Thursday, September 25, 2008

As Seen on TV!

By the way... Tonight is the night! Survivor Gabon is on CBS in the states and I have heard that this is the first show of the season this evening. The humorous thing is that we'll not be able to see it for another year on the TV's in Libreville. HA! You'll want to tune in. Not that I promote it, but I can't help but think that they'll be spending more time describing and showing scenes of the country than they will in other episodes. The filming of Survivor ended the beginning of August, so we showed up as they were breaking camp. The people of Gabon were very interested and are somewhat hopeful that this will lead to additional tourism- the industry they'd like to see grow.

In other "good news"...

I FINALLY GOT MY THINGS THAT WE SHIPPED FROM FRANCE!!! You may have heard that there has been quite a saga surrounding my 3 foot lockers that I had sent from France. I had sent them in the middle of June from the town of Chambery, France and now, over 3 months later, they have arrived in our home! The end of the journey came yesterday morning. We were waiting for a phone call saying that the last piece of paperwork had arrived and I could come and pick up my stuff. Instead of that phone call, we got a call from our contact at the port, "Ange", who said that he was standing with the customs officer, "the Douane", there in the warehouse with our containers, and the officer would like to do a piece by piece inspection of our things. Arnie, our business agent who was handling the call, said that this is often a tactic of the Douane to get one last payment for the items. Arnie asked me if I was comfortable in giving the "OK" for Ange to persuade the Douane that this inspection was uneccessary by offering to buy him a coke. So... what would you say at the end of a 3 month long journey, piles of paperwork, phone calls, trips to the port, etc. ? Well... I said "YES!" So, the terms were settled and the Douane released the things to Ange who was kind enough, for a small price, to put them into the back of his friends BMW and deliver them to me! He only asked about $5 or $6 for this, but, with a big smile and a "merci beaucoup", I gladly gave hime $10 (5000 Central African Francs).

So... it was a happy day at our home. Everything in the containers made the journey without incident- books, crock pot, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, clothing, pictures (my mom & dad are again on the bookshelf looking down upon us!), the Wii game system (with Dance Dance Revolution!), folders, and much, much, more. The boys have introduced some of our Gabonese neighbors to the Wii- Stefan and his little brother Claude.

Next on the agenda is to get our Gabonese driver's license (I'm using an Int'l license you can get at any AAA in the US), an airport pass to have access to secure areas around the airport, and a couple more repairs and upgrades around the house.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Port Issues & Flying News

I think that our big container from the STATEs is in the port of Libreville (called the "Portuaire"), but waiting on paperwork. Like everything in Africa (at least all that I have seen), a piece of paper work with many stamps and initials are required. I was informed that every 2-3 years a new document is required for anything coming in from the Port.

As for my 3 items from France, I spent all day yesterday on the "port side of town" waiting to hear that the last signature had been put on the last document for me to get my stuff. However, that never happened! HA! It's a good thing that I'm not holding my breath. It's a little frustrating. What I DID do, was help a little at the Bible College (unloading furniture), help the Bongolo Hospital (running their oxygen bottles to get refilled), go to the train station (to pick up the fiance of our Gabonese business agent in training), and then...

I actually SAW OUR 3 ITEMS!!! In fact, I was allowed to touch them as they were sitting in the corner of a mostly empty warehouse near the port! The two footlockers did not appear to have been opened and they all seem to be in great shape. What a journey they have been on!

Needless to say, it was bittersweet to get to see them, but, because of one official who is dragging his feet (he didn't come to work yesterday), I don't get to take them.

So... the wait goes on.

Two days ago, a ship sank at the port- we're happy that it was not our ship!

In other "non-port" news...

I had coffee this morning with Egmont. If you remember, Egmont's company is helping me get my Gabonese flight permit in their twin-engine aircraft (Beechcraft Baron). However, the person who will perform my "verification flight" arrives in Gabon on Friday for about a week stay and I am not ready at all! Egmont has been out of town for the past 2 weeks, so I haven't been doing any flying. Now, Egmont is back in town, but has already left again (after we had coffee) until Saturday! The crisis is that he wants me to pass this thing so that I can do his flying for him and he can go on vacation... AND... the examiner is only in town for a week!

Well... if I am not comfortable with flying the airplane, I'll get in it and make a fool of myself! I let him know this morning that I will not do this. Am I being ridiculous about this? I don't think so. I told him that I need a minimum of 2 hours of flight time and some coaching time from him to make this happen. He assured me that Sunday afternoon we will fly and perhaps some time on Monday morning, if he does not have a flight. The problem is that his company's arrangement with him as that they call him, at the drop of a hat, and say that they're ready to go somewhere. What a life.

So, please pray that this all comes together. I'd like to fly with Egmont, but it is not all together necessary.

That's the update for now.

ps. While at the port, I had my first hamburger in Gabon... a double cheese-burger oozing with slimy american-style sauce! A little peice of Heaven!

Monday, September 22, 2008

RDV with the VIP's

(RDV= Rendez-Vous)

Today I put on the old pilot uniform to meet some VIP's.

I traveled with Serge, the administrator of the Bongolo Hospital, to visit two government officials. The first stop was to the civil aviation ministry where we met the director of aviation transport. He is a believer and said that they are very happy we are here. He affirmed to me that everything seems in order for us to proceed with our work. After getting a photo with him, we were on our way. Our second stop wast to the minister of Health. While walking between buildings, we saw him in the parking lot and chatted briefly there. He was on his way to a meeting and couldn't talk long. He also mentioned that he is happy that the air service is close to starting and that he "has an open heart to the Bongolo Hospital"- meaning he loves what they are doing. It is great to have these people on board with what we're trying to accomplish.

After the government VIP's, it was time to visit the church VIP's. We went to the south end of Libreville which is home to CEFTAC, the Bible college. The college is just getting back in session for the new semester. It is also the home of the C&MA- Gabon headquarters. We met and chatted with the director of the college as well as the Vice President of the denomination- I got a photo with these guys as well.

So, even though I did not get to the port, we were able to get to these meetings. Very profitable day!

Tomorrow morning, my hope is to get our newsletter out via email, and then, by 11am, I hope to be at the port, loading our stuff from France! However, as you may conclude by now, I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Church & the US Embassy

Life is moving on here in Libreville.

Sunday morning, we attending church in a neighborhood of Libreville called Alibendeng. It has a congregation of about 300. The church is brick walls with the roof suspended about 5 or 6 feet above, leaving room for breezes to flow around. The seating was in 3 sections, on sloping ground toward the stage. All the children and youth sit in the far left section.

It was the last Sunday for thier pastor in training. He and his family had been there all summer. He is a student from "CEFTAC" the Bible school on the other side of Libreville. He'll move out of the church's parsonage and back into the family dormitory on campus. The church took up a love offering which included gifts of food, money, and material for making clothing. His wife was the worship leader that morning and they have 3 children. It was moving for me to whatch this church pour out love and kindness upon this pastor who had been there for just a short time. The Body of Christ can be an amazing reflection of HIS love for us. Our family has been on the receiving end of much of this type of blessing- this moment proved as a poignant reminder.

The most remarkable thing about an African worship service, by far, is the worship in music. The musicians are very talented, the singers passionate, and the SPIRIT is moving! The song we sang and sang and sang during the offering (rows were dismissed one at a time to march forward with your offering) was "Je suis dans la joie" or "I am in the JOY!".

Je suis dans la joie - I am in the Joy
Une joie immense - An immense Joy
Je suis dans la joie - I am in the Joy
Car Yavhe m'a libere - Cause Yaweh set me free

All visitors were asked to stand and introduce themselves. About 20 of us stood, and when it came around to us, I was able to say the following in French (barely):

We are the Straw Family - Nous sommes la famille STRAW
There are 5 of us - Nous sommes cinq
Mon fils Samuel - My son Samueal
Mon fils Joseph - My son Joseph
Ma fille Megan - My daughter Megan
Ma femme Alace - My wife Alace
Nous sommes Americain - We are American
Nous allons commencer un programme d'avion ambulance pour l'hopital de Bongolo - We are going to start an air ambulance program for the Bongolo Hospital
J'ai une grand salut de votre soeurs et freres aux Etats Unis - I have a big hello from your brothers and sisters in the United States

The congregation clapped after each introduction and sometimes there was some "whooping". I'm happy to say that we got some "whoops". I was nervous- I've never spoken so much french in front of so many people before. The people were kind to clap although I had made a couple of errors (you French speaking people will notice the errors). Arnie gave me a "thumbs up" and said I did good.

After the service, you are dismissed row by row out of the side of the church where you shake the hand of all that have been dismissed ahead of you and then get in the back of the line to continue shaking hands with those dismissed after you! It took about 20 minutes to leave the church! It was a lot of fun, but I must admit that my cheeks were hurting from all the smiling!

In the afternoon we were guests at the residence of the US Ambassador to Gabon! A really really beautiful beach-side home with a huge garden, swimming pool, yards, and fences with gaurd shacks at the corners. In the large yard on the South side of the home, there were 4 tents in a semi-circle, with one tent at the middle serving as a stage area for a rock band. There was plenty of room right in front of the stage for dancing. The event was for the purpse of the US Naval soccer team from a base in Italy to come and mingle with the Americans living in Libreville. The Navy is visiting Central and West African countries in hopes to have them all agree to new monitoring of the Atlantic Ocean in the area (aka. The Gulf of Guinea) to cut down on pirates. That's right, I said "pirates". It turns out that this is happening here, not just off the coast of Somalia, where it has gotten a lot more press.

This week, the Navy soccer team will play a game against the Gabon navy soccer team in the largest stadium in Gabon, downtown Libreville. Of course, our family will be there. In fact, a couple of the guys on the team have convinced Joey, Megan and Sam to make signs supporting their jersey number! At the game, there is a brass group that will play some patriotic songs and a rock band that will also play. Should be fun. The Gabonese military will also have their own groups playing favorite numbers.

It's only another week until Egmont gets back and I may start to do some flying. Between now and then, I have some car repairs, some additional washing machine work, and various other things.

This morning, I successfully went to the electric company and purchased some more power credits. Then I successfully came back home and inserted the code into the unit on the side of the house and voila! we have more electricity!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Day, Another Adventure

For the first week here, I kept on hearing things at night, which is a little funny... we have to keep the windows open for any hope of comfort while sleeping and, as such, we hear every single things from our neighborhood- the small bar next door "Chou-Chou's Bar" (which means "Cabbage" bar- calling some one "cabbage" is a term of endearment... go figure!), the roosters, the music, the domestic disputes, etc. We hear it all. You can kind of tell when a noise is "close" though. I think it was the banana tree along our driveway that made the most noise that kept me awake. Then, one night, I was doing a little walking around the interior of the house (one last check on the sleeping kiddos) when I heard noise just outside of our front door- obviously something moving closeby. In my underwear, I opened up our front door, looked down the side of the house to the end of our front "porch" to see that our night gaurd had fashioned a little bed from a bamboo mat and was preparing for bed there! I was glad that it was only him... at least, I think it was him... it was kind of dark and I was still getting to know people. Well, I simply said "bon nuit" (good night), he replied the same, and I went back inside. I was suddenly impressed to grab a bottle of chilled water to give to him, so I did, and he promptly sat up and guzzled about 1/2 of it right away. He was very thankful. So, even it was not my night gaurd, I made a friend! HA!
Needless to say, I slept better that night.
The 3 footlockers that I sent from France have not arrived yet. At this point, I am imagining two ships on the Atlantic, one from France and the other from the States, racing each other to Gabon to see who will arrive first! HA! It will not be surprising if the container from the States (a 40 footer containing items for many missionary families in Gabon) arrives quicker. It will be ammusing though, seeing as it was sent from the States about 40 days after the one from France. France is closer to Africa, oui? HA! Either way, we have all that we need for daily survival here, although it would be nice to have some of our own familiar stuff.
Our neighbor's pet monkey Tomay (pronounced "toe-may") gets daily attention from Joey, Megan, and, especially, Sam. Sam will cuddle him and actually put him to sleep at times! Tomay is a dirty monkey, so the kids go right to the sink and wash up after their visits- no questions asked on that. Tomay's is bathed and his cage is cleaned regularly, but that doesn't keep him from being in there and walking around in his own "stuff" at times, so... I think monkey's, in general, have a reputation of not being the cleanest animals.
About sending stuff to us... just let us know when you have something (via email). We'll contact someone who is coming to Gabon from the States (which happens almost every other week!) and ask if they wouldn't mind making a delivery for us. Then, I'll give you their address and you can send it to them prior to their trip. That saves a lot of shipping costs! If you can't help but to send us something directly, our address is:
La Famille STRAW
B.P. 13.021
For SKYPE, here's the website to download:
The German pilot, Egmont, called yesterday and said that he may have a flight for me to go along to to Lamberene (southern Gabon) and back. However, his boss decided to cancel the trip, so I stayed on the ground. On Thursday he leaves for 2 weeks for flying up throughout western Africa, so I'll not have the chance for flying until he gets back and can go on shorter flights.
I'm doing alot of emailing with the JAARS / SIL pilots in Cameroun. They are being so helpful with things.
I'm finally writing a bunch of thank you's and getting the kids and Alace to sign them too. So many things happened this summer and so many people to thank. I'll send these letters with people that are travelling to the states and have them send them.
The kids had their first "gym" class yesterday. It was "off campus" at the US Embassy housing compound near the airport- volleyball followed by a dip in the pool. 4 other kids, who are also doing homeschooling, joined in the class taught by Cheryl. Alace says that Cheryl is a great athlete and loved teaching the kids the finer details of volleyball. This was the same place that we went last Sunday afternoon for dodgeball (of all things!) and swimming. The US embassy people seem to really enjoy new ex-patriates stopping in. They're great hosts. It was a lot of fun.
Yesterday was a full day. You never know what may happen each day. Here's some of the things I accomplished: grocery shopped; waited for a phone call about flying; cleaned, did the dishes; dried the soap and shampoo off of my body when the water company decided it was time to shut off service at 7am during the middle of my shower; waited for the water to come back on; made lunch for my family; successfully visited an ATM; had 20 thousand Central African Franks worth of deisel put in my vehicle (about $44 for a half a tank); visited a vegitable stand (and made several purchases); deposited my trash in a dumpster bin near the beach (so my neighbors don't go through it); downloaded music on my computer; went over the calendar with Arnie Solvig (Guest house director); moved furniture; emailed; etc. ... not necessarily all in that order, but it was all definately done while sweating.
We are starting to find a rythm to our water turning off- it seems to shut off around 7am to 11am, and then around 4pm until 8pm. Apparently the water company doesn't have enough water to go around the whole city of Libreville at once. We're starting to schedule water usage accordingly.
We are looking forward to Sept. 17th when a soccer team from the US will play against a team from Gabon in the big stadium downtown. I'm thinking it may be time to don the facepaint! It starts at 3pm in the afternoon and we'll buy you a ticket if you're able to make it. We have plenty of room if you need a place to crash.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Here's our update....

US Embassy Auction:
This morning we headed to the US Embassy Auction. As you remember, I had my hopes pinned on a filing cabinet. The filing cabinet that I was looking at was in LOT 46, so there was quite a bit to be auctioned befroe it got to me. Of course, we're in Africa where you are always hurrying up just to wait, and today was no exception. On thing that slowed the whole process down was that, after they would sell off one LOT, they wanted to make sure that the person who won the bid actually had the money, so they would stop between each LOT to wait for the person to go to the "caisse" (cashier), pay the price they bid, as well as the 20% customs fee.

Arnie, the C&MA's business manager, purchased alot of things for the Bongolo Hospital since they are expanding their campus' housing. It was interesting that, when Arnie would bid, the auctionneer, a Gabonese man, would seem to change his process to allow bidding longer. Also, it seemed that more people would get in on the bidding- this was either to drive the price up or because they may have sensed that the items were of more value since an American was in on the bidding. Arnie got frustrated at this, however, the rest of us were getting a kick out of Arnie. By the way, he's a great guy to have represent you at an auction. I say this after he successfully bid and won on the filing cabinet that I desired!!! YES!!! It was only 25,000.... Central African Francs. This works out to about $55 US dollars for a 4 drawer filing cabinet (vertical), a simple desk (suitable for card games and/or staring contests for 4 people), and a chair. Not bad.

Alace had her eye on a set of high backed chairs and a small, round table, however, we set our budget and when the bidding went past our mark, we sadly gave up hope.

By the time that the auction passed LOT 49 (with about 40 more lots to go), it was time for lunch. The auction continued, however, all in our group took a break for lunch. On the way back to our neighborhood, we encountered traffic and had to turn back toward the airport. Just a minute later, I got a cell phone call from Egmont, a German pilot (and believer) who flies for an agricultural company out of the Libreville international airport. He asked me what I was doing at the moment. Well, to make a long story short, I was dropped off at the airport, had lunch at the "Aero Club", and soon after was buzzing around the skies with Egmont in his company's Beechcraft Baron!!! It was the first time that I had flown in over a year! It was only a 45 minute flight, but Egmont let me have the controls after takeoff until short final. Being a little rusty, I thought he should fly.

So, this afternoon, I've been on cloud 9. Egmont would like me to fly with him as much as possible until we get our own airplane. Then, when he goes on vacation, I'll be able to be his fill in pilot. His company will "grease the gears" with the Gabonese government so that I can get my Gabonese flight permits and use thier aircraft for a checkout with an FAA check pilot who travels around Africa checking guys out. Very nice. I'm hoping they will build a hangar at the airport and let me use some room in it down the road.

Well, the kids are doing great... a lot of playing with the Solvig girls. Joey said, before we got here, that he wasn't going to let himself get too close to the Solvig family knowing that they are leaving in May '09. Well... it's too late for that! They get along great and are doing really well with homeschooling.

That's the update for now!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Embassy Auction

So, this past June, while we were finishing up language school in France, we sent 3 footlockers to Gabon, via ship, from the next town over, Chambery. I was told that we were pioneering- at no time in recent memory has anyone sent footlockers to Gabon in anything but a full container bound for the C&MA missionary effort there. So, here we are, about 2 and 1/2 months later, and we're told that our stuff from France might be at the port, but perhaps not ready for pickup. The folks at the port are wanting to make sure that we have all the paperwork together. The problem is that my paperwork was lost when one of my computers "crashed" at the beginning of the summer. So, I've tried to come up with my best memory of what was in each container.
I think the other shipment (40 rubbermaid containers sent the end of July from the states- VA) is due somewhere in the middle of September.
The homeschooling is going well- I'm so proud of Alace and Cheryl! The first day was pretty full- a little longer than planned, but each day is going better and better. The young woman coming to assist might be here in October. She's still working out the support that she needs. She will be a great help.
The NISSAN Patrol is doing OK. I was really bummed when the problems started. Glad to find out it's just an injection/air filter thing. I purchased some filters and it's running well now. Hopefully no more excitement out of it for a while.
Today we went to the American Embassy's warehouse where they will have an auction tomorrow morning. Today you could go and check it out. It was mainly furniture from former embassy workers' homes, however, I have my eyes on a filing cabinet!!! I get excited about filing cabinets. The problem is, you have to purchase a "lot", not just one particular item. So, to buy the particular filing cabinet that I'm looking at, you must purchase a long wall desk thing. I don't particularly want that, however, maybe I can chat with another person who would want to buy it off of my after I purchase the lot.
Arnie says that the pricing at these auctions can get way out of control. People will purchase things at outragious prices just knowing that its' former owners were American's. That's interesting. We'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Our new apartment

We really love our new place. It's just 5 or 6 doors down the street from the guest house that Alace will be learning to run.

Here's a tour of our new apartment:

Here's a picture of our neighbor's pet monkey playing with the kids:

The plumber is working at our house today- pray that all goes well so that we can shower and eat meals there. Today we moved out of the guest house... so this is a big deal! However, our house is looking more and more like a home. We are enjoying it.

... while I was writing this, we just got word that our water is on and that everything seems fine! PTL!

Love you guys! I'll be trying to upload some photos soon. We've found that we have some time to do this now! I'll let you know when we have some new photos to post.

More about our new life

Having a good day today. Here's a little more of an update.
The plumbing is all fixed except the drain for the kitchen sink. It needs replaced. Monsier Laurent (the plumber) said he'd have it done tomorrow. We also met our landlady ("proprietere"). A very nice, young businesswoman who let us know that all the charges for the plumbing would be taken care of.
Yesterday, we had a great time at the beach... a new beach called "Santa Clara" to the north of Libreville about 25 minutes. Our car worked fine on the way there, but had issues on the way home. Couldn't get it above 2000 RPM without it starting to act like it was running out of gas. I'm going to replace the 2 fuel filters and the air filter. I think there is also a problem with the fuel injection pump- perhaps just a seal. Last night, about 7pm, a car mechanic stopped by to verify that this is the issue. So... add that to the "to do" list.
Today we went to a church worship service. Very excellent worship in music and I understood about 1/3 of what the pastor preached on. It was a church of about 500... and very hot. We enjoyed it and hope to return to worship there again. The assistant pastor got up at the end of the service and scolded the congregation for showing up late... most of the church showed up at 8:30am instead of 8am. Us? We were there at 8:30... oops! I'll blame it on our hosts who said that would be a good time to get there. The assistant pastor said that many in the congregation have children in school and they wouldn't dream of getting them to school late, so church should be no different! AMEN! HA!
This afternoon I painted the chair/desks that the 6 kids will be using in the classroom at the guest house. We also moved around some furniture. Now, I'm able to take a little break and check email. There are 3 other couples at the guest house today. They're all on their way down to the Bongolo Hospital. All of them would prefer to take an airplane ride with me but... oh well! All in God's timing.
I need to tell you about a meeting that I had with·.. Pastor Albert from Lope, Gabon. He is a church planter with the C&MA church there. I was introduced to him and he responded that he'll be happy to meet me at the airstrip in LOPE someday. I asked him what they do when someone has a serious medical condition there. He said that they wait at the train station for transport to the eastern Gabonese city of Franceville. I asked him if the train comes every day. He said "no, sometimes everyother day or every third day". He then went on to tell me that just in the past month, a small girl died in the train station waiting for help to arrive. I told him that perhaps this would, one day soon, become a story that would never be retold there.
So, we continue to ease into life here. A lot to do just to get settled to the new pace of life and new routines. This week:
-Fix car (new filters, wash job, etc.)
-Overhaul a washing machine for use (there are 3 broken and unused ones at the Bible college- I hope to get one working)
-Homeschooling begins Tuesday morning!!!
-Construct a screen for our front door. Airflow through there is key, but without a screen, we must keep it closed to keep mosquitos out.
-Seal around the door in the boys room. We have a bookshelf infront of it (for security- we don't use this door), but the door has a 1/4 inch gap off of the ground. We think we saw a mouse the other night- may have been a fast moving cockroach.
-Get a cat to control rodent/bug problems
-Get a plant to spruce up our kitchen area
-Get internet service at our home
-Get cell phone service (we're borrowing one at this time)
Nothing happens fast here. That's fine with me... I swear I'm still jet-lagged- it seems to hit in the middle of the afternoon... certainly it's not old age... HA!
Lot's of love,