Saturday, February 24, 2007

Party time!

We had a farewell taco supper on Thursday night for the compound, to say goodbye to a long-term missionary who is leaving at the same time as we are . She had been a part of a ladies choir here at the church for years, and so the choir came to her house that night to sing and say goodbye. Farewells in Africa can be a very lively and long event. She brought the choir over to where our supper was so they could sing for all of us also, which they did outside, as the temperatures are amazing here in the evening. They brought along their percussion section on a cart, and soon we had a full-fledged party going on. It does not take long before everyone gets involved, and much laughter was heard. I think we were all laughing at our very "white" attempts to get their rhythm and steps down! They beat us hands down with or without a baby on their backs!

Village Life

This week I was able to go with Jeannie, a missionary here, to a village for a get-together of local health workers. They were putting on skits about health issues, listening to a message of God's love, and building a mud oven together for one of the workers in that particular village. It is a day I will not soon forget. The images of the women in their very colorful outfits, with much laughter that accompanied their time together, the children that kept having to be shooed away as they would creep closer to see and hear it all, and the effectiveness of building a mud oven which so simplifies the cooking and efficiency of wood burning. This mud oven is made out of clay, around 3 rocks which they stand up first, and measure the pot to see if it fits on top. Then they build the wall around the rocks with the clay you see in the picture. This keeps the heat in much longer, with much less wood having to be used. To be not just passing through this town, but to actually be in it while life was going on gave me a whole new perspective (once again) on all my conveniences back home and how I take simple things like running water and turning your element "ON" for heat (no need to gather fire wood) SO for granted.

Saying Goodbye

Our final day at the Christian School was an eventful one. The hospital had just received a container shipment the week before which had donations of school supplies, and so we were able to take some to the school we spent 2 afternoons each week at. It was fun to watch their faces as they received new pencils and books, and to complete one last craft together. The school director and teachers had planned for a few presentations, and then we all got together for a group photo, which they were very eager to pose for, and it was all done. We all benefited greatly by being able to spend time there, and get to know the personalities of the kids. It doesn't matter that you don't speak the same language - a smile is a smile is a smile. We will certainly not forget our time or the people here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What is this?

Responding to Laverne's question about the tree/bush that she saw in the background of one of the other pictures. The tree is called a Lyre Tree (spelling may not be correct as it went through 3 languages) Remember when you look at vegetation here there are only 2 seasons the wet and the dry. Different plants respond differently in the seasons. Some like this one only have leaves when it is wet, after that the flowers come out and the leaves fall off. The flowers persist but eventually dry up as we approach the real hot months, May and June. After that the rains come and the leaves reappear. This tree is not great for burning as the inside is almost hollow , very pulpy and mushy like a melon )I guess that is where the water is stored in the dry times.

Some trees loose there leaves in the wet season and only grow them after the rains have come and some have leaves year round and loose them all the time.

I don't know much more about the vegetation except that the thorns are strong enough to pierce even a good car tire let alone a soccer ball or a shoe. It makes rosebush thorns look like something to play with.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Walmart Comes to Us

On Saturday Walmart came to the Galmi compound. The truck arrived with a forty foot container from Ireland. The container was shipped in March 2006 and after about 30 days at sea arrived in Benin. The problem was it sat in the port for the next 9- 10 months. Finally the paper work problems were sorted out and it arrived here on a semi from Benin. The truck driver was a real interesting guy as he would have to be driving in Africa. He knew at least 4 languages and really understood how things work loading and unloading.( No. his truck was not in an accident).You really have to as we had a full container and no power equipment larger than a small Toyota pickup and a 3 ton jack (the container empty was probably about 4ton).But as the day worn on and with much help from the Nigerian guys from the shop and the two foreman from the construction project(Dave from USA and Wayne from New Zealand) as well as alot of the missionaries from the compound,it was unloaded.
Then the fun began as we tried numerous things to coax the container off the truck. It began with cutting the end gate of the truck off and then attempting to slide rollers under it and pull, jerk and pry it off. We got it off and on to the platform finally , and no one was injured ! Now how do we move it out of the way? That will be a next week problem.

East Meets West

As our times end in Niger we were treated to a favourite snack that I 'm sure is only available in Canada. Thanks Kimmy for the great treat. We tried to ration them but with three boys and me in the family they still only lasted minutes.

I got this homemade turban from the local market( I sent Carla to barter for me as I hate shopping) She did a fine job and got me the price that the locals pay.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Meet the Meat Guy

Never before have I had the privilege of having meat delivered to me weekly on the back of a motorcycle! But here, this is how it's done. You buy your meat, freshly slaughtered, by the kilo, and the seller comes round at the same time every week, and you decide how much you'll need for the week. He covers it under a plastic sheet, and drives from buyer to buyer.

Did you know?

Did you know that Camels actually have "five feet"? As a matter of fact, camels have a pad under their belly that acts as a fifth leg when the camel sits down. This "foot" allows the camel to sit without having any problems. If you look under Joey's camels belly, you can see something that looks like a flat base. ( It is located right in front of the saddle strap)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tuareg house picture

Sorry for the "no picture" being loaded last time we published our blog. Hopefully this one will post for us. It is the example of the Tuareg home that they live in for the cold season, prior to moving north for the rainy season.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tuareg homes

These are pictures of the nomadic Tuareg homes. These particular homes are made of millet stalks, formed in a circle. The type of home depends on which group of Tuaregs you encounter. Some homes are made of goat skins, and some are of woven mats which they form into a waterproof shell. All they own is inside the home. The cooking and living occurs outside every day. This means that water must be fetched daily, and the food storage is extremely minimal, if at all. Their diet consists mainly of millet and milk. They move to the south of Niger in the cold months from the Sahara desert to be by the grasslands for their camels and sheep, as well as for warmth as the desert can get very cool this time of year. In the rainy season, they move back to the desert, and the camels feed on the grass that grows in that area. There is an invisible line south of which if the livestock eat a farmer's crop in the growing season, the Tuareg's are responsible to pay the costs of this. North of the line is grazing land, and the livestock has full reign over the planted crops.

Of course, if you are not interested in riding camels, there is an alternative - donkeys are much lower to the ground and much better to fall off of. This fellow was watching our camel riding experience with much delight, and pulled his "vehicle" over to laugh at our humorous attempts at trying to get the camels to gallop.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Camel Riding!

"When I says whoa, I means whoa!" (quote from the great theologian, Yosemite Sam off of Bugs Bunny, while riding his camel)

On Saturday, we went camel riding near Madaoua. Some friends took us to this group of nomads called the Tuaregs that they know, who live just outside of town during the cold season, and will move on up north once the rainy season comes. They own camels, and are willing to
take out interested people on rides. It was such a good time! The trick to begin with is just the getting up on the animal once you're in the saddle- their legs fold so many ways that first you get bumped forward in the saddle, then backward, then forward again, so we were all very glad for the arms holding us on. Once you are up, it is a LONG way down! The saddles we rode in were very different from horseback riding - as you can see from the pictures, there are no stirrups but there is a support in the front and the back of you. The trick is to figure out where to place your feet - they need to be barefoot (just watch where you put your sandals, as camels are likely to step on them as you can see!). You place your toes on the neck of the camels and push yourself continuously onto your saddle . In order to get them trotting or galloping, there are a number of factors involved, none of which any one of us mastered. Your need to grab hold of the neck by squeezing your toes on it, and you "tap" it with toes and they go faster. When the Tuaregs saw some of our group trying, they took the camels out for a demonstration of how they got the animals moving very quickly - it was fun to watch! These camels were very well behaved, and were very responsive to neck-reigning. You can see from the pictures that the camels either have a nose ring or a ring around the mouth, through which they have a lead rope attached and this makes them very responsive! They have to be one of the oddest creatures in God's kingdom, with such funny proportions, yet they are also an animal we have not yet gotten tired of seeing all over Niger.

This was the gentleman who got the camels ready for us to ride on - you can see from this picture what a typical riding saddle looks like.

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Clinic

Just when you thought that no work was being done I thought that I had better show you that indeed a dental clinic did exist. The clinic is about 10 years old and was converted from a eye clinic and expanded into the better and bigger dental clinic. The clinic employers two technicians /nurses/lab technichians/dental therapists. The two young men Mousa and Ajouba(Moses and Job) have a little of all of thoses jobs with incomplete education in all of them.Both of them have been largely trained on the job with Ajouba having have two years of nurses training ,which is significantly less training than we would get out of a two year nursing programing Canada The job required of them is to extract teeth, do simple fillings, suture cuts and lacerations, wire broken mandibles ,do simple partial dentures and keep the clinic running. They also are responsible for cleaning and irrigating ears, doing auditory tests , injecting keloids(large poorly formed scars)and removing polyps. The lay out of the clinic is simple with basis dental equipment in a cement floored and masonary block building.
My job has largely been to encourage and assist with their dental training. A large part of their time has been learning how to make simple dentures, both the lab component and the patient component. It has taken longer than expected as teaching things in two languages that you are not functional in, is challenging and time consuming. The education process had to occur around the functioning dental clinic ,and so I often used the patients that came in for the lesson of the day. No prep work for me because I never knew what to prepare.
We have largely succeeded in this goal and now I am in the process of writing an operations manual for the clinic so that others will know what and how the clinic functions, and what supplies and equipment it has so other short term missionaries have an idea about the scope and the functioning of the clinic.
I can basically do most dental procedures at the clinic except for anything that requires lab other than what we have on site. Any crowns needed to be done would have to be sent to France or some other African country, probably Nigeria to be processed .At this time that would be a big problem as no one here knows any one in that capacity in those countries.
Great things about working in the clinic is that every morning the day is started with a brief prayer time and a short time of planning the day. Every day has a break around which is religiously held to as most of the hospital personnel don't eat in the morning as preparing food over an open fire in their homes is a bit tedious in the darkness of the morning. So usually they will buy some food which looks and tastes like a bland potate with a thin sauce and a bit of chicken or beef. I have not gotten in to it and would rather have a banana and some Nescafe. Their meal usually costs about 150CFA's which is about 30 cents and would fill and average cereal bowl. The work day continues until 1pm .Takes two hours off for a rest and them continues from 3-6pm. In the hot season which I think is almost all year round the rest is needed as no air conditioning is present , but water coolers are available which help to cool things a bit. The temperature already is about 40C but during this time of the year it still cools off to low 20's in the night. In the hot season it usually stays above 30 all the time. Temperature is a real problem in the clinic as alot of the materials are temperature sensitive and should not be stored above 24C. So the fridge is only so big so always some material are failing and not lasting like they should.
The other big problem is the maintenance of the equipment as no parts are available. Should something break, parts have to be ordered form the US or Europe. Getting those parts in is usually only luck, as alot seems to get lost along the way. Also all the power supplied is 220 and not 110 like in North America ,so all the equipment has to be convered or run on a plugged in transformer.Now none of these things are a big deal but remember the guys in the shop are repairing things that are from all over the world on a daily basis and with no manual or help, so they do a pretty good job just to keep the country running.(Duct Tape is also almost unavailable so that repair solution isn't there sorry you Red Green followers)
Dust is the other problem and at times it seems that we are practicing outside as the Harmattan winds seem to blow right through the walls and coat every thing with thick layers of grit and dust. So if you ever send anything to be used as a donation on the mission field always think of sending new, simple to repair equipment, that can often be repaired with parts self made. Fancy is never good and remember if it is useless at home it will likely be useless out here.
So enjoy what you have as and keep your scarves on.
ps the lady in the green is not an assistant but just pops in for break on a fairly regular basis.
Dr. Jerry

Saturday, February 3, 2007

To Market

Welcome to the camel market! (and anything else you could possibly want in Niger). We went to this market just out of Madaoua on Saturday, which is the market day, and this one is the largest animal market in the area. There were so many people, and so much noise, and so many smells - anyone desiring personal space better not go here! It is such a maze to get through, and being directionally-challenged, there is no way I would have ever found my way out without help. When we got to the cows and camel section, a lady noticed me looking at this group of camels tied up and grabbed my hand in an attempt (I think) to pet the nose of the camel. For anyone who is aware of a camel's personality, this did not make me feel that comfortable, what with the gigantic teeth very present to my very apprehensive hand. I quickly disengaged myself, as politely as possible, and all the Nigerians around were having a good laugh.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Working Women

This picture was taken while we were driving in the Nigerian countryside. These women were grinding millet in the distance, and this was just a few of them. They do this task as a group, and what struck us was the huge smiles on their faces. They perform this task every day, and it is extremely hard work, yet here they are with beautiful smiles. When I reach for my flour to make bread I think of these ladies - I just take my tin down from the shelf. They, on the other hand, have to complete the entire process themselves, from planting the millet, to weeding and watering, to harvesting, winnowing, and then grinding BEFORE any bread gets made. Kind of makes one appreciate the "simple" things in our lives, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sand Dunes!

This past Saturday we visited some sand dunes outside of Madaoua. It was amazing! The day was very clear and calm, and we got there early enough in the morning that the temperatures were still very comfortable. These sand dunes are shifting every year, and as a result a project group had been there trying to stop this a number of years before. They built a fence on the top of the dunes, as well as planted bushes/plants at the top to catch the drifting sand. It worked for the first few years, but when the project people left, the fences were torn down for firewood, and the trees were not watered sufficiently, so the dunes continue to creep a significant amount each year. In fact, there is a little "village" - a small group of buildings that may have one more year before the Sahara takes it over. The owner of the house talked to us, and indicated that he knew he would have to relocate soon, and that there was not much else he could do. The hills of sand were huge, with a cliff at the top which the kids would take flying leaps off of, and then run down the rest of the way. The climb back up to the top took some work, though! They played football on the side of the dune, and let me tell you there was some incentive to catch the ball before it rolled down to the bottom! We were there for not more than 5 minutes before a few children came to see what was happening in their area, and soon we had around 50 people watching us enjoy the dunes. It did not take long before they all got into the fun of the morning, and joined in the antics of dune climbing. I'm sure they wondered what the big thrill was - for them it was just out their front door. After wearing our legs out climbing the dune, we stayed at the top and played a football game, but the field kept shrinking with all the onlookers. Fortunately, the people who took us to this place spoke the local language and could ask them to give us a few more feet for a field. But the side who was calling the play always had a "few" extras looking over their shoulders! Jerry even had dental consultation up at the top for a woman who was experiencing much pain. And when these ladies complain of pain, you know it is bad. All in all, it was a great experience, and the view was magnificent.

Is my load to big officer?

This is a typical taxi that makes a few extra bucks transporting people around. These vans (or bush taxis as we call them) usually pick up anyone that needs a ride(and has some money). The only pain with this type of transport is that they stop whereever anyone needs to stop and they don't have that much leg room. This makes a 5 km trip quite long. The vans/taxis usually blow their tires and axles out because of the loads(or people).
The taxis aren't the only things that have loads that exceed the load limit. Trucks and Semi's usually are loaded down quite heavily too. Most of the transports are loaded down the heaviest on market day(Wednesday*).
*This is only Galmi's market day

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Life in Niger

Just a short note to give you some perspective as you think about complaining about your road and infrastructure. At home right now I bet most of you are complaining that your roads have not been graded and the snow not removed for a while. Well the situation around here is not much different , so continue to pay your taxes and vote for the right party

As you have heard we went to Parc W , which is an international parc with shared borders with Benin & Burkina Faso(Upper Volta for the old timers)The Nigerian side is Parc W because the Niger river forms a "W" on the northern border of the parc.The trip was only 150kms south of Niamey but took the better part of 3 hours and we didn't need 4x4 but we were glad for the suspension that it had , nice and stiff. The first 50 kms was on blacktop and was excellent and fast,but that soon ended and the gravel/rocks /pot holes begun. the words of direction that we got was that the donkey path beside often was smoother and faster than the actual road. So ,this gives you an indication of the condition. We only got lost once and ended up turning around ,and would have asked directions (being males) but there was no one around . So we found our way back to the road and proceeded. The further along we went the narrower the road got and at times it felt like you were driving at the Little Red River in PA. At the tail end of three hours we thought we were lost again and ask some guys on a moterbike if the parc was close, But before we got their answer we saw they had parc shirts on and were glad we were on the right track. We had invisioned this grand entrance to a parc but it was very understated, and was basically just a part of a small village. Parc entrance fees were about like our national parks , but you had to hire a guide as well for $20 a day. He rode with you and explained about the parc and help spot game with you. Our giude was from Benin and was very well informed and willing to share despite our halting french. But , like he said we were easier than the chinese group that knew no french, english or Hausa. So it was a hot dust and tiring trip but well worth the effort. It is really difficult to see these parcs from a north american position as the cost of maintenace is high for these countries, but the returns could also be high,but to attract most tourist they would not be happy with the ruggedness of the roads, and camping. But if you are willing to put up with some discomfort, especially in the hot season in May (45C) then you could really see animals. The old man at the camp said at that time of year the lions come to the river to live, eat and bred, and they don't care if people are near. (no midnight pottie breaks). We only heard the hippo's grunt and splash. But, the star show was amazing as it was a perfectly clear night with no moon ,and no bugs. It was very difficult to go to bed that night as the setting was right out of an old Tarzan movie, every boys dream no matter what his age. To top it off there was only two other ladies in the camp site so it was very private. With the lod man telling stories of the lions and such we were happy that they always ring the camp all year long with old fashion kerosene lamps to keep the animals out . I guess it works because all the kid were still present at the breakfast table in the morning

So have a good sleep and remember January is almost over and tomorrow they said it will be around 38C. As it is still winter here as well.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Who's hole?

In our many adventures at park W, this one was very interesting. While we were exploring around our campsite looking for a monkey colony, we came across this big hole. This hole was actually a den and was very large, Mark could have easily climbed into it with room to spare. This was a little frightening at first because it was abandoned (or so we thought) and so we thought that something was living in it and coming back! But after awhile we realized that nothing was living there ( we still didn't climb down into it though) so we weren't afraid.
This was a really cool sight!!

Toms Corner- Monkeys!

At our campsite in Park W, we had quite a few visitors, most of them were not human. They were monkeys! These monkeys came so close to the campsite because they had a good source of food and many places to live. During our overnight stay, we saw many monkeys not far from our supper table. They were fun to watch because they were in the wild and they were doing everything on their own, not relying on a zoo keeper. The monkeys also widened my variety of animals that I have now seen. These monkeys could been seen eating fruit off the top of trees or climbing rocks with their family or sitting around.