Thursday, November 29, 2007

Signs of Christmas

Today a friend wrote in an email, “…I'm sure that it must feel pretty different for you in this season of the year.” Jennifer has compiled her own list of the signs of Christmas in Niger…

Last Thursday was the American Thanksgiving and I know that for most Americans, the following Friday (“black Friday”—I’m not sure why it is called that) is the start of the Christmas season. I was explaining this to a friend who owns the local “alimentaire” (our general store or convenience store) because she was playing Christmas music in her store that day. She told me that Christmas was just one of her favourite holidays of the year because she is a Christian and I said that it was mine too. So I started thinking about what are the pointers to Christmas here in Niger (because they are soo different from Canada. My friend at the “alimentaire” playing Christmas music in her store is the exception not the rule here.)

Christmas in Niger means the beginnings of “cold season”. So named because the temperatures drop significantly at night (mostly to the 70’s F/ low 20’s C). Instead of snowstorms we get “harmattan winds” which are basically a wind that blow in large amounts of dust from the desert that insulate the ground from the sun allowing the temperatures to drop. This kind of “dust storm” looks very much like a thick fog only it’s a lot harder on the breathing. The air is nice and cool in the morning and makes you want to stay under the covers (as long as the covers haven’t had too much dust accumulate on them or in them). The locals pull out their heavy coats and toques which reminds me that probably somewhere back home it is snowing!

For us Christmas starts with the first Christmas cards that arrive. So thanks to Tilsonburg and Caistor Centre our Christmas season started last week! I guess it ends when the last card or present arrives (probably around mid April—if they come after July we will just figure that it is early for next year). In that way, Christmas is really fun here because we never really know when it will start or end.

This year Tabaski the Islamic sheep festival happens around the same time as Christmas (Dec. 20-21) so our neighbours will be celebrating with us (or we will be celebrating with them), although it isn’t quite the same thing.

Thanks to all of you that have been remembering us in prayer and that have been sending words of encouragement. Special thanks to those that remembered our anniversary this year too (this is our 13th not our 12th though).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dave's Thoughts on Language Learning

Language learning is pot pourri of experiences. Our classes seem to plod slowly along. We’ve been fortunate to find a gentleman who has worked with a number of missionaries and with the peace corps teaching zarma/djerma and who has developed a curriculum of sorts. I find the class is not my style of language learning but it’s helpful to have someone who has an idea of where to start and how to work through basic vocabulary and grammar.

Put our language learning into practice is another experience. Greetings, which are probably the most important thing, bring a variety of reactions. Some give cold stares or ignore us while most laugh at the annassara (white person) trying to speak their language. A couple of weeks ago I tried out the Tamajek greeting our guard had taught me on some other guards one afternoon on the way to class. They quickly responded with a few more greetings and some laughter and then asked me to join them for tea. Unfortunately my class was about to begin.

We decided to try out our language skills in a market one day, which is a real challenge because zarma numbers change when it comes to money. Actually it’s much more realistic—the smallest coinage in the local currency is a five franc coin, so instead of beating around the bush they call it “one” everything else thereafter must be divided by five (which is really a tangle when you’re talking about 2325 francs). The woman we were attempting to negotiate with didn’t speak French as far as we could tell though there were others around to translate when necessary. As we walked on up the aisle we could hear behind us, “Annassara… hahahaha… Annassara …hahaha…” There is always lots of laughter wherever we try to speak, but always in good way.

I was waiting for Jennifer to open the gate one morning, when a three year old on the street started yammering away whether to me or herself I wasn’t quite sure. So I decided to say hello. She didn’t respond to me as far as I could tell but the man (her father?) walking behind her laughed and very politely said “Comment allez-vous?” (French). After I parked the car I wandered up the street to where he was chatting with the local marabout and another man in zarma—they laughed at me (again), especially when I inadvertently told them I’d bought locusts at the market that morning. (not true). They said I was becoming a true Nigerien and that locusts taste great when they’re fried with a little bit of piment (hot pepper).

This evening Jennifer tried to share some fresh spinach with a neighbour lady—somebody had given us more than we knew what to do with. She came back frustrated, saying, “I couldn’t string together a single sentence in zarma and Hajara doesn’t speak French.” So I encouraged her with the words of a preacher who once said, “I know I’ve got the anointing when my palms get sweaty, my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and I can’t think of a single Bible verse. I know it’s the anointing because at that point only Jesus can work it out.”

Please pray that would be able to put the pieces together as we study zarma and work to get to know our neighbours and community.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Cooler Mornings

It’s a beautiful morning in Niamey, the temperature outside dropped into the 70’s (F) in the night and so the temperature in my bedroom right now is only 80F—too bad I don’t have time to sleep in this morning. But there are always a few things that drag me out of bed: there is the call to prayer that lately has been starting at 4:45 am (instead of the usual 5am), this is generally followed by the “feed me” alarm on the newest member of our family. We adopted an African puppy that can’t be more than a month old and probably shouldn’t have been taken from its mother yet, so he is bottle feeding about six times a day, but at least he sleeps through the night. I thought he looked like coffee that had had the milk added but hadn’t been stirred yet, so the boys decided that he should be called “coffee crisp”. (I think that was because they have been missing chocolate and all those other good things that kids get at this time of year in Canada). But back to our morning wake up routine, the final stage is our alarm clocks, mine goes off at 5:45 so that I can choose between staying there for another ten minutes or getting up and having some time to myself (sometimes a difficult choice to make). The boys’ goes off anytime between 6 and 6:15 given than it is set and working, the batteries haven’t died and that they haven’t flung it across the room while playing earlier in the day—so in other words about half the time it goes off and half the time its mom’s problem to get them ready and in the car for 7am. (School starts at 7:30 on the other side of town). Dave finds his way out of bed somewhere in the middle of the scramble to get fed, dressed, and out the door with everything necessary for the day.

The boys have started TaeKwon Do at the school. It is an extra class that is run by a master from one of the clubs in town. It seems to be a fairly popular sport here—second to soccer or “football” as it is called here. That may be because it doesn’t really require all that much equipment, at least at the beginning stages, but I don’t know. Ben really isn’t sure that he likes it or wants to, but we’ll see what happens. Right now, Cole and Ben are the youngest in the group. The class started a number of years ago because there are a number of Korean students at the school that have to go home to do military service when they come of age and in Korea the kids take TaeKwonDo from an early age, so those that grow up outside of the country are at a disadvantage when they do their military service if they don’t have at least some experience with TaeKwonDo. We are really hoping that all of the stretching and kicking will do good things for Cole’s balance and coordination, not to mention help with his toe walking.

Just when we think that we are making progress with our paperwork in the government offices we find out that we need to jump through a few more hoops. We thought that we were waiting on our last signature from the Minister of Religious Affairs in order to get our mission status (and I think in reality that is the last one that is “required”), but we found out this week that it is in our best interest to submit paperwork to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health at this point too, just in case the FM church is interested in doing development in these areas at a later date. I guess it is easier to get that approval on the front end. It just means more photocopying and more visits to offices in Niamey. Oh well!

The Zarma lessons are progressing slowly, I think that they are helping my competency in French more than my fluency in Zarma at this stage, but I guess it is still too soon to judge and either way it helps my ability to communicate. Please pray that I will become more competent with Zarma as most of the ladies in my neighbourhood speak Zarma and have limited French!