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Last Monday John and I along with four others from Niamey headed east to Maradi. We drove and another gal who teaches at Sahel also drove. It was a day with heavy harmattan so we didn't see much in the way of scenery! We stopped for a picnic on the edge of a plateau, but we couldn't see the beautiful hills around at all. There were some trees there, but they didn't offer much shade. It was around 109 in the (non-existant) shade, so you can imagine that we ate quickly so we could get back in our air-conditioned vehicles and continue on our way. We stopped in Galmi to pick up two more people and to have a little snack. Time got away from us there and that resulted in finishing the trip in the dark. It was white-knuckle driving as towns had un-marked speed bumps, donkeys were standing in the road, and we'd come upon pick-up trucks with no tail lights. Not only did they have no tail lights, but there were people straddling the gates of the trucks. And to add to the stress, that was the worse section of the road for the entire trip as far as potholes, etc.

On Tuesday we just got to rest and relax. John did some language things with some people as well. One member of our group had the idea of breaking up into teams and each team would fix the evening meal and do the washing up afterwards. The first night the guest house hostess fixed a meal for us and then we took turns cooking the next three nights. It was really nice to only have to cook once the entire week! A Nigerien lady cooked the noon meal. The final night we went out.

Wednesday morning, and every morning, we started with a time of worship and prayer.

Wednesday morning Judy spoke to us about the spiritual life of the missionary. Eliane did most of the translation for orientation and on Thursday she gave a session on our emotional and mental health. John gave a session on the religion of the area, communicating with the folks back home.

On Wednesday afternoon we went out to Danja to visit the Leprosarium there. Everything was so clean and the patients all wanted to chat and shake our hands and spend time with us. Because the patients are there for long periods of time they have many opportunities to hear the good news. On Thursday, John did a session on language learning. I did a "cooking in Niger" session. During free times we went to the pool, chatted with each other, and played games. One of the couples who are short-termers are working with his parents, who were our mentors when we first arrived in Niger. His parents took care of the kids during the orientation, so here's Grandma enjoying some time with her grand-daughter.

Thursday afternoon we went out to Maza Tsaye and saw the Sowing Seeds of Change Project. All the things they are doing to try to help farmers plant a variety of food crops so that in bad millet years they don't have to go hungry are really amazing. Here is Peter, the missionary who heads up the project (another missionary leads the health part of the project). Now here's a man who is truly outstanding in his field!

On the same compound, we visited Gordon and Judy who are turning an old school into a retreat/conference/education center.

On Friday Gordon talked to us about the history of the mission and the church in Niger and the vision of SIM Niger.
The favorite session of all was when Ayouba talked to us about Nigerien culture. We have so much to learn from our Nigerien brothers and sisters, but when we are new we are unaware of the fact that our cultures are so different. Ayouba gave everybody a good jump-start on understanding the culture and on learning to relate to our brothers and sisters here. Sometimes learning to relate to a new culture is complicated by the fact that at the same time we are figuring out the different cultures within the mission community. For example, in our orientation class we had three Americans, two Australians, a Canadian, a Swiss, and a New Zealander.

We went to a restaurant for our final evening together.

Saturday was the long trip home, but at least we did it all in the daylight. We saw a terrible head-on accident that must have just happened earlier in the day. What a reminder that we don't take safety for granted here. It is God alone who grants us journey mercies.