Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our 9 days of vacation

So how were your holidays? Ours were great and I will post about that shortly for all those of you who want to see what we are up to. Our internet is half fixed but very slow. So excuse our tardiness. Plus we are taking the holidays seriously around here and having lots of fun as a family! Paul is gone for a few days canoeing down the Niger river with friends and we will meet him at National Parc W (An animal reserve 2 hours away) for the weekend with some teammates.

I finally got our vacation photos loaded on Facebook for our France portion of the trip if you want to check them out, but i will give you the brief resume here!

After Turkey we went to spend 9 days vacation together as a family. We had originally planned 11 but cut it short a few days to save money. We have friend who lives just outside Nice, in Southern France so we headed there first and spent some wonderful time with them. We explored the city of Nice as well as their little village (called Touet-sur-Var) and a nearby village that had a great Castle in the hills above it. We got lots of exercise walking so much and we also really enjoyed times sitting around the table and fire with our friends.

These friends, Paul and Sandrine, used to work in Niger as Directors of Mercy Corps and it was great to be able to see them again. Our kids are great friends and had a blast being together again. Here are some pictures from our 5 days in the South of France with them!

The coastal city of Nice. Beautiful with very mild weather in December. Because it was low season for tourism it was not very busy and we enjoyed walking around, eating in little cafe's and exploring!



The famous flower market of Cours Saleya.



We climbed up high to an overlook and enjoyed some stunning landscapes just before sunset.




The old harbour during Blue Hour.


And of course, we enjoyed some geocaching as well. Here is Bennett “shrub diving” to find a hidden geocache. I was tempted to yell out to all the curious passerbys- AH! The bush is eating my son!”

Nice4In the end he found it!



Standing in the lower village at Touet-sur-Var. The old upper village, where our friends live, can be seen up high in the background.


As the mist rose out of the valley in the morning it was stunning and ethereal looking.


A nearby village with an old Castle up top. We walked ALLLL day way up there with the four kids.



Looking down at the city. We gained a lot of elevation!



The upper village of Touet-sur-Var early in the morning.


After our awesome time down in Nice we took the cheap train 5 hours North back to a great place just North of Paris. Maybe you have heard of it? It is called DISNEYLAND!

We were given a very generous gift by two of you dear friends to be able to get a 3 night and 4 day package at Disneyland. For all you parents out there- I highly recommend visiting here in the off-season! The park was half empty and the package prices were awesome!! So with only our food to pay for (oh yes- plus we bought toques and mittens!), we were happier than kids in Disneyland- oh wait- we WERE all kids in Disneyland!

The train ride north. It was great to see the beautiful countryside!



Bennett totally loves the train! Arielle mostly slept, but he was too excited!


The middle of the day in Disneyland’s main street. I could barely believe how empty it was! It was great to not have to face crowds!

IMG_1427Bennett had fun dancing and jumping and doing taekwondo in every open space, square and bridge that he could find.



Downtown Disney at night.



The kids loved the Star Wars ride.


They were also big fans of the Buzz Lightyear laser quest ride.


We were not sure how the kids would do on rollercoasters. They were tall enough to ride the majority of the rides and when we took them on the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster they were totally excited. I was surprised to hear they wanted to go again and again! Here were all their expressions after the first ride. I love the joy in their eyes.


As close to a Christmas tree as we got. Cold air and trees and log cabins in Frontierland.


Arielle’s great expression in Starbucks when Daddy joked about stealing her hot chocolate.


The big car stunt show. See the car flying through the air?



More dancing and play fighting in the open spaces. We worked up quite an appetite and warmed up doing this often.



We are very thankful for the opportunity to spend a few days away as a family. Last June when we heard about the planned Turkey trip and knew the flights would be going through Paris we decided then to book this little layover and visit friends and connect and make memories as a family. Short but soo sweet!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Recently we returned from a trip in Europe. We have had really poor internet since then so I am a little slow putting up some blogs, but I still will for you avid readers and our family!



We left for Turkey on November 19th and starting on the 21st we had an intensive course to attend with other workers from the North Africa region. I mean intensive as it was 830am to 7pm with only a one hour lunch break! So thankful that we also had excellent child care provided for us and the kids had a blast making crafts, exploring the beach and playing with the other kids.

After this intensive course there was a retreat and spiritual growth conference, where we saw many other workers from this region join us for 4 days. It was an excellent time of learning, reading, listening to the speakers who had come from Canada and to get to know new people. We rarely meet the people in our region. In fact, this is the first time our team has ever been able to attend this conference and we are thankful for that unique opportunity this year. We spent time speaking with other workers, many of whom also work in really difficult places and we could share strategies, stories, plans and prayers. I came away with many new contacts and ideas!

During the retreat part we had afternoons free for several hours and enjoyed exploring the nearby coastal town and playing with the family. There are many more photos available on my Facebook page in my Turkey album, but here are a few favourites.

Beach time. The kids loved the water, seeking new beautiful rocks, and Bennett and Daddy had a great time challenging themselves to build higher and higher rock statues.




We played cards one night with the younger crowd. The hotel lobby had all these huge tables and couches which was perfect for groups. It was late and Arielle stayed up and enjoyed all the people, But Bennett fell fast asleep on a couple cushions on the floor covered with two scarves. All that running on the beach must have tired him out! I love how flexible my children are when we travel and stay new places. They fly well, can fall asleep anywhere and love new people!


One afternoon we went into nearby Antalya and explored the old town and harbour and did some shopping.




IMG_0655I love Calamari and this was super fresh!




Look, here we all are! Stay tuned for a new blog or two from our vacation days after Turkey!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Surprised by the “Oasis”



I wrote this while in Turkey a few weeks ago at a work conference coupled with some retreat days. I have had awful internet since then, so it will take a few blogs to catch up!


I am sitting at a sunny window in a beautiful Turkish styled chair of dark wood with round, red silk cushions. I am looking out a window on the terrace below with the sun beating in the window and warming my arms. In Niger we avoid direct sunlight and its heat, so this was a nice treat to be cool and feel the warmth of the suns rays. There are tables on the patio below with bright green grass around them and pine trees mixed with a few palm trees. In the background there is an abandoned pool, waiting for warmer weather when it will be filled with laughing children. It is bright blue water with a little wooden bridge crossing in the middle. Some ladies, mostly likely German based on the clientele I have seen so far at the hotel, are sitting around the pool in the chairs soaking up the sun and drinking their morning tea.

The name of our conference was the “Oasis”. This place does feel like an Oasis. Compared to the harsh bleakness and heat of Niger, it doesn’t take much! A place away from both the desert and heat and barren landscape of Niger and the spiritual and emotional drain there feels like an Oasis to my soul. Oddly enough, I find my emotions of joy and grief, and hope and despair are close to the surface. There is space and time and distance to process life, to pray in peace and to meet with others to talk who are in the same types of places and situations as us. We also have time and space to truly relax, to see beauty and to enjoy fun as a family.


I am surprised by how much I love beauty now. I think living in North America we become numb to it. We see grass everyday. We see flowers and rivers and beauty all around us in nature. There are wheat fields, mountains and fluffy clouds on bright blue skies. It just becomes normal. Now that is all 99% stripped away from my life and I find when I am in a place of nature’s beauty that it is overwhelming. It seems like such luxury to walk a tree lined walkway and bend down and smell the flowers. Or to sit on some rocks and the edge of the ocean with my iPod on a worship mix and hear the waves gently crashing mixed in with the music and see children running and laughing in the water. This probably sounds odd to the majority of you. You must think I am a little weird! But, when was the last time you stood in a park or garden and were truly overwhelmed by it’s beauty to the point of tears?

I am thankful for these rare times when we can get away and immerse ourselves in refreshment. As a family we live very simply in Niger so we can save and afford to get out of Niger on a retreat once a year. We need to be away from not only the harsh natural surroundings, but the heavy emotional and spiritual context with all the needs, poverty and demands. I guess it sounds weird to explain and I know that likely unless you have lived it that it is hard to understand.

This Oasis was great. We are thankful our team was invited to this event, and while the first half was a ton of work with super long days, we value all the training we got as well. We met a group of excellent people, also in difficult living situations, who were inspirational and we formed instant bonds with some of them.

I will write more soon with more pictures of Turkey, and some pictures from the 9 days vacation we took following that in France with just our family. But for now, go immerse yourself in beauty. Go to the Park, sit at a window, visit a conservatory, or go hike a mountain. Be thankful these things are around you and take the time to truly see them. Let them touch your heart and refresh your own batteries for life!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The straw that broke the camel’s back

I have always heard the joke about the straw that broke the camel’s back. What small little added weight is eventually enough to tip over the whole load? Well a week ago we got to see first hand!

The background reason behind this small program is that the refugee crisis of Libya has had a subtle affect on the city of Niamey. We have not seen busloads of people come or huge protests or crowds of people. They have been absorbed mostly into bush villages. We have talked to a lot of people and have come to see the indirect impact that this refugee crisis is having on our close people here in Niamey even. Many families are housing refugees who came back across the border from Libya. So their daily food requirements have gone up, there are more people to clothe, shelter and provide for in many ways. And one tough reality is that these people used to be the ones supporting THEM here in Niamey through remittances (when family work out of country and send percentages of their income to their home to support their family members). The "rich" relatives in Libya are now no longer able to support their poor Nigerien relatives and now the burden of care actually has reversed to be the Niger family supporting them on their very limited incomes and with little capacity to change that. Their money is being stretched to include more people and now they need to send money the other way to support family caught in the war or in the bush who now have no livelihoods.

One reality of Niger and the seasons is that rainy seasons destroys the huts of the people who live in these makeshift straw/cardboard/wood shelters. The Tuaregs would try to save up money to rebuild the roofs at this time each year, which meant buying new straw mats and replacing termite eaten posts, so that their "homes" would last another year. Now their money is being spent supporting extended families and refugees both in their homes and the bush villages, and the money to repair their shelters just isn't there. Plus, the cost of straw has gone up due to a poor harvest.

So, all this said (a long windy explanation i know!) - With a donation from a church we wanted to help the people in our community.

So we purchased 749 straw mats and gave 7 mats (enough to redo their roof) to 107 families in the community around us. $5000 to help 107 families is pretty good I think!

First, the mats started to arrive by camel. Always a fun sight. But I kid you not, we were the straw that broke the camel’s back! Actually it was only his saddle that busted from the load, but after this, the mats started to come on a huge truck. Seems more effective to us, but apparently camel loads are cheaper Smile





We rolled 7 mats together so that they were all ready for pickup Saturday morning. The people were notified, and they showed up from 8am- noon. Although we were almost all finished by 10am! These families include all the families of the girls in our Girls at Risk school, as well as 60 families from the community who are poor and affected by these conditions.


They came with their I.D and met with Patricia and Miriama to cross them off our list and get their ticket for pickup.


Then they grabbed their heavy load by whatever manner possible, and dragged it outside to whatever form of transport they were using! We are thankful we have such a great facility at our Girls School where we can easily run small distributions like this.


This guy was strong! He must have helped a dozen families and carried their load outside all by himself!



This is little Miriama! She is sooo tiny! She only has two mats rolled up here, but still it is heavy! This same tiny young girl sells fish in the marketplace in the morning for her family and attends our school in the afternoon class.


The crowd outside the gates getting their mats home by truck, donkey, camel or whatever means possible!


Paul helping one man carry his load outside. The donkey carts made their owners some good money that day!


And here is me, just checking out the scene during a quiet moment. It was great to see so many faces and so many people joyful!