Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time Flies

Can you believe it? We're into T -10 days left on our journey. Our time in Niger has flown by and we still have much to do. Updating our blog has been hard since high speed internet has still not arrived in this country. However, there is no questionning the fact that we are thankful for each day that we are here. It means that the political situation remains stable enough for us to stay here. We continue to pray that the leaders of this country will choose to act in a way that is wise and just.

While here we have met up with old friends and made new ones. What an incredible feeling to shake the hand of someone you worked alongside 13 years ago! We have been greeted with big smiles and lots of laughter - they love the fact that John is still able to greet in the local Gourmantche language. We've spent 5 days with ACEN, the church association we worked and lived alongside. Our plans were to spend some time in the village and do some workshops. The rains have been coming and everyone is waiting for an opportunity to plant so things are constantly in flux. Our village stay was not possible (if it rained while we were there we could be stuck for well over a week) but we did manage to do most of the training. John did a few workshops on hygiene and sanitation. Pam drew from the wealth of resources developed by her colleagues back home and gave a workshop on the work of deacons in the local church. It felt natural to be working with poster paper under a tree, chickens and goats passing by, and groups of small children huddled nearby watching all the action.

A visit to our old village is still coming up (depending on the rain, of course). It just wouldn't seem right to leave Niger without having some millet and leaf sauce.

When not with ACEN we spend three or four mornings a week with the Sisters of Charity. They have a child survival program that includes growth monitoring, a dispensary and weekly food distribution. The Sisters are gracious and generous, as always, and we have met many other interesting expatriates volunteering. Over 10% of the children we see are severely malnourished and are kept for 2 weeks in a small hospital/clinic run by the Sisters. This has been hard to see and led to many good discussions with the kids.

Home schooling continues. We've been able to focus on a few art skills while here. Our friend Ardell is an art teacher, and she has taken us and her four children to visit some of the local artisans. One visit to learn soap stone carving and one to learn wood carving. As I write the kids are sewing wallets from local leather.

Our families have been having fun together. We recently spent three days "on safari" in a national wildlife park.

We've been staying in a family's house while they are on home service. Having a place to unpack is always a treat and we have been spoiled by having our cook from 13 years ago with us again. He didn't know we were coming so he was pretty surprised to see us! We also have a dog to look after for a few weeks.

We still have a few more things we'd like to do here and a few more people to see. Can we squeeze it all in?

The Candy Store People

We have met extraordinary people in many different parts of the world this past year. Unfortunately we often have to say goodbye without really knowing when we might cross paths again. Only once have we met the same people in totally different countries. Sorry, that’s not entirely true. We met up with John’s parents in Thailand and in Holland. But with people we didn’t know before this trip – it’s only happened once. And it all started in a candy store.

We had just finished a tour of the The Rocks, a historical area in the city of Sydney, Australia. We stumbled across a candy store, aptly named Sticky, that produces homemade candy. You can watch the staff make the candy and then purchase it.

There was quite a crowd watching two men pull and roll a long rope of candy when we arrived. When they finished cutting it into small pieces, they offered a free bag to the person who had traveled the furthest. We thought we might be in the running, but a young woman spoke up and said, “Burkina Faso!” She was rewarded the bag of candy.

Burkina Faso is located in West Africa, and it borders Niger. If John and I hadn’t lived in Niger fifteen years ago, I’m certain we wouldn’t have known where Burkina Faso was. Turns out we’d been talking about Burkina Faso because we were still trying to find a place to study French during the two months we planned to be in West Africa.

We seized the opportunity to ask someone who apparently had been in Burkina. I introduced myself and explained that we were looking for any leads on possible language schools. If the young woman said her name I didn’t hear it. She was with a group of people that included other adults and some very young children. They appeared to be in a hurry to get going. She hastily wrote two email addresses on a flyer I had in my pocket, and that was the end of our conversation.

It wasn’t until we were in Bangladesh a few months later, and still looking for a language school, that I pulled out the addresses from “the woman at the candy store.” John wrote an email explaining who we were and how we came to have this email address. We weren’t entirely sure who we were writing to, and likewise, we didn’t know the name of the person who had given us the addresses!

We didn’t hear back from anyone, so we pursued other leads and eventually registered with a centre du formation recommended by a friend who had studied in the same place.

While in Egypt, we received a message from a woman named Bronwyn. She had received our email asking about French schools, apologized for taking so long to respond, and invited us to be in touch again when we arrived in Burkina Faso.

A couple days after settling in Ouagadougou, and buying a phone, I gave Bronwyn a call. She very graciously invited our family to come and have dinner with her and her husband. Near the end of the conversation I asked, “Do you know the name of the woman in Sydney who put us in contact with you?” Bronwyn said, “That was me!”

We had such a nice evening together. They have a pool at their house, so the kids appreciated a place to play and cool off. They have lived and travelled in many different parts of the world, so we had fun sharing stories. Of course, we brought along a bag of candies for our hosts, “the candy store people.”