses out of cement blocks, and the upper part with the regular mud bricks. This will mean spending limited, hard-earned money on something that is temporary.  But as I said previously, they do need a wall that will provide some privacy for at least several years yet, and be able to withstand the coming rainy season next year. We’ll do what we can to help.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hobnobbing With Diplomats

On Friday evening, I did something that I’ve never done before. I went to the Canadian ambassador’s place for an informal gathering of expatriates and Africans. Apparently they have these little get-togethers once a month here in Ouaga, providing people like me with an opportunity to touch base with fellow Canadians and other invited guests. However, this is the first time that I’ve received an invitation to attend. Kathy would have come with me, but she had another function to attend that evening.

The Canadian ambassador’s residence is in a ritzy new area of Ouagadougou called Ouaga 2000. There was a map attached to the e-mail invitation, but I ended up finding the place more by accident than design, driving around where I thought it appeared to be on the map (road signage leaves something to be desired here). After some time of doing this, I finally pulled up at a place that had a few vehicles parked out front and security guards at the gate. “Where’s the Canadian ambassador’s place?” I asked one of them. “This is it,” he replied. How often does that happen, eh? :)

Within minutes, I was inside the courtyard and made my way around to the back yard with its lawn and swimming pool. I purchased a booklet of tickets that would enable me to get drinks and food (hamburgers and shish-kebabs were on the menu that evening) and soon found myself talking to none other than the ambassador himself. I always find it interesting that here in Burkina, we can talk to diplomats and other highly placed people that we normally couldn’t get to within half a mile of back in Canada!

As I was getting my shish-kebab, I noticed a gentleman beside me struggling to understand what the lady behind the serving table was saying to him in French. Seeking to be helpful, I translated for him and a few moments later discovered that I was talking with the Australian High Commissioner for this part of Africa. He was up from Accra for a meeting with the president of Burkina that day. We ended up having a good little chat since he was familiar with the work of SIL in Australia.

I spent most of the rest of the evening talking with several folks from Quebec. It was a touch of home to hear that québécois accent again. Then it was time to go back to our humble hovel in one of the lower class suburbs of Ouaga. It might not be a big, fancy place, but it’s home sweet home to me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Sleeping Allowed!

One of my Burkinabè friends is a toll-gate operator on the main road that runs south of Ouaga. All of Burkina’s main roads have toll-gates where fees are collected from any vehicle with more than two wheels (motos, bicycles, and pedestrians are exempt), depending on the size of vehicle and the distance one plans to travel on the road. It’s not expensive. To go to the Kusassi region, I’ve got to use the road running south of Ouaga for 80 kms before turning off on a side road, and it costs me about 50 cents to do so.

Some of the toll stops have booths placed similar to those on toll ways in the United States. You drive up to one, roll down your window, pay the toll, and receive a ticket, all without getting out of your car. But not the one on the road south of Ouaga. Here you have to stop somewhere along the side of the road, get out, and conduct your business with a booth operator set back from the road on the passenger side of the car. Or you can get any one of the dozens of young men crowding around your vehicle to do it for you. For a small fee, of course. At the same time, a horde of vendors will descend on you, selling everything from bread, tissues, gum, matches, and phone cards to fruit, snacks, eggs, and locally baked goods. It can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated!

Once you have your ticket, you get back in your car, drive up to the gate, and give it to the toll-gate operator who then tears off part of it and hands it back to you before opening the gate and letting you pass through. It’s good to hang on to that stub, though, because at any given point down the road, you may be stopped for verification by the police who set up a checkpoint somewhere. If you’re caught without a ticket, you’ll receive a fine of about $4.00 plus the price of a ticket. No, I’m not talking from experience here :) My friend told me.

Toll-gate operators are required to do a 24 shift every three days. And they’re not supposed to sleep during this entire time. Unannounced checks are periodically conducted to make sure this doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, it happened to my friend last month. He was caught sleeping at 2 o’clock in the morning. The penalty? He lost his entire month’s salary! Ouch! That’s a pretty stiff penalty if you ask me, particularly in a country where so many people live virtually from hand to mouth. I suspect he won’t be doing that again for a while! Maybe I should have brought him back a pound of Starbucks bold as a present.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nice To Be Back!

It was only when we went to use the phone in our house the other day that we realized it wasn’t working. There was a dial tone, but we couldn’t make any calls out, nor receive calls from anyone. Why our line was suspended was a bit of a mystery until we went to pick up our mail at the Centre. There, interspersed with all the other correspondence, were four envelopes from ONATEL, the national telephone company. Each represented an unpaid bill and progressively outlined the consequences of failing to pay, culminating in the warning of impending suspension on November 15. I thought we’d made arrangements to pay those bills during our absence, but there must have been a miscommunication somewhere. So we sent our services agent to pay the bill and arrange to get the line reconnected.

Our cell phones are back up and running after laying relatively dormant for the past three months. A colleague used them occasionally to keep our SIM cards and numbers active. I’ve already started reconnecting with my Burkinabè friends, especially my Kusassi colleagues.

The weather is relatively wonderful here in Ouaga this time of year. Warm days and cool nights. It’s actually enjoyable to drink a coffee on the front veranda in the mornings. The only drawback is the harmattan wind off the Sahara Desert that brings a constant, low-grade sandstorm to Burkina during the months from November – February.

For food and meals, we’ve picked up some basic supplies at the mini-market and hit some of our favourite economy restaurants for supper. We’re not yet ready to face the traffic and hordes of aggressive street vendors in the downtown area where the supermarkets are located. But we need to go there soon. Perhaps we’ll try being Sunday shoppers. Quite by accident earlier this year, we discovered that the supermarkets are open on Sundays, when both traffic and vendors are at their lowest point of the entire week.

I’m still on the lookout for someone I can commission to do a lot of our shopping for us. This is an activity that is often rather time-consuming and stressful for Kathy, but is something a Burkinabè with a moto could do for us quite easily, provided I can find someone both trustworthy and reliable. But in a country whose name means “the land of upright men” (men of integrity), this shouldn’t be much of a problem, right?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Back in Burkina Again

Our bio-clocks are out of whack again. Yesterday, we slept in until noon. Last night, I lay more or less awake until after 3 a.m. And this morning, we’d intended to arrive on our Centre in Ouaga to greet everyone again at coffee break time at 10 o’clock. But we didn’t make it. That five-hour time zone difference between central Canada and Burkina Faso is making itself felt!

Yup, we’re back in Burkina, having arrived on Sunday evening after over three months away. I must say that of all the times we’ve left home in Canada to go overseas, this was probably the hardest. In times past, the rest of our family either accompanied us or we knew we’d see them again in a few months. This time we’re on our own with no fixed idea of when we’ll be home again. In times past, we knew what we were coming back to in Burkina and were excited about it. This time, things will be somewhat in limbo for the next three months until we take up our new responsibilities in March. The past year in Burkina has been the most turbulent and challenging of our lives here, mostly due to internal, organizational politics, and the next three months don’t promise to be any better. We’ll see...

However, even in the short time that we’ve been back, we’ve seen small blessings to be thankful for. All our luggage arrived with us and we were waved through customs without even having to open a suitcase. A good friend and colleague came to pick us up at the airport and bring us to our house. Our neighbour brought us some rice and sauce for supper, as well as some food for the following day. Our house, which is normally full of dust and dirt that has blown in after even a small absence, was still amazingly clean after three months away. Just a thin layer of fine, red, dust that was easily wiped up. No termites had made it into our cupboards, closets, or storage room. The last time we were away for any length of time, they had completely demolished the shelves of one closet and damaged much of the stuff in it, as well as making significant inroads in our storage room shelves.

Well, I am eager to see my friends and co-workers again, so if I want to have any hope of seeing them before siesta today, I’d better get over to the Centre. Bye for now!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Wonderful Experience

A wonderful thing happened to me a couple of days ago. I broke a tooth. So what’s so wonderful about that, you ask? Okay, I wasn’t happy about the tooth. But I was REALLY happy that it happened while I was still in Canada! Dental services exist in Burkina, but they aren’t nearly as advanced as in North America. Given a choice, I’ll pick an appointment at a dentist’s office in Canada any day.

Things have come a long way since I was a kid. Back then, going to the dentist ranked up there with such experiences as getting called into the principal’s office, getting the strap, getting a licking at home, and having a bike accident serious enough to land you in the hospital. Except it was worse because you knew it was coming for days and weeks ahead of time. I couldn’t sleep for days before a dentist appointment! I knew there was a lot of pain coming and I was rarely disappointed. The needles hurt like crazy, the dentist often didn’t wait long enough for the freezing to take effect before starting to drill or pull a tooth, and my entire face was sore for days afterwards from all the stuff and activity that took place in my mouth during an appointment. My dentists were always men and they weren’t particularly sympathetic or gentle in their treatment of me.

This week’s dental experience was totally different. First of all, the dentist was a young Asian lady. I couldn’t have asked for a kinder, sweeter, gentler person! I hardly felt the needles (she thought it would only take one, but ended up giving me two more because my tooth seemed extra sensitive), she waited until things were good and frozen, and she did a great job of the tooth repair. I was really impressed. I tried to give her a smile when she was done, but couldn’t quite do it. With half my face frozen, it was hard to control the muscles on that side.

Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t totally painless. You guessed it... the bill :/

But it was worth every cent! :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Only A Week Left To Go

We should have given ourselves more time before going back to Burkina. Upon our return from our orientation trip in the States, we crashed. We were exhausted! We’ve slept in nearly every morning, and often grab a nap in the afternoons too. We need to get well rested before we arrive back in Burkina or we’ll end up with malaria there. The anti-malarial medication that we take will protect us, but only if our own body defences are up and running in good form too. If we’re too run down and fatigued, no medication in the world will keep the malaria at bay.

We’re staying in a nice 2-bedroom condo that a friend of our daughter-in-law’s family is letting us use. It’s right in downtown Waterloo, and thus within walking distance of many essential stores and services. There’s a Starbucks for our morning fix if we need it (although we often prepare our own in the condo), a Subway sandwich shop for a quick & tasty bite of lunch, a Shoppers Drug Mart with post office for all our medical, postal, and miscellaneous needs, a public library with free Internet access, and a variety of ethnic restaurants (the Rude Native Bistro, Margarita’s Mexican resto, Ali Baba’s Middle Eastern resto, the Masala East Indian resto, the Viet Sun resto, and more) for when we get tired of home cooking (or are just too tired to cook at home).

The condo building has a pool and a work-out room. I’ve been making an effort to use the work-out room. I must have put on 20 lbs since we came home in mid-August! All those meetings and meals are starting to have their effect. For the first time in my life, I actually have a bit of a spare tire! Yikes! And my pants are getting tight! I can’t afford a new wardrobe, so I’d better put in my time in the gym.

A little more than a week left before we’re back in a plane and there seems to still be so much to do. We’ve got to get new International Driving Permits (which also require some passport-size photos to be taken), get our stuff organized and packed, get a few remaining supplies, visit some family & friends, and more. As much as we’d like to avoid it, our last week prior to departure is always guaranteed to be a zoo. There just doesn’t seem to be any other way to do it. So I’d better get at it. Talk to you later!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Trip Home

We’re back in Canada again, having arrived in Toronto this past Saturday afternoon. Our trip was an interesting one in that we experienced a few firsts.

First of all, we had the good fortune to meet the friendliest and most helpful taxi driver in all of New York City on Saturday morning. We reserved a taxi on-line a couple of days before (isn’t that cool?) and went downstairs on Saturday morning to find him already waiting for us, playing a game of chess on his laptop. He cheerily greeted us, immediately got out and loaded our luggage for us, and then took us on our way. Quite a difference from the other taxi drivers we’d had to date, all of whom were the grunting, monosyllabic type.

He told us that he was from India and had already been in the States for quite some time. When I asked him if he ever went back to visit family in India, he said no. At $2,000 per ticket per person, the sum for him, his wife and their two teenage daughters is rather prohibitive. In addition, his family and relatives all expect him to bring back lots of expensive gifts for them. He said that his brother recently asked him for a new 3G phone. After all, money grows on trees in America, doesn’t it?

Once at the airport and through security, we looked for and found a Starbucks for our morning coffee. Here we experienced another first: service with an attitude. The girl behind the counter was anything but friendly. She didn’t smile, wouldn’t respond to my hello, told me that they didn’t have what I wanted, and then gave me something else without even waiting for my response! It’s amazing what you’ll put up with when you want a good cup of coffee, though.

For breakfast, we went to an airport diner that had bacon and eggs on the menu, made with fresh eggs. That sounded good! Real bacon & eggs is something we really can’t get in Burkina, so we try to enjoy it here while we can. However, when we asked for fried eggs, the waiter told us that they couldn’t make fried eggs, only scrambled eggs. So what was this about “fresh eggs” on the menu? Turns out that they make their breakfasts with a scrambled egg mix, which is made from fresh eggs. Okay. Sounds like they’re playing loosey-goosey with their definitions if you ask me.

We had some interesting experiences with the airline too. When we went to check in, the staff were not friendly or very helpful at all. Serving customers seemed like some distasteful task they had to do. No smiles, no hellos, nothing. How do these people stay in business? Maybe it’s the same thing as me and my coffee. It’s amazing what people will put up with to get a good deal on airfare, including lousy service.

Kathy remembers something about free luggage on their website. We ended up having to pay $20 for our one bag. Then there were signs all over the airport, touting the superior service offered by Continental Airlines (yeah, right!), like free meals on flights at mealtimes. They must have a different definition of mealtime or of a meal than we do. Our flight was over the lunch hour and all we got was a complimentary drink and a little bag of pretzels. But that’s okay. I’ve got to watch my weight anyway.

But we did get to fly in a plane with propellers instead of turbofans this time (a DeHavilland Dash 8), another first (not counting the small, private airplanes we’ve flown in a couple of times). We sat right under the wing and got to see the propeller on our side start up and go into action. That was kind of interesting. Definitely noisier than a turbofan, though.

And it was an opportunity to appreciate the speed with which a camera can take pictures. With the naked eye, you couldn't see the propeller at all. It was just a faint blur.  Even when I took photos of it at full speed, it hardly looked like it was turning in the picture.

Got a cool shot of Niagara Falls on the way too.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day 24 - New York City

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a bus anywhere in North America, so I was pretty impressed with the one we travelled on to get from Washington, DC, to New York City. Not only was it comfortable, but it had electrical outlets and wireless Internet connection for people who wanted to use their laptops to work or surf the Net while travelling, which about half the people on the bus (including Kathy & I) did. And it was free! Well, okay, it was probably part of the ticket price, but it felt good to not have to pay extra for it :)

Once in NYC, we headed for the hostel at the Vanderbilt YMCA. It cost significantly more than even a room at Motel 6 in other cities and gave us significantly less value for the money (a pretty basic room painted institutional yellow with communal toilets down the hall), but it was close to where we wanted to be: the United Nations.

We must have looked like yokels fresh from the boondocks as we walked along the streets, craning our necks to look up at all the tall buildings, ogling all kinds of interesting shops, businesses, and street vendors, and navigating our way through the greatest variety of people I’ve ever seen. First we grabbed something to eat, and then we headed off to get temporary passes to the UN and an appointment with the UNESCO person responsible for literacy.

The next time I come anywhere near the UN, I’m going to have to remember not to wear a coat, not to carry anything in my pockets or my hands, and especially not to wear a belt to help keep my pants up. Every time we wanted to go into a building to do something or see someone, we had to go through security, including metal detectors. I got especially tired of having to remove my belt and put it back on again so many times!

For supper, we decided to take advantage of NYC’s incredible ethnic diversity and find a restaurant whose type of food we’d never eaten before. We chose a restaurant that served food from Afghanistan. And we were not disappointed. The food was delicious! Even the atmosphere was great. The restaurant was decorated with articles and artefacts from the Afghan culture, and the music sounded like it was from there too.

Getting a good night’s sleep was not easy. We could easily hear doors to neighbouring rooms opening and closing, closet doors banging, and people loudly talking. Whenever we did manage to get to sleep for a while, the hot water pipes running into the room’s radiator would start pinging and then banging until we were wide awake again. But it seems like we fared better than our colleagues who had a room across the hall. They were on the street side of the building. Not only were they privileged to enjoy the same noises we did, but they were also treated to the sounds of loud groups of people walking by, and the garbage truck making its rounds in the early morning hours.

This morning, we went on tour of the UN. We didn’t get to go into some of the important parts of the building, like the Security Council chamber, because they were under renovation, but we did see the main chamber where delegates from the 192 member countries sit to hear speeches and carry out their deliberations. This is the room featured in the film “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn (if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend it). Our guide even pointed out the interpreter booth that Nicole Kidman sat in for the film. We looked for and found the seat for the delegate from Burkina Faso. Fortunately it was close to the back area where we were permitted to go, so we were able to take a picture of it.

Our final appointment was with the culture & education officer of Burkina’s permanent mission to the UN. This lady was very friendly and talked with us for about half an hour. I think she would have liked to talk more, but she needed to get back to the meeting she was skipping out on to see us. She gave us a list of key people we could get in touch with back in Burkina in order to promote the use of minority languages in the public school system there.

This evening, our last in NYC, Kathy & I decided to have supper at a place I’d recently read about in a book by Danny Meyer, the famous restaurant entrepreneur. The place is called “Blue Smoke” and it’s an up-scale BBQ joint. I’m not usually a rib fan, but I had to try them here. We ordered the rib-sampler plate for two, featuring three different kinds of ribs. Even I had to admit they were pretty good! The only downside was that the meal actually cost us and extra $10 more than the price on the menu. Well, not exactly the meal. It was actually for cab fare. We were just too full to walk all the way home again!

Tomorrow, we catch a plane back to Canada. I’m looking forward to catching up on my sleep. Between the heating pipes and the guy that keeps slamming his door down the hall, I don’t think I’m going to get much here tonight! But hey, what do you expect for $125?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 22 - Washington

Today, we walked our legs off. Wow, we never knew Washington DC had so many hills, and that we’d have to do so much walking here! It seems that if there isn’t a hill somewhere, they’ve built a set of stairs or something else for people to climb! Maybe it’s the government’s way of helping its employees get the exercise they need after sitting at their desks all day :)

Each morning this week, we’ve walked a block and a half to the nearest subway station, where we have to climb a broken escalator to the elevated platform. Then we stand in a crowded train for 20 minutes until we reach our destination. This is followed by a walk of several blocks, mostly uphill, until we get to the SIL office where we begin our day of meetings and activities.

Before getting on the subway, however, we pop into a place called “The Dutch Touch Café”. Ironically, it’s run by Koreans :) But they make a tasty omelette sandwich that we order to take out. When we get off the subway, we head straight for a nearby Starbucks to get our morning fix to drink along with our sandwich before continuing on to the office.

This afternoon, we did two interesting things. First we went on a high-speed tour of the Capitol. The person in charge of our orientation has a friend who is an official historian there, and he took us on a special guided tour of the Hill. We decided that at some point in the future, we really need to come back prepared to take several days to do the tours properly. There is just so much that is interesting to see and do there. You just can’t do it in a few short hours!

The second interesting thing we did was pay a visit to the Burkina Faso embassy. The ambassador was not there, but the two officials that received us were very warm and welcoming, just like people from Burkina tend to be. It turns out that one of the officials was from a language group that did not yet have a written form of its language. When we told her that we planned to begin work in her language within the next few years, she enthusiastically promised to do all she could to help us, including putting us in touch with key people in the community and elsewhere. All in all, it was a very profitable visit!

Tomorrow morning, we need to get up extra early to catch a bus to New York City where we will pay a visit to the UN, to the offices of UNESCO, and to the permanent mission of Burkina Faso to the UN.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Day 20 - Washington

After 45 minutes of waiting and watching, we decided that we’d better try to contact someone. We’d arrived in the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., following an evening flight from Charlotte, NC, had collected our luggage from the baggage carousel, and waited, looking for someone who might be looking for us. Deciding that we must have miscommunicated somewhere, I opened my briefcase, pulled out my laptop, and fired it up, planning to check the e-mails for a phone number.

Meanwhile, Kathy powered up our Canadian cellphone. It was probably going to cost more to use it than a local pay phone, but we didn’t want to move far from the baggage claim area in case the person picking us up came by.

I found a number, but it looked like an office one (it had an extension number after it), so we had our doubts that there would be anyone there on a Sunday night to take my call. I called it anyway. What choice did I have? It was the only number I had!

After several rings, a lady answered. You should have heard her reaction when she heard who was calling! “Oh no! I was supposed to pick you up at the airport!” Apparently she’d gotten busy with something and just totally forgot :) And yes, using our Canadian cellphone did definitely cost us more! Almost $10 for a 3-minute call.

After depositing our luggage at the place we were staying, we went out to get a late night bite. That complimentary drink they’d given us on the plane just wasn’t going to cut it for supper. Fortunately, there was a place called “Whole Foods” just around the corner. This wasn’t just a grocery store. It was a food emporium! It had all kinds of food ready to eat and a place with tables to sit down and eat it. They had a salad bar, an international food buffet, and more. The unique thing is that they charged for meals by weight. You just grabbed a paper plate, filled it up with whatever you wanted from the different bars and buffet tables, and then took it to the checkout counter where the cashier weighed it on the scales to determine how much it was going to cost you. An interesting way to buy a meal!

Today, we spent a fair bit of time riding the subway in Washington. First from where we are staying to where we had our day of meetings. Then to meet friends and former colleagues from Burkina for supper and back again. Fortunately we never got lost, or got on the wrong train (both have happened to us in Paris!). It was nearly midnight before we got home again, so I’m looking forward to getting a few hours of sleep before it’s time to get up and at ‘em again early tomorrow morning.

Here’s a sign we saw on a door of the building we’re staying in. Guess they wanted to make sure pet owners get the point!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day 18 - Waxhaw

For a moment this morning, I could have sworn that I was back in Burkina. I was just finishing up my shower when, through the bathroom window, I heard a rooster crowing. However, we aren’t anywhere near Burkina. We’re in a semi-rural setting on the JAARS Center near Waxhaw, North Carolina. I thought my ears were playing tricks on me! But when I looked out the living room window of our one-bedroom guesthouse apartment (after getting dressed, of course), there were indeed some chickens foraging for food in the strip of woods behind the building.

A number of things have struck us on this trip through the States. One is that the “green” movement does not yet seem to have made as much of an in-road in the parts we’ve travelled through as we’re accustomed to in Canada. Incandescent bulbs are still the norm (which we’ve appreciated for their warmth as well as their light at times!) and recycling is more of a do-it-yourself-if-you-want-to affair. Recycling boxes are noticeably absent and throwing tins, aluminum cans, and plastic containers into the same receptacle as organic waste and paper in both public and private spaces has not been easy for us after several years of habitual separation. There are places to recycle some of these things, but it means getting in a car and delivering them to a place that usually requires you to spend more in gas than you’ll get back in refunds.

We’d forgotten how friendly service tends to be in the States. Kathy was impressed with this all over again when a friend took her shopping for a few supplies at a local grocery store. The friendliness of the lady at the checkout counter was in marked contrast to what we often encounter in Canada and especially in Burkina. Burkinabè have the reputation (largely well-deserved) of being the friendliest people in all of West Africa, but this can quickly be changed by putting them behind a cash register or an office desk!

My pet peeve, however, is the new credit card security measures used at US gas stations. Gas theft and credit card fraud has succeeded in creating a level of inconvenience for non-US visitors at these places that has me wishing for the old days of full-service gas stations again. No longer can anyone just fill their tank and pay later. If you’re paying cash, it’s prepaid only, and involves a walk to the cash register and back, and taking a guess at how much gas you’ll need. Over-guessing means a second trip to the register for a partial refund. Under-guessing is okay, unless you have a rental car that needs to be returned with a full tank. It took me two trips to the register and back to make that happen.

Credit cards work too, but not for foreigners like us. Why? Because you have to enter your US address zip code for it to work. Not a US citizen with an address here? Sorry. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Go straight to the attendant on duty and prepay there. If you miscalculate and overpay, watch to make sure a partial refund shows up on your card statement.

I’m not sure what the best solution is here, but I’ve learned one thing: always pick the pump closest to the cash register. Unless you really need the workout :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 13 - Waxhaw

It was pouring rain as we were chauffeured to the Dallas – Fort Worth airport by a volunteer SIL driver at noon today, and it was with some relief that we settled down to wait for our boarding call. We had finally reached the end of an incredibly packed week and weekend. In fact, our last meetings were held just this morning. We hardly had time to check our e-mails before it was time to leave for the airport!

Despite the busyness, we did enjoy meeting with various people. And we even managed to get in a few visits with friends, but not all of them. So if I could do it over again, I’d budget more time for that. Who knows how many years will go by before we pass this way again?

We're also very thankful for the people who went out of their way to look after us and help us out with scheduling, transportation, accommodations, meals, and times of fun, food, and fellowship.  Some of these folks had never even met us before!  They were all a real blessing.

Guess what we saw in the Dallas - Fort Worth airport?  A Best Buy vending machine where you could purchase digital cameras, i-Pods, chargers, USB keys, and a host of other electronic devices!  I was fascinated.  I'd never seen one of these before!  Guess I'm more of a country bumpkin than I thought I was :)

Upon our arrival at Charlotte, North Carolina, I forgot to read the instructions concerning airport pickups. Not sure it would have helped anyway since our Canadian cell phone wasn’t working properly. When we didn’t call him like we were supposed to, the driver said that he tried to call us twice but couldn’t get through. So we ended up waiting in the pickup area until his wife came along carrying a JAARS sign. I don’t think they were too happy with us, but thankfully they were fairly gracious about it :/

When we got to the JAARS Center, we went to visit Kevin & Anita, recent colleagues from Burkina Faso who had invited us to have some supper at their place. At the end of a long day and in a new place, it’s sure nice to see familiar faces! Anita even went out of her way to get us some basic supplies so that we’d have something to eat over the next few days. The JAARS Center is far from any grocery stores and we don’t have a car here. We wanted to pay her for them, but she refused to tell us how much it cost.

For the rest of this week, we're staying in a cute little one-bedroom guesthouse apartment.  Sure glad we brought our coats along.  It's chilly here!

I have another presentation to give at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, so I’d better get busy on that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 10 - Dallas

Wow, I haven’t had such a bunch of full and busy days like this in some time! Kathy & I are running from one meeting to another from 8 o’clock in the morning till 5 o’clock at night each day, with just a quick bite for lunch. We’re meeting lots of interesting people, and hearing and learning lots of interesting stuff, but haven’t really got the time to process any of it right now.

In the evenings, we’re visiting with friends or preparing for upcoming talks and presentations. I rarely get to bed before midnight. When we arrived, I got a stack of leadership books to look at. They all look very interesting and will definitely be going on my “To Get” list, but I haven’t yet had a chance to look at any of them! For the first half of this week, I carried several around with me, hoping to peruse them when I had a spare moment. I finally gave up on that idea.

We’ve been provided with a nice place to stay in the home of SIL colleagues just a few miles from the SIL Center. And have been able to rent a Center vehicle so that we can be mobile. This is great for going to Starbucks, visiting friends, or going out to eat somewhere.

One way for us to unwind after a heavy day of meetings has been to go out for supper together, or to have supper with friends. We’ve already enjoyed a great BBQ place (see my last post), TGI Fridays, and a Mexican place. Last night, we were invited to go to Chili’s with friends we haven’t seen in seven years or so. Surprise, surprise, they looked the same. Just older. Like us :)

Saw this interesting sign recently. But I guess there weren’t enough people saying “Hallelujah!” because the place is closed up :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 6 - Dallas

Went to bed waaaay too late last night and only got a few hours of sleep. PowerPoints always take longer than you think to prepare!

Had a really full day of meetings today. I feel a little bit like I’m drinking from a fire hose, but it’s great to put faces to names and meet new people too. Actually got to meet the top dog in SIL this afternoon. I bet that isn’t going to happen too often!

For lunch we were taken out to a Mexican restaurant. Good food! I could have filled up on the chips and salsa alone.

We were able to rent a car from the SIL Center late this afternoon. It’s nice to have some wheels again, especially here in Texas where long distances are the norm.

For supper, Kathy had an appetite for BBQ and found a place on the Internet for us to go to. Haha, you could smell the wood smoke before you even walked in the door! And inside, it was kind of hazy from the smoke seeping out of the smoke oven doors. Kind of reminded me of fall and winter nights back home when I was growing up. We heated with wood and the main room of the house was often hazy with smoke from opening the woodstove doors now and then to put on another stick or two of fuel.

I’d like to get to bed a little earlier tonight, but have another talk to prepare for tomorrow morning.

Day 5 - Orlando to Dallas

I was trying to read a book late this afternoon as we were travelling from Orlando to Dallas, but found it hard to focus because the words kept dancing in front of my eyes. No, it wasn’t the beer. That belonged to the lady next to me. It was the turbulence. About half an hour of some the worst shaking we’ve ever experienced in an airplane. We thought it was never going to end! What is it with us and airplanes and turbulence lately???

We arrived at the Dallas – Fort Worth airport a little early, only to find that another plane was still occupying our unloading gate. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to hustle, does it? After waiting there for some time, we were sent to a completely different area to unload, causing us to wonder how we were going to connect with the person coming to pick us up. We’d just gotten our suitcase in the baggage claim area when our cell phone rang. It was Lynee, our pick-up person. “Where are you?” she asked. I told her that we had been rerouted to Area C instead of Area A. “Is your wife wearing a purple top?” she continued. That’s exactly what Kathy was wearing, so we realized that Lynee had a visual on us and began looking around for her. Sure enough, she wasn’t far away.

We’d reserved a room at the SIL guesthouse for our stay, so that’s where Lynee took us. Normally when we’re in Dallas, we stay with friends there. But with all the meetings scheduled for us on the SIL Center, we figured it would be better to be on-site, and to have a quiet place to retreat to and process what we were learning afterwards.

However, it was not to be. There was no key when we arrived. And Lynee’s phone calls revealed that wires must have gotten crossed somewhere because there was no reservation for us. Nor was there any chance of us getting a room because there was a conference going on and all the rooms were taken.

Lynee generously offered to let us sleep on a futon at her place. But we needed a room of our own to spread out and unwind and a decent bed to get a good night’s sleep. So we headed to the first place that came to mind. Yup, the place that promises to “leave the light on for ya!” Motel 6. Maybe tomorrow we’ll figure out what we’re going to do for accommodations for the rest of the week.

Still haven’t finished my presentation for Monday morning so I’d better get busy on that. It’s already midnight and I’m gonna need a few hours of sleep before the sun comes up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 4 - Orlando

Yesterday was our last day of meetings. In the evening, we kicked back with a pizza (courtesy of our friends, Paul & Sonja) and a couple of movies (courtesy of the Movie Channel). We were just going to watch one (“Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah), but ended up watching a second one (“John Q” with Denzel Washington), so got to bed kinda late :/ Boy, it’s tough watching movies on TV after having watched them on video or DVD for so long. All those commercials! I could have read a short novel in all the time that they took!

Today, we slept in, but still needed a good cup of Starbucks to get us into gear for the day. After that, we headed out with Paul & Sonja and their kids to Downtown Disney, a free-admission place where we could stroll around and see a variety of shops and restaurants built around various Disney themes. The quality and entertainment value of all this was pretty impressive. We browsed around the T-Rex dinosaur shop, the Rain Forest Café restaurant & shop, and a few others.

Lunch was at Planet Hollywood.

Then we decided to drive on to Tampa and see the ocean. None of us had ever been to Tampa so we drove around for a while trying to find a beach or other waterfront access place. Finally we decided to use the GPS Paul had brought along and eventually found a little park that allowed us to walk out on a long pier. The wind coming off the water was wicked and we were all soon quite chilled. It felt good to get back into the car!

Supper was at a Cracker Barrel restaurant on the way back to Orlando. These are great restaurants with good food at a decent price, great service, and an interesting tourist shop at the entrance. I think we spent as much time looking at all the neat things in that shop as we did in the restaurant eating our meal :)

Tomorrow we fly to Dallas. However, we have to be out of our guesthouse prior to 10 o’clock tomorrow a.m. so Kathy spent some time packing our suitcases after we got home this evening around 10 p.m. I worked on a presentation I need to give to some folks on Monday morning (and wrote this blog :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day 2 - Orlando

Another day of meetings, this time with folks from fund-raising, human resources, communications, and public relations. One of the cool things about visiting this centre and meeting with people is all beautiful and interesting display items that can be found in the hallways, in display cases, on the walls, and on stands. People even have interesting items and artefacts in their offices! One fellow had an old manual typewriter. When I commented on it and asked him why he had it there, he said that it was his laptop :) I had to take a picture!

Lunch was in the cafeteria/café. Yesterday we enjoyed a complimentary meal. Today we had to pay ourselves, but that was okay because the food is good and not expensive. In addition, the place is so tastefully designed and decorated that it’s just a really neat place to eat.

After lunch, Kathy & I took a self-directed tour of the Wycliffe Discovery Center. It’s a top-notch display that features the work of linguistics, literacy, Bible translation, and more in a highly informative and interactive way. Wish we could have something like that at our office in Toronto!

Later on in the afternoon, our friend Paul took us to a nearby grocery store so that we could pick up a few items for meals for the next few days.

This evening after supper, I decided that I needed to go for a long walk to both stretch my legs and get a bit of exercise. Gotta watch my figure, you know! If I keep inputting more calories than I’m outputting like this (I don’t think sitting around and talking with people qualifies as a legitimate exercise), I’m gonna have a serious weight problem soon!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 1 - Orlando

The Delta Airlines plane that took us from Toronto to Atlanta on the first leg of our journey to Orlando was the smallest jet that I’ve ever been on. Our first hint of this was as we approached the doorway of the plane and a member of the crew confiscated our cabin luggage, saying that it was too big for the overhead bins (they ended up putting it in the baggage hold along with the rest of the luggage). When we actually got into the plane, we could see what he meant! The bins were hardly deep or high enough to put an oversized purse in. Not at all like the huge ones we see on the Air France planes, where you can virtually stuff in a regular-sized suitcase.

I couldn’t even stand up straight in this plane, not even in the middle of the aisle. And the seats (only 2 on each side of the aisle) were pretty cramped. You can just imagine the fun I had trying to get in and out of mine! Fortunately, it wasn’t a long flight. And we got a slightly bigger plane for the Atlanta to Orlando leg of the trip.

On that flight, Kathy & I couldn’t sit together. We had seats in different rows. I ended up beside a rather bubbly lady. It might have had something to do with the glass of wine she was drinking. Apparently it wasn’t her first one of the day... :)

Orlando was humid and warm, and we quickly shed our winter coats. Friends George & Linda came by to pick us up and took us out to dinner at a TGI Friday before bringing us to our guesthouse on the Wycliffe USA Center, a nice two-bedroom place on the second floor. Our only complaint is the turbofan in the bathroom. When you turn on the light, an exhaust fan also comes on. It sounds frighteningly loud and powerful! Every time it starts, I find myself reaching for something to hang on to in case I get sucked right out of the building!

Today we were in meetings with various people most of the day. Had some interesting discussions with the folks in the personnel and project funding departments. But we started the day in a large group session where we were asked to introduce ourselves. When handed the microphone, I was tempted to say, “Hello, my name is Mike... and I’m an alcoholic... Ooops! Wrong meeting!” But I restrained myself and did my best to behave like a normal person :)

This evening, we were invited to supper with old friends and colleagues from Burkina, Paul & Sonja. They left Burkina last December and are now working here. It was great catching up on things and discussing what was going on in each others’ lives now.

Well, it’s almost midnight again and we’ve got another day of meetings tomorrow, so I’d better hit the hay.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Today was Canadian Thanksgiving, a time when families normally get together to visit and share a turkey dinner. Back when our kids were younger, we either went to Kathy’s family’s place, or had our families over to our place. When we went to Burkina, we got together with fellow Canadians there to celebrate the day.

But this year was different. We’re back in Canada for a bit, but our kids are grown up and gone, and we don’t have a place of our own to invite people to come and share a meal with us. So what happened? Melissa’s parents, Tim & Pat, invited us to join in their family celebration along with their parents and their grown children (they also invited us to stay at their place for a couple of days before we head off to the States). Josh & Melissa were there too, having just returned from their honeymoon. It was a wonderful day for us. Thanks, Tim & Pat, for this blessing.

I used to take these family times for granted. I reckon that’s normal when you’re at that stage of life. But we’re at a different stage now, and what was once ordinary has now become something special. Like the old Joni Mitchell song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. I guess that’s normal too :)

We’ve got another big change coming up. On Tuesday, we leave for Orlando, Florida, the first stop on a 5-city trip to the USA that makes up the orientation program for our new roles in Burkina starting next March. Josh is kindly driving us to the airport in Toronto, despite the fact that this means he’ll have to get up at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. and fight rush hour traffic to get us there.

It’s great to have family and friends that we can count on to help us out like this when we need it. Josh has already deliverd and picked us up from the airport several times over the past couple of months. Our sincere thanks also go out to friends Len & Carla who generously lent us a car from the beginning of September up until the end of last week. How many people do you know that would do something like that for people they hardly know?

Anyway, my next posting will be from Florida. Someone wrote to say that it’s 92 degrees F. there and that we should bring our swimsuits! Wow! That’ll be a switch from here where summer is definitely over and fall is well on its way. We’ve actually been rather chilly here in Kitchener the past few days. But we’re not complaining. Last year at this time, we were sweating to death in Burkina. So we’re enjoying the cool temps here while we can :)

Well, it’s midnight and I’m getting chilled sitting here in our bedroom and writing this blog. Time to call it a day and crawl under the covers. Good night!

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Time To Remember

Well, it’s the morning after the morning after. Josh & Melissa are happily married and enjoying their honeymoon in Cuba. For Kathy & I, it’s back to reality. We spent this morning packing up our personal stuff and moving from our 17th floor furnished apartment with the magnificent view back to Josh’s place where we’ll stay until he and Melissa come back to reality. Besides, someone has to look after Butters!

It was a great wedding! Family and friends came from far and wide, the ceremony was beautiful, taking official photographs was a hoot, the reception dinner was delicious, and the dancing afterwards was lively. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos from the actual ceremony yet. They didn’t want anyone taking pictures during that time except the official photographers. I tried to take a quick one with my camera but Kathy yelled at me and told me to be obedient for a change. Deciding that this was not the time to argue, I limited my complaints to some under-my-breath mutterings and did as I was told :) Hopefully we’ll get some pictures eventually, probably after Josh & Melissa get back and go through them. Sounds like there were over 1200 shots taken! Yeah, I think a judicious selection would be appropriate in this case!

Our good friend, Pastor Audley Goulbourne, performed the ceremony, and gave one of the best sermonettes I’ve ever heard at a wedding. He had lines like, “Love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener” and “Adam couldn’t say to Eve, ‘I wish you could cook like my mother!’” You know, I never thought about that before! It was good stuff.

The only hitch was right after the ceremony. It began pouring rain. Everyone waited until the heaviest of the downpour had passed, but eventually we had to get to our cars and organize where we were going. We obviously couldn’t take wedding pictures in the park as originally planned, so we ended up going to a family member’s house.

There were a few glitches before the wedding too. Josh, the best man, the groomsmen, the father of the bride, and I all got fitted for tuxedos some time back. When mine arrived a few days before the wedding and I tried it on, the jacket sleeves came halfway to my elbow, and the pants were short enough for me to wade through a small flood without getting them wet. They ended up having to call in a tailor to alter both items. I couldn’t help but wonder what the purpose of the original fitting was...

Then, on the morning of the wedding, one of the groomsmen went to put on his tuxedo, only to find that there was no jacket! The suit store had to do some quick scrambling to get him one on time!

Anyway, all in all, it was a time to remember. Just like it should be.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Three Days To Go!

It’s just after midnight and I’m looking northwards over the lights of Kitchener from the window of our 17th floor apartment, listening to the autumn wind howling around the corner of the building and wrapping up some work on the computer. Josh & Melissa’s wedding is just a few days away and coming up fast!

The past couple of days have been somewhat hectic. A number of things have kept me busy: correspondence with family, friends, people from the administrative team in Burkina, and the folks responsible for scheduling our upcoming new director orientation program in the States; an update for family, friends, and others who support us in our work; a PowerPoint of pictures of Josh & Melissa for the wedding and reception; other things here and there associated with wedding preparations. Kathy’s been working on seating arrangements for the reception with Melissa’s mom, and getting things prepared for the rehearsal dinner for about 30 people that will be hosted here in our apartment on Friday night.

Josh’s best man, David, arrived from Kansas this evening and is staying at his place. They’re old friends from Burkina. Josh is going to have a full house once three other friends, the Goulbourne boys, show up as groomsmen for the rehearsal on Friday and then stay overnight for the wedding the next day. Good thing Kathy & I are not staying there during this time. We old fogeys would just cramp their style. Besides, they’ll probably be up all night talking and Kathy & I need our beauty sleep. Don’t want to be ugly for the wedding!

Speaking of beauty, I’ve got to go and get a haircut later on today. Yeah, I know there’s only so much they can do, but I’ve got to at least make the effort to look good! Hopefully the tux will do the rest :) Kathy has a hair appointment on Saturday morning.

On Thursday, I’m going to see my Dad to help him celebrate a milestone birthday, his 75th. He won’t be able to come to the wedding because he’s still recovering from an injury and surgery. But I’ll bring my Mom back with me and drop her off at my brother’s place in Mississauga, where she’ll stay until Saturday when my brother will bring her to the wedding with him.

Most of Friday will be spent getting ready for the rehearsal dinner and the arrival of various guests. Our good friends, Pastor Audley & Yvonne Goulbourne, will be staying with us overnight. Pastor Audley is performing the wedding on Saturday.

Yes, it’s a busy time, but an exciting time too, and we’re going to enjoy it all we can. At our age, when you get a chance to party, you better take it! Those dance moves won’t be getting any easier as time goes on!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moving Right Along

Can you tell that we’ve got our hands pretty full with wedding preparations and other stuff right now? :) With all that going on, I’ve had to let a few things (like regular blog postings) slide for a while.

Last weekend, we drove up to Gravenhurst to join in the 125th anniversary celebrations at Calvary Baptist Church. This was the church we left from to prepare for overseas work and they have supported us right from the beginning. We stayed with some wonderful friends there that we first got to know when they visited with us for a few days in Burkina. While in Gravenhurst, we were also able to spend some time visiting and talking with some other long-time friends, as well as with someone interested in going to serve in Burkina on a short-term basis doing construction work.

A special singing group was the highlight at Calvary’s anniversary service. At one point, they gave out CDs of their music to a few special people. The first was to someone who was celebrating a birthday that day. It turned out to be the pastor! The second was to someone celebrating a wedding anniversary. That CD went to a couple celebrating their 64th ! Wow! And the last CD went to the people who had travelled the farthest to attend the church’s anniversary celebration. Ha! That turned out to be Kathy & I.

Preparations for Josh & Melissa’s wedding are coming right along. Kathy & I finally have our outfits. Mine was simple: go into a suit store and get fitted for a tuxedo. Kathy’s was more complicated but after a couple of weeks of driving around searching and trying stuff on, she finally got all the necessary pieces :)

I’m also working on preparations for the orientation I’ll be doing in the States after the wedding. It’s turning out to be a lot more work than I’d anticipated! Had I known that, I’d have left a little more time after the wedding to get ready! As it is, I might just have to wing it now and then. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Detours on the Highway of Life

Yesterday we had an appointment with friends and colleagues in Toronto, so off we went, winding our way through some back roads to avoid Highway 401, notorious for its traffic jams into the city on weekday mornings. It turned out to be a wise decision because when we passed over the highway later on, traffic was stacked and packed solid and unmoving for as far as the eye could see in both directions!

Part way to Toronto, we received a call on our cell phone. The appointment had to be changed to another day because something had come up for our friends. So now what? Well, we’d planned to go to do some shopping in Burlington later on in the day anyway. Got a wedding to get ready for, you know! So we just changed direction and headed there.

At the mall in Burlington, I noticed a cell phone sitting on the back of a toilet in the men’s washroom. I picked it up, wondering whose it was and how I was going to get it back to him (I assumed it’s a “him” because it was in the men’s washroom :) That’s one of the problems with cell phones. People don’t usually put their names on them or in them. I guess I could have taken it to mall security or the mall administration office, but what if the person who lost it couldn’t remember where he’d lost it and didn’t come back to the mall to ask for it?

I began flipping through the contact list in hopes of finding something I could use. At first, there was nothing. I had no idea who the people in the list were. But then I saw something, two entries together: First “Cathie” and then “Cathie’s parents”. Well that looked hopeful. Maybe Cathie was his wife or girlfriend...

I called “Cathie” and a woman answered the phone. I didn’t know quite how to begin the conversation! What do you say in such a situation? Finally I just said, “Hi. I found this phone in a washroom in a mall in Burlington. Do you know who this number belongs to?” The lady replied, “Yes! It’s my boyfriend’s phone! He’s on his way to Toronto today.” We went on to discuss how we could get him his phone back. She obviously couldn’t get hold of him because I had his phone. And she didn’t have a car to come to the mall to get it.

Finally I asked where she was. It turns out that she worked in an office building in downtown Hamilton, about a 20-minute drive away. So I said that after we finished our business in the mall, we’d come to her workplace and drop the phone off.

An hour or so later, we were coming up to the address, so I called Cathie again. “I’ll meet you downstairs,” she said. There was no parking allowed on the street at that point, so we pulled up behind a bus and waited. “Okay, I’m here,” said Cathie a few seconds later. “I have long blond hair and a black top. Where are you?” We told her that we were in a blue Toyota Matrix behind the bus. Soon, a young blond lady talking on a cell phone came into view. “I see you!” she said excitedly, and came running over. We handed her the cell phone. “Thanks a lot!” she replied. “You’ve restored my faith in human nature!”

Well, that was enough good deeds for one day. Don’t want to overdo it, right? Besides, it was lunchtime.

Monday, September 7, 2009

So Where Will We Stay?

Where to stay when we come back to Canada? Suitable and affordable accommodation back home is going to become a significant issue for us in the years ahead. By “suitable”, I mean a place with all the necessities where we can unpack our suitcases and feel at home for anywhere from 1-6 months. If it’s just a few weeks here or there, we can easily stay with family or friends, several of which have offered us a place to hang our hats. We thank God for them! But for longer periods of time, we really need our own space.

But it’s not easy to find such a place. Nearly all rental units require a minimum one-year lease to begin with. We need something significantly shorter, but with all the amenities and basic furnishings so that we don’t have to go and haul our household stuff out of the various places we’ve got it stored and unpack it, only to pack it up and haul it back again a relatively short time later. We’re getting too old for that! In fact, unless you really love moving all the time, I think moving all the time gets old real fast no matter what age you are!

This wasn’t an issue in earlier years of our overseas experience because family life with younger children was fairly stable, our parents were in relatively good health, and airfare for four people to travel back and forth across the ocean even once every couple of years was rather prohibitive. We just stayed in Africa for anywhere from 2-4 years at a time and then came home for at least a year before going back. For that length of time, it was no problem to find a suitable place to rent and to go to the trouble of moving our stuff in.

But now our situation has changed. Events and activities involving our grown-up children and elderly parents necessitate more frequent trips home. And flying back and forth has become more affordable, not just because of better prices for airfare, but also because we now only have to pay for two people to fly. However, we can’t stay for as long as we used to. And therein lies the problem.

An option we’ve considered and dismissed for the time being is home ownership. There are several reasons for this: 1) A house costs more money than we have, 2) it would tie us to one place every time we came home, and 3) the current rental climate is a landlord’s nightmare. In order to make mortgage payments, we’d have to rent the place out during our absences. Not only is it hard to find good tenants (and bad ones are nearly impossible to evict), but we’d have to engage someone to manage the place for us, at least in terms of maintenance and repairs. And if we’re only coming home for a month or two, it’s still not worth the effort of moving our stuff in and out again, never mind having to ask one tenant to leave, and then finding another one only a short time later.

So what’s the solution? Well, we’ve found a temporary one for now: corporate apartments. These are fully furnished apartments or condos that can be rented for as little as a week at a time. True, they’re not cheap, being more expensive than a regular apartment. But they’re cheaper and bigger than a hotel room, and include all the utilities and services, like electricity, water, telephone, cable, and Internet, that you’d normally have to go through the hassle of signing up for when you move in, and then terminating when you leave. You just bring your suitcases in when you’re ready, and leave when you’re done. And unlike most apartments, you just pay by credit card. Convenient or what!

But as I said, this is a temporary solution for this time at home. In the future, I’d like to see something similar, but for less money. At the moment, corporate apartments cater primarily to business clients, people who are moved around by a company or corporation for work-related reasons. But in our increasingly global village, there are going to be more and more people like Kathy and I, private individuals who need to spend a few months here and a few months there, but who don’t have the financial resources of a for-profit organization or business behind them. It’ll be interesting to see what possibilities develop in the next few years...