Saturday, December 29, 2012

Words and Sky View

Yesterday's photo was supposed to be Words, but I failed to take a picture.  So both yesterday's picture and today's are really from today.

This time of year finds us busy getting ready for our Spiritual Life Conference.  John is leading one of the worship teams so he and some of the team members were found this morning learning the words of some new (to us, anyway) songs and reviewing the words of old favorites.





And look at the moon!  When the moon is full here it is really bright!  I've sat outside and read a book just by the light of the moon.  When we used to sleep outside, it would be hard to get to sleep on full moon nights.  It's pretty spectacular. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Grateful and Night Time

I'm grateful for a man whose primary focus is on God.  Here he is reading the Scriptures before we open our gifts.  I'm also grateful that he knows I like chocolate.  Especially Lindt.  Absolutely the best chocolate around.  Truthfully, I liked all the gifts he gave me!

And here is our living room at night.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Morning

Most of our years here we've been so involved with church celebrations that we find it hard to fit everything all in in one day....that being the 25th.  So today, like most other years, we went to church and had dinner there.  Tomorrow we will have our traditional sticky bun breakfast and open our gifts. We enjoy having Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Christmas Again!

I just want to say that Cokes (as well as Sprite and Fanta) are served at every good party!

Favorite Part of Christmas Eve

Our Christmas Eve was pretty low-key.  I got food ready for our Christmas dinner potluck at church, which was today, the 25th.  I made a meat pie for supper which we ate while watching The Preacher's Wife.

It was a cold, windy, dusty Christmas Eve in 1985 that I received my best Christmas gift ever......a diamond ring.  With that ring came a wonderful man.  Oh yes, we have had our moments, and marriage is a lot of hard work.  But I'm sure glad I accepted the ring and the man!  



One day....already emotional because we had just said good-bye to our kids at Sahel....we were buying vegetables and fruit and then were going to head back to our town.  While at the vegetable stand I looked down and the diamond was completely missing!  Of course, I was in tears....I'd left my kids and lost my diamond all in the same day.  We looked everywhere, but it was likely lost in the market somewhere.  So the ring I have now is not the original, but it has eight prongs and I will hopefully not lose this diamond!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Scarf


I'm sure whoever dreamt up this photo challenge was thinking winter scarves that you wrap around your neck.  However, the kind of scarf I usually wear is a head scarf.  Here, a head scarf is part of a well-dressed woman's wardrobe.  Here in the city married women often don't wear scarves, but in smaller towns married women pretty much wouldn't leave home without one.  I struggle with scarves.....I can't tie them right and they fall off my head.  On the other hand, if you're having a bad hair day, it really doesn't matter.  Today was church and it was chilly outside, so I was wearing both a head scarf and the bigger shawl-thing that can be wrapped around the head or draped over the shoulders.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tradition


Christmas is a time for traditions.  However, today I don't think I did anything especially traditional.  So I sat down with my journal and wrote out some of our traditions.  I did forget "Make fudge".

Friday, December 21, 2012

Peace

Today's photo is PEACE.  This is a great time to remember the true meaning of Christmas.  God sent His Son Jesus to save us peace and forgiveness of our sins and He calls us to come and give Him glory.

Tree Topper


Yesterday was Day 20, but I ended the day way too tired to even think about posting anything.  So here is our tree topper.  A straw star that we've had for a VERY long time.  John's family was very involved in a Covenant church in Connecticut.  Historically it was a Swedish Covenant church and there are still a lot of Swensons, Johnsons, and other Swedish-sounding names in the congregation.  When John and I got married, somebody in the church (I don't remember who!) gave us a set of Swedish tree ornaments.  I'm guessing they were homemade.  26 years of dust and extreme dryness later, we still have most of them!  The nice thing about them is that they are small so they are perfect for our little tree. This star was the biggest and so it's always found its place at the top of the tree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Candy Cane....or maybe not

Today's picture is supposed to be a candy cane, but I don't have any candy canes, don't miss candy canes, don't want candy canes, and therefore can't photograph candy canes.

So I'll tell you about my day yesterday.  Almost two weeks ago I wrote about our neighbor man who had died.  The tradition here is that when somebody dies for three days the friends and family members go sit with the family of the person who died.  So I wanted to go up to sit with my friend right away, but we just couldn't fit it into our schedule.  Yesterday was a national holiday and I didn't have to go to the office and John didn't have to teach, so we went up to greet the family.

As we drove out of town we noticed police and military standing guard all along the way.  We realized somebody important was going to be passing through.  When that happens, all traffic is held up until they pass through.  It causes huge back-ups and delays while the waiting traffic unsnarls itself.  In fact, John was an hour late to his class on Monday because roads were closed due to visiting dignitaries.

We were glad we were apparently ahead of whatever was going to be happening.  We stopped for gas and were on our way remarking that we'd be happy to get out of town and away.  As we headed out of town and turned off onto our road, lo and behold, there were military all along that road as well!

As we went through villages, we realized people were lining the roads.  Obviously the president was coming down that very road!  It is a brand new road and we realized he was coming for the opening ceremony of the road. 


It was fun to wave at the crowds and have them wave and cheer at us. Then they'd realize it was two unimportant white people and the cheers would suddenly die down.  Near the end of the road tents had been erected and comfortable over-stuffed couches and chairs were arranged for the important people.  Plastic chairs were arranged for the less important people.  Military and police were everywhere.  We never did see the president, but it was fun to have people think we were important, anyway.  By the time we returned later in the afternoon the tents were down, the plastic chairs were stacked up, and the comfortable chairs and couches sat alone on the bluff overlooking the river.

We spent quite awhile with the widow.  She is so sad and depressed.  She has to spend two weeks in her house, so not being allowed out probably adds to the depression.  I sat inside with her, while John stayed outside with the son.  John came and squatted down in the doorway to greet her and she asked him to pray.  While I was there another lady I know came in and told her she needed to stop being so sad and that she has to eat and that she gets sick all the time any way and she needs to take care of herself and this is just the devil.  Really????  I thought it was rather unsympathetic, but I've been in the culture long enough to know that tears and extreme emotions are not tolerated.  I told my friend, though, that God creates us to have emotions and to love other people.  When they die we are sad and there is nothing wrong with being sad.  I did tell her, though, that she does need to take care of herself even though the sadness takes away her appetite.  Tears welled up in her eyes when I said that, but she never did really cry.  I think she appreciated being understood.  Not that I completely understand since I've never lost a husband.

While I was there they brought me a bowl of hot food.  These people have less than nothing, and I wasn't even hungry since we'd had a picnic.  John was sitting outside and they didn't take him anything.  I ate as much as I could, but I didn't feel bad to leave so much knowing it would be eaten by somebody later.

We visited other friends, too.  One friend gave us a big bag of peanuts and of sesame seeds.  Another gave us about 10 kilos of limes!  Being a few too many limes to use before they go bad, since we don't have a big freezer, we shared them with our friends.

It was a good day, but so tiring.

Stockings

Yesterday's photo challenge was Stockings.  I've already written something about our stockings.  So I've not got much to say about this post.  I decided to take this as how a 2-year old sees the world.  It seems blurry to me, but maybe the world is blurry to little kids, too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Presents

This post was supposed to have been done yesterday, but the internet was really not working very well.  And I just wanted to go to bed.

So yesterday's challenge was presents.  Presents is another of those things that we do differently here than we do when in the US.  When we're in the US, I wrap presents as I go and put them under the tree at any time after it's been put up.  But here we traditionally have waited until Christmas Eve to put out the gifts.  The main reason is that we didn't want our friends to see all our "stuff".  We didn't want Christmas to be about stuff and about adopting our customs.  Another reason to wait is that this is an extremely dusty time of year so gifts under the tree just get really dirty.  But then, so does the tree and all the decorations!  And the final reason is that putting gifts out early makes kids hyper for the entire month, not just for the night before Christmas.

So, where do we keep all these gifts?  We used to have a bed that had a shelf for the head board.  Under that shelf was a space between the bed and the wall where we used to hide gifts.  Of course, the kids knew that's where they were!  So much for kids not getting hyped up about Christmas!

This year we don't have that bed, so we've lost a good hiding space.  So this year John and I both have a duffel bag under our side of the bed with the gifts in them.  And what's in the duffel bag?  I'll never tell!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shopping and Outside Christmas Lights


Today as we were coming home from church, we drove through the market area.  Since John was driving, I was able to take some pictures out the window.  One of the biggest shops here does a booming business during Christmas.  The store was jam-packed full of clothes, housewares, kids' toys, games, shoes, etc.  We have done a lot of Christmas shopping there through the years, especially for the kids.  About a month ago the shop caught on fire during the night.  This is a huge loss to the owner of this store.  It's not likely that his store was insured, but maybe it was.  I never heard if it was arson or electrical.  

Christmas lights at night are not something you see much of around here!  So this picture is not taken in our present locale and it's not even a recent picture.  I took it the Christmas of 2010 when we were living in Maryland. This is a lesson to all of you who do outdoor Christmas lights on how NOT to do it.  Personally, this is not my idea of beautiful Christmas lights!  And I wonder what their electric bill was for the month of December?

Joyous

Day 4's challenge was Joyous.  This isn't really a Christmas post, but it's such a joyful event I had to share it!

One of the leaders in the Christian school movement who is also a teacher at our MK school (he taught our kids French) is somebody we've known for a very long time.  He and his wife have a 15-year old son, but the years have passed and they were not able to have any more children.


This isn't the dad with the baby....just another guy who was also sharing in their joy!
So, imagine their joy when God blessed them with a son last week (well, actually nine months ago!). Most men here don't talk about their wife's pregnancy, but this guy just couldn't contain himself! 


The entire family is happy and it's a blessing to share in their joy.  Yesterday we went to the naming ceremony which was held at a church.  There was a meal at their home following, but we weren't able to go as we already had something else scheduled.  The little girl in the photo is their niece who lives with them as a daughter.

We're just very, very happy for them! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Favorite Holiday Song

Today's photo challenge is Favorite Holiday Song.

It's hard to choose a favorite Christmas song.  Some of my favorites are "What Child Is This?" , "Angels We Have Heard on High", "Mary's Boy Child".  When I was a kid I loved the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".  I'm not sure why as it isn't typical kid fare.  I still like it, but it isn't one you hear very often.  I'm featuring it today because, as a Facebook friend pointed out, the words speak to the tragic event of yesterday in Newtown, CT.  It was written in 1864, during the American Civil War, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I heard the bells on Christmas day,
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat,
Of peace on earth good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Tree and Red

Today's challenge is Christmas tree.  Now, I'll have you know, we have a small tree, not a bush.  Though it's been called a bush, it just ain't so.  We LIKE our little tree!  We have a small tree for four reasons.
1.  When we first got married, that's all we could afford!
2.  Then when we came to Africa, it fit perfectly in one of our packing boxes. (This is our 2nd tree.  We finally had to throw out the first one, but it lasted almost 20 years.)
3.  We personally (and this is not a criticism of ways other people celebrate) decided that we didn't want to have a lot of big, flashy Christmas decorations.  We live in a land of poverty and try to keep things simple (though compared to many of our friends we come across as pretty rich!).  Also, the Christians here focus more on spending Christmas day together than they do on the giving of gifts, Christmas trees, and so on.  So we didn't want to do anything that they would feel they needed to do to properly celebrate Christmas.  Thus our decision to keep it as understated as possible while at the same time not depriving our kids from celebrating Christmas in traditional ways.
4.  Our house used to be just under 1000 square feet.  I'm not sure the square footage of the place we live now, but it's probably not much more than that.  So we just don't have room for a big tree.



This is taken of a nativity set that we bought in Nigeria that is carved from wood.  In the background you can see the lights of our little tree.  Not bush.

And Day 3 was Red.  When John and I were first married, we bought these Christmas stockings.  We bought a red one with green reindeer and a green one with red reindeer.  Then I made stockings for Daniel, Suzanne, and John with counted-cross-stitch designs.  I've never made one for myself, though, so these continue to come out every year.  John wanted to hang all three so we did.  I like the arrangement he came up with, but you can't really see them all here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Family and Your View Today


 I'm not gonna lie......I miss family this time of year.  It's amazing how many of the things we've done for Christmas we've done because of the delight it would bring to our kids.  Without them, it just isn't as much fun.  And no matter how old I get, I still wish I could celebrate Christmas with my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother and his family.  I miss John's side of the family, too, though we usually do Thanksgiving with them so that's when we miss them the most.

So, this is my picture of family (sorry they are a bit blurry today!).....We are buying (I hope) this beautiful cupboard from another missionary who left a while back. I think it's meant for dishes, but we use it as a bookshelf and game cupboard (there are more shelves below with solid doors on them).  On this shelf are pictures of John and I when we were dating, and of Daniel and Kelly and Suz and Theo.  Atop another bookshelf are pictures of Daniel's high school and college graduations (would really like a wedding picture!).  And yet another shelf has pictures of Suz's high school graduation and a wedding picture of her and Theo.





My view.....this is looking out my front door. We have security bars on our doors and windows so I decided to take the pictures looking out through the bars.  The problem with bars that keep people out is that sometimes you feel like they are also keeping you in.  The difference is that we have a key and aren't really imprisoned in our house!  We have a nice covered terrace.  Beyond the walkway is a wall that separates our house from the missionary neighbors and beyond that is their house.  That house has been mostly empty since June, so we're happy we'll be getting neighbors tomorrow! 

And this is looking out the back door. The wall between us and the neighbors is about two feet away, so there's not much to look at out that way.  It seems that a lot of boys live over there.  I hear adolescent voices all the time and the constant thwack! thwack! of a flat soccer ball being kicked around.  Every evening as I'm cooking supper I hear somebody moving chairs around and sweeping the porch and yard.  This is kind of a ritzy neighborhood, but the house right behind us is probably one of the poorest people in the neighborhood.  And we're probably the 2nd poorest!!!  Our mission bought this property a long time ago.  But we couldn't afford to rent in this neighborhood now.  The houses aren't necessarily that amazing.  It's all about location.  It's close to several large NGO's and to an exclusive private French school.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Favorite Holiday Movie and A Beautiful Sight


 Day 2 was your Favorite Holiday Movie.  Many of the years we spent in Africa, including when I was growing up, we didn't have a TV or any way to watch movies.  So I never saw all the traditional Christmas movies like It's a Wonderful Life.  After we got a TV and a VCR, one year we were home this movie, The Preacher's Wife, came out, so I picked up a copy. Suzanne and I love it and watch it together every year.  This year we'll have to watch it alone. * sniff, sniff*  I've since replaced the video with a DVD and plan on watching it sometime this holiday season.

I think it's well acted.  I mean, what would you expect from Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston?  There are a lot of great one-liners in it.  And I think I especially like it because it's about a preacher who is burnt out in ministry and how it affects their marriage.  I think any body in ministry can identify with a lot in this movie.  That said, the theology of angels is terrible.  The Bible nowhere says that dead people become angels.  

Today, day 12 (yep, 12-12-12) is A Beautiful Sight. Two of our ladies at the office, Ouma and Fati, put up Christmas decorations last week. They did such a nice job and I love walking in the office every morning and seeing the decorations.  Chad, one of our missionaries, made the wooden SIM letters you see hanging on the wall and I really like them.  

On the other side of the tree, on the counter at the reception area, one of our missionaries is selling honey that is produced by some Christians in the area where they live.  It's great honey and today I was struck with the beauty of the bottles, the purity of the honey allowing the Christmas tree lights to shine through, and the way the colors all compliment each other.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Today's Temperature and Green




Day 6, I'm skipping for now.  It's supposed to be "Shopping" and there's no way I'm going shopping right now.

Day 5 was "Today's Temperature".  This is a picture of today's indoor temperature with a nice layer of dust on the thermometer.  The high indoors was 84 and the low was 72.  Outside the high was probably 100 and the low 70.  We close all our doors and windows in the morning and it stays pretty nice inside.  I know YOU might not think 84 is comfortable, but it beats 94 in the house like it is many times of the year.  So far this "cold" season hasn't been very cold.  We should get temps in the low to mid-50's before the end of January.

Today's challenge was "Green".  John found this wine bottle in the back yard when he was digging a compost pit.  I stuck a clipping from this vine thingy in there with some water.  I hardly ever add water and I do absolutely nothing to it and it never dies.  My kind of plant, I'll tell you!  When John and I were decorating for Christmas, he wanted to put this bow somewhere and it eventually ended up on the wine bottle/planter. I think it's bright and cheery.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bright and Wrapping Paper

Day 7 of the photo challenge was "Bright".  When you live in a country that has as much desert as we have, finding bright is not hard.  In this picture, you can see the window in the background but you can't see any details of it because of the bright sunshine streaming in there.  Here is another one showing the sun shining on the floor.  In fact, the sun shines in the windows on the west side of the house so brightly, we close the windows and the curtains in the morning and it really helps to keep the temperature of the house down.

Today, Day 10, is "Wrapping Paper".  It's pretty hard to find Christmas wrapping paper here so we bring our own with us.  Whenever we are in the US during the Christmas season I try to pick up a couple of rolls during after-Christmas sales. Maybe better yet are gift bags as they can more easily be re-used. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

December photo challenge

Suzanne pinned on Pinterest a photo challenge for December.  I decided to try this to give you an idea of Christmas in Niger.  It's already December 9 so I'll double up on photos for a few days.  Some of these will be challenging to get as they are concepts rather than things.


Day 8 was Ornaments.  We have a VERY small tree, so we don't have a lot of ornaments.  I got "my 1st Christmas" ornaments for Daniel and Suzanne, but have never gotten one for each year.   So I don't have many ornaments that are sentimental to me. This one is, though, because it was given to me by my friend, Waltraud.  Waltraud was from Germany and she gave this to me one Christmas.  She then moved to Benin so we didn't see each other much after that.  One year she was visiting here in Niger and we spent a little time together.  Then she headed back to Benin and within a week the Lord took her home.  She did not go through a prolonged illness....I think it was something to do with her heart.  So, not only is this a pretty little angel, but it also reminds me of Waltraud.


Day 9...Something You're Reading.  I'm always reading something.  I just finished Crazy Love by Francis Chan (highly recommended) and an autobiography by Kay Washer, also highly recommended.  Now it's time for some light reading, so this is what I'm reading. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Sad News

Yesterday, as I was working at my desk, I received a phone call from H.H., the young man in T----- to whom we had given the radio.  "Hello, Hannatu," he said.  "My father died in the night."

Our lives have been entertwined with those of this family for most of the 16 years we lived in that village.  At first they lived across the street from us.  The mom and I got to know each other a bit.  She was very pregnant with her 6th child when she came to me one day with the then youngest child.  He had just been kicked in the face by a donkey.  His cheek was gashed open, so I took him to the dispensary.  They scrubbed the wound out well, but had no sutures to do stitches.  When I asked for a tetanus shot for him, they said they didn't have any available.  In spite of it all, the wound never got infected, but he sports a scar on his cheek to this day.  We left for home assignment a day or two later and just a day or two after that child #6 was born.

When we returned from that home assignment, they had moved across town, but it wasn't long before they moved back, this time right beside us.  They are squatters on the land there and live in a grass hut.  They have no latrine or toilet on their land.  They are truly the poorest people I personally know.


Suzanne between the two youngest girls and with a grandchild (the girls' niece!) on the right
Suzanne and two of the girls, Z and M, grew up together.  Instead of going out the gate and all the way around to enter the other compound, they would just climb the adjoining wall and jump into each others yards.  Often Suzanne would come home and tell me that they weren't cooking supper. She knew it was because they didn't have any food, so she would take them some rice to cook.   One day the mom came and told us, with great embarrassment, that they hadn't eaten for three days.

My friend.  A few weeks ago when we went up to visit, she saw me getting out of the car and literally came running across the yard to give me a hug.  That kind of display of emotion is very rare.
I began slipping some money to the mom whenever I could and she began coming into our yard and sweeping it every day.  I never officially hired her to do that or even asked her to do it.  It was simply her way of repaying us for our generosity to them.

When Suzanne was about 14, M, who is about the same age as Suz, was married.
M not long before she was married
Her older sister, Z, had already been married.  M eventually moved to Ghana with her husband.  The spunky baby of the family, A, is now living with her big sister.

The mom, the son H.H., and the daughters all show a real interest in spiritual things. None of the women have really come right out and said they are believers, but their grasp of and their hunger for spiritual things makes me feel that their understanding is greater than we think.

We did not know the dad as well.  The mom is about my age, and her husband was at least 20 years older than her.  They are part of the Fulani people group whose tradition it is to always eat alone where none but closest friends can see them.  So whenever we had feasts in our yard, such as at Christmas, the mom took food home to him as he wouldn't come eat with the group.  She was younger and not so traditional in her ways.  

Most of the last few years we were there he was really too old to do much work or to provide for the family. About a year ago when we went to visit, he was not well at all and seemed to be mentally unbalanced.  While we sat and visited he kind of leaned over and started crying.  They told him to stop and he did.  But he would wander off and the neighbors across the street told them that if he wandered into their yard again, they would kill him, cutting his neck like they would a goat.  They were just mean....it was a classic example of oppression of some of the earth's poorest people.

We were there a few weeks ago and spent time with them.  The old man sat with us, but didn't really participate much in the conversation.  Their grass hut was falling down and we gave them some money to fix it.

The mom has two married daughters living near by.  Her son is now about 18 and living at home.  One daughter, who is about 15, is at home and still going to school.  Two other daughters are married and living in other countries, and the littlest daughter is living with one of her sisters.  Probably not much will change for her financially since he couldn't provide for them anyway. But she will miss him.  In the evenings when our windows were open, we could hear them talking to each other as they sat outside their hut.

It's hard to be here so far from my friend at this time when family and friends gather to mourn with them.