Choking Weeds

Isn't this a pretty picture? Some beautiful flowers floating on the edge of the Niger River at the ferry crossing. Actually these are dangerous weeds. They're called water hyacinths, and they're choking up rivers and lakes all over Africa, killing fish and the organisms they feed on. It's kind of like kudzu in the southern U.S. In some places, there is a mat of hyacinths several miles long extending from the shore out onto the surface of a lake. The fishermen have to struggle to paddle their boats to get to open water where the fish live. The mat of weeds gets bigger and bigger, and the amount of open water shrinks. It is difficult to get rid of this weed. Poisons don't kill it, and it harms the fish and the people who drink the water and eat the fish. It has no natural enemies that eat it, either. Recently, I read about a microorganism that feeds on the hyacinth. It gradually eats away at the roots little by little, killing one plant at a time. It was the only known method of getting rid of the flower at the time the article was written.

It occurred to me that maybe my life is a bit clogged up with clutter that is choking up my life. It's not so much sin (although every one of us has his or her besetting sins). It's just that I've got so many little details to manage that I can hardly think any more. My life is terribly complicated and full of lots of irreconcileable differences. I'm being pulled into Niamey for different meetings when my main ministry is supposed to be in Tera. I'm supposed to be working in the Songhai language with Songhai people, but I'm actually working mainly with other people groups using the Songhai and French languages. I have some priorities I want to work on this term in Niger: finishing up translation work and publishing it, launching the church in Doumba to be on its own, setting up a good language and culture learning program for Niger, and trying to get repairs to the sports field in Tera moving. But I have gifts that are barely getting used, and I'm getting a little frustrated by that. I'm wearing a lot of hats, and I'm being pulled in many directions. It's hard to concentrate on all these things and do them well. Then there's all the interruptions from people at my door. People are more important, but I also have to get some work done.

I need to simplify, but how? I can't set loose a lot of bugs to finish all the work. And I can't wave a wand and magically get everything accomplished. Little by little some things are moving forward, but it seems as slow as the desert tortoise. Maybe I need to stop and admire the "roses" God has created for a moment, even if they are destructive. These water hyacinths are prominent every year at this time on the Niger River. So far they haven't choked up the river, but they are sometimes a problem for the canoes. I don't want my life so choked up that I'm paralyzed. But I do want to have time for beauty and laughter. Let's look at the "roses."


The Road to Tera

Traveling the road to Tera is always an adventure. You never know what you're going to see or what is going to happen. This is true at no time more than the rainy season, which corresponds roughly to summer in the northern hemisphere. I have already posted a blog on the back road. Now it's time to talk about the main, paved road.
Shortly after Suzanne and I returen to Niger on July 30 after our summer vacation, we tried to return to Tera. At first, we heard that the back road had been washed out by heavy rains. At the same time the ferry wasn't working, so the main road was also not an option. We had to stay in Niamey a few more days than planned.
Finally, on Monday, August 6, we heard the ferry was working, and we could get to Tera. However, we were not informed of another hazard, and just a few miles outside of Niamey, we came upon this scene:

Now what should we do? It was already after noon. There was no way to get to the other side of the canyon. There didn't appear to be any detour around. Would we be able to get to Tera at all? This is what I mean by adventure.
We learned later that the bridge had been washed out by a wall of water that came down the creek on Saturday night, August 4. Over four inches of rain had fallen that night, and it was too much for the bridge. Probably the water washed away the road at either end of the bridge, causing it to collapse. Normally there is no more than a trickle of water flowing in this creek. I've never seen angry floodwaters in it.
At the time of the bridge collapse, a bus or taxi loaded with people was barreling down the hill from the other side. It dive-bombed into the canyone which had just been created and twenty people were killed. We heard by the grape vine that eight people were washed downstream and that their bodies were never recovered. Whether that's true or not, we don't know. In any case, all this happened the same week as the major bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Though this bridge was much shorter and only one vehicle was involved in the accident (in contrast to the many scary stories we've heard about the bridge in MN), this one produced more deaths.
Suzanne and I did find a way around the bridge (at that point it was a scary detour of about 5 miles which included lots of sand and mud) and we made it to Tera where we were able to stay for a week. The way around has now become a permanent detour (it has been graded and new dirt has been laid on it), and there is little risk of major floods now because the rainy season is over. We won't see much rain between now and next May.

In September, when Nancy came home, we took a lot of pictures of the broken bridge and the canyon created when it collapsed. Here are a few of my favorites.

The jagged edge of the road and the old bridge lying at the bottom of the canyon.

Me standing on the old bridge at the bottom of the canyon.

Nancy at the brink!