Thursday, January 18, 2007

See you in February

We've been in Niamey two weeks this time, so I've posted lots of blogs. Every one was about the weeks the kids were home for their Christmas holidays. I wanted to do one about conference, but I'll wait until next time I'm in town. That will be February 19, so make sure you check my blog during the week of February 19 - 24. I wish I could post once a week or so. Going without posting for so long probably means that a lot of people forget to check my blog.

You may wonder why I have a picture of Jeremy up here. Well, the dreadlocks had to go. We found out that some of the Nigerien Christians were offended by them. We talked to Jeremy about it and he very willingly and humbly agreed to take them out. We thought we'd have to cut his hair down to a buzz, but he got them out without any major problems. For a humorous account of the whole affair, check out his blog at http://jeremyinafrica.blogspot.com. He probably will want a haircut soon, especially as it will warm up again in February. There's nothing worse than having lots of hair and then sweating profusely.

Well, I'll be back in February! In the meantime have a great Valentine's Day! Which will go by totally unnoticed and unheard of here in Niger. Sometimes it's refreshing to get away from the materialistic aspects of holidays created by the card and candy companies!



Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Death of a Living Dune








October 2002 was the first time we went to the sand dunes about 40 miles north of Tera. We took our co-workers, Gary and Joy,with us. They had two guests from America with them and we wanted to show them something interesting. The first picture shows John, Gary, and their friends on top of a huge sanddune. From the top of this dune, you could look down...in this picture you can see Joy about in the middle of the picture. In the background you can see some windbreak fencing. Take notice of the bush because that will be our anchor for the rest of the story. (Don't worry, Gary....I won't tell the full story.)

John discovered these dunes when he took somebody to their village in the bush. Across the roads from the dunes is a rather large village and just beyond the village is a lake.

The dunes were living dunes which means that they move with the wind, growing, changing shape, constantly in motion. The problem is, they were encroaching on the town which, instead of being between the devil and the deep blue sea, was between the dunes and the deep blue lake. So a project came in and put up cornstalk fences that acted as windbreaks to keep the sand from moving.

The third picture shows our family in December of 2002, the 2nd time we went to the dunes.

A couple of years passed and we didn't go to the dunes at all. Then in December 2004 we took Mike, Alesha, and Ryan Einfeldt. We were really disappointed because the dunes seemed a lot smaller than we remembered. We had told everybody how beautiful they were and then it was rather anti-climactic.

Then this year we took Jeremy....Jeremy who grew up visiting the amazing dunes in Michigan. Yes, there really are dunes in Michigan! Anyway, we were really disappointed this year. Bushes are growing everywhere and the dunes are just kind of sandy hills now. In this picture, Suzanne is near the top of the dune and the bush that I pointed out to you in the 2nd picture is right behind. Granted, in 4 years the bush probably grew a lot, but the dune definitely shrunk!

I'm sure the villagers are happy that their village has not been swallowed up by shifting sands. But it's disappointing to us because it was such a fun place to roll in the sand and jump off the edge of dunes and just forget your cares for a few hours.

Here is John contemplating the horizon. Again you can see the fencing, mostly broken down, but living bushes are taking its place. By the way, the photo is not really out of focus...there was just a lot of harmattan in the air. (For a good definition of harmattan, see John's blog: http://yaaye.blogspot.com.


Daniel and Jeremy had a mock battle with some kids who came to look at the strange white people. I think Jeremy, Daniel, and the kids all had great fun chasing each other around the dunes. Note the fencing beyond Daniel.

Well, maybe we'll have to go to Agadez sometime and see the real dunes of the Sahara Desert. Now, those are spectacular. (No, we don't live in the Sahara Desert. We live just south of it.)





The Best News of All


All my posts these past few weeks have been about the Christmas holidays in Tera. I think I've pretty much covered the highlights, but I've saved the best news til last.

This boy has decided to follow the King of Kings! He understands what is in store for him and is going into this with his eyes wide open. He wants to read God's precious Word with me and I'm excited about discipling him.

This whole post probably sounds rather understated and it is. My brother told me about certain governments reading his blog (because he worked in their countries) and I can't just assume the same doesn't happen here. We live in a secular state so he would never be publicly persecuted by the powers that be. But others could definitely make life difficult for him. We heard of a family in another village whose widowed mother was not given grain by those (a private agency) distributing it because they had heard her son was a Christian.

So, if you'd like the full story and if you didn't get our e-mail account, please e-mail me and I'll share the details with you. Just let's say that we are rejoicing greatly and want you to share in that joy! And to pray for this boy.

By the way, he's older than he looks in this picture, but I'm not going to post his age!

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Cute Little Feller



Wow, I don't know what happened to the font on my last post. Weird.

Well, I wasn't even there when this story happened, but I enjoyed the telling of it so much, I'm going to repeat it here and hope I get the details right.

John, Daniel, Suzanne, and Jeremy went to the church property one morning to do more work to get it ready for us to host the Christmas service there. As they were working, a mouse came running past, so Daniel and Jeremy decided to chase it. Mostly these pictures speak for themselves. After much chasing, they finally caught it.

Somewhere along the line....I'm not sure if it was while they were stilling chasing it or if they had caught it and then put it down....anyway, it ran towards Jeremy. He put his heels together with his toes out to make a barrier so it couldn't get past. But being a creature that burrows by nature, he just dug a hole under Jeremy's feet and hid himself there. Little did he know that he was hiding under the very thing that was being cruel to him.

Lunch, anyone? No, they didn't eat him....although there is a large kind of rat around here that's considered edible. They finally let him go back to his desert dwelling place (a hole in the sand, I assume).

Suzanne was our photographer par excellence here and for some of my other photos.



Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Years




Sometime last term we started a tradition of going camping out in the bush on New Year's Eve. This year we didn't go until New Year's Day because our neighbors wanted us to be around for Tabaski which was on New Year's Eve.

There are some hills near Tera, and near the hills are lots of dry stream beds (dry 9 months of the year, flowing 3 months). The stream beds make an excellent place to camp because the sand is a lot softer than the hard, rocky soil found in that area. Being down in a stream bed puts us a little out of sight from passing people, too...not that there are many people out there in the middle of nowhere.

We arrive mid-afternoon, find our camping spot, and set up camp. The last year of last term, Mike went with us and this year Jeremy went with us. Our tent is small, so Suzanne and I get the tent and the guys get to sleep on cots outdoors. Chili has become our traditional supper...I make it ahead of time and reheat it over an open fire. Then we build a huge campfire and just sit around talking or singing. Daniel, Jeremy, and Suzanne had fireworks they let off in spite of the extreme wind. Daniel, Suzanne, and Jeremy managed to play a game of "Settlers of Catan" without the wind blowing the pieces away.

I usually make egg McMuffins with homemade English muffins for breakfast. But I had run out of eggs, so I couldn't make English muffins or fry eggs (there are no eggs for sale in Tera). So we had left-over pancakes and corn flakes for breakfast.

Then we broke camp and went hiking in them thar hills. Daniel chose the steepest spot to climb. Not only was it steep, it was covered with loose gravel. I thought I was going to kill myself when I went slipping and slidding back to the bottom when I realized I wasn't going to be able to make it to the top. Suzanne also thought she was going to be killed when the young men (maybe just Daniel?) dislodged a boulder and pushed it over the edge. It appeared to be rolling right towards her, but fortunately, it missed. They all had a blast watching it bouncing and crashing to the bottom where it broke into smithereens.

Meanwhile I decided to walk along the "road" we had come in on. I walked almost three miles before they picked me up. I tried to get a picture of the hills but there was so much harmattan (Sahara dust) in the air that day that you can barely see the hills. I wasn't that far from the hills, either.

I thought this tree was very interesting. It gives every appearance of being dead, with its roots seemingly barely in the dry, barren ground. Yet in the rainy season it will be able to get enough moisture from the ground to turn green.

This kind of tree grows by the stream beds and is green all year round. It reminds me of Jeremiah 17:7 and 8. This is one of our favorite verses here in Niger. I'm

going to copy it from the NLT -- it's good to read from different versions occasionally to add freshness to verses we tend to quote glibly without much thought.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord

and have made the Lord their trust and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,

with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat

or worried by long months of drought.

Their leaves stay green,

and they never stop producing fruit.





Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Wedding and Tabaski



We've known Arabi since he was about eight years old. His name means "BlackBoy"...how's that for an original name? His mother and my house lady are wives of the same man. Their family has more or less adopted me. So, when he decided to get married (he is now about 23) they wanted to choose a date when Daniel and Suzanne would be home. The date they chose was the week after Christmas.

The week before his wedding was a real panic because just as we were getting things ready for our Christmas feast, Maimouna came and said they had announced the date. I had already bought cloth for the "uniform"...all the bride's and groom's friends buy the same cloth and come dressed alike. After you buy cloth, you start looking at all your friends to see what style or "modele" of top they have that you would like. Then you borrow it, take it to the tailor with your cloth, and tell him to make you one just like it. I had a top in my closet that I already liked, so I took that to the tailor along with my cloth. But they ran out of the cloth the groom's cousins had chosen, so Suzanne and some others just went and bought some cloth they liked. I had enough left over that my little neighbor girl got to get a new outfit, too....they are too poor to buy new clothes very often. Suzanne had enough for herself and my little girl's little sister to have a new outfit. They were very pleased as you can perhaps tell from these pictures.

I'll try to explain a bit about the wedding. Arabi's uncles and his fiance's uncles arranged the wedding and a few months back "tied the papers". They went to the mosque and before witnesses made an agreement between their two families. Essentially at that point in time they were legally married. Arabi would have then been permitted to go and visit (you may think of it as dating or courting) his fiance. They would have been allowed to stand outside her family's courtyard in the evening and talk.

A few days before the "welcoming" ceremony the groom's aunts and female cousins brought gifts to his house. They admired them all and then in a very noisy procession, took them to the bride's house. The next day the bride's friends cooked a big meal and took it to the groom's friends. Daniel and Jeremy got to participate in that meal.

Then there was the wedding, which I always think is kind of anti-climactic after the big build-up of getting ready. It is called a "welcoming" in Songhai. Around 8 p.m. all the friends and family come to the groom's house and sit on mats, waiting for the bride to arrive. Or if you are on the bride's side, you sit at her house and wait for them to come take the bride away. But since the groom is our friend, I'll tell it from his viewpoint. So, anyway, the groom's friends go to get the bride, usually borrowing a car or two even if she only lives a few blocks away like this girl did. When they get to the bride's house, she has been sequestered in a back room with her "slaves" or bridemaids. She has been washed, perfumed, oiled, and dressed in her best. But her mother and aunts give the boys a hard time about how they still owe money for the bride price and will sometimes go as far as to hide her on a different compound until they produce more money. Finally the negotiations are over and they bring the bride out, with her head completely covered by a cloth. She begins crying over the fact that she is leaving her mother's household....and sometimes I think out of genuine terror.

Finally they arrive at the groom's house....you know they're coming because they blow the car horns, flash lights, hoot, holler, and give the wedding wail. Maybe wail isn't the right word..... Anyway, they bring her into the compound, usually into her mother-in-law's house but sometimes right into her own new house. Again she is sequestered in the back bedroom with her "slaves". The night Arabi was married, we women sat around on a mat and every woman that came in put down a small amount of money (25 to 50 cents). They kept counting and recounting it....at a very loud volume with a huge discussion after every counting. I could never quite figure it out, but I guess everybody had to agree and have a say in it, even if they couldn't see what was going on.

After awhile most of us went out to watch the dance. Daniel, Jeremy, and all the groom's friends had set the dance area up earlier in the day. They drove huge sticks in the ground, then strung ropes from stick to stick so it looked rather like a boxing ring. A d.j. was hired to do the music and act as MC. Basically, a few people at a time danced and if somebody in the crowd liked their dancing, they threw money or candy at them or put a hat on their head. One girl ended up with about three hats on her head. She was pretty good. The MC called for his sisters to dance, then his girl cousins, then his little brothers, etc. Guys and girls pretty much don't dance together and it wasn't a big enough place for everyone to dance at the same time. I couldn't see very well and I was cold (yes!) and went home. It was about 11 p.m. around that time.

The last I saw of the groom that evening, he was feeding the cattle. Neither he nor the bride participated in any of the festivities. She was brought to his house, and everybody else celebrated!

A day or two after the wedding was Tabaski or the Feast of the Ram when the subtitutionary sacrifice of Ishmael (as they say) was made. Rams are killed and roasted all day long over open fires. The aroma in the air that day is amazing! I didn't get any pictures, but Jeremy has probably posted some. He ate parts of the sheep that he didn't even know were edible including intestines, stomach, and testicles. We all had some of the roasted meat later in the day.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jeremy's Double Found and a Dredful Hair Day





Remember how the little girl said I look just like Brooke Shields? Well, it may have been a stretch to see the resemblance between Brooke and me. But how's this? I think Jeremy has a remarkable resemblance to our Christmas goat, don't you?





















Jeremy has lots of thick, curly hair, but it was getting pretty long. He decided it would be easier to care for if he got dredlocks. First we asked if having dreds would be a problem and it seemed like culturally it would be ok. Then we tried to find somebody to do it, but couldn't come up with anybody. So Jeremy and I read up on it on the internet and Suzanne and I said we'd try to give him dreds. It took hours and hours and we could definitely do a better job if we were to do it again. One thing for sure...Suzanne and I both know we don't want to be hairdressers (our apologies to the hairdressers reading this). I think it turned out pretty good, but it takes 3 months to really "set" and it's definitely not there yet. I told him it looks pretty dreadful. It's definitely not my favorite style, but it should be easier for him to care for! The style, by the way, is often worn by Rastafarians so here in Niger it's referred to as a "rasta". Bob Marley is a favorite singer here in Niger, so the hair-do is often associated with him.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Christmas, Part II




The 2nd part of our Christmas was our family Christmas which we always celebrate on December 26. We discovered a long time ago that it was just too stressful to try to get up and do gifts and get ready for the church Christmas at the same time. So we celebrate on the 26th and just lock the gate and hibernate for the day.

We didn't put our Christmas decorations out until December 17 when the kids got home for the holidays. We all got a kick out of our Advent candles that came out in weird twisted shapes after having been stored in an extremely hot climate for two years. We put Baby Jesus from the creche in the middle and it looks like even the candles are worshipping him. Daniel burnt his hand in hot water just before we started decorating, so that's why he has a cloth wrapped around it. Don't worry, it's not a cast.

We did our shopping in Niamey but it seemed like there just wasn't much available. We had brought some gifts with us from the US, so we ended up with plenty of gifts. You may be wondering what Jeremy has in his hand in the picture of him...they are shot glasses, but here they are used for drinking the hot African tea that he enjoys making and drinking.

It didn't seem like the stores in Niamey had as many of the imported Christmas things as they usually do...maybe their shipments hadn't come in yet. I really wanted chicken for Christmas, but couldn't find any except the tough bush variety. Still, we managed. We had the traditional sticky buns for breakfast. Then we had lamb chops for dinner. It was more like a Sunday dinner than a special Christmas dinner, but everybody was well fed.

We spent the rest of the day listening to new CDs, watching a new movie, and reading new books.

I tried putting up a picture of myself, but couldn't get it up. I've run out of time, but will post some more next
Thursday.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas Celebrations, Part I

We've got it good in Tera because we celebrate Christmas twice. We have a church Christmas celebrated Nigerien style and a family Christmas celebrated American style.

Christmas Eve was a Sunday, so we had church and Sunday school as usual. Then we had a nice curry dinner, a Christmas Eve tradition for us. After a short rest, the preparation for the Christmas feast began. I'll spare you the slitting-of-the-goat's-throat pictures, but here are two of my friends cutting up the meat. When it was all cut we kept it refrigerated until the next day when it was cooked into a delicious sauce. That night John went to a 10-12 p.m. service at one of the other churches. He got there and found nothing planned and he ended up having to give the message without any advanced preparation or warning.

On Christmas Day we were up early getting things ready. John and some of the men finished preparing the cornstalk shelter that serves as our church. Then he made three trips to Doumba to pick up the women and children...the men walked the four miles to Tera. Because of all his driving back and forth, the service started late. But waiting for things to start is more normal than abnormal here in Niger. Once we got started we had lots of singing, prayers, and an excellent message in Songhai by John with a Gourmantce translation. The children in our group were not very well behaved, unfortunately. Maybe it's because they were sitting on the ground, squished together with no room to move. Maybe it's because they were hyper with excitement. Maybe just because they're naughty children in need of a Saviour! Probably a combination of all the above. We were thrilled that one of the Tera Six attended the service and ate with us afterwards. Also in attendance were the wife and two sisters of one of the believers.

After the service we walked the nearly 1 mile distance back to our house. Our yard soon filled up with over 100 people. Some were the ladies doing the cooking, but most were people who had attended the service. The women served a delicious sauce and rice and "maaka" (maccaroni) on huge serving trays. A group of people, such as men, boys, teen boys, women, gathered around each tray and ate with their hands. Doing dishes was pretty simple! In this picture you can see Daniel, Jeremy, and Soumeyla enjoying their dinner. Again, the children were so naughty that we kicked them out of the yard as soon as they ate so we could have a little peace and quiet.

The men and a few kids spent the afternoon watching a video and the women and I listened to Bible stories on cassette. Later we had a snack of peanuts fixed three different ways (raw in the shell, roasted in the shell, and ash peanuts) and "treetop" (Kool-aid) to drink. In the late afternoon John made three more trips returning the tired, full, happy Doumba folks to their homes. We were tired, too, and I had a raging headache by then and John was just plain old exhausted.