02 December 2007

Our Three Week Saga

Well it has been 6 weeks since leaving the land of round doorknobs, slow traffic and restaurants on every corner (the US for those who may not have had the “joy” of passing through that country). Since our return to Côte d'Ivoire we have made a trip to Parakou, Benin and part way back. And herein lays a story.

Breakdown – #1
Before leaving for Parakou 3 weeks ago, we had been to Korhogo twice to teach. All of this with a vehicle that was beginning to give us a few minor concerns but which seemed to be holding its own. On our way north through Burkina Faso we had a relatively uneventful trip until we hit the town of Boromo, halfway between Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou. It was about 17h00 when I noticed a gradual loss of power which very quickly became a total loss of power as the motor stopped all together. Our Toyota Hilux, having about 260.000 km on the odometer, seems to be a candidate for such events as we found out three weeks ago.

After getting towed back to Boromo, where we spent the night in a nice little hotel, we discovered the next morning that we had a faulty fuel pump. That may not sound like much if you are used to gasoline/petrol engines. Toyota engines in Africa are, for the most part, diesel/gasoil. To loose a fuel pump is not good. In the end we were able to get towed to Ouagadougou (over 175 km in the dark) by a crew that decided it would be better to be half drunk before leaving. As we flew down the dark highway with Alfa Blondie blaring into the night, I was thankful that we had had the insight to send Angelika on ahead on the bus that morning to Ouaga.

Replacing steel with Phillystrand:
After spending 2 days in Ouaga, we were able to get back on the road to Parakou on Monday the 12th. We arrived in Parakou without difficulty and spend two full weeks helping with the Trans-World Radio transmitter site doing a variety of things help them out. The main job for which we had come was to help put new guy cables on the tower which was already standing. This was a bit of a challenge as we hauled our poor old broken bones up and down the tower for 3 days attaching new cables to the tower and taking off the old lines. We were replacing steel cable with a product called “Phillystrand” which as we found is much lighter and relatively easy to work with. The re-guying of the tower went without a hitch and we finished well before we had to leave.

We were treated royally while there by South African friends, Garth and Fiona Kennedy, the project leader for the past several years. It was great to spend time with them as well, drinking tea, eating Marmite on bread and sweet chutneys on meat and other such things folks in South Africa do. I take my hat off to folks like the Kennedy’s. Although Garth could be a general contractor anywhere in the world and Fiona as a doctor could be raking in the cash at a hospital, they have chosen to spend several years in less than agreeable conditions, fighting malaria, typhoid fevers and the like, to serve in the installation of this transmitter site which will bring Christian programming back to the more remote areas of West Africa. Through this medium wave transmitter TWR along with SIM will be able to impact areas that until recently have had little or no Christian influence. It is also our hope that their presence in West Africa will be a big help to smaller stations like Radio Sinaï of Korhogo where we have been involved.

An amazing part of this part of the story is that when we arrived in Parakou the container with the Phillystrand had just cleared the port in Cotonou but it was still in Cotonou, half a day’s drive from Parakou. The container had been loaded on the train at the beginning of the week but it only arrived in Parakou the Sunday the 18th giving us just enough time to unpack and install the Phillystrand before having to leave.

It seems that God had those details all worked out. It also allowed us a little time to get to know the other engineers, Paul Cox (the new project leader) and Chuck (both with TWR) who have also contributed much of their time as well as Lazare, Souleymanne, Etienne, and some of the other guys from Benin helping with the project. It was an interesting 2 weeks during which time I learned a lot and gained an appreciation for what TWR and other Christian broadcasters are trying to do around the world.

Breakdown – #2
So it was with our useful contribution having come to an end, we asked for the road last Saturday and began our long return trip to Côte d'Ivoire. We made it to Ouaga without difficulty and the following day (Sunday) we began the last leg of our journey home. At 200 km out having just passed through Boromo, (this happens to be the very same town in which our fuel pump gave up the ghost!) I heard a noise which sounded ever so familiar. As soon as I heard it I knew that the crankshaft had broken. Looking at the engine we could see the fan belt pulley on the crankshaft wobble as we ran the engine. I knew that we were in trouble again. After making calls to Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouaga, we decided that it would be best to haul the truck back up the road to Ouaga where parts are more readily available.

Following several hours of dickering over a hauling price, we began the long road back to Ouagadougou about 3 meters behind a truck going at about 60 km/hr without brake lights to tell me when he was about to brake. As we were once again flying down the road behind this truck around which we could see nothing, trying to stay just behind him hoping that he wouldn’t swerve too quickly to avoid something we could not see and standing on the brake any time it felt as though he was about to slow down, I said to Angelika, “This is more exciting than a tandem skydive!” And I meant it when I said it. By the time we arrived at the garage we were nearly black from the poorly adjusted diesel motor of our tow truck. We would rather not think about what we were breathing.

The next morning after spending yet another night at the Nehlsen’s (director for Christian & Missionary Alliance of Burkina Faso, and an old classmate and colleague of mine) I went down to the garage to find my fears confirmed, the second broken crankshaft in less than four months. Needless to say I am less than impressed with our mechanic in Bouaké who assured me the last time that the crankshaft that he replaced was the correct one. So it is here when one does not have the time to do his own work. You only get what you get. This time we took the time to work through the replacement parts and match its numbers with those of the engine block. Of course I am still sitting here in Ouagadougou waiting to hear if the parts that we purchased are indeed the parts that will work.

How I really see it:
Now you may be thinking that this is a long string of bad luck which you would wish on no one. The fact of the matter is that we have been able to spend time with Steve and Amy Nehlsen that we would never have had had it not been for these breakdowns. We have been able to share our lives and our faith with our good friend Safiou who is still a Muslim after all these years. Although he is not practicing he has not to date been willing to follow Christ. While in Boromo I had several occasions to share with a young man who is involved in beekeeping and to encourage him and share ideas about how to modernize wisely. Boromo is also a town where one can at times see elephants in the vicinity which also makes it an interesting place to visit.

On our next visit we will find many good friends who have helped us in one way or another. The old man who loaned us his truck to haul us into Ouaga turns out to have lived for some time in Bouaké and knows several people with whom I am acquainted. All in all, our breakdowns, although we wish they had not happened, we can see how God just wanted us to spend a little more time in Boromo and in Ouaga than we had planned. We would like to be home just now but we are here and it would appear that it is the right place to be at this point. It has also allowed me the time to sit down and write down some of the stuff that has been going on just now. I guess that God really does know what he is doing. One last benefit of these difficulties is that we are looking at purchasing another vehicle in the near future so you can count on it, you will be hearing from this corner again!

I have been looking into another way to get to Bobo-Dioulasso and on to Côte d'Ivoire without having to pass through Boromo again! Of course, now that I have paid my dues the Boromo road spirits should be appeased and let us pass without any more trouble. With my luck though, I am probably going to be hit by and elephant!