Sunday, November 30, 2008

A baby baptism and naming ceremony

The star of the show: Baby Zebbo

This last Sunday our family had the joy to go to a baptism and naming ceremony for the new son of one of Paul's good friends (Harouna the welder). We spent many hours over the day there and fully enjoyed learning how the ceremony and culture works in regards to baptisms. They are very important in this culture and are huge celebrations for the family and everyone they know.

I have included below a bunch of pictures I took through-out the day. Harouna asked me to come and video the event and I took over 200 still images too, all which we put on a disc with the videos as a gift for the family. They did also hire an african man to video the event, which he did with an old camera. Paul got to see his video and said that we (the white family!) seemed to be in much more of the video than the baby and family. We were the main attractions apparently!

The other camera man following me around.

Also, i have written an explantion (as given by my tutor) into the culture and what happens at these events for your learning pleasure!

Baptisms in Niger (generally the same for all the cultures with small variations)

Exactly one week after the baby is born there is the baptism.This should be observed for the best "honoring" of the customs and the date is fixed. The day of the actual birth (tankahari), the family eats well that day to celebrate. Possibly they will eat pieces of goat or sheep if they can afford it, but not necessarily.

For the first week the mom cannot go out with the baby. In fact, she cannot leave the baby's side. They believe in this first week that evil spirits are surrounding and wanting the baby. If she has to go to the bathroom, she will place a special knife under the head of the baby to protect him from spirits and possession.

The night before the baptism, there is a “fayandi”. The people who are helping prepare food for the baptism arrive. There is a party and music and dancing. They stay up most of the night dancing and music and preparing all the food and dishes for the party and starting the sauces, etc.

Very early the morning of the baptism, they get the sheep ready. In the muslim tradition it is mandatory that a sheep is killed, blood must flow. Even the poorest try to do this. If they absolutely cannot afford it they will try to get something that is white such as milk, finely ground millet that is white and sugar. Normally the early morning meal is sauce with bread for those who arrive for the naming and prayers. At around 7:00 am the Imam arrives and many friends. The men gather around the Imam for the presentation and prayers. The drummer walks around and pounds his drum and lets people know they are starting. The Imam says prayers for the baby and blessings on him. After the prayers they pass around plates with cola nuts and dates. This is the parents offering to Gods spirit and to share with the others.

After the prayers and nuts, the father and friends and a religious leaders go to the sheep. The father tells the name to the Imam, the Imam announces to God the name of the child, and at this moment they slit the throat of the animal (usually a sheep) and the blood flows. The drummer waits to hear the name of the child and see the blood flow, and then runs around, drumming and announcing the name of the child for everyone to hear.

People who need to work all leave after this (especially if it is in the middle of the week). The drummer walks around with a plate of henna, cola nuts, sugar, etc -all that represents the baptism. Men will give money onto this plate for the drummers. Before the people leave they all give money to the father (not in all cultures) this is the way they contribute to the costs and ceremonies, and know it comes back on them when it is their turn to have children or weddings. It represents an interesting way to do credit for expensive undertakings like a baptism or marriage. The women and close friends give small monetary gifts to the mother. Meals are served all day to the guests who arrive.

Here the women are dishing up the meal. It has approximately one hundred kilos of rice, a whole sheep, 10 litres of oil, 10 bags of macaroni and vegetables. They filled up 30 or so huge platters covered in food. I tried to help, and they mostly wouldn't let me, but finally humoured me and let me carry platters of rice to get the sauce added and hand them out to people.

This picture is of the main mid-day meal they served. Actually quite tasty! The men and women eat seperated from each other. They eat in groups around a big platter and eat with their right hand only. We taught Bennett this and he stuck his left hand in his pocket for safe keeping. He sure loved eating with his hands!

During the day people come and go. The mother is still in the room with the baby and and a few friends. People (family and special guests) are allowed to enter and greet the mother and family. We were invited into this inner room, and while we were there during the day, we also met the Burkina Faso Ambassador to Niger, a cabinet Minister and a few other important people. How humbling to be lumped into the same level of honor with people of high positions.

Visiting with the family and baby in the "inner room"

The parents, the Burkina Ambassador and a Cabinet Minister and Paul

The mother must stay for 40 days in what the tamasheqs call “amzor”. This means that she doesn’t work, she doesn’t go out unless to go the bathroom. You could say she is hibernating. This helps with milk production for breastfeeding, the baby is very fragile and she must be there, and it is the tradition. Someone has come for these 40 days to take care of her house, help with the children and make meals. The 41st day, to show she is done, a imam comes to the house . If it is a boy they will circumcise him and will shave his head. Girls heads are shaved too. (in other countries ad cultures they sometimes still practice female circumcision! thankfully not in Niger!). The Imam will offer more blessings for the child. The father is now authorized to sleep in the same bed as the mom (even to sleep was not permitted). The mother is free now to continue her life, work, go out,etc.

After getting over a little bit of shy-ness, or maybe just being socially unsure in this cultural setting, I managed to find this group of young women who were hilarious and very welcoming to me. We had a wonderful time laughing and telling stories and hanging out together. At times I am sure I completely missed what they were saying, and they laughed AT me as much as WITH me, but we had fun all the same!

A delightful young woman who showed me around and introduced me to people. She is married, has a child already, and I think she isn't even 20 yet.

The cast of characters throughout the day:

Monday, November 24, 2008

A guest blog by Bryan McIver - our brother

Chantelle asked me to share some of my thoughts and impressions regarding my visit to Niger, in a guest blog post. And so here are my impressions of the continent, country and people as well as some of the experiences from my visit.

Certainly the first thing one comes to understand about the continent of Africa is that it changes you--not the other way around. A seasoned national and international traveller myself, I found out very quickly what it felt like to be at the mercy of this unforgiving continent. We arrived for our flight from Casablanca to Niamey, 3 hours ahead of time, however after being misinformed about the terminal number, the ticket line, and baggage allowances and then receiving misdirection on paying for and processing overweight baggage and finally running back and forth from counter to counter, trying to make sense of the administrative nightmare that is African beauracracy, I found myself standing in Mohammed V Airport with 30 minutes before the departure of my flight, not having even checked in yet. After hacking my way through airline, customs and security officials, as if blazing a trail through the jungle, I made it to the gate, only to find out the flight was delayed by 1 hour. This gave me a much better appreciation for the phrase coined by foreigner's: WAWA (West Africa wins again).

In probably one of the few things she has ever gotten right, Madonna once said: "I assure you it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have, nothing goes fast in Africa." As someone who earns a living, managing large projects--navigating people, equipment and money through the time sensitive world that is North America--nothing could come as more of a shock to my system than this reality. My first reaction to this was to say that "people in Africa don't wear watches, they wear calendars". However I quickly came to rephrase this to say: "People in Africa don't wear watches, in fact they are unaware of this device, they don't have a clock anywhere in their home, and the lone calendar in the possession of their extended family is currently functioning as a less than useful windscreen on their uncle's motorbike." That being said, there is something almost freeing about not worrying about time and and simply taking in the events of the day as they arrive. What doesn't get done one day, can always be done the next.

And it's as if the people of Africa have an appreciation for both of these immutable laws of the continent, ground into their DNA. They operate easily in the unforgiving elements and despite the lack of reliable schedules, find the time to complete the essential tasks of each day.

What strikes me the most about the people of Africa (specifically Niamey, Niger) is that--although those lifestyle essentials that are missing are wildly obvious to westerners--African's don't appear to notice what they don't have--instead they pay closer attention to what they do have. They don't notice that most of their roads are missing asphalt, curbs and lane markings...They do notice that they can always find one more lane in which to drive. They don't notice that they lack a house with cement brick walls and roof...They do notice--and use well--their bed, chair and cellphone. They don't notice that they only have 1 or 2 meals each day...They do notice that they have tea and sugar and are happy to share it, with even their wealthiest visitors.

In terms of the team in Niger, I got to see first hand a group of individuals who are very committed to helping the people of Niger and who are continually learning and perfecting their approach to development work. Their strategies include listening to the locals to determine needs and requiring the locals to take ownership in programs.

Paul and Chantelle have created a wonderful home at which any western visitor can feel very comfortable. Inside the 4 walls of their yard is the formidable Toyota Landcruiser and Paul's workshop, housed inside the steel shipping container. Surrounding the house is a variety of lush fruit and vegetable plants and trees that Chantelle and her gardener care for. Step inside the house and you'll find many of the conveniences of a north american home.

One of the most poignant revelations of my trip to Niger was the importance of learning a second language. There is something to be said for the ability to be able to communicate with someone in their own tongue. Certainly Chantelle can speak French very fluently but it was such a treat to watch Paul communicating easily in French with his guards, shop keepers and even just strangers on the street.

And finally, a couple words of advice for those first timers going to Africa to visit Paul and Chantelle:

1. Eat the meat before you see where it is purchased from.
2. Drink the tea without considering how the glass was washed.
3. Come prepared to give back just a fraction of what this country and its people will have to offer you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A visit from Bryan

These last ten days we have been very excited here in Niamey to have Paul's brother Bryan visiting us. He came as part of a short term team from Calgary who encouraged and blessed our socks off with their presence. We loved spending time with them all, but the highlight was obviously Bryan. How awesome to be able to share our home, our city, our experiences, our crazy situations, bad smells, hot weather and deep thoughts all with someone who knows us and loves us. It was like cool water to our souls.

Bryan also was the bearer of good gifts and came loaded with chocolate chips, real cheddar, movies, books, a few things we had left behind, christmas gifts, peanut butter and other assorted wonderful things. Thank you to you others who sent things with him as well. We are so appreciative!

I wont write very much here, as you can look forward to a special blog guest in the next day or two with his stories, impressions and insights. I will post some of the pictures (some of which were taken by Bryan) with a little commentary and let the images speak for themselves.

One of the highlights was spending a day taking a camel ride across the tundra, then a piroque (long canoe) down the river to spot hippos (we saw them!), then wandering through a village before a big lunch.

The landscape from our camel eye view

Camel drivers

Bryan and his trusty (and ornery, difficult and stubborn) camel.

My camel driver

Paul and Bennett on their camel. Rather than being afraid, Bennett loved it and talked everyones ear off the entire time!

Riding in the camel train. Arielle was sitting in front of me, and she wasn't so thrilled with this whole idea.

As a team they had the priveledge of visiting several villages and seeing the bush life up close and personal.

We took Bryan to all our favorite markets, and he learned you can in fact eat what is sold off the ground and still stay healthy, and that there is so much color, life and variety in the markets. Here is Paul and him wandering around the building supplies market (our answer to Home Depot)

Guess who was the star of the show and centre of attention? One hint - the white guy.

Bennett hitching a ride.

We went to the sand dunes and got there too late for sunset pictures, but not too late to try sand-dune-crazy-carpeting! This sort of looks to me like he is going down the side of a planet!

While he was here, he also got to spend time with our workers, visit their homes, pray for people and see how the locals live.

Bennett carrying around his goat again

And one final shot of our expanded family for 10 days. We are so thankful for the time we had and can't wait to share our lives here again! Thanks so much Bryan. Sorry you had to go back home to snow and ice!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Seeing through new eyes

So it seems we have being doing a lot lately and i keep showing up in your inbox for those of you who are subscribed! I know, you may be getting sick of me, but there is always a lot to tell here!

On Wednesday we decided to go to the little local "zoo" with the kids, and to bring the youngest neighbor boy Boobay. I say "zoo" because it really is a pathetic attempt at a zoo and the animals are in pretty awful conditions. Gives us good opportunities to discuss stuff like that with the kids. But they also enjoy watching the hippos, crocs, boars, monkeys, etc. The lions are always the biggest hit and we watch them for a while. There is a small park in the centre with a huge tall slide that the kids love and swings. We always stop here for half an hour or so,eat our popcorn treat and burn off some energy.

I mentioned we brought boobay right? Well he speaks zarma, and just a little french. We speak no zarma at all. Zip. So it makes it a little interesting and I wasnt sure if he was having fun or just so nervous that he didnt know what to do. You see, they never leave the little community they live in, have never driven in a truck, he has never seen most of these animals, or had a whole pop to himself! He drank his Fanta so fast with a huge, orange pop grin on his face. By the time we were even half done the zoo his enthusiasm was obvious and he got over being nervous and him and Bennett had a wonderful time! It was a good lesson for us as well to see things new, with awe, through fresh eyes.

We are very aware how much even a little love and care and attention can go in their lives. We are wanting to take them on excursions, show them they are special, and teach them little things about health, school, etc along the way. They love it when we spend time with them each day and tonight they were all hollering for Bennett to come out and play soccer with them.

Anyhow, here are some of the pictures from the zoo outing.

Boobay taking a break and enjoying all the kids at the park, smiling.

Bennett and Boobay going down the big slide, side by side.

Arielle, sweet as ever.

We went up on the roof of our house today and were taking in the world below us. We are thinking of putting a little gazebo up there so we can sleep there in the hot season and get some air movement.

Here is the main view outside our house:

looking south

looking north

Over the north wall is also where our neighbor family lives. As i have mentioned before they are squatters in a yard where a house is slowly being built. they used to live in our yard when it looked like this too.

When it is warm they sleep here outside. The also do all their cooking here. There is no running water or proper latrine.

They have also taken over one of the rough bricked in rooms in the house. You can see the roof they have built with sticks and plastic and grass mats to keep the rain out.

Boobay and one of his brothers, Mouktar, fooling around.


We have somewhat adopted this little family. We are doing our best to share love with them,help them, teach them, and share with them. It seems so little to pay for school books, bring over fruit, play soccer,etc. But I know it is the little things that count in the end. Thank you for partnering with us. Thank you for praying for this family and for sharing your concern for them. We are extensions of you.