Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A “Start up” gift

A few weeks ago I told you the story of Amaka, the young lady who was a refugee from Libya who was abandoned by her husband when she arrived in Niger. You can read the story here: The shattered life of a young refugee

I have been over to visit with them several times since then and one time I brought them the “start-up kit” that several of you generously donated for. We plan to buy more of these as we hear about families in similar situations who have started to settle and re-start their lives here in Niger after fleeing Libya.


  • 2 sleeping mats
  • 2 blankets
  • bag of clothes for both kids and mother
  • set of 3 food pots
  • 2 large metal cooking pots
  • local stove
  • metal cooking spoon
  • fake tupperware canisters to hold sugar, salt, spices, tea, etc from rain and insects
  • large bowl for washing laundry and children
  • large wooden mortar and pestle
  • large serving platter
  • soap
  • treated mosquito nets

Cost= $94 Canadian

Impact = Priceless


In this culture, when a gift is given, they usually say thank you, don’t open it, and put it away. You never see them open or enjoy it. With Amaka, it was different. Her face was beaming when we gave it all to her and she sat down on a mat on the dirt and started to go through each and every item. She kept repeating that this was just like her wedding dowry, that we were replacing her dowry items that had been lost forever. I was so touched to see how deeply she felt this joy and was so thankful. I told her many times that this came from people in Canada, that I was just the messenger of other people who cared for her and her situation. She thanks you all very much.

One thing that really struck me this morning was when her uncle stopped by. Her uncle is a well dressed, French speaking Tuareg man who is very friendly and I have met him several times. This is what he said to me, in front of all the other people present as well -

“ You know, this is what Christians do well. You see a need and you meet it. Many of us Muslims see the need, and yet we will not meet it. It is not a lack of money, because there is money out there. But we want to keep our money because maybe we will be the ones in need tomorrow. We can’t ever give it away for something like this. But you people, you see the hurt and you give easily. Amaka will always know and remember that it was the Christians who cared and who gave to her. This is a really good thing”



Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Strangely enough, we actually found this hedgehog in my hedge!

I came home from work to find Bennett and our guard had found this little guy in our yard and had thought it would be great fun to introduce him to our turtle Harriet!


I don’t think the Heddy (the Hedgehog) was ready to make friends yet. When we took the turtle out Heddy finally unfurled and started to walk around the wagon. He was fast. And believe it or not, almost faster than my shutter speed! I set my camera on high action fast shutter and was shocked when his instantaneous reaction to any sound (my shutter) would lightning fast duck his head and start to curl. It took me almost a dozen tries to get this on where you can still see his head!


He was trying to find his way out!


And here he is, cute as a button, all curled up! Just another one of the great visitors we get to see here in Niger!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When it rains…it pours figuratively and literally!


It has been a rough few days in Niger! A few days ago there was some major rain and there was a big water leak into the Girls School, as well as a substantial leak in the roof of our Director’s house (who is currently on vacation). So Paul was working on that. Then today, when we went to back out of our driveway, our rear tire dropped down in the middle of our driveway, having fallen through the septic tank area! Apparently the initial construction was shoddy (shocking i know!) and over time underground all the sand was getting washed away, leaving a large hollow under a foot of topsoil and hard packed gravel. Well it was just a matter of time until that came to light and it collapsed! So all day today Paul and 2 Tuareg men were doing major excavation and trying to find the edges of the cavern, which they will now have to fill.



Then early this evening (around 530pm) a major storm blew into Niamey. We could see the orange of the sandstorm approaching and closed all our windows up tight. It was still bright daylight out when it hit, and in just moments the sky turned deep orange like this:


After maybe 20 minutes of severe winds and sand, the rain started to pound down. I went out to take a video quick and realized, OUR TREE HAD BLOWN DOWN!  Ack….make that TWO trees! Our two big nice trees in the yard were both at extreme angles. The worst was our front yard tree which had completely fallen onto our gate and fence and was pulling over the electrical lines! Our guard was trying to prop it up with a metal rake! The picture is all grainy because it was really dark and high winds!


After another 20 minutes the rain let up and light returned to the sky.

Here is what my tree looked like as the guards starting hacking down the pieces that had broken off and were stuck on the electrical wires.


The other tree in my side yard.


I am really hoping to salvage the trees significantly. Our yard is depressing and dirt anyhow and I really love those trees!

Just another day in the desert I guess! I will try to get the video to load in the next few days and show it to you!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The start of summer break


This week is full of year end activities, goodbyes and starting to think about the summer! Well, the weather is already scorching summer of course, but our time and activities will significantly change now, at least for a little while!

Here is Bennett at his year end Taekwondo presentation. Look at the totally intense look on his face. He earned his yellow belt. He likes Taekwondo a lot and his teacher said he was really good and should continue- “He has the fight potential of a warrior but the gentle spirit of a leader” is what he said. Congrats Bennett!


Arielle likes to visit our Girls at Risk school and interact with the girls. The girls all want to play with her, have her sit with them etc, so it is good to help Arielle get over being so shy! There is still two weeks left at the Girls school, so I think the kids will be visiting often!

Here is Arielle and her buddy Rafiyatou.


And today is the LAST day of school! YAY! Many of their friends, especially their international friends, are leaving for the summer, so it will be quiet. We are looking forward to spending time with local friends who have little kids and some good family time, especially in July before our work really ramps up again in August with short term teams coming. Both kids did excellent on their report cards and Arielle will be in Kindergarten next year and Bennett moves to Grade 1. wowzers! Time flies!

In celebration of the last day of school –the sky threw a party! Check out this dust storm! (I purposefully put the flash on low so you could catch all the dust in the air too!)


And now I can hear the rain hammering down. We love rainy season!

So tell me, what are YOU most looking forward to doing over the summer?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Love Karma



First or all, let me say I don’t really believe in Karma. Well not the whole eastern religious, second life, return as a snake or a king, kind of thing. But I do believe that to some extent, what goes around comes around. The way you treat people is a reflection of yourself and your values. Showering love on someone and being loved in return is definitely no bad thing! I have coined it “ LOVE KARMA

The Christian concept of reaping what you sow from Galatians 6:7 sort of talks about the same thing.

Galatians 6:7-8

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.

A man reaps what he sows.

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;

whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

This last two weeks, I have really felt overwhelmed with love karma. I spent several days with Ramatou and her family, visiting the hospitals, getting the actual surgery done and then follow up appointments. When I saw Ramatou wheeled out of the operating room and across the courtyard into the patient wing, I had this strange sense of strong emotion sweep over me and I got all choked up. I felt so grateful. I was so excited for her new lease on life- pain free! I hope to see her grow and be happy and walk freely and run. When she awoke from her anaesthetic she asked for me. I went into the wing (it wasn’t yet visiting hours but I was lurking around anyway) and came over to her. She was groggy. She grabbed my hand and pulled me in close to talk to me. Her first words were not poetic, they weren’t deep heart touching words or anything. She said “ Chantelle- I want a banana. Or an Apple!” and she said it with such clear longing and force that it made me smile. Then she said “Or maybe a mango, or some fruit juice – I am sooo hungry Chantelle!” I asked the nurse if she could eat yet and was told the lunch meal was about 30 minutes away and she would have to wait for that. I sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand and chatted with her and her mom while we waited. Once she dozed and her head faced her mom and suddenly she said  to her Mom- “Where is Chantelle????” Her Mom told her I was right there and she moved her head and saw me sitting on the other side and gave me this big smile and squeezed my hand. She was so funny and candid for the next few hours as we ate and then waited to be released. Her Mom kept ssshing her for being so blunt and direct with me (which did not bother me one iota but her mom would have seen as her being rude to me) and we just laughed. I told her Mom it was just the medication talking. We joked that today she was crazy, but tomorrow she would  be back to normal Ramatou. At her insistence, I promised to buy a bag of mangoes on the way home to quench her mango craving.

When we arrived back at her house, a crowd of people came running to welcome her back. They gathered around her and helped her onto a padded mat on the ground. Of course she asked right away for a mango. They will take good care of her for the next week while she heals and doesn’t do any major lifting or running or anything. The incision is only 1.5 inches long, but she still needs to be careful. A few of the older women came over to talk to me. I love the old women here who have seen so many things in their lives. Their folds of weathered skin and sunken eyes tell the story of hard times and their nomadic lifestyle. One of the old women blessed me. I mean actually blessed me. She kissed her hand and then touched it to my forehead, all the while asking for her Allah’s blessing on me and my life. She did this several times in a row and it was all I could do to keep tears from rolling down my cheeks. Everything I had given to Ramatou she gave me right back in that love, that kiss on my forehead and her blessing. Love Karma.

I asked Paul when I got home if it was wrong to love the love in return. I don’t do it for the return love and often here in this country our love can be met with spits in the face, but we keep on loving anyways. But those times when our love is returned with love, my heart is glad. I told Paul, it might seem crazy, but maybe I would do this job forever just for that love. I don`t need accolades, recognition or awards - I can live on those little bits of love karma alone. So yeah….maybe that sounds a little bit crazy :) .

It was another day that I was reminded that I am so thankful to be in this place, at this time, doing this work, to be God’s hand to her. Let’s make it clear- I am just the tool. We don’t celebrate a hammer in the Master’s hand, we celebrate and are thankful to the Master himself. Let me tell you, I am one happy hammer!

The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?” -Henry David Thoreau

If this is what love karma is…bring it on!


Ramatou back at this school Wednesday- pain free!!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The shattered life of a young refugee

This morning I was spending the morning at my good friend Miriama’s hut, like I do every week. There was a young woman there (only 24 years old) who had two children with her.


Her beautiful little girl Aichatou was just over 2 years old and her son Lamine is 5. I learned that she had just arrived from Libya, where she fled the bombing of where she lived in Tripoli. There are many Tuaregs who live in Libya and the mass exodus of refugees is causing a severe strain on Niger, already one of the world’s poorest countries.

So briefly lets catch up on what is happening there- and how it affects us here in Niger and the sad story of this one young lady.

Tens of thousands of people have crossed south into Niger from Libya in the past few months. Many of these are nationals of Niger, so their trip is a homecoming of sorts. Estimates of the human stream into Niger vary, but several tallies place the number at around 60,000 persons who have traveled from Libya to Niger since February. AFP puts the number of refugees who have entered Niger from the Libya and Cote d’Ivoire crises combined at 93,000. Another source puts the estimate differently: 1,000 people are coming into Niger every day, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some sources say the arrivals are now decreasing somewhat, but that the demographic profile of the refugees is changing: men are now bringing their wives and children with them, indicating a more permanent return.

Whatever the number of refugees is, it’s large, and it’s placing major strains on Niger’s government and on the refugees themselves.

I kid you not, she came on a huge truck, with hundreds of people, just like this photo:



In addition to food shortages in Niger, that are only exacerbated by the increase in people, the economy has been affected in other ways, as refugees have lost their incomes and their families in Niger have lost needed remittances. The people in Libya were the breadwinners supporting their families here in Niger, and now that is gone. The economic woes of refugees are causing crime. A good friend of ours who is the Country Director for Concern International says crime is really on the rise, especially in cities in the North. Migrants who have fled the conflict in Libya to return to Niger say they are having to beg, steal, or sell off remaining animals or plots of land just to survive.

These hardships help explain why some refugees still inside Libya do not want to go home, even though they are in a war zone in Tripoli, Misrata or Bengazi.

As this young lady told me,  The journey was difficult, the arrival no less so. She came with only one small suitcase. She left everything else she owned behind. If the stories are correct, her and her husband would have had many hassles, checkpoints and bribes to pay to get to Niger. And yet that’s not the worst of it. When she arrived this week, they struggled to find a place to live. Her parents are both dead. And then yesterday, her husband walked away. He dropped her off at a cousins, said the required “I divorce you” three times, and walked away a free man, to start his own new life in Niger. So now this young lady is not only a refugee and mom of two young children, she is doing it alone. My fury at her good for nothing husband is obvious, but really I can’t dwell on him. She is the one I met, living with Miriama for a few days (weeks? months?) while she figures out her life.

How are we able to respond to something like this? Clearly the refugee problem is way huger than anything I can manage, hand out, solve or even dream of having a big impact on. But can I help her? She is symbolic of so many people, so many young women in the same situation. And I am sure she won’t be the last one I meet either.

So I can help her get on her feet with some blankets, cooking pots, clothing, mosquito nets and soap for example, but my biggest desire is to give her hope. I don’t have a solution. I don’t have a hut for her, a job for her or a husband would should have supported her. All I can give is my love and a little start up kit. I know it’s not enough in terms of how hard her life is right now, but it’s all I’ve got.


Her daughter Aichatou, with her hilarious smile for the camera, oblivious to her shattered world around her.