Wednesday, September 30, 2009



Last Sunday and Monday were the Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan, which ends their 30 days of fasting.

According to the web:

“Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is supposed to be a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice,

Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. They are to make peace with those who have wronged them, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up their lives, thoughts, and feelings. The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means "to refrain" - and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.”

Miriama and her new set of clothes for Ramadan. I am amazed to see it is white. How in the world will they keep it clean? I can’t keep my whites clean and I live in a cement house with cupboards and not a straw hut with dirt floors. Wow. The outfit was very beautiful with great embroidery. This outfit probably cost about $25 and she saved for months for it. Part of me is sad to see them save and spend of things such as fancy clothes rather than food or education, but I also know it is important for their religion and culture and moral too.

The women all dressed up!

Little girls who came to visit with their hair all beautifully braided and with bobbles and stuff braided right in. I have thought several times I would like to do this with Arielle’s hair, but I think it is still too fragile and I am afraid this process would pull it all out!

More children all squeaky clean and dressed up in their best clothes.

I loved this boys outfit. He is about 7 years old and he was wearing a suit all day. The suit was several sizes too big and the tie was held together at the top with a safety pin since it was so ripped. He was so proud of his new clothes and looked so sweet!

Bennett enjoyed the opportunity to play some soccer with some of the local kids. This is him and El Hadi, the youngest brother of Miriama. They had such a great time. Arielle joined in for a while too, but mostly preferred to sit and snack on all the food the whole time!



Special food!

We ate a lot this day! At Miriama’s house we shared a traditional meal with baked corn bread, sauce, couscous and tea. It was all very good! Our neighbour family had pots of food out. After they all ate, the kids grabbed large stocks of millet and began roasting them over coal out front of the house. It looked just like roasting corn on the cob. The heated it up and held it over the hot coals until it got brown, then they shucked it off into a bowl and munched on the roasted grain pieces. Paul and I tried some and it was quite tasty, like roasted nuts. Yum!

Sorry we didn’t get a family shot in our clothes. Here is Bennett hamming it up for the camera, Paul lounging in the background in the right (wearing the matching outfit) and Arielle playing in the sand in the background on the left and Laila leaning against the hut pole.

What a great day we had visiting all of our friends, and we were very tired when we came home after 9 hours of visiting!

We also found this to be a wonderful time of sharing ideas about culture and celebrations and Religion. This day is somewhat like our Christmas day, and many stories and cultural observations were exchanged with our friends. People were very open to share that day too.

Happy end of Ramadan!


Saturday, September 26, 2009


I want to introduce you to a little boy named Halid. He is 6 or 7 years old and he is the oldest son of the main guard at our office/guesthouse facility. A few days ago he got a cut on his leg and despite being told by his father, the mother didn't seek any medical attention for it. This evening the son was brought to our team doctor with a bad infection and was immediately sent to get medical care at a hospital clinic since we couldn’t provide that level of urgent care. Paul headed out to meet them and to ensure the doctors knew the bills would be paid and to see if he could help. He reported back from this clinic that Halid was not responding and was almost comatose and in very grave danger with a likely blood infection. We started praying here and sent our an email to some of you to join us in prayer for Halid.

After we sent out a prayer request for Halid via email, we got a call last night from the clinic that they wanted to give Halid a tetanus shot and a few other things. However, they did not have any of that medication in stock. So Paul went to the clinic to get a written prescription of all the medicines they needed, then he went into town to a pharmacy and bought the meds, then returned with them to the clinic so they could give them to Halid. Once again we were struck by the fact that even clinics and hospitals here have medicine shortages and it is not uncommon for them to be "out". Can you imagine that!

Paul and Halid's dad (Dalain) held down the boy while they gave him the tetanus shot and Paul was thankful to note that the doctor was very gentle and did it very slowly to cause the minimum amount of pain for Halid. Halid was in and out of consciousness. We got them into a room and Dalain stayed the night. This morning at 9am Paul went back to the clinic and got an update. We rejoice to say the Halid made it through the night! The results from tests came back and confirmed that he has a very serious blood infection and also malaria. When we spoke about this to our team doctor Ace confirmed that without immediate treatment and hospitalization, Halid would not have lived more than 24 hours. By the time I am writing this to you now, he would have died. Again I was struck deep in my heart how incredibly privileged we are to be here, to be serving God and these people, and making a real difference like this. Paul has been back to the clinic 3 times today. Halid is responding the medication for the blood infection and to treat his malaria. He was awake and speaking this evening. Dalain has not left his side. We see in this man such a true deep love for his children in the way he strokes his son's hair, wept while carrying him to the clinic and hasn't left his side. Going through these types of situations together creates a great bond where we can truly show how much we love these people. Halid will be in the hospital for 3 days as a minimum to ensure he recovers enough to be able to go home. It looks like we caught the infection in time and he will recover. I am so touched by God's amazing gift to us, to be able to be here, to be able to do this. Left to their own resources and finances, Dalain's family would have struggled to be able to afford even the first rounds of medication and treatment.

Your support of Global Advance allows us to be here, and your gifts to our Work Special allow us the freedom to bless the people around us by supporting them in their times of need with medication, hospital fees, etc. We truly can't thank you enough. And tonight we can put a name and face to those blessings. You have made the difference.

Please continue to pray for Halid, for his full recovery, and for God to be glorified fully through this situation and that it would open doors in our relationships. I have attached a photo of Halid taken this evening.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

Compassion? Going above and beyond

This post is a long time in the writing. Meaning that this topic or some facet of it is something I think about every. single. day. here in Niger. It’s reality in my life is as inescapable as the sand in a sandstorm around here! It will take me days to write that which has been a year brewing, and your comments and insights are appreciated at the end :)

Compassion. What does it mean to you? I believe that God as gifted me in this area in that I feel compassion deeply for people and followed his call here to Africa to put that into action in a specific way. But there are many days when my compassion for the people here can be overwhelming and totally emotionally draining.  The needs here are those in-your-face obvious needs. I was sitting at a streetlight today on my way to pick up the kids from school and at one light I had 4 different beggars come to the side of the vehicle to ask for something. One old man had no hand, one young girl was leading an old woman, another man was blind and the third…well he was just a kid looking for some money. All of our workers are very poor and the majority of them live in straw huts. They come to us since we are their best hope for medicine, help, money, loans, jobs, etc. Their community pitches in and helps often with loans to each other, but you can only squeeze so much money from those who are also poor. Everywhere we go, the needs of the people are clear, and for those with a compassionate heart, well we need to find a balance. I know I can’t help everyone.

To paraphrase in a book I am reading about photography- “Anyone can take a picture of poverty. It’s pretty easy to capture dirt and hurt in people. But it’s much harder to capture, both in film and spirit, what lies beneath the surface of those people. Their beauty and dignity and desires for their life. Had it not been for their birth place and circumstances, they could have been just like me. I want my images of people to tell their story, not just show their faces”.

My compassion goes the same way. I don’t want to meet only their base needs (although i don’t doubt they are important). I want to meet deeper needs of their heart, for them to know they have value and are loved and will be treated with respect by me. When people come to our window of our truck to beg, I make sure to always look them in the eye, even if I have nothing to give them, and say no politely and smile to them. I can’t just ignore them. But I find it awkward when I have already said “no i don’t need to buy anything or have nothing to give” 5 times to the same person and they are still standing there staring at me in the window. At what point do i simply sigh and look away from them and go on waiting for the light to turn green? Do they think staring me down will change something or magically make money appear in my purse to give them?

So what I am learning, and praying about and hopefully growing in, is how to move beyond wanting to help the people and even feeling pity to social justice and mercy and true compassion. I can’t help everyone, but what are the criteria for those that I can?


Here is the story of Y to demonstrate. Y is an older man who is a respected muslim and looked up to as a spiritual man among the Tuaregs we know. He lives in a hut in the same yard enclosure as my main guard S and his wife and child. Y is not married, and yet has several aunts and sisters and their children living with him under his care. He worked for our group for the last few years as a night guard. Problem is, he was a horrible guard. He would sleep during his shifts, leave his post and wander off, leave tasks undone and his attitude was also one that he was too good to have a job. He was above this. He also felt that he had the right to get everything he could from our organization (in terms of benefits, loans, etc) because he worked for our team, even though he had repeatedly I believe been told he was not working good. So anyhow, his boss went back to Canada in June and Y was laid off. Our team did not have another position available and due to his poor work and bad attitude we were not too sad to let him go as an employee. Problem is, he didn’t get the fact that once you are no longer an employee, it really isn’t polite to keep asking and insisting for benefits as if you still worked for these people! Now that his old boss is gone, he has taken it upon himself to come to our house often. He came the other day and I spoke with him for a while and our conversation went something like this.

Y- I have been unable to find another job. What are you going to do for me?

Me- Well I have been praying for you to find another job and if I hear about an opening I will let you know. We don’t have any positions available

Y- You need to give me a loan so I can open a little store. Really guard work isn’t what I want to do. I want to buy and sell things in a little store but I don’t have the money.

Me – I am sorry but I can’t just give business loans to everyone who asks. Do you have a plan on what you want to do? Have you saved up some money to go towards starting one yourself?

Y- Well no…. what are you going to do for me?

Me- I have never been your boss Y. Why do you assume I have to do something for you when you won’t go out and do something for yourself?

Y- I don’t have a job anymore because I pray to Allah too much at work. I know that is the reason I have no job now.

Me- You were told many times why you don’t have a job now. (I re-explained them to him and it has nothing to do with him being a Mus*lim man who prays)

This conversation went around in circles for a while like that.

Then he says –Well what are you going to do for my kids? You HAVE do so something for them. I have no job so they can’t go to school this year.

Now Y has 6 kids under his care. When he worked for our team, one of the benefits that the school aged dependant children get is that we pay for schooling for them. But when he lost his job, he lost that benefit as well. He went on and on saying how it was our responsibility to pay for their school, etc.


So here is the crux of my problem. Y is a man who drives me crazy sometimes. Ok..usually. He feels like everything is owed to him and he doesn’t really want to work for anything.  I hate that he comes here several times a week lately asking for a job, for loans, for his kids school, assuming we owe him shifts whenever there is one available somewhere. He drives me nuts! And I can’t really fully exit a relationship with this family since I see them often. The hut class is in their same enclosure and I visit the other family there. And my kids play with those kids. And most importantly….God loves this man and those children EXACTLY as much as he loves me and my children!! It is not the fault of those children that their father is arrogant and feels he is owed everything and thus alienates people. It is not their fault they were born into poverty and lack the ability to get a good education without help. Paul went to their school yesterday to see how they did last year and what kind of marks and attendance they had. We were very pleased to see all 6 kids had high attendance and quite high marks, all over 70%.  So we know they didn’t waste the benefit last year. These kids also attend our kids hut classes to help with their homework,etc. So…we are leaning towards paying for school this year for all 6 of those children. This will cost approximately $1000 CDN to our work special fund for each year we support those children. We don’t know what we will do for following years yet, that decision will come later and depending on how this year goes i think. We have talked with the school and found a way that we can track marks and attendance for all the children of our employees so that we can be on top of our “investments” into their education and ensure they are attending and doing as well as possible.

Two of the children

IMG_5577 hutclassweb28


In my heart I feel that God is leading us to do this. I know we can’t help everyone here, but we CAN help these children. We can’t abandon children who do show so much promise, who we have relationships with and who do have legitimate need. The cost to us will be an on-going relationship with Y, which will be very draining for us many times I am sure. We are working to find a way that Y will also be giving something to this project, be in free work to us in return, donating time elsewhere etc, but to find a way that he is also engaged and sacrificing for those children to go to school.

So in spite of the fact that our human minds would like to turn away, to not put ourselves in a position of constant irritation and requests, as Christians we can’t just walk away from people we already have a relationship with! God does call us to go the extra mile. He never tells us to only love the people who are easy, to only give to people who will be cheery and then leave us alone in peace, or to connect their work ethic or performance with our compassion in return. But I know it is easier to write that than live it!

“Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing -- resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.We simply stop feeling it.”

I never want to lose the blessing that my heart hurts for the people of Niger. I never want to just live here and do good things, I want to yearn to help more, I want to cry for the poor and love them in even greater depths than my human mind can imagine.


A quick look at the bible will show us that compassion is central to the character of God.

  • The Lord will always have compassion on us. (2 Kings 13:23, Nehemiah 9:27, Psalm 103:13, Isaiah 54:8)
  • Jesus felt compassion to those in need. (Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34, Mark 6:34, 8:2, Luke 15:20, etc.)
  • Those who walk with the Lord will have compassion. (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:12-13, Philippians 2:1-2, 1 Peter 3:8)
  • Compassion fulfills the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

So in allowing my heart and life to be renewed and refined, I need to keep compassion central to my being as well. For this situation, it means not only giving financially, but also emotionally and giving our time and some days even our sanity! I yearn to be more like God, to love people fully and see beyond their attitudes and actions, and to JUST LOVE FULLY. And oh how often I fail at this.

Please pray for us as we take these steps, as God refines in us our capacity to love and not take the easy way out.

Comments and your thoughts on compassion are welcome below in the comments section!

Your partner here in Niger,



Friday, September 18, 2009

I Blew out my flipflop and ...

Hi there. Welcome to Friday . I am almost done writing a blog about compassion and compassionate choices, and it will be posted soon. In the meantime I wanted to send you a copy of a good blog our good friend Jason Brooks just posted about health and hygiene. They are out here working in Niger too and we think they are awesome. I am stealing your blog Jason- well written! I thought my readers would enjoy it as well considering we have the same things happen to us!




I Blew out my flipflop and ...

Some needs you become aware of because you read about them and others because they touch you personally... Like on the foot...

This morning I was taking the kids to school and we had a flat tire. OK, not an uncommon experience in Niger. Not only are the roads terrible, but because there is no real system of garbage disposal there is all sorts of debris that can easily puncture a tire.

Today was a little more complicated because I was driving a friend’s car, a little Toyota station wagon that virtually skims along the top of the sand on worn out suspension and bald tires. I wasn’t even sure we had a spare, and my relief at discovering we did in fact have one, soon evaporated when I saw its condition.

Fortunately we had only gotten a few hundred feet from the front of our house so our guard ran up right then to lend a hand. He just shook his head when he saw the spare. Not only was it lacking in tread, but it was extremely dry-rotted, and nearly flat. He took the spare down to get it properly inflated at the nearest tire repair stand. Out of necessity there is a tire repair stand about every 100 yards in the city, so it was not hard to find one. Most of the guys who run them sleep there, so after waking up a “technician” it was soon inflated and ready to do its duty.

It was then that I knelt down to start jacking up the car and was affronted by a very heinous smell. It was the smell of excrement. Sure enough there was a swarm of flies already forming around my left foot. I had stepped in someone’s diarrhea. Yes, I said "someone’s," not "something’s". This was of the human variety and this person needed to see a doctor immediately. A good course of Flagentyl was in order.

It was then that I realize we had stopped in the toilet spot at one end of our street. We were literally surrounded. Yes, at both ends of the short street in front of our house there are areas where people do their business, and I was kneeling in one of them trying to change a tire.

Yes, this is disgusting, but most of all it is sad. People are not just being gross and unsanitary, they lack the dignity afforded by proper sanitation. Only 8% of people in the country have access to sanitation facilities. That means more than 9 out of 10 people have to go to the toilet on the ground.

Nine out of ten grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, boys and girls have to leave the place where they live, walk out into the neighbourhood, and relieve themselves somewhere on the ground. It is not only undignified, it is dangerous. According to many sources, contaminated water accounts for over 80% of illnesses leading to hospitalization, in the developing world. I don’t have to tell you that human excrement is the number one contaminant in these same places. A large scale sewer system is out of the realm of possibility. For an idea of the challenge, the United States has not been able to solve its sewer problems in Washington DC due to the cost of overhauling an out-of-date and overtaxed system. Of course, in Washington water still flows, and is at least treated.

It makes me realize that for those of us involved with rural development the challenges of an increasingly urban world are huge. In villages we simply dig pit latrines and install deep boreholes. Literally with these small investments, and some education, the quality of life can increase exponentially as people enjoy better heath and the benefits that it brings to work, education and economy.

As I washed and re-washed my sandaled foot I thought of one of my employees that I had visited the day before. His youngest child was very ill. It turned out she had dysentery and parasites, and was taking Flagentyl. They live is a one-room mud you have to cross over two sewer ditches to get to. They share a courtyard with several families and literally scores of children. Needless to say plumbing is out of the question.

As I walked back to their little urban hut I stepped over and through piles of garbage, and Lord-knows-what, and I thought – how can I help this man’s family to insure that his children have a chance of making it adulthood? We have talked to them about oral rehydration salts (ORS) and how to administer it during the continual bouts of diarrhea, but what is the long-term solution? I guess for me I can just watch where I step. I have the luxury of avoidance and water filters. For them there is no avoiding the problems of illness that claim one in four children under age five in Niger. I told him to call me if the little one does not start to get better, but we want to do more to help families in urban and rural Niger to protect their little ones from illness. Please pray for our water and sanitation projects and for the children of Niger.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

All in a name….

As I scribble this is a notebook I am sitting in a small restaurant across from the central food market in Niamey. I fortify myself with a nice cup of coffee, in one of the only places in town I know where to find it! Sometimes I feel like it is truly only by divine protection that I make it downtown in one piece. The driving here un-nerves me for its sheer volume characterized by swerving, honking, few working streetlights and general poor driving habits of the people. I see accidents, especially involving motorcycles, almost daily. But driving is the topic of a whole ‘nother post…so I won’t dilly dally on this topic!

So I am drinking my coffee, waiting for the Post Office to open and then to meet my language partner after that for study. I am gathering my energy to enter the market to pick up some vegetables. It is a crazy, high energy packed place where I know I will be yelled at (everyone wants to sell to me!), I will likely be overcharged at first price, etc. But the one things that really bothers me is what I know I will hear. “ANASARA!” To quote a Peace Corps volunteer:

“We are called “anasara” here, which means ‘stranger’ and often ‘white person,’  People often think that we have tons of money, so they will often try to make us pay massive amounts more for food and items at the market. We spend a lot of time learning to bargain. People stare at us, they talk about us when we walk by, and the children follow you throughout the market for no reason other than to just look at you.”

Short or tall, thin or not-thin, French, Canadian or Ukrainian, you will all get called ANASARA!! (I have a hard time not even writing in in capital letters since it always yelled out loud! SO why does this bother me? I know I come from a western country where my worldview is considerably different than theirs. Where I come from, it is considered really rude and almost unthinkable to yell out at someone and address them by their nationality or the color of their skin. I was discussing this with team members the other night and we all agreed. Can you imagine (since most of you reading this are from a North American culture as well) if we were walking downtown in a NA city and yelled and addressed everyone by their skin or ethnicity? Can you imagine yelling – Hey Chinaman! Hey Jew! Hey Negro! Hey Paki man! Hey Indian! Hey Whitey, etc! I cringe even writing it never mind actually doing it! How completely rude and racist, and (to my worldview) WRONG!!! So as I walk around here all the time and have people address me like that it really irritates me! A group of young men were addressing us like that the other day in the market and Paul stopped to talk to them. He said - “Why are you calling us that? Do you know that people from North America find it really rude when you address them like that? That it is impolite for us? How would you feel if I yelled out at you and called you Black Man! (They agreed they wouldn’t like this). So Paul told them it would be much more polite and productive it terms of getting us to respond if they called the white folks Madam and Monsieur. They said they really appreciate knowing that and had a good little chat with Paul after that. It had never occurred to them that people from NA were being offended when they yelled it at them. Go Paul!

And so I always try to sit back and look at a situation and analyze it based on culture and worldview. Is it just my worldview and culture that makes a situation appear one way to me? To some extent- of course it is! But daily I try to take the other perspective. To put myself into their mindset and culture and see how I would feel about it then. Sometimes it is a very healthy exercise to allow me to remove myself and my emotions and try to understand the people and culture around me. I see them refer to each other based on ethnicty all the time. Oh yeah..the Tuareg guy they will say, oh the Goure man who sell veggies, the Fulani at the corner hut, etc. It doesn't bother them one bit to be distinguished by the color of their skin or where they come from. So that helps me a bit to know at least they aren’t singling me out!

Anyhow..just another glimpse into our lives here and the things that go through my head as I process living cross culturally!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Things you learn in the fabric market

4 times a year there is a travelling market that comes to Niamey. The majority of it’s wares are fabric of all different kinds, pre-made African outfits and guady carpets and laminated plaque koranic verses or chintzy plastic household items. I like to go since you can find inexpensive pre-made outfits that have the matching top and long skirt that we wear most days. By cheap I mean about $23 for the complete top and skirt that is also lined.

I will post a picture from a previous time I was at the market since I didn’t take any pictures today. I know…hard to believe ;) I don’t actually carry my camera around here much!


A few observations. It is Ramadan right now, so no one was eating or drinking in public. Since you aren’t even supposed to swallow your spit during Ramadan you seriously had to watch where you walked. I almost got spit on twice. We were driving behind a cab and we saw one of the men in the backseat of the cab turn around and spit….into the back window area of the cab. EWWW!

As well, beggars were out in full force since this is a time where Muslims tend to give more money. We only made it a few stores before some of the children found us, asking for money,and when I told them I was sorry but I didn’t give out presents of money to celebrate Ramadan, they got mad and said some things that were rude and I am glad I didn’t understand. (The lady I was with got mad at them for what they said to me and shooed them away so I assumed it wasn’t nice!) Every few stalls there was a new beggar to greet, speak with a bit, and politely turn down.

I stopped at one booth and was looking at some of the fabric from Cote D’Ivoire and the lady there showed me a table and she said “these are all the secret things of women!”. I looked and saw little tiny bottles filled with powder, bottles with oil, multiple types of packages of grain/powder stuff, bottles half filled with what looked like mustard, and little rolled balls of brown gummy stuff all sitting on that table. (pictured below)


I told the lady I would have no clue what to do with any of things! She picked up one little bottle of powder and said to me “You put this in water, you drink it, and it makes your loins go good. It will make your husband so happy he will cry!” LOL! Are you laughing with me here? The idea of drinking a completely unknown powder that would affect my loins didn’t appeal to me. haha. I laugh at how culturally they won’t talk about health issues, they won’t discuss breastfeeding in public, they don’t mention death and show no emotion when a child dies, and they won’t tell you they are pregnant until it is crazy obvious even when we tell them we have prenatal vitamins to give them to help them have a healthy pregnancy. But when it comes to your loins and sex in general, it is definitely fair game. Mostly just with the women mind you, but they still get awfully personal immediately!

So every time I go to the markets, I learn something new. Sometimes it is something I enjoy learning…other times…not so much!!


Hope you all enjoy your sure is different here!



Bryan, Lisa and Amy!

A few more pictures of our family are up and running :) Here are two here, please check out my photography blog linked to the right to see more!

Bryan and Lisa live in Calgary where she is a nurse and Bryan runs his own fibre optics to the home business. They were generous enough to house us a few times while we were home this summer and we loved being able to spend time with them! Amy is a seamstress that travels around to different theatre places and shows where she designs amazing costumes. What a talented family we have!