Thursday, October 2, 2008

Life's Surprises

There's a verse in Proverbs that reads, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (16:9) Well, we have discovered the truth of that passage in the past few weeks. After six amazing weeks in Niger, we have returned back to the states. Theresa developed a medical condition that was a result of the environment. On the advice of the medical staff, we made the very difficult decision to return home.

We don't know why this happened - why our dream years in the making was cut so short. We are still wrestling with what this means for our past, present, and future. This has been the most difficult struggle we have faced together, and it is our faith in a good and faithful God that is keeping us afloat. Though we don't always understand him, we know that he has a plan, works all out for the good of his children, and has always been faithful in caring for us - and that has to be enough for now.

So we search for our place now in the states, seeking God's plan for us. We know we're back for a reason, and we're trying to be faithful to that. Thank you to our family and friends who have been so supportive, who have loved us despite of what we felt were our failings, and who have embraced us with open arms. And thank you to God, who has been so near in this hard time - the path may still seem hazy, but his presence has been real.

We suppose that this is the end to our blog. Thanks to those who have followed along our journey, however short it was, and we hope you were able to catch a glimpse of the beautiful people and country that we were blessed to spend six weeks with. We know the end of one journey is just the beginning of another, and we look forward with hope to see what God has in store!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

After a Month in Africa

Greetings from Africa! It's about noon and we are sitting in a fancy, Lebanese cafe in Niamey, the capital city, borrowing a computer from another Peace Corps trainee and updating our blog using the cafe's wireless internet. The cafe is air-conditioned and the Olympics are on in the background. This is quite a treat for us! Sunday is our only day off from training so we try to relax.  We'll fill you in on what we have experienced during the last month.  

We arrived in country on Thursday, July 11th.  There are about 40 other Peace Corps trainees in our training group in the following areas: municipal and community development, community health (like Theresa) and community and youth education (like Joe).  There are also other volunteers who are serving in the areas of agriculture and natural resources/environment management.  We were greeted at the airport by the training director, Tondi, a native Nigerien with a big smile and a contagious laugh. We traveled in two giant Peace Corps vehicles to the training site which is about 30 kilometers (km) from Niamey.  (For security reasons, when we share our location and travel plans on this blog we will be purposefully vague).  

We are in class at the training site Monday through Saturday. Class includes: 
Language - Joe is studying French, the language used in elementary and middle schools and Theresa is studying Hausa, the local language spoken throughout the eastern part of the country.  
Culture - We are learning about appropriate dress, gestures, traditions, and customs.  We are also learning about the religion here.  About 95% of the country is Muslim.  
Health - We are receiving special medical training tailored to address specific challenges in Niger.  We have two medical officers who are available around the clock and provide medication, consultation, and support as well as leading training classes and info sessions.  
Security - We have a staff member dedicated to training all volunteers in safety and security. We have learned the best way to be safe is by understanding and adapting to the culture.  
It is a 9 week training program and we are just finished week 4.  We have to demonstrate our knowledge in each of the four areas in order to become volunteers.  Right now, language is the most challenging part of the training. We had our first evaluation which shows we are progressing, slowly but surely. We have 5 more weeks before being sent out to our job sites, which will be announced next week. 

We live with a host family and have our own little mud hut with a thatch roof within their concession (their walled property). We use a bucket bath and a squat latrine - both pretty much are exactly like they sound. An unanticipated luxury has been that during training, the Peace Corps does our laundry for us - washing, ironing, and folding everything! But we wash our "small clothes" ourselves in our bucket. We buy our breakfast at the market, usually milk in a bag (called Solani) and bread.  We eat lunch at the training site, and our host family cooks dinner for us. Due to cultural norms here, we eat together, apart from the rest of the family, on a little table.  We eat from a large metal bowl using our right hand. There's a lot of rice and beans, as well as onions, pasta, and of course millet. We don't eat much of the meat (goat, mostly), but have our fair share of mangos and even pineapple from time to time. 

The weather has been hot, but not overwhelming. Plus, we're told our bodies will adjust to the heat. It's the rainy season now, and it rains a few times a week, cooling things down a bit. During the day we stay in the shade and there's often a cool breeze. After rainy season comes "cold" season, and then hot season, followed by the rainy season again. We're more than a little intimidated by the reports of 120+ during hot season, but it also coincides with mango season, which will help us cope with the heat. 

This past month has been exciting, challenging, eye-opening, and crazy all at the same time. We love and miss all our family and friends while cherishing the opportunity to experience this amazing adventure. We appreciate you all following along with us, and we hope to keep updating as we are able. We haven't been able to load any pictures at this point, but a girl from our training group has put hers on her Flickr account and invites you to check them out (  Thanks to Marisa Wong for sharing her photos! 
More stories to come, but for now, Sai Angima! 

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Preparing to Depart

Here we are, two days from our departure date - packed and ready to go! We thought we'd start this blog by telling you why we decided to take this big step.

Ever since we got married, four years ago, we decided to spend a significant amount of time experiencing another culture. We intended to spend two years somewhere in Europe. However, as we considered our dream further, we realized we could both experience another culture and serve people in great need.

We found that the Peace Corps offered the opportunity to accomplish our dreams. We have been invited to train in Niger, Africa - one of the poorest countries in the world. Joe will be working within the struggling education system, and Theresa will be working to raise awareness of community health issues. We will spend the next 3 months in training, learning about the language, culture, and beliefs of the people with whom we will work. After training, we will move into our community and begin our 2 years of service.

So after a lengthy application process and a lot of hopes and prayers, here we find ourselves-all our worldly possessions packed in a 10x10 storage room, and the rest strapped to our backs. We are excited, nervous, expectant, hopeful...everything you can imagine. We look forward to sharing our journey with you. It is yet unclear how often we will have access to internet, especially in the first 3 months, but we will keep you all updated as we are able.

Until revoir!