Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year

I’d like to say this is turning into a much quieter week than the last, but I am not sure that is exactly true. We have been keeping a much slower pace which has been really nice for a change, but I’ve noticed a lot of radios blaring in the neighbourhood and every once in awhile I hear the roar of a crowd. Now the roar could simply be an intense soccer match that has drawn a crowd of observers, but I suspect that it has more to do with the elections that are coming up. There will be municipal/regional elections held across the country next week followed by presidential elections at the end of January. There is however the ongoing possibility of delays as the military government audits the previous government’s books. Please pray for these elections that God will put in place men and women of integrity that will look out for the best interests of Niger.

We will be away next week so I may not get a chance to blog. Dave is going to Ghana to follow up on his health issues and the rest of us decided to tag a long so that we could get a break too. We pray that you will have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and that it would be the beginning of many good things to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Christmas Marathon

My Christmas Marathon started last Thursday, I am sure that it probably started long before last Thursday, but I am too tired to think beyond that right now. Thursday (the 23rd), I finished my Christmas shopping, bought groceries, went to the market to get candy for our neighbour kids & my Sunday school class, assembled 52 candy bags, started my dough for cinnamon buns and somehow in there found time to make a few meals for my family. I had decided to make the cinnamon buns to give to my Nigerien friends and neighbours that had kindly included us in their Tabaski celebrations, but I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into with a new recipe from the internet that a friend here had kindly introduced me to. It turned out that I had to recruit Dave’s help at a couple of key points because the recipe was quite a bit larger than I expected, but I was grateful that it could be done in two stages and left in the fridge over night. Our plan was to try and do most of our “public” celebrations on Christmas Eve and to lay low on Christmas Day with just the family, but so much for plans…

Friday I got up extra early to finish baking the seven pans of cinnamon buns that magically turned into nine when needed and we even got to eat one! I got ready for the kids club and then returned cloth and money to a neighbour that I was helping with their business besides it was a good excuse to be on the street and let the neighbours know that we were doing kids club a day early because of the holiday. Instead of the regular kids club we told the Christmas story using a picture book. Both Dave and I were amazed at how awed the kids were with the pictures, it is easy to forget that a lot of these kids rarely see books, let alone ones with big coloured pictures. Dave had simplified the story and we had translated it into zarma with the help of our language teacher a couple of years ago. After the story, my house helper helped to line up the kids in an orderly fashion so that we could distribute candy bags on their way out of the gate so that we didn’t start a riot in our yard or on the street. 38 bags later, it sort of worked, I think…. Then we were off to the post office and to distribute cinnamon buns. Somehow Dave found an hour sometime in the day to put the finishing touches on his sermon that he was to preach that night, and we were given two invitations for Christmas celebrations the next day. Church was supposed to start at 8pm on Christmas Eve, but we had been given permission to be late (if Dave was willing to preach at 9:45). We made it on time, but the service started late, so we got to watch Nigerian (from Nigeria, not Niger, therefore in English, Hausa and Yarouba) while we waited. Dave preached and we stayed until dinner was served at 10:30, but didn’t make it through the rest of the service. It was going to continue until 5:30am because the neighbourhood the church is in isn’t the safest at night, so the people don’t want to walk after dark. At home, the boys went to bed and Dave delivered a plate of cinnamon buns to the neighbour he regularly has tea with, while I started wrapping Christmas presents.

After our Christmas morning celebrations with the boys, we went for dinner at a friend’s house that included interactive games and a white elephant gift exchange. We managed to get in a visit to another birthday party that we were invited to too. So much for our quiet day at home, but that was probably just wishful thinking anyway.

I had thoughts of sleeping in this morning, but it’s Sunday and I am not as ready as I should be for my Sunday school class (I am really not as fluent at reading French as I would like to be and it is generally a good idea to know the vocabulary in a story before you try to read it to kids.) So, its 5am the call to prayer will be starting any minute and I will be entering the last leg of my Christmas celebration for this year. I hope yours was good, (that you will forgive any errors that I might have made at this time in the morning) and that we will all find rest when the festivities are finished. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Latest installment of an ongoing saga

My wife says I should update you regarding our health and near future. Our last post stated that there was one more test that could be done here Niger and it was performed last Monday. That was an adventure in itself. It’s called a “myocardial perfusion scan”, and involves using radioactive material being injected into the blood stream in order to take images of the heart’s functioning. Two sets of images are taken, one with the heart under exertion, (like a stress test) and the second while it is at rest. The morning started with a regular stress test, peddling away on an exercise bike that slowly increased resistance while strapped up to an EKG machine and another machine measuring my blood pressure every couple of minutes. (According to the second machine I slowly died during the test as the bottom number which is ideally 80 while at rest slowly dropped to about 27!) The other machine apparently kept track of the necessary data as well, for the doctor complained, “Tu es sportif!” as he struggled to get my heart rate over 160.

After my heart was sufficiently pumping I was sent over to the other machine to have scans taken of my heart. As we were walking out the technician said to my doctor, “If nothing shows up on this initial scan, there’s no point in coming back for the second.” Assuming the best I was relieved to think that this would all be over soon. A few minutes later my doctor was called in to view the finished images. She came out with a worried look on her face and said, “It’s abnormal, you’ll have to come for the next round.” Immediately my mind began to race, “When are they going to ship me out? Whose house will I stay at in Canada? Will Jenn and the boys travel with me? Should they stay so Cole can write his exams? Are we going to be able to finish our term in Niger? What about…?” We had to wait for at least three hours before the next round of scans and on the way home I started to verbalize some of my questions to the doctor. She had earlier said that she figured I had about a 5% chance of getting a positive result—the test was simply a means of eliminating one possibility for symptoms that seemed to be lingering. Like most of my experiences with Nigerien medical care, this test seemed to be an ongoing series of mixed messages. We were still waiting for results from blood that had been drawn almost two weeks ago. They would later prove mildly positive but not in the expected direction; my thyroid turned out to be mildly underactive which accords with my lifelong experience but not with the erratic heart behaviour of an overactive thyroid as we had suspected. To my probing questions the doctor refused to speculate preferring to wait to hear the final results though she clearly seemed concerned.

The second round went without incident. Initially the doctor at the clinic said, I would have to wait until Thursday to get my report. (The following day was a national holiday and who knows what on Wednesday). “But I needed to be able to make plans if I’m to be evacuated!” I responded. “Can you not at least give a verbal report to my doctor so we can make some plans?”
“I can’t bring up the images while the machine is in use and someone else is having a scan right now.”
“I can wait until they’re done.” I replied.
The doctor finally conceded and agreed to finalize his report for the next day. A short while later he came out and said, “You have nothing to worry about, the same abnormality showed up in this test as well.” Slightly confused I got him to call our doctor to explain. She in turn consulted with colleagues in the US, who suggest that this was probably a false positive should be ignored and other avenues pursued.

The week before she had commented, “You know, I think your symptoms would be half as bad if you were in North America, for the simple reason that most of the tests we’ve done in the last three weeks would have been done in a day or two with more reliable results. The longer this gets drawn out, the more your stress levels go up, increasing your symptoms.” Final diagnosis appears to be that this is largely stress related, (there may have been some heartburn and a few other things along the way,) and that I should consult with a counselor for some advice. We are working towards making some arrangements for that, but in the mean time Jennifer and I have gotten sick. Jennifer has run a fever along with a chest cold for the last four days straight. The doctor has warned that the cold going around has turned into a walking pneumonia in a couple of cases. While I’ve not had any fever with my cold, we are actively working to prevent Jennifer’s from getting any worse. Please pray for God’s sustaining power in our lives and ministry.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

We are blessed

I was reminded of that again yesterday morning. On Thursday mornings I participate in a mom’s prayer group at the boys’ school. But this Thursday I was a little bit early so, I decided to use my time to touch base with Ben’s teacher who was on yard duty (she has yard duty most mornings). As I made my way over to talk to her and all during our conversation, I noticed that child after child came up to give her a hug. They were each greeted with a smile and given an encouraging word to start their day. It made me think how really blessed we were to have her come to teach at Sahel. I know that she (like most of us) has had her share of trials and difficulties, but she has persevered and chosen to continue to love and to serve despite them.
There are times when I think that Niger has the corner on the difficult times market, but I know that that isn’t the reality. We all face trials and difficulties of various kinds. But, I am truly grateful that I serve a God that walks with me and sees me through those difficult times, each step of the way and even sends the odd little messenger to pass on a hug of encouragement. I hope that if you are facing one of those difficult moments that God will send a hug your way today.
We have discovered that Dave can do one more test here in Niamey that the doctor didn’t know was available here. Hopefully it will help figure out what is going on with him, even if it only eliminates another possibility. So, hopefully he will be able to do that early next week (there is the possibilities of complications and delays in arranging this test because it involves radiation and they like to be able to do a number of patients in the same day).It is the waiting and the unknown that is the hard part. Please pray that that is the case because Dave’s doctor leaves for holidays the following Monday!
Off to kids club! Here is a picture from a few weeks ago.