You know all those "Survivor" and Survivor-inspired shows on TV? We think they're a bit of a joke. They're not really about survival, just about who can claw his or her way to the top by any means possible in order to win the US$1,000,000. To us that smacks of all the worst of our society. We think we've got a better and much more intense survivor tale to tell.
Imagine that you're living in temperatures which approach or even exceed 115 F in the shade every day! Not only is it hot, it's positively exhausting. Every night you fall into bed completely worn out. Though you have an air conditioner, it's only in the bedroom, and you can only afford to use it during siesta and at night. So, though you get an adequate night's sleep, you don't feel rested. Energy is always at a low ebb. Every task takes monumental effort to accomplish. Productivity dives. You can't concentrate on any task. Your mind gets tired easily. It's easy to get cranky and snap at everyone. Everything is a dry, drab brown because it hasn't rained for over six months. You drink and drink and you don't feel satisfied. You also drink so much you don't feel too hungry because your stomach is bloated with water.
Now add to that not having any running water in the house. You have to haul in water from outside. Some of it comes in on a donkey cart each day from the dam. You use this to water plants. Occasionally, you have a barrel of clean water brought in from one of the public taps so you can wash your clothes . You also take six large plastic jugs each day to a public tap that has some water pressure and pick them up about four hours later. That provides you with drinking water and dishwashing water. Then you conserve water as much as possible. You use some of the wash water to water plants. You reuse some of the hand-washing water. You take only one spit bath a day. You can't flush your toilet because it uses too much water. And you have five adults in the house using water. And because it's so hot, you are drinking more than a gallon a day each. Constantly searching for water eats up time and energy that you would like to conserve for other tasks. It also eats up more money than the water that is supposed to be piped into your house.
In addition to all this during the first few days of the week you have only a pit six feet deep and six feet in diameter for a latrine. Since you're not using your toilet, you have to use the pit. There is no other option. The smell is horrible. The cockroaches swarm over the pit. You either have to balance on the edge to do your thing (and try hard not to fall backwards into the pit) or do it on the ground next to the pit and shovel it in when you've finished your business.
Then one night you have a scary run-in with a nasty critter. After you turn out your lights and crawl into bed and you're almost asleep, you feel something big crawling on your neck. You try to flick it off only to get a wallop of a pain in your finger. That's when you realize you've just been stung by a scorpion in bed. The pain is severe, and you can't sleep. You go outside into the hot, close air to try to while away the pain and not wake everyone else up. Two tablest of extra-strength Tylenol do nothing to quell the pain. It takes several hours for the waves of throbbing to subside. Even then sleep is fleeting.
Take all that into an environment where people are hungry and have not had enough to eat on a daily basis. The pressure to help as much as you can is very high, and you feel guilty with the abundance and variety of food you have. You can help some, but your resources are limited, and you have to say no at some point. Does this mean one or more of your friends will die of hunger? It is possible. The poverty is overwhelming, and it's hard to know how helping one person can be more than a drop in the bucket of need.
That is the situation we have been living in for most of the past two weeks. It is not for the faint at heart, and sometimes we feel so faint. You ask who was stung by the scorpion? It was Nancy on the night of Thursday, April 5. The latrine was repaired by the middle of the first week, but not before we wondered if we could make it through one more day without some kind of toilet facilities. The cockroaches are just as bad at night, however. The temperatures this hot season have been some of the highest we have ever seen in Niger. In fact, on April 4, we recorded a high of 116 F in the shade, the highest temperature we have ever seen in this country. The water problems continued throughout the two weeks of the Easter break while we had our kids home and at first, Jeremy, then a son of friends. We had to refuse to accept other visitors because we simply couldn't keep up with water for any more people.
After all that, are we surviving? Sometimes it seems like we're barely handling everything. And you still have to cope with culture and the difficulties believers and the church face in this land. Sometimes it seems like too much to handle. That's life in Niger. Hot season is always the most difficult time.
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust is in the Lord.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream,
And will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green,
And it will not become anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit."
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