28 November 2008

Es klopft bei Wanja in der Nacht

In the German children’s story Es klopft bei Wanja in der Nacht, by Tilde Michels, we find Wanja sleeping warmly in his hunting cabin in the woods during a snow storm when he hears someone tapping on his door. He gets up to see who it is to find a hare freezing and asking to come in for the night. Wanja lets him in, puts some more wood in the stove and climbs back in bed. Not much later the hare and Wanja are awakened by a shivering fox knocking on the door asking to spend the night in the hunter’s cabin out of the snow storm. Wanja lets him in much to the consternation of the hare. After letting him in they all bed down for the rest of the night when a short time later they hear again a knocking at the door. Wanja getting up once again opens the door to find a very cold bear asking if he could not spend the night in the hunter’s cabin. The fox is not too fond of the idea but as the hare in his regard had kept his peace so did he with regards to the bear.

Early the next morning each one of Wanja’s guests creep out of the hunter’s cabin being careful not to wake up the others, first the hare, then the fox and finally the bear. In the morning when Wanja wakes up he finds that the cabin is empty and he scratches his head thinking that it must have all been a simple dream. Stepping outside Wanja sees the tracks of his three guests in the fresh fallen snow and in the words of Tilde Michels:

Der Wanja schaut und nickt und lacht: (Wanja looks, nods and laughs)
„Wir haben wirklich diese Nacht (We really spent this night)
gemeinsam friedlich zugebracht. – (together in peace. – )
Was so ein Schneesturm alles macht!“ (And that is what a snow storm can do!)

I always get a buzz out of this story. Wanja joyfully and simply says that the adversity (in this case the snow storm) faced by each of his guests that night, brought together the most unlikely housemates for the night. For Wanja’s guests the snow storm was too much and each one found himself sleeping in a cabin with someone who, on any other day, might have made him their noon meal. The hare was fearful of the fox, the fox of the bear, and let us not forget that Wanja was sleeping in a hunter’s cabin which is not the best of places to sleep even if you are a bear. Enemies, all sleeping in one room in the middle of the forest because of a snow storm.

“Snow storms” are not our favorite times in life and we would all like to avoid them if possible. God has a way of bringing us together with some characters we would rather not be with through “snow storms”. I have asked my self numerous times in the past several years why He has placed us in Bouaké on a campus full of French soldiers. I can think of a lot of other people with whom I would rather be living and working. Our “snow storm” has of course been the continuing civil unrest in Côte d'Ivoire. We would love to see elections take place and for everything to get back to “normal”. Somehow however, I have a feeling that this is a bit of an illusion. So it is at the end of three months of home assignment in Germany, we are in the middle of preparing our return to our “snow storm” where, incidentally, we hope to find no real snow!

One of the highlights of the past several months for us has been getting back in contact with many of our friends and supporters here in Germany. We have enjoyed a number of different things ranging from cold winter walks to fantastic meals together while working on various and sundry projects. But the best has been the challenge to persevere in our walk with the Father through our fellowship here in Germany. Theirs is not an easy lot to follow Christ in a country like this where, to proclaim your attachment to God is a bit like saying you have a dreaded infectious disease. We have been inspired by those who have, through difficult life situations, remained faithful. Preparing to leave Germany and hop back into our West African roles we are a bit sad. We will not miss the cold and the snow but we will miss the fellowship.

Many of you know that we had a party to celebrate 50 years of marriage for my folks. We flew from Germany to Oregon the 13th of October for 2 weeks to spend some time together as a family. On Saturday, the 25th of October we celebrated my folks’ 50th along with relatives from all over the state and about 200 friends. It was a lot of fun seeing people we hadn’t seen in years. Following the party our entire family headed off for several days together on the Oregon Coast.

For the first time in 10 years my parents had all of their children together, all at the same time and in one place, with all of their spouses and assorted offspring. We made a squad of 19 individuals all together. We were able to spend a couple of days together and had a wild time cooking, playing, looking at photos, and walking on the beach in Yachats, Oregon. The range in ages made for some interesting conversations and creative cooking combinations. One outstanding blessing for us was the great weather we had on the Oregon coast the end of October. It was shorts and t-shirts weather on the beach and some of the younger ones even found themselves rolling in a very cold surf, albeit unintentionally. Great times like these come far too seldom it would seem. We thank God for each occasion He gives us to be with family.

Once again I find myself out of room having written far too much for your tired eyes. Thanks for letting us share with you our variously unsettled lives. May you have a great holiday season full of thankfulness for what God has done in your lives.

Rod and Angelika

10 September 2008

Guests and Elections

It has been said that having guests in one's home is better than accumulating riches. If that is the case then we have become extremely wealthy in the last three months. As I sit here at the end of a very long and full summer of ministry and fellowship, I am beginning to believe this saying. During this summer we have hosted no less than 50 people, all but 4 spending at least one night and many of them several. Of these guests we hosted 24 Americans, 26 Ivorians and one guy from France... that is not counting the 200 plus French troops that live on this campus with us. Overall most of our guests were a joy to have and we are richer for their visits. After nearly 3 years on this campus with few visitors, this summer seems like its the turn about on that score. Most of our guests were young the youngest being nearly a year old and the oldest… let's say he was older than me!

Some of these arrived and left on public transport and some arrived in private cars. Some we had to pickup either in Abidjan or in Bamako, Mali. During their different stays they all had to eat and some of them even took baths! Some came to work with orphans in a local orphanage and some were here for a break. Some came for work related issues and some just for kicks. Perhaps the greatest thing about hosting all of these people was the pleasure of getting to see them connect with each other. Some of our guests came knowing better French than we do and others without any other language than English to get them through the day. As a result we had many interesting and at times confusing conversations around the table as we tried to integrate everyone.

It was a challenge to deal with young American kids who have, as we can testify, very different values from their Ivorian counterparts. It was a challenge to integrate young Ivorians with young Americans and to have them work together. At times it was too much for us as we will admit but then again to be challenged is a great thing. Life without challenges is like a plant growing without a dry spell. It would never learn to sink its roots deep to find good sources without the challenge of the dry season. So it is we have come through a challenging summer with a ton of guests, the last two of which we just put on their flight back to Oregon last night. Did we have fun? You bet! Did it tire us out? Sure! Will we do it again? Absolutely! “Bring- em-on!” is what I say.

At the same time we have been approached by several different groups who have expressed an interest in renting part or all of the ICA campus in Bouaké. It is good news as we are hearing more and more of troop withdrawal from the French command in Abidjan. Officially they have said that following the November 30th elections that they will begin withdrawal. Of course we all wonder about these elections. Will they happen or not? It would seem that the official word is “Yes!” Of course much of that is political rhetoric with which we are quite familiar. So goes that saga of the now 6 year war in Côte d'Ivoire which has really been a relatively peaceful war if such is possible. The latest street talk is that elections will probably not happen until February 2009, which is still a crap shoot if you ask me. National elections seem to be the new “fix everybody's problem” solution that the International Community is trying to sell in a world where we know that elections will fix nothing. How do you go through life knowing that?

23 August 2008

Back in Bouaké... On the 2nd Attempt!

Finally last night at about 17h30 I rolled into Bouaké where the roads were uncharacteristically free. Having spent too many days on the road it was good to get back to what we find familiar albeit frustrating at times. It seems that the rebels have accepted whatever it was that their chiefs have told them and they are once again going to let traffic flow after a fashion, normally. When we saw them parading about the other night it looked like it was war again. Just to rectify my last story, at about 22h30 the rebels opened the blockade creating a blockade of another sort as all the vehicles on either side of the barriers tried to get through at once creating a 2 hour traffic jamb for probably 2 kilometers.

I was not there but back in Korhogo where I rested easy and was able to help assemble the new antenna for the Radio Sinaï. They had received the hardware from HCJB earlier in the week but had no idea how to assemble and install it. We worked through the morning and by 15h00 we had most of it together and straightened out. Now they simply need to adjust the wave lengths and then I get to climb to the top again and lower the old antenna and mount the new. Sounds simple but it has to be done while hanging off a 42 meter tower which I cannot sit inside. After working on some larger towers, I am beginning to hate this thing! Oh well, at least we think that we can be sure that it is not going to fall over any time soon. And hopefully Radio Sinaï can be back on the air in full force.

Rod Ragsdale

please reply to: rags@worldventure.net

cell: (225) (Côte d'Ivoire)

Skype: rod.ragsdale

Blog : ragsdalerag.blogspot.com

Blocked at Bouaké

Today I find myself once again in Korhogo after trying in vain last night to enter Bouaké. It would seem that the rebels in Bouaké are once again dissatisfied with the promised “payments” for laying down their arms and they have sealed off the city to all vehicles coming from either the north or the south. 

Yesterday morning, after about two weeks on the road I was looking forward to returning home to my own bed and seeing the guys I had left in charge of things on the Bouaké campus. Angelika and our short term girls had left from Ferké direct to Bouaké with one vehicle and I took the second to pick- up our trailer and a few other items in Korhogo where I had to see several people before heading for Bouaké

By about 12h00 noon I was on the road. When I arrived in Katiola (50 km north of Bouaké) I received a message from Angelika saying that the roads in Bouaké were all blocked. They had made it to a friend's place on the northwest side of town and were waiting it out. Not being sure if I should proceed or not I stopped to greet the pastor Coulibaly Amegnan in Katiola. We talked for about two hours while we waited to hear from Angelika. She finally called to let me know that the roads were open and that the way was clear.

With this assurance I asked for the road and set off for Bouaké. Arriving in at the outskirts of Bouaké I realize that there was a problem. Having lived in this precarious country for several years it seems that many people have learned to not drive into what looks like a confused situation. I stopped well outside of town along with others to find out what the story was. Of course the stories were many and varied. Some said that the road was blocked because the rebels were demanding 5 million CFA (about $12.250) per soldier for laying down their arms and returning to civilian life. Now that is a lot of cash and I am sure that no one ever promised that much but when you have guns you can say anything you want!

As for us, that is to say, me along with hundreds of other travelers, we were blocked waiting for things to clear. After waiting about two hours the rumor began circulating that we might be there for the night. Incidentally, what had been promised was 255.000 CFA ($625) which is apparently unsatisfactory for a soldier with a gun.

With that in mind and the fact that I was carrying too much cash, I thought that either I had better try to sneak in through one of the back roads or return to Korhogo where I had work to do on the radio tower anyway. After one aborted attempt to avoid a rebel blockade I decided it smarter to return to Korhogo before it got too late. According to those within the city limits life was going normally. It was only at the sensitive roads that the traffic was stopped.

So it was that last night at about 20h00 I rolled back into Korhogo having knocked on our door at Bouaké without gaining entrance. According to the news reports this morning the road is still blocked, the rebels permitting passage to only those trucks with foreign plates. And so the saga continues as this country tries to find its way out of a war that has continued for too long and borne far too few benefits for its people.

19 August 2008

Why I Think the War is Over

By now I would suspect that most of you reading this note have heard of my most recent bout with typhoid. It would seem that the rumors are accurate and that I am once again trying to get a clear bill of health. The last time I had this filthy disease was right at the beginning of the war in Côte d'Ivoire after our evacuation from Korhogo. Now that I am down again might be a sign that the war is officially over! Of course it could also be a sign that I drank some dirty water or ingested some foul food. Chances are it is the later. Even so, we are hoping that the war is over as well!

Since we last sat down and wrote one of these things we have been to Benin and back where we helped with the installation of new guy wires on the 80 meter medium wave tower for Trans-World Radio. On that trip we spent a considerable amount of time on the side of the road with a broken down vehicle and in the end a fair wad of cash as well. Even so the trip was a success and we returned to Bouaké in good form.

However, because of the length of that trip due to vehicle problems we took the decision to pursue the purchase of another vehicle. This we did in April of this year. We purchased a Toyota Land Cruiser through an organization in Gibraltar who sells exclusively to missions and other NGO's working in Africa. Our vehicle was shipped directly from the factory in Japan and ready for pick-up the 18th of April. Yes, we traveled to Gibraltar and picked up our car in order to drive in back south to Côte d'Ivoire. We took about 3 weeks traveling the length of Morocco to Nouakchott, Mauritania and on to Dakar, Senegal. After a few days in Dakar we traveled on to Bamako, Mali and then south to Côte d'Ivoire. It was a very interesting trip full of surprises and not at all boring. We were glad to be home however, having seen more desert that we care to see for a while.

By the time we got home we had about 3 weeks to get ready for the first of a host of Short-Term teams. As well as ST's I had to finish with the course work at Bethel Bible Institute. I had about 6 weeks of work to squeeze into about 3 weeks of classes. It was a challenge and may have contributed to my current laid-up state.

As for the ST teams, our first installment came in the form of 5 individuals from Madras Conservative Baptist Church out of Oregon. Dana St. John led the team and did a superb job. We split the team during their stay so as profit the most from their passage. The three guys and I along with Nicodème, one of our local carpenters and his crew traveled to Tiongofolokaha and had the thrill of putting on the new church roof. We were able to finish the task in 3 days before returning to Bouaké and Abidjan for their return flight to the US.

During their stay we also had a visit from Jonathan Finley, a WorldVenture worker in Paris, France and two pastors from his home state of California. Jonathan was interested in exploring ways in which we could use multi- cultural teams coming from France and the US in our leadership training programs here in Côte d'Ivoire. It was a lot of fun being together and seeing the interaction. Needless to say though, our time spent with all these folks together took a lot of coordination and extra time, but highly worth the time.

By the time the Californians and the Madras team left we were just a little tired. It didn't matter though; I had another team coming in from Bamako on the 4th and so I high-tailed it back up to Korhogo to be there when they arrived. This team was from Houghton College and they were coming to help us roof the church in Kanoroba, south and west for Korhogo about 100 km. On the morning of the 5th with trailers loaded and team in tow, we traveled to Kanoroba. Upon arriving we began to set up for the work ahead. Once again, Nicodème and his crew were essential to the completion of the Kanoroba church roof. By Saturday night we had the roof on and that Sunday we had a fantastic time of praise in the newly roofed chapel. By Sunday evening we were back in Korhogo and by Wednesday the Houghton team was back in Bamako ready to return to the US.

I was able to get in a few more hours of classes with my students that week before retuning to Bouaké. On Friday Angelika and I traveled back to Abidjan again to pickup another ST'er from Atlanta, Georgia. This one came as a surprise and we were pleased that she stepped up even though she had wanted to be in Guinea. Courtney is a nursing student and is here for 4 weeks trying to see what nursing in this part of the world looks like. After retuning from Abidjan with Courtney on Saturday, I decided to travel the next day to Korhogo to finish the last of my classes. I was feeling a bit off as I took off Sunday morning. I made the trip without difficulty but arrived very tired. It was there that the end began.

The Sounds of the Bats

The comforting sounds of the fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) squabbling as they sort out their sleeping quarters for the day is a familiar sound to anyone living in this part of the world. All night these bats have been foraging throughout the country side looking for ripe bananas, mangoes, papayas, guavas, baobab flowers and numerous other sweet meats and flowers from which they gain the needed energy for another day of hanging upside-down in the trees that populate the Bouaké campus. Because of the disappearance of many of the forests around Bouaké these creatures find the campus more attractive than ever before.

They begin to pick out their roosting sites at about 4h30 and continue until 6h00 or so when the sun begins to show its light. This provides for quite the chorus as they all try to get into the right spot for the day where they will be well hidden and with the right companions. In the process males call out to make sure that they attract the right females with whom they will do so specialized “squabbling” in an effort to make sure that the trees remain full of fruit bats.

This noise that we old timers find so comforting and familiar is one which creates quite the stir for any newcomer. It has been described as similar to that of a small hammer hitting the side of a steel hulled sunken ship. Having never hit the side of a sunken steel hulled ship while under water, this is difficult to verify that this is actually the case although it does provide for an interesting image. If you think about it in these terms however, you could get the impression that you are a fish at 5h00 in the morning until you hear the muezzin call for prayer!

Fruit bats may be seen by the thousands in the old kapok tree groves on the Plateau in the city of Abidjan. At dusk in Abidjan if one looks to the sky these bats can be seen flying off out to the fields where they will feed all night before returning to the center of the largest city in Côte d'Ivoire to spend the day squabbling over roosting spots, mating rights, view points and numerous other seemingly mundane issues, strangely mirroring what is going on in the streets of the city below them. This large population of bats supports a relatively large colony of black kites (Milvus migrans) as well which can often be seen flying among the clouds of bats at dusk as they fly out to their feeding grounds. They can pick out a small and infirmed bat fairly easily, usually avoiding the healthy and bigger bats.

The one drawback of having fruit bats around is that the fruit takes a beating as it is fruit that they eat. It is not uncommon to find that if you want to eat a fresh mango you are going to have to share part of it with a fruit bat. Not that big of a deal unless of course the bat has had the whole night to eat that mango you were waiting to pick when it was just so. Then it can be aggravating. My bet is though, with all of the mangoes our forefathers planted on this campus, it will be a long time before we are forced to share every mango with a bat. Oh yes, we also have a small colony of black kites that have found nesting in our kapok grove a desirable spot for rearing their young and teaching them the delights of fresh fruit bat dinner while on the wing.