Sunday, April 18, 2010

The 4-1-1: On-Field Orientation

On-Field Orientation
A portion of your first day will be spent in orientation. We will build on what you have already learned before coming. The program will require you to participate fully in the activities and discussions. We hope that before you leave that you make the time to completely read through the informative booklet given to you during your orientation time. Topics that will be covered are:
  • an introduction to the Songhai people (customs, beliefs, daily life...)
  • how-to appropriately interact with the Songhai people
  • how Christian witness interfaces with Songhai culture
  • personal health and hygiene issues
  • how to work with a translator
  • safety precautions
  • details of your specific job

Friday, April 16, 2010

The 4-1-1: Fun & Adventure

Fun and Adventure

In Niger there is a game park near the Burkina Faso border, which would be a full day's trip or require an overnight stay; the park is not open during rainy season. Other day trips would include seeing the traditional gold mines near Tera or hunting for hippos in the river near the Malian border. Closer in to Niamey, you can observe a herd of endangered species of giraffe in their natural habitat and climb sand dunes. There is also a scenic place on the plateau overlooking the Niger River to picnic, ride camels, or just take a walk. Canoes can be rented for a trip up river to a visit to a local market and to see traditional pottery making. A golf course, of sorts, is available for those who are interested. A trip to the Niamey Museum / Zoo and Friday mosque might be arranged.

A walking / driving tour of the city includes historical sites and important places, such as mosques that are hundreds of years old, explorers' homes, library housing century old Korans and manuscripts, etc. Pastor Nouh is good to explain the implications of historical and current events to local Christians. Those sleeping on the roof tops will waken early to enjoy delightful smells of "takoula" coming out of traditional ovens as the sun rises. The Tourist Office will gladly sell you an official Timbuktu stamp in your passport and a "been there, done that" T-shirt. A camel ride at sunset to the dunes just at the outskirts of town and an overnight stay in a Tuareg encampment can be arranged.

Several nice restaurants and small hotels are available, including tourist-oriented craft / gift shops. There is an annual film festival and craft show in the fall.

There's a natural bridge about an hour's drive out of Bamako on the Guinea road, in the village of Siby. It takes about 15 - 30 minutes to climb to the bottom of the natural bridge. Adventurous people can climb to the top; it's a great spot for a picnic. You must hire a guide. Some of the following cuisine can be found in restaurants in Bamako: American diner-type food, Vietnamese, Thai, Lebanese, French, Italian, and African. There is a tourist artist market where you can find nice drums, great wood carvings, pieces of "bogolan" material and gold and silver jewelry, among other things.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The 4-1-1: Medical Teams

Medical Teams
Doctors, nurses, or other licensed professionals must bring with them:
  • a notarized copy of your license(s) and diploma(s)
  • antiviral therapy in cases of needle sticks
  • doses of Epinephrine, if doing a vaccination clinic
  • white lab coat(s)
Generic medications are usually available for purchase here at good prices; if you are considering a medical-oriented ministry with us, we should begin to plan and purchase needed items as soon as possible to obtain what your team requires before you come. This will cut down on your purchase expense and the amount of supplies you need to transport and clear through customs. Any medications or supplies you bring in must NOT be out of date.

Hepititis B vaccine is highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The 4-1-1: Using the Squatty Potty

Latrine Etiquette
Welcome to West Africa's bush reality. Actually a bush might be more preferable than most neglected latrines. The "how-to" is to secure your sunglasses, breath through your mouth, aim well, hit the hole, and exit fast. If you miss the hole, it is your responsibility to clean up after yourself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 4-1-1: Ladies Only

Ladies Only
Feminine products can be purchased in country, although they may not be the same quality you are used to using. None of them can be flushed or dropped down the latrines or left behind a tree in the bush. Used items must be tied up in a plastic trash bag and disposed of in the garbage can at your host's home or at the guesthouse to be burnt

Monday, April 12, 2010

The 4-1-1: Prayer Walkers

Prayer Walkers
The IMB has wonderful resources available especially for volunteer prayer walkers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The 4-1-1: Getting Sick on the Field

Traveler's Diarrhea
Other than the over-the-counter medications and first-aid-type stuff we have previously mentioned, we suggest that you come with an antibiotic prescription for traveler's diarrhea. Even with all the care we take in preparing your food, it is a very common occurrence for volunteers to come down with an intestinal infection, diarrhea and fever while they are here. In the past, seasoned volunteers have visited their family physician before coming out to obtain medication to treat this eventuality. This has proven to be a good thing, so we are asking you to do the same, as long as you come with instructions on how to properly take this medication.
Do not share your medication with others.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 4-1-1: Communication

We live in the Third World, which means that we do not always have communications with the "outside" world! Most of the time our Internet and telephone hookups function, but it will not be as you are used to the Western World; these systems are very slow and irregular. Internet cafes are available throughout capital cities and, surprisingly enough, even in Timbuktu! They charge about $1 per hour.
Some teams have brought a satellite phone with them to do the E. T. thing to phone home. Most cellular phone systems from the US do not work here, no matter what you sign up for or pay extra for. Other teams have brought sets of walkie-talkies, which can be helpful with prayer walking and shopping.

Unless you speak French or Songha, dealing with language & communication issues will be a challenging part of your time in country. We will find translators for your ministry.
Teams have found it helpful, but not necessary, if someone in the group can speak French.  Within your local community you can find resources to help with this before you travel to the field.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The 4-1-1: Weather

The climate is very dry for most of the year in the area surrounding Niamey and Timbuktu. It is rare to see rain in Niger and Mali between mid-September and mid-May. The annual rainfall in this desert region varies from seven to twenty inches per year, coming during June, July, and August in Niger. (Burkina Faso's rainy season is a bit longer and the country receives more annual rain than do Songhai lands in Mali and Niger.)
Temperatures tend to be elevated throughout the year. In the coolest months (December to February) daytime temperatures stay between 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping into the 50-60's at night. Hot season (March to May) temperatures can be as high as 125 degrees in the shade, with high humidity.

February, March and April are extremely windy, dusty months, which can be very difficult for those with allergies and asthma.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The 4-1-1: Souvenirs

While in Niger, there will be few times when someone is not trying to sell you something. Some of the more popular souvenir items available in a wide range of prices are leather crafts, silver and gold jewelry, knives and swords, soapstone carvings, local paintings, bronze crafts, material, and tailor-made embroidered clothing. You will need to bargain for whatever you want, beginning with a third of the asking price and moving up until a compromise can be worked out between you and the seller. It is a game, but please be respectful of the vendor. Some people find it helpful to keep a small pad of paper and pencil or a calculator handy when shopping to facilitate "talking" with a seller.
We will caution you to remember that there are limitations to what you can import into the US. Crocodile skin, lion claws and ivory are prohibited items. Please contact the US Customs Service for current information.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The 4-1-1: Cameras & Photos

Cameras and Photos
Photography in and around public buildings (which includes the airport), TV / radio stations, police/ security guards, military installations, and border crossings is STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
Otherwise, taking pictures is permissible but requires sense and sensitivity. Not everyone will be delighted or indifferent to being the subject of your photo. For more individual pictures, you will have to develop a rapport with your intended subject. A payment may be demanded (10 - 25 cents). Most village folks respond well to digital cameras when they can see their picture instantly and even better to a Polaroid One-Step when they can have the picture. Some do not want their photo made. Please respect their privacy and wishes. Would you want someone you did not know walking into your backyard and photographing your home or your children at play?

Do not promise to send pictures back to individuals in a village.
Often we have found that if a large group is working in one place, it is better if one person is "assigned" to do the photographing for that event. Later, copies can be made for all.
It is helpful to us if you can send us copies of your best prints or digital pictures on CD to post on our Web site or use in other publications. Thank you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The 4-1-1: Electricity

If there is electricity at your destination or overnight stays, the supply is 220v, with frequent, intense surges and occasional blackouts that last for a few minutes to several hours. You need to be prepared with a flash light and batteries. You will also need appropriate transformers / adapters / surge protectors if you bring an electric shaver, hair dryer, curling iron, or other electronic equipment.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The 4-1-1: What to Wear

The Muslim culture encourages modesty in dress. Shorts should not be worn outside the home, and women should not wear pants, short dresses, or tight clothing. Due to the HOT climate, cotton clothing tends to be more comfortable. The preference for loose, ample clothing that fully covers the body reflects the Muslim belief that the body is both sacred and profane, both powerful and dangerous. Clothing here, as in western countries, is a status symbol. The wearing of tight clothing that clearly reveals the body shows a lack of respect for oneself and others. Thus, the offensiveness of shorts, mini skirts, and tight clothing will be attributed to European eccentricity at best, or to shameless immodesty at worst.
The months of April and May are "scorchers"!!  Even for those acclimated to the heat, some days seem almost unbearable.  Plan your trip and clothing accordingly. As evening temperatures from November through February tend to be cooler (60's), you may prefer long sleeves, a light jacket, or sweat shirt if you will be outside.

You may wear long (knee length), loose shorts inside the Niamey Guesthouse compound for exercise and relaxation.

You may have need of a modest swimsuit. Bring a long pair of pants or jeans for riding camels and for evening picnics at the river. Thick-soled, supportive sandals or tennis shoes are good to walk in. Appropriate clothing for sports varies from place to place; please ask us to make sure what is acceptable.

Let us say upfront that visible, multiple body piercings and tattoos, as well as radical hair styles and chewing gum are not permissible on the field simply because it detracts from The Message, drawing attention to the individual rather than Christ. If you have a question about this, please contact your Songhai Team Host.

When you are out in the villages and speaking to an individual or teaching, please take off your sunglasses. In short, remember that you are representing the IMB and Christ. We are not asking that you dress in your Sunday Best, because panty hose and heels or suit and tie will not work in the bush. However, we are asking you to look your best daily as you minister.

Jeans or khakis are good with T-shirts, Polo-type shirts, or collared, cotton shirts. The grunge look is not acceptable. "Fashion" holes in jeans are not the fashion in West Africa, just a necessity of the poor. Men do not have to tuck in shirts in the village; this style is called a "Thank You". Baseball caps are fine outside; take your hats off inside the house. A beard is fine; no beard is fine. Just do not use your time on the field to grow one. Caution: untrimmed goatees are the mark of conservative Muslims here in Niger; please trim beards and goatees short before coming. 

Short sleeve (not sleeveless or low necked) T-shirts with mid-calf skirts and jumpers or dresses are good. Tops must meet and overlap waistlines. No spaghetti strap tops or tight, form-revealing shirts. Definitely wear bras. No spandex, please. Double check to make sure that your skirts are not made of such thin material as to allow a see-through effect; we have lots of sunlight here! Depending on where your ministry is located, you may need to keep your head covered with a bandana or scarf. No baseball caps or cowboy hats. Your bathing suit does not need to have knees in it, but should be a modest one-piece. You may wear loose jeans or pants to and from the airport.  You do not have to cover your head in the airport.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The 4-1-1: Money & Budgeting

Money / Budgeting
Before you come, you will receive an estimated total cost, so your volunteer team can plan accordingly. Your daily costs have been based on the place(s) where your specific group will stay, your team's traveling schedule, and the number of people in your group. Unless otherwise stated, daily costs include your food, kitchen help, cleaning supplies, gas for the stove/oven, marketing expenses, guesthouse/hotel expenses, translators, transportation, airport tips, vehicle gasoline, and generator fuel. Depending on the team, there might be other expenses also, such as canoe and camel "rental", giraffe guide, laundry expense, etc.
At least 6 weeks before you come, your team leader should receive a budget from your Songhai Team Host with instructions on how to best transfer funds to cover these expenses.
For other expenses, credit cards are fine for Paris or other layovers on your trip here, but do not plan on using credit cards or traveler's checks in Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso. Occasionally you can find an ATM machine in some of the capital cities. Miscellaneous expenses, such as bottled water, cokes, snacks, A/C, and laundry, will be paid on the last day of your visit as personal expense.

West African countries use the CFA as their currency. Current exchange rates can be found at Look for CFA BCEAO Francs - XOF.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The 4-1-1: Travel Arrangements & Airports

Making Travel Arrangements
Traveling in West Africa is a bit different than traveling through Europe or within the States. There are limited available flights each week, so you will need to schedule early for the best choice of flights, for the best price, or for an option at all. Some carriers that service West Africa are Air France (via Paris, France) and Royal Air Maroc (via Casablanca, Morocco). Timbuktu, Mali is serviced by local carriers via Bamako (Mali) or Niamey (Niger). Remember to log in your frequent flyer miles when possible. It is highly discouraged to travel through West Africa on stand-by tickets.
As soon as your tickets are purchased, please send your Songhai Team Host a copy of your itinerary.

Please note that down time, shopping, hippo hunts, giraffe safari, and language study will depend on your travel and work schedule. We will do as much fun stuff as we can fit in after the work has been scheduled. It is almost impossible to schedule extras when you are on the field seven days or less.

Advice for West African Airports
  • Keep your boarding passes as they are sometimes required when you de-plane.
  • Keep contact phone numbers with you during travel.
  • It really is ok if you do not speak French. Do not feel intimidated; just be friendly and courteous.
  • As you enter each country, you will be given an immigration card to complete. For this card, you will need the address of where you are staying.
  • The first check point is usually where officials check for your passport and visa. They will take your immigration card and might check your airplane ticket.
  • The second check point is usually where officials check your health card for confirmation of your Yellow Fever Vaccination.
  • After the health card check, you will get your luggage and progress to the area where custom agents will check your bags. Let them see that you are willing to open all bags by beginning to unlock and unzip them. Sometimes they will not look in any, other times they will look in them all. Sometimes they are x-rayed.
  • Should your luggage not arrive, you will need to proceed to an office, usually inside this baggage claim area, to register the missing item(s).
  • You will show your passport again to a uniformed officer just before leaving the secured area.
  • Outside, you will probably be met by your Songhai Team Host or another previously arranged person.
  • Even though you are tired, keep an eye on your bags and carry-ons at all times.
  • The person meeting you will usually pay tips in local currency, just double check. If you need to do this yourself, the going rate is $1 per bag; you can pay the porters in American currency, but please do so in paper bills rather than in change

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 4-1-1: What to Pack

What to Bring and How to Bring It
In addition to personal needs, you will need to bring:
  • all supplies needed to do the job you are volunteering to do
  • a few Band-aids and antiseptic cream
  • a few basic over-the-counter medications, in original containers, something to treat:
    colds/ cough/ stuffy noses
    diarrhea/ vomiting/ stomachache
    fever/ headache/ general aches and pains
    motion sickness
  • any prescription drugs you need on a regular basis or any drug that you might need on an emergency basis (such as someone who has a severe allergy to something, tendency to asthma attack, etc.) in the original containers, enough for the whole trip
  • Bible, journal, pencil/ pen
  • camera and film or extra cards
  • flashlight and batteries
  • a very generous quantity of wet wipes and hand cleansers
  • travel-size Kleenex and toilet paper
  • chap stick
  • lotion, light face moisturizer
  • sunglasses
  • hat (guys, for sun protection) or scarf/bandana (girls, for modesty)
  • insulated, water bottle or thermos to hold at least 1 quart of water that has an opening big enough to add ice
  • sun screen and aloe
  • mosquito repellant and an anti-itch cream
  • some snacks (nothing that will melt)
  • comfortable, protective, walking shoes
  • loose, comfortable, modest clothing - cottons, jeans and khaki work well
  • a can (or dry mix) of chicken noodle soup, some saltine crackers, some Gatorade or Kool-Aid-type mix, and a small box of Jell-o, in case of sickness
  • a package of Clorox cleaning wipes
  • Visine eye drops and saline nose drops are good to sooth dry eyes and noses
  • an alarm clock
  • battery powered fan (if sleeping outdoors)
  • sleeping bag & pillow (if sleeping outdoors)
  • tent or mosquito net (if sleeping outdoors)
  • a copy of your passport and visas (in your carry-on)
  • a copy of your yellow card (in your carry-on)
  • a back pack/ day pack/ bag to carry things in each day
How to bring it
You must contact your air carrier and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to determine current limitations and restrictions.

In your carry-on luggage
Think, "What would I need to survive if my suitcase got delayed or lost for several days?" This is a VERY GOOD possibility!
  • a least one complete change of clothes
  • all your prescription and emergency medications
  • a few toiletries (keep in mind current airline restrictions, consider samples or travel-sized items)
  • copies of your passport, visas, and health card
  • contact information (who will be meeting you, address and phone number of where you will be staying)
  • travel itinerary and tickets
  • money (or on your person)
  • a snack
  • really important stuff
  • you CANNOT carry pastes and liquids in your carry-on (peanut butter, tooth paste, canned fruits or tuna, make-up....)
In your checked luggage
When you come to West Africa from the US, you will be allowed two 50-pound bags on major international carriers. Confirm your luggage weight allowances, size restrictions, and excess weight prices with your airlines. If your trip out includes a flight on a tiny, singl engine plane, luggage and weight will be greatly restricted. For the return trip, many volunteers choose to bring older clothing and leave it, which allows space for souvenirs. Others bring suitcases that can "nest" into one another for the return trip.

Packing tips
Try to avoid packing liquids and items that could melt. Anything liquid or squishy should be placed in a double zip lock bag. If you purchase anything new to bring, whether for yourself, for ministry, or for a gift, take it out of the original packaging and remove the price tags. Keep the receipts separately, if needed. Pack discreetly; any personal electronics can be wrapped up in clothing so as to not be so visible.

Secure your luggage with zip-ties. Place a baggie, containing several extra zip-ties and a piece of paper with your name, home address, and destination address, on the inside of each of your suitcases so that it is the first thing Homeland Security sees; it is nice to add a thank you note to security officers for keeping you safe.

Some teams tie a certain colored bandana or ribbon to each of the suitcases, which is a good visual to the baggage handlers, helping them to know you are all going to the same place.

Do not bring anything that cannot be replaced.

Special Instructions for Cassettes and films
If you are bringing cassettes, videos, or medical supplies for give-away, divide them equally between all team members' luggage (i.e. DO NOT bring a whole suitcase of videos; it looks to customs officials like you will be selling them.) It will help to have on hand as you clear customs a letter from your home church stating that these items are for gifts to the Songhai people of the village where you will be ministering. The letter should be on the church's letterhead, nice quality paper, in English or French, signed by several people and their titles, perhaps with a notarized stamp or gold sticker and ribbon.