Monday, January 28, 2013

In which I'm charged by a hippo...

I finally made it to the Parc W for a combo camping/safari trip! I considered it a major accomplishment; the last several tries, I've ended up staying home with sick littlers while my husband took the biggers. It was a fabulous trip - well worth the effort, and something I'd recommend to anyone traveling through this part of the world! 

We did have one very exciting-to-the-point-of-actually-scary moment, however.

Photo by Melissa Gray.
Friends offered to give us a boat ride (thankfully they had an outboard motor), and we were cruising around a large island in the middle of the Niger River where elephants often tramp around, crashing through trees looking for something to eat. That was what we were hoping to see! Several other animal call that island home as well, so we also looked for monkeys, birds, crocodile slides and hippos; you don't navigate the Niger without  continually scouting for those creatures. Since the growth along the edge of the river was thick, we were puttering along only about 20 feet or so from the shore.

I sat in the front of the boat. As we trolled quietly, I gently and repeatedly reminded the kids to stay quiet so they wouldn't startle any animals we hoped to see. Out of nowhere, a flash of grey starts running along the shore only visible in glimpses through the thinner plant growth. I pointed at it, but couldn't exactly tell what it was due to the speed at which it was moving and the brevity of those glimpses.

Then we came to a small, slightly open place.

Photo by Melissa Gray.
That flash of gray was a lumbering hippo racing for the water. Those animals can run, FAST! When it reached the break in the trees and growth, it turned towards the river, and plunged in... just as we passed directly in front of the enormous creature. That crash into the river spawned a tiny tsunami, rocking our boat - in more ways than one...

The motor instantly roared into a much higher gear... and our boat captain guided us out of there!

Photo by Melissa Gray.
He and I talked about what happened... after we were several hundred meters away, back up the river and again cruising slowly in much deeper water.

Neither one of us believes that the hippo was actually charging us, per se. We imagine it dozing and sunning itself when out of the blue we cruised by, motor puttering. It heard the motor, and on top of that, the high pitched voices of small children. It startled, panicked and then rushed headlong for the safety inherent submerged in the river. 


That's what we insist (and I will continue to insist) on telling ourselves since believing that comforts compared to thinking the animal was angered and responding aggressively... Hippos DO, after all, have a nasty reputation throughout Africa and among those populating the shore and earning their livelihood in, on and around this river.

Getting charged by a hippo is not the only point of this post, however.

Seeing that creature rumbling along pell-mell but also directly toward a boat containing me and several of my munchkins... while knowing the potential consequences should we have  any closer of an encounter than we did... inspired certain thoughts and rather intense, volatile feelings and emotions...

...thoughts, feelings and emotions with which I've been living for what seems like a really long forever right now.

For God appears to be up to something. As best we can tell, He seems to be pushing us towards a significant change. We aren't sure exactly what it is, but it feels as if it is charging towards us.

Our son graduates from high school this June, and while our original plan was that he'd be returning to the States for a gap year, probably working with someone in our church, God continues to impress upon our hearts that we all need to return to the States at this time... Once there, we will have the time and space to discern the next step the Lord has for us. We don't know that we won't be back to our present field of service. But we are leaving for this home assignment also not knowing that we will.

And so, while we always feel the pressure of finishing a term well, winding things up so that we don't leave preventable strings and loose ends hanging around over which others may trip or have to knot them together is much different this time.

Over the next few months, I'll be sharing about our journey. I'm likely to share a bit about how we, as a larger than average family, prepare for home assignment, how we help our children to finish a term well and then make the perhaps permanent (or at the very least for some of them long-term) transition back to life in our home country. And since I "think with my fingers as I write," hopefully this will help me to process all of the many upcoming changes through which our family is about to adventure.

As I think about all that entails, my heart is pounding just as hard and fast as the butterflies flitting and fluttering around in my tummy and that mild but never quite completely letting up surging of adrenalin continues to pulse.

Just like it did when that hippo crashed into the water, mere feet from our boat.

How about you? 
Do you have any major changes coming up in your life, 
about which you are free to share?

How do you deal with/help your children cope with all of the imminent change and transition that will ever be a part of the expat lifestyle?

- Thanks to Melissa Gray for kindly sharing several of the hippo photos in this post!


  1. Richelle, Change is never easy. Just recently I made the move from Rock Hill, SC to Atlanta for the next six months. I was taken aback by the panicky feeling I had in the pit of my stomach as I drove. I had not processed it as a permanant "move" (as permanant as six months can be). Anyway, I had to take some serious deep breaths to keep from bursting into tears. God gently reminded me of 1 Chronicles 31:8 which has been a comfort in other times of transition. "The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." What a comfort to know that God is going before, preparing the way but that He is also right with you in the midst of the transition. May each member of your family know the peace that His presence brings even as you prepare for whatever He has for you in the future.

    1. Change is one of those strange things - exciting, terrifying overwhelming and yet at somehow comforting - all at the same time. :-) I Chron 31.8 is an awesome verse - God in His graciousness goes before but also stays with... good thing He's omnipresent, eh? :-)

      Thanks for the encouragement, Beth!

  2. I couldn't believe how apropos the quote for today in "Daily Strength for Daily Needs" was:
    "Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that, as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hitherto,—do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all things; and, when you cannot stand, He will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen to-morrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you to-day, will take care of you to-morrow, and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

    We have some big changes coming. We know that we need to move to a new location and ministry, but we don't know where we're going or when. I'm really looking forward to whatever you have to share along the way as you transition.

    I don't know how to help my children. I've tried to talk vaguely about what is coming up ("The next time we move...," "Wouldn't you like to live here?" when we visited another city, etc), but apparently, that wasn't the best idea. We hadn't told them directly, because it's all so up in the air still, and they're young. Someone asked me straight out about our move a few days ago in from of them and they flipped out. Oops.

    1. no joke about that quote! perfect!

      we spent well over a year waiting... wondering... and trying to be patient until God directed. our bigger kids knew what was going on from the start because there was always the possibility we'd have to leave abruptly. we didn't really go into it with our younger ones, though, until we had permission to buy our plane tickets. like you, we just talked about it "hypothetically." how old are your kids? we still don't know all of what we are supposed to do - just that we need to be home for some rest and to consult with and pray through the future with our sending church. then we don't know if we will be back here or if God will take us elsewhere. if we come back, it will be at least 2 years. of course, with the current security environment, we wonder what the future will hold for this part of the world. back to the kids - definitely different strategies depending on the age of our different kids.

    2. Ours are ages 9 (fine with moving), 7 (panics about any and all change), 5 (doesn't want to move), and 1 (doesn't care, as long as Mama is around :-).

    3. you know, since the "cat's outta the bag" after being asked in front of the kids, it might be best to just start talking about it normally, casually. that's really been a big part of our strategy... first starting with just tentative "what would you think about living somewhere closer to Grandma..." kind of things (obviously altered to fit your situation). with our one who doesn't like change, we make plans so that he can see what is happening, when he can expect things and we talk about what he can do to feel better about what is happening. and thankfully, with the 5 year old, s/he will is probably reacting to going from what is know to what is unknown and once the unknown becomes the new known... will be fine, at least in my experience. it is definitely easier with the littlest ones.

      that said, i do think God has given us some pretty amazing kids in their flexibility and easy acceptance of so many changes and unknowns. they do a much better job of holding onto expectations with open hands than i do... might be part of the tck make-up showing itself in that, though.

  3. We are "over the hump" of a transition period, having moved a bit for health reasons and then waiting to hear where God wanted us when I healed enough to move on. We spent a year in a place where we knew we wouldn't stay permanently, but tried to bloom where we were planted there. Our kids are mid-teens, so we let them in on it from the beginning, but that didn't go very well for us, either. The insecurity of so many unknowns was tough for us all. We're now in the right place (as far as we know), beginning a new ministry here, all very intimidating. But there's some comfort in knowing we're at least in the place we'll stay put (hopefully!) I'm praying for all of you that are in transition or thinking you may be soon. It's a bittersweet mix of those hard lessons we learn walking through it, coupled with a certain excitement for the possibilities--the imaginations of what God may have in store.

    1. transition is just so... transitory, right? and it is tiring to invest in that short term - especially when you prefer perennials to annuals in your garden.

      our kids have seemed to do ok - but we've had to talk lots and lots and lots and answer questions or say we don't have the answers.

      i appreciated your comment about it being a bittersweet mix, too... i definitely see and feel that.