25 June 2016

Transubstantiation: The Art of Speaking Before Thinking

While Maiguida is the "Owner of Hausa" (meaning, he can speak in complete correct sentences and understands what Nigerien people are saying to him), I have been titled the "Owner of Talking" -- I'll leave that definition to your own imagination.

Apparently, when it comes to language learning, I have no qualms about jumping in head-first, letting my tongue lead the charge.  Some say it's a good thing . . . not being afraid to make mistakes, trying to communicate despite a lack of perfection, learning by doing in a trail-and-error kind of way.

But surely there is some kind of folly in digging oneself into such a language ditch that she is halfway to China before she realizes no one in the room has any idea of what she is talking about . . . herself included.

10 June 2016

The Chinese Dialect of Hausa

When I was in high school, in order to graduate, we had to take either two years each of two foreign languages or three years of one.  At that time, only Latin, French and Spanish were offered (American Sign Language was considered an elective) . . . and my parents gave us the choice of studying Latin or Latin--believing it would be helpful for us with the SAT exam and futures in areas such as law or medicine.

If only I had understood then what I know now: I'm a tactile learner and language as a concept is lost on me.

06 June 2016

Hausa + Math = Torture

I love playing with my camera and capturing unique moments in time.  Somedays I even get a few photos that are worth looking at.  I enjoy telling stories, both orally and in written form.  Most of the time they are long and drawn out and overly detailed, but somedays I'm able to edit one down enough to get a few clicks of approval on Facebook.  I love to cook and try out new recipes.  And on a good day, the final product is palatable enough for Maiguida to ask for seconds. 

But you know what I don't like?  Numbers.  I hate them.  And I'm no good at using them.  If I have mittens on, forget it.  And please never, ever ask me to subtract or divide . . . cause we'll just be wasting each other's time.

The problem is, society has determined that numbers are important.  Like we can't live life without them or something.  And not just Western society!  Nope, Niger has numbers too!! 

And this week, I had to do math in Hausa and it was the most pain I've been in for a very long time.

05 June 2016

I Found Donuts in the Market

I can't make this stuff up!
I've been on a mission.

A fabric finding mission.

Last year I was in Côte d'Ivoire for the biennial congress of the PanAfrican BurnSociety.  Something I didn't know until moving to Niger is that Abidjan (Ivory Coast's capital city) is considered to be the Milan of West Africa.  We're talking haute couture here people!  At least in terms of wax prints.

Being that we were in the fashion capital of our little corner of the world, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to scope out the latest fabrics.  As I settled on a beautiful cobalt with a barely-there white dotted pattern, I noticed a print that was too fabulous for words: babies in-utero juxtaposed with waiting-to-nurse breasts.

04 June 2016

The Owner of the Room

So much of language is culture.  We often assume that language is simply a collection of words structured in a certain way and organized by these funny symbols we call emojis . . . I mean, punctuation.

Children learn the language of their parents (or languages, in some cases) by hearing and slowly mimicking.  Early mispronunciation or grammatical errors are often considered adorable, but are corrected as the child matures and begins school.  Through this style of learning, the cultural component of language is absorbed and naturally understood.

But when one studies a new language as an adult, there are heaps of nuances that are not so easily perceived.  And we find ourselves beginning to finally scratch the surface of what it really means to speak Hausa.

03 June 2016

And We're Back

A week ago our plane touched down in Niamey, the capital city of Niger.  It was around 2am local time.  As we grabbed our carry-ons and made our way out of the air conditioned cabin, we descended the movable staircase and crowded into transport bus that would take us for a 20-second drive from the plane to the arrivals terminal.

As we stood in the-kind-of-a-line, sweating, at passport control, I took in a deep breath of hot, stale air.

Ah.  Niger.

31 January 2016

The Five Stages of Home{less} Assignment

I know I told you a little while back that I'd return to more regular updates and even some posts catching you up on stories from the first half of 2015.

But I haven't done that.

And I'm only kind-of sorry about it.

14 December 2015

Why I'm Not Afraid to Live in Niger

One of the questions maiguida and I get asked the most as we travel around speaking and visiting is "Is it safe in Niger?"

"But what about terrorists??" and "Aren't you afraid??" and "Why would you give up the safety of America??" and "If something happened how will you protect yourselves??"

Most of the time I want to respond by pulling out my smarty-pants phone, googling "NEWS" and clobbering the asker with headlines of the violence rampant in the US . . . but instead I play the diplomat and explain that where we live in Galmi is currently peaceful and quiet, but we recognize the risks associated with the region at large and trust the Lord with our lives.

But the reality is, as disciples of Jesus, we gave up our safety/rights/freedom/lives when we "took up our cross and followed."

17 November 2015

I'm a Glutton for [Cross-Cultural] Punishment

I guess it was not enough that I live and work cross-culturally, so I had to go and marry a man that not only is of a different nationality, he comes from multiple cultures as well!

You see, Maiguida grew up in Niger, but his family is actually European.  So while he ate with a knife and fork at home, he's a complete natural when it comes to the Nigerien tradition of sharing a common plate and using one's right hand to consume a meal.

He is comfortable holding his wife's hand in public . . . and also walking down the street, hand-in-hand with a man.  Because in the West, hand holding is a romantic act, but in Niger it is reserved for close friends of the same gender.

And while he is a natural cultural-chameleon, there has been one very surprising cross-cultural nuance that we have come to discover about each other in the short time we've been married.  And we're struggling to get past it.

15 November 2015

Status Update

I am well aware that it has been [far] too long since my last post.

But there is good reason for that.

And it's not what many of you will think.

I got married about a month ago . . . but that's not why I haven't been writing.

WAIT A MINUTE!!!!!

Rewind that!

Deb. you did WHAT!?!?!?!  And you didn't tell us?!?!?!?

03 April 2015

Lessons on Palm Sunday

I started treating M. on 12 December 2013.  At the estimated age of 40, she had been sent to us after having a severe stroke which left her unable to move her right side, walk or speak.  

We worked together regularly for five months, and each time she had a check up with her doctor, she and her husband and her sister would pop by the gym to greet us.  

By the time she plateaued in therapy, she was walking by herself with the use of a hemi-walker.  She was able to do a good amount of her self-care on her own, and had figured out how to navigate around her aphasia.  I was impressed at how much we were able to communicate despite the limitations of her mono-word vocabulary.

The stroke had affected the portion of her brain that is responsible for expressive language, and while she understood everything we said, M. could only respond with the word “yes”.  She would change her tone or facial expression to convey her meaning. 

I loved when M. came by to see us.  Her face was bright with joy despite her difficulties.  No matter how difficult a task was, she persevered.  And her appreciation came across loud and clear in her “YYYEEEESSS!!”

05 March 2015

#GoodMorningNiger

I'm not sure if it's just me . . . or if it's cross-cultural living in general, but each day seems to be full of hiccups and speed bumps and continual changes-of-plans.

Today I was supposed to take a flight back to Galmi (an hour an a half-ish trip) after spending a week in the capital doing a workshop on facilitating trauma-healing support groups.  But the flight got delayed to later in the week which meant I was on the bus (a seven hour bumpy and exhausting trip).

So, when life hands you lemons, make . . . a photo essay.

01 February 2015

A Shepherd Needs His Shoes

Using an inner tube and foam from his mattress, our
patient rigged up a 'shoe' to cushion his steps.
A few weeks ago, I saw a young man -- maybe 16 or 18 -- limping through the hospital.  I was walking behind him, analyzing his gait pattern.  On the left foot, he wore a DarcoShoe which we had given him a while back.  His right foot wasn't visible as the leg of his pants encircled what remained after a midfoot amputation.

I didn't think much more about him, until a couple hours later he and his father showed up at our gym.  He didn't want the Darco any more . . . the wound where they had removed his left big toe, was all healed and the wedge of the sole made his limp worse.

Walking, for this young man, isn't just a form of transportation . . . it is his source of income and identity.  He's a shepherd, and his life is spent roaming the wide open spaces of Niger, leading his sheep and goats out to pasture.

As we asked him some questions in order to best gauge our intervention approach, he began to sling a little rubber disk around the ring finger of his right hand.

'What's that?' I asked.

'My shoe.'

'Where'd you get it?'

'I made it myself.'

17 January 2015

Niger in the News

Niger has made the news again.  This time in response to the happenings in Paris.  Churches and the private homes of many Christians in the large cities across the country have been burned.  Please pray the peace of Niger!

To read one report of the violence across the country, click here.

30 November 2014

Lessons from the Widow and her Mite

My favorite thing to do in Niger on a Sunday is drive an hour up the road, weaving around broken-down-trucks and boys-driving-the-harvest-home-on-donkey-carts, to attend a tiny village church.

Humble, in every sense of the word, this small community of brothers and sisters faithfully meets to give thanks for the little they have; together they learn how the Living Word of God should change their daily lives.

We were some of the first to arrive, which gave us ample time to greet others fully and to be received with great welcome and joy.  As we were invited to choose our benches, a small elderly woman approached the side door of the church.  I didn't know it then, but this Little Old Lady was about to teach me a profound lesson.