Church Work Mission - April, 2006
“This winter I had the opportunity to go to Africa with a few members of our church on a Work Mission to the country of Benin, Africa. We were working for Matt and Sarah Murdock with the mission organization “Ministry of Jesus”. Our main task was to fence a 100 acre farm from scratch by hand..."
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This winter I had the opportunity to go to Africa with a few members of our church on a Work Mission to the country of Benin. It was an incredible and humbling experience to take part of and below I have attached 3 days of my journal writing in hopes you will get a glimpse of the experience. Hopefully the photos will also shed some light on our trip and the wonderful people that we met while we were there.
The missions trip started with a group of 6 (3 married couples) for 3 weeks of work followed by myself and a father son team and one of the couples remaining for a 3 week stay. We were working for Matt and Sarah Murdock with the mission organization “Ministry of Jesus”. Our main task was to fence a 100 acre farm from scratch by hand. Enjoy!
Day 2: Woke up bright and early and took my first African shower. Just a little colder than an American shower but with the heat it feels pretty good. We were off and ready by 6:00 a.m. but the driver never showed until closer to 7:00. It was just as well because we were then able to see some of the sights in of the town of Ougadugu, Berkina Faso as we left the city.
Never in my life have I seen such a city stir with so many bi-cycles. They were going everywhere and with absolutely no fear. On our way out of town Matt wanted to stop for some bread so we could both have some for ourselves and to give as gifts to some of the folks along the way to Benin. After a great display of bartering with a few of the locals Matt and the driver jumped back in the car and we were off again. In some senses it was comical to watch the locals be so pushy with their merchandise but then on the other you have to feel bad when they are trying to earn a living and making only $400-$500 per year selling bread.
Now that we were back on the road and the sun was up the people were lined along the streets coming to town. Some walked, some rode motorcycles, some mopeds, and some even rode a cart pulled by a donkey and of course there were many folks with bi-cycles.
The trip was to last about 5 hours with road construction, stops for water, gas, as well as checking in with customs to switch countries. Plastic bags filled the barrow ditches in certain areas and at one point our driver even pitched some of his trash right out the window. There were also lots of vehicles broke down along the road but without tow trucks you just wait for parts and go back and fix them later. There are certainly some amazing things to see but the people are the most fascinating.
We arrived in Tangieta, Benin to the missionary compound around 1:00 pm. By now we are tired and hungry. After stopping you can definitely feel the heat. Probably not more than 95 degrees but certainly warmer than the evening and drastically warmer compared to the wind blowing through the car window. We were helped with the luggage by some of the students who are working at the compound for a few days. They are very friendly and help us haul the 300 pounds of luggage to the guest house.
The Mecham’s (a couple from our church) are there along with Matt’s wife Sarah. They are having lunch which we are eager to help them with. Guinea hen with tomato sauce and carrots along with turnip fries. The meal is very good but I am more thirsty than hungry and the cold water tastes the best.
Water is crucial and it is a 5 step process from the faucet to your glass. You first take water from the sink put it in the filter pot, take water from the filter pot and put it in the small refrigerator, take water from the small refrigerator and put it in an igloo cooler with a little ice and finally fill your glass from the cooler. The cold water tastes great and the most desirable staple in my opinion.
After lunch it is custom to take a Siesta. Work begins again around 3:00 or 3:30 in the afternoon. I like Africa. We are quickly becoming Fans of Fans and Fans as well. They are the only thing to help keep you cool while inside the guest house and they work remarkably well. This area is fortunate to have electricity for a number of luxuries and the fans and refrigeration are certainly a luxury here.
We head to the farm after the siesta and Bill gives us a quick tour. There are several families that work there and they are all busy pealing the bark off of the posts so that the posts can then be treated with tar, used motor oil and creosote to keep them from rotting and hopefully to deter the termites. Mostly the kids are working and a couple of Matt’s Students keep watch over them for quality control. The villagers are getting paid for each post that is peeled.
We take a quick tour to see the compound while a donkey is being hitched to a small metal cart.
After the $2 tour we begin to take loads of posts (using the donkey cart) out to the fence lines that have been laid out by the previous team. Most of the holes are dug for the posts but some are lacking in depth or straightness. They will be redone or dug deeper next week by hired villagers. After scattering three loads of post it is 6:30 pm and we head for the house.
We travel the 5 miles to and from the farm and the compound by truck with a driver that is hired by Matt. His name is Eric and he also helps with the work at the farm. It does not seem like we have worked much but the heat sure takes it out of you. I am tired and ready for a rest. We are also lacking sleep from the long flights and I hope to solve some of that problem tonight. It is fun to have Prill and Bill (The Mechams) around as they know what needs done and how things work in and around the guest house. Tonight they will be having dinner with the Murdock’s so we will have tuna fish sandwiches. I take another African shower after dinner and this one feels better than the last, nice and cool.
Day 7: It has been a week now and I am tired of the drive to the Farm. I am also tired of the dust and the heat but what is a guy to do. This should be another productive day and that is encouraging. I try some more of Prill’s famous yogurt for breakfast and with lots of sugar and dried coconut it hits the spot. The same crew shows up for work and I am excited about the progress I think we will make today tamping in the fence posts.
I have 5 guys on my team and they are all great workers. We also have a system in place which makes the work very efficient. Dave (from the father son team) and I talk about how much more time consuming it is to get things done when it takes forever just to get your point across with some pointing and grunting. The language barrier is somewhat limiting and time consuming but also very humorous at times. We get the North pasture completed pretty early and I get the crew started down by the vineyard on the west side.
I then take a break from the tamping to help Bill with some wire stretching. We are finally stretching wire and the thought goes through my mind that I wish the first team members were here to see the progress. They worked really hard to lay out the whole fencing operation but there was such little visual reward. We are now making some real visual headway and I take lots of video so that I can share it with everyone when we return to the States.
After a good morning of work we head in for lunch and have some more of that tough African meat. This time it is beef and you just learn to cut it into smaller pieces and chew it a few more times.
We head back out to the farm after siesta and are now working on putting posts in the remaining east side fence. We should be around the bend and onto the front fence by evening. I have to go to the farm house to get more posts scattered and take Eric along with the Mitsubishi truck. After scattering the remaining posts I catch up with my crew for an afternoon of tamping. These guys are great guys and when we stop for a break I get out my camera for a snapshot of all of us with our tools. They are fascinated with the remote control on the camera and we all laugh a little. We are really starting to build some camaraderie which is fun to see develop.
All of the posts that are treated are in the ground so we head back to the donkey barn for some corral work. We are building a small corral for the cows near the stables and have been waiting for the holes to be completed by some hired villagers. They were working on them this morning and we hope they are done by now.
On our way I take the opportunity to learn a couple of the local language words. I am not sure if they are French or the local village language but none the less we communicate a couple of words, Labu is a cow, Lahn is a Donkey, and Pehl is a shovel.
When we arrive at the corral the villagers are working on the last two holes. We get all but 11 posts in the ground before it is time to go home for the night. Since I will be gone tomorrow the tamping crew may just work with Bill tomorrow stretching wire and when I return we will come back to finish the rest of the post tamping project. If we have one more good day in I think we can finish all of the perimeter posts around the entire farm.
Tomorrow a few of us will be going to a game park to see some of the wildlife in Africa. Because there is no hunting seasons or regulations we have not seen any wildlife except a few birds since arriving in Africa. They only survive in the Parks or wildlife preserves.
We head for the home and look forward to a great meal. Tonight it is onion and tomato omelets with carrots and bread. Very delicious and we have some wonderful carrot cake for dessert. I am able to read an e-mail from my wife tonight. The first I have heard from anyone back home since we left. It makes me a little homesick and I am looking forward to heading home in another week.
Day 13: This is our last day at the farm. We should be able to finish up most of the donkey pen this morning and then we will start putting poles up on the corral. We completed the 100 acre fence project yesterday and what a reward that was. We are now constructing one big corral pen to be able to sort cattle in along the division fence. We load some eucalyptus poles along the road that Matt has purchased from a neighbor.
About the time we get 12 poles loaded we realize we have a flat tire on the Mitsubishi. Good thing it is a dually because we just limp it on in to the farm on the one good tire and unload the poles. Flat tires are a regular occurrence here in Africa.
We have just a bit more work on the Donkey pen which we get done before it is lunch. The Corral that we will begin work on after lunch with the poles we have gathered will be a four rail fence. We lay out the poles and make a plan for construction before we head in for lunch.
I cannot believe how humid it is. While we were notching one of the poles an hour earlier the sweat was just pouring off of one of the Africans and that is the first time I have seen one of these guys sweat like me. As long as you keep moving it is OK but once you stop you just begin to perspire out of control. My Siesta is cut short because I am so sweaty and uncomfortable. I take some time to write in my journal and read and then we return to the farm for our last Hurrah. It is kind of sad although I will not miss the drive down that long and dusty road.
Again we stop along the road to grab another load of poles and it is absolutely sweltering but I just keep thinking that this heat is short lived for me and within 72 hours I will be experiencing 20 degrees below zero temperatures.
After unloading the poles a couple of the students help me work on the putting them up on the corral while Bill and Dave cut and size the rest of them. I notch my end of the poles with a machete for the very first time rather than an ax. It is hard on the hands but I have come to realize that the “Machete” is to the African like the “Leatherman” is to the American. They are the tool of choice and are handy for both digging and chopping although I would prefer a skid steer and chainsaw. We finish three rails tall along the west side and call it a day.
As we say our good bye’s Agema (The donkey master) asks for a photo with me and the Mule. It has really been good getting to know these people. Most of them have been super despite our language barrier and lack of understanding. I have really appreciated their hard work and caring personalities. On one hand it feels good to have finished our last day at the farm having accomplished all the work that we did and on the other hand we are saying goodbye to some very dear people. 2 weeks ago if you would have told me we would have completed this entire fence I would have never believed you. The lord has definitely blessed our time here and it is my prayer that not only the fence but our visit blesses the people here in Africa as much as they have blessed us.
This was definitely an experience I will never forget and so appropriate for my website as I sat morning, noon, and night in the back of a 2-½ ton Mitsubishi truck as we traveled “off the paved road”……..
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