Sunday, May 22, 2011

Celebrating International Women’s Day!



Last week was International Women’s Day. I would have posted this earlier but for the past two weeks we have been having serious power and internet issues in Niger, so I am just getting it up now!

Since we didn’t have a grand opening celebration for the Girls at Risk school back when it opened this fall, we decided to throw a “grand opening-ish” party on International Women’s Day! We invited friends, teammates, dignitaries, television and print media crews and of course the girls and their parents! We set up a bunch of displays as well showing all the different activities the girls had been involved in, as well as had the girls themselves set up showing off some of their skills in person while they worked on projects.



A table set up outside showing off their sewing successes!


The official program lasted about an hour. That is, after we waited for the very late Mayor of the community to arrive. But he DID come and I think that encouraged all the parents and girls to see that kind of recognition. Every last moment was also taped for the local tv station.

Official speeches


Paul’s shade hangar was up and was so great that the local chief even wanted to buy it or “borrow it” for his own special events!


Don’t I look totally relaxed giving interviews to the TV station? Yah right.

Actually I am not at all afraid of public speaking, but I am also just as content to stay behind the scenes!

The next night the whole event was on TV. Yes, I mean our WHOLE event made the nightly news. We had a full hour dedicated to our school and the whole program, including the skits, was broadcast all around the country. WOW! Can you imagine that kind of coverage back home in Canada? It was great exposure for the program!


As part of the official program each group of girls also choose one skit to perform for the open house. The morning class chose a health related topic and

re-enacted teaching someone to make an oral rehydration solution when they are sick. They did great!



The afternoon class chose to go with a moral theme skit, and to look at honesty. The decided to re-enact the story of “The boy who cried Wolf” They had everyone in the place laughing their heads off! Check it out in the video below!

One of the things that the girls really enjoyed was getting all dressed up. I think they look beautiful every Wednesday, but they came out in their finest for this celebration! After it was all over we had so much fun taking pictures and enjoying time with the girls. This was the first time that both classes were present at the same time and it was a lot of fun. Check out some of these great pictures, and then at the bottom there are new updated whole class photos!













Morning Class


Afternoon class


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The story of Ramatou - “They will know us by our love”


Friday morning I was at the office for a meeting and got a call from our sewing teacher that Ramatou (one of the girls in our Girls at Risk school) had passed out in class, and that no one was able to bring her around. It had been 20 minutes and she was still unconscious. I told them to use cold water on her and that I was on my way. When I arrived she was conscience, but barely. Her eyes were glazed and her pulse was rapid. We took her to a local clinic in the community and they gave her an I.V and medication and she slowly came around. At first she seemed panicked and disoriented. Her sister said her fever had reached 44 on the thermometer, but no confirmation on that from the Doctors. She stayed the afternoon until the pain was under control (that was what caused her to pass out) and then they released her. You see, Ramatou has a herniated intestine. She has been suffering with it for almost a year now and goes through bouts of intense pain. Her family has not dealt with it for 2 reasons. The first being that health care is expensive for them and they simply can’t afford the surgery she needs. The second reason is that they are highly uneducated and come with a “village” mentality which is really fatalistic. They just see death and pain as so normal that they don’t go out of their way much to fight back against it. We left the clinic with a paper needed to go try to get a surgical consult this coming week. The hernia could explain why Ramatou looks so emaciated. Poor girl is 15 years old but only 77 pounds.

However, by 7pm that evening the pain was back with a vengeance and Ramatou was screaming out in pain and passing out again. You could see a big mass on her stomach that was hard as a rock (about the diameter of an apple). So they called me and I came and got the mom, and aunt and cousin and we all headed to Niamey’s National Hospital. Now this hospital is a place I really try to avoid. It is chaotic, dirty, smelly and downright unhygienic.  The first triage area was for children (since she is 15) and we waited with 60 or so other people. The room is open to the sky at the edges and smelled like stale food, urine and cats. Oh yes the cats. There were stray cats wandering around, nibbling at extra food people had brought. Most people show up at the hospital with a pot of food, a sleeping mat and a jug of water. They know they will be here a long time and there are no services. Heaven forbid if you need to use a bathroom! (I have gotten very adept at holding it!). The people shooed the cats away and just sat back in the metal benches, or lay sprawled on the floors between the benches, dosing off with their children while waiting to see a Dr. Most of the children I saw were under the age of 5. Considering 1 out of every 4 children in Niger die before the age of 5, this is not surprising. The walls were covered in what looks like a thin coat of black soot and the floors were so caked in dirt and filth I even washed my flipflops when I came home.

After only an hour and a half of waiting the Mom got impatient. She went up to a Dr. and demanded if there was space for Ramatou. When told the ward was full, she quickly seemed to give up and said we would just take Ramatou home. At this point Ramatou was dozing on my shoulder and still whimpering in pain. I kept thinking “What if the hernia bursts or becomes completely strangled? This could kill her!”. The Mom asked me to go ask the Dr. if there was any space. I know they wanted me to go because I have the white face, and maybe the Dr. would take notice and at least look at Ramatou.

On a side note, I hate this dichotomy of life here. I can use my white face to ensure people are at least seen by a Doctor or given a fair crack at something, but then what makes Ramatou more special than the poor kid next to her? Why should one person get special treatment just because they are with a foreigner whereas others can sit and die in that room without ever being seen? And yet if I don’t fight for Ramatou- who will? How can I use all I have for an advantage and yet I can’t possibly extend that advantage to everyone?

So the Dr. notices the green card I am carrying which is the surgical referral from the clinic earlier in the day. He tells us to go to the surgical ward for a consult since we have already seen a Dr. today. I am not sure if he is being sincere or just passing us off on someone else. At any rate, we head down the hall to their “true emergency” room. This is where all the bad stuff is, mostly motorbike accidents being the major cause of death in this country for anything not linked to illness.  There are at least 20 narrow hospital beds crammed into a room a little bigger than my living room, and each bed has a seriously injured person on it with a family member attending to them at the side. Forget privacy, everything is open. For the first hour I sit outside in the hallway with the Mom and Cousin while the Aunt and Ramatou sit on the edge of a hospital bed inside. There was not enough room for Ramatou here either so she is sharing a bed with another young girl who was also brought in unconscious (I saw her being carried in).

We waited and waited. After about an hour they called me in to talk with the intern doctor and explain to him (The medical people all spoke French). He agreed it was a hernia but thought likely it could last until later in the week for a surgical consult since they were so full. But we needed to talk to the head doctor, who was currently in the operating room. So we settled in to wait some more, this time I was inside with Ramatou and just sat next to her, balancing my butt on the very edge of her hospital bed. Thankfully her bed was next to one of the air conditioning units, so we got a little bit of air. There was a man wheeled in with a head injury and some kind of body injury. He was keening and wailing at the top of his lungs, clearly in a whole lot of pain. Others were crying, doctors were talking, and a crowd of people was being held back just at the doors to get in (all family or friends who wanted to visit somebody) by an army officer. It was chaotic. Ramatou laid down alongside the other girl. These two poor girls, each with a head at one end of the bed, shared such a small bed as it was. There was a young lady next to us about 4 feet over in another hospital bed. It was clear she had been in an accident and had a giant head gash. I watched (I am not usually squeamish at all) while they froze the skin around it and prepped her for stitches, but when they flipped back a 4 inch square of her scalp to look at the skull underneath for a fracture, I started to feel whoozy myself and had to sit on my haunches in front of the cold air for a few minutes to get my blood pressure back up so I didn’t pass out myself! Seriously! After that I was determined to try not to notice all the blood and gore all around us. I started to hum the song “All in All” and just hung out with Ramatou while we waited. I kept humming worship songs for the rest of the night and both Ramatou and I were more relaxed. Note to self- don’t look at open head surgery! The other man keeps wailing and it sounds like an eerie version of WHY WHY WHY AIE AIE!

Around 10pm the power goes out. This is totally normal for Niamey- but the emergency room of the main hospital? Wow…. It took about 5 minutes for the generator to kick in. Sure hope there was no major surgery underway! In the dark for the first few seconds, I quickly fished out my tiny yet super powerful flashlight. The Doctor quickly came over to “borrow it” and continue helping his patients. Un-be-lieve-able. Almost laughable seeing my tiny flashlight as the only point of light wandering around the emergency room.

At one point, maybe around 11:30pm the Mom really wanted to leave. Her cousin was telling me she was tired (they both were) and that she just wanted to take Ramatou home. Clearly the hospital didn’t have time for her etc. She had had enough and wanted me to pick up Ramatou and leave and drive them home. I was stuck in a quandary! How could I respect the wishes of a parent and not over-ride them, while still making sure Ramatou got the care that she needed? The doctors in the ER tried to tell her she was crazy for wanting to leave. They said “Do you know how many people never make it to a hospital? How many people don’t have anyone willing to help them? You are crazy to leave! You need to be patient just a little longer…the doctor will come”. Begrudgingly they kept waiting and I kept avoiding the topic lest they make it clear they wanted to leave NOW and I would be in a tough spot to decide. Thankfully in about 20 more minutes the head doctor did arrive and they did rounds and made decisions. He agreed that Ramatou needs surgery but that he could not do it this weekend. He gave us the papers we needed to start the process to get a surgical consult and sent us home with some pain medication for Ramatou.

I drove them home and crawled into my own bed sometime around 12:30 am. I kept just thinking how ready the family was to walk away and go home and just wait and see if she would die. They are fatalistic and feel they have no control or rights over their own health, but also seem so unwilling to go the extra mile to fight for it. I know on their own this surgery would be too expensive (it may only cost a couple hundred dollars likely but even that is way too much for them) but they didn’t even want to spend the time to wait and see the doctor??? As a mom I can’t fathom walking away like that. At one point I had even told the Mom and Cousin they could go ahead and take a taxi home if they were tired and I would wait with Ramatou and bring her home myself when we were done! There are so many cultural things here that clearly I don’t understand- but not making efforts for the health of your child? That’s one I don’t think I will ever understand!

So please pray for Ramatou .I don’t know how long of a wait there is for surgeries here. I don’t really know how to navigate the medical system here, but I guess I am about to learn! Pray that she will manage these days and weeks ahead with no pain and feel God’s presence around her, comforting her. Pray for me for wisdom! I want to respect the wishes of the parents, but also make Ramatou’s life the priority!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mango Citrus Jam

Yesterday Bennett and I made Mango Jam! Arielle preferred to play with her dolls, but Bennett wanted to help in the kitchen. Back in Canada our pantry was filled with a wide variety of jams I had made, but I never seem to have the time here in Niger to keep up the habit. But yesterday we were determined. It is mango season so we took advantage of a plethora of cheap mangoes and made Mango Citrus Jam!


Cutting up 3 kilograms of Mangoes.

_MG_9569-2Zesting a dozen limes and squeezing their juice


Boiling it all up together


Adding the sugar ( the key ingredient to make sure it preserves a long time!)


My great helper (just wearing his underwear because it was so HOT in the kitchen!)


The finished product- 14 jars of yummy jam!


And just to show you how hot it had been inside my kitchen while we cooked!


And a little side note- Bennett and Harriet. If Bennett sits on the stair of our kitchen door with lettuce, Harriet will come eat it right out of his hand! She is getting bigger!


Friday, May 06, 2011

The Rally to restore Unity

This past week there has been a web event going on called The Rally to Restore Unity which is May 1-7.

Each day I have been reading several very thoughtful blogs, as well as some silly ones, and a few I didn’t quite agree with, but all about the topic of Christian Unity. If you follow the link in the title you can see them all too and read for yourself! While all this talk of Unity is certainly timely in my own life, this blog is not about my own life or circumstances at this time, so don’t anyone going reading between the lines for something that isn’t there!

People have been making up signs about Unity and their ideas about it. Some were hilarious, some very thought provoking. See the young lady in the top right – that is Carrien- one of my longest dearest friends.


I have taken to heart, and had reinforced in my head, some of these great ideas about unity among believers. I have written below, using many quotes and words of others (too many to footnote each one effectively) mixed all up with my thoughts and heart- what I consider to be a highlight reel for you Smile Enjoy the read, and see if you aren’t challenged yourself. I know I was!


------------The point of unity is to keep the Body functioning—not to make all the parts the same or to try and force everyone to agree, but to ensure that we don’t allow the very differences that make us so beautiful and diverse and adaptive cripple us to the point of uselessness.

It seems that most people don’t really love themselves very well, either. we actually are “loving our neighbor as ourselves” and that often means “not too nicely”.  for many,  there’s a deep insecurity inside, some kind of void that leaves a lot of room for defensiveness and fear. the “i’ve-got-to-prove-this-or-else-i’ve-got-nothing-left” mentality that robs joy, life, and free relationship with other people.  many of us are indeed loving our neighbors as ourselves–out of fear, anger and hate instead of love, hope, and peace.

my hope for unity is that we’d all become people with a deep sense of love in our core, a strong sense of knowing who we really are as people–accepted and free. and that out of that quiet strength, we’d be able to roll with others’ differences, not need to defend what doesn’t really need defending, and retain our own identity.  that we’d be secure people who have nothing to prove. When we have nothing to prove, we are released to love others more freely, more fully.  no agenda.  just a desire for mutual respect. When we crave honesty and crave authenticity and receive only “fakeness” back- that cuts to core. And then we give up trying. And i know that isn’t right…but I am only human and I don’t have the reserves to keep fighting. But to love…now that is the key, even if not loved back.

God,  let us know the true love that you have for us.  help us to accept it as our own so that we may give it  freely to others.

One girl Megan wrote about steps to Unity that I really like. Her first was- Assigning Positive Intent. For me, assigning positive intent is just code for Hebrews 12:15

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

So it looks like this (online or face-to-face): Hmmmmm.  That little comment seemed a bit jerk-y.  Why is she always so mean to me? But I choose to think she probably didn't mean for it to be jerk-y.  I bet she just feels as strongly about this as I do.  I choose not to take offense.  I choose to continue on with love and gentleness.

Easy, right?  Uh yeah…I’m still working on it too. My heart is too darn soft and easily hurt…

Her next point was called : Disengaging the Divisive.  The closing paragraphs of Paul's letter to Titus have some instructions that are as timely for our culture as they were the day he penned them. I was just reading this again this week with Paul and discussing the Tuaregs to some extent Smile There are people in The Body who are determined to be divisive. It's okay to say, "I love you, brother, but I'm just not going to engage with you on this matter." Not everyone is going to like you, and if you simply drive yourself into a pit of depression, frustration and anxiety- sometimes we need to walk away. For a time? Forever? Only God knows as we seek Him.

For me, I know in my spirit when a conversation is meant to sharpen, educate, and authentically explore a matter.  Nothing wrong in engaging those discussions. I love deep discussions with many different sides presented! But when a discussion has turned the corner into a verbal fight, there's nothing wrong with just walking away.

Her third point was on Getting Up and Doing the Work.  The limitless venues of discussion and debate and entertainment (yes Facebook I am pointing at you!) afforded to us by technology pose a very real threat to The Body.  Not only do these offer endless opportunity for hurtful divides, they also provide endless opportunity for dangerous distraction. Get out there and get the work done!

From the streets of our cities to the spot on the globe furthest from our homes, there are people who need to know the Good News.  What if we asked ourselves: "How many hours did I spend this week with a cup of coffee and good conversation with others?  Now, how many hours did I spend with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned?  Not just throwing money at ministry, but with sleeves rolled-up, broken and poured out for others?"

Partnering with each other in Kingdom work is one of the best, best ways to live in unity with one another. So why is also one of the hardest for unity?

After all, they will know we are disciples by our _______________________

Theological stance?
Political loyalty?
Denominational affiliation?



One girl Jamie talked about a very visual picture of Unity. She said:

“ A body, made up of many different parts, somehow working together to share the love of a Savior with the world.  And I love that a big toe and a mouth, for example, weren’t designed to hang out together but, still, they manage to be part of the same body.  In fact, you probably do your best to keep them apart. 

Are your mouth and your toe unified? Absolutely. Are they BFFs? Probably not.”


The key is to let them each serve their purpose while recognizing that they both have a place within the bigger design.


So that’s it. My thoughts from the last few days, intermingled with their words. I know how much unity and transparency is important to me. It is air to me. It is crucial. I am not one of those people who can just pretend it doesn’t exist and walk away, and yet Jesus still has so much more to teach me about it. I am so thankful he is a good and patient teacher!