Friday, June 29, 2012

Transitioning out

So our family has just left Niger. We will be gone for one year. Our organization has 5 year contracts where you spend 4 years in country (Niger) and one year back home in your passport country. I will tell you more about what that one year looks like soon, but first, let’s chat about leaving Niger. It has really been a mixed bag of emotions for us. We are really excited to get to be with our families. In our 4 years we have missed many family events, new nieces and nephews and the close relationships that come with proximity. But we are also grieving a work that we love, very fulfilling jobs and great friends in Niger. This has become our home and it is hard to leave that as well. I find myself really wondering if I am going to still fit in in Canada?

One of my friends wrote this just recently, and it really resonated with me in many ways- “I pray to God that I am never numbed to the vast difference in the quality of life here compared to Africa. I hope I never get used to the poverty there and the affluence here.” I hope I always wrestle with that and think of that when I make decisions and that we don’t fully get sucked into North American culture. I am not sure yet how to live where two worlds collide so constantly. I think one of the hardest things about being an International Worker is that you are torn between two cultures, two realities and two “normals” and yet you don’t truly belong in either of them.

SO here are some thoughts.

What I am NOT going to miss

-the traffic chaos and horrible drivers and the anxiety of driving (I didn’t take this picture. I am usually too busy gripping the wheel to take photos while driving). You are sharing the road with tons of taxis, most of whom have no clue how to drive, donkeys, camels, bikes, motos, goats and camels and people running out onto the road. The driver’s have very little skills and road rules are non-existent (well in that they are not followed). We see accidents very very often.

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- the huge lack of grocery choices and the pain in the butt just to go get groceries, which was so frustrating and time consuming.

- very little greenery or flowers or natural beauty. While the desert has its own beauty, it is not what I personally found to be refreshing. I miss mountains and streams and flowers and grass! I need Vitamin G (Green!)

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- beggars. I obviously didn’t take a photo of them. But it was hard on the heart and emotionally tiring to every time you go out have people coming to the windows of your truck, approaching you on the street and always asking for money. There is no possible way to give to everyone, and yet it felt hard hearted to say no when they were so clearly in need. And this happens everyday. I am looking forward to a rest from that.

- the lack of options for working out. I like the gym. I like variety. With the lack of options and the high heat of Niger, my recumbent bike got a lot of action at night. But I am really looking forward to classes, a gym and bike pathways!

Bennett and I working out together to a workout video.

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- the heat. average days of around 35-40 degrees? No thanks. Hot season highs in the 50s? Forget it! You get used to it, and I know I will be missing it come winter, but I am looking forward to a break!

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What I will miss

- the people. There are not enough lines to write about all the people we love in Niger. We have such good friends and good memories. We will miss a lot of these people dearly!

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- the team. We work with such an awesome group of people in Niger. We knew when we left Canada back in 2008 that we would be leaving family and it would be hard. What we did not expect was the blessing of GAINING a new family in Niger. People who are there for the same reason who have given up the same things, and you have instant bonds. I am so grateful for our team and we work very closely with some of them, and further from others, but we are so blessed and enjoy our times with them immensely. It is going to be a hard year being away from such dear friends.

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Cecilia and Kerrianne and I (sorry no photo with the three of us!) work together very closely and are often together. Kerrianne joked that she went through withdrawl when a whole 24 hours passed that we were not together. I am so thankful for these awesome women who work with me at the Girls School. Coworkers and best friends- how lucky am I !!NVOC-10

- the work. Paul and I are passionate about what we do in Niger. We would not be there if we were not, that is for sure! Over this next year we will be traveling around Canada talking about the work in Niger and doing some advocacy and education work as well. I am looking forward to seeing many of you readers personally to share more about it.

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The year end photo from our second year at the Girls at Risk School. Taken June 20, 2012IMG_5281

Paul working in his element training two apprentices some welding skills while they are working on building latrines for a refugee camp.

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So that’s all for now. We are in the midst of a huge transition and even now I feel like we are just scratching the surface. These are my thoughts about transitioning out of Niger. Coming soon, the issues of transitioning IN to Canada!

We are headed out tomorrow to Winnipeg for National Assembly meetings. Hope to see many of you there!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Game day

Wednesday was the last day for this year at NVOC that we would be all together in our classes with the girls. Next week is their final exam for three days and the week after that is a few days where they are going to finish up their sewing projects and then it’s the year end party!

So rather than spend the day doing our normal Math, French and life skills class, we decided to make it a fun day. The Girls have certainly earned it with all their hard work!

We surprised them in the morning with a giant bag filled with fabric. The fabric was the funky custom blue design with our school’s logo and tree of life in Hot Pink. So it is custom fabric for the school that all the staff and students will get and we will also use for many projects!

The catch was that the girls had to each WIN their fabric! We had a lot of different games planned and with each game there would be a few girls who would win. Once they won once, they could still help their team-mates win, but would not get a second fabric.

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First up was a class favourite- BINGO! We have played this a few times over the year to do numbers review and writing numbers practice. At the end, 5 happy girls had their roll of fabric!

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Next up we went outside and Cecilia played the WATER AND SPOONS game. We divided the girls up into teams and each team had a bowl of water and a spoon. They had to race back and forth using their spoon to fill a team cup across the courtyard. There was tons of laughter and it was a very tight race! At the end, there were more happy girls!

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Next up. A classic game that involved a whole lot of hugging! We again divided new teams, and each group got a round ball of firm soap. Each team had to pick up their soap from the bench, run across the courtyard, come back and pass it off to the next girl. She would then run and pass it on until every girl had done it. The key was the soap could not touch their hands! They had to pass and carry the soap only using their necks!

The funniest was the see them try to frantically pass the soap (which was not that slippery) to the next girl by hugging and clenching their necks together and pressing their bodies together in funny ways. They loved this race! It really reminded me that kids don’t learn games in this culture. Even in most of the primary schools here they don’t learn games and there is such a gap in their creativity and capacity to do games, crafts etc. It was so fun to see their inner child come out!

Picking it up

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Passing the soap

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The winners rejoice!

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The Human Knot

A classic game on untying the human knot. They loved this one too! The fastest team won their fabric!

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Speed popcorn

This quick game, with only 8 girls left who had not yet won their fabric, was done in teams of two. One girl sat, blindfolded, right behind her partner. Her job was to be the arms of her partner, and feed her a cup of popcorn as fast as possible. First empty cup won!

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The Chicken Dance

This past September, we had a team of short term women come from Canada to work with some of our girls. One of the fun activities they did together during sewing breaks was to teach them the Chicken Dance! The girls loved it and one of the ladies even mailed me a disc with the real music on it. So we pulled it out again and taught all the girls. They are going to practice it and perform it for a video during their party on the 20th, so I will post that online when I can! The final girls, to win their fabric, gave us all a little concert of the chicken dance and then everyone joined in!

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Well that’s a wrap! All the fabric for this year is distributed and we had a blast.I am so thankful for such a fun day to just really enjoying being with the girls. Next up- it’s their exam time! Thank you for praying for them during these next three days!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Sandstorms and Sand dunes

Anyone who has ever lived on or near a desert before knows the sand has a constant presence in our lives. It fills out streets, our clothes, our shoes, our ears, our eyes and our house often! I know that the texture and beauty of sand dunes and patterns in the drifts is something I have really grown to love. This past week we had the opportunity to enjoy sand in two very different ways- in a trip to our favourite dunes to celebrate our 4 years in Niger anniversary, and just a few days after that, a massive sandstorm hit town!

 

The sandstorm

 

This time of year we have the most sandstorms. As the dry season slowly wanes and we see the beginnings of rainy season, the high winds shift and pick up and carry moisture with them. When the winds really pick up they propel miles of fast moving sand, dry and laying on the ground, into the air in an eerie dark as night experience. You usually get a few minutes warning and can see it coming and take cover.

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Paul had just phoned to tell me the storm was coming so I ran around to close all the windows and hussle the few girls who were visiting inside. This is what we saw approaching over the roof of the house.

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When the storm hits it turns the middle of day into an eerie deep orange night. When the worst of it hit I could not even see my front gate and the wind was whipping fiercely.

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A friend posted this photo of the chaos on the road

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*photo courtesy of Julie

Another friend posted this pictures from the school across the river where Paul is working with his apprentices to set up their shop. Since they have a large field you can get further back and really see the size of the storm. Too bad Paul got caught in it!

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*Photo by Brian Bliss

He looked like a sand monster according to our kids, even his hair had turned orange!

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The sand dunes

Our favourite sand related past time is to head to a large sand dune formation on the other side of the river. Some people think that there are lots of huge dunes all around us, but in fact you need to go much further north in the country to get to the area where there are truly miles of dunes.

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I truly love the lines and texture and variety of the sand!

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The kids love the sand dunes even more than I do, if that is possible! To them, it is the world’s largest and best sand box. They bring toys, meet up with local kids, and we don’t come home until every crack and crevice of their body is filled with sand, their tummies are happy with roasted hot dogs and their limbs tired from all the climbing up!

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Bennett taking a rest on his way to the top.

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Arielle powering through the steepest part of the climb.

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This little dump truck that we brought along was a huge hit. Even the Aunties all had fun sitting and watching it pick up speed, up-end itself in summersaults and keep on rolling all the way down the hill!

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The kids loved the dump truck. They all took turns grabbing the dump truck and finding the flattest and steepest parts of the dune where it would roll down and not stop for a very long time! All the kids would laugh and chase it and have a blast!

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The dunes. An experience not to be missed it you ever visit us in Niger. I promise, your backyard sandbox will never be the same and you will have memories to cherish!

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