Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Through Paul's eyes - a child dies

(A blog by Paul)

Well hello there to all you in readers land, my Wife has been bugging me for some time to do a blog for our blog page. I don’t know why exactly but I think it has something to do with the fact that she is strong on communication. So now for those of you, who don’t believe in miracles, start believing because here comes a blog post from an anti-blogist. (is that a word?) Why a blog post. Well today I went to my first funeral here in Niger; which is quite amazing in it-self seeing as I have been here just about a year. Why is this amazing you ask? Well if any of you have been following my wife’s blog for any amount of time you have likely read the statistics on infant mortality, life expectancy and so on in Niger. It seems I have lived a rather sheltered life when it comes to death. But let me elaborate. When I was in my mid teens my father managed a funeral home, so death was just part of life for me, as a matter of fact it was what put food on the table. Growing up I never had a fear of death or dead bodies, even now as long as it’s not fall off the bone rotten a dead body does not bother me. In my life I have never really lost someone close to me. Yes I have had grandparents die and not to say they where not close to me but one expects the elderly to die that is part of life. One is usually prepared for the death of an older grandparent at least that has been my experience. Now we will see how that looks when I have to say goodbye to my parents. I expect that will be a whole other experience all together. So where am I going with this? Well I don’t really know. Let me relate my story of today.

This morning started like any other morning here in Niger, wake up and it’s already way too hot. Get the kids ready and drive them to school. I had no idea this morning that I would be going to a funeral. Things work a little different here in Niger. For the most part, you’re dead and buried the same day and you can understand why when it is 45C in the shade. I got a call from my director that one of our guard’s wives had given birth but the baby was dead. We don’t know what happened. It could have been stillborn, it could have been born breach and they have no capacity to deal with that here, it very well could have been a botched delivery, we will never know. Anyhow, he was on his way to go pick up the body and family to take them to the cemetery and would I like to come? Would I like to come, does anybody really like going to funerals, they are not exactly high on our list of fun things to do, but who goes to a funeral for personal enjoyment, one goes for the people who have lost, n’est pas? So yah I’ll go I’m his patron. (the guard) I will have to explain the patron client relationship in another blog post, but don’t hold your breath. When we arrived at the house (and I use that word loosely) they had just sent someone out to find a woman to wash the body. Because I have been here for a while and I know a bit of the culture it was not strange to me but if you had been with me today you would have noticed one thing right away when we walked into the yard, there was not a single woman present. Nor would you have seen a woman for the duration of the proceedings. Well no woman was to be found so a few of the men present proceeded to wash and prepare the little body. The body is wrapped in white cloth and then in a straw mat. Niger is a predominantly Muslim country so at 4pm everyone stopped for 4 o’clock prayer. Then they said a prayer for the baby, and we all piled into our director’s truck to head to the cemetery. In Canada our funeral processions usually have a bunch of cars with two or three people in each car but here in Niger it is a bunch of people in 1or 2 cars. When we arrived at the cemetery we drove to the place the father of the dead child directed us to. En-route we passed row upon row of little mounds of dirt. The hole for the body was just being finished as we arrived, the father unwrapped the body from the straw mat and placed it in the hole then the men cut sticks and placed them over the body, finally the straw mat was placed on the sticks and the sand pushed back over the hole. Sticks were then stuck in the ground at the head and the feet. The head of course is pointed towards Mecca. Then we all got back in the truck and went back to the father’s house for tea. The men said one final benediction for the baby and then that was it, back to life as normal. Not a single tear shed, no sign of mourning, and this struck me as odd. I remembered back to when we lost our first two pregnancies at three months, I cried with my wife for hours, we mourned the loss for months and I know that even now my wife has a place in her heart that hurts for the two we lost. But for these people, this is normal, 1in 4 children will not see their 5th birthday. This is the second baby this family has lost. For these people death is part of life, everyday life. If you were to sit across from the cemetery you would see a coming and going that would blow your mind and all those little mounds of dirt, each one represents a little life cut short by any number of sicknesses. All preventable or curable for the most part, in the first world.

So what was the point, why chose a funeral for my first blog, I don’t know yet. I may never know. Maybe I just needed to express the grief that I never saw expressed today, maybe I’m just trying to make sense of it all, who knows. Death never makes a whole lot of sense. I was struck by something my director said to me today, he was making a comparison between “us” and “them”, back home we can spend days planning a funeral after someone dies or even pre-arrange one, heck we can even pre-arrange our death with certain doctors. Here they dig the hole when you get there and cut the sticks to cover it as you wait, nothing pre-planned about it. Everyone just stopped what they where doing and came to hang out with their friend who had lost a child.

Serving Him out of my weakness

Paul McIver

Niger , West Africa

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The final post on Burkina Faso- pools and the Prime Meridian!

Well finally here is the last post about our trip to Burkina Faso. I am sorry it is a few days late, but I was hit with a wonderful little African flu or something and spent 3 days in bed barely moving. It is going around town and numerous friends have it as well. No fear, I am alive and well and back to moving around like normal! So here continues the story....

The Pool

The three days of our time in Burkina Faso were just us, the Marineau family and Kristi, who all took some extra days as vacation to spend in Ouaga. Our second last day we went in search of a pool and found one that was to our liking at a hotel just down the street. In most of the hotels here, you pay an day rate fee to use the pools, usually between $5-$7 per person (little ones are free sometimes too).

What we loved most about this pool was its shallow end! It is sometimes a challenge for us to find a pool our kids will like, since Arielle doesn't know how to swim and Bennett is just barely getting the hang of it. We love lots of shallow! This pool was incredible, in that Bennett could WALK out at least 10-15 feet before it was over his head. Arielle could walk out quite a ways too. Bennett was so happy and especially fond of walking out, climbing onto this little island, and launching himself into the arms of his waiting parent.


This hotel pool area made me feel almost like I was at the beach or a resort. So wonderful to relax and enjoy the beautiful pool and trees and not be bothered by people, sold anything, or sweating!


Arielle spent most of the afternoon "swimming" via other people. Here Elohise, Marianne and Arielle all are beauties in blue and they had a lot of fun swimming around and playing together. Arielle jumped off the island a few times too, but  much preferred to stay in someone's arms. When she got out of the pool she made friends with an old french guy and even shared his water bottle until we noticed she was scamming him. What a charmer!



The Prime Meridian

During our trip was crossed the Prime Meridian. I didn't really notice until on our way back I was entering the coordinates to see where a geocache we were looking for was and I realized it was in the eastern hemisphere and we were in the western currently. Eureka!!We were crossing the Prime Meridian!!

According to Wikipedia:

The Prime Meridian is the meridian (line of longitude) at which longitude is defined to be 0°.

The Prime Meridian and the opposite 180th meridian (at 180° longitude), which the International Date Line generally follows, form a great circle that divides the Earth into the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.


If it is a bit hard to read the display below, it says we are at N 12 degrees 08.919 and West 0 degrees 00.000. Right where the East and West collide. And we thought that us and the Marineaus (Quebecers) could compare East and West, but we were small potatoes!  You can enter those numbers into Google Earth and see where we were!

Of course while we were driving I kept a close eye on my GPS and we stopped and got out at the spot, took some pictures and told the kids what it was about. It was near the Niger border on our way home.


Bennett and Arielle at the line. It runs through the middle of nowhere and I am quite sure the villagers around here have no clue what this line stands for, or even that it exists at all.


Paul and I have a picture from our honeymoon back in June 2000 where we are kissing overtop of the Equator in the country of Ecuador. Now we have one of us kissing over the Prime Meridian too!


We were tempted to show this off as the Prime Meridian and say this is the line that is dug here in Africa to mark it, but really this is a channel dug in the ground for hundreds of kilometers from Ouaga to the Niger border for copper line and possibly fibre optics. And we saw crews of men digging it by HAND. My brother Bryan is in fibre optics-can you imagine running all your wire by hand. Wow. I guess what they lack in money and technology they can make up in sheer man power and employing the poor. It was a very impressive and uniformly dug line that we followed all the way to the border of Niger, where it mysteriously stopped. Niger isn't exactly on the same page in terms of development. Below is Joelle (tutor for the Marineaus) modeling the line. And Bennett, such a boy that he is, insisted he had to pee in it.


The Marineau family posing on the Prime Meridian.


So after this we hit the Niger border (not literally- we did manage to stop before we hit it) where we crossed back into Niger without any problems. We were stunned by the very quick change in vegetation. Burkina Faso had way more trees, and suddenly Niger was filled with only barren land and low scrub brush. *sigh* Home sweet home!


Thank you to all of you who followed our journey and supported the retreat. Although I have no pictures from all the meetings and team times in the conference room, suffice it to say that we studied a lot, prayed a lot together, learned a lot about who we all are as a team and I think we took some good steps forward. Thank you for continuing to lift us up as a team!


Love Chantelle

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Celebrations, Bowling, and Amusement Parks - Burkina Faso style!

Lets start this installment with the celebrations! Our dear friends the Marineau family were celebrated for having finished two years of Tamasheq language study and now moving more fully into work here. It has been a hard road for them with a very hard language and no teachers, etc. Please pray for their continued language success and rejoice with us for their success this far!



It has been a long time since I bowled! But while in Ouaga we wanted to take full advantage of any fun activity that we could find. So our team went out to a bowling alley! In typical african fashion things broke down, including the electrical system being overloaded which resulted in no air-conditioning, but a great time was had by all. Times of fun with the team are really important to our lives together. If we have only work and no joy, it is hard to function as a family! I even won the girls lane! (with a whopping 94!)

Joelle in action


Lots of the team laughing and enjoying the fun! Notice we can wear pants and even tank tops in Ouaga, what joys!

Amusement Park Faso

One place that was so fun we had to go there twice (once after the conference on holiday days) was Park Faso. the first time we went we had almost the whole place to ourselves too. It is an amusement Park. I like to call it there place where other amusement park rides go to die. Only half the rides were working, but man the kids sure loved it! (Adults too!) The most popular ride was the Merry go Round.

Bennett and Arielle hamming it up


Auntie Kristi on the merry go round


Another favorite area was the ball pit. I am horrified by how nasty, dirty and disease ridden these ball pits notoriously area. But when there is so little else to do..... don't worry, I practically bathed my kids in disinfectant after their time here.


All the kids on the team, together in one place! Can you see all 8 of them?

Things got a little heated around the foosball table too. And I am not just talking about the sweat dripping off all these guys! The game was on, with East (Quebecers) vs. West (Albertans)!



Sophie and I enjoying a talk and watching the kids play. I am on the left for all of you who forget what I look like :)

Arielle relaxing in an old tire while her brother zipped around the bumper cars. She liked the merry go round better!

And lastly, one last pic that Kristi especially wanted. After all, who can resist a giant elephant with a big brown....slide....coming out of his bum!



Stay tuned for the next installment!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Trees, Roads and Markets....Burkina Faso style!

Hi there. I have been out of Niger for the past 10 days. Now we are back home, and in traditional Chantelle style I have way too many photos and stories. We had such a wonderful time in Burkina Faso, so much so that I decided to break it into a few blogs for your reading pleasure. I don't want any of you falling over from sheer reading exhaustion!

So this first one is looking at the road trip, the crazy Baobab trees, and the shopping of course!

Road trip!

We left early on a Saturday morning in a convoy with the Marineau family to make the trip to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, about 500 km southwest from us, for team meetings and retreat. Considering  we needed to stop at numerous tollbooths, two border stops, two customs stops, dodge animals, and numerous other potholes and lunch stops along the way, it took us about 8 hours to get there.

The amount of trucks waiting to get across the border was ridiculous. Apparently they are cracking down on overweight trucks. And guess what, they are all overweight and overloaded here! So since they don't want to pay extra fines or duty, they sit and wait. I am not sure what they are waiting for, but I think they intend to wait for a long time. They even have beds all set up!

Driving in Ouaga is much like Niamey, except that the streets seem cleaner, there is a noticeable lack of animals running wild, and there are waayyyy more motorcycles and bikes!

Check out all these bikes! They make it a hazard to drive. And I think there must have been a sale on khaki fabric.... (ok I know they are school kids...I am not that slow!)

The fine art of road stalls.


The markets and shopping!

I am not actually a big shopper. In Niger I haven't found any really good places to shop for souvenirs where you aren't over-run and hassled, which takes all the fun out of it. Here was a joy! I especially enjoyed the artisans market.

For the first time ever, I saw how batik is made. A bunch of stalls had people in the middle of the process, with canvas and wax and paint, making beautiful batik wall hangings. Some of the painters were very talented and I especially loved the ones that were a rich mix of oranges and reds.

A wide variety of African drums, calabashes, guitars, flutes and other things that made noise. No , I am not counting my children, they stayed back with Dad. We did buy Bennett a little music xylophone type thing though which he really likes.

One impressive place in the artisan market was the weaving looms. These ladies were working to weave together brightly colored yards of thread, sometimes mixing in shimmering gold or silver thread too, to make long scarves and table runners. Such beautiful fabric!


I thought of my necklace loving sister in law while I was here. There was a wide variety of beads, colors and styles to choose from. It was hard to weed it down to just one!


A fun lady selling all sorts of weaving. Joelle and I spent some time talking to her and bought our fill of stuff to bring back for gifts. She had fantastic handmade calabash tree ornaments that I especially liked. But check out all that work weaving straw!

And finally, I am not sure what this guy was selling, but if you need anything plastified, he's your man!



The trees!

As soon as we crossed the border into Burkina Faso, I started to notice these huge, towering trees rising up. Definitely more vegetation here than in Niger! What we happened upon was a belt of land blessed with the presence of an African icon- The Baobab tree.

This huge tree looks mostly dead, and its trunk looks thick and gnarled like the trunk of an elephant. I was amazed at their size! On our way to B.F. we stopped and had lunch under its branches.


The kids and Sophie made a chain around the tree to show how large it really is!




tree5_resize treetrunk1_resize


Road trip stats:

Number of broken down heavy freight trucks at the side of the road : 24

Number of tollbooths we went through: 8

Number of suicidal, chicken playing donkeys we almost hit : 5

Number of donkeys we DID hit : 1 ( a love tap on its rump after he wouldn't let us avoid  him)

Number of children who ran to us and stood around to watch us eat like we were a zoo display on our lunch stops: 12

Number of times we crossed the PRIME MERIDIAN on the trip: 2 (well I jumped back and forth a few times, but we won't count that)

Number of trucks lined up at the border trying to get past customs: we estimate approximately 250.

Number of times Bennett asked for snacks while driving: at least 12

Number of words Arielle spoke while we drove unless directly answering a question we asked her: less than 12

Number of times the border guards, customs officials or visa officers noticed that Bennett's passport had expired : 0 (Hallelujah!)

People who were happy to see their own homes and beds: 4 !!


Stay tuned for the next episode!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

All I really want is...some peace and quiet.


Last week we took some time off as a family to recuperate from the survey project and the huge commitment of time that project entailed. We found the nicest pool in town thus far and enjoyed that one afternoon, got caught up on things around the house, got back to my overflowing email inbox, and spent more time being spiritually refreshed through worship and reading. I spent lots of time on my guitar this week! One morning, Paul and I sent the kids off to their school for the morning, and we packed up Paul's bike, my camera gear, and snacks. (Of course...what outing couldn't be made better with snacks!). We headed out of town, not too far, but far enough that town and houses and huts were far behind. We parked in a really cool washout area with neat rock and sand formations. Paul's joy for mountain biking is hard to quench here in Niger, but this morning he had a chance for some fun!

paul1 Paul2

We enjoyed being left alone. No one asking us for money, no one asking for us to fix things, no one trying to selling us things, begging or otherwise needing our attention. Peace and quiet is a rare gift indeed here in Niger!

We almost made it a complete success in being left alone except for these two boys. They went by on a donkey cart and thought that we looked much more interesting than what they were going to do. So they stopped and hung out, a respectful distance away, and watched us. Sort of like zoo animals the didn't quite know what to do with. But when Paul jumped his bike off high things they clapped in delight. No harm done!


Alas, Paul's mountain biking glory was short-lived. All over the place were branches and pieces of the local trees. And they all have huge thorns. He rode and suspected he had punctured a tire, so he made one more quick jump on an almost flat, and called it a day for riding. Now to research some product to put into his tires that helps protect against punctures!


So once I was done my role as paparazzi of his biking adventures, I grabbed my magazine, some popcorn and my lawnchair and went to seek some solitude of my own.


Did I mention you can't get any solitude in Niamey, and have to look long and far to get away and be left alone?


And no one bugged me. Not even the goats. Ah....peace and quiet !!!


Arielle turns 3



Dear Arielle,

You turned three a few days ago. I am sorry we spent 9 hours in the truck, driving across the scrub brush desert in the blazing heat to another country. You didn't even get any cake. When we stopped at the Burkina Faso border you did get to get out of the car for half an hour and dance and sing though, and you seemed to like that (as well as the border guards who loved interacting with you while you told them stories and sung).


I look back at where you were a year ago. We were in Red Deer, taking some time before we moved to Africa. We have come a long way since then. I look at the way you are learning to trust. I love the way you can fall asleep in my arms now and you never could before. I love how you aren't freaked out by adults and that you are finding your voice. We can hear you now! We rejoice my dear daughter that you trust us enough to let your voice be heard and shout rather than whisper. You are slowly getting better motor skills too, and i think all our obstacle courses are helping with that.


You still look kinda goofy when you run, but yet you can run! We continue to pray over your body, your spirit and your path here with us in Africa. I Praise God for the gift he gave us with you, even in the hard times. You have so many people who love you, so many people who pray for you. 


And you know who made you special - God did !

Happy Birthday Arielle!!