Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Typical Day

A few people have asked me, "What does a typical day look like for you in Niger?"  And now that I have been here for four weeks (Monday marks ONE MONTH!), I feel that I have a bit more routine and am able to answer that question.

During the school week, I wake up before the sun, around 6:00 a.m.  Getting ready for the day doesn't seem to take too long here, and I'm not sure why.  (I need about 40 minutes to get ready in the States, but can be dressed and ready in about 20 minutes here.  Ha!).  Breakfast consists of cereal, oatmeal, or fruit.  (It's actually hard to find cereal without chocolate here, so my mornings are a bit sweet!).  I'm hoping to re-tackle yogurt-making too.  (The last time didn't turn out so well...good times.).  Anyways, I spend the rest of my morning reading, journaling and praying on the porch swing before school starts at 7:30 a.m.

At Sahel Academy, the elementary students have recess for 20 minutes twice each day!  They also have P.E. twice a week and French class thrice (with my roommate, Miss Gillner!).  They end Fridays with Art class!  I think the second graders' favorite subject right now is Science, as we are learning about the weather!  We are also reading "Flat Stanley," which they LOVE.  When we finish the book, I am hoping to make a Flat Stanley and see if I can send him back to the States!  The school day is over by 2:30 p.m.

After school, I typically stay for a meeting of some sort or plan for the next day/week/(year!).  There is a trail on the compound that goes around campus, so I enjoy running in the evenings when I have time.  (But watch out for the ginormous tortoise!  I just about ate it trying to dodge Rover).  The other day, I ran with a friend and then threw around the softball with some of the dorm kids.  (Softball is THE SPORT here in Niger.  So thank you to my brothers, who taught me how to throw and catch :)  Unfortunately, I'm not that great at hitting, and I think I popped my shoulder out while swinging for a ball.  It's sore, but on the mend.).

At home, we now have a house-help.  She comes twice a week to help clean and cook!  What a blessing!  So far she has made us delicious pasta with meatballs and sauce, and a cheesy potato/meat casserole (I'm sure there are names for these dishes, but I have no idea what they are.  All I know is they taste good!).  For those of you who might not know, I have attempted cooking here and have found it to be rather challenging.  Nothing is easy and just about everything is from scratch.  (But I think I'm starting to get the hang of it - the other day, I made my own sauce to go on noodles!)  After dinner, I usually lesson plan, Skype, email, read, or whatever else life calls for.  I like to end my day, once again, on the porch swing with the Lord.  It's good to reflect on His mercies throughout the day.  I count my blessings and then I go to bed around 10:30 p.m.

And so goes life in Niger.  It's been a good month already.  Many ups and downs, but God's hand has been in it all.  And I'm finding it easier to keep my hand open to both the blessings and the struggles.  God has been SO GOOD to me.

Thank you so much for praying as I transition!  Please continue to pray, especially since there are a few things in which I am considering getting involved.  I need the Lord's wisdom to discern what and how much I can handle.  I would love to lead a Bible Study for High School girls, visit an orphanage once a week, and take French classes after school...!  My transition to life in Niger continues as I seek out His Will and find fellowship with the Body of Believers.

Grace and Peace.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

God's Gifts.

Thankfulness produces joy.

Living in Niger has opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I'm learning to give myself grace.  Especially as I adjust to a new place and teach my first year.  I'm learning how to really believe and live out the idea, or rather the fact, that there is no relationship more important than the one I have with my Heavenly Father.  I'm learning to take time for others, and give before I receive.  I'm learning that doing things is not as important as loving people.  I'm learning that obedience, doing what God has commanded, is how to love God.  And that loving people requires sacrifice.

I'm learning that every moment of thankfulness captures deep joy for my heart.

It is transition that has made these lessons possible.  Adjusting to a new place, with new people, weird smells, constant sand, the "welcome to Africa" fever/sickness, unfamiliar food, and stand-and-sweat heat.  I have lived in Niamey 3 weeks Friday, and just this weekend I finally felt that I was able to relax, laugh and enjoy.  But what a rich life I am learning to live.

Yet these lessons aren't truly and fully learned without practice.  If I only write about it and talk about it and think about it, what have I really learned?  If it doesn't change the way I live, then the lessons are taught in vain.  My lesson of thankfulness begins like this:  I start to list things that I love, much like author Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts").  And after I name these things that really make me smile, I am giddy with joy.  My heart begins to see how God gifts such beautiful moments to me each and every day.  He loves me.  Here and now.  With a deep and persistent love.  I feel His Presence.

1.  the pounding rain so loud on the classroom roof that I have to shout for my students to hear the lesson
2.  taking time with 14 second graders to simply watch the storm instead of shouting over it
3.  barefoot children catching tiny toads after a night's rain
4.  the smell of orange peel as I sit and watch students and adults play softball on a sunny afternoon
5.  meeting my students' parents, so kind and encouraging
6.  the smooth rhythm of the swing as I sit on the porch
7.  sounds of children's laughter in the classroom
8.  singing an original song about the elements of weather in front of the second grade, and then having them tell you how good your out of tune and off pitch singing sounds
9.  emails from friends back home
10.  new friends, learning to laugh
11.  songs of which I can say "that's my jam!" while eating delicious Nigerien Perch-stuffed ravioli
12.  weather cool enough for snuggling under a blanket
13.  the smooth stroking of a good friend's hand as I lay sick
14.  melted tupperware and spoiled yogurt
15.  lunch and a lazy afternoon with Pennsylvanian friends moving to Moradi
16.  late night chats in the living room
17.  chirping crickets joining the bullfrogs in song along the riverside at night
18.  pot luck dinner in Niger, the assortment of new, tasty food
19.  scraping the pan, desperate for a taste of the already gone chocolate desserts
20.  the campus tortoise moseying past the players in the outfield during a game of softball

"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving."  Psalm 69:30

Thanksgiving magnifies God in our lives.  Not that God needs to, or even can, be made bigger, but that our awareness of His Hand in our lives increases.  He becomes more, not when we "think less of ourselves..." but when we "...think of ourselves less."

A house is built one nail at a time.  And habit is only driven out by habit.

I'm creating a new habit in my heart.  The habit of thankfulness.  One nail at a time.


"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering.  The converse does.  The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.  When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.  How can this not be the best thing for the world?  For us?  The clouds open when we mouth thanks."  -Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts")

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teaching Second Grade

Last Wednesday, August 13th was the first day of school at Sahel Academy!  I went to bed Tuesday night nervous, excited, and totally at peace.  I was reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially as I received encouragement from friends and family back home.  

Day one in Second Grade was full of fun and learning as the students and “Miss Knox” (that’s me!) became acquainted with each other.  The day flew by and I honestly felt energized as I finished the first day!  I couldn't believe that I survived!  Without anyone telling me where to be or how to teach – it was just me and my 14 little second graders.  I was actually a bit worried that I was doing something wrong, because it was almost easy!  I was ready for day two!

And at the same time, it was so clear to me that I could not possibly do it on my own.  My nerves drove me to the Lord in prayer.  Just like Eric Liddel said "I feel His Presence when I run," I felt that I could say "I feel God's Presence when I teach."  May I never forget my deep need and dependence on God this entire school year.  

On the first day, I read a story to my students called "Just the Way You Are" by Max Lucado.  The story is about 5 orphans who are going to be adopted by the King!  Four of them have talents that they are going to use to impress the King.  But the littlest orphan only has her good heart.  Halfway through I asked my second graders what they would do if they were the girl who didn't have anything to give the King.  After thinking about it for a bit, one girl raised her hand and said "I'd give him my heart."  I took a deep breath to hold back tears.   Another student said, "I would be kind and love him."  I was getting chills.  At the end of Lucado’s story, the little girl with the good heart is the only one who has time for the King because the others are too busy preparing their talents to impress Him.  Jesus is the King and we can give Him our hearts.  He loves us just the way we are.

I was reminded in that moment that I am not here to DO THINGS, but rather to LOVE PEOPLE.  God wants our heart.  My sister-in-law shared with me that at the end of the year, students won't remember your fancy bulletin boards or super organized lesson plans.  What they will remember is that you CARED.  At Grove City College, we learned to "teach students, not lesson plans."  I want to be a teacher who loves her students and who is remembered for caring.

Thank you for praying!  I really could not have done it without the Body of Christ lifting me up in prayer.  Since we started school on a Wednesday, the first week was only three days long, a good way to get my feet wet.  Now that I know my students a bit better, I am hoping that planning will come more easily to me.  I love to be in front of the classroom, but there is a TON of work that goes into each day when you’re not actually teaching!  I am also fighting a fever right now and had to miss the sixth day of school.  Please pray for a quick recovery.

Grace and Peace from Africa.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Week One.

After having been here for one week (what?!), I am eager to let you know all that has happened!  Each day presents a series of exciting, new activities.  I am extremely thankful for the people here who have made it all possible.  My roommates, as well as other teachers and staff at Sahel Academy have welcomed me warmly and openly.

There have been many cultural experiences.  One of the first was attending a 3 hour church service, all in French!  I actually slept through my alarm that morning (jet lag?), and didn't wake up until church had already started at 9:00am.  But if you know a little bit about African culture, time is relative.  People were still coming in at 10:30am.  There was a baby dedication during the service, in which all of the married women start at the back of the church and walk up the aisle singing in honor of the family!  I wished that I could understand the sermon and music, but I plan to learn!  After the service they had celebratory bisap (pronounced "bee sap" -it's like a fruit juice)!
Women of the church singing for the baby dedication.

Sunday night there was a service held on Sahel's campus called NEWS (Niamey English Worship Service).  I enjoyed being able to worship in English and understand the sermon!  The man preaching that evening spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit, how we can do nothing apart from Him.  Afterwards, we went out to eat at a restaurant called La Cabane.  It's new here and serves fairly "American" food.  They even have a "Philadelphia Sandwich" (Philly Cheesesteak!).  It was great food and fellowship!

The rest of the week has been a series of meetings and getting my classroom ready for school.  I am so grateful that I have had help looking over curriculum and putting things up on the walls.  The more I prepare, the more eager I am for the first day of school!  And at the same time, I wonder if I'll be ready!  As of now, I will have 14 students to start.  A few of the students' parents work at the school, so I have been able to introduce myself.  Other students are either with other missions and a couple are non-mission.
This is my 2nd grade classroom!  I am still getting it ready.

Picking out bananas!
Another cultural experience (that was a bit overwhelming!) was going to the market.  Grocery shopping is not quite as simple here as it is in the States.  And then we went fabric shopping...there are so many options!  I am getting a skirt made! (Pictures to come.)
Some of the beautiful fabric!

Other events from the week include dinner with the roommates (Rachel cooked chicken for us!), an intensely hot game of Ultimate Frisbee, game night with popcorn and brownies (in which the games ranged from Uno to Scattegories to Empire), a relaxing and laughter-filled game of  volleyball, and me cooking my first perfect batch of rice!

I was pretty excited about the rice!

Last night (Thursday) may have been my first full night of good sleep!  Please pray that I continue to sleep well and have enough energy for the start of school.  Today's activities included meetings with all of the school staff.  Please pray that as we continue to get to know each other, that we would be unified.  I hope to update you soon on what the Lord is teaching me...there is SO MUCH.  Praise God!  Thank you for praying!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I made it!

First of all, a HUGE thank you to everyone who has prayed for me this summer, and especially as I traveled!  It was surprising to me how much peace I had, particularly before leaving.  I tried to explain this peace to a friend and she said, "Hannah, that's the Peace that surpasses all understanding!  Of course, you're not going to be able to explain it!"  All I can do is smile at God's goodness and faithfulness.  So THANK YOU for your prayers.  God is faithful to answer them!

My flight from Pittsburgh to Paris was delayed about an hour and a half.  We (my parents and I) didn't know this until we got to the airport.  With the delay, I had about an hour in Paris to catch my connecting flight.  And if I didn't make that flight, I'd be put up in Paris (not too shabby) until Saturday when the next flight to Niamey was.  So all we could do was pray that I would make my flight and arrive to Niamey Friday afternoon, as originally planned.  In the meantime, and since my parents were with me, we enjoyed the delay by having one last dinner together in the airport!  Like I said before, there was an exciting calmness I felt as we dined.

Mandatory selfie with the parents :)
And since my parents are so great, they watched me snake the whole way through security!  I got stopped at the end because of my carry-on.  Honestly, I couldn't even remember what I had packed in it.  (Between that and the three suitcases all weighing 51 lbs. exactly, it was going to be a scavenger hunt unpacking).  So the kind gentlemen dug through my very tightly packed bag, unpacking everything to see what had alarmed them.  It was a battery powered flashlight.  Oh well.

As I sat at my gate (and stood, for I knew I'd be sitting a long time in the next 16 hours), I heard my name called to the front desk.  The man asked me if I liked middle seats.  I replied "No, I actually hate them."  He continued to inform me that he switched me to a window seat (my favorite!).  I really couldn't believe it for some reason, because I hadn't really shared that with too many people, but God knew!  AND! the night before, I had missed watching the sunset.  (If you know me at all, sunset watching is a big deal).  But guess what?!  God knew that, too!  Because of the delay and because of my new window seat, I was able to watch the sunset over the Pittsburgh horizon one last time!  Even as we flew, the sky line burst with colors of oranges, yellows and reds.  I was ecstatic.  God knows even the little desires of our hearts.

The view of the fading sunset from my window seat!
Needless to say, I made my connecting flight in Paris (not without having to dump the water from my water bottle in the plants at security!).  I knew I had reached the right gate when I saw colorful garbs and headdresses.  The elementary principal of Sahel Academy was on this flight.  When we reached Niamey, she and I went through customs together, which was very nice to have a friend!  Customs were very smooth.  I picked up my baggage from the airport's single luggage belt, had it scanned and was on my way!

I was picked up from the airport, and graciously dropped off at my new home, welcomed by my new roommates!  Before I had a chance to do much else, we all went to dinner (with the single ladies staying on Sahel's campus).  We shared a delicious meal and laughed as we chatted.  It was an excellent welcome to Niger.

My roommates welcoming me on the first day!