Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
And so, if you like ‘typical’ updates, sorry. I can’t do that. Not this time. But here it is, the other side of my Nigerien life. Welcome to the American-American relationships, the What-the-*bleep*-are-we-doing-here side. In short, the side that helps to keep us sane as we wander around in our village, away from home and all that we grew up knowing.
I only knew her from a few half-days in Niamey and then some more in Zinder, but once a part of the Zinder family, always a part of the Zinder family. It doesn’t seem right to say she felt like family to me, she was far too new for us to have developed any sort of relationship. And yet, she was part of our family, a family that consists of a small number of Americans, from all parts of the country, with all sorts of lives, and who has seemingly little in common. But who cares about whether you’re from Jersey or Missouri, California or South Dakota (what what). Who cares that one studied English, another French, this one Foreign Relations, that one Art History? So what is there to join us together, but that, having gone past the literal (and one might argue proverbial) Timbuktu, there are 15 other Americans, just as freaked out as you in that lonely area called Zinder. So yes, we are family, hanging onto each other in this strange, crazy land.
Stephanie was at the exciting point in her service, where things are still new, people still like to hear your stories, and children love to call out ‘Anasara’ (white person). And yet her shoes are all too familiar. Yeah, I’ve been there. I was there a year ago. I’m still there now. I have grown since coming here, and this place makes far more sense now that it did when I first came. But I’m still Alex, born and raised in America, land where the snow falls, leaves change, people drive to work and school, and Starbucks and Wal-mart are always opening new stores closer than the one before. Some of my villagers might have heard of Wal-mart. What it does is a whole other matter. And the closest they can come to a $10 cup of coffee is a 10¢ glass of Nescafe. Snow is something some people have seen on a TV, once upon a time. Leaves yellow and fall, but who would guess at such a bizarre thing as pine needles? And ownership of cars? We don’t even have 10 private cars in my village. Are you starting to get why we lean so heavily upon each other? Want to guess the only person in my village who doesn’t understand polygamy? How about the only one who is confused when the husband and wife aren’t present at the marriage ceremony?
Looks like I’m starting to ramble now. But this is my life. A constant culture shock, even though the shock becomes manageable. A daily trial of walking out into this eternally strange world. Dawn to dusk, living life in my new home. And it does feel like home…almost. This is part of the reason why we go to Zinder or visit others’ villages, to experience that other side of the coin. You do what you need in order to survive. And this means spending time with those who are living this culture shock with you, those crazy Americans who crazily jumped on this crazy ride.
I remember talking with my dad before going to college, and he told me about how I would be making new friends as I find people I’m going on this new adventure with. Did he know even then not just how true it would prove for college, but how it would go further in life? Not only am I finding it applicable, but even more obvious. On the basis of our shared culture and shared backgrounds, Peace Corps Volunteers, at least in Niger, bind ourselves together on this adventure. And it becomes fierce, a level of friendship and (to be honest) dependence that makes family seem like quite the word for it.
And so, I say goodbye to my sister(?) Steph. You were only a short time with this absurd, sorority family thing we have in Zinder, but you were oh-so welcome, oh-so wanted, and are oh-so missed. It was hard to say goodbye and, in the coming weeks and months, will be hard to not come in and say hi. We love you.
And, in the off-chance that her family and friends might be reading this, I am so, so sorry for your loss. I only knew her for a short time, but I was eager to get to know her over the next year. God bless.
Sorry for the rambling all. As I said, this is not a typical update, for this is not a typical point in time.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
And so, my return to ville was on February 18th, a day that turned out to be rather important as there was a military coup d’état that afternoon. Sounds like something to be a big deal to a country, no? At least, I would have thought so, until later that day when everyone had heard about it, I noticed that besides the talk about the subject, there has been no chance in the daily lives of the vast majority of my villagers. The only major change I’ve noticed was that there was to be a changeover at my Mairie (to see a photo of which, look several months back), in which the political persons have exhausted their term and will therefore be leaving. However, that has since changed slightly so that the Mayor is staying temporarily, but the vice-mayor and other councilmen are now gone. The hired staff will remain, keeping up with the day-to-day responsibilities of local government. But at least as of the time that I’m writing this, these things have yet to be fully realized, so I’m still not fully sure what’s going on or how things will run in actuality. Further news relative to the CSRD, there were recently some arrests in Niamey of some Ministers and others who are accused of having conspired against the CSRD/government.
So now, with this little coup event that transpired, my time in this country has officially been under three different governments. I came in under the 5th Republic. Last fall we had the referendum which pushed us into the 6th Republic (and extending then-President’s mandate for an additional three years). And now, we are under the Conseil Suprême pour la Restauration de la Démocratie (CSRD). The plan is that we will, in the as-yet undefined future, be having elections. And then there will be another issue, as to what government we will be under, will this be a return to the 5th, will be going forward to the 7th, or will we be in the 6th (considering CSRD doesn’t consider the 6th to have yet existed). Makes for an interesting situation and a fun mind-puzzler while at the same time making me thankful of the peaceful political situation we have back in the States. No matter what the arguments that have gone on for the last 200+ years, we have a stability I hadn’t thought to appreciate until coming here and seeing ‘African Democracy’.
Other news here revolves around the food issue and weather. I haven’t heard that it was officially declared, but Niger is facing a major food security crisis this year. They have already broke open the grain banks to sell the staple foods (mostly millet, but also rice and sorghum) at a reduced price (i.e.-people only pay 13000 CFA for a bag of rice, not the 23000 CFA one finds in market), something that I’m being told usually isn’t done for another month or so. People are saying that this will make things harder down the road when people are waiting for the crops to yield their fruit; hopefully the food situation (with the aid of foreign aid) will be kept manageable up till harvest time. As far as weather is concerned, we had a nasty dusty period a few weeks back, wind was whipping through blowing sand and dust into the air which covered the sun enough to be able to look at it (did keep things a bit cooler), but which also covered every square inch of my throat, making everyone complain of dry and sore throats. That has since died down, heralding the hot season, in which we have once clocked 112, several 108s, and a daily high consistently above 100. Nights fall to between low and upper 80s. Happy news on the horizon however, I have started seeing clouds crossing the sky. As yet, nothing serious, and nothing even considering rain, but it’s showing me a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be an end to this ungodly heat (good thing for my service as it is hard to do any real work in the hours that make up the heat of the day).
And now that I believe I have those things somewhat covered, on we go to a discovery I have made, of which I am extremely pleased. As it is, I’m the only Christian in my town. Such a thing tends to make Christian fellowship/community difficult to manage, as one might expect. Many thanks to my father who downloaded sermon podcasts and put them on an iPod and sent to me, such truly has been a blessing to keep me grounded in faith, but there is yet lacking a community to see and touch. However, to my great pleasure and joy, it turns out that there is a church in a city about 60km from me. I have now attended three services there, the last one being on Easter Sunday. I thought I should probably try to write about that, thinking that some (hopefully my church friends at the least) might appreciate knowing about the differences I’ve noticed.
The congregation has usually been around 20-25 adults, 10-12 youth, and the flock of young kids that follow their parents. The adults break down into a few more men than women. Small side note, as a response to a question I asked, I found out that all the women that attend are either wives of another churchgoer or widows, whereas there is at least one guy whose wife is a Moslem. Not great numbers to make a statistical analysis, but this makes sense relative to what I would expect in this culture, in that it would be much harder for a woman to break out into a new religion, whereas the man, as head of household, has the cultural freedom to do a lot more as he feels led to. As I said, side note. Also in attendance at the church are missionary families, currently one Australian and one American. I can’t possibly describe how awesome it was to find I could speak English the first time I visited.
The service starts with a prayer followed by songs. Most of the songs are simply translations of random hymns I’ve never heard of into Hausa, to which we are supposed to sing along to the original tune. There is occasionally music provided by a keyboard and drums, but it is mostly vocals. Through my missionary connections, I borrow a hymnal (they are all words only) and we then follow the melody provided mostly from one woman (though how she knows the melody, I don’t know. Heck she could simply be making it up.) Songs consist of several picked out prior to service as well as some that congregants ask for.
After the hymns, the ladies provide the music for two more songs, and following them is the youth’s turn. Their turn is broken into a trio of young girls who do a song as well as the full youth group doing some songs.
Sandwiched in near the end of all this singing is a time where the children are led to the front of the congregation where they each recite bible verses. After we applaud them (Sannu da Aiki! Yayi Kyau!), they are led out of the church to do whatever the lady who helps with them has them do (they have already had a Sunday school-ish time before the service started). We then pass around the offering sack (just one little guy for a little congregation), we finish up this portion by a another song or two.
The service then moves into sermon time. We start with a prayer and then launch into a mini-version of their greetings. The sermons are presented bilingually by pairs, with the leader speaking in Hausa and then pausing for the other to translate into French. As the entire bible has been translated into Hausa (I’m not sure when that happened, have been meaning to ask so as to satisfy my curiosity), the service can come from any book the pastor wants as he can easily be matched by the French translation of the bible. After the first sermon, the Hausa speaker sits down, the pastor who had done the French translation steps over to what I’m now nick-naming the Hausa podium while another steps up to the newly-dubbed French podium. Another sermon is then presented in the same manner, talking in Hausa followed by talking in French, bible verse in Hausa followed by bible verse in French, en suite en suite. I know that at least these last two have received biblical education, not sure about the first Hausa-speaker. At the end of the second sermon, we share in prayer and then, if it happens to be the first Sunday, we take communion. If not, we then move finish with the prayer and move around the building, shaking hands and greeting everyone. Somewhat strange to see at first, but I did note that all the guys greet all the women, something I found surprising at there is a significant population in the culture who don’t shake hands with women but do greetings from a short distance. After we finish the not-insignificant greetings time, everyone goes off in their separate way. In all, the service seems to be something around a 2-hour affair.
As a side note, I find it to be amazingly interesting just how similar people’s characters are between the US and Niger. Yes, there are the major social/cultural differences, but still some things just fall out in much the same way. For a wonderful example, the “children’s music” portion of the service is nothing but reminiscent of the same at my church stateside. There are kids standing with their arms crossed while others swing their arms and still others actually following the motions, kids not knowing any of the words while others know the words and then vary the degree to which they actually move their mouth, kids waving to their parents, kids pulling on the sleeves of others, etc. Just one example of just how similar I’m finding people to be regardless of where we come from.
And here are some pictures of the church. The first is obviously of the outside. It is done with the traditional mud bricks.
For this inside shot, you can see where the men sit on the left hand side on plastic chairs (which had already been stacked up and put away by the time i took this picture), the women on the right on the pews, and the youth to the side of the podium. The guy up front, yeah, not any official person in the church, simple a member who wanted to be in a picture.
And at this point, I believe I have everything I specifically wanted to talk about, though I have been rereading this post so much that I'm now forgetting what I have put on here and what I may have forgotten. Weird how that happens.
Hope all is well back home. Say hi to the rain for me (though I will hopefully be getting some soon enough, whenever that may be).
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Week one was devoted to sharing our experiences, telling what we have already done, and sitting in on some sessions to further our knowledge in our respective sectors (CYE or MCD). Week two was the Language week, a very helpful time that gave a base of learning for speaking either a local language or French, depending upon what the individual wanted. Personally, I was in the lowest of the low Hausa course, a very good thing considering I currently don’t speak it. At the end of the week, we had been given a basic grammar/sentence structure and had learned the three tense conjugations. So after that crash course, I have at least the basics and, with the help of villagers, can learn verbs and vocabulary to be able to speak the language. Week two also had some tech sessions and guest speakers, so time was split (unfortunately for me, as I was wanting nigh on every class to be a language). Week three kicked off the Homologue Conference, a two-day event in which we reviewed with our chosen counterpart how to assess community needs as well as some basic project designs. Also, we created a rough timeline for the upcoming months, stating the goals and objectives we all expect to meet over the next bit of time. My counterpart couldn’t come, unfortunately, so I wasn’t able to do all that everyone else was able to do (re: collaboration with HCN). IST ended this last Friday, and we were then given some time to talk with our APCDs and any other admin staff that we needed in order to be prepared for our next stretch of service.
I will soon be heading back out to Zinder, and as a little schedule for you guys, my next few months in ville will consist of continuing to learn Hausa, implementing some small projects (i.e.- English clubs, maybe eventually a radio show, etc.), and talking with villagers and determining the level of support the community shows towards some certain ideas and larger projects. As Peace Corps volunteers, we’ve heard and been taught on maintaining sustainability when it comes to project ideas as we will soon enough be leaving the community which will then have to take complete control over the project (unless we are replaced) and who must therefore have a vested interest in its success, a desire to keep it going, and (whenever possible) the means to keep it going. And let’s not forget the Girls’ Soccer Tournament that we are having for eight middle schools in Zinder region that will cover the weekend of the 28th and March 7th. All this is to say that it looks like I have a fair few things to do over the coming months.
I’m now going to jump back to what happened before I left ville, because we had some entertaining stuff roll through just as I left, namely la lutte traditionnelle, the traditional wrestling that they practice as (or so it seems) the dominant sport in this country. My ville was hosting the event for the department this year, and so I got to see lots of wrestling. And, whether because of my anasara status, or that I’ve made friends with the important people in my ville, I was given a good seat from which I was able to take lots of video on my camera. My current small project is joining them all together to make a video to give to the mairie. It was a really fun event to watch, including the music entertainment (though that did become annoying and loud rather quickly). The rules of lutte are varied from the free-style we have back in the States. All it takes to lose is to have either an elbow or knee touch the ground, so the rounds had the potential to be over in just 10 seconds (though there were times where the participants were trying to bore us all by taking 3+ minutes to do nothing). My ville was hosting the departmental lutte competition to choose the competitors who would go on to represent the department in the national competition (which, incidentally, started just yesterday in Zinder and will be going for about another week).
Well, we are now mostly splitting up to go our separate ways, which not many are terribly happy about as we have all grown fond of each other over PST and IST (being the Americans that we all started this crazy adventure with, from Philly to now). On the other hand, I know I’m not the only one wanting to get back to my village. Three weeks out from my home life is a lot, and I’m ready to get back into the cycle of things.
Friday, December 25, 2009
So, update on what has been going on.
Was last in Zinder due to a security situation that has since been resolved. Some members from Niger elected to return to the States, so the size of PeaceCorps Niger is decreased. Added to that, the latest in-coming stage was forced to leave in the middle of their training, and (as far as I know) most have gone to Madagascar which has recently reopened. The rest of us have accepted to adopt a few more rules to help guarantee safety.
We celebrated Christmas yesterday. Enjoyed a table full of good food (including tenderloin, garlic rosemary mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, apple-cranberry stuffing, apple-squash stew, gravy, pumpkin bread, and I think that was all). Also, there was a large number of cookies (several dozen of many different varieties). All in all, a very sweet, and very filling, dinner. Very thankful that Team Z is so full of great cooks. That has made these two holidays quite happy events with plenty of good food to go around.
After dinner, we had a White Elephant and Secret Santa gift exchange. Fun stuff went around, with a mixture of laughing and crying (depending on the nature of the gift).
Village life has been going quite well. I have recently sat in on two CAPED meetings (a sort of teacher-training), and am considering not attending any more (though I would have to reconsider that decision if I decide I could do something to make it more effective. I dunno, maybe have everyone check in cell phones at the door, not gabble when the leader is talking, not shouting across the room, etc. The good thing about these meetings is that they take place in French, so I'm able to follow what's going on (although the entire point of the message was lost on all but a few at the latest meeting).
Two others and I visited a fellow PCV in mid-December. So, we headed up north (passing through some interesting landscape) to help paint a world map. We spent the better part of thee days up there, working at a primary school in a village a few km away. It was a worthwhile experience, heading out to visit another person's village.
So, time for a few photos. Here's what the bush taxi was like. On the way up, Sean and I were sitting on bags of rice, legs hanging over the side, just behind the cab of the pickup. Our only hand holds was a bar that ran along the outside of the bed of the pick-up, and since it was market time, the bed was packed until we were sitting at the same height as our hand holds, making a very difficult time of holding on. We were sitting on the left hand side, and had to work to stay on our very precarious position, especially on the right hand turns. I had the added bonus of having a lady behind me (inside the bed of the truck) elbowing and kneeing me in the back in order to find a better position. Didn't let her win that one, however, as I figured my situation was worse than hers. Meanwhile, Sean was catching the thorn branches as we were drying by and Audrey was sitting inside the bed with the cab to her back, which left her with several bruises on her back.
And here is us sitting on the top for the ride back. Surprisingly enough, this was a much better position to ride in. Wasn't afraid of falling off, wasn't being hit by thorns. In all, a much better experience.
And here is our wonderful world map. The grid lines have since been erased (happened after we left, so no pics of that). It turned out to be a rather interesting experience as the smallest paintbrush was a 2", so we ended up finger painting and using the tips of millet stalks. Perhaps not the proper way, but amusing nonetheless.
And yeah, that's what's been happening in the life of Alex. Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
I would call it a successful month one. Got a bit lonely out there without even the simple presence of all my fellow PCTs as I had in month one. However, I was visited twice by PCVs who live in close proximity to me, which really helped. However, now that month one is over, I am free to move about the Zinder region, so I will be able to visit others in Zinder (and my fellow Stagaires me).
As far as language is concerned, I've mostly been working on my French, which I would hope I am correct in saying has improved. Much of my time has been spent in making friends, and since I'm limited to those with whom I can speak in French, I have had several good, long conversations (including one in which I was up past midnight giving a basic description of American politics, geography, history). It remains, however, extremely tiring to be speaking for long periods of time in a foreign language, so I still have to wait for French to become natural enough for me for it to not be difficult. The locals have been loving the stories of snow and -40 wind chills, along with some astonishment that, yes, it gets colder outside than inside the refrigerators in town. Blowing Nigerien minds with stories of this cold has certainly been entertaining for me (as well as a source of new-found respect as to how anyone could live in such weather). Nowadays, I'm the only one in the town of about 15000 to be sleeping outside. Most have moved indoors, as a result of how "cold" it gets at night. So far, only twice have I ever seen it get below 70. To be honest, however, I too am finding the early morning hours (about 4am when the prayer call goes off) to be chill, though slipping under a single bedsheet is more than enough to keep me warm.
Classes have officially started, though, in truth, it's not the same quick "start" as we're used to back in the States. A lot of preliminary stuff (students arriving from bush, handing out of cahiers, setting up the class schedule) has pushed back real classes by several weeks. However, I have been able to observe (so far) three english classes at the local C.E.G. (equivalent of Middle School). There is a lot of variation in the ages of the students in the respective grades. Some of the students at the sixieme grade (roughly 6th grade) appear at least as old as several students in the quatrieme grade (roughly 8th grade). However, we have been warned that such seeming discrepancies can be expected as a result of teacher strikes, when parents put their children into school, and whether or not the children have had to repeat a grade (or two). My VERY first class was the english class for the sixieme level, which just so happened to be the first english class these students have ever had (not to mention probably the first time most have ever heard an english word). And so, that first class covered such things as "Good morning", teacher, student, boy, girl, man, and woman. To be honest, I had some difficulty in keeping a straight face at the beginning, for the accents were, to be truthful, quite amusing. That is, however, something I might be able to help with, giving the students more repetition in speaking english, especially from a native english speaker. Also, I might try working with the quatrieme level as they need to have a certain level of english (as well as their other classes) in order pass the test and continue on to lycee.
At the primary school level, well, some are still waiting for teachers to arrive (especially after several were called away for the legislative elections held on the 20th), and others have been working on teacher trainings.
And well, what else? It certainly was a long month, but certainly bearable and, now that it has passed, I've been warned that time really starts to fly by.
And now, some pictures (but not too many, as the internet isn't the same as that back in the States).
This first one is the palm forest I have on the border of my ville. It isn't all that deep but goes on for quite awhile east-west. I got 'lost' several times in here, as there are a lot of trees and they block out the only landmark by which I can navigate in this town, a cell tower.
This second one is my pad. It's a small concession inside a larger family concession. I've a wall and door sufficient to afford me privacy, which is quite welcome for when I want to find some solitude. The shade hangar you see has a tarp on the inside, making it waterproof and allowing me to sleep outside even in the rain. Also, note the mosquito net, something that has come to feel rather protective, as if nothing can get at me inside there once it's tucked in under the mattress. My house is that lovely one room mud hut on the right, but not all of it, as my room ends at the point you see the end of cement along the top of the building. The rest is a storage space. So essentially, my room is about a college dorm room. As you follow my house past the right side of the picture, the building continues on for a few more feet and then you run into my latrine/shower area. Fortunately, I 'won' a solar shower at the GAD auction at the end of PST, so I have can take a shower with running water instead of a bucket bath. Very glad I won that one.
Well, that's all the pictures I'm gunna dare for now. Some other pictures can be found either on other PCVs blogs as well as on facebook.
Some last notes before I head back to the hostel for the night.
1) My host family showed me a metal bowl full of something last night, asking if I was hungry. Before responding 'yes', I got up and looked inside and, to the great delight of my stomach just after eating, it was a bowl full of crickets that they were about to fry up. And, as I'm sure everyone will be surprised to hear, I turned down this generous offer and have ever since been unable to keep a straight face on the issue.
2) Letters are quite enjoyed. Don't be afraid to send them.
3) In a happy turn of being able to be American while in Niger, we will be having a Thanksgiving dinner (with chicken instead of turkey, but with potatoes and rolls) as well as a Christmas party.
4) Team Zinder is apparently known as the cooking region in Peace Corps, and I'm happy to report that this newest stage is representing well, as we made some nice chocolate cake today and are planning stuff for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers.
I believe that's all I can think of for now, so I'll say toodles and try to remember anything I forget for when I speak to my parents tomorrow.