Africa’s Top Ten…

Last week, on the very long, very monotonous flight back to Raleigh-Durham from London’s Heathrow Airport, my seatmates/team mates Nancy and Alanna and I had a discussion that sparked an idea for a blog post titled The Top Ten Things That I Never Want to Experience in Missions Again (but Probably Will).

(And Jason, keep these in mind for next year when I come to Alaska, okay? Please?)

Now, I really, really dug through my memory to come up with ten things. But even with Nancy and Alanna’s help, I could only come up with eight. So, here we go with the Top EIGHT Things That I Never Want to Experience in Missions Again (but Probably Will):

# 8 – Acacia Thorns

The most common of all the trees of East Africa is a tree known as the acacia tree. This tree can grow to be insanely large, but even when they’re small, they have the most vicious thorns ever. So vicious, in fact, that if you happen to step on one, it will go all the way through your shoe (even crocs!) and pierce your foot.

This happened to me FOUR times and ruined one pair of shoes (the aforementioned crocs). In my defense, the most vicious puncture occurred when I was running from the truck to the tukul in a monsoon rain, after dark, with a broken flashlight.

And thanks for asking… NO, I wasn’t fatally wounded. In the words of Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive.”

# 7 – Cold Showers

When it’s ninety-seven degrees outside, a cold shower is actually pretty refreshing. But once it’s gotten dark out and the temperature has fallen to seventy-five degrees, a cold shower is just a cold shower. Add to that the fact that each shower had an uncovered window (thank goodness I’m short!) and showering in Sudan was a pretty stressful experience.

# 6 – Creepy Crawlies

Okay, I know that scorpions and snakes exist, but when the missionaries’ orientation includes thirty minutes or more on how to identify and avoid scorpions, adders, and cobras, you begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe, you’re in the wrong place.

Incidentally, other than the large orange lizard that lived in the bathroom of our tukul, I didn’t see anything that made me scream.

#5 – Traffic

Honestly, after driving (okay, riding) through Kinshasa in 2005 and 2006 and then in Santo Domingo in 2008 and 2009, there’s not much that scares me in the way of traffic. But I have to say that the cattle in Sudan created some interesting traffic situations… starting when our 12-seater airplane couldn’t land, but had to loop around and wait for the cows to get off the red dirt runway in Kapoeta. I mean, I’m a country girl, but that was a little much even for me. And this brings me to my next item:

# 4 – Tiny, Twelve-Seater, Tuna-Can Airplanes

I like to fly. I hate airport security and red tape. I’m not thrilled with how narrow commercial airplane seats are. And the food is just horrendous. BUT I actually like flying. Take off and landing are kinda fun and I think turbulence is kinda cool. (Yes, I know I’m weird.) And though I had joked about the tiny, tuna-can airplane, I wasn’t actually worried about it until I saw it.

I’ve seen church vans that are bigger and sturdier than this plane! When Pilot Jay put the steps down and said, “Let’s load up!” I think my exact words to my team leader were, “Please tell me I don’t have to get on this thing!” And then I proceeded to explain how strong the force of gravity is on a big girl like me.

I got vetoed.

Nancy (one of our Alaska girls) held my hands and alternated between singing to me and praying for me. To put it mildly, we were like a tiny, feeble moth against a hurricane.

Props to Pilot Jay for getting us there safely (and not letting the security guard buy Alanna for 30 Sudanese pounds) and props to Pilot John for getting us back (including Alanna). And speaking of tuna cans…

# 3 – Tuna and Chicken in Foil Pouches

Each day in Sudan was vaguely similar in the menu if nothing else. Each morning’s breakfast was a protein bar (I enjoyed the Peanut Butter Cookie Luna Bars) and a bottle of water spiked with Propel (I mainly chose grape). And each day’s lunch was a tuna or chicken sandwich made with little mayo and relish packets donated by a friend who owns a local Chick-Fil-A in NC. By the end of our time in Sudan, our team member and “chef” Nova, had creatively doctored the chicken to make BBQ chicken sandwiches. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be some months (or years) before any of us can stomach the foil-pouched tuna or chicken again.

# 2 – Pot Holes and Mud Puddles

Yes, I know that every town in the world has pot holes and mud puddles… But pot holes big enough to swallow an entire Land Cruiser? Yeah, that’s pretty rare.

A quick story…

On Friday of our week in Kapoeta, our missionaries, Gary & Alesa, decided to take us to visit the village of their gatekeeper, Luchacha. Seven of us hopped into the Land Cruiser and the other seven hopped into the Toyota and headed out over the rocky, rutted, muddy roads of Kapoeta.

We were all a tad tentative about leaving the main road because we’d been warned of the reality that there are still unexploded landmines all over the area. But Luchacha and the missionaries knew the area well enough that as long as we stayed on the path to the villages, we’d be okay.

Gary roared over rocks and slopped through puddles with ease and so I wasn’t particularly worried when Gary put the Cruiser into 4-Wheel Drive to go through a pretty nasty puddle. But then, we came to a sudden stop. Gary put it into reverse. Nothing. He put it in drive again. Nothing.

We were stuck.

Gary and Dawn opened the front doors and easily hopped to dry land. The others quickly followed. But I looked out hopelessly at the mud and remembered my short legs and gravity-challenged body. There was no way I could jump out without falling into the mud.

There was some hysterical laughter (mostly from me) before Gary said, “Just sit tight.” And so that was pretty much what I did as I watched him hook a chain to Alesa’s Toyota and pull me out.

Lesson learned: pot holes and mud puddles are NOT our friends!

And finally…

# 1

How can I put this delicately? The folks in the remote part of Sudan we visited lived a life that is pretty much clothing-optional. On our very first day, we learned the hard way that the men bathe publicly in the large puddles of the dry river bed we had to cross to get from the ministry compound to the camp. Thankfully, the men on our team rode in the front seat and kept a vigil for us. They’d holler back to us, “look left” or “look right” or as missionary Phillip List would say, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, girls!”

Those of you who have been on short-term (or long-term) mission trips, what are the most uncomfortable things that you had to deal with?

About Sarah Salter


  1. “Keep your eyes on Jesus girls!” made me laugh. It sounds like you had an amazing adventure and I get the impression despite the 8, you’d do it again in a heartbeat. 🙂

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Yes, Denise! It’ll take me a little while to want to get back on an airplane… That’s what the LONG flights do to me… But yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And I’m already working on my post of Top Ten Things I Love About the Mission Field (And Hopefully Always Will!) :o)

  3. You didn’t mention going potty. And I’m sure it’s not because you’ve encountered sparkling-clean flush toilets everywhere you went.

    I never want to experience the following “restrooms” again:

    The cornfield in Mexico. Besides the creepy “Children of the Corn” fears when going in there at night, we also had to watch out for patches of poison ivy on the ground. (Motivating us to come up with our hit song “Poison Ivy Butts”.)

    An untold number of nasty privies in Guatemala and Mexico and Peru.

    The “backyard” of the church where we served in Lima. Imagine a 50′ x 50′ square of dirt, surrounded by an 8 foot rock wall. The only use of that space? Giant potty. So not only did you try to find the most “private” space in that huge area, you also had to try to find the most UNUSED space. Ugh.

    I think I feel a post coming on…

  4. Sarah Salter says:

    Steph, just prior to our team arriving in Sudan, the aid camp we lived at completed the installation of indoor plumbing in each tukul. Also just prior to our arrival, the two-seater, two-shower, outdoor toilet at the ministry compound was finished. So, actually, other than a couple of the girls having to find a spot ON THE ROAD (you can’t leave the road because of landmines) while we were visiting villages, we had it pretty dang good this trip. Incidentally, I was NOT one of the on-the-road girls. Thanks for sharing! In most of the other countries I’ve been to, this would have been high on the list!

  5. Did you use the missionary’s grace? Lord I’ll get it down if you keep it down! My worst was being presented with goats intestines in Mozambique – thankfully some of the student ministers I was with noticed the look of panic on my face & swapped my dish for their of plain goats meat & enjoyed my intestines himself.

  6. Amazing, fun post!!!!

    Interesting how some of your photos show kids resting in the shade of thorns.

    I remember cold showers in the Everglades–open to the sky–prime target for mosquitoes.

    Cobras and adders? Eeek!

    “Keep your eyes on Jesus, girls.” Hysterical!

  7. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks, Sandra! Interestingly, the acacia trees give great shade. And they’re very beautiful, too. Especially when you have a whole bunch of them together. (Check out the pic I took out my window at the tukul. I would lie there, staring up at them, and just get mesmerized by them…) Mosquitoes in the shower? Yeah. Been there. Our little window had holes in the screen. We also had some kind of roly poly looking creature living in the corner of our shower, but I decided to live and let live. And yes, Sandra, I will never forget Brother List’s voice ringing out, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, girls!” 🙂

  8. Did I not mention that our church is clothing optional? Is that going to be a problem? 🙂

    From your description, it sounds like Alaska will be about the complete opposite of Africa. We probably won’t serve you tuna, but how about some salmon?

  9. Sarah Salter says:

    Jason- Very funny.

  10. Of course Steph would get a blog idea out of her comment – she’s all about the poop.

    Would now be a bad time to tell you that the only way to get to where I live is to take a tin can airplane?

  11. Cold showers.

    The brunt of many male jokes.

    But I gotta tell you… they are SO NOT PLEASANT. Even if it is 95*. A cold shower blows chunks.

  12. I guess I won’t be bathing al frescoe while in Alaska.

    Jason – Some good ole fresh Alaskan Salmon would rock my boat, but my wife might groan…she has some misunderstood dislike for Salmon. (I think it is cuz she has never had the good stuff.)

    Sarah – Sounds like an awesome trip. I can’t wait to learn more about an Alaskan Expedition.

  13. To make up your 10 how about :
    #9 seeing cows crowd the landing strip while kids go to bed hungry
    #10 the bitter-sweet knowledge that you made a difference – but still more – so much more to do.

    You thought you couldn’t bring the kids home – but you did, to us. Now we can share the burden, we can pray.

    Thank you.

Speak Your Mind