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)

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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.