Friday, June 27, 2014

Love One Another...

Writing about the moon and moon babies yesterday really got me thinking about Niger.  Niger is a wonderful country filled with wonderful people.  Watching the news with talk of Boko Haram entering southern Niger is so very sad to me.  My experiences found very welcoming people that have an immense amount of knowledge to share, with their arms wide open to visitors.

I hit on this a little in one of my previous posts, my host Mother, Hisa, showed me how to create a vegetable bed with one tool.  It resembled a hoe.  That’s it, no other tools or fancy gadgets.  Coming from a country of everything has to be bigger, better and faster this was eye opening for me.  “You mean you don’t need an impressive piece of machinery to start a garden?”  Then how about learning how to welcome others…

The Peace Corp Training Manager, Yves, explained how the Muslim faith/custom is to welcome with open arms ALL visitors.  He explained how a weary traveler may simply stop at huts along his way to seek shelter for the night and he would be embraced and possibly fed.  Are we that welcoming in the United States?  Not even close.  If someone came knocking at our door we would act suspicious of them and send them on their way to the closest hotel, whether they could afford it or not.  I realized we really have something to learn in the US.

The average person does not mean malice or harm.  If someone asks for help we look at them as though they are going to pull everything from underneath us.  We guard our “wealth” with real and simulated guns.  Instead of looking at our countrymen as brethren, we look at our fellow countrymen as competitors or thieves looking to take our next big break or the items/belongings we worked so hard to attain.  Wouldn’t those possessions be that much more valuable if we were sharing them with others?

We are all the same, the same beating heart, the same hopes and aspirations and the same needs and wants to connect with others and protect those we care for.  The key is to keep all of those needs and wants in check so that they do not spiral out of control leading to discourse, a disconnect in communication and an irrational fear of someone lurking around the corner waiting to take something from us.  When we meet others, especially those that seem so different superficially, take the time to learn something.

My third night in Fandoga Beri was a time I wish I had the ability to have recorded.  Hisa (my host Mother) and I were once again eating dinner under the stars.  Hisa made my dinner every night and never acted as though I was some sort of burden or annoyance.  Keep in mind, I may have looked like an adult, but my language skills were that of a baby just learning how to talk.

I figured at some point I would be working hands-on with livestock during my time in Niger so I brought one of my tools, my stethoscope.  Hisa asked me what I did in the US.  I explained that I am a veterinary technician and made a comparison to a nurse.  I explained that I wanted to work with the livestock in Niger.  Although this may seem like some sophisticated talk for my third night there, I’m leaving out the constant flipping through my language booklets, the incomplete sentences and fumbling through explanations. 

At this point I pulled out my stethoscope and asked her if she had ever seen one of these, Hisa said she hadn’t.  I flipped wildly through my language book trying to figure out how to say that this device listens to the heart.  I ended up using the word for beat, as in a drum, and placed my hand over my heart.  I asked Hisa if she understood, expecting her to say “Ay man faham,” I do not understand.  I sounded clumsy and was using words that may have had no connection specifically to what I was trying to convey.  Hisa said she understood and I felt like “OK, this language thing is coming along.”  I then took the bell of the stethoscope and placed it over my heart and showed her how to place the other end in the ears.  Keeping the bell over my heart, I handed her the listening end to place in her ears.  Hisa looked in amazement.  I then offered to place the bell over her heart so she could hear her heartbeat.  Hisa eagerly said OK.  Hisa was able to hear her heartbeat for the first time and she sat there, holding the bell over her heart for the longest time astounded.  It was a beautiful moment.  Hisa’s heart and my heart sounded the same.

The same, what does that mean?  Trying hard to prove we are so different, so much better, so much richer, so much smarter, so much more cunning, we forget how we are the same.  All of us.  We need to come together “…and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying [namely] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (New American Bible, Romans 13: 9, 10)

I don’t want to sound as though I am critical of my fellow Americans.  I know and have met many nice people, willing to give the shirt off their back.  I have met many people that welcomed visitors from other countries as though they are extended family.  I have read about Americans, met many people and have worked alongside others doing amazing things like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and giving assistance to families in distress.

How easy is it to love someone you CAN understand, you CAN relate too or you CAN connect with.  How about those you feel little or no connection too?  Saint Paul in Colossians 4: 5, 6 stated “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.”  All of us have something to learn, something to gain with understanding or wisdom and something to contribute to with gained knowledge.  When everyone is united, maybe even in what we call diversity, love abounds good things happen and organizations like Boko Haram are extinguished.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Moon and the Moon Babies...

I took my dogs out one more time for the night at about 11 o’clock and the sky looked beautiful.  There were so many stars out.  Whenever I’m out at night I cannot help but look up and marvel at how beautiful those little specks light up the dark sky.  If not every time, pretty darn close to it, I think of when I was in Niger.

My first day at Fandoga Beri was quite interesting and I had a dim bulb moment.  We were told at the training site we would be receiving a Muslim name from our host family and for some reason, this slipped my mind.  It’s so strange to be so excited that you would forget you would no longer be called by your birth name.  So two other Peace Corp trainee’s and myself went to Fandoga Beri and when we arrived we sat before the Chief and the people of the village.  I had been in the country for two days and could barely speak Zarma, so I wasn’t sure what was being said other than I felt very welcomed.

When I arrived at my hut I was met by my host Mother, Hisa and my host sister.  I had my Zarma language cards in my hand to help with basic “How do you do’s?”  I quickly understood my host Mothers and sisters name’s however I couldn’t understand why they didn’t understand that my name is Meresa.  At one point they acted like it took everything in them not to hysterically laugh.  So then I became concerned “What am I saying?!”  I would look back at the language cards over and over again perplexed wondering what exactly I was saying, thinking “Maybe Meresa just doesn’t sound right to them, the combination of the vowels and consonants.” 

A Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV) that had been in the country for one year made her rounds to each of our huts to see how we were doing.  She looked around and was surprised that I had everything already situated…my bed was made, everything was put away and in its place.  I commented “I feel now that I’m situated there’s no distractions to jump right in.  Speaking of which, I think there’s some miscommunication.  I tried telling my host family my name and they didn’t understand.  If I understand my host Mother is Hisa.”  My fellow PCV went to speak to Hisa and came back.  She sat down next to me on my bed, trying not to laugh and said “Well, there seems to be a misunderstanding.  She’s trying to tell you your name is Fadila.”  At that point I felt really, really, really stupid.  It all came back to me, the meeting we had prior to going to our villages when we were told we were to be given a Muslim name.  I laughed, a tad out of embarrassment.  That night, however, made up for that awkward moment.

Hisa brought me my dinner (my host Mother made me dinner EVERY night) and her and I sat down to eat under the amazing star filled sky.  I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the gorgeous moon illuminated sky.  I was in heaven.  I learned a phrase in Zarma that I would use so much I about worn it out, “Ifo no?”  I was pointing at the stars and moon asking “What is that?”  Hisa repeated “Hondu nda hondu izey.”  I couldn’t find anything in my intro cards so I wrote it down to ask the next day during training about the translation.  The PCV came to check on everyone after dinner one last time to make sure everything went well.  I excitedly pulled out my notebook to ask what the new phrase meant.   The PCV looked at me shaking her head and said “You’re getting into the culture pretty quick.  I’m jealous.  It took a few days to converse with my host family, except brief short phrases like ‘Hello’ and ‘goodbye.’  That phrase means the moon and moon babies.”  She proceeded to explained how everything, in terms of big and little, was translated in Zarma.  Especially after my little thick moment of not accepting my name, this more than made up for it.  The moon and the moon babies.
By the way, I asked the next day what my name, Fadila meant.  The Peace Corp training staff member looked at me and said, “That’s a good name for you.  It means ‘one with dignity.’”  The time I spent in Niger were amazing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A few garden photo's...

I've taken some photo's of my sunflowers.  Its hard to believe they were just planted in May, less than six weeks ago.
Mammoth Russian Sunflower

While tending to my garden I came across a much welcomed garden buddy, an Eastern American Toad.  He was simply hanging out.  He is a welcomed sight in a garden as toads can eat in one season 3200 insects (Dept. of Natural Resources, 2014)!  A reminder of how when you work in tune with Mother Nature, you can utilize natural means to keep down insect problems.  If you want to encourage toads in your garden as a natural bug eater, go to the following website to learn how,1607,7-153-10370_12148-60160--,00.html.  This would make a great summer family project.

Easter American Toad
Eastern American Toad

Department of Natural Resources. (2014) Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus). Retrieved on June 24, 2014.  Retrieved from,1607,7-153-10370_12145_12201-60111--,00.html.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Gardening Saga, Part I

If you’ve read my previous entry, my seeds started on May 23rd…it’s been three weeks and five days since my seeds were started.

My seeded inventory so far is:  Mammoth Russian Sunflowers, California Wonder Sweet Peppers, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, Evergreen Long White Bunching Onions, Burpee’s Fordhook Zucchini’s, Connecticut Field Pumpkins, Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkins, Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, Box Car Willie Tomatoes and Romaine Lettuce.  The first batch of romaine lettuce was harvested two days ago.  The zucchini, sunflowers and Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins look awesome!  I can already picture myself roasting the sunflower seeds!  Um mmm!  The bunching onions did not take off well and only a few sprouted (barely).  The Connecticut Field Pumpkins are very slow to start, although the package states I should have seen the emergence of a plant in up to two weeks, my second one (out of eight) just emerged yesterday.  However these were old seeds, from 2011, that may have affected their survival rate.  And for some reason the spinach did not sprout at all.  I’m shocked about the spinach as I have never had a problem in the past.

I had two seedlings too many of the zucchini and so they have been donated to the Free Soil United Methodist Church for their community garden.  The community garden also helps to feed some local families.  I need to thin out my tomato plants which will lead to more donations to the church.

I need spinach in my garden, so in light of the latest lack-of-growth this means I’ll need to purchase seedlings.  I will need to do some research to try to figure out why they did not grow.  Although it could have been a bad batch of seeds, I want to make sure it wasn’t something I did so as to not make that same mistake next year.

I have to mention the romaine lettuce because something very interesting happened with them…I did not purchase or plant any romaine lettuce seeds or seedlings.  Guess where they came from?  Last year’s plants!  I purchased four romaine lettuce plants last year and planted them in a ground pot.  This made it easy for harvesting and weeding and allowed me to keep the rabbits out of the tempting treat.  Apparently some lettuce seeds remained from last year and the lettuce plants grew from those seeds.  The ground pot remained covered with feet upon feet of snow all winter and I did absolutely nothing with the lettuce plants.  They simply grew on they own and already has grown some harvestable leaves two days after the last picking.  I think this is awesome!

For one of the ground pots I purchased oregano, basil and parsley.  I got a wonderful deal, 50 per herb plant!  I also purchased a four pack of Oregon Spice tomato seedlings (again at a whopping 50 for four) for the Topsy-Turvy®.  I want to can my own spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and salsa this fall and now I have different types of tomatoes along with the spices to accomplish this.

At this point in the game, Mother Nature has thrown some rather cool days and at times massive down pours.  The cool days are not well received by the tomato plants so they have “growth spurts” and then it stalls a little.  The seedlings that just were not that big undertook some hammering rain.  Our weather report states tomorrow will dry out and then Friday will have thunderstorms.  As long as we are not having any crazy frost or a swarm of locust, I think they will be OK. 

My routine so far has been to fertilize once weekly with an organic fertilizer.  When the plants grow a little more and/or start producing fruit, I’ll increase the fertilizer to twice weekly.  They are too small to prune or otherwise man-handle.  I simply make sure they are receiving the right amount of sunlight, water and fertilizer and correct those three as needed. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Gardner’s Itinerary…

For the last three to four years I’ve had a garden at my home.  Not a huge one (especially in the standards of those farms that surround me), a 144 sq. ft., another area approximately half that size, a Topsy-Turvy® and a few ground pots.  This year I planted my seeds in trays to be started indoors on May 23rd, a little later than I would prefer however we have been staying a little cold.  My concern being when it’s time to plant, a good freeze finishes off the seedlings.  My set-up is a little archaic. I do not have anything fancy…no grow lights…no tiller…just soil, organic fertilizer and a few hand tools.



My garden spaces were “hand tilled.”  I used a garden rake and a tool that I’m not sure its name.  I dug up the grass as if it was sod and then placed it in an area of the yard the grass was a little thin.  When I first did this three or four years ago I planned on buying a few more tools at some point.  Not having the average assortment of tools actually has helped me with another goal…something I’ll tell you about in a minute.

So, the exciting part!

My first seedlings, Mammoth Russian Sunflowers, peeped their beautiful heads yesterday, six days after I planted the seeds.   A bunching onion reared its little head yesterday as well, just a little later.  So, this is what I’m planting:  Mammoth Russian Sunflowers, California Wonder Sweet Peppers, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, Evergreen Long White Bunching Onions, Burpee’s Fordhook Zucchini’s, Connecticut Field Pumpkins, Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkins, Cherokee Purple Tomatoes and Box Car Willie Tomatoes.  I started enough seeds that would more than fill my garden spaces, so whatever I cannot use I am donating to the Free Soil United Methodist Church for their community garden.  I still have many herbs and flowers to plant in ground pots and flower beds, my gardening task for the upcoming week.

The tool with no name.
So I made a mention to how gardening is going to help me with future goals, well it starts with using tools just about anyone would have access to.  I’ll post a few photo’s so you know what I’m speaking of (it’s easier than saying “the tool with the name we shall not speak of”, since I do not know what their name is).  The culture of my country, the USA, tends to look at what we can accomplish by the way of high-tech gear.  If you do not have the best, than don’t even bother.  However, you would be amazed by what you can produce with 144 sq. ft. of soil, a few tools, organic fertilizer, seed trays and some seeds.

My goal has been to eventually work with an international organization (I.e. WHO, UN, etc…) on food securities within third world countries.  Although my expertise is with livestock, keep in mind I’m a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT), I knew years ago I needed to gain a better understanding of farming practices too.  I have volunteered and worked at a few farms (Overlook Farm of Heifer International of Rutland, Massachusetts and Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs, Michigan).  I learned so much from both places, it’s hard to put into words.  The need for understanding started while I was in the Peace Corp (Niger, West Africa).

If you have read my bio, I mentioned I was in the Peace Corp for a short time and had to return for knee surgery.  The brief time I was in Niger, I was staying in a village called Fandoga Beri and I had an amazing host Mother, Hisa.  I am forever grateful to her for what she has shown me.  Hisa, in her 50’s, showing me how to create a vegetable bed with two tools and she made it look like it was nothing.  This very strong woman was very patient and caring with me as I learned how to walk, taking my first steps on gardening using my bare hands.  Those moments were the foundation for the importance to understand farming in general, not just livestock.  (By the way, this nostalgia of my experiences in Niger with my wonderful host parents, Omarou Abdou and Hisa as well as my amazing host brothers and sisters will be chronicled later.)

So with each growing season in Northern Michigan I take part in, is a learning experience for me, something I hope to use when I am working for stronger food security internationally.  For now, I’ll take you periodically through my gardening odyssey in hopes that you see you do not need many tools or fancy gardening exploits to reap a reward from the earth.  Maybe my little entries were serve as a conduit for backyard gardening at its simplest.


Friday, May 23, 2014


I wrote this poem a few months ago and I thought I would share it…


My LOVE for you…

L is for the LOSS I fell when I am not with you,

O is the way I OBSERVE you when you are not looking, mesmerized by your essence,

V is for the way I feel, VICTORIOUS, even when the situation is dire, however I know I’m coming home to you

E is for EVERLASTING, describing my boundless love and devotion to you.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


I was reading the May 2014 edition of the Smithsonian magazine and an article stuck with me “The White Veil,” by Ron Rosenbaum, an interview of Peter Matthiessen.  I don’t know, maybe I was in a philosophical moment when I read the article, but the following portion hung and had a lasting impression

“One time we went in nice weather in mid-June.  And it was very different.  At the ash pits, where they dumped the ash, where people died, the vegetation was trying to come back.  Even at the height of winter, I was astonished the first time I saw it.  There was snow on the public crematorium.  And you see little deer prints.  And little lichens, mosses, ferns, coming back in the bricks right in the gas chambers.  Life is coming back.  You cannot help but recognize the extraordinary life force that will crop up virtually anywhere.  They’ve found it even on the bottom of the seafloor, where the tectonic plates shift-sulfurous burning, totally toxic, way down in the darkness-and there’s life there.”

This response by Matthiessen was to the question “How does one respond to the appearance of life amid a realm of death?”  A question relating to one of the three trips Matthiessen took to Auschwitz concentration camp, in Poland between 1996 and present day.  When I hear of Auschwitz, Dachau, the Nazi’s and the Holocaust in general, I do not think of the aspect of “Life coming back.”  I think about the horrendous horror that took place and the countries and people that looked away and did nothing because it was too much to handle or out of the realm of understanding.  But, how powerful to visit a place of death and see new growth.  What does this say?

I think about the overwhelming acts that go against God and take place today like genocide, starvation and those that endure violent acts, like rape, physical and mental abuse.  I watch the news and wonder how, as a human race, we can recover from such atrocious acts.  How someone can kill another human being simply because they can physically excise the act.  I find myself struggling at times to look through the glasses of being a Christian, needing to remind myself that anything is possible through God, through Jesus Christ.  And then, I read this article, and I read about the growth coming back even after such murder.

The list is short of events that has happened with such a horrendous result as with the Holocaust.  The amount of betrayal, murder, political involvement, human error, disrespect, disregard, indifference and simply vivacity shown to eliminate a human race is at its most profound during the Holocaust.  The Holocaust, an attempt to simply decimate anyone that is different, Jews, Christians, gypsies, homosexuals and people of color.  And although this was not during my time on earth, I’ve visited the Holocaust museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and my youth group at St. Benedicts (Pontiac, Michigan) made learning about the Holocaust mandatory in addition we talked about it in school.  A speaker came to my youth group that had been at a concentration camp and I’ll never forget seeing the tattoo of numbers on his forearm, meant to remove his human dignity and replace it with degradation.  So again, Matthiessen visits Auschwitz and he see’s life amidst what was once a place of destruction of life.

This place hasn’t forgotten.  The life source of who was once there, has breathed life into other forms, “lichens, mosses and ferns,” and the deer that now leaves its hoof prints.  We should not forget either.  Life has been preserved amidst the destruction.  Honoring those lost should be through never forgetting, never allowing this atrocity to happen again.  We are seeing and have been seeing signs for some time, in places like Syria and the Sudan.  Our news is showing distressed faces on TV of those in refugee camps unable to care for themselves or their families because they fled their home in an effort to survive or in some cases simply outlive the oppressor.  We are seeing lives lost for no other reason than an overriding force has determined who may live and who must die.
Why am I writing this you must be asking?  To do honest, I can’t be for certain.  I believe the Holy Ghost is moving me to write about this passage I read in the Smithsonian magazine, to share my thoughts on the atrocities I’m witnessing on television and through the internet.  Although I feel powerless unable to decide how I could assist, maybe my words can help.