Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Trip to Kenya

If I've been a bit silent on my blog, it's because I've been incredibly busy.  I attended a conference in Kenya, but the week before leaving was crazy with trying to get ready and tying up a lot of loose ends here.

I left for Kenya on Saturday, October 10.  We kept checking FlightAware for my flight and it wasn't showing at all.  We'd heard from other friends who had recently traveled Ethiopian Airways about flights leaving earlier or later than expected.  Later didn't bother me, but I sure didn't want to miss a flight that was leaving earlier than expected!  When I got to the airport, I told John not to leave until I texted him that I'd gotten checked in.  When I got to the check-in desk another passenger was yelling about canceling his flight, so I still wasn't 100% sure that the flight was going to work out.  But it turns out everything was on time and the flight itself went well. 

Taking off from Niamey
 Except when the bathroom door in the plane wouldn't open and I was stuck in the bathroom.  My seatmate heard me trying to open the door, but I didn't know that, so I rang the bell for the flight attendant.  They both came and got the door open for me.  Good thing I didn't have to spend the rest of the flight in the bathroom!

I had a lay-over in the airport in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.  It's much improved since the last time I was there two years ago.  I ate two granola bars for supper while waiting in the airport.  There was some food on the flight fromn Addis to Nairobi, but, you know, it was airline food.....just kind of bleh!   I landed there about 10:30 p.m. and it was around 12:30 a.m. when I finally got to my guest house.

My room was small, but nice and clean and I had a private bathroom. 

I opened the window to let in the cool air, but it may have been a mistake as I heard another person arriving, somebody else leaving, and then a group of SIM people heading out for a safari at 6 a.m.  It was definitely not a good night's sleep, but the breakfast was great.

Later in the morning I went to see the Karen Blixen house. 

In case you don't remember, she wrote Out of Africa and a movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford was also made by the same title (but with plenty of liberties from the book!).  This was the extent of my sight-seeing in Kenya.  

Later that day we were taken to the Lukenya Getaway, a retreat center on the outskirts of Nairobi.  It's actually a little lower in elevation than Nairobi, so not quite as cool.  But the nights were definitely cool and I wore a sweater in the evenings and early mornings.  It was a relief after the high humidity and heat we've been having here.

We were in meetings all day long for six days and it was a pretty exhausting pace.  

We talked a lot about new things that are happening in the world of SIM...mostly things that have to do with how we make our needs for personnel, projects, and prayer known.  The conference was for mobilisers and communications personnel.  I'm not technically either, but I do a lot of communicating with mobilisers, so that's how I ended up attending.  Our field Communications Coordinator also attended.  Sadly we never got a picture together even though we shared a room!  We did have a free afternoon, but I ended up having two meetings that afternoon, so didn't get to go on any of the outings that were offered.

The facility was really nice.  Our room was spacious with an extra seating area in it and a private bathroom.  

Every day the room was cleaned, including making the beds, tying up our mosquito nets, and opening the curtains and closing the windows.  Late in the afternoon they would come back in, close the curtains, turn down the beds, and put the nets down.  There are no screens on the windows in Kenya and there were definitely mosquitoes, so it was nice to have the nets.  Our first night we didn't and both Beki and I just about went crazy with the buzzing in our ears.

The food was also amazing.  There was so much to choose from and I especially enjoyed the nice variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  We are at the time of year here where there isn't much variety in fresh stuff, so having good fruit and veggies was a plus for me.  

The retreat center was right next to a game reserve.  Some people managed to get themselves up early enough to go out in the morning to walk or run and they saw wild animals.  I, ahem, never got up that early.  But there were deer-like-creatures and monkeys on the compound that we would see from time to time.

There was also a nice pool at the center, but I never went in....partly I didn't have time, but it was much colder water than I'm used to!

Kenya is a truly beautiful country.  I think some of the things I noticed that impressed me was the obvious Christian influence in the country, the cleanliness of things (the vehicles I rode in while old and well-used were spotless), and the friendliness and openness of the Kenyan people.  My only regret is that I didn't get to see more of the country, of the "real" Kenya.  

Meanwhile, "back on the farm", John and Crystal ran the Newcomers' Retreat for 18 new-ish arrivals.  From what I hear, they did a great job!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

My First Job(s)

Linking up with Momfessionals for Show and Tell Tuesday...First Jobs

When I was in 8th grade my family moved to Syracuse, NY and my dad went back to school to get his Masters in Journalism.  He got a small two-bedroom apartment in married students' housing.  My sister and I shared a very small bedroom and when my brother came home from college for Christmas he slept on the pull-out couch in the living room.  The great thing, though, about living in married student housing was that almost all the other families had little kids.  And little kids need baby-sitters.  Our apartment block had eight apartments and it faced another building of eight apartments.  My parents would only let us babysit in those two blocks, but that gave us a job many weekends.  That was when I learned to not read stories about Jack the Ripper late at night when you're alone in an apartment responsible for somebody else's kids!  This is a picture of our family when we lived in Syracuse.  It's not great quality, but it's all I've got.  I'm the blonde and we won't talk about my sense of fashion.

From there we moved to Colorado and for three summers I worked with Child Evangelism Fellowship teaching Five Day Clubs.  If I remember right, we had to raise our own support.  At the beginning of the summer we would go to a Bible college campus in the foothills, but I can't remember what the college was called.  We had a week of training where we learned how to tell the stories, how to lead a child to Christ, and about our own spiritual growth.  Then during the summer teams of two to three young people would teach Five Day Clubs in the homes or backyards of people.  Think of VBS come to your house.  We usually did four a day, so they were pretty busy days.  One summer my sister and I spent the summer in Durango, CO and taught clubs there.  Here's a picture of my sister and I with a friend during summer training.

My first real for-pay job was a couple of hours a day my senior year.  I rode the bus into downtown Denver every day and was a file clerk at the Social Security Administration.  I did a lot of filing and some errand running.  

I had fulfilled all my requirements to graduate by December, so I got a full time job the second semester of my senior year. My sister-in-law worked at GEICO and told me there were openings there.  So I became a check typist at GEFCO which shared a building with and had the same parent company as GEICO. 

This building has since been torn down.
 GEFCO stood for Government Employees Financial Corporation and GEICO was Government Employees Insurance Corporation.  We mostly provided banking and insurance services for military personnel.  And what I did all day was type checks.  But it was good money.  We had reviews every three months which, if positive, resulted in a raise.  There was a lot of motivation to increase productivity and to move up in the company.

And then it was off to Cedarville University (College back then).
 My first two years I lived with my great aunt just across the street from campus.  I had a job cleaning late at night, but my aunt would not be able to sleep until she knew I was home and she had to get up early to go to work.  So I asked about the possibility of another job and landed a job as evening receptionist at the Campus Medical Clinic.

Cedarville's Campus Medical Clinic in 1980.  This building is no longer in existence.

 I had that job all four years and enjoyed it.  The nurses I worked with were great and things were pretty slow in the evenings.  We mostly had athletes coming in to use the whirlpool, etc.  

After college my first job was teaching in a small Christian school in Morganton, NC.  I have pictures somewhere, but don't seem to have any on this computer.  This was culture shock for me, for sure!  I went from the constant intellectual stimulation of university to a pretty redneck area.  I was complaining to a college friend of mine on the phone one night and he told me, "There are things to learn from everybody.  Just because people are different doesn't make you better.  Try to learn what you can."  That was some of the best advice I've ever received!  My class had 15 boys and 5 girls.  I came in late in October  and was already the third teacher.  I learned a lot about classroom discipline and management that year, but I sure did love that crew of kids.  I also learned that the five girls could cause a whole lot more trouble than the 15 boys!  I mentioned culture shock.... I had a very bad non-Southern habit.  I should have known better from visiting my cousins in Texas, but "ma'am" and "sir" were not part of my vocabulary.  The principal called me to his office one day and said, "I understand you have some discipline issues in your class and that you allow the kids to speak disrespectfully to you."  I had no idea what he was talking about until he explained, "You must require them to call you 'ma'am'.  Furthermore, you are disrespectful towards me in that you don't call me 'sir'."  By the end of the first semester I was as good as any southerner in my proper use of "ma'am" and "sir"!  I shared an apartment with another teacher and we had the best landlord and landlady anybody could ever ask for.  They were truly our substitute parents who doted on us and took care of us.  And my friend was right, by the end of the year I had made friends and had learned to accept people who were different from me.
Me back when I was young and skinny.

From there I moved on to Africa, so that's a good point in my life to end this saga of my entry into the work world!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

When French Isn't Always What You Expect

One of the adjustments new arrivals face is that even though they've had a year of immersion French language study, many still struggle to understand French when they arrive in Niger.  There are several reasons for this.

First, a year of French gives you a good solid foundation, but it isn't enough for you to become fluent.  French is a fairly difficult language to learn.

Secondly, just like English spoken around the world, there are many different French accents.  So if you studied in Paris and got used to a Parisian accent, the West African accent might be difficult to understand just as an American might have a difficult time understanding the accent of an Australian.  It's the same language and the same sentence structure, but the accent is very different.

Language study back in the day.  Notice the box of Kleenex....probably for all the tears I cried during language study! :) 
Thirdly, and perhaps the one that takes the longest to figure out, is that words and phrases can have a totally different meaning here than they did in France or in Quebec.  It's much like soft drinks are called "soda" in one part of the USA and "pop" in another.  Or a "sweater" in the US is a "cardigan" in Britain.  Many French words and phrases here have been adapted from idioms or phrases that are used in local languages so Nigerien French takes on its own beautiful flavor.  Let me give some examples.

In France "bon soir" is used only in the evening; here in Niger it is used any time after noon.

The word "preparer" in French is a verb meaning "to prepare" and is always followed by an object.  Thus you always prepare something.  But here in Niger, in addition to that, "preparer" can be used simply to mean "to cook" and the object (food or a meal) is understood.  So it's perfectly acceptable to ask, "Who is preparing tonight?"  

Another common phrase used differently in Niger is "la descente".  As you can guess from its similarity to English, it means to go down an incline.  But here in Niger, in addition to that meaning, it also means to get off work.

And a final example, is that greetings in Niger, in any language, are extremely important.   A phrase that has entered French directly from Songhai/Zarma is "Et les deux jours?"  That would be, "And the two days?" which means, "How's it been since I last saw you?"  If you said "Et les deux jours?" to somebody from France or Quebec they wouldn't have a clue what you mean!

One of John's many hats that he wears is that of Vernacular Language Coach.  He is available to help missionaries get set up with a teacher to learn local languages.  He also can encourage them when they feel that they are stuck or have hit a wall and give them some practical ideas for moving on.  Even though his main purpose is to help those learning local languages, he also gives a lot of help and encouragement to those who are still working to become more and more fluent in French.  Gaining fluency in French can be a real challenge, but learning the local variances of French can help missionaries become more comfortable in the culture and establish relationships that may lead to sharing Jesus with those who are living and dying without having heard the Good News.