One of the requests I most frequently receive as we travel around to churches is: "Give us a glimpse of your daily life in Niger." Reality? Although many of the circumstances are different, life is still very much the same for me as for many of my friends here in the States. It is full of frustrations, irritations, little joys and delights and what makes the difference between a good day and a bad day is how I choose to respond... Will I choose a gentle, teachable spirit overwhelmed with thankfulness to God, or will I wallow anger and a sense of entitlement about how my day should go?
"I have many (including some small) children; I live in Niger."
I muster strength and pull up emotional reserves.
Collect the kids. Find matching flip flops not chewed up too badly by the dog
then pray they keep them on their feet while I find mine.
Ten minutes, two telephone calls and one emergency trip to the bathroom later,
I finally have both shoes on my feet.
One had been used for dress up, and
the other to build nesting platforms for beanie baby critters in the mango trees…
I wonder if any real critters…??? But then I stop myself from wondering…
I try not to let my thoughts dwell on subjects like creepy crawlies, etc...
Thankfully, all kids are still wearing theirs, although Elsie Mae’s no longer match.
Oh well, since I’m just barely “still on time” to get to the school before the bell rings,
I’m not going to worry about it.
I have small children.
I muster strength, throw one child on my back and another one on my hip.
Hot season is here and the sand is so hot that even with shoes on, they’ll scream, panic,
and then refuse to move, frying their feet while they wait for me to run to rescue them.
Jonathan’s four and he’s experienced enough to know that if he runs,
it doesn’t burn too badly. Except this time he gets distracted...
by the chameleon in the garden... forgets and doesn’t remember until his feet are burning
and he’s crying. I tell him he can put his sore soles in front of the air conditioner vent,
IF the AC is still working.
While strapping the baby into her carseat and the other two into their seatbelts,
Our house worker comes running out: “Madame?” “Oui?” I say…
The gas bottle for cooking has run out – and we are supposed to be baking bread today.
At least the egg salad for lunch is already ready.
Thankfully, the bread isn’t in the oven yet. I run over to the outdoor shed to get the spare
but the guard has left for the market today and it’s locked. He took the keys, too.
Today I actually have money so I don’t have to bug Tim –
I can take this bottle and replace it on my way home… after I get the kids.
I live in Niger.
I muster strength and say and pray for grace…
and that the gas bottle is easily removed from the stove.
That isn’t always the case… I leave the children sitting in the car
under the minimal shade of the eucalyptus trees with all the doors wide open;
I won’t tell you how hot it is, but they should be ok for a few minutes with all the doors open.
The baby is sleeping and the other two are looking at books.
Reminding them to sit still and that I’ll be right back, I run to the kitchen.
By the time I get there, Safana already has the bottle unhooked.
Together we carry it to the car and hoist it into the back laying on its side.
It never ceases to amaze me how heavy those things are… empty.
A few small rocks wedged under the sides will hopefully keep it from rolling as I drive.
She opens the gate and I back slowly out.
At the sound of the metal bar sliding out of the locked position,
Every one of the neighborhood children comes running.
I’m terrified I won’t see one of them... we had that happen once before.
They don’t mean to cause a problem – they're always so excited to see our kids;
they don’t realize that large moving objects don’t stop as quickly as they can
Or that I can’t see them in my big car.
I flip my sunglasses down and reach over to turn on the air conditioner.
It works. Jonathan cheers and wiggles his toes in front of the lovely coolness.
He hadn’t complained, but he hadn’t forgotten either.
I glance at Elsie Mae in the back seat – cheeks flushed and hair matted with sweat.
She grins, happy to be underway. I sigh. It’s always hot here.
I live in Niger.
I muster strength and search in vain for the gentleness and patience I thought I’d put on that morning.
There’s a shepherd taking his herd of cattle down to the river, and now I must wait…
right next to wear they are burning garbage and the smell is less than pleasant.
Elsie Mae spots a cow eating a t-shirt. She giggles.
Jonathan notices a bloated dead dog in the field:
“Mama, why is Old Snowflake just lying there?”
“Honey, it looks like Snowflake went to sleep last night and was just too tired to wake up any more.”
“Snowflake’s not going to wake up anymore? That means he’s dead, right?”
Our children name all of the stray dogs in the neighborhood,
so once the girls know, our afternoon will contain tears.
The road is finally clear again, so once again, off we go,
carefully picking my way through broken glass on the road and one of many sand traps.
Tim’s shown me how to engage the 4-wheel drive, but I’m not sure that today I could remember-
Next, I avoid the soccer match AND the bicyclist transporting several metal poles, each one 20 feet long…
remind the kids not to stare at the welder when we stop at the stoplight.
Sometimes I wonder why I stop – I’m one of the few who does.
At least 15 taxis fly around me on the left.
I stop counting the motorcycles swinging around on the passenger side.
The exact same moment the light turns green, the SUV behind me blares its horn.
I jump even though I'm expecting it.
So does the baby (she wasn't), wakes us and starts to cry.
I begin moving at the same time as one more moto roars up the right,
passes and then slings across my path to brake hard directly in front of me.
guess the rider wanted to turn left in a rush.
I don’t know how I didn’t hit him; God was protecting. Thank you Lord.
Now my hands are trembling as I drive ~
I have small children.
I muster strength, breathe another prayer for safety and
wishI had eyes like that chameleon back in our garden.
He can see all around him, every direction, and doesn’t need rearview mirrors to do so.
We finally reach the school, long after the dismissal bell, but it’s okay.
Now I won’t have to drag the small children out to pick up the bigger ones.
I can drive up to the door, greet the guard, find out how his health is, how his family is doing,
if he’s planted his beans, how he’s handling the heat, weather his little girl has recovered from malaria…
and then he’ll run in to gather them for me. Waving goodbye,
we navigate back out into rush hour traffic and head for the little market on our way home.
No more near driving incidents, although we do see a nasty motorcycle accident.
It breaks my heart each time I see a mangled moto with a tiny flipflop lying beside it
and know that some daddy was probably bringing his child home from school
and wonder how badly they were hurt?
The gas bottle is exchanged and paid for without incident.
The owner of the fruit and vegetable market is delighted to see so many of the kids today.
He brings us 2 kilos of tangerines as a gift.
I feel guilty so I buy tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, eggplant –
Ignoring the chorus of backseat groans (and Anna's cheer)
as I start to pick out the purple specimens that look the best.
Vendors mob the car, wanting to talk and hoping I’ll buy something even though I never do,
unless we have visitors.
Several women with babies tied to their backs come begging.
I rush back over to buy a bunch of bananas and hand those out
practicing the Zarma that I know with a plastered smile because
inside I’m wishing we’d escaped the market
before they’d recognized our vehicle.
It still surprises me when beggars I don’t recognize address me as “Madame Tim.”
I live in Niger.
I muster strength and fight back salty drops.
I can stop the ones trying to sneak out my eyes.
But the drops of sweat rolling down my neck and dripping from the backs of my knees
are another story.
(And yes, the AC is still blasting at full strength… how do I explain how hot it gets here?)
Lord, from where do these cynical thoughts come?
Wanting to escape when we’d come so far just for the opportunity to minister…
Dreading opportunities to use the language I keep trying and paying money to learn
but never seem to have time or energy to make the effort to use.
“Mama, can we go to the pool this afternoon? I’m so sweaty hot!”
choruses from the back seat. “Sorry guys… it is Monday."
The pool is closed on Monday – too bad… I could have used that escape today, too.
Elsie Mae must have felt the same way because she starts whining.
She’s a drama queen, that one, and grumpy now, the backseat banter begins.
Is there any surefire way to teach kids not to tattle?
I not only have small children; I've got many children, many opinionated children.
I muster strength and try to laugh.
At least the drive home has been without incident.
Instead of driving into the courtyard, I park under the flamboyant tree that is blooming.
The tree is also shading Tim’s car and the truck of a friend;
both are nice surprises.
Tim had planned to work through lunch and I wasn’t expecting a visit.
The kids tumble out of the vehicle, big ones carrying little ones so little feet don’t burn...
I didn’t even have to ask.
It is the only time of year they don’t just leave their shoes in the car!
They run to hug their daddy and their favorite adopted auntie
who are sitting on the terrace visiting while awaiting our entrance.
Tim winks and smiles a greeting. I can tell he’s got a story to tell.
My friend hands us a plate of sweet treats to enjoy.
She can’t stay, but stopped by to drop those off and let me know she’d been praying for me.
I walk her to her truck as we chat.
As we reach the door, my neighbor, the one who’s daughter is severely handicapped,
and who sells fried bean cakes for breakfast every morning, is there waiting.
Her daughter, Zeinabou is now saying both “mama” and “daddy.”
We didn’t think she’d live.
I call Tim and the kids so we can all celebrate together.
And thank the Lord that we live and minister in Niger.
Please note that the idea for this "stream of consciousness"-type poem was not my own. I
stole borrowed the idea from Beth Bruno, and a poem she wrote for "Women of the Harvest" on line magazine. Her original version is titled "I have small children. I live in Turkey." (I think you can only access the magazine as a registered subscriber, or else I'd link to her poem here.) I've had the opportunity to share this with a few different ladies' groups now... and figured I'd be brave enough to go ahead and post it here, too.