I'm tired and emotinally drained after a week of celebrating our son Daniel's graduation from high school (see picture below). Where have the years gone? It's only this week that it's beginning to hit me that Daniel will not be around next year with his playful spirit and sincere heart. I'm really going to miss him. He has grown up and is ready to fly on his own. It's true he's been in the dorm at Sahel Academy in Niamey for a number of years, but he was only a 3-hour drive (and this past year a quick phone call) away. Now, he'll be nearly a full 24-hour day journey away by plane, and the contact will be much more difficult. I know he can cope, but I still want to protect him from all the unknowns.
This week there were two big ceremonies to honor the 6 graduates of Sahel Academy (SA). (Daniel was the only American among the six--there were 2 Koreans, 2 Nigerians, and one Ghanaian, in addition to Daniel). The first was the graduation banquet Tuesday night, June 5. All the staff of SA, the juniors and seniors, and the families of the graduates were invited. It was a time to laugh and cry as we remebered the years that each of these 6 have spent at SA. Of the six seniors, Daniel had been at Sahel the longest, starting there in 1999, when he was in 5th grade. The juniors gave some prophecies about where each of the seniors would go and what they would do in life. Some of the prophecies were really funny and fit quite well the personalities and backgrounds of the seniors.

After the prophecies, each parent had a few moments to share some thoughts with their children. Nancy reminded everyone how Daniel loves food and exhorted him to feed on the Word and not just on bread alone. I recalled the time when Daniel was 3 and came up to Nancy and said to her, "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a killer." After being reprimanded for saying something so awful, Daniel, nearly in tears, had replied, "But I just wanted to be a killer like David who killed Goliath." I told Daniel that there are many giants out there, and they can be quite fearsome. But I reminded him that, like David, we do not need to fear, because God is with us and we are on His side. Then I said he had our blessing to be a killer and to go out and slay some giants.After all the parents had finished their speeches, I got up and sang a song sung by Mark Harris called, "Find Your Wings." I can't sing it like Mark Harris, but it expressed a lot of what I would like to say to Daniel and all the seniors at this time. I made it through the song without choking up. Here are the words:

Find Your Wings

It's only for a moment you are mine to hold
The plans that heaven has for you will all too soon unfold
So many different prayers I pray for all that you might do
But most of all I want to know you're walking in the truth

And if I've never told you
I want you to know,
That as I watch you grow

I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage to dare to do great things
I'm here for you whatever this life brings
So, let my love give you roots,
And help you find your wings.

May passion be the wind that leads you through your days
And may conviction keep you strong,
Guide you on your way.
May there be many moments
That make your life so sweet
But more than memories


It's not living, if you don't reach for the sky.
I'll have tears as you take off,
But I'll cheer as you fly.


The graduation ceremony was last night, Thursday, June 7, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Niamey. It was attended by everyone from the international community involved with SA, about 100 adults and children. In addition to a speech by one of the faculty and by the director of the school, each graduate gave a short speech. None of the six graduates like public speaking very much, but all six did an excellent job. Daniel did the best speech of his life, and I was so proud of him (we have it on video). He even spoke a few words in Songhai to his best friend from Tera whom we had invited down for the occasion. I couldn't help the tears during the ceremony. It was very moving. Afterwards, there was a simple reception in the SA dining hall, with cake punch, snacks, and most importantly, the love of friends and colleagues. And then it was all over, and Daniel is now flying on his own. The high school kids stayed up all night watching all three Lord of the Rings videos in the extended version. But Nancy and I came home to try to calm down and get some sleep. We were going to go back to Tera today, but we are too tired and have too much to do, so we'll go back tomorrow, where we'll spend a week letting Daniel say good-bye to his home and packing up for our trip to the US on June 18.

Congratulations, Daniel!!


Dust Storm!

We have a lot of dust in Niger. In a previous blog, I talked about the harmattan. This is the dusty wind that can blow off the Sahara any time during the long dry season (October-May). It is especially bad in December through March. See the dust that collected on our windowsill in a two-week period in March below:

This time I want to talk about dust storms (or sand storms, as they're sometimes called). At the end of the dry season, there is a three-month period of time called the hot season (mid-March to mid-June). This is a time of intense heat and rising humidity as the monsoon winds begin to blow in from off the ocean to the south and west and work themselves in under the upper-level winds which keep blowing from off the Sahara. Towards the end of the hot season, small storm cells begin to form as the hot, humid air rises into the atmosphere, creating towering cumulus clouds. These storms can be extremely violent, with high winds, hail, and pelting rain that accumulates at a rate of more than an inch an hour.

The high winds in these storms pick up all he loose dust, which has very little to hold it down, and throw it hundreds of feet into the air. The result is a huge wall of orange or black dust preceding the storm. It comes rolling in like a tsunami. Sometimes we joke that weather predicition in the Sahel consists of watching for the dark dust cloud on the horizon and knowing that when you see it, you have about ten minutes to get your laundry in off the line before it hits. The dust storms can turn night into day, and they can blow for as long as an hour. Rain may or may not follow the dust storm, but the dust storm is always associated with the rain clouds, and there will be rain somewhere even if you don't get it. In one dust storm, you can see as much dust settle on your windowsill (and tables, chairs, desktops, computers, etc) as you see in two weeks of harmattan dust like in the picture above.

I wrote about these dust storms backin 2004. I'm going to paste in what I wrote here:

"Few things are as spectacular or as dramatic as a sandstorm in the Sahel region of Africa. For days on end during the months of April and May, the heat and humidity build as the monsoon winds blown in from off the ocean. When you feel like you can't stand it one minute longer, and sweat is pouring down your legs and off your face, you know a storm is not far off. A dark line of clouds appears on the horizon, and you run to shut all the windows in your house, knowing that you have 15-30 minutes at most to prevent your house from becoming a disaster area.
As the storm clouds approach, a bright orange "fog bank" appears ahead of the storm. This is the sandstorm, which boils out in front of the rainclouds. The fierce winds pick up the fine Sahara sand and throw it hundreds of feet into the air, creating a massive orange cloud of dust that gradually gets bigger and bigger as it approaches. As you watch it coming, the air is still and close. Suddenly, the sandstorm hits, and the winds increase to gale force knocking down trees and branches and carrying away anything light with them. The dust sandblasts your face and skin, and the day becomes dark and gloomy. Sometimes there is so much sand in the air that the sky becomes black as night. The sandstorm may last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. The temperature drops dramatically, often as much as 30 degrees fahrenheit in the space of five minutes. After the sandstorm passes, the rain begins. Huge thunderclouds unleash their reservoirs of water, and torrents of rain begin lashing the ground. Within an hour, an inch or two or rain may fall. After the storm all is cool and still, and the smell of the rain settling the dust perfumes the air. "

We've had two big dust storms this past month in Tera. We had our first on May 6. That one was rather weak and only turned the sky a milky orange. It wasnt' terribly windy, either. The areas surrounding Tera got a lot of rain that day, however. We got about 0.15 inches in town. The next day, Monday, May 7, we had a doozy of a dust storm, one that turned the sky into almost night at 4 p.m. Here is a picture of the approaching wall of dust.

We didn't get any rain after this dust storm, but it was cooler for a day or two. We did get 0.75 inches of rain on May 13, however. That was in the night, and it didn't have a huge

dust storm with it, just a lot of wind. That night was really cool. We haven't seen any rain in Tera since May 13, and the rainy season hasn't officially started yet, but some parts of the country have already been blessed with good first rains. Once the rains get going, they settle the dust down, and the dust storms don't blow any more.

I'll leave you with a picture looking out our window around 4 p.m. on Monday, May 7, 2007.