Sunday, December 26, 2010

In the land of ham....

Greetings from the Andulcian region of Spain! That's the southern tip on the Med. sea that faces Africa.
We have installed ourselves into a little gorgeous house in this little village called Almachar. Want to check it out? Open up your google earth or similar program and fly to:

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This little village has tight windy cobblestone streets, an old church, grows most of its own produce, figs, olives and local wine. A great place to relax, play games, eat yummy food, go for long walks and take pictures, and late nights sitting up talking in front of a fire. It is cold here! It has been overcast and cooler weather (15 degrees!) has all of us in sweaters- but loving it!

Here are some pictures of our fun thus far. For more pictures, check out my facebook.

















As always, language study seems to follow us wherever we go! Here it is Spanish obviously. I took Spanish many years ago and am happy to see how much of it is coming back to me. It is irritating and amusing how often the Tamasheq comes to mind first when I am trying to think of the Spanish! What a mess of languages we are! But we are laughing and making ourselves understood when needed. That is half the adventure right!

So what is the title of this post about? Well....we can certainly tell we aren't in a strong Muslim context anymore. There is ham everywhere! I kid you not when we walk down the street we can smell mouthwatering roasting ham in the streets. Check out this supermarket aisle...all hams!




Even ham Pringles! I guess you can't go wrong with ham!



Tomorrow we are off to a village called Ronda and then another day to relax in the village before we head to Sevilla.

Merry Christmas to you all! May this year be filled with joy, grace and many blessings!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last moments in Niger

SO…we are off on vacation!! Well, shortly at least and probably by the time you read this blog. We will be out of Niger for 3 weeks travelling with my parents and the kids. I am sure I will update you from the road!

Here are a few pictures from one of our last days- visiting our good friends Aminata and Miriama at their hut! Grandpa taught all the kids to play x’s and o’s in the sand and they were still playing even after we left!

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Mom drawing with Arielle and Fatima.

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In their grass hut on a mat on dirt floors, watching a Brazilian soap opera on their TV. Oh the irony! We don’t even have a tv!

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

My parents come to Niger!

Sorry it has been a while between posts. We have been super busy here! Year end, vacation looming and no shortage of people and projects throwing last minute deadlines at us have kept us hopping! But on to the good news!
We are thrilled that last Sunday Chantelle’s parents arrived in Niger! This is their first ever trip to Africa and has already been quite the adventure! We have lots of pictures loaded on Facebook (Chantelle’s profile) if you want to see more, but here are just a few!

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We are thrilled to have them near to us and are cherishing every moment. We leave late Wednesday night from Niger to go on vacation all together for a few weeks where we got a cheap flight to Southern Spain. We will try to keep you updated! Please pray for good transportation connections, flights that don’t get cancelled, no one to get sick and all our luggage to stay with us. But most of all, we are just SO thankful for this wonderful time together! Family is the best Christmas gift!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Girl Effect

Why do we do what we do here in Niger? Our newest program is running the Girls at Risk School that I’ve previously talked about. Child marriage is out of control here in Niger and we have seen first hand it’s devastating effects. Young girls forced into prostitution to make ends meet and bring money home, often told to not come home (by their parents!) until they make a certain quota.

Many people have written on this topic. In my words and some of theirs as well, here is a summary of the problem. Want to join forces with us and pray for one of these girls in our school? Let me know. We can use all the prayer warriors we can get!

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Child marriage is the manifestation of a girl’s powerlessness. No girl under 18, but especially as young as 11 should be allowed to marry. Girls need national laws that will prevent child marriage and viable alternatives.  I know the most powerful alternative to powerlessness for young girls.

Education.

So here is what we KNOW to be true- When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. Education is the route to power. An educated girl is more likely to earn greater income, raise a smaller family, have healthier children, participate in political processes, and send her own children to school. An educated girl also is less likely to become infected with HIVInvesting in girls makes economic sense. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.

There are millions of young girls all around the world that cannot attend school and its heartbreaking when you think of all of that untapped energy and potential. A conservative estimate shows 75 million children who should be in primary school are not, and at least 55 percent of those – nearly 41 million children – are girls. We have seen this statistic at work here in Niger in our village school program as well as the National schools around us in the community.

 

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41 million girls who should be in school are not. 41 million girls who should be getting a chance to learn, to grow, to gain valuable knowledge to lead a healthier life are not getting that chance. But why?

There are many reasons why girls  do not attend school:

  • Families in developing countries often rely on their daughters to be caregivers, homemakers and labourers. When an 8 year old is needed to bring in income then her learning to read becomes a luxury. She cleans the house, cares for siblings and cooks most all the meals.
  • Girls may not be safe or secure at school, and families fear for their welfare. How often do we hear in third world countries where little girls are attacked on their way to school?
  • Poor families struggle to prioritize their meager resources to pay for books, uniforms, supplies and school fees. We can all understand how food takes the priority right?
  • Civil conflicts, natural disasters and chronic diseases like HIV & AIDS force families to shift their focus from learning to more urgent, basic needs like food and shelter.
  • Young mothers stay home and care for their children instead of going to school.

*Source: Center for Global Development

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This is not a whim, something that happens by chance. Girls around the world face a systematic denial of their right to education. In addition to the loss of opportunity for each individual child, denying education to girls corresponds to lower family incomes, higher maternal and child mortality. Girls truly have the power to change the world, and girls’ education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world.

Girls are strong and powerful.

I am not the only one who believes in the power of girls.  This post is one of many happening in honor of the bold and beautiful spirit which is birthed in every girl on earth.  Go here to learn more about the campaign and read many other posts about this issue.

http://wiselivingblog.com/the-girl-effect-blogging-campaign

Start with a girl and transform a community.

  

Want to join our endeavour? Our school has 60 girls. There are other projects out there, other ways to get involved, even in your own community. The important thing is to do something!

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Bike and Run

This Sunday for the second year Paul competed in a “Bike and Run”. It is teams of two who must race a course of 16km. One man will be on a bike while the other one rides. They can change off as often as they like and take turns riding/running. However every bike exchange must happen hand to hand, so no one can ride ahead, ditch the bike then run ahead while the other guy catches up to the bike.

Paul went with our friend Niell again this year. Niell (pronounced Nile like the river) is an Irish guy who is the Director of Concern International here in Niger. Paul, Niell and another friend do epic across the sand and brush and through villages rides every Saturday morning.

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For more pictures of the event you can check out this link:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/asvolcans/sets/72157625411033493/with/5235923978/

Good job Paul and Niell! In a country where there isn’t much to do, you make the best of all opportunities!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Weight of the World

 

Do you ever have those days? When it seems the world is out to get you, nothing is normal, loved ones are far away, and nothing seems to go right? When you ask yourself why do I bother, what difference can it make, and even *gasp* ponder what it would be like to easily just book a flight home?

Today, well the last few days, have felt like that for us.  I have wayyyy too many things on my to-do list, everyone has deadlines and I can’t possibly meet them all. It really stresses me out.

Paul got a ticket from a cop last night. He was stopped at a red light. The policeman walked over to his window and started to argue with Paul and issue him a ticket for running a red light. Huh? He was stopped at the red light while this whole conversation went on. Then of course the cop insinuated that he could just pay him and take care of the ticket easily and it would go away. Paul of course refuses. So the cop writes him the ticket, takes his ID and storms off. Today Paul goes to the Police Station to argue the ticket with the boss and get back his ID papers. To lodge a complaint. They tell Paul he can’t lodge a complaint since he didn’t give the cop any money. But had Paul paid the cop off he would have been part of the corruption and have no paper trail… so how would he prove that? So he pays the $20 for having properly stopped at a red light. Wow, how dare he stop!

Then the Air Maroc saga. We booked tickets to go on vacation with my parents in December. Air Maroc cancelled one of our flights, and put us on the next available flight some 20 hours later. Of course when you have to cancel car reservations or hotel reservations they could care less its the airlines fault and they do not refund you. The airline also does not offer a refund. SO after much frustration we made a new plan and changed a few things around which involved a ridiculously long day of planes, trains, cars, ferries and local buses (i kid you not!) to get where we needed to go on time. Sure sounds like an adventure, but exhausted me thinking about it. Low and behold this weekend Air Maroc re-adds a new flight the exact day and time we originally were supposed to fly! (yes- that one we paid for, wanted and were never refunded). Well they put up a huge fuss to put us back on that flight. My Dad calls Air Maroc offices in Canada to no avail as well. After much hassle we got my parents added back to the original flight at no charge. Phew. After much more hassle, we still made no headway to adding our family of 4 back to that flight. They INSIST we have to repurchase that segment. Huh? We already paid for it! So we are left with the choice of an exhausting overland trip or rebuying a flight we already bought. I go in this morning when the lady told me too, and they refused to let me in. They are only open for a few hours on the weekend. It was 25 minutes to closing and she had a few other people in line. All I had to do was hand her the cash since the booking was already made. And they told me I MUST pay it today or the whole reservation was cancelled. And the lady working…oh man was she rude. Like insulting in your face, power trip kind of rude. I am slow to anger, but man was I MAD at her. I had tears rolling down my cheek at her outright rudeness and complete lack of any form of respect or customer service. So now I am back at square one. Gosh I need a vacation… I really just couldn’t imagine this lack of disrespect and rudeness to other people.

We have been meeting with lots of people from Aid organizations lately. The stories of struggle and corruption are depressing from their wide vast of experience. They seem to just accept so much will be wasted, lost to corruption and failed as part of the “cost of doing business”. Our team just completed our final survey after our grain aid program drew to an end. One honest comment caught me off guard- we had run too tight a ship. There had not been room for them to screw the system and steal grain, or hand out free food to other people not on the list, nor pay someone off to weedle their way into the program etc. WHAT! To me this seems like a good thing, but they saw it is a negative. Totally blows my mind. Paul is saying Africa will never change. Their mentality, work ethic and attitude is so messed up it is hard to see how change can happen. I am tired of them seeing us sometimes as just a bank or someone they can demand things from.

That’s when I remind myself that we don’t need to change Africa. Only God can do that. Not my job. I am not going to change Niger. I am not even going to change Niamey city. Maybe it is even too grandiose to assume I have a shot at changing the lives of the 60 girls in our Girls at Risk program? I am here to do my part, to love the people I come alongside, and the rest is so huge, so depressing, so daunting and unfathomably hard, that I just can’t focus on that. If I do…well it ends up hurting like my heart today.

So anyhow, sorry if this is a rant. But it is also real life for us. Events like this happen all the time. Sometime I do think about being at home where we have people who love us and support us around. Where we have some modicum of comfort with a culture we understand. Where we don’t have to be on edge and can truly relax. Maybe I might even discover what a real weekend break from work is! I guess a rant is one way to see into our lives and the struggles we face. We appreciate so much your care, notes, prayers and encouragement.

The weight on this truck is like the weight of our task. Hard on our little wheels and frame to keep on moving sometimes!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

20 life lessons a wise man would share…

I read this from a random place a few weeks ago. Lots of good stuff to share!

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism. – Abraham Lincoln

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No One is Perfect.  The quicker this is realized the faster you can get on with being excellent.  Start every morning ready to fight harder than you did the day before and run further than you ever imagined.

Avoid over explaining yourself.  Be confident with who you are. Everybody else is already taken!

Keep balance in your life.  Write down what’s most important to you and show up.  Sometimes we tend to do the things that are most important to us when it’s written down.

Play the hand you were dealt.  Have the courage to face challenges head on it builds character.  Start looking for a way through instead of a way out.

Be a student of life.  Learn something new every day.  The day you stop learning is the day you become stagnant.

No Excuses.  Stop making excuses replace them with ways to do better.  Excuses are a waste of time and energy.

Let others know where you Stand.  Be uncompromising and be up front when someone steps on your core values.     

Never be afraid of a challenge.  You put on your shoes like every other man or woman.  Now it comes down to who wants it more.

Service to others.  Small, simple or important be a volunteer and give the very best of you.  

Work hard.  Everyone has a job to do so do it.  Cross every “T” and dot every “I”.  Don’t let the other members of your team down by being the lazy one, or the one who frustrates them by your lack of movement and work.

Discover You.  Find your passion, life purpose, and take action.

Don’t take it Personal.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself- self confidence shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin.

Manage your time.  Our situation and environment is ever changing so be careful not to confuse the things that are urgent with the things that are important.  Look for time wasters and eliminate them.

Ask for help.  Life can be tough remember you never have to do it alone.

Do your homework.  Know what you getting into before you start.  Doing your homework reduces uncertainty and fear.

Day Dream Often.  On the weekend when you are relaxing embrace a day dream.  During the week take action to preserve your dreams.

Be A HERO.  Cultivate a healthy dose of forgiveness and set someone free.  Learn to forgive others and stop carrying those bags of hate, comparing yourself to others, guilt or regret.    

Stay One Step Ahead.  Be proactive, Take the initiative, Brainstorm with the big picture in mind.

Self Love.  Become your own priority.  Strive to be the you, you want to be. 

Finish what you started.  Avoid the urge to stray.

 

May some of these speak to your heart today and spur you onward!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tabaski

This last week was the holiday of Tabaski here in Niger. Our family was super busy and I didn’t take many pictures, but I did want to leave a little post on it! Many thanks to my friends Hope, Beth and Richelle for some of their pictures and words on the event that I borrowed below!

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Tabaski (here in West Africa), or Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى‎ ‘Īdu l-’Aḍḥā) or “Festival of Sacrifice” or “Greater Eid” is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma’il) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. Yes that’s right- that said Ishmael. A little bit different than the story we know right?

click here to read the Biblical account of this story

On Wednesday thousands and thousands of sheep were slaughtered. The day before you could see people selling firewood and sharp pointy sticks everyone in the streets. IMG_4909-1024x768

The streets were then lined with rams on giant skewers cooked over an open fire in front of every home. Some houses had 6 or more rams. Traditionally, a man will purchase and slaughter at least one for each of his wives and their children.

The meat is divided into three parts to be distributed to others. The family retains one third of the share, another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbours, and the other third is given to the poor & needy. taken from this wikipedia article

The day after Tabaski is one of seeking forgiveness. This is the day that people visit, call or send texts to ask for forgiveness from people for their sins of the past year.

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Imagine this site on almost every street corner in an entire city. The haze of smoke and smell of roasting goat permeating every breath. Not good for people with sinus or breathing problems! As my friend Beth reminded me (as well as my African friends who felt these affects this weekend!) a very interesting aspect of Tabaski is that it actually poses a health problem for children. Schools have very high absentee rates the days after the holiday. Can you guess why? What would happen to you if you almost never got meat and then in one day you ate a year's supply? Yes, massive diarrhea. In a country where it is hot and dry this is not a laughing matter. Diarrhea is a leading killer of children in Africa, and particularly here in Niger.

Bennett was quite funny on this holiday. We had to drive somewhere to visit friends in the midst of all the goat on posts cooking like in the picture above. Whenever he saw a sheep walking around that was still alive he would cheer in joy and clap for the sheep that made it, then yell at them to run and hide since people wanted to kill them and eat them! This happened everytime he saw a sheep for the next three days. Also, in the wonderful way of a five year old, he condensed down the whole event to one thought. He said “Mom, it is so sad that these people think they have to kill all these poor sheep just to make God happy. Don’t they know that is stupid and all they have to do is love and accept Jesus?” Oh be still my heart—out of the mouths of babes!

What I did take pictures of – the people! Here are some shots from all the visiting we did. A create time to talk about many wonderful topics.

Buying juice for the kids in a big family we visited

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Bennett and his buddy El Hadid after they spent a good half hour kung-fu fighting each other and running all over the yard in fun.

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Miriama and Aminata trying to get a “nice calm” pose with our crazy kids!

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Fatima

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Paul and Akadeka happened to be wearing a shirt made out of the same African fabric, so they both turbaned up for a picture of them as “twins”

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Enjoying all the kids

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Sakki’s kitchen (with our bright yellow tippi-tap hand washing station in the background!)

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Enjoying the moon through the lines of all the power lines that run right by their cement hut. Ironically, they are without electricity.

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A last shot in the dark. Much of the evening when it was dusk we chatted and even ate by the light of the moon. My camera has a night vision function so I took this shot. You can see the kids playing an African version of duck duck goose in the dark, and in the far right Akadeka doing his prayers.

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A very busy week, but a wonderful time with people sharing their holidays with them. Great conversations, lots of food and wonderful companionship!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teaching health for the WHOLE self

Today was another Wednesday, which means we are in there actively teaching the girls life skills at the “Girls at Risk” Niger Vocational Training Centre! We love these days!

Once again all the morning class girls (Tuaregs) were super early, eager and ready to learn! We split into two groups for math and French (beginner and intermediate) and one other group broke off with 6 girls who are completely illiterate. Our co-worker Terayshad is going to work with them for the next months teaching them to write and read basic letters and to learn to write their own names. So exciting! The afternoon class was very similar except we don’t have any completely illiterate girls that we are aware of yet.

In this picture below Rebecca is working on basic math with our afternoon class. For some of the easier questions they almost launched themselves at her to be the first at the board to answer! And all those raised hands? They are SNAPPING at her. It is their version of raising your hand- snap away!

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  After the morning “snack break” we all got together in the main room to talk about health. We spent time talking about what makes a person healthy. As a group we brainstormed and shared ideas about what makes a “complete” healthy person. It isn’t just physical health! We told some stories to demonstrate how even if a person is in good physical shape but hates his neighbours, cant sleep because of stress, and has no education- he isn’t really “healthy” at all!

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We made a circle in the centre of the board and called that LIFE (vie). All around it we brainstormed what makes us complete. We listed many physical things such as food, water, security, medical care and shelter. We talked about mental things such as education, literacy, job training and general knowledge. We talked about emotional things such as love, family and friends, and we talked about our spiritual sides of prayer, knowing and obeying God. We told the girls we aren’t only interested in their physical bodies. We want them to be whole, and that means talking about it all! So over these next months we will slowly work through all these topics and more, looking at what it means to be a safe, dynamic, thriving, healthy woman!

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After we had a full circle of life goals, we decided to make it more personal and participatory! We brought out the paints and they painted a 3 foot square wall paper mural of the circle and we wrote all our ideas for health along each colored line.

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The afternoon class all huddled around their art project, painting away!

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And the best part, at the end of it every girl wrote her name in the middle of the “life” centre. Claiming that type of rich, full, enriched and healthy life for herself!

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Oh yeah- we also got all the badges done for the girls. Now they feel really “official” and like they are a part of something big. Yay for unity!

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