First day of school…and I don’t have to be there!

Last year I took a job teaching 2nd and 3rd grade at the American International School Niamey and it was quite the adventure.  This week school started again and I reveled in the fact that I didn’t have to be there.  When I took the job I agreed to one year of teaching since I was really just a glorified substitute.  I still don’t know the whole story but there was a great need for a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher since the young lady teaching 4th and 5th grades took in the class due to the absence of a 2-3 teacher.  When I visited her classroom with the director she looked at me as if I were her Fairy Godmother coming to grant her wish of whisking her off to the ball.  How could I refuse the job after that?

It was a year of invention, determination, laughter, tears and beauty.  Those children were my biggest challenge and my greatest accomplishment.  Even now that I’m not teaching, I do have a bit of an empty feeling that I won’t be entering a classroom full of kids that are either excited to see me or dreading our next writing lesson.  I can honestly say that I miss them being in my life every day.  Some of them I still see because they are part of the Embassy community.  Of course they are the introverts whose love language is NOT hugs but I pick them up and hug them anyway.  My excuse is that I am no longer their teacher and I don’t have to be nice to them.  I can ignore the fact that in school picking them up and hugging them might be frowned upon.  It’s the real world now and I won’t have any repercussions of the law in the back of my mind.  Hahahahahaha!!  Yikes, that makes me sound like a pedophile.  Trust me when I say that my hugging is purely for embarrassment and not for any harm.

Another fantastic addition to randomly getting a job at AISN were the people I worked with.  What a great group of people!  I loved going to school everyday because I had such a wonderful time with my fellow partners in shenanigans!  There are so many great memories and friendships that will live with me.  I couldn’t have done it without them and I will have to say, the fact that so many of them have moved on to new teaching positions, marriage or moving back to the States, is one of the reasons I didn’t sign up for another year!

Here are a few photos from the year that summed up how amazing it all truly was.

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International Day!

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An art lesson about tattoos turned into a writing lesson and henna on our hands.  (By the seat of my pants lesson)

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I was never in the Science Fair as a kid so I really had no idea what I was doing.  Good thing my kids were amazing!

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Why yes, I did show everyone my basketball skills.  And yes, they were impressed.

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The campfire at Week Without Walls might have been my favorite moment.
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This might be my favorite photo.IMG_7166

I don’t know how our door for Halloween didn’t win!  They were so creative.
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How could you not love working with these crazy people?!IMG_8178

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How Downton Abbey prepared me to live in Africa

downton-abbey-season-4-ftrIf you know Team Osweiler, you know we are not fancy people.  We usually can take care of ourselves and don’t mind if a thing or two around the house is out of place.  However, we are also very obsessed with watching the TV program Downton Abbey.  Perhaps it’s because we enjoy the escapism of another time and place with other problems and complication.  Either that or we miss England terribly and can’t wait to get back there some day.  But whatever it is, I am glad for our obsessions.

You see, at Downton there are rules when it comes to Upstairs life and Downstairs life.  Service is not a position to look down on, it is a job to be respected.  People take great pride in their work and the running of a household.  Of course, the Crawley Family is rather kind and gracious to their staff, which I’m sure was not always the case back in the day, but none the less, there is a lesson to be learned by us in the middle class who find ourselves thrust into an upper class lifestyle.

Here in Niger, Team Osweiler is in the upper class.  No, we don’t have butlers, ladies maids and valets, but we do have house staff.  Even before we moved into our home, it was highly suggested we find domestic help for cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening, etc. and I was one to be very hesitant.  “I can clean my own house,” I thought, “and cook my own food.”  Little did I know the extent to which these tasks could very easily grow.

However, it’s not just about the cooking and cleaning in this lifestyle.  It’s also about creating jobs in a place that is difficult to find good work.  We hired a housekeeper who works three days a week here and three days at another home.  She cooks the most wonderful meals and works very hard to keep the house in top shape.  Our gardener is here every morning watering our plants, washing the car and taking care of the pool.  They have great pride in their work and I find that it is an honor to be able to afford their service.

At Downton, service is not about working against one’s will, it is about the ability to do one’s job to the best of one’s abilities.  As an employer, if I do not find the respect in that, then I am just another prat who is able to throw some money at a lowly servant.  I learned about the responsibility of the upper class to use money to create jobs for the community, rather than lock it up in a bank account, never to be seen.  Perhaps if we had more wealthy people investing in the working lives of others and not hoarding millions for what reason, to ship it off shore and avoid being taxed?  Maybe the Crawley Family can teach us all a thing or two about what it means to be wealthy.

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Adventures in Ghana

When we moved to Niger I hadn’t decided wether or not I would get a job for the first few months.  After meeting people those first few days it was suggested that I visit the American School and see if they have any positions that need to be filled.  Sure enough, the director right away asked me if I just so happened to teach 2nd and 3rd grade.  Well, since I’ll try anything once, I took the job.  Not sure if that was the smartest thing to do but it’s been an adventure ever since.

This job, as most of the ones I’ve had in the past, has lead me to some fantastic opportunities.  The first one was an education conference in Ghana.  After the conference was over, I stayed in country with two other teachers and we had a relaxing mountain adventure.  Here are some photos of our time in Ghana:

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This was one of those times when you think “I might not survive this” and then throw caution to the wind.  We scaled down a rock wall to get to a waterfall.  Luckily, it was totally worth it.  Of course, I didn’t upload a photo of the lovely waterfall…I have no idea why. IMG_6949

The view from our Mountain Paradise Resort that was more like camping with concrete walls.  But it was so quiet and peaceful I could have stayed there for days.
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Just a little friend I found in the bathroom of my room at the mountain resort.  He didn’t last long. IMG_6928

THE SEA!!!  I ate more lobster in Ghana than I ever had in my life!  It was cheap and plentiful.  Just how I like it.

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The weather was amazing and it was nice to be hugged with humidity for a few days.

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Just a little bar we visited one night but it was such a fabulous time.  The best part was being out and about in a city with a lowered security threat.  One night I actually walked from my hotel to a restaurant all by myself.  It was like I was a real person.  IMG_6910 IMG_6909 IMG_6913

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

Once again, we take a trip back in time…

Before we moved to Niamey, I was informed that our Embassy had a softball team: The Niamey Sandy Sox.  I could hardly believe it.  It’s the middle of Africa, how in the world could softball be a part of this life?  Well, it is and I couldn’t have been more excited.  Our first tournament was in October and even though we didn’t win, it was a fantastic weekend.  Here are some action shots:

IMG_6812With the constant turn around at this post, a few of the people in this photo have already headed home which makes our team rather like the Bad News Bears.  But there was never a dull moment!  The name of the tournament was NUTS: Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball…it was totally nuts!

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This field is at a local Christian school and the grass is REAL!  This, of course, is right after the rainy season.   IMG_6869

Yes, that is a giant turtle crossing the outfield.  We have a few at our school too and I’m sure you will see more photos of them in the future.  We kept playing like it was a normal occurrence but I was glad we were up to bat rather than in the field.

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The winners get to take home hand crafted trophies of camels!  We’re very classy here in Niamey.

IMG_6880The tournament banquet was held at the American Rec Center (the second playing field was there too) and it was a fabulous evening.  I got to MC with my colleague Mr. Oumarou and they even made me draw the raffle tickets (in English and French).

 

The second tournament of the season was in Burkina Fasso and this time the Embassy didn’t have enough people for a team so I played for the school’s staff team.  However, three days before the tournament I decided to pass a kidney stone.  Yeah, it was awful.  But our team won the whole kit and caboodle and I can’t wait until we face them again next year!

 

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Our First Marine Ball

It happened back in November, but here are a few photos from our first Marine Ball.  The Marines at our embassy are a fantastic group of guys and gals!  The Detachment Commander is a great guy and his wife is absolutely fabulous.  We have really enjoyed getting to know them while on post.  They have one kid and she’s in my class at school (and pretty much one of my favorites).  They did a great job putting on an amazing Marine Ball in a third world country.

Victor invited some local military acquaintances and it was really fun getting to know them.  And then came the dancing!  What a fun night!  I can’t wait until next year.

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The party was held at the Ambassador’s Residence, overlooking the Niger River.
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Some of Victor’s colleagues at other embassies.

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These are a few of my fellow teachers at American International School Niamey.DSC09433

Victor showed everyone his sweet moves.

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Where has the time gone?

Yes friends, we are past our six month point.  And since we have now begun the season of Lent, perhaps rather than giving anything up this year, I will start to blog more.  I guess that means I will have to give up something…maybe I’ll spend less time dinking around on facebook.

Niger has completely stolen my heart.  I can not tell you how deeply I care about this place and explaining it would be even more difficult.  Slowly, I have been making friends with a few local people but since my French is not quite up to speed and I work all the time, it’s proving to be a harder task than I first imagined it.  However, next year I won’t be teaching full time and that will free up some space for social interaction outside of the American Embassy bubble.  It’s easy to stay inside this little microcosm of Americans but each time I break through the barrier, my life is enriched.  Teaching has introduced me to another circle of friends as well and I am grateful for all the experiences that has brought.

Which brings me to a few photos I want to share with you: Week Without Walls.  Each year the school spends a few days outside of our compound touring the city and camping out in a local village.  It wasn’t really a Team Osweiler activity but since I’m half of the team, I’ll let you in on the adventure.

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First we visited the Grand Mosque of Niamey built with funds from Gaddafi.  Yeah, that’s what I said.  One of my 2nd graders informed me that going to the mosque is part of his religion so he isn’t going to learn anything new.  I told him that perhaps this is an opportunity for the other students in his class to learn about his religion and then they can more deeply understand the importance of such a sacred place.  Not sure how, but that worked.

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Our next adventure was to pack up and head out to a local village.   We slept outside under mosquito nets and believe it or not, it got rather cold at night.  It was a glorious moment when I woke up at 1am and decided I couldn’t live without my hoodie.  Glorious.
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At our campsite, we were visited by local artisans who taught us about their livelihood and showed us their craft.  This is a photo of a lady who weaves mats for people to sit on.  People do a lot of sitting on the ground and this is a very important skill for the village.  It was a little complicated but the kids were total troopers.  Plus, the ladies didn’t speak French (let alone English) so we relied on a few students who knew their Mother Tongue to help out.  It was brilliant.

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The next day the younger kids visited an elementary school down the road to interact with the students by paining and playing games.  We had our kids lead some “repeat after me” songs and everyone was singing and dancing!
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Have I mentioned yet how much I love the fact that our school is like a family?  Sometimes it’s annoying but most of the time it’s a fantastic blessing.  The older kids look after the younger kids and the younger kids look up to the older kids.  During these three days of camping out, they spent so much time playing and laughing together that I really didn’t want to go back to the divisiveness of our school building.  But even back on campus, the kids still interact every day and I like to think that it’s these times when they realize how much better life is when you’re not surrounded by your own kind.

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Until next year, the American International School Niamey bids farewell to Week Without Walls. IMG_8178

 

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Africa Update

I realize that it has already been two months since we moved to Africa and my blog posts have been few and far between.  I apologize and have some wonderful excuses…well, just one excuse: I got a job.  Yes, rather than settling in, unpacking the house and trying to figure out life in another land, I decided to jump in, feet first, to the depths of teaching 2nd and 3rd grade at the American International School of Niamey. And no, I’m not actually a teacher but it’s sort of due to the pity I had on the girl who was currently teaching 2nd – 5th grades in one room.  It was not cool.  That’s my excuse.

For now, I’m going to leave you with a photo of Victor in his fancy schmancy Attaché uniform:

IMG_6783This photo is from our first day in country and Vic had to go to a reception for the Ambassador.

 

More to follow…

 

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No photos, please

There is a John Mayer song I have always loved about putting the camera away and enjoying the world through your own two eyes. I have adopted this rule for our first few days in country.

Perhaps it isn’t even the fact that I want to enjoy my surroundings without being separated by a lens but a sense that capturing a photo of life in Niamey is almost an intrusion at this early stage. This is life at it’s most pure. Stripped from any sense of towering monuments, extraordinary architecture, or grandiose capitalism, people are living their lives doing what they need to do for survival.

It makes me think of the Amish. Ok, it’s a far stretch, but I will try to explain. The Amish don’t have their photos taken because of their beliefs and, for the most part, other people respect their views. On a different level, I believe that while I don’t share their beliefs I respect their lives. However, on a deeper level the Amish are not tourist attractions for us to ogle. They are part of our society but chooses to dress and live a different way than the majority. Does this mean that we should photograph them for our pleasure?

Niamey is not a tourist town. The people who live here are not pieces of art to photograph and put in an album. I have not built a relationship with them as I would with friends I may take a photo or two. They are only living their lives as I am living my life. What would I be capturing if I were to snap a few shots here and there? I’m not sure yet but I’ll have two years to figure it out, God willing.

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Nous sommes arrivée

Change occurs everyday whether we are active or passive in it’s demise. Time, weather, underwear; change is inevitable. Big changes, however, are usually more noticeable. Stock market crash, conversion, international move; change is insane. We currently find ourselves in the big change category. Two days in country and it still hasn’t sunken in that we live in Africa. Perhaps it will become more clear when what I call “traveler’s tummy” kicks in.

 

It’s the smell of Africa that hits you before the heat. When I traveled to Tanzania in 2005 the same smell gripped me as well. It’s as if someone is always cooking something over a fire and all you want to do is find that fire and gorge on whatever is for dinner. A scent that is not as much delicious as it is intriguing.

 

Arriving at night the city was cloaked in darkness and gave the impression that some thing seedy was going on at every corner. As we drove through the streets my eyes opened twice as wide as if they were starved to consume everything they saw. Although, halfway through the trip I noticed that the cats in their crate had yet to make a meow. Someone else had packed up the SUV with our suitcases and sweethearts. As much as we tried to coax them into a peep, they stayed silent. It wasn’t until we arrived at our destination and I saw their eyes searching like mine did I let out my breath.

 

Eighteen months later, our journey to Africa is complete. Now the life in Africa will begin.

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Ah, family

As the day of departure approaches, I start to think about how much I’m going to miss my family.  Victor and I are very blessed to have amazing people in our lives who will admit in public to being related to us.  This past year we have done our best to spend some quality time with those we love the most.  Here are some photo highlights…
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Can you name that bridge?  Better yet, do you know what Fort we are visiting?  This is my Grandpa NY and Grandma Judy on Staten Island.  This summer they were both able to visit us when we were in Ohio for the month of June.  It was glorious!
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Our first weekend in DC we were visited by my dad and step-mom.  Living solely on air mattresses and folding chairs, we managed to have a good time anyway.  They came to help us unpack the apartment but alas, the movers were delayed.
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In November we took a trip to the Canary Islands to meet up with Victor’s family.  His brother, who lives in Sweden, planned a vacation with his wife and kids (and in-laws!) so we decided to tag along.  His sister, who lives in Denver, flew out as well and it turned out to be a great birthday for me!  We had such a great time being together and it sure beats Sweden in the winter!

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Here I am on the beach with Nicki, Julia and Veronica.

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Thanksgiving last year was hosted by my cousin Doug.  He moved in to a new house and wanted to have everyone over for dinner.  It was outstanding!  We all pitched in for the meal but the best dish of the night was from Doug himself: green bean casserole.  It was the best thing I have ever eaten…well, it was really good.  Also, I love this photo of our family.
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Also at Thanksgiving, I made a few family members run a 5K with me: Step-dad, niece and husband.  It was BRUTAL!  I hate running (as some of you may know).  This was the Amish Country 5K and at the end of the run we each earned a block of cheese.  It snowed most of the time and the hills were killer.  At the beginning of the race, we started out together but then got separated (as you do).  However, everyone thought I was ahead of them so they kept thinking, “Gee, Katie is really fast!” but really I was behind them the whole time.  But for about 3 mi, I was winning in their minds!  It was Carl and Victor’s first race, my third and Callie’s fifth…maybe tenth?  It got Carl into running and we did the Orrville Firecracker 5K this summer.  He’s crazy.

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The Guthrie family visits Washington DC!  I keep telling my sister that if she comes to Africa for Spring Break next year it won’t be cold like all the other Spring Breaks she has visited me.  It was a great week and I always love hosting the ABC’s.  Unfortunately Victor was away again this year, but at least he wasn’t deployed like last time.  This photo really sums up the whole week.

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We sort of coerced my cousin Molly into visiting us by begging her to drive from Ohio with me and the cats after Christmas.  Maybe I could have done it on my own, but what fun is that?!  She had a great time and we toured all the sights!  The most fun was on our bike ride when she sat on my bike rack as I rode around the Jefferson Memorial.  Yeah, good times.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my mom and step dad came to visit the weather was gorgeous!  They stayed for a week and we packed in loads of sights. This photo is from the White House Garden Tour (twice a year, I highly recommend it) which we ran into by accident.  It was a beautiful accident.  I love it when these two come visit because they just love to see everything and and so easy going:)

Living far away from your family is not the easiest thing to do, especially if they are as awesome as ours.  And it’s not like we haven’t done it before but this time just seems different.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to pick up the phone and call my sister or skype my grandparents.  They can’t come visit as if we lived in Boston, or England.  We may not be on the other side of the world but sometimes it feels like we are going to be on the other side of the moon.  But that’s what is so great about living this military life: everyone gets it.  Whenever we move, our family grows by the people we meet.  The embassy is small and has been described as very “family” like.  There will be a new group of people forced to live together and we may get along great, have arguments, cry on each other’s shoulders or laugh until we pee our pants.  Just like family.

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