25 February 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Photos by Rebekah Joy - Could She Be "Nature Smart?"

What is "Nature Smart"
- thinking with patterns (Kathy Koch, "Celebrate Kids"),
- Naturalist intelligence designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our... past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. I also speculate that much of our consumer society exploits the natural intelligences, which can be mobilized in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like. The kind of pattern recognition valued in certain sciences may also draw upon the naturalist intelligence (Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind).

23 February 2009

Check out the NEW POLL

Victoria's poll is up and running...
in the sidebar.
And it is a delicious one!
Please take a minute to vote,
'cause she is really curious!

You can tell what sweets she has helped to make in the past, too!

Horse Crazy Girl

What is it about horses that almost all little girls, at some point, dream of having their own and having that special relationship with their horse about which books are written? Anna is definitely one of those horse crazy lovers. Some of her biggest smiles have been from back of a horse, especially when she was the one doing the "driving" all by herself! Right now, she is reading Misty of Chincoteague, and also reading through a series of 8 horsie books that her grandparents sent her for Christmas. Reading isn't one of her favorite activities (she'd much rather be playing imagination games with all her plastic horses and horse figurines), so that is a huge accomplishment (and the horses are the motivation) for her. She can't wait until we return from furlough and she has her chance at riding lessons down at the equestrian club!

A few months back, Anna put up a poll, wanting to know what colors of horses people preferred. And her favorite, bay (like our horse King), tied for first.

  • Jet-black like a Friesian 21%
  • Bay (rich red-golden with black legs, mane and tail) 21%
  • Chestnut 17%
  • Brown 3%
  • Spotted Appaloosa 5%
  • Grey or White 1%
  • Palomino 7%
  • Piebald (Paint or Pinto) 3%
  • Blue roan 13%
  • Strawberry roan 1%

My favorite is the Blue roan... Rebekah (our other horse lover) is partial to Palominos. Horses are such fabulous animals!

20 February 2009

...still chuckling... at our Toddler Drama Queen...

You know those moments you have as a parent, those moments where you realize all of the sudden that one of your children has just "grown up" a little more? Elsie Mae and I had one of those moments this morning~

Elsie Mae came stumbling into our bedroom this morning while I was feeding the baby, carrying her bowl in which I had put several scoops of applesauce earlier. She showed me her bowl, smiled super sweetly and asked for more, even remembering to use the word, "Please." Unfortunately, there was no more applesauce... :-(

When I told her so, her lower lip pooched (she has a very effective pouty face), her head lowered - she looked absolutely forlorn and dejected... except that after a few seconds, she furtively looked up at me, keeping her face mostly hid behind her hair as her head was still lowered, to see if just maybe I'd changed my mind.

I told her again that as much as I'd like to be able to give her more applesauce, there was no more. She could have another cinnamon roll, but the applesauce was all gone.

Her response? She gave a big sigh, sat her bowl down on the floor, and laid face down on the floor beside the bed, wrapping her arms around her head. You would have thought that she'd experienced a life-changing catastrophe!

I waited a few more seconds and then scooted across the bed to see what she was doing, since she'd dropped out of sight. She was just laying there and I watched her for a bit, but then I started to chuckle...

As I continued to chuckle, it was hilarious to watch her struggle to maintain her sad composure - as she fought valiantly the smile trying to spread across her face...

She did final lose the struggle, began to giggle and took her bowl back to the kitchen to find a cinnamon roll. But, are two year olds supposed to be that purposefully manipulative? or that capable of theatrical display?

Maybe it is because she has 4 big sisters to teach her all of their tricks!

19 February 2009

A Question of Culture... Or Not?

As I shared the other day, one of the most challenging and most interesting part of our lives here in Niger is learning how to relate to others who come from a cultural background totally different than the one in which we grew up. We step off the plane here to find that many of the rules that have worked so well all of our lives in relating to and with others all of the sudden don't work any more. We think we are communicating only to find out we haven't or that in fact we've inadvertently offended or completely lost face and didn't even have a clue. Some of those things are easy to fix... Don't use your left hand when giving someone something... Cover your head in church... You can hold hands with your same sex friends while out in public, but husbands and wives don't... Always take time to greet people, even when you are in a hurry... Don't look an older person directly in the eyes when addressing them... On-time is actually early...

That's a big part of the reason I started reading the book: Cross Cultural Conflict - Building Relationships for Effective Ministry by Duane Elmer. I'd mentioned the other day that I wanted to share a bit more from the book, a different look at a familiar Bible story but seen through a different cultural lens. Again, I'm quoting directly from the book.

"The following story raises questions about the difference between deception and a culturally acceptable strategy: The first chapter of exodus tells us that a new king 'who did not know Joseph' (vs. 8) came to power in Egypt. The king looked around the land and noticed that 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us' (v. 9). A plan was crafted to decrease the Israelite population. Part of the plan involved two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who were instructed to kill each Hebrew boy at birth but allow the girl babies to live."

"The midwives feared God and 'did not do what the king of Egypt told them to do' (v. 17). Eventually the king called the two women in and asked them why they had been letting the male babies live. They responded, 'Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive' (v. 19)."

"In this brief story that sets the scene for Moses' birth, we have a serious conflict of interests and, in a larger sense, a conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The Hebrew midwives used several strategies in maganging this conflict: silence (they did not reply to the king's request), inaction (they did not do as he had commanded) and misdirection/diversion (they placed the blame elsewhere - on the Hebrew women who gave birth before they could arrive)."

"Western Christians are both pleased and troubled by this story. They would affirm the women for choosing not to obey the king because they feared God. Some are troubled, however, that the midwives remained silent before the king and did not 'speak the truth' of their convictions and tell him outright that they would not obey. Perhaps most troubling is the blatant, self-serving 'lie' the midwives told regarding the Hebrew women's delivering the children before they arrived."

"Adding to our confusion are the words immediately following, in which God reveals his commentary on the series of events: 'So God was kind to the midwies' (v. 20). God seems to have approved (at least he did not judge or condemn) the silence and the 'lie.' Perhaps these tactics were understood differently than we understand them and need to be further understood so we can see them as God does..."

"...Two-Thirds World people may use inaction, silence, misdirection and the indefinite third party as a means of handling conflict situations. to the Westerner such strategies may appear at times ethically questionalbe; but that may not necessarily be the case. we must understand what lying and deception are in that particular culture and weigh that against Scripture. The bible does not overtly condemn these indirect strategies; in several situations it seems to support their use."

"Bringing a cultural practice under the authority of Scripture is not Westerners' exclusive responsiblity. All of us are prone to interpret the Bible through our cultural lenses and to mingle our won cultural preferences with biblical teaching. Christians from various cultures would serve one another and the cause of biblical interpretation by joining in prayer and discussion on these matters." (pp. 129-130, 133)

Any thoughts on this? What do you think?

17 February 2009

...they done gone n' got all growed up...

A little over 14 years ago, when Tim and I got married, our only two nieces (at the time) were our flower girls. Aren't they just adorable?

This photo was just taken at their school's Homecoming last Friday... and just in case you were wondering, they are the two "big" girls in this photo. Haven't they turned into beautiful young women?

Kiersten was crowned Homecoming Queen...

...and Leandra was a court representative.

My only little hint of sadness in returning to Niger was knowing that I'd be missing this special night for two of my favorite people.

PS Kudos to their mama... she made their dresses, and as always, they are INCREDIBLY GORGEOUS!

Test Your Geography Skills

Tim and I found a fun web site tonight - I'd heard about the following link and decided to give it a try. It is called: Know Your States and tests how accurately and quickly you can drop the 50 states, one by one, onto a map of the US. Tim and I both tried - he's a master in geography with a score of 96% and an average error of only 3 miles. My score wasn't quite so good - 92% and my average error was in the low teens. Head on over, give it a try - and let us know how you fare! I can't wait to let the kids give it a try. It will be a part of their "American History and Geography" home schooling!

16 February 2009

Harmattan Winds are Blowing

According to Wikipedia: "The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. It blows south from Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March (winter)..."

"...On its passage over the desert it picks up fine dust particles (between 0.5 and 10 micrometres). When the Harmattan blows hard, it can push dust and sand all the way to North America..."

"...In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days, comparable to a heavy fog. The effect caused by the dust and sand stirred by these winds is known as the Harmattan haze, and costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year. The interaction of the Harmattan with monsoon winds can cause tornadoes..."

"In Niger, people say that men and animals become increasingly irritable when this wind has been blowing for a while, giving it a bad reputation. However, the cool wind brings relief from the oppressive heat..."

(Photos taken last Friday morning.)

'Tis Always Interesting, Living in Another Culture

I'm reading a fascinating book right now. It is called Cross-Cultural Conflict - Building Relationships for Effective Ministry and was written by Duane Elmer. I'd like to share a few paragraphs - partly because it is so much of what I've been living the past month as I seek to work with our French School ministry (We interviewed a new teacher on Friday afternoon, who verbally accepted the position... but then she did not show up for work Monday morning), but also because I find it fascinating. It is so easy for us to think that our home culture is the best/only/biblical way to handle different situations. It is unsettling (in both good and bad ways) to begin realizing that not be the case...

When a person cannot fulfill certain obligations, she or he fears loss of face. The person needing to save face leads the other person to believe that the blame is not her or his own. When this happens in the West, we call it "scapegoating," the placing of blame somewhere else when it is primarily our own fault. In other parts of the world, however, the strategy of "misdirection," "deflection" or "divirsion" is a finely honed art. Instead of accepting the responsiblity for some problem, one directs, deflects or diverts the blame elsewhere... Here is how is worked out in the purchase of a lamp.

A foreigner working in the country purchased a large desk lamp from a Chinese merchant. The delivery was promised for the next afternoon. When the foreigner called wondering why the lamp had not been delivered, he was told that the delivery man was sick and the delivery might be in a few days.

When the foreigner said he would be willing to come by and pick it up in person, the manager said that unfortunately there were some workman nearby repairing the water lines, and the road was most difficult to travel. When asked how serious the delivery man's condition was, the manager said that actually it was the delivery man's sister who was sick, and he was at her bedside. The truth of the matter was that the lamp was out of stock, however the shop manager was embarrassed, or thought it would be a loss of face, to say that. He was trying to stall for time until he could receive delivery of the appropriate lamp from his wholesaler, and the fact that the customer could not infer this from his comments was most surpising.

The merchant wanted to provide efficient service and please the customer. Saying, "No, I cannot deliver the lamp tomorrow" would have disappointed the customer, something all merchants wish to avoid, especially in a "face" or shame culture. The foreigner would have preferred a direct, honest answer, even if the bad news was that he would have to wait a few more days. Again, both were operating from their own cultural norms.

Suppose you were in the same situation. Knowing what you know now, what would you do if there was no urgency in having the lamp delivered? On the other hand, waht if you very much needed the lamp delivered tomorrow because of a special even at your house?...

If there was no urgency, you might wait an extra day and then call again and gently inquire. Getting the message about the sickness, you might assume that the lamp was going to arrive, but not at the specified time. You would not assume deliberate deception or malice.

If it was urgent that the lamp arrive the next day, you might (before purchasing it) say how important it is to have the lamp delivered tomorrow. If it does not arrive, your embarrassment will be great because of the important friends you are expecting. Besides, your friends will want to know where you purchased such a beautiful lamp.

Now the merchant realizes he might cause you loss of face if the delivery is not made. Understanding the situation, he may (1) suggest that you purchase another lamp (meaning the one he has in stock and can deliver at the stated time), (2) offer the use of the floor model until a new lamp can be obtained from the warehouse or (3) try a face-saving way of escap such as "I think this is the perfect lamp for you, but my driver is sick and may not be able to make the delivery."

Westerners prefer direct forms of communication and are not good at reading between the lines. Yet in most cultures the people are masters at indirect speech, and one must become accustomed to it if one is to survive and prosper in the Two-Thirds World.... (p. 116-118)

Interesting, isn't it? And it is often confusing. What seems like an out and out lie from my cultural perspective is no more serious than me saying to someone, "We need to have you over for dinner...," and then never following through with a definite invitation. Or, it could be like when someone asks you if you like the way they've redecorated their living room and you respond, "Oh it looks nice," even if you don't particularly like it. It is the cultural way of preserving relationship and everyone here understands that (i.e., the purpose is not deception, but instead an effort to keep the relationship intact and allow everyone to keep face) - except for those of us originally from a "western" culture. This same book takes an interesting look at the two midwives who did not follow Pharaoh's directive in killing the Hebrew baby boys when they were born. Maybe I'll share what is said about that tomorrow!

So... What do you think?

15 February 2009

Things that Melt my Heart

This was our first morning back in Niamey - Elsie Mae and Jonathan were delighted to see their big bro again, and wouldn't leave his side... and I think he was delighted to see them, too.

14 February 2009

Unsanctioned Saturday Morning Behavior

I walked out of the house to go grocery shopping this morning, and look what I found...

After their daddy snapped these quick photos, they were all sternly warned not to repeat this behavior... and hopefully, the windshield wipers still work... not that we'll need them any time in the next 5 months...

Is Flying Safe?

Surfing the internet, looking at the news today, I came across an article entitled: "Is Flying Safe?"

It immediately caught my attention because I'm one of those people who more than hates flying - I'm actually terrified. That's one of the reasons I know that serving on the mission field is totally God working in my life... I COULDN'T get on a plane in my own strength... but it is a necessity in actually getting to the location where God has placed us.

Voici~ a short quote from the article:

According to the National Transportation Safety Bureau, which investigates air crashes, U.S. air carriers transported an estimated 770 million passengers in 2007, with a total of 44 fatalities in 62 air carrier accidents. In contrast, more than 44,000 people died in vehicle accidents in the United States in 2007.

The leading causes of death in the United States don't have anything to do with what type of transportation you take, but with your health. The leading cause of death is heart disease, followed closely by cancer.

The lifetime odds of dying of heart disease are 1-in-5 (based on 2001 statistics), while those of dying in an auto accident are 1-in-100. The odds of dying in an air travel accident are 1-in-20,000.

When I shared this with Tim, his response was: "Well, I guess that puts things into perspective."

So why doesn't it make me feel any better?

13 February 2009

...in honor of Valentine's Day

Head over to Holy Experience and read "Loving the Beautiful Mess." It is an awesome reminder for us as a family... but also for all of us who are in any type of relationship. I know I was challenged.

12 February 2009

Super Cute Photos of Our "Likkle" Ones

Just wanted to share some miscellaneous photos of the younger crowd... We jokingly call them the "likkle ones" because that's what one of our kids (who shall remain nameless because I can't recall which one right now) always used to say.

11 February 2009

A Poor Attempt at a Wordless Wednesday: Friends for Dinner

I just HAD to comment!

Brendan took this photo of his STILL nameless falcon not too long ago.

So... do you see what's more than a little strange about it?

It makes our family laugh, and gives new meaning to the phrase

"Friends for Dinner."

And please comment ~ give Brendan some ideas for names for a poor, nameless falcon.

Wordless Wednesday - Silly Siblings

09 February 2009

Double Birthday Celebrations

We knew that once the kids and I returned to Niger, we'd have to take off at a sprint... and that it will basically be like this from now until we leave for our furlough in the States in mid-July. There is so much to do... and so little time...

Sunday, however, we had a break in the middle of a conference, and we took advantage of this time to celebrate our two February birthdays... Victoria's and Tim's.

We only celebrate big birthday "parties" with invitations, planned games and lots of friends for birthdays #s 1, 5, 10 and 16. The rest of the time, the kids get to plan something special with one or two friends and the family. Tori turned 6 this year, and asked if we could take her out for a meal at the buvette at the Rec Center (which would include a milkshake), and if she could invite a couple of friends to join her. Hanging out at the pool (which just reopened for the year), sipping Koolaide, ice tea or a cold coke while eating fries and being together...? ...well, you don't have to twist our arms!


Glad to be together - Jonathan really missed hanging out with Victoria while we were in the States.

Tori and her two friends.

A few evenings earlier, with another favorite birthday present.

Our beautiful 6 year old~
wearing one of her favorite birthday presents).


But it was also February 8... Tim's birthday (Can you guess how old he is?). He likes to enjoy a brownie sunday each year for his birthday... and, of course, the meal of his choice. This year, he had fajitas... yummy! When we are at the pool, Tim likes to read, harass the kids, sleep in the sun and make an occasional splash in the pool...

...but this Sunday, I think his highlight was cuddling with Elsie Mae, who is so glad to be back with her "Baaba!"

And one final picture: The whole fam, TOGETHER AT LAST! Yes - Mary Michelle does not have a matching outfit... yet... we hope to correct that! We came to the pool straight after church, so we had a friend snap this photo before the kids started to have their fun.

03 February 2009

What's it Like at the Clinic?

People often ask us what the medical care/system is like here, so we thought we'd take a few minutes to tell you about Mary Michelle's treatment over the past few days...

Earlier in the week, we'd made an appointment and taken her in to see the doctor. She had croup, and being as young as she was, we were a little worried. To make the appointment, we called the doctor on her cell phone and arranged a time that worked with both our schedule and hers, and so we met with her at 7:30 in the evening. Our doctor is originally from Iran. Her family fled the country over 30 years ago, ended up landing here in Niger and have since rebuilt their lives here. The clinic is a small building with a reception room, 2 examination offices, a lab and one room for hospitalization. Then, behind the clinic is another house that they are slowly developing into additional hopitalization facilities. I always find the clinic by looking for the little red picket fence along the front... it might be the only picket fence in the entire country. There are a few large trees right out in front and underneath those are the preferred parking places - otherwise your vehicle cooks in the sun.

When you walk into the clinic, there is a reception area, lined with 12-15 chairs and a TV in the corner that is either playing music videos, a soccer game or extremely melodramatic arabic soap operas that have been dubbed into French. There are always several people sitting there, watching the TV. Sometimes you find the waiting room filled with patients, but at 7:30 in the evening, the only ones still there were staff. When we arrived, the receptionist, janitor, nurse, lab technician and the doctor were all there. As soon as you take your seat, the janitor hops up to sweep away the sand you've inevitably tracked into the clinic. They know us pretty well at the clinic, so usually, I'll be greeted.... "Bonsoir, Madame Tim..."

We were immediately ushered back into the doctor's examination room/office, where the doctor had to call one of her staff to come and change the dirty sheet left lying on the bed. While we were waiting, she began asking as questions, taking a history and took Mary's temperature. The temp is always taken under the arm and is in Celsius - which I'm just now starting to figure out. When the body temp goes up over 38', then it is time to begin getting concerned. After the clean sheet was on the examination table, we laid the baby up there and the doctor began her exam. This doctor typically does a fairly thorough exam, quite similar to what would happen in a doctor's office in the States, except it all takes place in French. Many doctors (including some of the other doctors who help to staff this clinic) do not do a physical exam other than taking a temperature, listening to a description of symptomsm and then prescribing a treatment.

At this initial exam, the doctor confirmed that the baby was indeed sick with croup, but did not appear to be in any distress, gave us a prescription for more saline drops and an expectorant and an antibiotic (in case it continued on for 4-5 more days, at which point she wanted us to start the antibiotic), and sent us off to the pharmacy.

Unfortunately, she did not improve - be it the dust or just the change of environment, and by Friday night she was still coughing, the congestion was thick and she was also becoming dehydrated. We had called once and the doctor had added a prescription for a steroid, which Mary I'd begun giving her that morning, but it wasn't seeming to make a difference. We called the doctor again and asked if we could bring her back into the clinic.

After examining Mary Michelle, the doctor was quite concerned because although they could hear nothing in her lungs, her respiration was fast, shallow and she was obviously working very hard to breathe, grunting from the exertion of each breath. They had called a physical therapist to perform something that here they call "clapping" - massaging and gently tapping all around the chest, back and rib cage to stimulate coughing, soften and loosen congestion which then helps the child to expel it. Therapy consisted of 3-4 10 minute session with a 10-15 minute pause in between. Mary was not impressed... by the end of her therapy 3 days later, she started to cry as soon as she heard his voice.

Once the therapist had finished, they'd wait for her to fall asleep, check her breathing respiration rate, and determine if she needed to be put on oxygen. That first night, she was on oxygen for nearly 1.5 hours, until they felt like she was breathing slower and with minimal effort. For the oxygen treatment, they moved us into a different room where an old, rusty oxygen tank hangs from the wall beside one of two beds in the room. they searched for and sterilized (where I could see what they were doing - we've learned it is best that way) an older adult-sized mask that covers the mouth and nose and I had to sit and hold her and the mask in the correct position during that time. Once they were pleased with her breathing rate and the amount of effort it she appeared to be making, they sent us home for the night with instructions to return the next morning at 8 a.m. for another session.

In the meantime, I had been talking with her therapist, and had found out that he is a legally blind man who lives in our neighborhood and who had previously attended the school run by our mission; now, he is sending his son to our school. He was taught to read braille by a now retired EBM missionary and was asking questions about several other former Niger EBM-ers. In the course of our conversation, I ended up asking him if he'd like a ride to the therapy session in the morning. He hemmed and hawed for a few culturally appropriate moments, and then we agreed to meet right outside our school a few minutes before 8. And, in Niger, it isn't such a bad idea to volunteer to pick your doctor up and bring them to the appointment... that way you'll be sure they actually arrive at the clinic.

So the next morning, I picked up M. Oumarou, we went to the clinic, and after reminding them again to put a fresh, clean sheet on the therapy table, began treatment. We were there for a few hours, as she needed oxygen for less time the second time around - which was very encouraging. One of my friends showed up a the clinic to keep me company, and brought me breakfast - they are very relaxed and anyone you'd like to have at an appointment with you, you are welcome to have. The three of us - therapist, my friend and myself - visited and talked while he worked and the baby fussed through her treatments. After he'd finished, I was told to return at 5 for a third treatment. Mary and I were at the clinic for a total of 5 treatments - fortunately each treatment was of a little shorter duration than the previous one. After her last treatment, the current doctor on call gave parting instructions - durations for each of the medications, a suggestion to continue using steam/humidity to help keep the congestion soft, and to only bring the child back if things didn't continue to improve.

We saw a different on-call doctor each day, although they were consulting with "our" doctor by phone each time we were there. She would also usually pop her head in for a minute just to ask me how I felt things were going, which is a fact I appreciate very much. One thing we've found to be very true with the medical system here is that once you've developed a relationship with a particular practicionner, it is a good idea to continue with that person, even when sometimes, you wonder... Doctors and medical practicionners here don't tend to always ask your permission or explain what they are doing before they go ahead and do what they feel is best, and if you do ask questions, it is easily perceived as disrespect and a lack of confidence instead of a simple desire to know what is going on. And there is always the language issue. We speak understand French, but when more than one person is speaking at a time, when someone is speaking very fast, when we are already exhausted from having been caring for a sick child several nights in a row, or when someone is using a whole lot of medical terms, it is easy to make incorrect assumptions or mistakes.

I find it scarier for my kids to be sick here than when they are sick in the States. Every fever (and Elsie Mae just wandered into the bedroom, looking sick and feeling hot, so I took her temp - and she is...) I wonder... "Could it be malaria?" "How long do we wait before we take him/her in for a blood test?" "If she's really sick, will we be able to get her the treatment she needs?" This issue or our children's health is the single biggest issue that Satan uses to discourage me and to tempt me to pack it all in and head home. At the same time, it is probably the one that grows my faith in the biggest leaps and bounds as I see God providing and taking care of us, even when He's done so in ways I wouldn't have chosen and don't understand. I've heard it said so often that the safest place to be is right in the center of God's will, but I've decided I don't like that statement: I've learned that in my finite mind, I don't define safety the same way God does. But while I may not necessarily feel safe in the way that I'd like to feel safe, He's slowly teaching me that I can trust Him and that He is with me.


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