Monday, May 18, 2015

My (first) dust storm

It hasn't rained since October. I mean, really rained.  We had a small drizzle one morning in February.  They call it "mango rain."  But the dust and the dry heat is very real here in Niger.

The constant "my-face-feels-like-it's-too-close-to-an-open-oven" heat of hot season apparently comes with 2 perks:  mangoes and dust storms.  Sunday night after NEWS, a couple friends and I ran through the sprinklers.  How could we resist?  Sweat was dripping down my neck and my hair was damp.  We kicked off our shoes and let our toes meet the grass.  I skipped to let the cool mist from the sprinklers shower cool head and heart.  (Never mind that the three 20 year olds were joining the elementary students.)

As we danced in the sprinklers, dragging each other by the hand, we noticed a brown cloud close to the horizon.  It was getting bigger, but it wasn't until one of the dorm students ran out into the field did I realize what was happening.  Dust storm!

While many church goers attempted to get home quickly, a group of youth joined together on the softball field, filled with anticipation.  The winds picked up and the dust began to invade eyes, nose, ears and mouth.  Grit filled my mouth as I talked and we leaned into the wind.  The sun, which had been brightly shining, quickly disappeared.

Since being in Niger, I have truly missed the change in weather that Pittsburgh brings.  And while yes, we were getting extremely dirty and covered in sand, the change in weather was too exciting to miss!  We sat and chatted, smelling grass and dust.  What others might have considered irritating, inconvenient, and maybe even dangerous, brought us together.  We forgot our troubles and laughed in the late afternoon haze.

Isn't it funny how storms bring us together?

Thank God for dust storms.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Contrary to popular belief...

I do not live in a grass hut.  I do not draw my water from the well.  And no, I do not use a hole in the ground to relieve myself.

After having lived in Niger for almost an entire school year, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

Perhaps when you think of living in Africa, a grass hut and squatty potty in the backyard come to mind.  And let me tell you, that after having been around Niger a bit, this is quite an accurate picture...for MOST of Niger.

No, I do not cook dinner over a fire.  You might be surprised that my missionary experience, though drastically different from living in the States in many ways, has been quite comfortable.

First of all I live on campus, the same compound on which the school is located.  I am so grateful to be in one of the nicest houses on campus.  I have my own room and bathroom.  I sleep in an extremely comfortable queen-sized bed.  I have an AC unit in my bedroom (which is SO nice in hot season).

When the rest of the city has lost power, Sahel's campus runs a generator, meaning that I go without electricity for less than 2 minutes at a time.  And sure, the water goes off, too.  But I can count on one hand how many times that has happened on campus, while my friends experience this weekly, if not daily.

I have a stove that lights on its own, while many use a match.  I have a washing machine and tiled floors.  All of the buildings on campus have both 110V and 220V outlets, so I don't have to worry about adapters.  While the rest of Niger takes cold showers, mine are hot.

And the blessings of living in such amazing conditions are even more evident in such a poor country.  The contrast between my life and "theirs" haunts me.  I'm living in American luxury, while the squatters outside the gate sleep on dirt floors with no electricity.  Visiting Maradi was eye-opening as well.  Even there, huge mansions (what Americans might consider a large middle-class home) towered over the small huts beside them.

I've wrestled with the emotions of guilt, confusion, and even anger.  Why should I have so much more?  Why can't I live like the people?  This isn't fair and I didn't choose this!

As I talked with a friend about this, I realized that in order to be effective as missionaries, we must take care of ourselves.  While this might look like living as the people in the bush for some, it might mean making things a bit more comfortable for others.  Perhaps one of the main reasons that missionaries leave the field so quickly is because their conditions are not "livable."

Conclusion:  I don't know the answers.  I'm not sure what to do besides what the Bible commands...that the rich should give generously.  I know I do not need to feel guilty for being blessed.  But I also know that I can choose to live simply and generously.

1 Timothy 6:6  "But godliness with contentment is great gain."

And so, whatever I have, wherever I am, whomever I am with, I will live in complete abandonment to the One from whom all blessings flow.  Praise God!

Monday, May 11, 2015


I casually sat down and reached for something to read from the coffee table.  I was looking through a National Geographic magazine, photos vibrant, grand moments in time captured for me to see.  As I slowly leafed through the pages, I saw a section dedicated to Nigeria.  Photos of African women dressed in typical African fashion.  And as I observed the picture, I realized I wasn't looking at it the way I might have before.  I saw things beautiful, with a new understanding.

The women in the picture were casually standing around a car, perhaps a taxi.  They were matching, bright blue, tight-fitting outfits.  I understood that matching is a familial custom, especially for occasions like weddings.  They wore vibrant head scarves to match their dresses, a very normal and expected custom in M*sl*m culture.  And their shoes!  High stilettos, completely impractical for walking around in the desert.  And yet, I know the importance of shoes here.  They must be just as fancy as the outfit (in which case, my comfortable Birkenstocks are shameful).

I was happy to identify with the picture.  I have grown to accept and love many parts of Western Africa.  The colors are vibrant, just like the people.  My deeper yet still quite immature, understanding of African culture has fueled an appreciation and affection for the culture I've experienced here in Niger.