I am going to try and paint a picture for you of my recent shopping day (yes, this all happened in just one day). If you make it to the end you will likely be tired of reading and I hope you get a glimpse into shopping in West Africa, but also how God is always in the midst of it all. As I reflected on the events and I opened my devotional to the topic “Constantly Seeking God” I realized how I had failed in this challenge, but I also realized how present He was in it all.
I had not been to the city to shop for 8 weeks and it was way overdue. My fridge was empty, my freezer was getting so low that I had to be creative for meals and even my canned food was scarce. In addition to my personal shopping list I had a longer list of items for the property so I brought the bigger car and added on an extra day to get it all done. Two days before I left all of the oil companies in the entire country announced they would be striking (aka no fuel) and the night before a huge storm blew in resulting in very little sleep and really bad roads. So, I knew even before departing that this trip was going to be an adventure and full of WAWA (West Africa Wins Again) moments.
I left my house in the dark on the muddy and puddled roads at 6:15 am and made the 45-minute drive to the ferry. As I stopped to buy my ticket a man asked me about a teammate who had served here for many years and is in the US battling cancer. I took a moment to share with him about her hope in Jesus and her promise of heaven. I pray he heard a little bit of the gospel truth in that brief conversation. I arrived at the ferry to find the line to get on the next boat full, but I got placed in the front of the line for the second boat. All in all, not a bad start to the day. Except, I soon found out there was only one ferry boat running and the round trip is 1 ½ – 2 hours. So, I waited and in the waiting I read Scripture and listened to praise music.
Finally, I got squeezed on to the boat (see the picture for the tight parking) 3 ½ hours after I left my house. The ferry was packed with people and cars and there was no room for the people to sit or even safely stand. I quickly saw two older ladies and a young woman with a child who were not safe. So, I told them “if you can squeeze in the door that barely will open you can sit in the car.” Well, Gambians can squeeze so I ended up with 4 women and a 1 year old in my back seat. Praise God, for some reason when packing the car I had not filled up that back seat. As I greeted my new passengers one of them knew this same teammate that I had just been discussing and she asked how her health was doing. I shared that she was declining but that she would be fully healed in heaven. As I shared she asked a few other questions and seemed interested so I asked her if she had ever watched a video my teammate made sharing about her diagnosis. This video also has a very clear gospel presentation. She said no and praise God I had that video on my phone and those 4 ladies sat intently watching it for the ferry crossing. The video was exactly the length of the boat ride. I was praying so hard as they watched I did not even realize we had departed. AND, God had prepared all of this even more because we have this video and other teachings on micro SD cards to give away so they can watch and listen on their own phones and guess what I just happened to have 3 of those in my backpack. So, my new passengers left with the gospel in their hands in their heart language.
After saying goodbye to my passengers, I went to do some quick shopping. By now it is afternoon on a Friday which is mosque day here in The Gambia so the shops will close down for a bit. But, I ended up at a Hindu run shop instead and was thrilled. When shopping do you consider the religion of your shopkeepers? I took a seat in front of the fan and pulled out my list. He had most of what I needed and sent workers to get other items for me. All in all, this went fairly smoothly and then WAWA really happened.
After being at the store about 2 hours I was getting weary and hungry and my water was gone. Two items were in a warehouse down the street and so two workers decided they needed to go with me to get those items. Umm, that is ok, but I had a full car before we started and it was fuller now and I had to rearrange all my stuff again to squeeze them in. After frustratingly re arranging things they brought me the last item and guess what, it was wrong. They brought me another one and guess what it was wrong! So, while they searched for the “right” one we were going to go to the warehouse. Sounds like an efficient plan, right? Yep, the car would not start!!! Battery completely dead and Alison completely not happy and very close to bursting into tears or shouting. I really wish I could tell you that in this moment I was continuously seeking God but I was not.
When something breaks here all of a sudden you end up with a bunch of young men coming to help, most of them don’t know what they are doing but they truly do want to help. This can be great, but also frustrating as I did need to make sure we did not do more damage to the car and that none of the stuff in it got stolen. So, plan #1 was they push and I try to start the car by popping the clutch. Yes, I know how to do that and have done it many times growing up as well as here. They pushed pretty good (no hills to help here) and the car tried to start but would not. Now, picture this…… I am in the car with all the stuff, on a super narrow road with huge trucks on both sides, no power steering, windows won’t go down so hot, sweaty and can barely breathe and they then tell me I don’t know what I am doing! Umm, I did take a deep breath at that point so that I could bite my tongue. I got out of the car and someone else (who does not have a drivers license but sort of knows how to drive) got in to attempt to pop the clutch with 5 other people telling him how. Somehow, he managed to get enough power to get the electric window down which was nice for him, BUT it would not go up which now meant I could not abandon the car because all of the stuff in it could not be secured and it meant I had to watch the stuff from getting stolen even closer. Well, I did feel a little redeemed when 3 guys took turns trying to pop the clutch and it would not start.
Now, I know all of you are saying ummm where are your jumper cables?
1.The battery was probably too low to jump
2. We don’t keep jumper cables in the cars because they get stolen
3. Any car I would have jumped it off of had a significant chance it was wired creatively and could have ruined the electric system of our car.
In the midst of this and trying to figure out next steps I realized our mechanic was pretty much across the street so I called him for help and of course he did not answer. I don’t think the text I sent him was very prayerful, it basically said “call me now!” At this point I called team mates for help as I was soooo done with the situation. However, I was at least 30 minutes away from them and again could not take my eyes off the car. I guess it was good that I was dehydrated and did not have to go to the bathroom. One teammate was busy and the other said she would come, but she has a small car and the stuff would not fit in it. Then she said that our other big car had just gotten out of the shop less than a week ago (after being in the shop 4+ months) and she could bring that. Woohoo major win! My “helpers” decided to take a battery out of one of their cars or they may have even borrowed a new one from a store I truly have no idea where this battery came from. It was installed and the car started and then while my car was running they took that battery out and they put mine back in. Now the trick is not to turn off my car and first thing I did was put the window up. I swiftly thanked them, gave them some money for tea and took off across the street praying the entire way to the mechanic.
I arrived at the mechanic (who called me while I was on my way) frustrated, hot, dehydrated, hungry, cranky and really not in a good place. The “plan” was that my teammate would come meet me there and we would move all of the stuff to the other car and then finish picking up the items I had already paid for. The dead car would stay at the mechanic so he could test it and look for a “good” battery, the qualities and sizes are not necessarily easy to find. I plopped into a chair under a fan in his office and when he pulled out a huge dripping cold bottle of water to give me I teared up and almost said “I love you”. He is not American and is Muslim and that comment would not have gone over well. I downed about half of the water and we started chatting and God opened the door for some very interesting spiritual conversations. My teammate arrived and I was feeling much better and oh yeah, the car she came to pick me up in had super low tire pressure so she was praying for no problems the whole drive to me. She arrived and the mechanic filled up those tires, moved all the shopping for me and then even stopped traffic so I could pull out in vehicle #2. Yes, I teared up and profusely thanked him and the Lord.
Off we went back to the shop to again pick up the two guys and head to the warehouses. We made it praise God and got all of our items, woohoo! Now there was still more shopping on my list but after the vehicle adventure and since it was now past 3pm I was done and we just needed food. Off to a restaurant for a wonderful lunch where I treated my teammate as a thank you for rescuing me. I finally got to our guesthouse 12 hours after I left my home, don’t forget they are only about 40 miles away from each other as the crow flies.
I took a well-deserved shower and crashed for the night. I awoke the next morning to pray and reflect on the day before and to see God’s hand in it all and I was challenged with the reminder to “Seek Him Continuously”.
I was really hoping day #2 of shopping would go better and in many ways it did, but I was exhausted and dehydrated again (the temporary car I am using has no AC). When I returned to the guesthouse to unload all of my purchases I could not find my house and office keys. And, nope I did not pray, nope I did not take a deep breath, I panicked. I rapidly threw all of my stuff on the ground digging through it to see if they had fallen, I flung stuff out of the car, I shouted at other people to help and no keys were to be found. I was sure that I had dropped them in one of the 15+ stores I had been to so I rushed back out to retrace my steps and ask if anyone had turned in keys. After the second stop I heard my phone ringing and before I even looked at it I just said “please, please, please”. Praise God it was my teammate at the guesthouse, our worker had found them in the office door. Yep, exhausted me had totally forgotten that I had unlocked the office door to put items inside of the office as soon as I arrived. As I told the worker, I would rather be tired and stupid than to have lost my keys. Don’t worry the following day I rested all day long and I feel pretty good now as I prepare to return home to the village and tackle the ferry crossing again.