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.