Saturday, June 05, 2010

TWO YEARS! An Interview with CHANTELLE




If you had to describe all that has happened and life in general in just three words...what would those words be?

Stretching, fulfilling, hot

What do you like most about living/working in Niger?

I love the people here. I love working side by side with the women especially and sharing life and seeing that in spite of our differences (which are many! -such as language, skin color, socio-economic, religion, etc) we are still wanting the same things from life. For as long as I can remember I always wanted to work overseas to help the poor. I feel like this was the type of work I was created for and it is deeply gratifying on many levels to be embedded in the lives of these women and to work alongside them to create change and growth.

Strangely enough, I also like the visual feel of Africa. I love the roughness of a straw and mud hut and the earthen pottery bowls and red ochre paints they are painted with. I love the corrugated sheet metal painted in any variety of wild colors for store front shacks. I love the crazy variety and visual cacophony of the clothing they wear and all those colors thrown together in large crowds selling your fruit and vegetables of all colors under umbrellas. The women and children carrying bowls packed with a wide variety of things on their heads. There is something beautiful in the natural setting of poor life, without the shine and sheen of richness and modernity. Something about this raw look of life has always appealed to me. I don’t have as much time as I would like sometimes to take pictures, but my mind is filled with thousands of amazing snapshots of life here.

*getting the shot

What do you really NOT like about life here in Niger?

The poverty. It breaks my heart so many days. This is the poorest country in the world and we work daily directly with the people. I visit them in their huts made of straw, see people going hungry, children with distended bellies and children dying. I know young girls who got married off at 13. Adults who have such bad cataracts they are blind, lame beggars, child prostitutes and so many other faces of poverty and illness. And some days it hurts so much, but I wouldn’t want to be numb or dead to that either.

I also am not really a fan of the driving here. It is crazy, 2 lanes driven like they are 6 lanes, dirty, bumpy, only a handful are paved, mud-filled in rainy season, people running across all the time, animals and carts sharing the roads and sometimes corrupt policemen all rolled into one big joy of a drive. I avoid it if I can!

Also, as many of you know, there are serious security issues in Niger. Between internal instability in the country and Al Qaeda, we have our hands full. The Embassy has just once again raised the alert level to the highest level, and that means we can’t leave the city in most directions. All of the Tuareg people (who aren’t in the urban area) happen to live to the North and West of Niamey, and we cannot go there. It is frustrating to see our target group out of reach. Also, there are times when the security issues here are a little un-nerving. We do not live in fear, but it does cross our minds!


What have you learned about yourself in these past two years that maybe you didn't know before?

I will be prone to burn-out, or compassion fatigue or whatever you want to call it. My personality is that I am an “all-in” kind of person. I’m not one to sit around when I see a need. I see so many heartbreaking needs here that I have launched myself in with full force, working long days and doing as much as I can. I need to find the balance between giving 110% to the people of Niger and how much they need help, and to making sure I stay sane and be able to be the best mother and wife possible and not burn-out. Anyone know how to find that line? I am still looking for it!

I have high expectations and I expect to meet them. I’m not here for a vacation, or an adventure, or to sit around. We got work to do! However, the reality is that not everyone thinks like me. Not everyday will be a success. Not everyone you meet is on the same page, no matter what walk of life they come from or what nationality they are and you know what- I screw up and get things wrong sometimes too. My way is not always the “right way”. I seek daily for wisdom from God to give me direction, show me HIS plans, and open doors here.

What is the biggest challenge here that you continue to work on overcoming?


I cannot change an entire culture or country and it is more likely that life here in Africa will more profoundly change me as a person than I manage to “change” them. Cultural understanding issues continue to be one of the hardest lessons to learn, we see things so differently!

Give me a little snapshot of your week. What kind of things do you do in a normal week?

Mondays I have Tamasheq language classes in the morning and women’s literacy hut class in the afternoon, Tuesdays I drive the kids to school at 730am then go to my friend Miriama’s hut (often after stopping for a quick coffee with Rebecca) and we spend the morning in her hut with her family making rice and sauce, talking with visitors, practicing the health lessons that Miriama helps teach, etc. Tuesday afternoon I study language and work on paperwork for projects and maybe try to get to writing a blog. Wednesday from 730 a.m. to 1pm I am busy with things for the Grain Aid centre. We sit in the centre and distribute food, teach health lessons and visit with the program participants. Wednesday afternoons I am usually out (often with the kids too) visiting a family who may be sick, or have just had a baby, or something else. Thursday is basically another Monday with language class in the morning and then hut class in the afternoon, and sometimes I try to go to the pool and swim laps before hut class. Friday we have team meetings in the morning and the afternoon I get done all the rest of the things I didn’t get done in the rest of the week which is usually some array of paperwork, translation, newsletter, guards pay sheets, reports or program applications. Saturdays we are often invited to weddings or baptisms of our local friends here, and we try to go often, but also make sure we take some Saturdays to go as a family to a local pool or restaurant and just hang out. Sundays we don’t take visitors or requests for money or meetings or anything and we have family day before heading to church in the evening! Then I get to do it all again the next week!

What are a few of the biggest things you miss about our life back in Canada?

Hands down, the big thing is family. I mean sure, I miss cheddar cheese, a good produce section, the ambience, relaxation and experience of coffee shops, paved roads, crisp air, the mountains, greenery and not sticking out like a sore thumb wherever I go, but I can get over those. The thing that makes it hard is to be without family on holidays, rarely seeing my nephews and niece. Not being able to talk and share life with my siblings and parents and to know they really miss us too. (well at least most of them do I think!) On the hard days here, it is family that calls to our heart, having that support system of close long term friendships and family to carry you through.

Any other thoughts you want to share?

We all have a dream, a passion, a vision for something in our lives, a greater calling. It isn’t easy going after it. You are going to have to take that leap, to leave your comfort zone. Some days it is going to hurt, it’s gonna suck sometimes, but some days it will be a joy. But you will never know unless you get out there and go after it.

Here are some quotes I will share

"The same everlasting Father that looks after you today will look after you tomorrow and everyday. Either He will shield you from suffering or give you the unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, putting aside all false anxieties and false imaginations."

“What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”– Mark Twain




Anonymous said...

Bless your heart and your dreams sweetheart. heather

Jennifer said...

Once again you have both challenged me and brought tears to my eyes! I will pray for you in your continued struggle to find balance and not burn out in your life!
love Jenn S

Anonymous said...

You truly are an inspiration and I love love love your passion and compassion! Dream big, then leave them at the cross! And I do pray you will "learn to be content" each day knowing you've done your best and thus maintain a balance which will help against burn out! Love you - Sarah