Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Forgetting Tabitha and Lily Cigar

So far the books I’ve reviewed on my blog have been ones that I recommend, that I enjoyed reading, and that I benefited from reading.  But today I am going to review to books that I DON’T recommend reading because I did not find them beneficial.  As you will see, I felt more strongly about one than about the other.

The first one I want to review (which I actually read after the other one) is called Forgetting Tabitha: The Story of an Orphan Train Rider by Julie Dewey.  You know the old adage of “Don’t judge a book by its cover”?  Yeah.  It still holds true.  This book looks totally innocent.  I mean look at that sweet little face.  And the story must be about a little orphan girl who rides the orphan train, right?  In fact, the summary on Amazon even leads us to believe that is what the book is about.

Well, the first half of the book is about the orphan trains.  The author does a good job of portraying the horrors of life for orphans and the poor and immigrant population in New York City in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  Ms. Dewey also adequately describes the orphan trains, their purpose, and life for the children who rode the trains.  She also does an admirable job of pointing out the importance of living in families.

Then suddenly in the second half of the book, it becomes full of all sorts of sexual descriptions and horrible sexual atrocities.  The author may argue that it was necessary to the story, but really, it didn’t need to be described in such detail.  It wasn’t even titillating; it was just awful, especially when one of the characters is horribly raped.

Also, in the second half of the book, the writing style changed and became confusing and bizarre.  In the first half of the book, Tabitha tells the story in her voice.  Then suddenly all these other characters are telling the story in their voice and every chapter jumps around to somebody else talking, even characters who play a minor role.  It just feels really disjointed and it feels like the author suddenly finished writing about the orphan train and now she didn’t feel like the book was long enough and so she started writing all sorts of crazy sexual stuff in a different writing style.

And finally, there are things that just don’t jive with the era.  Tabitha is adopted into a middle class family in Binghamton, NY during the Victorian era.  She becomes pregnant though unwed (who’s surprised with all the sex!?) and her parents are just very accepting and understanding and discussions are going on about having a very public and fancy wedding with her obviously pregnant.  Ummmm, in a middle class family in the Victorian era?  I don’t think so.  It just felt very 2013 (date of publication) to me.  And then one of the characters is creating all this soap and oils and so on.  OK, I know our grandmothers made their own soap and knew a lot about herbs, so this didn’t feel quite so out of the era, but it also seemed to be written by somebody living in 2013 who is very into essential oils.

The book certainly doesn’t meet the criteria laid out in Philippians 4:8 – whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  This book contains some truth, but that’s about it.

One thing I learned is to read the reader reviews on Amazon before I order a book for my kindle!  So many people made comments like “I was going to get this book for my teenagers to read to learn about an important part of our history.  Am I ever glad I read it first!”

The second book, which isn’t as easy to review, was called Lily Cigar by Tom Murphy.  Interestingly, it took place in the same time period and is also about an orphan.  This book is well-written and gives some good insight into the history of our country at the point in time.  The author does a good job of keeping his writing believable for the era.  The story is about a girl who is orphaned, is then raised in a Catholic orphanage, as a young teenager goes to work in the home of one of New York’s nouveau riche, becomes pregnant by the son of the family of that home, is sent to San Francisco with money to start a new life, loses the money, and ends up as a prostitute to support herself and her daughter.  She hates prostitution, but becomes rich through it, gets out of prostitution, buys a ranch, and marries the love of her life.  Thankfully it is written in a way that is not sappy, but could believably be somebodies life story.  Even after she marries, her life is not always easy or beautiful.

The reason I hesitate to recommend this book is, again, the sex scenes.  Thankfully there are only about three that I skipped over (hit that fast-forward button!).  So, that was about nine pages out of 602 pages.  I just think the story could have been well-told without going into so much detail.  Also, the book is definitely for a mature audience as it deals with prostitution.  In fact, it shows how many women get into prostitution as a last result and leaves you sympathetic towards women who have found themselves in that situation.  Unfortunately the author seemed to me to give the impression that men will be men and they need prostitutes. 

This book has a lot of merit to it, but I certainly couldn’t just recommend it without giving fair warning.  Also, it is 602 pages.  Really.  I think the story could have been shortened in places.  A lot of times the author repeated things such as Lily was upset about a certain thing, but he would go on and on, and I’d already gotten the idea she was upset.

Judging the book through Philippians 4:8, how did we do?  This book is more of a mixed bag.  Many things in the book are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable…but there are so many things that could have been left out of the story that aren’t true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable.  I understand that the author is coming from an entirely different world view than my own, but that is another reason I cannot recommend this book to just anybody.  It’s easy to read books like this and let your world view change to conform to world views that don’t really honor God or the people He’s created.

Because when it comes right down to it, descriptions of sex in literature are not necessary.  Sex is a beautiful gift given by God to be shared by one man and one woman.  And it’s a private gift so I just really don’t need to read details about anybody else’s sexual life.

So, take it from me.  Don’t waste your money on these two books.  Also, there were two other books I downloaded for free whose covers and descriptions sounded innocent enough, but I got only a few pages into them and decided to delete them right away.   (I don’t remember what they were now.) Unfortunately, I was well into these books before they got bad.  Another word of advice, reading the customer reviews helps....sometimes.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to Have a Successful Stay-cation

This year we just didn't have the finances to make a trip back to the USA.  Also, the summer is my busiest time of year.  There were a couple of years in a row that I left everybody else with all the work to do and now this year it's my turn to stick around.  There also aren't really any nearby places to go for a change of scenery and climate. We used to always go to Miango in Nigeria and that was fabulous, but the thought of driving down there now just doesn't sound like much fun.

So.....we decided to take a "stay-cation".  We get a month a year of vacation.  I know that sounds like a lot compared to what some of you get for vacation.  But the climate here is pretty intense and life here is stressful, so the one-month a year is much appreciated!  We decided to take two weeks now and then another two weeks near the end of August when things calm down a bit.

If you find yourself in the same boat and you just can't go anywhere for vacation, staying home isn't really all that bad.  Here is what we've done to make it successful.

1.  TURN OFF THE PHONE!!!  If you are somebody who walks around with your phone in your hand and who spends a lot of time on the phone for work or socially, you'll find this rough.  I turned off my phone and used a phone I have to loan to travelers.  I gave my number to three people so we could be contacted in case of emergency.  Here in Niger it's easy and cheap to buy a 2nd SIM card so that you can have a secret number for your stay-cation.  If you live in the US, maybe you can borrow a phone from somebody who has a spare or buy a cheap trac-phone and turn off your other phone.  Honestly, turning off your phone will be the hardest thing for you to do.  But do it.  You won't regret it.

2.  Don't check your work email.  If you're like me, a good portion of my job is spent answering emails and I can just imagine how many emails I'll find when I go back to work tomorrow.  But don't do it.  At all.  Ever.  You've got to completely unplug from work, even if the office is just down the street.

3.  Get a pass for a pool or someplace else you like to go or do that the entire family enjoys.  You do need a chance to get out of the house.  Getting a pool pass may be slightly costly, but it's still cheaper than plane tickets to go somewhere.  If possible, do things like go miniature golfing, go to museums....whatever day outings are available in your area.  Nothing like that is available here, so the pool it was!

4.  Go out to eat several times a week.  Unless it's a vacation for mom, it's not a vacation!  Unless you de-stress by cooking.....but cooking is NOT my de-stresser!

5.  Do a big grocery shopping before you start your stay-cation and don't go during your stay-cation.  Buy some special things you wouldn't normally buy, especially if they make meal prep easier.  Remember, if it's not a vacation for mom, it's not a vacation!

6.  You initiate your social contacts.  If being with others, hosting a party, etc., is relaxing to you, do it!  I think this would especially be important for singles.  Two weeks completely by yourself might be too much, even for the introverts among us.  However, John and I do a LOT of hospitality as part of our ministry, so we chose to keep social contacts to a minimum.  

7.  Don't look at the clock.  Do what you want, when you want to do it.

8.  Play with your kids.  Talk to your husband. Take a chance to re-connect with those you love.

9.  Do whatever relaxes you:  read, watch TV, play games, sleep, browse the internet, go for a walk or a run, journal, read your Bible, pray, work on your hobby, etc.

10.  If you live in Niger where every day is still over 100 degrees, plan to run your air conditioner more than you normally would.  It's the only way to escape the enervating climate, other than going to the pool.

11.  Have a budget.  Presumably you are taking a stay-cation because you can't afford a trip or other circumstances keep you at home.  So, if money is a problem, don't over-spend.  But do plan to spend more than you normally would in a month.

It's back to work tomorrow!  

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thoughts from the Dunes

It always feels good to get out of the city and let the wind blow my hair and be able to see the horizon.  I was telling John today how closed in I feel in the city.  I mean, we can barely see the sky!  The dunes are just outside of Niamey, but I really feel like we've put the city behind us whenever we go out there.  

Because about 3/4's of Niger's land mass is in the desert you may think all Niger is is one big sand dune.  But we live in the Sahel region (which actually means "shore").  The Sahel, as I explained in my last post, is the band between the desert and the savanna or the grasslands.  So we do have trees and scrub brush growing.  While there is sand everywhere, there aren't sand dunes everywhere.  

It feels great to sit on top of the dunes and look at the world around us.  The quiet soothes my soul.  The immense piles of shifting sand fill me with wonder at God's creation.

There are always some people who live nearby who follow us up the dunes.  One of them is employed by the government to make sure people don't destroy the dunes or ruin them for other people....kind of the idea of a park ranger.  He seemed to have a young man that he left in charge who made sure little kids didn't annoy us.  The other missionary we went with was able to talk to him a bit, but they were having a hard time understanding each other.  Even though they were speaking the same language, they were speaking different dialects.

As evening came on we saw people heading home.  Then the cows passed by in the dry stream bed below us, ready to be milked and to eat whatever dry stalks their owners could give them.  Two little boys went by carrying fodder for animals on their heads.  As darkness descended, cooking fires became visible.  Voices could be heard in the distance, carried to us on the wind.  My friend remarked, "I love this time of day.  It has such a homey feel to it."

But as we looked around and saw little hamlets where people live, I had to think of how most of them have never heard the Gospel.  All across Niger there are village after village where people are living and dying without having heard the message of good news.

Today started the yearly fast.  Can I ask you to join us especially during this month in praying for our friends and neighbors here?  Please pray for God to reveal Himself to many during this month.

Pray for us to be faithful, too, and to take the opportunities given to us.  "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that bring good news!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Show and Tell Tuesday .... My Yard

I'm linking up with Show and Tell Tuesdays on Momfessionals....only once again I'm late to the game.

The prompt this week is to show us your yard.  First, let me say that we live in Niger the majority of which is in the Sahara Desert.  We live in the "Sahel region"....that bit of land between the dessert and the grasslands where things grow, sort of.  People can get grass to grow, but we don't have any.  We do have lots of flowering bushes and greenery, though, that brighten up the sand that is everywhere.

Our gate (yes, we live in a gated community, LOL!) opens up onto our driveway.
  We share a compound with two other dwellings.  A family of five lives in the house just to the right of the gate.  To the left of the ladder at the top of the picture is our guard's toilet/shower.  (Yes, we have a guard....we don't feel in danger here, but there is a lot of petty thievery.  Plus, it employees somebody who desperately needs a job.)  Currently ours is the only car parked in the drive, but we have parked as many as four or five in there.  We can park three without anybody having to come out and move a car, but more than that, somebody has to move to let somebody else out.  The neighbors in the big house have their own driveway, but as they can only park one vehicle there their work vehicle is often parked in our drive.

We live in a duplex.  To the left is the apartment of another missionary and ours is to the right.  When we walk in from the street it feels so much cooler in our yard because of all the trees.  

We have a large terrace and I like to sit outside on cool mornings, which hasn't been happening much lately.  I eat my breakfast or lunch here sometimes, but John doesn't like to eat there because Queen of Sheba (the photo bomb in many of these pictures) makes a pest of herself when we're eating.

If you continue down our "alley", our clothes line is straight ahead....yep, pretty much anybody walking into our yard can see all our unmentionables hanging on the line.  There is a gate there that leads to the back door of the big house.  My neighbor and I love having such easy access to each other!  Her kids play in our yard as well as theirs.  Their bunny hops around our yard and our Queen of Sheba begs at their kitchen door.

To the side of the house is just an empty space.  We have a compost pit there and an herb garden.  Our basil does really well, the mint is doing well, the parsley is hanging in there, but the cilantro and dill died when it got really hot.

Then behind the house we have a small terrace.  We kind of use it for storage for spare tires, gerry cans, and the extra gas bottle for the stove.

So there you have it....our Oasis in the desert (and our street really is called Rue d'Oasis!).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Since John Came Home

It's hard to believe that it's already been three weeks since John came back from his intensive study time in Oxford, England at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.  Doing a doctorate part-time (or full time!) is not for the faint of heart, I can tell you.  

So much has happened in the past three weeks since his return that it feels like longer than three weeks!  First, we had Pentecost Sunday....I don't have any pictures of that.

That week parts of town were without power for about four days straight.  It would come on for an hour or two, then go off again.  Families were sleeping at the school since they have a generator.  Thankfully and amazingly our neighborhood was good most of that time.  We were without electricity for a 10-hour stretch at one point and a couple of hours off here and there, but nothing like other parts of town.  Here I am cooking in the dying daylight....just before we turned on our camping lantern and lit the candles. 

May 29 we had a farewell for a missionary family that has been here for 16 years.  These goodbyes are tough when you've known somebody this long....they feel like family.  It was just at the end of the party and prayer time that we had for them that we got the news that an 11th grade student had just died (I wrote about that here).  So, it was a very sad end to a nice evening.

June 1st was the funeral of that student and we went to that.  We didn't know him personally, but wanted to be an encouragement to the Sahel Academy community and to his family.

June 4th was graduation.  

Out of 13 graduates, 10 nationalities were represented:  USA, Canada, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun, Rwanda, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Korea, and Australia.  If you are a believer who loves kids and who is willing to raise support, we are still looking for a 4th grade teacher and high school teachers for next year!  Teaching international and cross-cultural kids is a privilege, for sure.

We've had several dust storms.  Here is some of the dirt I swept up after one of the dust storms we didn't hear....and the windows were all wide open.  It's been hot and miserable, but God sends us some pretty flowers at this time of year to encourage us. These flowers are so tiny, but in abundance on this bush.  I have no idea what they are!

This past week and this coming week we are having a "staycation".  We've spent a lot of time at the pool, time reading, time on the internet, time playing games, time watching movies, and have been able to eat out quite a bit.  It's been pretty relaxing, but John has to keep doing a few hours a day on his studies.  I've also been working a few hours a day on a project for him, but I can do that and watch a movie at the same time. :)  

Unfortunately, the termites had a party at our house and ate a big section of ceiling and the rafters. (I can't believe I ate the whole thing!) So we've had the carpenter come and rip out that section of ceiling.  Then we called the bug man to come and spray.  Now the carpenter will need to come back to replace the ceiling.  We also need to have our house painted as hunks of paint and plaster are falling off the walls.  Thankfully, we've been able to move over to our neighbor's house as they've gone to the US for the summer.  They live on the same compound, so we can go back and forth for stuff.....still there's no place like home and we feel a bit disorganized and displaced from not being in our own place.

Last night we got to go to the dunes with good friends.  They'll be leaving in October and I really don't even want to think about that yet.  I'll be doing another blog related to the dunes soon, so I'm only putting up a few pictures.

So, that's some of how we've kept busy the past three weeks.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

You Know It's Hot Season

Depending on how you look at it, it can be said that Niger has two seasons....or four.  If you say it has two seasons, that would be the dry season from October through May or June and the rainy season from June or July through September.  Or you can divide it up a bit more and say we have the rainy season from July through September, the mini hot season from October into November, the cold dry season from November through February, and the hot season from March through May and into June.  And the worst month of all is May, hand's down, no further discussion needed.  Here's how you know it's really hot season....and especially that it's May.

1.  It's 7 a.m. and you're already sweating.
2.  It's 7 a.m. and it's already 90 degrees.
3.  The high for the day is anywhere between 105 and 112.  Anything over 112 is rare, though we've seen an occasional 114.  That is the temperature in the shade.  Temperature in the sun, though, is even higher.
3.  Everything you touch feels hot, especially metal objects.
4.  You walk in the house and say, "Wow!  It feels good in here!" then look at the thermometer and see it is 90 degrees in the room.
5.  The water coming out of the cold water tap feels like the hot water heater is on.
6.  The shower is not all that refreshing feels like the hot water heater is on!
7.  Likewise, the swimming pool feels like a warm bathtub.
8.  Nevertheless, the swimming pool is one of the best places to be.
9.  Power cuts are frequent and almost unbearable as there are no fans or air

10.  Many towns in Niger run out of water and have to go long distances to haul in water (this was the case for us where we used to live).
11.  Your butter, ice cream, and jello turn into soup almost immediately.
12.  Candles don't stand up straight....they bend over from the heat.
13.  Clothes on the line dry almost instantaneously.
14.  You need to splash water on the seat of your motorcycle before you can sit on it (I've seen people do this.)
15.  Your steering wheel is so hot you can't touch it.
16.  If you don't have air-conditioning in your house but you own a vehicle, you drive around town just to get cool.
17.  People without air-conditioning splash water on the ground outside where they are sitting hoping that the evaporation will give them some cool air.
18.  When walking down the street, you stay on the side with the most shade and even move from side to side according to where the shade is.
19.  As you sweat, you cool, and then the flies are attracted to your now cool back.
20. Sweat running down your legs, back, or face is not a sign that you've been exercising, just that you're still alive.
21.  Even cats pant.  Panting isn't just for dogs.
22.  You get extremely grumpy, irritable, and impatient with everybody around you.
23.  The number one greeting after, "How are you?" is, "How's the heat?" and the answer is, "It's the season for it."
24.  Your computer shuts down because it overheats almost instantly.
25.  You don't want to cook and even eating takes too much effort.  Fruit and ice cream sound like a great meal!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Grieving and Graduating

Living the life of a TCK is both a privilege and a challenge.  A TCK is simply a "Third Culture Kid".  Missionary Kids (MKs) are TCKs, but so are many military kids, embassy kids, and kids whose parents work for companies around the world.  The short definition of TCK is “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his 
or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture."  A TCK integrates aspects of their passport culture with their host culture, creating a third culture.  According to the website TCKid, 90% of TCKs feel out of sync with their peers, 90% report feeling as though they understand other cultures better than the average American, and 80% believe they can get along with anybody.  TCKs are well-rounded, adaptable, and in general are good employees.  Probably their biggest struggle is the state of constant transition and the need to make new friends every year.  Let me explain.

A TCK may be born outside of their passport country or brought to their host country at a very young age.  But every two to four years they are taken back to their host country.  Every time they go back to their passport country they literally feel like they've landed in another world.  Back in their passport countries they feel like, what is often referred to as, hidden immigrants.

A TCK may attend the same school most of their life, but all of their peers are also doing the here-a-few-years/there-a-few-years thing.  So every given year they have a new set of classmates.  Thankfully, not every single person in the class changes, but there is a definite lack of continuity.  Not only that, but their teachers may stay only one or two years, so the average TCK doesn't go through high school knowing that they will have Mr. So-and-so every year for History.

Jean M. Larson in a chapter in Raising Resilient MKs writes in a chapter entitled Transitions and the MK, "Transition cycles for the TCK have two important overlays to consider:  high-frequency mobility and the transcultural experience.  The continuous challenge of changing cultures, with differing cues and relationships is coupled not only with their own mobility but also with the mobility of other cross-cultural sojourners -- friends and acquaintances.  These people may be on a different cycle, but their lives have intersected for a span of time.  This high-frequency mobility produces a continual need for readjustment in order to cope with its kaleidoscope of change.  The resulting lifestyle is extremely intense."

This may give you some insight into why the last two weeks of the school year at Sahel Academy are so intense.  Many kids are leaving to never come back.  Some of those kids are graduating; the parents of others have been transferred.  Some of the kids will be gone a few weeks or a year, but will be back.  Some will be staying, but their friends will be going.  There is a lot of happy anticipation for the future and the changes, but also a lot of grief for the partings.  When you are from the USA and your best friend is from Australia, there's a pretty good chance you may never see each other again.

Just last Friday (May 29) Jesse, one of the 11th grade students, died unexpectedly.  He had been ill for some time, but was thought to be getting better.  Then he collapsed at school and was rushed to the clinic (a small private hospital) where he died later that evening.  

Sahel Academy is a small school where everybody knows everybody else.  When there are 10-15 kids in your class, classmates tend to be very close.  So this has had a huge impact on the entire community.  Yesterday we attended his funeral.  Tonight is the Junior-Senior Banquet.  Thursday night is graduation and Jesse's brother is a senior.

Our daughter, Suzanne, a graduate of Sahel Academy, a TCK, a mom, and an excellent writer has written an open letter to Sahel students and staff at her blog.  Please take a few minutes to get a feel for the emotions running high at Sahel Academy this week:

Can you please pray for the family of Jesse and for all of the Sahel Academy students and staff?  Pray that they will grieve well.  Pray that they won't be afraid to ask hard questions, but pray that they will find the answers in Jesus.  Pray for them to be able to celebrate Jesse's life and the graduation week at the same time.  Pray for all of those making transitions to new places while saying a very permanent good-bye.  The other good-byes are said with the very real possibility of some day running into those classmates as they journey through life.  Pray that everybody will be comfortable with the tears and higher emotions this week.  Pray for all of the students and staff to be understanding of the different ways in which we grieve.  Pray for parents helping their kids work through this.

Suzanne's graduating class 2009

Daniel's graduating class 2007