Saturday, March 29, 2014

Goodbye Sweet Sanka

Yesterday was a very hard day for us. We didn’t say much because events were unfolding and we were getting information at the same time we were celebrating Arielle’s 8th birthday and we did not want to let the news bring sadness to her special day.

Early yesterday morning I found out that our beloved chocolate Labrador Retriever Sanka, back home in Canada, had been hit by a car. I don’t know all the details except that his leg was shattered really badly. It could not be fixed with a cast and required pins and surgery and x-rays and potentially multiple surgeries and he might never walk again. This was also tough on him since he is an old dog, 10.5 years old. We have always trusted our family and our dear friends who took Sanka when we left that we all make the best decisions for his ongoing quality of life, and we trust them completely as they sought multiple opinions and talked etc. In the end, the best decision was to let him go peacefully without putting him through the pain and immobility and troubles in life to come.

Heartbreaking. Truly, I can’t explain enough how heartbreaking it was for us here on this end. But we knew this day would come. Anyone who has a pet that they love dearly and who has come to be an “old dog” knows they will have to face this day, no matter what specific incident brings it near.

We have seen beautiful, tear filled videos and pictures and know he was loved, petted, held, kissed and cherished in every moment even as he fell asleep forever.

I am grateful that this one old dog had so many people who loved him dearly. He split his life between two families who shared him back and forth continually and he never left any of our hearts for long, and now he never will.

I would like to show you a few photos and remember a few special memories. Sanka was truly a dog that was amazingly gentle, especially with children, and hugely loyal. He never forget anyone and loved us all to the end as well.

We got Sanka as a little tiny puppy at 10 weeks old just before Christmas 2003. He immediately broke through Paul’s “no dog upstairs” rule and slept at the foot of our bed, or after the kids came, in the middle of the hall halfway between our two bedrooms.


He came to all special family occasions with us, and we even celebrated his special days too. I am not sure how many camera takes it took to finally get him to not paw off this hat!


He loved the outdoors and water and running and grass and camping. That is one of the reasons we choose to leave him with friends rather than coming to Niger where his quality of life in the things he loved would seriously decline and he would be in danger. We loved him enough to keep him safe and happy.


When we went canoeing he would jump out of the canoe and swim along us until he got tired, and then he would yelp to be pulled into the boat where he would sleep and warm in the sun until he was ready to jump in and do it all over again. He brought us so much laughter and joy.


Hiking Heart Creek, Canmore.


He was so loved by all our family members. We would lay on the floor with him and wrestle and snuggle and nap together.


He especially bonded with Bennett when he was born. This is a grainy old photo, but Bennett is playing under his play arch and Sanka has his head laying right on top of Bennett. In the other picture he is right at his feet. He would never be too far away.



As Bennett grew older, Sanka was his best friend. He would crawl all over him and throw his ball and fall asleep next to him. Sanka was always patient, would never snap or get mad, and took everything in stride just to be with him.



When Arielle joined our family she was very afraid of dogs. While she did not have many months with Sanka before we went overseas, he became the first dog that she would snuggle and put her arms around and really trust.


Sanka had another member of our family completely under his spell. His number 1 babysitter, for all 10.5 years of his life, was my Dad. He was his best little buddy, his walking and riding partner, his wrestling partner, stick thrower and companion. I am so thankful that my Dad was with him at the end even though I know how painful that must have been emotionally.


But Sanka wasn’t just loved by our family. Halfway through his life we had to make a hard decision and we shared his love and amazingness with good friends of ours who took him in as their own. I wrote a blog about it here: Lessons and Loss- my dog Sanka 

The Sorianos gave all their love to Sanka and had everything he loved that we could not offer him in Niger. Their three kids adore him, they take him for runs and of course let him eat all the crumbs Smile I cannot think of better people to have shared his life with and I am eternally grateful for them. Any time we were home in Canada , be it for a year and a half recently or just vacations before that, we got to spend lots of time with Sanka as they shared him back with us, knowing there was always a giant Sanka sized hole in our hearts.

Sanka and CallianaSankapost-7

Sanka and Jenn


Recently we were home for a year and a half and we got to spend a lot of time with Sanka again. He would come to stay with us for weeks at a time. He was my walking partner.


He continued to be loved by the kids, although in his older age he couldn’t quite run after then for as long as before! Amazing how this is the same boy and his dog from the earlier picture where Sanka would lay under his baby play arch!



Just before we left to come back to Niger we had him again for a few weeks. We took this family photos with all 4 of my “baby loves” together. I will always cherish this photo.


The day we left I snapped this photo of Sanka in the hallway. I told the kids to make sure to say goodbye to Sanka as we might never see him again, knowing we would not be home again for another year and a half this time. The kids hugged him and whispered they loved him. I am thankful we got to say goodbye.


Goodbye sweet Sanka. I cry even as I write this. You meant so much to us. People will say you were only a dog but you brought us joy, you cheered us up in the hard times, made us laugh so much, showed complete loyalty and had our hearts. We miss you deeply. We love you.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NVOC Graduates reunion!

A few weeks ago we hosted a Girls get together for our NVOC training school students. We had received the final batch of graduation certificates from the “Ministry of the Promotion of Women’s Affairs” and we wanted to get the recipients together to celebrate their success! This is the last batch of Girls who graduated and wrote the exams. It takes months here to process them through the right offices, thus the delay in getting their actual certificates. I was so proud of all these ladies who worked so hard the past three years with us to achieve their goals of being excellent seamstresses!

Here are pictures of a few of the recipients

Zeinabou is one of our oldest students and she was a lovely, quiet, peacemaker in the class.


Miriama was our youngest student. She came to us when she was just 13 years old. Her family is very poor and she was very frightfully skinny and she spent many days after school in the markets lugging a large basket of fish on her head to sell to support her family. Now she is healthy and confident and she no longer sells fish in the market. Now she is apprenticing as a seamstress in the community!


Nafisaa is a beautiful young lady who overcame many family and health struggles to be able to pass the exam and receive her certificate. She continues to persevere, walking a long distance every day to be able to go to a market where she is apprenticing as a seamstress, bringing her new young daughter with her.


It was exciting to see many of the young ladies who are now married and have new babies of their own. A few of us sat down together and it was fun to see the babies interact. We weighed and measured every baby who came with their mother and charted them and we were so thrilled to see each and every baby thriving and their mothers were so proud to tell us they were breastfeeding and were confident in caring for their children and none were sick! Praise God for all they learned!





My best friend Miriama loving on baby Ella. They both look lovely in purple Smile


And what would a party be without food and fun. I didn’t take too many photos of the party side but we had so much fun talking and catching up with the girls who came and their lives. Arielle came as well and she enjoyed being a helper in our kitchen by washing dishes and cutting up veggies. After all was prepared we had a great meal of rice, thick meat and veggie sauce and bissap juice.



Good friends. I miss seeing these Girls every week!


And finally, a picture of Ella Sahara Grace and Sahara. When we named Ella, we had 3 reasons for choosing Sahara as her middle name. One of those reasons was this young lady, who embodies the work we do in Niger. She was 14 when she started with us and she was a shy, illiterate, sad young lady. Now she has blossomed, she has a huge wild fashion sense and a great sense of humour. She lives big and makes us laugh every time we are with her. She works hard and is sewing all her own outfits now. I hope my daughter will blossom, tackle life, embrace joy and work hard just like this Sahara. I pray also she will find a passion and mission in her own life just like we have working with young women here in Niger. Sahara absolutely loved the fact that they share a name!


As time passes after graduation many of the girls are getting married, having babies and moving away. I value so much each opportunity to gather with some of them and continue to pray for their successes and God’s richest blessing in their lives.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hippopotamus and the Niger River

It has been quite a long time since we went on the Niger River. This river is one of the longest in Africa (third to the Nile and the Congo River) as it extends about 4,180 km. It starts in the highlands of SE Guinea and runs a crescent through Mali, Niger and on the border with Benin then through Nigeria and out the Niger Delta.

The Niger River is a relatively "clear" river, carrying only a tenth as much sediment as the Nile because the Niger's headwaters lie in ancient rocks that provide little silt. Like the Nile, the Niger floods yearly; this begins in September, peaks in November, and finishes by May. By flooding I mean more like high water and low water in a normal way that does not overflow it’s banks, except for exceptional years like 1.5 years ago now. Right now the water is getting lower and we can see sandbars start to pop up and more rocks and little islands shows.

The Niger takes one of the most unusual routes of any major river, a boomerang shape that baffled European geographers for two millennia. Its source is just 240 km (150 mi) inland from the Atlantic Ocean, but the river runs directly away from the sea into the Sahara Desert, then takes a sharp right turn near the ancient city of Timbuktu (Tombouctou) and heads southeast to the Gulf of Guinea.

This strange geography apparently came about because the Niger River is two ancient rivers joined together. The upper Niger, from the source west of Timbuktu to the bend in the current river near Timbuktu, once emptied into a now dry lake to the east northeast of Timbuktu, while the lower Niger started to the south of Timbuktu and flowed south into the Gulf of Guinea. Over time upstream erosion by the lower Niger resulted in stream capture of the upper Niger by the lower Niger.

The northern part of the river, known as the Niger bend, is an area because it is the major river and source of water in that part of the Sahara desert. It runs right through the capital of Niger, Niamey, and makes our city much more beautiful because of the increased greenery and capacity to grow things here!

But as much as we see the river and appreciate the river, it is pretty rare that we actually interact with it (we surely don’t swim in it) or go ON the river! We had two sets of visitors in the past month and took the opportunity to arrange two different trips on the river in a traditional pirogue. Think of it as a long, wide canoe with a thatched straw and fabric roof and foam mats across the floor to lounge on. Quite comfortable actually!

The first trip Paul went out with the visitors and they had the extra special privilege of seeing a newborn baby Hippo with it’s Mom outside of the water on an island! Chantelle was not there with her camera, so thanks to Joanne and Rob for sharing some of their photos. Then the second trip Chantelle and Bennett and Arielle went, along with our friends Tim and the Chens, while Paul stayed back with Ella. She is just too small to go out on the river yet!

We had a wonderful time letting the cool breeze cool us off in the boat while a fine mist came off the water. The kids loved searching for the hippos and where they would pop up in the water and seeing the life of the people as they interacted on the waters edge is always fascinating.

Enjoy the photos below! (a mix of Chantelle’s, Rob’s and Joanne’s)











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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Bennett turns 9!

9 years ago today my life took a significant turn. 9 years ago today the most amazing, life changing event happened with the birth of our first child, Bennett. It is so hard to think it has already been 9 years!

I love the spirit of this boy. He is rambunctious and loud and like a “tornado” of energy. He loves playing games more than anything else and always wants to learn new ones. He also enjoys outdoor sports like baseball and soccer that he can play with his friends here in Niger. He is very social and “quiet time” is not in his vocabulary.



He also has a very soft side. I remember him at a park last year when an older boy who was 12 or so was calling him names and being mean. Bennett was crushed that this boy somehow didn’t like him. He feels so sad for the underdogs in life and his heart goes out to so many of the beggars we see on the streets in Niger. He is quick to share his things, and to ask us how we can invest in helping other people.


When the floods in Alberta happened last year and lots of people were displaced from their homes, he decided to save some of his allowance every week to donate to the rebuilding charities. He still asks about their homes and how it is going even though we live on the other side of the World.


Bennett also loves his sisters dearly. Arielle is his best friend and they spend so many hours together every week playing soccer in the yard, playing board games and games, and he loves to help her with his homework. He loves to snuggle and hold little Ella and run to her as soon as she cries. I could not ask for a more loving, protective older brother for my two girls.

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I love that he has a heart for the downtrodden and hurting. He fits right in with the heart and purpose of our family and we love that he is being shaped and formed to mold his already sensitive heart into an even more effect and sensitive place that God will use throughout his life to reach into the lives of others.

Don’t get me wrong, our boy is far from perfect! But we love that he is teachable, gentle and loving in his core. We love being his parents and while these past 9 years have flown by, we are so excited to see glimpses and peeks into the young man he is growing to be, while we get to enjoy the love, hilarity, snuggles and eruptions of laughter that are his everyday!

We love you Bennett. Happy 9th Birthday!


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