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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rob's struggle and Anniversary Safari!

Dear Family and Friends,

We pray you are in good health and not too tired from all of the summer activities. Where have June and July gone? It seems that there have been so many activities here and many crew members coming and going these past several months. Denise has tried to load up some of the promised pictures from Pendjari with some success.

We are blessed to have internet access via satellite, especially when you read about the fiber optic cable that supplies West Africa being cut/broken. Several countries in West Africa (Benin being one) lost all of their internet access unless they have access via satellite as we do on the ship! Sometimes it is easy to take our blessings for granted and even grumble about those we don’t have.

Parc National Pendjari

I (Rob) must confess I’ve found myself in that situation lately. It is sometimes hardest for me to stay focused during the summer months. Many families on the ship vacation home while the children are out of school or Grandmas and Grandpas come to the ship to visit. Sometimes it is easier to think about also going on vacation, and the fond memories of past vacations we've enjoyed with family and friends. Having these thoughts and desires is not bad, but when I find myself in a position where taking a vacation is not possible for a variety of reasons and am not careful ... I may become embittered about the whole situation. I found myself in this mindset and even became jealous and bitter towards those who are taking their well deserved vacation. I started comparing my sacrifice to theirs and started thinking ... it just wasn’t fair. I started to withdraw a little, because I was ashamed.

Fortunately, God will not allow me to stay in this place if listening to Him and not to myself. I find that when I take my focus off of Jesus and onto myself, it is hard to feel loving and understanding.

Rob and Denise on safari!

I don’t know what your challenges are or what situation you may find yourself in as we are nearing the end of this summer season (or for some of you winter season). Whether you need a vacation or have just returned from one. I can only tell you where I found myself for a little while and how it affected me and the relationship with those around me.

Living on board is like living in a large extended family and most of the time it is great! Sometimes though you may want a little less family ... maybe the six berth cabin is a little too close for comfort on one day. Granted I can’t really relate to this, because I have the pleasure of living in a couple’s cabin with my lovely wife. I don’t have to worry about my cabin mate changing. But I do have a responsibility to her and to the rest of the community. Sometimes I like to believe that my actions are only affecting Denise and me. People on board aren’t nosy or pushy; they are genuinely friendly and concerned about you.

Setting out for Pendjari!

Recently, I’ve had more occasions to have this reality brought home to me. I have had a couple of weeks of less than excellent health. This is unusual for me; normally I’m as strong and healthy as an ox and at times may act like one. A couple weeks ago my lower back was aching on the left side so I tried to think of what strenuous exercise I had done to pull a muscle. I couldn’t think of any and could only remember carrying a couple of Igloo water containers down a couple decks on Saturday for the engineers. I thought, my goodness if carrying 20-30 pound water coolers causes me to pull a muscle I’m in bad shape. I’m a big baby when I’m hurting ... so after a few days of soreness and sleepless nights. Denise suggested I go see the doctor. Not my favorite thing to do ... but my wife is wise, so I went.

My pain didn’t seem to fit quite right for a pulled muscle, so the doctor gave me some Ibuprofen and we decided to keep an eye on it for a few days over the weekend. On Sunday, I noticed my back seemed to be itchy in the same area that it was hurting in. Denise looked and told me a rash had developed in the same spot, by Monday there was a rash on my stomach and side as well. OK, back to the doctor, aha now she was able to complete the diagnosis ... I had shingles!

Pendjari was really beautiful!

I was actually relieved to know it wasn’t a pulled muscle but a virus. I may be sick, but at least I wasn't a wimp. Now several weeks have past and I’m recovering. Well, my immune system was down so I managed to catch a cold. Nice ... I don’t miss work ... I don’t get sick ... I’m tough ...OK, so I get grumpy. In spite of my grumpy ways, I’ve found people are genuinely concerned about me and my welfare. Not how strong I think I am ... how good of a job I may do ...or any of that. Just how are you Rob? Yes, sometimes there are those you may expect to ask ... sometimes those that you want to ask ... but what about people that come up and ask you that you can’t remember their names? What about people that you are obviously affecting that you don’t even realize?

I would suggest that we affect and impact people far more than we realize ... for good or maybe somedays not so good. Through this I’ve had to come back to realize, God cares and God’s people care ... there is a difference. I didn’t forget God cares ... but sometimes it’s like I’ve taken His love and blessings for granted.

I’m thankful He doesn’t take me for granted and loves me even when I’m not loveable ... even when I’m jealous of other peoples blessings and can’t see my own. Even when I get embittered He loves me. I pray that you are able to experience this same love ... and hopefully if you have ... and do ... you won’t keep it to yourself but will be like the crew members I have the pleasure of serving with and will share it with that brother or sister that needs a reminder.

Map of Benin - showing Pendjari National Park

Here’s the promised summary of our 36th Wedding Anniversary Safari Trip to Pendjari. It was incredible! Our first time to actually see in the wild African animals! After having spent over 2 years in Africa, we thought it was about time! A few groups of Mercy Shippers had been up to the Pendjari Wildlife Preserve Park. They had a great time, brought back pictures and stories of the animals they were able to see and the incredible experiences they had. We listened to them and began to think it might be possible for us to do it, too!

We have found that travel in a developing country is definitely not something to take for granted and something that we need to consider carefully. We have been on local excursions throughout our travels with Mercy Ships. Sometimes it pushes us farther than we can physically handle (we still would like to think we are in our 20s or 30s... not always realistic!) Also, the food, ride and places to stay overnight must always be taken into account. So a trip 11 hours away from the ship in a local bus and by a local guide's vehicle is something to consider carefully! We also needed to consider the timing as the rainy season was at hand and word was that roads may not be passable and the lodge in the park would close if the rains begin, so it may not even be a possibility.

At a bus stop along the way!

We carefully weighed all the factors that we could find out about (also difficult due to the language barrier!) The opportunity came of a new group forming to go up and we decided to join them! Most of the group was a part of the communications group from the ship, so we were privileged to be able to join them and enjoyed our time with them. We also decided to bless James with a trip up north to see the African animals in his own country! James is a local man who volunteers on the ship and works with Denise as the ship's French teacher (he is very good at teaching language). James is studing language at the University in Benin and is fluent in 4 languages (French, English, Fon and Yorba). French is the recognized language in Benin. Fon and Yorba are two local tribal languages. James is studing Chinese at the University and will soon be in his final year of University. James is 37 years old, single and taught French at an International School in Cotonou for several years. He had never been north of Savalou in Benin (if you look at the map - it's not even half way up the country) and he had never seen any wild African animals either! He was very excited to be able to go and experience more of his country!

Denise, Rob and James

We took the trip on a long weekend (we had a Friday holiday on the ship) and took off an extra day on Monday. (May 22- 25) That gave us Friday to travel up (11 hours) and Monday to return back (9 hours) . Three nights off the ship... One in Tanguieta, just south of Pendjari... second night in Pendjari Park.....and third in Natitinguo where we could catch the bus back to Cotonou. All three nights in a hotel with A/C and mosquito nets (very important here with malaria) and bathrooms attached (also important for us - that we don't have to wander around outside during the dark night!). We packed snacks for when food was not available (or we couldn't eat it - spicy local food) and water (also, important!) Charged our batteries, for the camera and phone (also important as there could be an emergency or breakdown of transportation). We set out at 6 am on Friday morning (see picture above of the hazy morning) for our adventure!

Here's a great picture of the kids!

We were so blessed by a great bus ride! Incredible traveling companions, we really had a great time! The weather was good... not rainy! .... also the bus was not too crowded. People did not need to stand up during the trip or cram together in a seat for two with three or more! So everyone was relatively comfortable! We did pick up a traveling salesman that kept us entertained for a time telling the whole bus of the type of traditional herbs and medicines that could be used for various ailments! He did actually sell some of his wares. He spoke in we only understand parts...but he was quite entertaining in his style!

Figuring out where we have been

When we got to Pendjari we were very blessed to see more animals that we ever expected to see and we missed a lion pride by just about 5 minutes...the morning after we spent the night at Pendjari! The timing of our trip was perfect and weather was not a problem. God blessed us greatly! Here are some of the pictures that we took on our safari.

At the watering hole - Mare Bali (Bali Pond)

This picture is at one of the watering holes called Mare Bali. Beautiful scenery, birds and all the wildlife. So picturesque that the photos really do not show the beauty! We were able to get out of or off the vehicle at times to go to a viewing stand and this was possible at Mare Bali.

We heard a splash and saw the crocodile had come out of the water!

This picture is also at Mare Bali and on our side of the pond! I heard a splash and looked around to see this crocodile out of the water! So I'm not sure why he was out of the water, but I was fortunate to be able to capture him in the photo as he was!

Sound asleep

This is a sound asleep baboon! We saw many baboons and antelopes, but this was the only one asleep!

Open wide!

At another lake, we saw many hippos! There was also a viewing we got out and enjoyed watching them for quite a while! In this lake there were three large groups of hippos. Occasionally, one of them would let out a roar. I don't know why they do this, but it made us all start clicking our shutters on the cameras!

A lone elephant .... Horton?

We also saw many elephants! This was a lone elephant that we saw early in the morning, just after dawn. Tracy nicknamed him, Horton! He was actually quite close to the lodge that we stayed in on Pendjari! Across one road and a field!

The village just outside Pendjari

This is a village that is just outside Pendjari Park. The people of this village used to live in Pendjari and when the government set the land aside for the preserve the people had to move off the land of the preserve. They moved just outside the park entrance and this was just about 40 years ago.

Dawn at Pendjari

This is a beautiful sunrise in Pendjari! You've got to be up early to see the animals at the water hole! We wanted to share the full experience with was INCREDIBLE! The space is limited in this newsletter...but for those of you that want more about the can get a cup of coffee, tea or soda and your computer. The slide show is on our Flickr site and you can go there by following this link...

Pendjari Safari

Enjoy! We wish you could have experienced it with us!

God’s Blessings,

Rob and Denise

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