Wednesday, September 17, 2008

32 years and counting...

So this Monday I celebrated my birthday here in Niamey. Truth be told, the day was so full of homework, work, team get togethers, kids, language and other things, that it was sort of a write-off. So we are going to celebrate as a family on Saturday and make homemade donuts, lattes from my newly unpacked espresso machine (it made it all the way to Niger Greg and Jill!) which was a wedding gift over 8 years ago now and continues to serve us well, likely a trip to the pool and a movie night with popcorn and the kids and lots of fun. No homework, no work. I'm really looking forward to it! But anyhow, thats not really what I have been thinking about. Paul and I were discussing the idea of celebrating things alone now with our family far away, and I've been thinking of things like that a lot this week.

You see, One of the hardest things for people who work far from “home” (what a funny word that turns out to be) is distance. Whether it is a development worker, missionary, embassy staff, etc, we all face the same issues of distance. Most often, those of us in these situations have left parents, siblings, dear friends and sometimes even children, in countries far away. When there are joyful family events such as birthdays and weddings, we feel that small hole that we can’t be there to celebrate with these people we love. In those times of trouble, hurt and grief we equally feel the loss of not being there to carry our share of the burden, to comfort and grieve together, to support one another. So we go through both joy and grief alone. Well, not truly alone I guess. We do form another “family” in the place where we live. My kids are blessed with a good handful of new aunties and uncles here on the field and cousins who find also themselves living here far from their own families. We do many things together and celebrate birthdays, etc. We are thankful for the interaction and support we gain from these surrogates, but they never replace home. I think of a dear lady I know well who works in South America and whose twin recently was diagnosed with cancer. I know how much her heart breaks to be so far away. And yet she knows why she is there and why she stays and has a peace in her heart. Thankfully I haven’t yet been on this side of the ocean yet and missed a monumental event like a death, but I haven’t seen my new nephew yet as one example, and it will be next summer before I do. So while some things are hard to give up and live without, such as clean air and streets, fresh food, choices in food, ease of shopping, places to go for fun, honest policeman and government workers, etc, the big thing is of course people.

So why do we go? Many people have asked me over the past few years, both co-workers and friends alike, why I would go and do this?
Ever since I was a teenager I knew my heart was linked with the poorest of the poor, with those in developing countries who have no opportunities, serious health and physical limitations, no support, etc. I always wanted to be an agent of change, to bring them hope and tangible training and help. I married a man who knew since he was 12 that he would serve overseas with his life and his family. It took us a while to get here, but in the end we heeded those dreams, that call. Every person has value in God eyes. Whether the leper, the aids victim, the prostitute, the lady living in the bush in her hut or in a cardboard box outside a skyscraper in Manhattan. If we are not willing to touch, to help and carry the poorest, dirtiest and most unwelcomed in society, then who will?

My coffee cup said it well one day. If you ever noticed on a Starbucks cup, they have quotes. This quote spoke to me and has been inscribed in my journal ever since:
“The way I see it # 275”
When I wake up in the morning, I want to know that my family and friends know what I believe in, and what I’m all about.”

That’s it. Simple. So I guess this is my beliefs in action. This is what I’m all about. And while far from perfect in any measuring stick out there, I’m so happy we took that step, even with the distance that separates us. So we give up what is earthly and fleeting to gain that which is eternal and rejoice that one day, we will see our family for eternity in heaven and know we have lived the life we were made for. I know in my heart, even if we were at home and safe and close to loved ones, there would be a void, and i would regret not having taken the step of faith to pursue our passion.

If you think of it, please pray for a lady named Claudia and the cancer she fights. Praying for her you join our team and make the distance smaller.

The flowers outside my house

And while we are talking about missing things, let me make one small note of joy. Much to my great joy, we went to the US Embassy community centre (yes they let us Canadians in- its really the only place in town to go to relax and swim). Anyhow, Paul had got there early to play baseball and he came running to the truck when he saw me and said "They have Dr. Pepper!" Woohoo. Much to my surprise, the little canteen had somehow aquired a few cases of Dr Pepper which they were selling for about $2 per can. The thought of buying them all and thus having a little stockpile briefly flitted through my head, but then i figured that wouldn't be very nice to all the others, so i bought one to drink at the pool, and a few cans to bring home to my cupboard. Little joys :) (if you missed the story of all the missing Dr Pepper that came before, check early june's blogs.)

A pic of my Dr. Pepper before I drank it.

So I do pray that this post finds you well. I pray you are inspired and that maybe you are thinking of what your own passion is? What is that great desire that is deep inside you to do? I hope that today you make a step towards that. Maybe a huge jump of faith, a phone call, a decision or even a prayer, but that you don't ever forget the passion inside of you. Because following that passion is totally worth it, no matter you might temporarilyt give up to follow it. So what's holding you back?


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tamasheq and Ramadan

Life for me has hit a point of no return. It will never be the same. I'm in this country for the long term, getting to know the people, and took a big step to integration. You see, this monday morning I started full time tutoring (aiming for 6 hours a day of private class/reading/listening to or speaking with people) in the Tamasheq language. Tuareg (or Tamasheq/Tamajaq/Tamahaq) is a Berber language or family of closely related languages spoken by the Tuareg, in many parts of Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso and Chad. There are several major dialects, and we are learning the one that is in the lower Niger and Mali region. Tamasheq resembles Arabic to some extent if you want to have an idea of the sound. Someday I'll get a sound file to load so you can hear it!

The area where Tamasheq is one of the spoken tribal languages

So I have now had 7 hours of class and already feel my head is swimming. We have basically 5 words for boy,girl,man,woman and baby. They have 21!
Here are some of the main greetings I will use:

Ma dar tolad - How are you?
Ma ta xallakad? -How are you #2
Aytedam-nawan ma dar olan - How are your people?
Bararan-nam, ma dar ola? - How are the children?

Keep in mind, you go through at least 3 or 4 greetings in a row with everyone, and the answer is always the same - Alxer ras! (meaning only peace or happiness)
Well, enough about Tamasheq for now. Since I will be spending so much time in it for the next year I am sure this won't be the last blog about it!

Also, it is currently Ramadan is the muslim world. This is a time where the adherents fast from the time the sun rises to when it falls in the evening, and they don't even drink or swallow their own spit. For us this has been an interesting time, and one when people are quite open to talk about belief systems, religion and personal relationships with God. The people tend to be a little grumpier i think in general and i can't really blame them. Have you ever tried 45 degree weather with no food or WATER all day? I know I wouldn't be happy. The markets near sundown are just packed with people, the fruit stands sell out (previously never seen here!) and there is huge lines for bread. The people spend more than normal during Ramadan because it is also a holiday season and they celebrate with huge meals at the ends of the days and first thing in the morning. So really they actually eat more, just not for the hours the sun is up. So interesting to be here amongst many muslim friends and workers in this time and we have had lots of very interesting converstations. Last night our night guard had a good gathering of people at the new hut outside our door and there was a village chief there. What a joy to be able to give him the proper greetings in Tamasheq and then Paul stayed out there with the men talking for several hours.

A family near us left Niamey so we bought their guard hut. Now this sits outside our gate and gives shade to our guards and neighbors and visitors. Here is Paul moving it. Looks kind of funny like our truck grew a roof :)

Paul also began continued french studies with a Togolese teacher this week and is enjoying the structured aspect, but also being challenged in bringing his french to the next level. When he feels comfortable in french he will be joining me in Tamasheq studies. Our kids also had new beginnings this month so far. Last thursday was the first day of school for Bennett and Arielle began Monday. They both go to a french playschool that teaches french through art, dance, crafts and music. Its a great way for them to learn french, make friends, run around and play, and stay away while we study language at home! We are grateful we found such a great place for them. They are supposed to be in two seperate classes based on ages, but Arielle isn't comfortable to leave Bennett's side yet, so please pray for her and she settles in and feels safe and we slowly transition her. We are thankful for their understanding and patience of our special little girl. Thank you for continuing to pray for them too. Here is some fun photos of them!

Arielle still has a sprained ankle and complains when walking, so one morning we found Bennett took it upon himself to push her around the house in style!

Enjoying the late afternoon shade on the patio while playing a Madagascar tile game with daddy

Bennett at the gates for his first day of Playschool!

And for those of you who aren't on Facebook to see all my pictures there, here are a few recent ones from Niger i took. This first one is our tree (and now our hut too is there)This tree is more a part of our africa life than our house. We sit with people, tell stories, share tea or meals and greet people. Africa life is community based, and this is our central station!

And finally, a gorgeous sunset over the Niger river. The dust in the air and clouds made it a rich orange and was stunning. Come see for yourself!