Friday, October 31, 2008

Goats, Gardens and Goofiness

Thank you to all of you who wrote comments and emails supporting me last week in my tussle with corrupt policemen. The aftermath played out rather to our liking. We went to the police station the next day (I was accompanied by our team leader Tim who likes to go meet and greet and schmooze people). We talked with the man in charge of the traffic division (after several sets of greetings). As soon as we told him even roughly what happened, he went and grabbed my paperwork they had taken, threw out the ticket and told us to have a nice afternoon! Woohoo! A little taste of redemption! It was clear to him that his officer was in the wrong and we went on our merry way! I must say, in this culture, having an older man with grey hair speaking on your behalf goes a long way, since they are very "elder/respect" oriented. Thanks Tim! I know we will get stopped again and again, but just pray for the patience to get through it as part of life and take the opportunity to be compassionate gentle people, even to the policemen!

The Goat project

One of the small projects we have started here has to do with "lending goats". This is something that the tamasheq culture is very comfortable with and even does among their own people, so it is a good way to go!
We bought two goats (a mother and female baby) goat for our day guard Sidimou. He lives in a hut in an empty lot about 1/2 kilometre from our house. He lives with another family, eldery women, children etc all in the same fenced lot and there are 5 or 6 goats, only one of which was his. So, the tamasheq use goat milk for cooking and drinking and it gives them a good source of nutrients. So he takes care of the goats as they grow, and each time the mother (and eventually the new baby) has a baby goat, we split the kids. Meaning the first new goat is his, the second is mine, the third is his, fourth mine etc, etc. This allows him to grow a herd of goats (which is their form of bank) without having to borrow money and go into debt to start. It also allows us to have new baby goats every year to start new projects with and give to other people in need. This is a great way to help out some of the people we work with in a way that isnt overwhelming and is culturally appropriate. Thank you for giving to our Work Special Fund and making projects like this possible!

Sidimou's House

Bennett saw the baby goat and instantly loved it. He has no qualms about going over and picking the baby goat up and carrying him around to look at everything. He kept saying how soft she was and he wanted to carry her, and the goat didnt seem to mind!

Sidimou showing Bennett where their milk comes from. It must be better than the gross powdered milk we have to buy here, but I wasn't stepping up to taste any personally!

Garden update
I am happy to report back that my experimental gardening program has met with great success! In less than a month here is a list of the successes and failures thus far.

Sweet potatoes - growing like crazy!
Pumpkins - growing like crazy!
basil - still going strong and a huge bush now
red peppers - good start, plants about 5 inches high and growing.
yellow peppers - good start, plants about 5 inches high and growing.
chives - the canadian seeds didnt work, but the transplanted african roots are growing!
Tomatoes - the plants are quite big, and although i think we planted too early a few months ago, i can see little fruit buds and small green tomatoes starting!

Failure :(
dill seeds - not a leaf or sprout in sight
green peppers - hiding in the dirt still

Too soon to tell:
Lettuce - we just planted a whole lot (like 50!) small lettuce-saplings. (is that what they are called?) we will see how many take and how it turns out.
Spinach - it looks like the canadian seeds will fail, but transplanted stalks from africa are taking good root and growing.
Mint. this plant, even with local cuttings and roots, is proving hard to grow and we only have a few little buds so far.

My basil bush mixed in amongth the flowers and plants in the front yard. Another bush is growing nearby too.

The train

Both of my kids love to build trains. Most mornings if they are here while we do language study they bring their snacks and drinks into the playroom and start new with a track through the room, complete with villages, zoo animals and gas stations.

New Friends

Bennett has slowly begun to make new friends. Outside our house, under our tree, we are often surrounded by many children. Arielle still prefers to watch from a distance, but I know her time to get involved will come too. A few of the kids have started to call out for Bennett and join him where he is playing. Yesterday, Bennett headed out the gate and went three houses down where there was a big pile of white sand in front of a house being built. Now the funny thing was that he went out in his t-shirt, Bob the Builder rainboots, and a pair of bright flowery underpants that he borrowed from his sister! Quite the sight!

Check out those underpants!

First his friend Boobay (the neighbor boy) found him there, and then slowly 3 others showed up at the dirt pile where they jumped ,hooted , hollered, threw dirt and had a blast, with Bennett right in the middle. They would help him up the hill, toss him his boot when it fell off, etc. I was proud to see them interact even though he was younger than them.

Now for pictures, I always have my little camera in the bag outside with me, but i never pull it out until they ask me too. They know what it is, and often now they come grab me to take their picture and they love looking at the screen at them after. It's not really appropriate to whip out the camera, so I always wait until they ask and this has met with great success and they love it. A good strategy to wait for their invitation!

Here are some of the pictures of the boys, all flying high! Can you pick out Bennett in all the pics?

Well, thats all for now! We have only 11 more days until a special guest arrives and we can't wait! But I'll tell you all about that in a later post!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The lost files and living amongst corruption

Well, since my last post, those lost pictures of Thanksgiving have reappeared! Woohoo! (hidden is some strange system file that is never used...)
So here are some thanksgiving pictures of the kids and other things.

The Marineau family recently moved to Tillaberi, which is an hour outside of Niamey. This is a much less developed city, but they do still have running water and electricity! What their new little house didnt have was a kitchen. Alas before moving there they constructed a little adobe style cement room outside their home in their courtyard to use as a kitchen. This is a fabulous idea since it keeps the heat of the stove and oven out of the house! ANyhow, I loved their quaint little kitchen outside.

Just before leaving for Thanksgiving we had our house exterminated. We didnt have huge bug issues in the house thankfully, but we had lots and lots of bugs in the gardens and around the house, especially at night with the lights. So apparently it is pretty standard to have the yard sprayed twice a year to keep the ants, termites, etc to a minimum. I loved his contraption and little tiny mask on his face. And this guy was one the the more technologically advanced guys around! I would hate to see the other ones...

Did I mention we have lizards? I don't think I am exaggerating when I say we likely have between 30 and 50 lizards living in and around our yard. You walk beside one of the walls and a dozen or so scurry away on every wall. Thankfully only the odd one manages to make his way into the house, usually to be discovered by Bennett who comes yelling to let us know. He then bravely grabs the broom to chase them out, only to run in fear if they dart towards him.

Hitting the heavy traffic coming out of Tillaberi for the market. Donkey carts and people heading home from the market.

The African locust. He is sitting on some pumpkin plants. It is hard to get scale, but this locust in almost 3 inches long. This is the same type on insect that wiped out a large majority of Niger's crops in 2005 and set the country into a terrible famine. Thankfully there does not appear to be very many around this year and this plague goes in cycles. Can you imagine a sky turned black in mid-day with a huge cloud of these insects bearing down on you?

The kids at Thanksgiving

Living in a corrupt society.
In Niger, corruption is a very real thing that we deal with. It's not as bad here as it is in other places, but we don't fool ourselves to believe we can avoid it. Today was a good example of that. So far, I have found the police here to be quite corrupt. I don't know anything about their upper leadership, but I'm talking about the everyday average traffic cop. I have been pulled over three times since I got here. Once was just "random" to verify our paperwork. Random meaning that we were new, they didnt recognize the vehicle and they wanted to see if they could catch us on anything at all. Another time I was pulled over for failing to signal. Even though i know 100% that I did, and my passenger agreed. Again, we were new, they didnt recognize the vehicle and they wanted to see if they could catch us on anything at all. This time, we were missing some type of window sticker that proves we paid some kind of city tax. We knew nothing about it. So after he yelled at me lots, made me cry from stress (a horrible response to stress that i cant control. sigh) and threatened to impound our vehicle, Daniel came to our rescue and took care of it. As soon as a man was involved the cop was so much nicer rather than berating me. This was only two weeks after we arrived. Paul was pulled over once for having his temporary NGO ID# on with tape rather than paint. So this afternoon I was pulled over again, and yelled at some more. So i approached a traffic circle and did not have the right of way to enter. Another car was coming fast and i braked sharply to avoid entering the lane and giving him the right of way. There was no one behind me, no one beside me, no pedestrians, no stop light and i didnt hit the car in front of me, or even enter his lane. There were three cops at this intersection and one pulled me over. I knew I had done nothing wrong, hit no one, signaled properly. So why did he pull me over? I braked too fast. Why do they care if i brake fast or slow, as long as i stop properly, dont hit anyone, cause anyone to crash behind me? You get my point. Anyhow, i wasnt about the let them make me cry, and i was mad. So my nice passengers were agreeing quietly with the cop, and i was trying to defend my position. Cecilia has been here longer than me and knows that it does no good to argue with them. We went back and forth, him telling me how dangerous it was to brake fast like that. He makes it sound like i came in at warp speed or something and hit 4 goats which i killed instantly. Sheesh. Eventually i just said "whatever, write the ticket then and let me go". He came back with a 8000 CFA ticket (around $20), which i would pay tomorrow at the police station and they hold my papers until then. Then the other cop came over and said, well, if you give me the 8000 francs then i will just sign this for you and you don't have to go to the hassle tomorrow to get your papers back etc. He said it so nicely you would *almost* believe him if you didn't know better. He would pocket the money. I refused and he looked somewhat surprised and irritated We have decided that we will refuse to pay bribes here, even if it makes like difficult. So tomorrow I shall go and collect my papers, and maybe try to plead the insanity of the ticket once more.

I wonder what would happen if I had gotten really mad at the cop for his obvious staged "crime of fast braking". Would he wither under the shear shock of a woman raising their voice and standing firm against them? Or would he need to save face infront of the others and get even more indignant and charge me with some other trumped up charge, throw me in jail, threaten us in some other way? I guess Cecilia is right, that it is not worth the risk to find out. But each time it is frustrating to know that we are targeted, hassled and yelled at. I hate driving in some parts of town where there are always cops at the roundpoints. I know corruption is something we have to deal with here, and yet I want it to be something that doesn't bother me and stress me out. I guess you can pray for me for that. And be thankful for the honest policemen that we do have in North America.

Transparency International is the world's leader in tracking corruption. Here is a map showing degrees on corruption in the world. Yellow is the best, dark red/brown the worst. You can check out more if you are interested at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving & Baseball

This weekend was a busy one for us Canadians here in Niger. Not only was it the annual softball tournament, hosted by the American Embassy and Sahel school, but it was also Thanksgiving! So we ran back and forth all weekend and now are thoroughly tired! But as always, we will let you in on some of the fun

Paul played this year on the Nomads ball team, the majority of which is missionaries. They had a really fun team, and although they didn't win the tournament, they had a lot of fun, got some sun, and enjoyed the crowds and carnival atmosphere.

The team (sponsored by the media giant "Orange")

Paul in his sponsor t-shirt

Paul running hard for first base

The turtle running even harder for home

The turtle in the field. The game continues on around him, and there are even special rules about whether it is in play if it hits him etc. After all, its HIS field!

George up close and personal

While Paul was busy playing 4 ball games over the weekend, the kids and I enjoyed the park, the pool and all the other kids gathered. Here are some pictures of their fun!


We just got back from spending a day in Tillaberri, the next town down the road to Mali, about an hour away. It is much smaller and quieter there and we fully enjoyed our time. We went up early to spend time with the Marineau family and the rest of the team followed this morning. We had a great time hanging out together, praying for their new home, and having a big Thanksgiving meal together. I had great pictures to show you of their house, a huge locust, the kids all decked up in the thanksgiving best, and the road out there. Alas disaster has struck. I transferred all my photos tonight same as I usually do. But they were not in their destination when I went to find them. Nor were they still on the memory card. Nor are they in any other file, trash can or searchable location of my computer. Poof. They are gone :(
So alas, you get a picture of a stickbug. Very cool camouflage, but not exactly what I had intended.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. Also, for you all you Canadians - get out and vote!! (Paul and I voted two weeks ago via mail in special ballot). It's so great to be living across the world in one of the worlds poorest and least developed countries, and still be able to exercise our privilege and duty to vote and care about our government. That's a privilege many here will never even know. Don't take it for granted.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Teachers needed

Hi there. So I'm making a public service announcment for the christian expatriate school here in Niamey, where several of our co-workers children attend, and possibly ours as well in the next few years if we go that route ( so many choices- homeschooling, french school, expat school etc). It is called Sahel Academy They are is desperate need of teachers. For this year, the school year has begun and they do not have a math teacher for junior and senior high or a language arts teacher. A few volunteers are trying to step in to fill the gap, but the kids are only getting a few hours a week and are rapidly feeling the crunch. Can you help? Are you a teacher, or know someone who is, that could come for the rest of the year? How about next year, or even the year after? Are you an Education student at University who needs student teaching experience or wants a year abroad? Every year Sahel Academy suffers greatly for teachers. Have you ever thought of teaching overseas (or know someone who has-send them this blog!). Do you love the idea of nice small, personal classes! You can plan ahead and come to Niger! Think of the amazing experience you would live out and you would be such a blessing to the kids in Niger, many of whom are here with their families and are involved in missionary or development work. And of course you get the cool added benefit of hanging out with Paul and I! (Colin- I've got my eye on you!! :) Danielle- want another year abroad? :)

Here are some of the positions that need to be filled each year as an example:
Arts - Visual
High School
Middle Grades
Music Education
Physical Education
Special Needs
Teacher's Aide

Here is a link to the staff information on the school website. Check it out!!

I don't know much about the logistics of the school, volunteer information or pay,etc you would have to look into that.

Here are also a few pictures of the school to whet your appetite! (thanks to a couple of people whose photos i grabbed off the web for it too)

The School layout from above. The huge compound includes classrooms, a gym, a ball diamond, an outside multi-sport terrain, a playground, several rows of classrooms, a dorm house, a large meeting room (where the expat church meets sunday nights) etc.

The turtle who lives on the school yard. A giant one that the kids play with and wanders around.

One of the rows of school classrooms, all looking out into the courtyard, where they have grass! (no small miraculous feat here in Niger!)

One of the courtyards by the classrooms

The playground

Please remember Sahel Academy, and places like it around the world. In many countries, it is an oasis for children that allows the parents to be there and do their work without sacrificing their family. And if you come, I will make you my amazing homemade ice cream. Promise.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A few weeks in review

The last couple of weeks we have had so many new experiences, met many people, and lauged a lot. So rather than write many blogs, I thought I would throw a summary into one post! Enjoy!

Random conversations

Paul ran into a lady on the street who was asking questions about what we do here. When she heard we worked for an aid organization, her instant question was “Why are you out on the street?” Paul didn’t quite know what she meant, but after a bit of talking he realized that the only aid workers she knew of and had met or heard of worked out of an office. They went from air conditioned office to air conditioned home and had national staff who got their groceries, ran their errands and interacted with the locals on their behalf. She was amazed that he was out, with the people, learning the language and “enjoying” the heat and community outside an office. Pray this would always be a noticeable difference, that we would be seen as among the nationals and never hide away in an office or home and set ourselves apart.

Tamasheq party

We went to a Tamasheq community party on Tuesday night. It was a party celebrating the end of Ramadan, so it was essentially their New Years Eve party. Paul and I both got traditional Tamasheq outfits to wear and headed out with some of our guards to the party. My Tamasheq language tutor is also a guitar player who loves music and was in one of the bands. I was surprised by how good the music was! I am trying to get a way to load videos to my blog with sound and I will post it here as soon as I can figure it out so you can experience a bit of it. We were really well received and people were really excited to see us. There were 3 other white people there, but they were dressed north American in their tubes tops and shorts. They looked so out of place next to all the locals who were completely covered and seemed elegant in their robes. Another good reminder on respecting their culture by following their dress styles and honouring them in this. My outfit was a pale blue bolt of fabric that was 4 or 5 metres long. Yup, that’s it. I wore a tshirt and light slip skirt underneath and then they wrapped me up. See the picture below of the dear lady (wife of a guard) who helped me dress and told me how to wear it. I gotta admit, I felt pretty awkward in it and was worried it was falling, wouldn’t stay on my head and kept slipping, etc. I felt I was wearing a bedsheet and trying to make it look good! Haha. The other women seemed much more elegant in their wraps compared to me. Oh well, I’ll get there!

Paul all dressed up in traditinal costume

Chantelle dressed up in traditional costume

So the courtyard where we all gathered became filled with 300-400 people by the time we left at 11pm and the party was going on until 1 or 2 in the morning. The dancing was great. Every time a new song started a few dozen people would get up to dance. Either same sex or mixed people would dance. Apparently it is taboo to dance with someone you are married to or interested in, so all the partners are pretty random or friends. If two men are dancing and two women come to the mat they immediately change partners to be man/women. The groups keep changing dynamics as people joined. We laughed that it really reminded us of a Junior High dance, the men on one side of a line and the women across from them in their own line, facing each other and shuffling back and forth. No crazy dancing here! We felt comfortable enough that we could shuffle along that we danced too. Paul went up several times in fact and even had an African woman match up specifically to dance with him. Overall it was a wonderful time, with good music and a good way to start to meet the larger community and become known to them!

My garden

Back home, i dabbled in gardening. I could plant nice flowers, which mostly grew and enjoy the greenery for the few months of summer a year. Besides some strawberries, I never really tries any fruits or vegetables. I don't think I had the patience or greenthumb to succeed much, and I really didn't have the need for it. However, I am launching myself into the task here. I figure with almost 12 months of summer a year here, even I can't go wrong!

There are a few reasons for this endeavour.
1) The food you buy here has no preservatives and goes bad really fast. I buy veggies at the market and within a few days they are going bad already. So I can either make trips to veggie stands or the markets everyfew days (which is a pain in the butt) or I can grow my own and take them off the vine as I need them.
2) It's good practice. Paul and I are looking at starting a small community project with drip irrigation outside our gate, mostly to benefit our guards and their families and the neighbor family. Before we start that I want to see what grows well and check out a few different planting/soil options. Right now we have good fresh goat manure mixed into our soil in the back and it seems to help the growing!
3) Why not? I like growing things and playing in the dirt, and would like to see what I can grow to reduce our expenditures on food and eat off my own backyard. Never a farmer at home, but I can try here!

So here is what I have planted so far:
Sweet potatoes - just started
Sweet pumpkins - already sprouting several inches high
Peppers (mini and red,yellow,green)- just starting to sprout above ground
Spinach - sprouting two inches above ground
Tomatoes - 5 large plants, but no flowers and fruit yet
Basil - three big bushes that are taking over my front flower garden. Free basil anyone?
Chives - they keep failing. I think bugs are eating the little shoots
Mint - slow growing but several plants are 3-4 inches high now.
Dill- to be planted soon in new herb garden

So i will keep you updated on our project, and eventually the community garden! Any experts out there in desert weather garden watering strategies? let me know!

My day Guard Sidimou, and gardener extraordinaire, helping me plant the first seeds

What breaks my heart
You have heard me talk about the neighbor family in the hut next door. Right now, the children are sick. The one boy, Mouktar, has pussy sores erupting on his body in 6 or 7 different places. He has worms, and an obvious nasty bacterial infection. We can assume that the other children also have worms and various parasites,etc. This family often comes to us with the scrapes and cuts and Paul bandages them up and put ointment on them. This time was different in that no bandaid or antibitoic cream will help. The root is much deeper. You see, the mother next door is so beaten down by life that she doesnt even care for her children. After it rains, she lets her kids go run and swim in the deep puddles, even though everyone knows the other long months of the year it is a bathroom area, worms and bugs and animals are there. So the kids play and get infections and sick and gross things I can't even mention here. We gave him a three day course of antibitoics which hopefully helped his body fight the bacteria and his sores seem to be hardening over and healing a bit. The problem is, the root of the problem remains. We can't pump the kids full of medicine every time they are sick and take control of their health and responsability for it. I have tried to talk to the mother, but she seems so worn out and not interested. How do you convince someone that they cant let their kids play in sewer puddles, that she needs to show them how to wash their hands multiple times a day, and to keep their food utensils, pots and supplies off the ground, as well as the food itself? This seems all so new to her and I don't yet think she is really wanting to do it. I don't know why. Maybe with so much loss in her life and struggle, she has just stopped caring. Please pray for us as we face this daily struggle and sadness in our hearts. We need to find the way to love this family, to play with their kids and show them joy and hope and help where we can, but we also can't be their only solution and enable the behaviours that make them so sick. Some days we don't know where that line is either. It isn't the childrens fault that they don't know anything and lack parenting that we all are so blessed with back home. How do we best love them and care for them?

My neighbor Fatima

Funny moments

I was taking photographs one day around my yard. It was the middle of the day and quite hot. This fly would not leave me alone, or my bottle of coke. So i decided to photograph him too!

Me (before going to the tamasheq party and asking questions about my dress: “Is it ok if my hair shawl falls and my hair is exposed? Will that offend them?”
Dalain (A tamasheq guard): “Oh that’s Ok. You can even open your shirt!”

A man came to our house to ask for some money for a light for his children at night so they could study. At least that was his story, and he is a random stranger to us, but we are white so they come to ask for money anyways. Anyhow, he saw our yard and said "Your yard is big enough, you should buy a CAMEL and keep it in your YARD. You know, if you drink camel milk in the morning and at night, you will stay in good health!" So first of all, can you see me with a camel as a pet, and secondly (and most importantly) can you imagine me milking my camel twice a day!!!

Well, thats all for now from this side of the world!
Love to hear from you!


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Team work retreat

For part of this past week, the team here in Niger met at a local hotel for a work retreat. We had a conference room inside that was perfect for our needs and the kids still went to school in the mornings and then played around with the other kids in the afternoon. We had the added bonus of having the Africa Team leaders (the Enn's) with us for a few days too.

On the first night of the retreat we rented a longboat and went down the river to a restaurent. The owner told us it would take around 45 minutes. We got there 2 hours later. Thankfully the ride and the water was peaceful! We saw 4 hippos in the water (in the distance thus no photos) and chatted and the kids played with each other. We ate by the river then turned around and went all the way back to Niamey. Got to enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the way there though!

The hotel was interesting. By Niger standards, it is one of the better ones in town, and the rooms are not cheap. We quite enjoyed the 24/7 air conditioning (although their filters were not cleaned since installed likely and thus moldy) and they had good restaurants on the premises and a really nice pool. We enjoyed it a few times and it was almost always empty except for us!

Bennett is finally enjoying the pool and loved the horse head floater ring.

Arielle still prefers sitting by the side of the pool, with her feet in, and watching the people play and splash. Here she wanted her own swim ring to sit in, but all from the safety of land.

So while the peripherals of the hotel were a nice change, the rooms themselves still reminded me if a run-down super 8 motel. Our toilet seat was hanging on with an elastic band, the shower door was broken, closet door was broken, air conditioner spewed mold, very cramped space, i didnt trust the sheets to be bug free and brought my own, several people got sick from the food (on the team- not in our immediate family) and there were lots of mosquitos in the rooms, frogs and geckos in the halls, and peacocks outside the paths! Don't get me wrong, it was sufficient for our purpose to study together and have a few topics presented to us etc, but another one of those funny times when i am reminded how very different of a place we live in. Their "4 star" hotels are ones I wouldnt even set foot in back home!

Paul enjoying the pool and me enjoying the camera angles.

One night we went to a restaurant in town called "La Cascade". It is a bit dark and dingy but has pretty good food. And the kids love the "waterfall" inside. It is a rock fountain that they fill with dish soap and make huge bubble piles in! Can't beat that for creativity!

So now we are home and thankful for the time we had, especially so much time to connect with our teammates and discuss things together. We had presentations on biblical storytelling, water wells, development, & the african sense of money and relationships. We also worked on value statements and hopefully starting the "forward planning" process in a few areas.

The kids, fast becoming great friends with the Cheung's girls.

Here is the newest picture of Team Niger!