On to the next

I am coming to the realization that I’m not very good at keeping this blog updated.  It’s been quite a few years ago that I created it, mainly for my family to read, but my posts are few and far between.  We have lived in Washington D.C. since September and I haven’t even finished telling stories about Africa.  Perhaps I will look back at reflections while moving forward.

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Ethiopia Photo Log

Words cannot describe the adventure we had in Ethiopia.  And so I bring you these photos.  I’ll reflect upon the journey in another post.

Of course, my internet is too slow for me to even try and rearrange them into chronological order so you are going to experience our entire trip from end to beginning.

Addis Abba and National Museum: Lucy’s home

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Axum and house of the Ark of the Covenant (or so we are told)

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Lalibela: home of our new “son” Asefa- unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of him.

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Gondar and Simien National Park

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Bahir Dar

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What’s grandma doin’ at the dunes?!

The dunes…

Just another place we can hang out in Niamey.  I’ve been to the dunes twice- once without and once with Vic.  It’s a nice place to visit if you’re totally into sand.  Really, it’s just one big dune and a variety of small dunes but still a lot of fun.

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Smiles abound

Once a month a group of us will head out to an orphanage on the outskirts of town to spend time with a few dozen kids.  People will bring clothes, toys and books.  It’s so fun to see the kids get to know the people who come each week and vice versa.  This orphanage is run by an Assemblies of God mission and the director is from Ghana.  Unlike the government orphanages that turn kids out when they reach about 14 years old, this group allows children to stay until they can go back to a family member or sustain themselves in society.

I love visiting this place and I will miss these kids when I leave!  There are defiantly a few I wouldn’t mind taking home with me but I know that they are in good hands and Niger needs them to become the next leaders!

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The kids will usually sing some songs and dance for us when we get there.  They are so funny and love to laugh!

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One time we decided it would be fun to bring some music and teach the kids line dancing! We taught them the Macarena and the Electric Slide. That might be my favorite experience so far!
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After singing and dancing, we get out the books, crayons, toys and start to play. Some of the kids like when you read to them and some of them love to read to us. There are a few books about the U.S. and we share what it’s like to live where we come from.

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I can’t describe the great things that are happening in this little corner of the world. You can’t save everyone, but you can help the ones around you. It doesn’t matter if you are in a third world country or your own neighborhood there are always kids out there that need to know they are important, intelligent and worth being loved.
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Marrakech Madness

Rabat was laid back compared to our time in Marrakech.  We stayed at a fantastic riad in the middle of the old part of town.  We had to wind through the market just to find the side road to turn down only to make another turn and yet another turn to get to our place.  It was fabulous.  A riad is really just a big house turned into a hotel that is hidden in the twists and turns of older parts of town.  Ours even had it’s own little hammam where you can get scrubbed down, bathe and then get a relaxing massage.

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One of the best parts of Marrahech was the train ride to get there.  There were snow covered mountains that dominated the horizon and a cliche blue sky.  The train tickets were so inexpensive, we traveled first class for our whole time in Morocco.

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The center of Marrakech old town boasted a World Heritage Site where all kinds of people could be found.  By day you can find snake charmers, small musical groups and a variety of things to buy.  At night the whole place converts in to one big outdoor cook out.  There are lines of tables and tents with each one beckoning you to try their delicacies.  It was a bit too cold for us to eat outside so we chose one of the few restaurants to eat outside of the square.  This was not a foodies type of town.  We ate well, but it was not easy to find a place that didn’t reek of tourists.    IMG_3301When we found a place to eat, we ordered the traditional tagine and it was AMAZING!  The flavors are nothing like I have ever tasted and the meat was so tender it melted in my mouth.  I was going to take a before photo but it was too delicious and I couldn’t put my fork down to pick up the camera!

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On our last day we took a carriage ride around the city and stopped at a botanical garden (Jardin Majorelle).  It was absolutely lovely.  We wouldn’t have thought to venture that far away from our area of town but I’m glad we make the trip.

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We had some rain in Marrakech but most of the days were clear and sunny.  There were some amazing sunsets and beautiful views to be seen.IMG_3411 IMG_3403

The city was truly magical but I will have to say, I thought I was going to die a few times.  In between those buildings is a maze of shops with narrow streets not wide enough for a car.  However, people will ride their motorcycles, bicycles and scooters at amazing speeds.  I don’t know how we didn’t get run over or even witness anyone else get run over the whole time we were there.  It was utter madness.  And the craziest part was that not one pedestrian batted an eye.  It was like the most normal thing in the world.  IMG_3361 IMG_3319

Isn’t Victor cute?  It’s so nice to take a break from the heat and dust!IMG_3309IMG_3306This was a trip we will never forget!  I have fulfilled a childhood dream and it won’t be soon enough for us to return.

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Rock the Casbah!

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always wanted to travel to Morocco.  My first memory of meeting someone from another country was when my dad brought home a guy from Morocco who was studying with him on a course.  His name was Abed…I think…and I was about 5 years old.  I was intrigued by his accent, his skin color, his “differentness” and I loved everything about it.  Morocco!  What must life be like there?!  It seemed so different from our little New Jersey suburb.  You might even say that this could be the point in my life that I decided to become a traveler.  One day, when I grew up, I was going to go to Morocco.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that day happened.

IMG_3295Our visit to Morocco started in Rabat.  We stayed with my friend from college, Sarah and her husband Corey.  They were fantastic hosts because they let us be lazy and taught us a new board game!  It was fantastic.  Here are a few photos around Rabat…

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The weather was cold and rainy but that’s just how we like it when leaving Niger!  There were a few sunny spells and our walk to the seaside was absolutely refreshing.  IMG_3238 IMG_3252 IMG_3219The Cathedral in town was absolutely stunning but we couldn’t go inside.  I think we had to be Catholic…or maybe I’m remembering that wrong.  The photo above makes me think of how god deals with our stupid questions: the answer is all around you.  IMG_3220

There was a Roman village at the edge of town which was absolutely beautiful.  It reminded us of our travels in Europe and we marveled at the distance the Roman Empire conquered.  IMG_3184 IMG_3137

Next stop….Marrakech!

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L’artiste du Niger.

When I first arrived in Niger, everything was new and fantastic.  However, there was very little in the way of museums, arts or culture.  Don’t get me wrong, it exists but it is few and far between.

One day when I was driving around the neighborhood, I noticed something special at one of the shacks at the end of my street.  Most of these little shacks sell goods like food, clothes, auto supplies or hair cuts; this shack sold paintings.  The guy running the shop was not only the owner but the artist.  I stopped by one day before Christmas to see if I could pick up some gifts for my family.  There were some great paintings and one kept catching my eye but I really try not to buy myself stuff presents around Christmas.  Just seems a little weird.  I ended up buying my dad and step mom a painting and had a nice conversation with the artist, even if my French isn’t really that great.

After Christmas, I stopped by the shack again to say hi to the artist and introduce a new teacher from the school.  He asked me to come by the next day because he had a gift for me.  Surprised, I stopped by again the next day and he had what had to be a painting all covered with cardboard.  He told me to open it when I got home and it was revealed to be the painting I was eyeing before Noel.  Yeah, I met him once and he just gave me a painting which is sort of like food from his table.  I was floored.  It was then I realized that we were going to be friends.

After that I tried to look for ways I could be a friend rather than patron.  First I learned the artist’s name: Boubacar.  Next I noticed that each day he sits outside his shack and paints while sitting on a bench with the canvas balanced on his leg.  Yes, that’s right, he painted with one hand holding the canvas and the other holding a brush.  He needed and easel: problem solved.

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And that’s how it all started.  Since then I’ve sold a few of his paintings to friends in the U.S. and made postcards out of his work to get the word out about his art. I’ve also made a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/boubacardjiboartiste

Our friendship is one of my favorite things about living in Niger.  Sometimes I just go hang out at his shack to chat and practice my French.

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Take me out to the football game!

For the past year I have wanted to attend a football match at the stadium in town.  It finally happened.  About a month ago, the Niger national team played in an African Cup qualifier against Cape Vert and I went along with my dear friend Brian and Valerie (now residing in DC…so sad).  Brian had a friend who is connected to the football scene in Niger and we experienced the VIP treatment: sweet seats and A/C refreshment room at half time.

We got there in African fashion, just before the players came out to the pitch.  They played both national anthems and then it was time for kick off!   I was surprised how well both teams played.  Not quite Premier League but better than MLS.  Of course, Cape Vert scored three goals in the first 15min but the crowd never died down.  After each goal, the people in the stadium would clap and pump up the Niger players.  They even had a “marching” band that played music after the goals of the opposing team (I say “marching” because they were all dressed up but never marched…I was disappointed).

 

The crowd was electric and contagious.  I couldn’t help but get into the spirit.  Niger did finally score a goal and everyone went wild!  What a glorious moment.  You would have thought we won the African Cup then and there.

 

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I ask, beg, plead…

IMG_1200Rather than write an incredibly long post about our summer in the States, I just want to bring up one point in time.  It only lasted about twenty minutes but I will never forget that moment.

Our visit went like this:  Montana, New York, Ohio.  Sandwiched in the middle of our home states, we visited my grandparents in New York City.  It had been a few years since I saw them and since we traveled this far, I didn’t think it would be out of the question to see some of my East coast family.

With an extra day in the City I decided it was time to visit the 9/11 memorial.  And when I say “it was time” I really mean that I had been avoiding it since it opened.  You see, it’s the final resting place of many people but one that I knew personally and to this day it is difficult to grasp that he is actually gone.  And it’s not like he was a person I saw every day, just once a year.  He was the husband of my cousin.  I know that sounds rather distant but there is nothing distant about the relationship I have with my cousin, actually the cousin of my father.  However, she is like the older sister I always wanted: someone who deeply understands me and still loves me.  (And yes, I do actually have an older sister but it took us a while to become close so in the mean time, there was my cousin.)

I don’t want to tell you my story.  It’s long and I’m just not willing to share at the moment.  But here is what I want to tell you:

IF YOU EVER VISIT THE 9/11 MEMORIAL DO NOT TAKE A SELFIE WITH THE MEMORIAL IN THE BACKGROUND.

Even now while typing this all caps message to you, my heart is racing and my breath is short.  Searching for his name on the metal plates, dodging tourists, was as if I was searching for a lost treasure.  I almost started to panic when I couldn’t find it.  My dad was there, telling me he knew where it was but we couldn’t find it.  My hands passed over each name like I was reading them with my fingertips, asking them if they knew where he was.  And then, spelled out before my eyes:  First Middle Last.  I wept, as I wept then, as I am weeping now.  The tragedy is still fresh for me and I don’t know if it will ever go away.

But there, as I wept, were people all around me taking god damned selfies.  Families standing before the roaring fountains, smiling for the camera.  I get that I was standing in the middle of one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world but I couldn’t help but hate every person I saw.  Perhaps hate is a strong word.  I guess really, I just felt sorry for them because they were clueless.  Didn’t they know that they were standing on the graves of so many people?  Would they take their selfies in the gas chambers of a concentration camp?  Or the USS Arizona memorial?  What did they think this was, Rockefeller Center?

However, I love freedom.  I love living in a country that respects the rights of people to express themselves freely, without fear of imprisonment or persecution.  This is why I ask, beg, plead with you to take the time to visit the 9/11 memorial and try to respect it as the final resting place of people who had nothing to do with war but died in a fight that will never be truly won.  You may or may not know someone who was never found but now you know someone who does.

I’ve seen ground zero from the beginning, middle and end of it’s progression after 9/11.  Yes, it is a grand memorial but the roar of the waterfalls is too terrifying for me.  It drowns out the cries of the past and clouds the eyes of the living.  It washes away the destruction and the death.  Perhaps some day those things will be washed out of my memory too but I hope to god I never see that day.  I, for one, will never forget.  

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The Sadness

IMG_1108This past week has been a rough one for Team Osweiler.  Last Saturday Victor’s step-father died from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident.  It was very shocking and I’m not sure the true weight of the news really sunk in for a few days.  This summer we visited him and his wife (not Vic’s mom) while we were in Great Falls just like we would every other visit.  But this time was a little different.  IMG_1090Yes, we went out to eat, as usual but the next day Tom took us to the Railroad Museum at the county fair grounds where he volunteered.  It was magical.  The building was filled with memorabilia from a time gone by with two rather large model train sets.  I have always loved trains and the nostalgia they bring. Living in Europe was so fantastic for train travel that I long for the days I could hop on a train in the morning and be in London by lunchtime.

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This was a side of Tom I had never seen before.  He was like a kid in a candy shop, so delighted to share this passion with his kids.  I went wild, taking photos of every little model building, tiny cars and even an alien space ship!  Without that visit, I’m sure his death would have been even more tragic to Victor and perhaps myself.

But that wasn’t the only death this week, was it?  Of course, when any celebrity dies you can’t escape the tributes, news articles and facebook updates.  The death of Robin Williams was also very tragic but also hit a personal note for me as well.  Just a little over a year ago, my uncle committed suicide and the wound inside of me is still very fresh.  With all of the outpouring of “how could he have done this” to “I can’t believe” to “but he was so happy” it seems that mental health education is lacking in our society.  We can’t understand unless we have also been in the shoes of the person suffering.

This week my sadness was overwhelming and as I sit at home alone, it only increases.  However, I am not going through a depression where I am not able to get out of bed, I am just really sad.  But I’m not the type of person to hide my feelings.  When people ask me how I’m doing I will tell them: I am very sad.  That does not stop me from laughing or having fun but it does make it a little harder to breathe.  It makes the alone times so much more lonely.  I am a total extrovert and I know that if I am around a group of people it will give me energy, therefore I have been conscious to surround myself with people each day this week.  It seems to be working…not to mention the huge nap I took today.

The most difficult thing about being sad where I am right now is that, even on a normal day, I experience a moderate amount of sadness.  Just driving down the street I am aware of the poverty in this country.  I witness children wandering the streets sometimes half clothed.  I see people walking in-between cars, begging for food, money or anything to survive.  But I don’t look at them and say, “I should be happy because I have more than they do” I try to imagine how I can be part of the solution, not causing the problem.  And with the sadness I feel for the losses in my family, I look outside and think about not only the poverty but what losses others may have faced in their lives.  Not just the people on the streets but all of the people I see every day.  That is not a problem to be solved, or a program to develop.

And like Job, I have friends who will sit with me in my sadness.  That is the only good thing about suffering: with the right people, you don’t have to do it alone.  I thank my friends here who sit with me, share scones, give me tours, and just hang out while eating good pizza.  It’s when you’re alone that the suffering becomes unbearable and I hope that day will never come when I have to do it by myself.

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