10. The fast pace of life. It never lets up. At least in Tera we had times where things slowed down a bit. This is probably true of most cities and not unique to Niamey, but it's been quite a shock to me.
9. You don't know your neighbors. In Tera we knew everybody, and everybody knew us. Not only that we looked out for each other and borrowed from each other. Here, you don't know most of your neighbors unless you work with them. Often your neighbors change from year to year. High walls, guards, and gates keep you out of other people's yards. People are suspicious of each other. Fortunately, we live in a small complex with two other missionaries: the Rideout family (Ian is a pilot and Becka is currently our guest house hostess) and Jeanette James (the principal of Sahel Academy). So we have some interaction with neighbors, but we know almost no one else on our street. Many of them are French and very aloof.
8. Well-dressed children asking for money. There are many legitimate beggars in town. This is partly due to Muslim influence and partly due to the extreme poverty of the country. But there are many children relatively well off who simply ask any white person for money as though it were some kind of greeting. That annoys me no end. We did not have that in Tera.
7. Cars turning left from the right-hand lane right in front of you. These people seem to think they own the road and have no consideration for others. They probably don't even look to see if you're there.
6. Cars running red lights. Often cars will pass a long line of cars waiting at the red light using the lane of opposing traffic and go right through the red light into the intersection. They must be more important than me.
5. All the bicycles, motorbikes, animals (camels, sheep, cattle, and dogs), donkey carts, and pedestrians in the road. Many of these don't know the rules of the road and don't know anything about "right of way." It is nearly impossible to avoid all these obstacles and maneuver around them. You have to keep an eye on everything coming at you in every direction. It's exhausting. One new missionary said he prefers driving in downtown Philadelphia to Niamey. His blood pressure was skyrocketing just after a ten-minute drive. And Niamey is nowhere near the worst place in Africa for driving.
4. The slow trucks piled beyond the gills with goods. These vehicles block up traffic, give off enough smoke to rival the smog in Los Angeles, and often break down. I've seen them loaded so high that they touch electric wires as they pass under them!
3. Traffic cops who pull you over for minor traffic violations that really would not result in any major accident. I have never received a single ticket in the US, but I have received 8 tickets in my 24 years in Niger. Yesterday (29 Dec 08), Nancy got pulled over for "not signalling". She had signalled to turn right, but the traffic cop did not see it. The steering wheel may have cut the signal off before she completed the turn, but she did signal. But the cop would hear none of our protests, and she now has to pay the fine.
2. Merchant stalls crowding the roads. This is a problem almost anywhere in Africa, but especially in bigger cities. In the major market areas, the problem is so bad, there's barely enough space for one lane of cars to pass when there are supposed to be two lanes of traffic.
And my number one pet peeve:
1. Power cuts. These are more frequent and longer than anything we had in Tera. And the people in Tera are rejoicing because they are now erecting high tension power lines to take power from Niamey to Tera so they won't have to rely on their diesel generator. I've told them to hold the celebration. They may be sorely disappointed. Power cuts in Niamey come without warning at almost any time. And they can last from an hour to a day. During the summer we had terrible power cuts lasting as long as 24 hours. We had to empty our freezer and use the stuff in it or put it somewhere else where it wouldn't go bad.
You've probably noticed that a lot of my pet peeves relate to traffic and congestion. I get tired of feeling cooped up in cities and waiting around for people. I always feel cramped and like the wide open spaces outside the city. In Niamey you also have to think about how long something should take and then double it to get the actual time it takes.
It's been a while since I've written. That reflects the pressure I've been under as well as the fast pace of the city and the time it takes to do everything. I hope to be able to post a little more often in 2009.
In addition to an initial orientation for every newcomer the day after they walk off the plane, I coordinate a one-day workshop twice a year for eveyone who has arrived since the last workshop. This helps newcomers process what they see and learn more about the country to which they have come. Part of orientation is getting housing set up for those associate members who will stay in Niamey for less than two years. In this capacity I assisst Nancy who is in charge of making sure each house is set up correctly. Here I am lifting some furniture with a young student at Sahel Academy.
My third job is teaching. If you don't know me by now, you need to know that I love teaching. It's my passion and my calling. I've done quite a bit of teaching this fall. I started out teaching algebra at Suzanne's school (Sahel Academy) for the first quarter of the year. I couldn't keep that up for more than five weeks, though, because I had many other things to do. After the workshop in Galmi, I started teaching a weekly course at my church on missions.
My fourth job is to keep up with the translation of children's stories that we completed while in Tera. I'm making slow progress on that one. Just last week, I was able to check 5 stories with a man who was in town from Tera for a few days.
My final job is worship leader. I play both guitar and piano and regularly lead worship for our mission family. At our annual conference in January 2009, I'm coordinating the worship team which will lead us all in singing and praise to God. I'm looking forward to that.
To do all this work, I spend a lot of time sitting at the computer writing letters or preparing for my classes. Sometimes I work at home and sometimes I work at the office. Here's a photo of me at my desk at the office working on my laptop.
So, I'm busy. What do I do in my free time? What free time? Actually, I like to read, work out, swim, run, watch videos, practice my guitar, and talk with my friends. There's not a lot of stuff to do here, but we make our fun. It's a simple life, but busy.
One of the things I found at the Embassy home was the World Reference Atlas (2007 edition). In the back of the atlas were lists of extremes: the largest countries in the world, the poorest countries in the world, the most populous countries, the usual types of lists you would expect with the usual culprits in the lists. One list I found unusual and fascinating. It was a list of the hottest inhabited places in the world. I discovered some very interesting bits of information. And I had one of my greatest suspicions confirmed: Niamey (where we live) is one of the hottest inhabited places on earth as measured by the average annual temperature!!!!!!!!!! Surprised? I'm not.
Now it's true that there are probably small places that didn't make it into the worldwide statistics for hottest places. We know of two places in Niger, for instance, that consistently average slightly hotter than Niamey. And there may be at least one place in Mali, the neighboring country that is hotter on average.
It's also true that there are places hotter than Niamey during certain times of the year. Right now, for instance, it is positively balmy here in Niamey. The temperature at 4 p.m. was 84F (29C). That really isn't all that hot, either for here or for some places in the US in the summer. The reason for the cool weather is that we've had almost 3 inches of rain in the past 36 hours. When it rains, it cools the temperature down considerably. In places where it doesn't rain much in the summer (like Iraq or Saudi Arabia), it is much hotter than in Niamey right now.
Another thing that is probably true is that there are places where it feels hotter than Niamey because the humidity is much higher than here. I'm sure New Delhi feels much hotter at this time of year because heat and humidity combined make the heat seem much more intense (it's called heat index). Niamey is very dry much of the year, which makes the heat more bearable. But from May to October, it is quite humid here, and it feels very heavy even when it's relatively cool.
Also, we're not talking here about places that are virtually uninhabitable. Places in the Arabian Desert or the Sahara are probably hotter than Niamey. Indeed, the highest temperature ever recorded in the world was 136F (57.5C) in the modern country of Libya. That was on 13 Sept 1922. In the US the hottest temperature recorded was in Deat Valley, California on 10 Jul 1913: 134F (56.5C). But those places are sparsely inhabited precisely because the heat makes them practically inhospitable to life, and so they are not included in the statistics.
So, what we're talking about is average annual temperature only. And we're excluding small towns and places that are very sparsely inhabited.
So, where does Niamey stand? Well, it's tied for fourth hottest inhabited place in the world and second hottest capital city in the world. Here is the list with average annual temperature:
1. Djibouti 86F (30C)
If you don't know where this is, pull out your atlas.
2. Timbuktu, Mali 84.7F (29.3C)
(tie) Tirunelveli, South India
(tie) Tuticorin, South India
3. Nellore, South India 84.5F (29.2C)
(tie) Santa Marta, Colombia
4. Aden, Yemen 84F (28.9C)
(tie) Madurai, South India
5. Hodeita, Yemen 83.8F (28.8C)
(tie) Ougadougou, Burkina Faso
Thanjavur, South India
Tiruchchirappalli, South India
Now, I hope you're getting the picture here. With one exception, the hottest inhabited places in the world are grouped in three general locations: the Horn of Africa around the Gulf of Aden, the Sahel of Africa (the southern fringe of the Sahara), and southern India. We live in the Sahel of Africa.
Now, I've updated my blog page, and I've tried to put an icon on there that gives you the actual temperature in Niamey. You should be able to see what the temperature here is whenever you consult my blog. You can also go to Weather Underground to check out some of these other places. Have fun!!
And remember us as we live in one of the hottest places on earth.
Eating fish sandwiches. The fish were caught in the Tera lake.
If, however, the student finally passes his primary exams and moves on to college, s/he has another four years to prove himself or herself. He or she may be as old as 14 or 15 when they enter college. At the end of four years of college, there is another exam. As was the case for primary school, there is another exam to determine if a student can pass on to high school. Again, most students don't pass the exam. And again, if they do not pass, they may retake the exam two more times after redoing the final year of college.
For years I’ve had a dream, a dream of visiting a city so remote and mysterious, it’s become a byword for the end of the earth, a place of isolation, a backwater of little importance. It's a "lost city" in the heart of Africa. Many people doubt it even exists. Many others have heard fantastic stories about this city, but upon seeing or hearing of it, their disappointment is palpable.
The Djingarey Ber, or Big Mosque, which dates fron the 14th century.
During the late Middle Ages, stories circulated throughout Europe of a city full of gold in Africa. There was also a famous library and university in the city with scholars who knew the ancient and contemporary worlds well. The library had over 700,000 manuscripts in it, some dating back as far as the 9th century. The reputation of the city spread, and Europeans wanted to find a way to get there.
By the early 1800’s, much of the world had been explored by white people, and few places remained where the foot of Europeans had not trod. Many of the “unexplored” places that remained were in Africa, and there was no place more forbidding than the Sahara, a desert bigger than all 50 US states (minus Alaska) combined.
In the early 19th century, the French Geographical Society put up a prize of 10,000 francs to the first person who could reach this city. The competition heated up between several European nations, especially Britain and France. Several explorers died trying to reach the city. The first European to do so, in 1826, was an Englishman, Alexander Gordon Laing, but he never made it back. Ultimately, it was a Frenchman, Rene Caillie, who won the prize by reaching the city in 1828 and finding his way back to Europe. This, of course, galled the British, but the contest stipulated the explorer had to make it back alive.
Rene Caillie was very disappointed by what he saw. It was no city of gold. It looked like a village perched on the edge of nowhere. He described it as a collection of mud huts on the edge of the desert. Everywhere the glaring, white hot sun pierced the stillness, and it seemed desolate and unimportant. The sign reads: Rene Caillie lived in this house from April to May 1828 during his voyage from Guinea to Morocco.
By the time Caillie reached the city, it was long past its glory days. But the stories Europeans had heard were true. Caillie had just arrived about 300 years too late to prove them. The city, which had been built on trade in things like gold, salt, slaves, and ivory, had been a wealthy city in the 14th to 16th centuries. But it had been bypassed by newer and faster trade routes, and foreign invaders (Moroccans and others) had come to the city in the late 1500’s, plundering its wealth and carrying off many manuscripts in its library.
Can you guess what city I’m talking about? Yes, it’s TIMBUKTU, and I had the privilege of making a overnight trip there on July3-4, 2008. I was able to take a tour of the city and see some of the main sites. The city is not much to look at today. Caillie’s description is still apt, but the streets are filled with history and mystery. I was able to see three of the famous mosques (one dating from the 14th century and made of mud) as well as the site of the ancient library. A new high-tech library is under construction on the site of the old one to house a collection of the old manuscripts. There are libraries all over town containing some of the ancient manuscripts that still exist. I saw places with plaques commemorating famous people I had heard and read about (among them Laing and Caillie). And there are a number of fascinating museums. The old city is a place of winding, narrow streets and ancient bazaars.
The city has a population of only about 50,000 today, well below what it once had. Still, it is the fifth holiest city in Islam and a place of pilgrimage. There are only about 200 Christians. It is located on the top of the Niger River bend about 700 miles by road upriver from Niamey, where we now live. It is still a center for trade, but today it is the tourist trade and modern merchandise that make up the majority of the commerce. Timbuktu was built on trade and the most of its inhabitants still make their living out of trade. While many of the buildings are still made of mud, many others reflect a Spanish/Moorish influence from the Moroccan invasion of 1591. These houses are constructed of a white, chalky stone similar to limestone that is mined in the desert and is more durable than mud. The wooden doors and windows are elaborate, decorated with intricate designs made of metal. The windows often have a lot of latticework.
My interest in Timbuktu is two-fold. First, there’s the history locked up in the place. Few places in the world can lay claim to as much history as Timbuktu. The second reason is Timbuktu’s connection to the Songhai. We’ve worked with the Songhai for almost 20 years, and Timbuktu was once known as a Songhai city, especially during its glory days. It was founded (or at least partially founded) by Songhai people and, until the mid-20th century, was a majority Songhai town. Today, the Songhai make up only about 25% of the population. The biggest group is the Tamasheq (also known as Tuareg), the enemies of the Songhai, who are about 60% of the population. The rest is made up of Arabs and southerners. Many tourists who go to Timbuktu buy the overpriced souvenirs that are typically Tamasheq (the same stuff we can buy in Niger), but I wasn’t interested in that.
Suz and I on a dune in the Sahara
Embedded in the text of this blog are pictures of Timbuktu. Remember that the French spelling for the city is Tombouctou.
One final advantage of visiting the city is that now I can tell my friends I’ve been to Timbuktu.
Welcome to Timbuktu
There is also another bridge that crosses part of the river to an island on which is a city, and that is upstream from Gao and past the bend of the Niger River.
Just thought I'd better clarify that. I don't think there are any other bridges over that stretch of river.
But let's introduce the bridge more foramlly. The bridge is called the Kennedy bridge. It was funded by the US during the Kennedy administration in the 60's. It is about 1 km (o.6 miles) long and connects the two halves of Niamey on either side of the Niger River. It is well built and has stood up well to the traffic and ravages of weather and time. Unfortunately, it was never designed to accomodate the volume of traffic it now must sustain every day. It is a narrow, two-lane bridge which carries lots of super-loaded trucks, heavy car traffic, donkey carts, a gazillion motorbikes, many pedestrians, and even camels loaded with huge mounds of grasses and bags of who knows what. IT looks quite peaceful in this photo.
The bridge can be quite pictuesque, especially at sunset when the blazing orb of heat and light sets over the right bank of the river (to the left in the picture at right). At night, the streetlights blaze a curving arc over the main channel of the river. Camels bouncing across the bridge can seem very exotic, but you get used to them after a while, and you hardly even notice them. There are also the humorous sights like the spooked cattle wandering all over the bridge or the people doing laundry in the river and laying the clothes out on the island in the middle of the bridge to dry.
In the Christian world we have our own means of defining success. Often we measure the number of decisions for Christ or the number of churches started. We look at how fast and how much a church grows over a period of five or ten years. We count the number of children saved from malnutrition and starvation. We look at how many people have gone on a missions trip in the past year. Are these accurate measures of "success"? I don't want to underestimate the value of numbers and statistics, but it seems to me that these are only superficial ingredients in our measurements.
What then is success? Is it simply remaining faithful to God and His calling? We've stuck it our for 16 years in a very hard place. And the result has been....what? Failure? If you look at the situation based on numbers of people coming to Christ or growth of the church, it sure looks like failure. Several people have written to tell us how they admired our grit and determination in the face of "impossible" odds. I don't know that I'm worthy of such praise. I certainly haven't done everything I could or should have done. And I've made plenty of mistakes. And except for Mike we haven't been able to recruit anyone to join us in the ministy. Is this failure? Or is it a success merely because we've been faithful and persevered for so long on our own with minimal help?
I'm not sure that even faithfulness by itself is an adequate measure of success. If you're faithful outwardly, but your attitude stinks, is that success? That was the case of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. I think there are several factors that constitute success.
Winston Churchill once said that "success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." That's quite a statement. If you look at many of the world's greatest people, you see failure over and over in their lives. Both Churchill and Lincoln had periods of great failure. The apostle Peter also failed miserably. What distinguishes these men from other people is that they were able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and kept on going. Am I like that? Can I get up from this "failure" and continue to be faithful to God, to the church, to my family. I want to be like that. I don't want to give up because of failure. Perhaps that is the key to success. Even if the failure seems unfair or unhappy, I will keep going. I will put one foot in front of the other and continue to take the next step as God leads. I want failure to make me grow, not make me quit.
I want to be a success.
How would you say goodbye to a place where you have lived for 16 years? I lived in Tera longer than anywhere else in my life. Now I've had to say to goodbye. Here are my top ten ways to say goodbye. Hope this resonates with someone.
10. Learn from the mistakes of the past, but don't dwell on the past and its failures.
9. Don't ignore your feelings. Be honest and open.
8. Remember the good times you had.
7. Don't rush the process of resettlement.
6. Visit old haunts in your old location before you leave.
5. Let God show you the next step in His time.
4. Bring familiar things to your new home to keep up the continuity.
3. Take mementos of the place you're leaving with you.
2. Take lots of pictures to remember the old place.
And the number one way tosay goodbye:
1. Take time to grieve.
That's all for now. I hope to be able to post more often in the weeks to come.
This week I completed seven cycles of seven years and started my own "year of Jubliee." It is a year of liberation and freeing for me. For years the work in Tera has been a growing weight on my shoulders. In the past few weeks, God has lifted that burden and told me the time has come to move on. He will take the burden and bear it. Maybe the land in Tera needs to lie fallow for a while. We've sown many seeds there, often with sweat, toil, and tears. Now it's time to stop planting and let God work.
It's also a year of rejoicing as I look back on the past 49 years and see what God has done. It hasn't always been easy. I've chosen a road "less traveled" and that has definitely made "all the difference," to quote Robert Frost's famous poem. But there are wonderful memories and lots of laughter amidst the pain and the tears.
But the laborers are too few. There are a few believers in Tera now, but they are not strong and have tentative and marginally trained leaders. Is there anyone out there ready to come in and water the seeds? I long to see the day when the fields will be white to harvest. Actually, that's what the Songhai say when the millet is ripening, that the fields are turning "white." When the stalks dry up and become a drab whitish-brown, they are ready to harvest. May this day come soon for the Songhai. But God has his time, and it will come. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
In the meantime, we rejoice and proclaim freedom for the captives, the restoring of sight to the blind, the loosing of the chains of those in bondage, and the ability to walk to the lame. This is the year of jubilee. May His mercy and forgiveness be known in all the earth.
We're waiting on God to show us the next step. What will we do in Niamey? What is God's plan for us? After 16 years of work in one place, we've been abruptly uprooted and moved to another. While I never doubted that the move to Niamey is the right one, I've been torn by the decision. I've not really wanted to do it and didn't think it was good for me. I asked the Lord for confirmation, and He responded more than once, assuring me this was for the best.
The first confirmation came during our annual field conference held Jan 5-9. Our speaker came from California, and almost everything he said spoke to my aching heart. One picture he painted was of a big building on Fifith Avenue in New York City. When you walk into the lobby, there is a statue of Atlas straining to hold up the world. Walk across the street to St. Patrick's Cathedral, and there you see a small statue of the baby Jesus holding the world in His hands. For a long time, I've felt the burden of the Songhai people on my shoulders. In one way the burden has been ours to bear because there are so few workes amongst the Songhai. In another sense, I've tried to bear a lot of the burden that belongs to God. During conference, that burden lifted, and I placed it back in God's capable hands. For the first time in years, I felt free of that heavy weight.
The second confirmation also came during conference when one of our African colleagues encouraged us by saying that he felt it was time for us to move but that our time in Tera had not been wasted effort in spit of the meager results we had seen. This man knows what he is talking about because he was born and raised in Tera. He currently teaches at Sahel Academy and has taught French to both of our children. He is a believer, but his extended family is not. He said that everyone in Tera knows about Christianity because of us and has some respect for what a Christian is. Even his own family allows him to stay "Christian" as long as it is like what Yaaye (my African name) and his family practice. That is a major step forward, and he says our being in Tera has encouraged him to persevere in his Christian faith. I don't have to tell you that I had tears in my eyes when he told me this.
A third confirmation came the day after conference ended. Nancy handed me the devotional book My Utmost for His Highest and pointed me to the entry for Jan 11. It struck me how it fit our situation so well. Listen to these words: "If we obey God, it will mean that other people's plans will be upset....We have simply to obey and to leave all the consequences with Him." Our friends in Tera did not react very well to the announcement that we would be moving away. They wanted to prevent that or at least mitigate the circumstances of our departure. For some of them, it will mean the loss of a job. Others will not have the teaching and spiritual input into their lives. For others, we've become like family to them. It is very hard to say goodbye. But what Oswald Chambers says applies to our situation very well.
A final confirmation came on Sunday, Jan 13, when our guard, a man who once seemed to have a strong faith but has fallen back some in the past three years, came to our house and said he and the others needed to get back together for meetings and studying. I was encouraged by that crack in the wall. He also commented that I seemed more at peace than I'd been in months, perhaps years. It showed me that this move seems to be the right thing, and I've decided in my mine that it is the right thing to do.
So, how am I going to wait? Our speaker at conference gave three suggestions:
1. Wait on the Lord, not for an answer to my questions. By the way, wait in Hebrew means trust.
2. Wait in a crowd. We'll be waiting with our SIM colleagues and our African brothers and sisters. It's not good to wait alone, as that is when Satan attacks.
3. While waiting, we will do what we can, even when it seems insignificant. God takes small acts of obedience and turns them into great things. The greatest things may be accomplished while we're in a waiting mode.
So, here in Niameywe wait. We are living temporarily in one house for 2 months until another house can be fixed up for us. We are learning to live without plans and by His timetable. We will step forward, and He will give us His power along the way.