Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Quick Trip to DC

My reason for going to the USA was to try to get Suzanne back on the road to health.  But of course I wanted to spend time with Daniel as well.  I saw him overnight on Thanksgiving weekend and we got to have lunch together, but it was a really brief visit.  

So Suzanne, Theo, Kelly, and I decided to drive down to DC for a weekend.  We finally found one that worked for all of us.  It was an 8+ hour drive.  We stopped once for supper at Wendys and once for gas.  We made good time until we got near Daniel's exit and the traffic was all tied up because of construction.  I guess we finally got to his house around midnight and we had left at about 2:45. 

We saw his apartment and Theo stayed there.  Suz, Kelly, and I had reservations at a hotel.  First we went to the wrong one, then we had to figure out where we were really staying.  We were so tired when we finally dropped into bed.

The next morning we went to McDonald's for breakfast, but there were so many people there that we decided to take the metro on in to DC and find a McD's there.  But by the time we got there, it was too late for breakfast so we just had an early lunch.  We got to see Daniel's office building, and we stopped at a trade fair outside the Art Museum.
Our next stop was Bolling Air Force Base where my nephew is stationed.  He had just graduated from the Honor Guard program and is now starting technical school.  In addition to learning a trade (something electrical???) he will also appear in parades, at military funerals, and at others affairs of State.  The bottoms and sides of his dress shoes have metal taps on the toes, horse-shoe-like pieces on the heel, and metal on the sides so he can click his heels together. I'm guessing his shoes weigh about three pounds a piece.  Fortunately he doesn't wear those all the time! We didn't get to see him in uniform, but I'm sure he looks pretty handsome! He should after all the hours he spends ironing (yes, even his boxers), polishing, and duct-taping stuff (you'd be surprised what all is duct-taped on the reverse side of that uniform!). He and his wife have a real nice apartment and she'll be able to transfer into a university near there to continue her social work program.
Back on the metro we went, this time to Georgetown.  Suzanne wanted to visit Georgetown Cupcakes which is featured in the show "DC Cupcakes" on TLC.  Daniel had figured out where it was and what metros to take to get there and where we had to walk to find the shop. Once we got there, we had to wait in quite a line, but it moved along quickly and the cupcakes really were delicious. I got a cup of steaming hot tea to go with mine as well.
Our next stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but unfortunately the park was closing at 5.  After seeing J in uniform, we wanted to see the Changing of the Guard (which he said is always Army, never Air Force), but it wasn't to be.  Somewhere in all this Metro riding and changing lines we rode on the 2nd longest elevator in DC.  It was a bit scary.

And then we went to Old Towne, which is in Alexandria.  We got there in the dark and walked down the main street, peering into shops and actually going into a few.  We three teachers in the group enjoyed the Children's Book Store we found and we all enjoyed the 10,000 Villages store we went in.  We ate supper at Chipotle and then walked down the other side of the street back to the metro. All my pictures are blurry, but it was really pretty with the Christmas lights.

Back at our hotel a huge party was going on.  We had to park in the parking garage and fell into a huge pothole on the way there.  Around 1 a.m. a drunk woman woke us up with her loud talking.  It kind of scared us (Kelly and I....Suzanne slept through it and I didn't know Kelly was awake) because she was yelling about "I don't even know you" and "get out of my room".  Sounds like she got a little too friendly with somebody at a party and then decided they were a creep.  It was kind of hard to know what to do and if we should do anything.  After awhile we heard her saying "thank you" so I think security came and helped her out.  It was quiet after that, but I found it hard to get back to sleep.  Please remind what's fun about getting drunk?

I'm so glad we were able to go visit Daniel and spend good quality time together.  I just wish John had been there.  All in all, it was definitely worth the 16-hour round trip!!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Update on Suzanne

As you know, we made a sudden decision for me to go to the USA to visit Suzanne.  She had been sick for over two months.  During that time she had some weeks of feeling better, but after the 2nd time of feeling really good, she felt sick again.  By then she was really discouraged and we felt like some time with Mom might help her get over it.

By the time I got there she was starting to feel some better, but complained about nausea in the evenings.  She was still taking anti-nausea medicine as well.  Gradually she started feeling better.  During my time there, she moved out of the dorm and over to my parents' house where I think she is eating better and more regularly which, ironic as it may seem, helps the nausea.

So what was wrong with her?  We really don't know.  So many people have suggested different things.  Early on she was given a treatment for giardia which actually seemed to help a bit.  But as it kills off the bad bacteria in your digestive system, it also kills off the good critters that contribute to a healthy digestive system.  So, it's very possible that it made her better, but got her system all out of whack.  She was tested for all sorts of other things and all tests were negative.  We even had her room tested for mold and CO, but both of those were negative as well.  However, she and her roommate did have Glade Plug-ins in the room which gave off a really strong odor.  They were making me feel weird when I was in there, so I have no doubt that, while they probably didn't cause the nausea, they contributed to it.  After all, they are shooting chemicals into the air and that can't possibly be good for you.  For an excellent article on the dangers of air fresheners, read this article.

At any rate, we are so thankful to God for giving her better health and we are praying that she is really, truly over it.  She has lost a lot of weight and is really thin and needs to gain back some weight to fit into her wedding dress that was ordered 15 pounds ago.  

So what did we do while I was in the USA?
I helped Suzanne and Theo make their wedding invitations (still a work in progress). Suz created this idea herself and they are really nice invitations!

We spent time perusing Pinterest and made scarves from an idea we got on Pinterest.  We even made one for the cat, but she was not at all appreciative of her gift.
We went up to Michigan to visit Theo's family and for her to show me her wedding dress (nope!  no pictures of that!!  You'll have to come to the wedding to see that!).  OK, here's one little sneak peek. 

Suz went to school every day and I did my personnel work remotely.  I helped her study for an exam.  I also had some time to get started on making a quilt for Suz and Theo.  I found out what colors Daniel and Kelly like and will make one for them, too.

Suz, Theo, and I went to the insurance office at Cedarville and started the process of figuring out what our insurance, and what Cedarville's insurance will pay and then how much we will owe.  It's quite complicated, but Cedarville's insurance lady really knows her business.
One night we went to Campus Christmas.  I got to hang out with Suzanne and some of her friends during Open Dorm night. A lot of the halls or units go all decorating on a theme.  The best men's and the best women's hall or unit wins gift certificates to a restaurant.  Theo's unit decorated as a spa. Personally, I thought theirs was one of the best!
We went shopping together.  Not much though, because Suzanne was so busy with school.  But that's OK.  I get tired of shopping in a big hurry.....but not of spending time with Suzanne.

I cooked most of the meals while I was home, trying to tempt Suzanne with stuff I knew she'd like.

And one weekend she, Theo, Kelly and I went to spend time with Daniel in Washington, DC.  We had a blast, but I'll save that for the next blog!

And might I mention that, in spite of being miserable for over two months she managed to pull off a 3.9 GPA?

Saying good-bye was hard.  It always is.  Coming back to John was good.  I just wish we could all live in the same town together, have Sunday dinner together every week, continue to be a family.....Us, Suz & Theo, Daniel & Kelly, our parents, our siblings.  Maybe that's why we long so much for heaven.  For an excellent post on saying goodbye, read Suzanne's blog here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Love Our Neighbor Kids

We live on a compound with three houses on it.  Our house is actually a duplex.  Currently we live next to a teacher at Sahel Academy.  She's a lot of fun, but will be moving soon.  A couple from New Zealand who will also be working at Sahel Academy, will be moving in there next.  I'm sure we'll like them, too.

The house in front of ours is a family house.  A family of five lives there and they have the best kids ever.  When Suzanne and Theo were in Niger they promised them some good all-out water fights. Here are some pictures from one of the water fights.
These kids are really creative.  Here is a house they built out of mud, sticks, stones, and leaves. I often find them outside in some sort of creative play.

In October/November the dad of the family was gone for a month, so one Saturday morning we had them over for breakfast.  Another night we had them over for supper and then we played Tripoley together.  To sum up the game very briefly, you put chips around on the mat and then by playing certain cards you can win those chips.  The more chips you have, the better. But with six people playing we didn't have enough chips, so I got colored paper clips to use as chips.  The kids were so funny with the paper clips.  They would line them up and organize them by color and then trade more or less desirable colors with their siblings. We had more fun watching them in the paper clip trading business than we had playing the game.
Living this closely with neighbors could cause a lot of tension, but we are so thankful for our neighbors who are more like family to us.

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Hippo Hunt

After orientation, I arranged a canoe trip up the Niger River to look for hippos in their natural habitat.  It turned out that quite a few people attending orientation needed to do some shopping while in the big city and Saturday was the only day they could do it.  Another had ended up in the "emergency room" (I use that term loosely) the night before orientation started and that person and several others helping care for him were also unable to come.  And some had already done this, so it turned out to be John and I, the Kim family, the Rupnows, and Christoph.  

We entered a large, what might be described as a dug-out canoe. In French it is a pirogue and in Songhai it is a hi (pronounced hee).  The pirogue had cushions on which we reclined.  Overhead were grass mats to protect us from the sun.  There was an outboard motor on it to get us upstream faster.  The boat man also used a pole to steer the boat whenever we were close to shore. 

Along the way we saw quite a variety of birds.  One tree was filled with egrets and herons. We also saw these black and white quail-type of birds. I have no idea what they are called!

The river is full of water hyacinths.  The Kim children had a great time catching them and pulling them out of the water as we went by.

Finally we came upon the hippos. I think we found three different groups of them, but I got a bit confused as to whether or not we had circled around an island and came upon the same group or not.  Don't worry, we're not as close as we appear.  I have a good telephoto lens and our boat man was very cautious.  He had a very healthy fear of hippos, who can be very dangerous!

 The trip was a lot of fun, but got a bit long.  Originally the boat man told me he'd take us up to a village that had a market and we could get out and explore there and then he'd take us back to the starting point.  But we'd seen the hippos and the children were getting hungry (note to self:  take snacks next time) and we were all tired from a busy week, so we asked him to take us back before we ever got to the village.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Orientation -- an Important Part of my Job

As personnel coordinator, an important part of my job is orienting new arrivals to the field.  This happens in stages.  When they first arrive, I meet with them in my office and go over some things that are important for them to know....things like not using your left hand, taking your anti-malarials, how to recognize when you're going through culture shock, and what you can post on the internet.  Of course, during this initial orientation the new arrival is usually jet-lagged, bleary-eyed, and totally overwhelmed so I'm not sure how much is really absorbed.

As they settle in to their work and ministry, we assign them a mentor.  This has been a bit haphazard, and we are trying to move towards more intentionality in this.  The reason for having a mentor is because as new arrivals go along and begin to process things they begin to have an idea of what questions they really need to ask.  The mentor is there to help them with everything from figuring out how to wash their vegetables and work their water filter to understanding how to act in the culture.  As they meet with their mentor, the hope is that the mentor will be able to guide them into a greater understanding of themselves, of their new culture, and of their Heavenly Father.

Twice a year new arrivals are invited to a two to three day orientation.  John helps me with this and does a lot.  He's so much better up in front of people than I am, and he does a fantastic job with his enthusiasm and teaching gifts.  Eliane, who does Member Care is also very involved.  

We did one of these orientations in October and will do another one in March. We usually do the October one in the capital city and the March one in a city farther to the east.  We like the east one a lot because it gets people out where they can see things other than the big city.  But we usually have too many orientees to wait and do them all at one time.  The other reason is that by the time March comes, our teachers who arrived in August are on the home stretch getting ready to return to their home countries. 

Mornings start with a time of praise and worship.
Eliane leads us through some important topics such as handling stress, conflict management, and culture shock.   Others came in and lead sessions on language learning and the mission and the church.  John did a session on the predominant religion and we did a skit showing the wrong and the right ways to do ministry in our context here.  Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of that! Time spent in small groups helps the orientees get to know each other better and keeps us from doing too much lecturing!  Everybody's favorite session is when we have a Nigerien come in and talk about their culture. The questions and the openness in sharing is amazing.  And it's a lot more effective coming from a Nigerien.  When we tell people how they should act in the culture it can be assumed that maybe we don't really know what we're talking about. But when it comes from a Nigerien, it can't really be argued with!  

And what would orientation be if we didn't end it with a meal together at a local restaurant?!