Ever since the beginning of the new year, I have been looking forward to the senior couples conference scheduled for mid February. We are rather isolated from other senior missionaries here in Blantyre so I knew this would be a time to meet others serving in the Zambia Lusaka mission, to share our thoughts and experiences, and to rejuvenate before we headed into our last two months. It had the added plus of just pure fun because two of the days we would spend in Livingstone, site of Victoria Falls.
The last couples conference was held in Lilongwe back in March. At that time, we felt relatively "young" in the mission, but this time we found ourselves to almost be the longest-serving couple (except, of course, for President and Sister Erickson). Elder and Sister Bodily came one month earlier than we did and consequently, leave in a few weeks.
Getting to Lusaka, where we would have the first two days of the conference, is not easy from Blantyre. The zone leaders and sister trainers make that trip once a quarter so I can't really complain. They take the bus to Lilongwe, spend the night and then fly to Lusaka the next day. However, we had the luxury of driving our own car (truck) to Lilongwe.
We never worry about leaving our home, even for a week, because we know Davie is in charge.
We have made the drive to Lilongwe so many times, but this time of year just has to be the prettiest. With the recent rains, everything is so green.
The villages look like they are just tucked in among the fields.
I love this! The villages look like the way you might have imagined Africa, yet the power lines and a respectable freeway are just steps away.
Looking to the west, there is Mozambique
Other times on the map, it looks like the road actually wanders into Mozambique.
When we arrived in Lilongwe, Sister Birrell had dinner all ready for us! We stayed in the "travel flat", a house close to the Birrells that is used by anyone in the mission who needs a place to stay in Lilongwe.
It's such a nice place that it feels like we are on vacation!
When we first talked about going to Lusaka, the Birrells talked us into flying rather than driving. It didn't take much to convince us since it is a 9-10 hour drive on roads that don't get high marks. Yes, I would have liked to see more of Zambia, but no, not at that cost!
We flew into Lusaka the next afternoon and President Erickson picked us up at the airport. Just walking through the airport brought back so many memories of the first 24 hours of our mission, when we flew into Lusaka, spent less than a day at the mission home, and flew on to Blantyre.
This time when we went to the mission home, we felt the excitement of getting to meet the senior missionaries and putting faces with the names that we knew well.
Elder and Sister Hull from Agoura Hills, CA. They serve in the Copperbelt (Zambia), so they have a similar assignment to us - all by their lonesome.
Elder Bodily, a Welfare Services missionary, with Elder Birrell, our medical missionary. He offered to check everyone's blood pressure and gave a presentation on the signs of stroke along with up-to-date information on the Zika virus.
Sister Groesbeck works in the office and tries to keep up on all the immigration issues, which is rather complicated since the mission is comprised of two countries with different rules and missionaries come from over eight other countries.
President Erickson talking with Elder Groesbeck, who handles the finances for the mission. Elder and Sister Groesbeck, from Mapleton, UT had only been home for 11 months from their last mission before they were called to be the office couple in Lusaka. And where was their last mission? Mongolia!
Sister Groesbeck showing Sister Birrell how to do something on the computer, since Sister Birrell handles all of the office duties in Lilongwe (Malawi).
Here was a real treat! We got to see some of our favorite former Blantyre missionaries because they are now serving as Assistants to the President. Elder Sagers and Elder Ssengooba ( from Uganda) are talking with Elder Salmon, one-half of the Self-Reliance missionaries.
Elder Birrell with Elder Slade and Elder Duncan. When Elder Slade left Blantyre I adopted his basil and sage plants, so I assured him that they were happy and making our meals more flavorful!
After relaxing and visiting for much of the afternoon, we couples all went our for dinner at Mugg and Bean at one of the western-style malls. It was all too much! - the variety of stores, window displays, a movie theater, and so many restaurants! It was NOTHING like Blantyre.
The following morning, we had meetings all day. Each couple took about 30 minutes and talked about what their experiences had been and what they were currently doing.
There was particular interest on self-reliance, a hot topic in Africa!
We broke for lunch and ate outside on the lovely patio, and then continued through the afternoon.
The following morning, we met again at the mission home and listened to President Erickson's presentation on the Africa SE Area goals. We watched a portion of a video, the recent worldwide missionary conference.
In the afternoon, many of us walked over to a large Target-style store (oh, the selection!) We loaded up on snacks and breakfast foods because the consensus was that we would leave early the next day for Livingstone.
In the evening, the Ericksons hosted us at their flat for dinner. It was only a few months ago that they moved out of the mission home, allowing their previous space to now be used by the Physical Facilities office and a new Distribution Center. More importantly, it allowed them to move to a nice flat where there was a bit more privacy. Occasionally the mission president and wife need a break too!
The Birrells, the Hulls, Elder Salmon, and me in front of the kitchen with the bright red lacquer cabinets.
Kitchen duty with Sister Salmon.
President Erickson getting ready for the photo shoot. He is great about making sure we have memories of these events.
And here we are.....
Sisters Salmon, Bodily, Hull, Erickson, Groesbeck, Birrell and Beal... and now
Lots of laughter and fun that evening and lots of talk of children, grandchildren, retirement, homes (two separate topics, NOT "retirement homes"), and funny missionary experiences.
Early the next morning we left for Livingstone and six hours later we checked in the Chanters Lodge. First thing, we headed out to lunch and a local eatery and enjoyed hamburgers and pizza.
And then we headed to the park to see what we came to see - and then some!
Our first good view of the Zambezi river. People were bunji-jumping off the center of the bridge.
We first walked down a trail called the Boiling Pot. It looks easy here, but much of it was steep and rocky. I regretted that decision because I was still trying to recover from a sprained ankle.
It was spectacular scenery though we couldn't see the falls. We could just hear them.
While climbing back up, we stopped for a rest break and were then joined by some baboons, looking for a hand-out or something to snatch!
and as we kept walking, more and more shots came into view.
The falls were so tall that it was impossible to see the bottom because of the mist.
The natives originally called this place "the smoke that thunders".
I thought I came prepared but still got wet.
It's a beautiful time of year - the middle of the wet season.
A statue of Stanley Livingstone who, in 1855, became the first white person to see the falls.
The following day, we arose early and headed out on a day trip to see Chombe National Park in Botswana. Sister Erickson had obtained permission from the area authorities to allow us to leave our mission boundaries!
At the border at Kasungula, there was a checkpoint to leave Zambia and another to enter Botswana. We even had to clean our shoes so as not to carry over any soil from one country to the next!
Kasungula is close to an intersection where four countries come together: Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
That large truck in the back in just one of hundreds. They are building a new bridge over the Chobe River to connect the two countries, but in the meantime, there is only a small ferry and only one truck is allowed on it at a time! We were told that the wait time for trucks was about two days on the day we were there, but there have been times it has been up to two weeks! It takes 3 1/2 minutes to cross!
It was still about a 45 minute drive on the other side to get to the park. We spent the morning on a game drive and after a leisurely lunch at the beautiful Chobe Safari Lodge, we went on a river cruise down the river.
This is our only shot of game (or anything) from the time we arrived because the camera went dead. You are spared the endless pictures of African wildlife. Seeing the animals never gets old to me - it is always magical.
We returned to Lusaka the next day and then we were back home to Blantyre the day following.