13 November 2007

Study in Picnic Contrasts

Saturday, we went on two very different picnics. Lots of things were the same…

  • We had wonderful times of fellowship with friends;
  • Our kids enjoyed playing and running around with their friends;
  • We grilled meat;
  • We ate yummy food;
  • Donkey rides were offered, for a price;
  • We left our leftovers for the local children (who rapidly gather when they see we are getting ready to leave); and
  • Both picnics took place within site of the Niger River.
  • Our morning picnic was right down on the river, where one of the seasonal flood rivers flows into the Niger. Since the rains have stopped for this year, it makes a huge, sandy beach. Last time we were there (last April, I think) for a picnic, the kids had a ball playing and swimming in the shallow river – as the river was near its lowest point before the rains had started. This time, they were forbidden to go into the river as the water is much higher and deeper, and there can be tricky and strong currents.

    The ladies and I prepared the meat (cut it up, marinated it with spices and put it on shish kabob sticks), the men prepared the “charbon” to cook the brochettes, and the children played with an “American” football that one of them had received as a gift …our kids only had a general idea of how to throw it and their friends were mostly clueless. So, once we had finished preparing the brochettes, and walked down to the river to wash our dishes (using river water and sand – I’d call it more of a rinse J ), showed the kids how to throw a “spiral” football, describing it as flying like an arrow. They thought that was great fun and spent tons of time throwing the ball around, afterwards. While we were waiting for the brochettes to cook, a group of Arab ladies wanted to come and take photos of the little white kids – and we spent a few minutes talking with them. They were out wandering around the beach for a picnic too – but they were dressed in their very best, most expensive clothes, as were our African friends. We were most definitely the most casually clothed in our party!

    We conversed in a combination of French and Zarma, and learned all about one of the local legends… superstitions… that is part of the tribal/animistic religion. Several of the children were warning us to stay away from the river, as someone had died there just the day before. The legend says that a migrating octopus type creature, or an evil water genie, or an unexpected rushing current – depending on whom you talked to – grabbed the man and he died. That led to an interesting lesson about the animistic religion that centers on the Niger River, at least in this part of Africa. After the food was cooked, we ate – and our African friends were surprised when I grabbed a plastic bag to start picking up after ourselves, we prayed together and then headed home- to prepare for our second excursion.

    The same evening, we went to our favorite picnic spot, northwest of town on a plateau that overlooks the river. Brendan had asked if we could do this to celebrate his birthday – and he chose the family we invited to join us.

    We ate sloppy joes and grilled hotdogs...

    ...rode donkeys, watched the sunset,

    the kids built their own “kids’ fire” – and Tim couldn’t believe that I allowed Jonathan to follow his big brother around, climbing the closer rocks and sitting by him down by the “kid fire” but Brendan, Rebekah and Nadia did an awesome job watching out for him.

    After the sun had set, the fire had died down, we picked up our things, loaded up the trucks and went hunting for jerboas. We spent good 45 minutes chasing the little critters up on the plateau, using the spotlights on the land cruiser, the headlights and flashlights. The kids would hang with their heads out the windows and as soon they caught the flash of a critter's eyes, everyone would pile out of the cruiser and run pell mell to try and catch the creature. It was quite amusing to watch!

    They never found any, but ended up catching one tiny field mouse and 4 other black striped mice to bring home, which we now have living in the an action packer in our house. The little mouse escaped the first night – he could jump really high. So, I’m hoping we don’t stumble across him running around our home some evening, or I’ll be jumping really high myself. (Did we ever tell you about the shrew that took up residence in our home for awhile?)

    But so much was very, very different – just a vivid reminder of the two different worlds we try to straddle in Niger, living and working here.

  • Fellowship took place in different languages;
  • Our kids enjoyed playing and running around with their friends- playing an American game with their African friends and enjoying Africa with their American friends;
  • We took supplies and prepared the food there in the morning. Except for grilling the hotdogs, everything was ready when we got to the plateau;
  • I’m not too sure our African friends were impressed with the potato salad to which we introduced them; They wouldn’t budge on the first price offered for donkey rides by the river, so we declined. At the plateau, the local children were more than willing to discuss price, so 9 of us tried riding the donkeys (including myself and Kathie Golde, the other mom there. It isn’t quite as easy as it looks – their backs are pointed and slippery. Fortunately, they are small enough your feet almost touch the ground while seated on them;
  • We left our leftovers for the local children (who rapidly gather when they see we are getting ready to leave) – usually it is quite the scramble and scene at the plateau, but this time – maybe because of our improved Zarma, the children were quite polite and waited for us to hand them the leftovers; and
  • Both picnics took place within site of the Niger River, one was down at the river – just a stone’s throw away. The other was up and away – and a lot fewer bugs and mosquitoes.

    ...at the end of that day, but it was a good tired!

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