Monday, September 5, 2022


Whitney 7, Natalie 8

I stared at the ZipLoc bag, clouded with moisture. Inside were muddy shoes. I had placed them there for the dogs to sniff so that they would have the girls scent. By the time they called in the dogs the temperature was dropping rapidly and Natalie was only wearing a sweatshirt.

Why hadn’t they found them? It had been four hours and the helicopter had circled the area with their loud speakers shouting, “Natalie and Whitney Esson, age 7 and 8. If you see them, please call the sheriff’s office. Natalie and Whitney, we are looking for you. Stay in the open.” .....The air is frigid.

Right after lunch, we were deep in conversation with an animated missionary friend up in the mountains. Natalie and Whitney kept tugging at me asking if they could go to the top of the mountain. Finally, not wanting to miss out on our friend’s adventures in South America, I quickly say, “Yes, yes, go ahead, but be careful.” I thought they meant the top of the hill behind the cabin. They meant..."the top of the mountain.” Alicia who was ten stayed to hear the stories.

Half an hour later, I send Alicia trudging up the hill to check on them. They are nowhere in sight. Jim and I feel vaguely concerned so huff and puff up the hill calling loudly. There is a pretty steep drop off at the top and our eyes scan the brush below. We decide to follow the path. Muddy ravines stretch out continually to our left and numerous paths go off to the right as we hurry faster scouring the cliffs.

We search for an hour shouting their names repeatedly and more desperately. Worry runs through me like a current. I realize how easily you could lose your way as we hurry back with nothing clearly marking the many winding paths in these torn hills.

I remember the waitress at the donut shop who said this mountain has the highest percentage of child molesters of any place in California. The girls are level headed so it’s not the getting lost that scares me. I am praying now with more urgency. Jim calls the sheriff and our friends.

I’m caught somewhere between incredulousness, embarrassment and terror. I look totally calm and collected, however...well, maybe a little mist in my eyes. Two fixed wing aircraft are now searching and one helicopter. Ground crews have been unsuccessful. This can’t be happening.

Jim makes me stay at the cabin with a deputy and our missionary friends who alternately pray with me and reassure me with many stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives. There’s a knock at the door and an eager ranger type wants clothes or shoes for the dogs to sniff. Another knock and two female trackers, awfully young I notice, want me to identify the girls' footprints in the mud around the cabin to help in their search. I get the feeling this is their first 'for real’ search. It is almost dark now and the crackle of the deputy’s radio tells us the girls have not been found.

I’m shivering inside the cabin and wondering why they can’t find two small girls in such a small area. Strangers are kindly out combing the hills. The radio startles us. A man on a tractor, clearing land had seen two girls walking earlier.

“Where can they be?” I ask lamely. The deputies are obviously perplexed. We hear the helicopter but it will soon be too dark to see. I am still not panicky but I wish Jim would return. He is still out there.  I walk outside. The needle sharp wind stings my eyes. A police car arrives.

A friend confides she thinks they may have found them but they aren’t allowed to say. A little girl has called 911 from a pay phone in front of a liquor store and said she is lost. We wait. Yes, there are two girls. They have been walking for hours looking for civilization and a pay phone. I’m more than misty now.

Jim is not back. A crowd is gathering. Another police car arrives and in the back seat sit two of the most precious little girls I have ever seen. I snatch them from the car and strangle them with hugs. The officer says they too have been praying. “The guys were pretty worried,” he says, giving me a knowing look.

I’m amazed at all the Christians in this ‘heathen place’ the waitress had described. Whitney’s words rush out with a worried look, “Mom, we didn’t talk to strangers but we did wave to a lady with a dog.” I see Jim coming now, disheveled and breathless. His face is drawn and white from four hours running, walking, shouting, and agonizing for his daughters.

We stood in a ragged circle. We thank God for the men on the police force and the dedication of the search and rescue team. The crowd thins. Natalie confides, “We sat down on the path, held hands and prayed six times, Mommy." "We walked and walked in the mountains until we came out on a road with a yellow line.” She took a deep breath and continued, “I took off my sweatshirt and let Whitney use it for a pillow and we rested by a giant stump.”

Natalie adds that a policeman drove by and she put up her hand for him to stop but he just waved. I smile thinly. Whitney interrupts with a frown and whispers, “We saw a man on a tractor. He left his magazine and we picked it up, but we threw it back down cause it had bad, bad pictures.”

Natalie chips in, “We looked for a pay phone forever. I carried Whitney piggyback to keep her warm.” Whitney then divulges, “When we finally found the pay phone Natalie told me to be quiet and let her do all the talking.”

Our missionary friends sent us the front page headline from the Big Bear Grizzly after we returned home. It said among other things:


“Some 20 searchers from the Sheriff’s station, Search and Rescue, Posse, on foot, horseback, motorbike and in a helicopter and all-terrain vehicles, combed the East Valley for some five hours. Meanwhile, the girls recognized that they were lost, found their way to Big Bear Blvd. and walked to the Liquor Junction store where they called 911 from a pay phone. The girls were unharmed.”

Sunday, August 21, 2022

I Hate Snakes

My  Mom sips her coffee and watches the sun burn the last of the dew off the grassy slope outside the dining room window.   A month has elapsed since she and our family debarked from the ocean liner in Mombasa, rode the train to Nairobi and drove overland in an open jeep to this lonely station in Kaimosi, Kenya.

Mom conducts sick call on the lawn each morning.  This is before Daddy built the brick clinic for her.

A man with blood spilling from a long gash in his calf limps slowly up the dirt path.  The woman with him flops down on the grass while the man pounds at the kitchen door shouting for the houseboy, Chege.  Chege politely speaks with the memsahib about the panga wound. 

Memsahib Eby. (my mom) rushes out to apply a tourniquet, then back in for antiseptic and sutures to do a layered closure on the wound, something she was not trained to do in nursing school.  It is a wide gaping wound, very common among Africans who work with pangas, long heavy-bladed knives.  The woman continues to lie lazily on the grass.

When they leave, Mom sees something at the spot where the woman had stretched out on the grass.  Walking closer, she draws in a breath when she sees a thick snake 4-5 ft long.  To this day, Mom believes the woman had it under her cloak and left it there as a warning or “gift” of some sort.  Africans can be very superstitious.

My Dad took this picture right after the woman left

I’ve always hated snakes and with good reason.  In East Africa, unless you have anti serum with you and few did; a session with a black mamba could mean certain death.  My Mom who is 95 now, says a mamba could easily reach up from the dirt road and strike into an open car window.

Far from home at boarding school in wild and hostile country, 400 kilometers from home, I had a continuous ache in my chest from homesickness.  No phone, no e-mail, only isolation and loneliness.  The only time I didn’t ache was when running in the grass barefoot, skinny legs scrambling, stealing the soccer ball from underneath the legs of the big boys, then running like a gazelle and pushing it into the goal. 

There were no inside toilets at the small boarding school in Tanganyika, East Africa.  Like early America, there were outhouses, with rough hewn walls surrounding a wooden seat over a deep hole filled with maggots.  I knew this because I peered down the hole with my flashlight on inky nights when I crept out of the dorm to use the facility.  I rarely used the potty under my bed, but that soon changed. 

The sun is warm on my back as I hoe my garden patch and as usual, I wait until the last minute to answer nature’s call. I pound down the path, bolt through the door, drop the latch, reaching the seat just in time.  As my eyes adjust to the slivers of light streaking though the cracks, I scream, paralyzed.  A snake is coiled in the corner between the door and me.  It looks like a puff adder, which will strike over and over again.  Puff adders often lay along a path, dozing until disturbed, then strike with amazing speed. 

My heartbeat thunders in my ears and I see the puff adder raise his head, flicking his tongue.  Like a jack-in-the-box, I jump, pulling up my pants midair, knock up the latch and I’m out the door as fast as an ostrich with a lion on its tail. I once coiled a long snake, dead of course, in the corner of the girls shower, hoping to scare the living daylights out of my classmates.

(2004) “There are no snakes in Lake Kivu,” Dr Lusi states unequivocally, “because of the methane gas.” Lake Kivu is a huge lake next to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.  I had just arrived with a crew of volunteers to replace the crew already there with Jim.  Jim and crews were building a new hospital to replace the hospital destroyed by the volcano…”right on top of the lava.”   

The lake is cold and deep so I didn’t have the usual fear of something biting my feet.  I swim out maybe a quarter mile and the waves are getting a little rough.  I see something long and green swimming in the waves.  I know at once…..”A METHANE-RESISTANT SNAKE.”

The adrenaline surges so powerfully that my arms and legs ache with it. My arms become skinny windmills and I believe I set a world swimming record with the long green snake snipping at my feet.  

My daughters pull me up on the pier, hands clasped over their mouths, in dismay I surmise.  They are merely stifling giggles as they fish the long crooked green stick out of the water.   You laugh, but that was one scary stick.

                                             So why am I sharing all this snake stuff?

Walking down the stairs Sunday morning to make coffee, I see something black and shiny writhing from underneath a pile of my underwear thrown on the second step to bring upstairs on one of my many daily trips up.  I have the customary adrenaline rush and stand perfectly still lest I scare whatever is there.  My eyes might be fooling me.  Sure enough, a coil is moving veddy, veddy slowly from under the unmentionables.  My stomach squirms and does some very professional somersaults.

Driven by uncontrollable panic, I leap past the step up to our bedroom to tell Jim about the horror right here in our very own home.  He just snorts and turns over.  It’s obvious he isn’t going to come save me. I tiptoe down silently and jump past the last few steps, with my heart hammering like pistons in race car, flip-flopping all over my chest.  I can imagine the snake throwing his long scaly body around my leg in a wild embrace, sinking in his teeth for a venom extravaganza.

I race to the garage and grab a heavy, long-handled shovel, flick the underwear off the snake, with the handle, throw the snake what I hope is a scalding look and start slicing and stabbing with the shovel.  The head is still on, but I do enough damage to kill him, plus several wide gashes in the bottom step.  I stab at him  several more times just to be sure he is dead. 

Disheveled and breathless, I lean on the handle.  I finally rouse Jim.   Can you believe he laughs and says it is just a worm?  Later emptying some coffee grounds, I find that big snake in the kitchen trash.  It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.  That was not what I meant by getting rid of the snake.




Thursday, June 9, 2022

   Bogota: a city of 8 million people 

  The Drain  

I’m actually quite well known within missionary circles for my drain unclogging expertise and resolving other gruesome bathroom dilemmas.  In fact, rubber gloves are the first things I pack along with needle nose pliers.

I thought Haiti had the only guest house that forbids flushing toilet paper.  Not true.  Put Bogota, Colombia on that list.

Maybe it’s the 8 million residents bustling about in the smog filled city at 8,600 ft.  Bogota lies trapped between a ragged circle of mountain ridges.  “Scummy drains, overflowing toilets, and trickles of water plague the rich and the poor whether living in a mansion or a second story walk-up,” states my Spanish teacher matter of factly.  I inquire where I can buy some Drano.

I have athletes foot paranoia and toe fungus hysteria.  Amazingly, I’ve not had either.   Ever since a missionary friend told me that she had the above mentioned malady for 14 years from an encounter with a shower in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; my feet recoil instinctively in tubs and showers.

I once put a large glass Pyrex bowl upside down in a tub in Ethiopia to take a shower which was a tantalizing feat of balancing bravado.  My feet never touched the puddling, germ infested refuse collecting in the tub, I’m proud to report.  Addis Ababa is also high at 7,500 ft.  I wonder if altitude is pertinent?

After a week In Bogota, I finally scour, poke, and plunge the agonizingly slow-draining shower only to drag up suspicious black particles of a mystery substance.  My battle with the drain tumbles further downhill as the water quits draining completely and is precariously close to overflowing the 6 inch tile rim.  I envision a flood gushing down the concrete stairway to the hallway and kitchen below eliminating any mission construction work invitations in the future.  If there is Drano in Bogota, I couldn’t find it.

Later when desperation forces me to confess, our host feeds me some important info, like a scrap of meat to a hungry lioness.  He ladles standing water into a bucket with a green melmac coffee cup.  “A little vinegar, soda and a coat hanger will open it right up,” he admonishes.  Amazingly, he is right.

After a week of balancing on the rim and bending backward to wet my hair in the trickle of water, I can now stand on clean tile with water swishing merrily down the drain.  

Interesting side note, if the electricity goes out, the little device hooked to the shower spout to heat the water, goes out too.   The electricity goes out at random hours.  I won’t go into the ugly details.

Patricia, the beautiful Spanish teacher with her jeans, boots and swingy black hair asked why we would come to Bogota with all its problems when we could stay in the United States where things are wonderful.  I told her that we love God and the people in Bogota and we want to please God.  I’m thankful that a question about Drano led to an opportunity to share about the hope that is within me.

Love, Karen                


Monday, May 30, 2022

           Keys are huge in the Republic of Georgia                    & it's a good thing!

Soviet-style apartment buildings can vary from 4 to16 or more floors.  Instead of a garbage can for every family, there is a large steel dumpster on every block, sometimes every other block.  On my daily morning trash run across the hair-raising Georgian-style traffic (no rules) on the street in front of our building……. I switch the trash from my left to my right hand at the last minute to heave it.  The key in my hand snags in the plastic bag and sinks into the muck and trash in the bottom of the dumpster. 

       This illustration is not me.  Thankfully that image was not captured for posterity


Construction workers across the street stand smoking, watching the obviously  American lady.   I’m suddenly aware that I have on a short skirt I had meant to throw away since it shrank.   

The dumpster is deep with high sides.  My eyes are adjusting to gloom inside, but I don’t see the key.  I will have to lean over the rusty edge and try to move trash around.  The key is large and heavy with a blue identifying tag.  I scan the depths with panic. Jim is 17 km away at the job site and I will be stuck outside until he returns after 5 PM, not to mention that I won’t have the owner’s key.  What if I don’t find it?

I hoist myself up, lean over the edge, holding my skirt and my breath.  My fingers barely skim the top layer so I heedlessly let go of my skirt to hold onto the nasty edge with my left hand to lean further into the dumpster.  Flies buzz around my face.  I’m aware of traffic flying by.  

I nudge the bag I had just dumped and see a flash of blue.  I lose all modesty and lean in as far as I can, fingers just brushing the key which moves deeper and away from me.  Pushing a little farther in, I grasp the blue tag with my fingertips in a scissor hold and slowly lift, heart thudding.  My left arm hangs on to the side in a death grip.  Arm cramping, I take a last glance at the squirming maggots, lift my torso, and land with a thud, knees buckling.  The key is still between my white fingertips.   

As I turn the men hastily retreat into the building.  I am so glad that I could provide some entertainment in their otherwise mundane day.  I pull my hat down around my ears to hide my face; rush back across the street and up the stairs to our apartment.   I shake some unknown particles from my blouse, shower, change clothes, resolving to dress more modestly in the future.                  Love, Karen