Monday, October 27, 2008

Bumpy Rides

“Let’s go for a bumpy ride!” That is what the boys’ remote control Goofy car used to say before it spurted and sputtered and would start to move in the direction the remote control indicated. I had the opportunity to experience that in real life the other day. I am grateful to say that I wasn’t in the driver’s seat and I didn’t even have a remote control, but I was following Dave down the street. He was driving our old car that had sat for a couple of months without being driven because of a battery problem (or so we thought). He would step on the gas and the car would shimmy, shake, spurt and sputter and then think about moving. It was funny to watch people’s reactions. The police officers that work just down to road from our house, pointed at the car and I thought they were going to pull Dave over, but instead they just laughed at the crazy white man trying to drive the broken down car down the road at 10-20 km/hour. The people on the side of the road would jump when it would backfire then do a double take and laugh at Dave. (But at least the backfire would make the car jump ahead a few more meters!) It was really funny until he stalled in the middle of a crazy intersection that the light has been out for months and people try to make it work going both directions at the same time (think wall to wall rush hour traffic that is trying to intersect and turn). At first I thought that I would try using the car I was driving to push him through to the other side, but Dave just calmly got out of the car and started to push the car through the craziness. Our land lord had been driving by and stopped to make sure everything was alright. We tried to tell him we would trade him the car for six months rent while we were boosting it so that we could try to make it further down the road. He just laughed and said no thanks.

“Bumpy rides” are the norm in Niger. You either have roads that are torn apart with huge potholes (that frequently are filled with garbage—but that is another story) or you have really nice smooth paved roads that have huge speed bumps that arrive on a regular basis or a combination there of. In fact that is the reason we were trying to get the car going in the first place, we had to take the good car in to get the shocks and struts replaced (for a second time since we bought it last spring!).

Sometimes I think that the Christian life is like one big bumpy ride. It is great to watch and cheer when it is someone else going through the pot holes. But when it is you, you aren’t really sure whether to laugh or to cry –or a little bit of both. Early in our time in Niger, someone taught us the best way to negotiate pot holes (especially in rainy season when they are filled with water and who knows what else). They said there are two approaches that you can use. The one is to try to keep your one set of wheels out of the hole for traction and the other is to follow in the tracks of the person who went before you and do it the same way. That is very similar to the Christian life where a big comfort is knowing that you aren’t in it alone. There are others that have faced the same difficulties before you that can help to direct you through them and there is a truth that is firm and solid that will pull you through. But the best part is knowing that no matter how dark the circumstances may seem, it’s just a pot hole in the grand scheme of things. (I have to remind myself of that a lot lately!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I’ve come to the conclusion that we just don’t know how to take a vacation. Anyone that knows Dave and myself would laugh at the thought of calling us “A-type” personalities (ok, well maybe Dave anyway), but when it comes to taking a vacation the work just seems to follow us. This past spring we went home to Canada to get Cole’s orthotics replaced and to have a vacation, but we felt we needed to combine work with the holiday because we couldn’t afford to use all of our vacation time for the year (Dave had had a doctor tell him when we were home for a year that missionaries are under much higher stress than then realize and that they need to take vacations on a regular basis), but we needed the time to get the orthotics made. Needless to say, it turned into more work than vacation, much to the chagrin of everyone involved.

This past week we succeeded at doing it again. The boys were off school and we were going to take “some time off” while they were home for a “staycation” (a stay at home vacation, I just learned this term from the internet recently). But that was not to be… We were able to take a slightly slower pace (because we didn’t have to drive the boys back and forth to school across town), but it seems like we did as much work as we normally would in a week if not more, due to many circumstances beyond our control (i.e. a Nigerien friend had emergency surgery, etc.)

I think that the solution is that we need to get away from Niamey in order to have a vacation, the problem is that there are no restful places that are nearby and inexpensive. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Monday, October 13, 2008


I’m sure most of you have consumed your share of turkey, stuffing and cranberries this weekend. Our Thanksgiving weekend had a slightly different flavour. For the last year or so I’ve been going to the American Recreation Centre on Saturday afternoons to play softball. It’s about as close as I get to exercise and so I do my best to get there before teams are chosen each week. However twice a year, softball takes on a more serious tone. This weekend happens to be one of them—the annual NUTS tournament. NUTS has a double meaning: Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball, and, well, just plain old nuts, because you’ve got to be nuts to play! October is typically the mini hot season—the rains have come to an end but the humidity is still hanging in the air and the temperatures start aiming for 40 C and above. I’ve never actually played in the tournament before, but the American Embassy was short of players this year and so they quickly recruited all the best missionaries. I guess that’s why I got asked to play with the remnant of missionaries. Fortunately the weekend was mostly overcast this year—we even had freak thunderstorms Friday night. Our team sponsor was the French telecom giant Orange, and they provided us each with two free T-shirts as team colours. We predictably finished last but had lots of fun nevertheless.

Between games Saturday morning Jennifer and I received a text-message on our cell phone from a woman that Jennifer has been meeting with on a weekly basis. She’d had emergency surgery the night before as a result of internal hemorrhaging and was recovering at the Maternit√© Centrale. After lunch we stopped into visit and pray with her. She seemed to be doing well, but local medical facilities still frighten me. Fortunately she has nurses’ training and knows how she should be treated.

After church Sunday we stopped in once more to read a Psalm and pray. While we were there her aunt came in to visit as well and listened as we read to our friend. In the course of conversation we were surprised to discover that we shared a mutual friend with her aunt.

Today we celebrated Thanksgiving in a slightly different manner. There are always certain adjustments that you have to make just because you are living in Niger, for example our turkey consisted of a number of drumsticks roasted instead of the whole bird because that is what we could buy in the market. (I’m not exactly sure what happened to the rest of the bird, but sometimes it is better not to ask those questions). In addition to that, the way we actually celebrated was a little more Nigerien as well (or at least a blend of Canadian and Nigerien customs), instead of inviting a number of people to come for dinner we just fed whoever did come. (And yes one of our neighbours actually showed up at supper time). Then in a more typical Zarma style we sent some of our turkey to friends that lived near by and visited with them. There are still many things that we miss about home especially on days like today, but it was nice to be able to join in the celebration that we knew was happening back at home. Happy Thanksgiving everyone (a little early for my American friends, but the sentiment is still the same)! I hope that you can all find lots of things to be thankful for today.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Little Things"

I have been reading A Passion for the Impossible: the Life of Lilias Trotter and one place it quotes her journals where she is writing to “fellow labourers” among Muslims:

nerves get overstrung in these climates in a way they never did before, and little things bring a ruffle and jar, and cannot be shaken off again; and a sense of exhaustion come through the body to the spirit, even apart from the consciousness, so vivid at times, that the very air is full of the powers of darkness; and the enemy launches his fiery darts in showers on those who come to attack his strongholds. How many of us have gone through the testing of every fibre of our inner life since we left

My “little thing” this week was cockroaches that have “attacked” me in my sleep—in other words landed on my head while I was trying to sleep. Normally when that happens I flail, jump out of bed and yell for recruits (ie. Dave –who has either been rudely awakened or brought in from another room. Secretly I think that he has appreciated this because I don’t think he enjoys sleeping with them either). I say normally because sadly it has happened about four or five times in the last couple of weeks. However, I think we may have come to a solution. We decided to string up our mosquito nets (which is also helpful for its designed purpose!) in order to provide a barrier from the cockroaches. The down side of this is that now my closet door is permanently open, because Dave ran a string from it to the curtain rod on one side of the bed and a string from the curtain rod to the hinge of the bedroom door on the other side of the bed to hold the net. I guess it is one of life’s trade off’s in order to get a half decent night’s sleep I have to live with a little inconvenience in my bedroom. Dave on the other hand, has to deal with the fact that the mosquito net shortens the bed by a few valuable inches. Maybe we will get a fumigator in during the boys school break!

Please pray for us between Ramadan and the roach situation we have been coming up a little short on sleep and that makes coping a challenge and the impulse to run away very appealing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


That is what I think that I have been learning this week.

I guess I haven’t really thought about all the ways that you can be humbled before, but this week I have lived a number of them.

I was humbled to learn that the woman who came to teach Ben’s class for the first semester. Miss Campbell is 84 years old! She came out of retirement to fill a need at Sahel, braving a rough climate as an act of faith and service to her Lord. I’m not sure that I will be able to do something so courageous when I am that age. Please pray for her health and strength, especially as the mini hot season is starting.

Language learning is an incredibly humbling experience and this week was no exception. I was told this week by a friend that Dave has a much better French accent than I do (probably because I try to use English words that don’t exist in French on occasion). I sometimes have difficulty speaking French or Zarma when Dave is around too because he is continually correcting me or trying to “help” by giving me words that have nothing to do with what I am trying to really say, another humbling experience.

One of our sons took forgetfulness to a whole new level today. He has worked for three days straight on a project for school (including the Ramadan holiday, Eid al-fitr, when he didn’t have classes) which he finished last night and printed off in colour, only to come home with the project tonight. He forgot that he had finished it and so he printed off another at school! Please pray that this isn't contagious!