Sunday, May 31, 2009



Today is May 31. Today marks one full year that we have been living here in Niger! A year ago, in the wee hours of the morning (like 2:00am) our family arrived, 8 very full pieces of luggage in tow, and was greeted at the airport by almost our whole team and we stepped into this country to start our new lives.

In some regards, I am amazed how fast the time has gone by. It DOES seem like we have been here only 5 or 6 months. We have been so busy with life, people and language that time flies by.


Here are a few of the things that we have learned and done in this past year:

We have begun to learn about different cultural mannerisms, and what it is ok to do and what it is not okay to do in public. It still seems odd to me to see men and women fishing around in their nose in public with no problem. We hear loud burps from both sexes who don't seem bothered. We have learned that if you pass gas in their presence, especially in a village setting, you might as well move and go find a new place of ministry. Story goes that ministries and reputations have actually been ruined because they farted in public. yikes!

Bad driving is the norm in Niger. While Paul still gets mad out about this, (and Chantelle tries to avoid driving if she doesn't have to) we are still amazed that one country can be so full of bad drivers. We see accidents almost everyday. Half the times these include motorbikes, which are the menaces of the road for sure. People pass you on the LEFT, way out into the other lane. I think many people honestly think (or have been taught) that the center line is merely a suggestion and doesn't matter much. People cut you off all the time. At night, most roads have no street lights and driving is even more scary. We appreciate all prayers directed towards our general safety as we have to drive around here! Thankfully we have a big truck that sits up high and is tough. Go Toyota Landcruisers!

Crazy high temperatures is the norm.


Thankfully, we find we are doing much better with by now. Our bodies and attitudes have acclimated, and while we still feel the heat and sweat a lot, we don't let it bother us as much and we continue on with life in spite of it. I really do believe the battle is half mental! We tried to fry an egg on our front tile patio in the sun when it was 57 degrees (135 farenheit) and it surprised me by taking longer than i thought. Next up, I plan to try baking cookies on the dash of our truck. I have heard rumours it works!

Paul has spent that last 9 months in intensive studies for french. He has learned a ton of the language and we are so pleased with his progress. He will be starting full time Tamasheq studies in September. Chantelle has spent 9 months in full time tamasheq language. This language is related to Arabic loosely and is quite a challenge. After 9 months, I am beginning to be able to hold my own in basic conversations and sit and visit with the women (who speak no french)

We have also taken a lot of time this past year to work on our relationships with the people around us. I have 5 different women I feel welcomed to visit and spend time with as often as possible. We love their children and feel like aunts and uncles to them. It has been so exciting to build friendships and learn culture from them and be accepted. Really, this is all the icing on the cake for us! This gift to stand out at something "different" to them and to be invited over time and time again to share in their lives, teach them things and pray for them. What joy!

In our past year, here is some of the development work we have been doing:

Paul is working a lot in the little welding shop out front. He is teaching 2 men on and off how to use basic tools, how to grind and saw and piece things together. This shop has done work for a missions aviation group, the Adventist Relief agency, Sahel school (solar cooker box) and our own projects building pulleys and systems to outfit a well, designing and modify roof racks for team vehicles and anything else that anyone needs fixed. Some days he has more work than time, but he is loving the way to work alongside his workers, speak french and teach them, while blessing others in his skills to build things.


Chantelle spent many months designing, implementing and tabulating all the data from our team's first baseline development survey. As you may have read in our posts about it, we gathered health, education, death, illness, water source, family changes, and much more from over 1200 people in the areas we work. This information is now helping us better plan our next steps in these communities


Our family has been the team point persons for working with a local Tuareg community group to build a hut class and latrine for them. They are starting classes for their own people to teach them literacy, french language and health/hygiene topics. The grand opening is next week, so stay tuned for more information on this exciting project! We are also working with our Tuareg team members the Marineau family who live about an hour outside town to put together grant funds and plans for a school nutrition & feeding program we hope to start this September. This school only has 40% attendance (at the primary level!) and we hope that by giving 2 meals a day that meet international nutritional standards, that we can improve attendance and their consumption rates, thus positively impacting their health and education at the same time! We are still in the planning stages, so more news to come!


Bennett and Arielle

Our two little tikes are now 3 and 4 years old. They have spent the past 9 months attending a morning preschool in french. This frees us up to have language classes all morning. They are enjoying learning lots of songs and we are quite pleased to see the level of french they are slowly starting to acquire. Arielle will continue in this preschool next year, while Bennett will transfer over to start real kindergarten at "La Fontaine", thus starting his scholastic journey in the french system. We have chosen to put him in the french system for now to ensure he gets not only a great education, but the best chance we can offer him to learn french really well and be bilingual. As you can tell, language is important to us! Arielle will likely follow the year after



Some of the things we have seen for the very first time here in Niger

Families of giraffes out in the wild


Minivans and buses packed higher than the height of the vehicle itself


Photographed, sat on and played with a giant turtle

Seen little moped motorbikes used as major transportation haulers. We have seen these things carry animals, 6 people at a time, lawnmowers, other mopeds strapped on top with the driver, full wooden dresser/armoire units, 20 foot long wrapped lengths of iron, barrels, gas cylinders and many other bizarre things.

Moto with two people and a sheep


Sweat. I had no idea we could lose so much water via sweat and still be standing and healthy. Here is Paul after a few hours outside working in the shop.


Water. We have seen whole communities of people drink water from wells that is so dirty that we wouldn't even consider drinking it back in Canada.

Photo courtesy of Tim


Sand storms. Never before have I seen a blue sky turn completely orange in the middle of the day. The sand storms normally get pushed up ahead of rain coming and the high winds roll into the city, bringing with them huge sand storms. In minutes the sky is covered and we run to close all our windows and get inside. A fine layer of sand still makes it into the cracks in the doors and windows and we sweep out a fine layer of sand from the floors and off the surfaces in the house. These photos have not been touched up at all for color, saturation or effect. This is how it really rolls in. Notice the patch of sky just barely peeking through in the top right of this first one? It is the middle of the day.




We rode camels.


Chantelle learned to grind up millet in a traditional mortar and pestle. Hard work!



And so now we embark on another year. Many new adventures and projects planned, and many more opportunities to spend our lives with the people of Niger. Thank you for being with us thus far!!


Paul & Chantelle

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

When methodologies collide....

Sometimes we see things here that are frustrating. Normally we try not to let them get to us, to walk away and wipe them from our psyche and hold no ill-will. Sometimes that task is a little harder. Let me tell you about yesterday. Actually, first, a little back history. Our house is in front of a school. Like directly in front of it. If there is a stiff wind while the kids pee on the school wall (lack of latrines) it might hit our front gate. That's how close we are. This is a National Government school, which means it is often on strike, but when it is functioning we see the kids, they play with our kids and neighbors. I speak with some of the teachers who might come and sit on the bench under the shade of our tree once in a while and chat during the afternoon break. I am learning how their school functions, where they grew up, what their lives are like,etc. I don't know if I would call them friends, but everything is a relationship in progress :)

The school yard from the vantage point of my front yard


So yesterday afternoon during the school time two trucks came filled with white people. I am saying white people simply because they were white, spoke english and I don't know what country they were from, and I won't identify here which organization was emblazoned on the door of the truck. I am guessing a short term visiting team? They brought with them boxes of books. More specifically, soft cover Sunday school type materials with Bible stories in them. They emptied all their boxes and handed out these books to all the children. They video taped the whole event while handing them out, smiling children, etc then they drove off. Paul walked up just when they were leaving and found out what had just happened. He was not impressed to say the least. He saw some of the kids jumping up and down on piles of the books, tearing out the pages and flinging them around and jumping on them. Small fires were set for some. The teachers didn't try to stop them. Our neighbor boy, who does not attend the school, also had a copy which was torn and dismantled within minutes. This morning when I walked outside you can see the sand littered with bits and pieces of the pages all over the sand.

Shredded pages of the books blown up against our garden fence.


This one struck me as particularly poignant. I remnant of a page that is torn and says only "Dieu voulait" - God wanted.


This morning a bunch of parents (around 40 according to my guard outside) descended on the school, clearly very mad that the school (a govt school in a Muslim country) had allowed this to happen on school grounds, and if they hadn't given permission for it (we have no idea if they did) that the teachers allowed it to happen. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they did in fact get permission from someone higher up, that they have a relationship with someone in the school who maybe invited them or told them it would be ok? That just never got passed on to the teachers or parents. They were extremely upset and mad and mistrustful of the strangers who had no relationship with the school and just descended in a "carpet bomb" of literature at a public school, took pictures, then left. A few of the teachers said they didn't know anything about it ahead of time and were surprised and upset it had happened too. I guess they didn't feel powerful enough in their own jobs though to go challenge these people handing out freebies on their school yard during recess.

I feel sad about the waste of those books. Had they been more appropriately targeted then lots wouldn't have been shredded and destroyed. I know there are local churches here who would have probably really appreciate them. I feel fairly sure the supporters who purchased those materials would not be happy either. I am sad that the school teachers and especially parents are totally mistrustful now of the efforts of white strangers and we worry about impact on our own relationships there. I am trying hard here to understand. I am trying hard to see a benefit of this type of drop off. There was no relational context at all and to our guards and neighbors.

I know that my heart and personality beats for building strong long term relationships and working in development to better the lives of the people here. I know that people have different approaches, opinions, etc. I really do get that and by no means think there is only one approach to love people and reach them. But really I am struggling with this one. My other neighbors are angry as well. They are a well to do Muslim family we have being slowly befriending ever since we moved in next door. Our guards saw it happen and were mad at the "typical missionaries!" (their words - not mine!) Haven't we learned and grown as people and grown in our respect and love for each other, for cultures and for building relationships. Really - I just don't get it. I am not trying at all to slam this effort or their hearts motivations, I am trying to understand.

Pray for us as we now talk with these neighbors and parents who are angry now. We aren't sure ourselves quite what to say.

For us, sharing our faith is very relationally built. As I sit with my language tutor, the village ladies etc, eventually they want to know about me too. They want to know why I would leave the land of riches (North America) to live here in the "heat and poverty". And I tell them why. I have hours under their straw roofs to talk and share tea and watch our kids play. We talk about hygiene, education, breastfeeding skills, crops, cultural mess-ups I have made, words I don't yet know and our children. We also talk about love, life, faith and hope. And I love it.

Feel free to share in the comment section your thoughts, insights, experiences etc with different methodologies, maybe you have some insight or words I could really use to help me understand this one. Opinions are welcome on the issue. No bashing please. Slander won't be tolerated and will be deleted. I believe above all that we are all here to love the people of Niger and no one is trying to purposely hurt the ministry of people, or act in an unintentional fashion.

So this may be a little heavy and more theological than our normal blog fodder - but this is our life :)


Monday, May 18, 2009

How to keep cool in Niger - a tutorial

The hot season is on. Well, not like it ever gets turned off here, with the temperate daily average rarely dipping below 30 even in COLD season, but this season, which I think lasts from March-July mostly, is miserably hot before we get some rain the end of July. The daily average in the SHADE these last few months has been 45 degrees Celsius (113F). The house usually seems to sit inside around 36 degrees with the fans running. So with this kind of heat for this long we need options to keep our brains from frying! We have found many different options on how to help keep us cool and active, rather than falling into a sleepy, grumpy, dysfunctional hot mess. Here are our  ideas for "beating the heat!"


The daily recommended 8 glasses of 8 ounces a day is just over one of these bottles. Paul and I drink about 3 each a day, and the kids one a piece. So this table represents the minimum our family drinks per day around here. I also have 2 or 3 bottles that are half full in the freezer than I top up with water when I go out somewhere to ensure lots of ice cold water in the heat! At least hopefully we won't get heat stroke from being dehydrated. We have three fabric carrier bags with straps that insulate and carry our water everywhere. We even have an extra for visitors (hint hint!)

coolingoff034 copy 

In the morning if there is a breeze, we like to sit outside on the terrace to do language study or work. It is still in full shade, and when there is a breeze it makes the heat quite manageable. The same is true for the evening when the sun is down and the air is moving. You can see we are in the middle of screening in a little room here. We hope to be able to sleep outside when it is hot and the power goes out inside, and give us a refuge at night to sit/read/study/visit people or play guitar. We need the screen for bugs and lizards. At night hundreds of bugs are attracted to the lights and drive you crazy, and malaria season is soon upon us, so the screens are a must.


When inside, the heat and humidity would be intolerable without fans. At least being able to get the air moving around you feels like it drops the temperature by 10 degrees. So if we are in a room, the fans are turned on. Really irritating side effect is that all your papers get blown everywhere. We have lots of little paperweights now.


This fan below is a new model dual purpose fan/hair dryer. Yes, this is what I actually use 90% of the time to dry my hair, especially in hot season. The normal hair drier isn't strong on its cool setting and the normal air  makes my hair wet with sweat faster than I can dry it! And if I am feeling really hot and sweaty I go stand in front of this fan just to dry off and cool off. I call it the "jet engine" since it is really large, powerful and noisy.  Paul says he feels all proud with this "industrial" fan around.



Sometimes our power goes out, and when that does, the heat instantly settles in the room, with no fans to chase it away. This is particularly horrendous if it is 3am and you wake up with no power, no fan and a puddle of sweat and wet hair where your pillow used to be. So I made 4 long fabric tubes, with divided partitions, that hold a mix of lavender, corn and beans. These sit in the freezer all day and when the power goes out, we distribute one to each member of the family. At night this means we can fall back asleep and it will keep my head cool for the 30 minutes or so before the power comes back on usually (thankfully we are close to the power plant and come back online near the front of the pack!) In the middle of the day we will get them out and wrap them around our neck while studying, and Bennett especially likes pulling several of them out and laying under them as seen here. Arielle seems to like the heat the most, and Bennett the least. He always wants to be as cold as possible!


Another option we have here is the swamp cooler, or you may know it by the name "Evaporative cooler". It uses a motor and fan to pull air through a mat/screen of water which cools the air. As you probably already thought, this also adds humidity to the air. So in the really dry part of the year, these work really well for a single room. As the humidity starts to rise, as it is now, they becomes less useful since the air gets too humid so you are dripping with sweat from that too. Sometimes you just can't win! Also, these do wrack up the electricity bills, using about 40%  more power than just running the ceiling fans alone. We have been calculating and keeping track!


Our final option in the house is two air conditioning units. They are located in the bedrooms for us and the kids (who share a room) during hot season last year we had all four of us in one room. These are only big enough to cool the bedrooms. We try to only use the minimally and only at night. They are the most expensive option and one of our largest expenses every month is electricity. In the cooler season from October to March we didn't use them at all almost, but now in hot season we run them at night so we can sleep.


And when all else fails - the power is out and we have no escape from the heat, we do what any self-respecting Canadian would do, we head to the closest pool!! (This is a picture of our favorite pool at a local hotel where you can pay $5 per person to come for the day.


So come to Niger, and beat the heat! We have lots of options. Feel free to share your ideas if you know some others. We are always looking for new ways!


Until next time,


Monday, May 04, 2009

My buddy Souliman


I would like to introduce you to one of my favorite little friends here. His name is Souliman and he is the second youngest child of my night guard Ismaguil. He is 3 years old. We first met Souliman shortly after we got here when we got the scary call one night that he wasn't breathing and they needed our help (vehicle) to get him help. Paul rushed over to their hut and found him lying on the floor. Paul's heart sank as he thought that he was too late. However, he was still breathing, although struggling. We discovered he had whooping cough and taught them how to treat it.

As we slowly spent more time with this family while learning the language and hanging out, we learned what a joy this child has. Every single time we come to his place as soon as he sees me his face lights up and he runs full speed up to me with open arms to be lifted up into a big hug. He insists on sitting right next to me as much as possible. He doesn't care if we bring treats or not, he is just genuinely happy to be with us. If Bennett is there he follows Bennett everywhere and can't wait to play with him. I will get a video loaded here if I can soon and you can see him discovering bubbles for the first time in his life. A thrilling experience.

Another thing about Souliman is that he suffers from really horrible skin eczema.  I have never seen a case so bad. If you look at the photo below you can see his arms and legs are blotchy and discolored with rough dry patches and flakes that itch. At times his feet and ankles were so full of infection and puss that he couldn't even walk. My poor little friend.




A closer look at the skin on his lower leg.



Through the generosity of some of you I had two tubs of "George's cream" sent from Canada, which I know is excellent for this purpose. I had the honor to wash and clean his feet, give him a bunch of new pairs of socks and shoes and teach his parents how to care for his skin problems. Although he will likely always deal with sensitive skin and flareups, I am happy to report that his feet are looking so much better! His parents make him wear the socks almost all the time, which keeps out the dirty sand and infections sources as much as possible. Hard to do when you live in a hut where the floor itself is sand! (notice he is still grinning and playing with bubbles!)



Thank you for supporting us here. People like Souliman brighten our days and without your support (and generous care packages of cream!) we wouldn't be able to be here. We have the privilege of taking care of people here, including Souliman, and my life is richer for him.  I hope one day you can come to visit and meet him for yourself!!