Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The heat

The heat is here to stay. Everyday my handy dandy internet weather widget tells me doom and gloom. More temperatures over 44 degrees or higher and the official forecast- widespread dust. Yup. heat and dirt. Grit. i return from visiting friends and am covered in a film of dirt and my hair is crunchy and my teeth gritty with sand I inhaled. My water pressure is almost nil these days so it makes showering tricky too!

Here is a picture. From INSIDE my bedroom at 8:00 at night. You see the little temperature on the right hand side. It says 35.9 degrees Celsius. So thankful we have an air conditioner and this is the season we use it! I don’t care if it costs almost $10 a night to run it- we need to sleep!

 

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I am not the only one who has issues with the heat. Our family member that handles it the worst is our computer! I am praying to get one more year out of our laptop although somedays it doesn’t look good! Here I am with our homemade freezer packs (made of frozen beans in fabric bags) both under and on top of my computer while I use it (I try to use the mouse or my graphic pad pen lots so i don’t need to access the keyboard)! The poor thing suffers from heat stroke and dies all too often!

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Okay- enough trivial things about the heat. What do we expect after all- we live at the edge of the Sahara desert!

I wanted to give you a link to my friend Hope’s blog. She just wrote a great blog all about the problem of obstetric fistula’s here in Niger. This is one of the big risks that many girls face when they are married way too young, and one of the things we hope to save them from in our “Girls at Risk” school here in Niamey. Thanks to Hope for writing about it so eloquently! Click below to go to her blog! I also stole the picture below from her!

Hope's blog about the problem on fistula's in Niger

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bennett dancing

Just so you don’t think it is all work and no play (and now that I know how to use video!) here is a video of Bennett dancing. It was just after supper and my iPod randomly shuffled to an upbeat song from my workout mix. Well Bennett just jumped up and started to bust a move. This is really how he dances Smile

Bennett dancing from SaharaLive on Vimeo.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Working with women

In Niger, especially amongst the Tuaregs, gender roles are still well defined and for the most part, very strictly followed.

As a woman, it has been hard sometimes to work within the greater community group. I am a oddity to them. It boggles their mind to think that I might be educated and competent and run a business, teach etc. I am not the typical stay at home quiet mom they are used to. And i think for many reasons that is good. Women here need people to encourage them, model a healthy balance and their rights, and to fight for their own freedoms and to give a good example. But I also know it is something I need to be aware of. I cannot lead the men’s group forward in development. And yet no women come to the community meetings. So frustrating to want to work with them and yet find they hide away their women. It takes a very long time and a deeper level of trust I think before the community on a whole opens up their “jewels” in women to outsiders. Some families have been an anomaly and been open right from the start, but in general it is harder to know them and especially if we want to do any teaching, help, programs etc  as the men demand it goes to them first. But we all know that when you invest financially in a woman she gives 90% of it back by investing in their family, whereas a man only does half of that (if that even!)

I spent some time with a small local women’s group last year, but they broke apart and didn’t do much. I know I teach girls at the school but still don’t know many of their moms yet on the Tuareg side. When we had our parents meeting a few weeks ago every single parent for the Tuareg morning class was a man (their fathers)  not a single mother attended. The afternoon class had almost all mothers attending. What a cultural difference!

And yet this morning there were 4 women (in their 30s I am guessing? so hard to tell here where the elements wage their own war on beauty and age) at my door. 4 Tuareg women. I knew who one of them was, having met her once, but the others were new to me. They came to tell me they are starting a woman’s group in the community. That I would know many of them as mom’s of girls in our Girls at Risk school. They all live in this area. I don’t know how many exactly she was talking about, but I am guessing maybe 20 women? They even had gotten organized enough to write out their papers for the local mayor and get “official” papers stamped making them an “official” group in the eyes of the community. They wanted to know if I could come and see their group and talk with them and help them. They used the words for both teaching and education help as well as monetary help to start up small projects. I don’t really know what it all means yet, or exactly what they are looking for, but it is a group of Tuareg women, in my community, who want help and are asking for it. So my interest is piqued!!

But here are some thoughts to share with you about how I think through these things and how I need to process and be aware of our work here. Please feel free to leave suggestions or thoughts in the comments!

- they are a new group who has just started. they have not yet “done” anything together at all. What if they don’t stick together and really don’t make it work.

- with many of the mom’s from my Girls at the school, I could run them all through the same health and hygiene teaching I gave to their daughters!

- do they want teaching and education or just monetary help? From what they were saying they seemed to mentioned “help” in a financial sense several times. Do they want loans up front to help buy fabric/wood/milk/grain etc which they will then resell at a profit? How sustainable is that? Do they think I am just a bank with access to money to help them?

- so do they want me to be a participant, or the guide? I would love to come alongside and sit and listen and be a participant but I don’t see it working if they just want me to come, me to talk, me to teach, and me to fund. I told them I would come and sit and listen to their first meeting but not talk too much since I didn’t know them yet and it was not my group, but they kept insisting I speak and help, etc right off the bat. Not sure how I feel about that

- I usually like to see community groups run on their own for at least 6-12 months and save money as a community, nail down their own system of savings among themselves etc before we add on a new layer. But we only have 16 months before we leave on furlough for a year to Canada…

- is this a great way to enter into deeper relationships with this group of women my age who are more able to express their opinions (and listen to the opinions of others and possibly talk about moral/spiritual things) than their young daughters?

- I am weary of people who seem to want to use us just as their personal bank and personal failsafe in times of illness etc. It gets tiring and I feel just used sometimes. I am not here to bring them money and run projects, loans ,etc. There is so much more!

- gah! I am short on time and manpower as it is…can I add more layers to my own life?

 

So there you have it. Pray with me, send your thoughts, and we will see what this new opportunity brings together!

*   *  *  *  *

Sakki, a dear friend of mine who happens to be one of the anomalies and open from the start to a great friendship. She has 8 living children- ages 24 to newborn, and she is only 2 years older than me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Video of the girls song at school!

So I am new to this whole embedding video into blog posts. But my media guru here assures me it can be done. So here is my first try!

This is a group from the afternoon at our Girls at Risk school. I love their dances and songs. Hope you enjoy!

Afternoon class dancing from SaharaLive on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My brain on film

I will tell you in advance there is a lot of photos here Smile But that is part of the focus on the week- the visual!

This week has been totally different than our normal work flow. We have a media team here from Canada who is making a DVD of our Girls at Risk school. A 5 minute whirlwind tour of this program, these girls, and why this whole project is close to our hearts, and hopefully yours too!

With the permission of the parents, we have had the awesome team of Greg and Laura filming the girls at school, in some homes, markets etc. It has been a lot of fun to work this week on the long term vision of the project and to express it in a visual way that my photographic-inclined mind really enjoys! So much fun (and hard work) learning how to be a “producer” and put my brain on film! A scary concept!

The finished product will be available early this Fall!  Here are some of the events we captured on film at the school… (while greg was shooting video I was getting digital snaps)

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Interviews!

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We shot one of the girls (and the crowds of people, food, etc) in markets.

Crowds of kids loved Greg’s big camera.

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My favourite veggie stand lady

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buying meat from the local butcher

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And we followed some home!

The road strewn with goats and garbage to their home

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Laura loved the little baby goat

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All this and we are only half way through their time here! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The kids birthdays!

March is the month of birthdays for our children. Bennett turned 6 on the 5th and Arielle will turn 5 on the 28th. So of course we had to party!!

On Bennett’s actual birthday he chose to go to his favourite pool at a hotel in town. It also has one of the best patches of grass in town, a rarity here. And he wasn’t ashamed to lie down in it!

I need to use two hands to tell you my age now!

20110305-_MG_7830-2Bennett's favorite pink flippers. He can swim all over the pool and dive with them on. A little nervous still without them in the deep end.

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Can you spot the two white kids in the (or around) the pool? You might think – wow that pool is full! But you are only seeing the 1/3 of the pool that is shallow. The other 2/3 was EMPTY. I kid you not. None of these people could swim. They just all hung out in the shallow end, just like our toddlers! And more than a few of their “bathing suits” looked a whole lot like their underwear….

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One of the great things about this hotel – the view. It is right on the edge of the Niger river! With all the blowing dust and haze, it had this great eerie quality about it later in the afternoon before we left.

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Then on Sunday we had a joint birthday party for both kids and invited lots of their friends. We had planned activities of croquet, dunking for suckers, train set and a costume booth. Everyone had a blast!

Arielle dunking for suckers

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The costume booth was a huge hit!

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Beautiful Princesses

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I love this shot of the boys!

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The whole gang

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Yummy cupcakes! Baked by Chantelle and Rebecca and decorated by Paul! Arielle wanted chocolate cupcakes and Bennett wanted strawberry, so that is what they got!

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and of course they were spoiled with their presents from their friends.

Thanks to all of you!

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Some portraits from the day

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and look- even a rare look at the photographer who is always behind the lens! Rebecca and I had fun with some of the dress up clothes too!

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

A year in review

I know we are starting March. So my year in review is a little late, but we have been busy!

Each year I like to look back at all the things we learned the year before. What were our biggest successes, biggest failures, biggest challenges and biggest growth? How much can we take from what we experienced in the year before to make us into better people, better reflecting who God wants us to be. We are learning about gratefulness and finding the good blessings even in the midst of hard situations. We are learning our own strengths, as well as our own shortcomings. So good!

 

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Paul has had a wonderful year, although quite challenging when you ask him. Paul still has another 7 or so months left of “official” language study. Every week he struggles with the time behind a desk, in class, finding ways to make language learning more than an awful chore he has to learn. But yet he is also the first to see there has been great growth in his language skills. The majority of the young men he works with all speak French, so it is tough to force them to speak Tamasheq with him, but he tries!

I asked him on the spot what he thought the biggest struggle was last year. His answer was “scheduling his time” . So many requests, so many needs, language study, shop work, and a family all needing his attention. And nothing like a regular job workday in sight! So trying to find how to manage his time and be a self organizer has been hard.

I also asked what he thought an achievement of his was this year that improved his capacity to live here in Niger. He said he had come to terms with Africa a lot more! Crazy driving, no rules, frequent strikes, power outages, corrupt officials and hard-headed Tuaregs are no longer a thing to make him bang his own head against a wall, but something he has learned to navigate with much less stress. Yay!

Paul has also been using his skills as a welder to bless other groups. He has built a whole lot of desks and chairs for a school, and now a bunch of bright green metal benches for the new CURE hospital for Children in town. He is working with a few young men as apprentices and sees great potential for teaching and will start this more formally this Fall.

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Chantelle finished formal language study the end of November after completing 25.5 months in Tamasheq language studies. I am finding this doesn’t mean a whole bunch to my schedule since the last months the large majority of my language was all with national friends and work anyhow. I am now spending a big majority of my time in the Girls at Risk training school. I love working with these 60 girls (all between the ages of 12 and 19) and see huge potential. We are still working out some of the kinks with supplies, lesson planning and especially the guards for the centre, but overall we are really seeing great potential and excitement in the girls. As we get to know them better in the school, we are also seeing increased opportunities to invest in their lives outside of school. The real relational heart work comes at their homes, on field trips, sitting and having tea anywhere, talking about life, love, health, heart issues and faith in the context of this wonderful friendship we are building. I am getting great friendships going with many of the girls and am so proud of their progress and excitement to learn as we are on this journey together.

I am still working on the School feeding program out in the village, but with increased security concerns, I can’t physically be out there. A real bummer that we are creatively trying to find a way around.

On a creative side, I still try to make time! I have done quite a bit of photography for myself and for others, I am trying to do a bit of sewing and reading. With security concerns keeping us on curfew and in town I need some new hobbies!

I have struggled with stress and anxiety this past 7 or so months more than normal and am trying to find ways to be proactive and have a good self-care plan in place. Some things are out of my control, so I try to control how much they stress me out at least!

 

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Bennett is a very active, bright 6 year old. Well he turns 6 Saturday, so close enough! He loves to snuggle and is easily affectionate. He has learned to write this year and the beginnings of learning to read, and is very excited to read. He loves books at night. He misses Canada and talks about it, whereas Arielle never does. He also loves to talk about nice hotels (like the resorts we stayed in on our last two vacations) and hopes to live permanently in one. He even hopes there is a nice hotel in Heaven!

Bennett is so funny. He also loves his French school but he is quite observant (for a 6 year old!) about many of the cultural differences that he observes between him and his classmates. Here are some of his recent funny comments, we never know what “astute observation” is going to come out of his mouth next!

Bennett- whose goats are those?

Mom- the people who live in the hut there

Bennett- Oh. I thought God sent us goats that don’t belong to anyone so that they could eat all the garbage!

I have the best rule EVER for the house! When we play with something, or anybody puts anything on the table, they clean it up before they go to bed! Then we will always have a clean house! (His Daddy LOVED this one!)

You know why it took me so long to eat my breakfast this morning Mom? My heart was dreaming of victory and I forgot all about my yogurt!

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Arielle has had a really good year. She thrives in the French preschool class she is in. She is slow to talk to adults (still shy and unsure), but when you hear her talk with a group of little people I am amazed how much she talks, especially in French! On days home she loves to follow our housekeeper Rebecca around and help clean and chatter away in French. We are proud of how her emotional stability has grown. She loves to read and colour and be read stories. And she loves hanging out with all her aunties here! She plays better with the young Africa neighbours than Bennett does and is quite content to sit in huts or chase goats with some of her new friends. She loves visiting African friends, whereas Bennett is a little more iffy. She even has learned some Tamasheq!

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If you know Paul and I you know we aren’t people who just gloss over things that might be hard. We can’t ignore tension or pretend things are all shiny happy (fake!). We tell it like it is and are learning how to be positive catalysts for change. It is never an easy task. So frustrating sometimes when we work with a very prideful people group who used to be Kings of the Desert, and who didn’t seem to get the message they are now the poorest of the poor who have no skills and people look down on. They don’t seem to want to work or grow and learn sometimes. So frustrating! One of the major things we are learning is how to use our natural personalities who desire honesty and authenticity and to apply that to our lives and situations around us in the best way possible.

We have experienced (and continue to experience) several areas of extreme frustration. Sometimes we wonder how we can get past them, what are our options, our best solutions, etc. Maybe there are no solutions and this is just part of the journey we will continue to learn from here in Niger? Maybe there is another solution that we just haven’t found yet? Truth of the matter is we love what we do. The work we have, the people we work with and the role we clearly feel God has for us is very rewarding and fulfilling in many ways. No matter what the road blocks, we still feel this is where we need to be, the work that we have to do is here for now. We trust when the time comes to move on (if ever!) that God will clearly lead us that direction as we look only up to follow Him.

We also live in an interesting situation of security. We are neither really secure, nor really insecure. It feels like jello some days if we slide closer to one side or another. In general we feel safe in town and take all the precautions possible. We will see what (if any) affect all the upheaval in the countries north of us has. We also have National Elections in a few weeks, finally getting a new government after the coup d’etat more than a year ago. We pray this is a good government, but you just never know here!

So overall this past year has been one of great growth. Also increased stress, but hopefully with an equal measure of learning and personal growth. God is good and we count ourselves lucky to be here in this time when He is clearly teaching us and refining us and using us to achieve his purposes.

This is a verse we hold to and try to make our life mantra at this point!

Philippians 4:11b-13  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

an African sauce recipe you can try at home!

Every Tuesday Rebecca and I go to Miriama’s hut. We enjoy hours of hanging out, language practice, culture learning and food! Each week, we make our favorite meal with Miriama. We bring the baguettes and she makes a wonderful sauce called “Chapatta sauce” which is named after the tree leaf they puree into it.

Today the kids are on school break so we wanted to bring them with us and have fun. So today Rebecca and I went with our little list of notes to the market and managed to buy all the ingredients ourselves. We showed up and told Miriama today was her day to kick back and relax and drink tea and let us make her family lunch! We had a great time and lots of laughs. And in the end- we were told our sauce was excellent! Every last morsel and drop was eaten. As they say in Tamasheq IZOD! (yummy!)

So for those of you at home- you can make the same recipe. We use a mortar and pestle and tree leaves, you can use your blender or food processer and spinach. Or be brave and go get some leaves off your tree! Here is the recipe. Totally yummy to serve with baguettes. You tear off the bread and use it as a spoon to eat this thick sauce. Let me know if you did it!

 

Miriama giving direction – we wouldn’t let her work!

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The sauce is almost done. This is what it should look like.

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Ingredients (for 2-3 people)

squash (Any kind) – at least 1 cup cubed raw

onion – 1 large- sliced

potatoes – at least 1 cup cubed raw

hot peppers- 2 small – pureed (add more if you like it spicy!)

garlic- 5 cloves- pureed

oil – 1/3 cup

smooth peanut butter – 1/3 cup (more if you like that peanuty taste!)

spinach – 2 packed cups of leaves, then puree or pound them down to a puree

tomato paste – 1/3 cup

salt – 2 tsp or to taste

bouillon cubes (preferably chicken)- two cubes (about 2 tsp)

Directions:

heat your oil in a pot. Add pureed garlic and hot peppers. Add onion. Let simmer a couple minutes. Add peanut butter and tomato paste and mix well. Add 1 cup water and let simmer a couple minutes. Don’t let it burn to your pot! Add squash and a little more water if it is too thick. Let simmer a few more minutes. Add your pureed leaves or spinach and keep simmering. Add your salt and bouillon. Add 1 more cup of water. If it still looks thick add more water as you need to. You don’t want it runny like thin soup, but you don’t want it really thick like chili either. Add potatoes and simmer on low, stirring often, until the potatoes and squash and both really soft and easily mushed with a fork.

Serve hot with fresh baguette. Tear off chunks of bread and use the bread as spoons and eat from a communal pot in a circle for the full African experience! Hope some of you try this- it is easy and awesome!

 

Here are some more pictures of our meal today!

Bennett likes the job of pounding. He pounded up all the garlic, spices, peppers and tree leaves!20110301-IMG_7776-2

20110301-_MG_7779-2Everyone getting their “bread spoon” in there!

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20110301-_MG_7789-2Arielle digging in! She is always the last one to walk away from the platter, even using her fingers to get every last drop!

20110301-_MG_7793-2A picture Bennett took of Miriama’s mom watching us all cook. She thought it was great fun and next week it is her turn to cook and join our cooking competition! Normally it is her daughter who cooks all the time, so we are excited to see what she comes up with.

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