Friday, June 27, 2008


Today, I feel like an idiot.

On my last post I mentioned the “funeral/wake” we visited. We’ve since debriefed further with our language teacher about the funeral process. Traditional funerals are a 40 day process. Within the first three days, neighbours, close friends and family all visit the home to give their condolences—fortunately we made it within the three day time slot. On the third day and then later on the seventh day there are prayers that are offered and then finally on the fortieth day there is a final prayer. During this time the widow is to pull out her braids and remain secluded from all men for the first seven days—she is not allowed to even leave the house, which in this case was one room. After the seventh day she may go out into the walled courtyard occasionally but may not go out into the street until the forty days are finished. After three months she may remarry.

Two days ago I heard a knock at the gate but by the time I got there I didn’t see anyone. I waited a few minutes, looking around, and a shy little boy came around with a bucket and said, “Mama veut de l’eau.” (Mother wants some water.) It was an awkward moment that caught me off guard—our language teacher hard warned us against it giving out water generally because of the headaches it can create. Not only that there is a free, public access well two minutes around the corner—some people even make a business of drawing the free water and then selling it door to door. At the same time, I didn’t want just turn him down outright and so I suggested that if his mother wanted it she could come to ask. (Probably not the right response at the best of times but…)

This evening we were sitting out in front of our gate and our neighbour the marabout (Islamic teacher) came over to greet and chat. A crowd of kids had gathered and were playing in front as well, and in the course of conversation he pointed out two little boys and said, “It was their father that died last week.” Yep, you guessed it, it was the one who wanted water for his mother (who of course was still secluded in her house) and to whom I’d suggested that he send his mother over…

It’s one of those days when you feel like you should have gotten it right by now.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Funeral

There have been blue plastic lawn chairs in our street for the last three days, with groups of people milling around. Each day the people have become fewer but nevertheless some are still there.

Our guard informed us a couple of days ago that a neighbour had died and that the family had all gone off to the hospital. We noticed the chairs and the people the next day. I knew enough to realize that if I wanted to be a half decent neighbour I had to put in an appearance and greet the family. At the same time I also know that I need to learn the appropriate behaviours for such a setting. Funerals and funeral homes have never been my favourite things. (I know one preacher who told me funerals were his favourite because he was pretty much in control—at weddings everybody has an opinion about who should stand where and what they should say, etc.) I find funerals awkward because I know that generally there at least a few people who are grieving beyond words, and the people who attempt to use words end up putting their foot in their mouth. On the other hand there’s always a few people joking around in the background and the two together just don’t fit. I remember one funeral I led where a distant uncle of the deceased wanted to tell me (the preacher!) dirty jokes to see if I had a ‘sense of humour’.

We consulted with our language teacher as to what should be said at such moments. Here is the brief list of things that are to be said to the grieving:

Fonda tilas!—Greetings to the obligation!

Irikoy m’a yaafa a m’a suuji—May God (literally ‘Our Chief’) forgive him (the deceased) and be gracious to him

Irikoy m’a te alzanna ize- May God make him a child of paradise

The family responds by saying:
Irikoy m’aran no a sufuray—May God give you a reward. (That is for paying your respects to the dead)

To each blessing/wish is responded with an “Amin” (amen).

This morning we got up our courage and went to “greet our obligation”. We greeted the few who gathered in the street and then followed a young man who led us to the mother of the deceased sitting with two other women while the grieving widow was secluded from view nearby. They graciously welcomed us and the mother waved her little hand fan at Jennifer and I to make us comfortable in the heat. We shared our condolences and made some small talk and then took our leave. Back in the street another neighbour and her toddler chatted with us in the street for a few moments. “Tonton, Tanti,” the little one called us—“Uncle and Auntie”. We did our best with our Zarma, since her mother doesn’t speak French and then carried on with our day. Please pray for our neighbours, widows and orphans are all too common in Niger and life that is difficult at the best of times here can be come all the more difficult when you lose a loved one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back to the Grind

BHello again, sorry we’ve been “offline” for a while. Our whirlwind trip home is over and we’re starting into the grind. Our visit home involved a series of doctors of appointments for everyone in the family but most important were new glasses for Ben from Dr. Merritt and new orthotics for Cole’s feet from Dr. Mike. (OHIP covered 75% of the orthotics which is an answer to prayer since we were no longer covered by another Ontario program—the cost about $2500 a pair!) Jennifer and I also participated in the Free Methodist General Conference and took a one week seminary course from McMaster Divinity in Hamilton. We also spent some time with the people at Brantford Free Methodist church (Freedom Christian Community), who are going to help us run a leadership retreat for a local church here in Niamey in August. A round of family get together’s on both sides of the family rounded things out. Oh yes, and there was an impromptu visit to Grace Methodist church in Mississauga. On a lighter note we also made a trip to Marineland in Niagara Falls and a local water park with the boys for some fun.

The flight home was largely without incident. We flew with Royal Air Maroc out of Montreal and into Casablanca where the airline put us up for free in a local hotel for our 14 hr stop over. This otherwise pleasant rest was disturbed by the fact that the airplane and its pilot were an hour off of local time, so when we adjusted our watches we set them back an hour more than we should have. That evening the boys were still sleeping when the front desk called up to the room saying we had to leave immediately. I couldn’t figure out why since my watch said we had another 45 minutes before we needed to catch the shuttle back to the airport…. Nevertheless we made it to the airport in good time to catch our flight, ran into a friend on the plane and made new ones in the process.

Now we are here, it’s still hot and humidity has been added to the mix. (Last night I sat on the roof for a few hours watching a thunder storm pass in the distance—a wonderful light show but not a rumble could here—what a tease.) Please pray for us as we get back into the routine and try to pick up where we left off. Today we had our first Zarma lesson since our return—a few cobwebs need to be shaken out. On top of that we have to complete the assignments that came out of our course at home—they’re due the first week of July. The boys seem a little out of sorts as they readjust to the time zone—and a little homesick too. Pray that we will be able to accommodate them into our schedule during the summer break—right now they are sitting through our daily Zarma lesson and similar exciting summer pastimes.