Equatorial Guinea

The following posts tell about my trip to Equatorial Guinea. Through words and photos I hope to succesfully share my experiences. I've decided to do this on a day by day basis. I hope you enjoy. If there's anything I may have missed, or something you'd like to know...please email me at michaelh@uwyo.edu. Thank you all for your unconditional support of me, both financially and spiritually. Without you, this trip wouldn't have happened. More on Africa here: http://53lat158long.blogspot.com/

Friday, September 08, 2006

Return Trip- We left the church at about 9 PM Malabo time, piled into the sweatwagon one last time, and headed to the airport. The entire Gonzalea family, Abram, and Benito joined us. It was hard saying goodbye to everyone.

Benito, Carlos and Abram helped us carry the luggage into the airport. It was a good thing we arrived so early because it took us a while to get through security. They did some sort of passport check on us all and then had to type it all into a computer. Unfortunately, I think the man typing it in was new, and had to chicken-poke everything in. As we walked to our gate, we waved goodbye to everyone one last time.

We met another missionary while waiting for our plane in Malabo. He was fluent in Spanish, and had been all over the place. He was from California, and very outspoken. I ended up sitting next to him on our first flight to Madrid, and he yacked my ear off until he moved to the empty row behind me. His name was Israel, and he was on his way back to LA via New York, so he was on our next flight also.

When we got to Madrid, we decided to go out into the town and get some breakfast. We rode a bus to the downtown area, and went to a little cafe. It was absolutely pouring in Madrid this morning, and I think it was the first time I really used my rain jacket...I never wanted to use it when it rained in Equatorial Guinea because the rain was so refreshing. We had some bacon and eggs at the cafe, and headed back to the airport.

I was carrying a package with our butterfly pictures in it during the whole trip back. Basically it was three of them, glass and all, wrapped up in some duct tape and cardboard. This package caused me to get stopped a few times. I actually got stopped three times in Madrid...twice for the package, which they cut open both times, and once to search my bag. Apparently I just looked guilty or something.

The flight from Madrid to New York went well. It was strange to be back in a place where English was the common language. We didn't have any trouble getting back in the country through customs, and there was even that much traffic in our switch between La Guardia and JFK.

It was here that I started to experience some reverse culture shock, or maybe it was just a sudden realization. I noticed that in general Americans are very arrogant and self-centered. This may have been just the New Yorkers, but we were in an airport with people from all over the country. When our flight to Denver was called to board, everybody immediately jumped up and ran to get on the plane...so they could sit and wait. Our group just patiently waited for the rush to end, and got up when everyone was through the line. We were the last ones on the plane. By the time we got to the plane, all the overhead compartment space had been taken up, and we were forced to check our carry-on bags, which was annoying but alright with us. The guy I sat next to was from Boulder and was using both his light and mine to read. This would have been fine if the Amish-ish couple behind me didn't have kids kicking me in the back all night. Needless to say, I didn't exactly get a whole lot of sleep on that flight. It left me longing to be back in Equatorial Guinea where the people are always courteous and compassionate.

This trip left me feeling torn with what I want to do with my future. I loved traveling and spending time in the completely different culture that Africa provided, but I also love Wyoming with its lack of people and abundance of beautiful terrain. My current dream is to become fluent in both Spanish and French, so that I can get around easily all around the world (with the exception of Asia). I would like to do work overseas once I get my engineering degree, and just help people improve their lives with both engineering and the gospel. I read somewhere that I good engineer can save more lives overseas than a good doctor can, it's just not usually as first-hand. When it comes time to raise a family, I would like to come back to Wyoming and make a living here either with the Forrest Service or a surveying company somewhere. This is my dream, but it may not be what God has planned for my life. Afterall, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.

Day 9- Today is our last day in Equatorial Guinea. We got up, ate, had our devotional, and made our way to the American Embassy so Garrett could get his passport looked at by one of the officials. When we arrived there was some guy peeing on the wall nearby, which didn't really strike me as entirely odd until I got back to the States. Anyways, we all went into the front room and waited while Garrett and Andy went inside. I can officially say that I stood on US soil while in Africa. The ambassador Garrett talked to said it was a good thing that we stopped by to get his passport checked out, and that she could have printed another one off for him if we weren't leaving that night. She made some calls to make sure that he wasn't going to have any trouble on our return trip and told us to call her if we did.

After the embassy, we all went back to the school to hang out with the kids again. One thing I noticed is that the education here is very basic. For example, at one point Garrett was explaining to Benito (one of the drama team guys) about some cheap earthquake-proof houses one of the professors here helped to build in Mexico, and Benito asked if the earthquakes were caused by the mass amounts of people. It's not that Benito isn't bright, he is in fact very sharp, it's just that he had no way of knowing about plate tectonics or anything like that. It's things like this that we people in America take for granted all the time. I would say that I'm a pretty down to earth guy, but this trip really emphasized all the little things that I take for granted all the time.

I was glad to be back at the school and hang out with the little kids. If there was one thing that really touched my heart on this trip, it was definitely the kids and how constantly joyful they are. Most of them were sick in someway, but you couldn't wipe those smiles or glittering smiles off their faces if you tried.

This time, I got to ride back with the kids as they were all dropped off. I had wanted to do that since the first day when I got out at the church. This allowed me to see a huge portion of the city, not just the little part that I had been staying in. Most of the kids we dropped off were in really slummy parts of the city, and they hardly ever had anyone waiting for them. Suza, the cutest girl in the world, was one of the only ones who had a parent waiting for her as we dropped her off.

During the afternoon, we went back to the shop with the vendors that Carlos knew. There are the most beautiful pictures made entirely of butterfly wings here that are very unique to Africa. Stokes, Garrett, Bolzer, Andy and I all decided to pool some money and get six of them. I encourage you to stop by my parents house to see them, I guarantee you will be impressed.

Day 8- Today was our day to shop and be tourists. I wasn't really looking forward to it, and kind of felt like there was more we could have been doing. It turned out being alright, and everybody seemed to have a good time. If we saw something we like, we were supposed to get Carlos or one of the locals to barter for us.

The vendors at most of the shops we went to were either intoxicated already, or noticed that we were white and gave us outrageously high prices for their stuff. Carlos knew the vendors at one of the shops we went to, so their prices were reasonable. Unfortunately, it was the second shop we went to, so we didn't really realize it. Most of the items were little hand carved animals, or wallets...stuff like that. I didn't really want a trinket, I wanted to find something unique to the part of the world I was in.

After we stopped at a few of the shops, we went to one of the markets nearby. It was very densely packed with just stuff....clothing, food, furniture, toys, games, mattresses, tools...everything. In honor of the World Cup, Garrett, Stokes and I all wanted to get some Equatorial Guinea soccer jerseys. While we were doing this, another military official stopped Andy and asked to see his identification...once again trying to eventually get some money out of him. Carlos quickly shot down his efforts once again.

Togo was playing South Korea while we were in the market. Every stand we passed had a TV with this game playing on it. At one point, Togo scored a goal and the whole market absolutely erupted! It was insane! One of the vendors decided to point out how horrible the US is at soccer, and told us that we lost by 3-0 to the Czech Republic. We had to quietly agree, but knew that they are definitely getting better.

George and Kileto were leaving the next day, so that night we had a little council. We talked about things that went well, and things that could have gone better. It was like our debriefing session. For the most part, the only complaints were about the occasional lack of organization and passing down of information that I mentioned earlier.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Day 7- Today was our day to just completely relax, hang out, and build relationships with all the people we've been working with. We woke up to the sounds of the ocean, it was wonderful. Stokes actually felt a little ashamed, because he had to wrap something around his head to keep the ocean noise down during the night so he could get to sleep. I slept on my pad on the ground, and had to watch out for the little hermit crabs scurrying all over the place.

Two of the girls on the drama team had caught a turtle earlier in the morning, and were waiting to show it to us. We heard "tortuga" and came running. It was a baby sea turtle, a very beautiful creature.

Not too long after we woke up the fishermen started bringing out their canoes to go fishing. These are the type of canoes that are carved completely out of one tree. They gave us some rides in them, and let us goof off in a few of the extras beforehand. Stokes and I went out a little ways with one guy, and he told us it was deep enough to dive in. I did, Stokes didn't...I ended up swimming back to shore. It's funny that the first time I swam in the Atlantic was off the coast of Africa, I never would have foreseen that one.

Benito and Juan Pedro busied themselves setting up a small soccer field on the beach, while the rest of us played around in the ocean. Once we were done in the ocean, we all came and got a small soccer game going. It was a lot of fun. While we were playing soccer, the people that weren't playing busied themselves barbecuing chicken and plantanes over an open fire. That was quite possibly the best chicken I've ever had. The plantanes were a little dry...they seemed like I was eating a plain baked potato, only drier.

Today was most definitely the day that our relationships with everybody grew the most. I treasured it immensely.

Day 6- We got up early today in order to clean up our stuff and get the church ready for the Sunday morning service we thought was at 8 or 8:30. However, being as we were on Africa time, the service didn't actually start until about 10. This time Andy was told that he would be speaking, and had a little more time to prepare something.

After the service, I went outside to investigate a yellow string hanging between two bushes that I noticed from inside. It turned out to be a huge spider's web. The sprawled out spider was about the size of my hand. We took some nice close up shots with it, only to find out later that it is a fairly poisonous and dangerous species.

This afternoon, Garrett and I went out with Francisco, Juan Manuel, and young local man about our age. When he was very young, he had planted a coconut tree in his "backyard". The tree was now full grown, and he gladly shimmied 30 feet up it and tossed down about eight coconuts. This is just another example of the abundant generosity of the people here. Garrett then entertained everybody by juggling the coconuts, while Francisco and the local cut them up with a machete for us to eat and drink.

We showed the film in Luba that night. We had a bit of extra time before out showing, so we stopped by one of the plazas near the ocean and played some soccer with a bunch of teenagers. We held our own...I think I even scored a goal. As we were leaving, all the little kids gave us soccer super star names. Stokes was Ronaldo, Garrett was Henry, and I was Ballack.

I gave my testimony between reels again tonight. I think I did much better, and didn't leave anything out of it. The showing tonight was one of our best...there was at least 30 people saved. One military guy came forward after the film and said that he has been possessed since he arrived in Equatorial Guinea. Carlos and George spent a lot of time with him.

One of my only complaints about the trip is the occasional lack of organization and passing of information down to everyone. For example, after the showing a bunch of teenagers approached me asking for Bibles, and wondering where the nearest churches are, and where churches are in Malabo. I had a hard time explaining where the churches were, and I didn't know any of their names. Some of the drama team guys came over and helped to answer their questions a little later, so it all worked out.

We then packed up all our stuff and headed off to the beach, where we were camping out for the night. Garrett, George, Andy, and I got a ride with a guy we met at the showing. Being as we were the first vehicle in our caravan, when we reached one of the military checkpoints along the way, we all had to get out and show our passports. The checkpoint barrier basically consisted of 2x4's placed on top of some 50 gallon drums, with some road spikes in the opening...not exactly the best barrier. There was two extremely drunk young guards with super old semi-automatic rifles. Even if the guards were sober enough to hold the guns up and shoot them, they were so old I seriously doubt they would have even fired. They made the passengers walk through the checkpoint while the driver drove through it.

The closer we got to the beach, the more crabs we ran over on the road. It's comparable to all the road kill on I-25, between Casper and Sheridan. Once we got to the beach we set up tents and hammocks, and built a small campfire to provide a little light. At one point, a military man came strolling through and told Andy that we were supposed to pay to be here. This was his attempt at getting some money out of us, and it happened a few other times. Andy told him that the locals (drama team and Carlos) had the money, and to go talk to them. The man just walked right past them, realizing they were local and that they would know you don't have to pay to be on the beach. A major problem here is the corruption of government officials, and their attempts to make a quick buck.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Day 5- Today we went to a nearby village where we would be showing the film that night. It took us a while to find the pastor of the church. We needed written permission to use the plaza. After we finally found the pastor, we spread out to advertise the showing that night. Stokes and I went with Benito and Francisco. A local mute guy followed us around and "told" us stories about the village. This village was more of a farming community, so our advertising campaign didn't turn out to be very successful. There was only children and elders in the village, everybody else was out farming or fishing.

After our advertising, we went back to our home base and ate and relaxed. I spent some time playing soccer with the kids (Olga, Joel, and Benjamin). My camera battery died today, and I forgot to pack my charger. Luckily, everybody else's cameras were working fine, and we decided to share everybody's pictures. I also spent some time hanging out with some of the villagers, and watched some World Cup Soccer with them.

That night we went back to the nearby village to show our film. There was little kids running all over the place, the majority of our audience was definitely kids. Apparently, some Bruce Lee films had made their way over here, and they all thought Garrett looked like him. It took us a while to figure out that they were yelling "Bruce, Bruce" and doing martial arts moves.

The distraction tonight was a World Cup Soccer match between Argentina and Ivory Coast going on in the town hall next to the plaza we were showing at. Ivory Coast scored a goal around the time of the crucifixion, and the town hall just erupted with cheering. Still, we had about 20 new acceptors tonight, and they all seemed very excited about their new life to come. They were all given directions to nearby churches, and new testaments.

Day 4- Today we woke up on schedule only to find Lillian (one of the members of the drama team) and a few others waiting outside to be let in. As a result, we didn't get a devotional in on time. We packed up the majority of our gear and left for Luba, one of the bigger villages on the island.

Garrett and I got to ride in the back of the sweatwagon with the whole film crew. Imagine this little van packed with everybody's personal belongings, the film equipment, and 18 people. It was crammed! Fortunately, it was a rainy day, and wasn't as hot as some of the other days. The back door was partially open so that we could get some air flowing in there as well. Unfortunately, the rain kept seeping through the door and getting everybody in the back all wet. Garrett and I loaned our rain jackets out to the people sitting next the the door, and they were very thankful. Garrett was actually kind of sick for this trip, things were flowing through him pretty quickly. The trip was about an hour long drive through the jungle. At one point, we were actually stopped for construction on the road, and had to drive on a pretty rugged road for a few miles, which I'm sure Garrett just loved! I thought that I wouldn't have to deal with construction over here, but I was sorely mistaken. Being as Garrett and I weren't able to see the jungle on the drive, we were scheduled to drive back in the car on our return trip.

We stopped once at a little food stand selling some possums, and took some pictures with them. The next time we stopped was at a beach near Luba. There was a large memorial here as a memorial to those people caught in the slave trade and recognizing that this was one of the stops. Some of the plants here would shrink up and flatten themselves to the ground when you touched them. Everything in the jungle is designed to eat something else in the jungle. Therefore, everything in the jungle also needs some sort of defense mechanism.

We stopped a third time in the village of Luba to go to the bathroom, and figure out where we would be staying. The villages seemed to be much cleaner than the city. The people living here take pride in their village, and therefore make efforts to keep it clean.

Upon arrival at the showing area, we took out our cameras and started taking some pictures of the area. Some of the locals noticed our nice cameras and begun asking us for money saying that their family was sick and needed money for medication. This could have been true, but in reality the money probably would have been spent on food or alcohol. These people usually didn't look very healthy, and you could occasionally smell the alcohol on their breaths. Fortunately, they were the minority, but we were still careful where we whipped our cameras out.

The church we would be staying at for the next couple of days was just down the road from the showing area. It was a Methodist church. Apparently, somewhere around the 1850's the Methodists did some major missionary work in this part of the world.

We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with this part of the village, helping out where we could, but mostly just relaxing. As we were eating our lunch, Lillian brought in a small monkey. It was the first live creature that we had seen, other than bugs and bats. By the way, the bats here are the size of large pigeons, and they cloud the sky at night. We busied ourselves taking pictures with the young monkey for a little while. After a little while, Lillian told us that this monkey was just a toddler, and that there was an even bigger one up the road. We took the little monkey back, and were guided to this bigger monkey. His name was Jonny, and he was some sort of huge baboon. He was nearly three feet tall sitting down, and he wasn't very happy about his visitors. He immediately began grunting, and showing his teeth. One of the keepers asked if he could have the Coke I had been drinking, and I happily gave it to him. The keeper slowly made his way to Jonny, and set the Coke in front of him. As it turns out, Jonny really likes Coke. He immediately picked it up and started drinking from it.

It was my turn to give my testimony in between reels at tonight's showing. Kileto translated for me. I'm sure it was pretty boring, and I left some stuff out because I was nervous for some reason, but I'll have another chance later. Compared to the showing in the city, this one was fairly small. It still went extremely well, and about 15 people were saved tonight.

At nearly every showing, there was some sort of major distraction during the most important parts. Tonight, a drunk man came and started yelling stuff to be "funny" and obnoxious during the crucifixion and resurrection. He eventually fell asleep directly under us, in the dried up fountain in the center of the plaza. I pray that something got through to him.

Day 3- Today we got up, had our devotional and were then told that we weren't going to the church because nobody was there yet. We were then invited to go to one of the markets on the outskirts of town. We saw the vendors selling monkey, rat, possums, and other tasty creatures...this is what I thought we would be eating. They call it "bushmeat". We saw a guy roasting a four foot lizard with a blowtorch, and Stokes asked if he could get a picture of it. The guy roasting it agreed, but the man across the isle didn't want to have anything to do with it. We kind of wondered around the market for a bit, and finally bought a pineapple...which we ate at lunch. Delicious! Stokes and Garrett made good friends with a couple of Nigerian nationals, who according to Andy will do anything to sell you something, including learning multiple languages. I have a friend who spend some time in Italy, and while he was on the beach a Nigerian national approached him and asked him if he wanted to buy any socks. Socks!? On the beach, no thanks. Just an example.

After the market we went back to Carlos' church, picked up a few guys and headed off to Antonio's church to do some followup. Once at the church, we split up into two groups. Mine was George, Bolzer, Stokes, Errelio, and one of the pastors named Jose. There wasn't anybody at the church to followup with, so we went out to the homes to find some people to talk to. The first people we came across invited us to sit down on their patio. They were a bunch of older ladies who all had Bibles. As it turns out, they all turned out to be Jehovah's Witness, and all had a bunch of pamphlets for us. They only believe in God, not the Son or the Holy Spirit. We kept trying to point out verses that say "nobody comes to the Father except through the Son", but couldn't quite get our point across. There was always something lost in translation, but I don't think it would have mattered if all of us spoke perfect English. It's generally pretty hard to change people's opinions on stuff as serious as religions by debating with them for a day. When faults in people's beliefs are pointed out, people tend to get defensive. I think the best way to spend time with "cult" believers is to just spend time with them building a relationship, and loving them. I think that George knew this, and had dealt with this many times before. He recognized that we could debate with them all day long, and not get anywhere, so he said his goodbyes and we left.

Luckily, the next group we stopped with was much more eager to listen and receive God's word. We stopped at a little shop, and immediately started talking to a guy named Lucas. He had lived in Canada for a year, working with Exxon Mobile. When he got the chance to come home and work for Marathon, he jumped all over it. As a result of his stay in Canada, his English was extremely good. He was very eager to hear the four laws, and seemed to understand them very well. We were a little hesitant when he didn't ask many questions after his acceptance prayer. Afterall, he had just made the single greatest decision in his life. I think that he immediately recognized that this was what he had been searching for, and he kind of had the attitude of "Yeah, why not accept Christ into my heart". Later, while I was back at the church getting New Testaments with Jose, he took Stokes and Bolzer to see the house he was building. Apparently, his work experience in Canada had qualified him to be some sort of supervisor at the oil rigs off the coast of the island, and he is fairly well off as far as the people here are concerned. His house was pretty massive, and he could afford to pay workers to work for him on the foundation and walls. Amazing.

The next guy we talked to was one of Lucas' friends, named Antonio Felix. He was initially upset that we talked to Lucas first, but after a little explaining that it was easier to talk to him because he spoke English he was better. Like Lucas, he also grew up in a Catholic school system, only he was rejected and ignored as a child. He had questions about that, and many others, but finally accepted Christ. Both Lucas and Antonio Felix were given New Testaments. I pray that they were able to get right into that, and realize that they should share what they learned with the other people that were at the shop that we weren't able to talk to.

That afternoon we were taken over to the port to see all the building that is being done. The port is pretty beat up, but they were bulldozing the trash off the land and really cleaning it up. I could tell a lot had been done. We went up into one of the restaurants, which was really nice, and got some water. From the balcony you could see off into the ocean, and see Cameroon. Unfortunately, you could also see the President's palace, and picture taking was especially risky. At one point, I was leaning on the balcony railing, facing the palace, watching some kids play soccer in a little plaza. Carlos came over to me and explained that just looking in the direction of the palace wasn't a good idea.

After leaving the port, we went back to Antonio's church for a service. We didn't realize it was a service, and thought that it was another attempt to followup on the people from the night before. As a result, we showed up about ten minutes late, and immediately given seats in the front of the church. After some worship, and a short talk from the pastor, they invited Andy up to preach. He was a little surprised, having no idea that he was supposed to preach, but it wasn't the first time that had happened to him. He got up there and read some scripture from what we were doing our devotionals on, John 15:1-8. Errelio was a little surprised at how short the talk was, but improvised by extending it and talking about the passage.

Later, all the people who had accepted Christ the night before came up to be prayed on. We were asked to come up and pray for them while everyone else in the congregation shouted prayers out loud to them. It was deeply spiritual, and very emotional being up there with our hands on the heads of these new Christians. I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it. After we had prayed on the new Christians, we were brought up again...only this time we were the ones being prayed for. I can't even begin to explain how moving this was.

At the beginning of the service, during the worship, one of the older ladies in the congregation was praying and then suddenly began shaking violently. The pastors came up and began to pray and comfort her...it almost looked like they were performing an exorcism or something. Apparently she was possessed by some sort of demon, which was slightly unbelievable at first. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is no reason not to believe this sort of thing still happens. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus banished the spirits out of a man and turned them onto the pigs. If it happened then, there's no reason to believe it can't also happen today.

We were able to take a few pictures of everything, and even got some video of the offering and Antonio singing. During the offering, they all got in a line and sang and danced their way up to the offering plate. The entire church service was very emotional, and an experience I will never forget.