When we left Abidjan on Thursday, February 19th, we expected a routine trip north to Bouaké on the bus. It took all day, and we didn’t arrive in Bouaké until 5pm in the evening. This wasn’t because the trip itself took such a long time, but the bus company was short on buses and we had to wait for several hours for ours to arrive. When we bought our tickets, we were scheduled for bus #11, but bus #7 was only just leaving. Nevertheless, David and I amused ourselves by playing cards and listening to the wackos selling miracle medicines. No one bothered us by trying to sell us anything, which puzzled me until we were leaving when someone got up the courage to ask us if we were military. Apparently they reached this assumption because David had his black and white camouflage trousers on, we carried two army-green kit bags, and an ominous guitar case to hide our semi-automatic rifle.

In Bouaké we were warmly welcomed at the home of the Ikes and spent a fair deal of time in the pool. It “so happened” that the weekend we arrived was the weekend of the school fête, so many parents were visiting their kids. One couple, Dave and Denise Golding, offered to take us to Burkina Faso, as far as Banfora. We also had a good time visiting with the Trosens before we left on Tuesday morning.

The trip across the border to Burkina Faso was very easy and so comfortable since we were with the Goldings. They had done that trip many times and were familiar with all the pro-cedures and the policemen just waved them through many checkpoints. At Banfora, we caught a bus to the larger city of Bobo Dialasso, where we were warmly welcomed by the Conkles. I knew Doug and Karen Conkle since I went to school with their children and was good friends with three of their daughters.

In Bobo Dialasso, which was geared up for the African Cup of Nations, the biggest African soccer event, David and I hired a mobylette and zoomed around town. A mobylette is a small (50cc) scooter/motorbike contraption, and this one blew lots of white smoke. We used this to visit some fresh water springs outside of town. We also took this somewhat fragile machine on a 125km ride to and from a hippo lake.

The road was dirt, with a corrugated-tin effect, making the ride very bumpy. At one point we stopped to adjust the box on the back of the bike containing our vital supplies. As we tried to start again, the bike fell over, tipping us onto the gravel. Ouch. However, while righting the bike, we noticed that a nut had fallen off the pin holding the front wheel to the bike’s frame. The pin had slowly been working its way loose, pulling out the speedometer wire (so that’s why the Speedo stopped working!) and making the front wheel very unsteady.

An African man walking by helped us to jam the pin back into the front wheel, and we gingerly started up again. By God’s grace, we were only one kilometer from the only ma-jor village on the way to the Hippo Lake, and this one had a bike repair shop! They also had the right nut to secure the pin! After an hour the repairs were finished, and we were able to continue happily on our way.

At the Hippo Lake, the beasts obligingly showed their ears and nostrils for our camera, and the boat ride to the center of the lake was peaceful. The water looked so inviting, but we had been warned not to swim there. When we returned to Bobo Diaolasso without incident, I was very bottom-sore and very glad to return the bike to its owner.

We caught a big 64-seater bus to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso and spent one night at a hostel there. On the way, we saw three elephants watering down at a pond by the side of the road. This was the first time I every saw elephants in the wild, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. Everyone in the bus stood up and gaped at the animals. It must have been the first time for them, too. Contrary to popular belief, Afri-can animals like the elephant don’t wander around, and rarely venture outside the national parks, so seeing these ele-phants was really special.

In Ouaga, we spent one night in a cheap hostel with three million mosquitoes buzzing frustratedly outside our net. The next day, we started our trip to Niger. The bus we got didn’t go all the way to Niger, and stopped in a border town in Burkina Faso. By this time, we desperately were running out of cfa and needed to change some dollars into the local cur-rency. However, we couldn’t find anyone to do this. For our ride from the border town into Niger, the mini-bus driver accepted some French francs, but even in Niger we had a difficult time finding someone to change dollars.

Because we arrived in Niger at 7pm in the evening, I thought the border would be closed, but the police still stamped our passports and customs examined our bags by flashlight, since there was no electricity. Asking around, we found a mini-bus travelling to Niamey, Niger’s capital city, that night, and negotiated a price with the driver in dollars.

Our luggage was loaded on the roof, which was stacked as high as the van was tall, and we found our seats. When it came to fit all the passengers in, however, they had sold more places than the bus would hold! Africans usually man-age to squeeze about twenty people into a normal-sized van, but shoehorning twenty-three tired travellers into a bus is a bit much. Since it was getting so late at night, David and I volunteered to stay back, along with a Fulani man, who we had befriended. That night, I laid out a piece of cloth and we slept under the stars. We had to dig in our bags for warm clothes, however, since the semi-desert night was so cold. About thirty or forty other people were sleeping in the same area at the police checkpoint, so it was very safe.

In the morning, we easily caught a ride to Niamey, and they fit all twenty-three people into the van without a murmur. Our reception in Niamey was also warm, as I returned to the house of a good friend to present my husband to them. I had stayed with Laouali Issa’s family on my 1994 trip to Niger, and they were pleased to meet David. David and Laouali had some really good talks, and I especially enjoyed my time with Mariama, Laouali’s sister-in-law, who I knew from our 81-82 time in Tahoua.

Someone in Laouali’s church “just happened” to be traveling to Nigeria during the weekend, so we packed quickly and had a very comfortable ride (compared to a bush taxi). The trip was very long, and we didn’t leave until about 2pm (they did say 10am), so we spent one night at a pastor’s house in Maradi, still in Niger. The family didn’t know us, but we were welcomed very warmly and the next day in the chilly dawn, we joined in the family devotions before heading out again.

At Nigeria’s border stop, our bags were searched so thor-oughly, and I had to explain every tablet in my cornucopia of pharmaceuticals. The Nigerians were making a big show of checking for illegal drugs, but they neglected to check our vehicle, in which we left our guitar. (And the seats were stuffed with coke.) We were the only people to have our bags checked. Every other African who passed through the customs room dropped a contribution into a clearly marked slot box, greeted the officials, then cheerily continued with their journeys.

In Katsina, we quickly got another bush taxi for Kano, and this was stopped several times before reaching Kano. The police checks in Nigeria were better armed than those in other West African countries, and the papers were checked more carefully. This delayed our trip and we arrived in Kano about lunchtime. Finding our guesthouse proved to be very difficult, with taxi drivers wanting exorbitant prices and street signs non-existent, but we got there to find it com-pletely deserted.

After several hours of waiting at the guesthouse (by which time we could have run off with all the tacky wall hangings and secondhand books) a Nigerian custodian showed up and let us into our room. The room had three beds in it, but Kano’s electricity and water were very sporadic. We either had electricity or we had water-sometimes neither, but rarely both. We kept a bucket under the shower and filled it up gluttonously whenever the water was on. (This was after learning the hard way that the water could go off with out warning.)

We had six days to spend in Kano, and originally we wanted to see a bit more of Nigeria, but the cash was running out and none of the banks understood Visa-speak. I enjoyed walking around a visiting the various markets, and David and I bought some last-minute souvenirs at the local tourist trap.

However, David quickly became ill with a double-whammy of malaria and amebas from drinking Kano’s water. It took us a while to figure this out, and David was in a cycle of be-coming dehydrated, drinking and becoming dehydrated be-fore a missionary told us the water was bad. We killed the malaria with our handy-dandy Halfan, but the amebas continued on the rampage until he received treatment in the Netherlands.

Needless to say, Nigeria wasn’t very comfortable for David, and by this time we were looking forward to being out of the perpetual dust and incessant begging. On our last day we had spent all our money (save the taxi fare to the airport), so we shared a tomato as our only meal. However, we were expecting a miracle, so when a missionary came around with some letters to post in Europe and the $ to cover the postage, we jumped at the chance.

We were also offered a ride to the airport with some other missionaries who were seeing their visiting parents off, so we had more money than we needed. At the airport, we had the equivalent of three good meals before we boarded our KLM flight for Amsterdam.

Upon our arrival, we put most of our luggage in some lockers at the airport, then we caught a super-speedy train for a town called Ede. All we had was an address and phone number of someone we met in Ghana, and we wanted to pay her back some money. Once in Ede, we called her and she came and met us at the train station.

Her parents were delighted to have us visit, so we stayed with them for five days. Their family doctor prescribed some medicine for David (which actually made him sicker but must have killed the bugs)! I visited some nearby towns and posed in front of the obligatory windmill.

We enjoyed visiting such an advanced country after Africa, and we marveled at how clean and efficient everything was. Our hosts took us around different parts of the Netherlands, and we saw much more than we would have if we had been on our own. When it came time to leave, we were ready to move on, but sad to say goodbye to our newfound friends.