It’s hard to believe I left Niger nearly three months ago!  Since I have been back, I have received a lot of questions about the culture in Niger.  So I thought I’d write about a few of the topics that I’ve been asked most about.  For anyone in the Portland area wanting to learn more about Africa, the annual Portland African Film Festival is currently underway (ending the first weekend of March).  It shows great films and they are all free!  And a lot of people have asked me about how they can help out.  Here is a link to donate to Peace Corps projects underway in Niger: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.  I have a lot of faith in the work Peace Corps does and a little bit of US dollars go a really long way in Niger!

But first an update… Niger is currently experiencing a coup that seemed pretty inevitable when we left.  I am pleased that they are getting a change of power and hopeful that they’ll have democratic elections soon.  Here is a great article on it from the BBC:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8524924.stm.  As for my own personal update, I started a new job a few weeks ago, which I am enjoying so far.  I bought my first home, which I’ll be moving into at the end of March.  And I leave for a three week vacation in Morocco in a week from now!  No complaints here!

So for those who want to learn more about Niger…

Children take the first name of their father as their last name.  It was really confusing initially to differentiate between first and last names since we are used to American first and last names which sound so different.  Another thing about names there is that Volunteers are given Hausa, Zarma or Arabic names from the host families upon arrival in Niger.  Pronouncing American names can be tricky for Nigeriens so this makes it easier to integrate.  While there, my name was Amina, which is the Arabic name of the mother of Mohamed. 

I’ve been asked to say a few things in Hausa for people so I wanted to share a few of my favorite phrases.

“Ina zumna duniya?” This is a greeting that means “how do you sit in the world?”  The response to this is always “sai hankori,” which means “have patience.”  It shows the wise Hausa belief that you shouldn’t get too wrapped up in your current circumstances because they will always change. 

“Ina ruwaku?”  This literally means “where is your water?” but is used to tell people to mind their own business.  In Niger, your water is your business.

Transportation

In major cities, it is easy to get around using city taxis that are standard four door sedans.  To move somewhere outside of a big city in Niger (it’s the same in much of Africa) you have to take a bush taxi.  Niger has an interesting bus system and no trains.  Traveling by bush taxi isn’t a very comfortable experience but sure teaches you a lot of patience.  To catch a bush taxi, you need to go to a village’s tasha, which is where the bush taxis all load passengers.  If in a small village, there will only be one bush taxi and in many cases, bush taxis are only available once a week on market days.  If you are in a large city, you just have to ask around the tasha and find the car that is headed in your direction.  Then you wait for sometimes a very long time for the bush taxi to get all of its passengers.  The Nissan van-style bush taxis are called “dix-neufs,” which means 19 in French.  This denotes that the taxis carry 19 passengers.  BUT children and animals are not counted in this so you could have a goat next to you and a bundle of chickens at your feet and they don’t count as space.  And there are usually more than 19 adults in those things anyway.  Once they get enough passengers, the bush taxi gets going for a short period.  The bush taxi will stop frequently to let people out and take on more passengers in villages.  It will also stop when it breaks down, which often occurs.  And it will stop for traditional prayer times so that all of the men can get out and pray together.  There are several different types of bush taxis, depending on what type of road they travel on.  If you’re sticking to the main highway, you will get a van or a sedan.  If you are going to be on a dirt road, you get to ride in one of the open air trucks.  I’ve stolen a picture from my dear friend Will to show what these look like:

You may be surprised that the most comfortable spots are on top of the cabin.  My favorite spot on this type of bush taxi is where the man in sunglasses and the blue button up shirt is sitting.  It is very neat to view Niger from that height while going along the road.  I liked it because I always got lost in my thoughts of Africa from that view… although not too lost since it is important to be alert enough to not lose your grip and bounce off the car.  Also, as a lady in a skirt, it takes a certain amount of maneuvering to keep your skirt down to not expose yourself, all while not losing your flip flops to the wind.  It is surprisingly fun but usually means you’ll be sore for day or two since bouncing around on top of a metal car for two hours isn’t the most padded mode of transport. 

Here is another photo from a bush taxi when I was sitting in the front seat: 

It may not show a lot, but I like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facial Scarring

Facial scarring is used in Niger to show what area a person is from.  The patterns will be scarred on a child’s cheeks around the age of 7.  Only the boys are scarred with the traditional local patterns.  Girls are sometimes given “beauty scars” which are single vertical or diagonal lines below either eyes.  Scarring is more widespread outside of large cities but is becoming less common as Niger is increasingly exposed to the Western world.  Facial scarring was particularly strong in my village.  When I told Nigeriens in Maradi or Niamey my village name they would usually pad at their face to indicate its reputation for heavy scarring.  In my village facial scarring was further used to indicate which family you came from.  For instance, my friend Hamza’s family had a very broad pattern that went all the way up into the skin around the eyes.  I could always tell who his relatives were.  Writing this out makes it kind of sound like child abuse but I don’t think that facial scarring is a bad thing… it’s just something that they do in their culture.  After all, where did our practice of ear piercing come from?  You can’t really see the scarring in my photos so I’ve borrowed a photo from my friend Liz to show this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosques

My village had several mosques ranging from nicely painted ones with minarets to rocks pushed together in a line in the sand to create the outline of a building.  The mosques are only used for prayer and they are only for men.  In some Islamic countries, women are allowed into mosques, but not in Niger.  Men go to the mosque five times a day to pray, beginning before sunrise around 5 am, and ending after sunset around 8 pm.  In a country with few clocks, the imam (leader of a mosque) calls out to the men when it is time to come to the mosque and pray.  To make this more effective, a lot of mosques have loud speakers.  There is a traditional Arabic call that is used in all Islamic countries, which is sung out by the imam for a few minutes.  It begins with “Allahu akbar,” which means, “God is great.”  Some imams are better callers than others… some calls sound beautiful and others make you want to whack the loud speaker off the building.  I lived across the street from a mosque which was unfortunate during the 5 am prayer calls.  But the loud speaker broke after my first week there so then I just had the nice quiet call of the imams own voice for the rest of my time!  I really miss the prayer calls.  The calls were a great reminder that I was someplace different.  I also like the idea of them that they are an appeal to people to congregate and socialize.  You cannot underestimate the influence of Islam on Niger… it is the single most important identity of their culture. 

So that’s a little bit more for everyone on what it’s like in Niger!  I am so excited to get to Morocco and experience a different Islamic country in Africa.  I’ve been keeping in touch with my fellow volunteers who left as well as those who stayed and it sounds like everyone is happy with their decision.  And I know I will do Peace Corps again at some point and I look forward to that.  The biggest thing Niger taught me is that I am lucky, lucky, lucky… a thousand times over!

I am back in Oregon! I was very sad to leave Niger but I’m also happy to get back to the life I left here. I know my last post was a bit cryptic so here is more about what is happening in Niger and why I chose to leave. Before I left for Niger I was aware that there had been Al Qaeda kidnappings of Westerners in Niger. They concerned me but seemed a good distance from where volunteers are placed. The kidnapping attempt last month was particularly scary to us because it happened in Tahoua, which is next to Maradi. It was also the first attempt to kidnap an American (eight of them). We were all consolidated in our regions for 10 days until the Peace Corps administration had assessed the situation. The region of Tahoua was shut down and all volunteers from that region choosing to stay will be put in new villages in other regions. Volunteers were given the option of going back to their villages and complying with a lot of new security and travel measures or going home. Those of us leaving Niger were given the status of “interrupted service,” which means that we left our assignments because of circumstances outside of our control.

I had concerns about safety in my village because it is on the national highway at the intersection of a nice road to the North and a convenient route to Nigeria to the South. It is a larger town so it gets a lot of traffic; it’s not a bush village where any outsiders would be noticed. After consolidation was over, I really couldn’t make up my mind. But then, while making my decision, the trainees that had arrived in October were removed from Niger and sent to Madagascar. Shortly after that, a French researcher was kidnapped on the Mali-Niger border. I did have a lot of the “chances are, it’s not going to happen to me” thoughts, but I found that my threshold for the risk of being kidnapped was much lower than my risk tolerance for say, house robbery. One of the great experiences of living in Niger is that there are so few foreigners. Unlike most other places, we rarely saw other foreigners (outside of Niamey). When visiting a friend’s large-ish town for the first time, I asked a child sitting near the taxi stand “Ina anasara?” (“Where’s the white person/foreigner?”) and I was taken directly to his house. That condition of being such a striking minority added to my feelings of insecurity. Lastly, Niger’s President Tandja unconstitutionally extended his term several months ago; presidential elections were scheduled to take place at the end of this month. The international community has been upset with Tandja and many countries have stated that they will pull out aid if he doesn’t step down, which means a shrinking foreign presence in Niger.

So, I’m home and not really sure what’s next. If anyone is looking to hire someone with intermediate Hausa skills, extreme heat tolerance, and an MBA, give me a ring! I’ll be doing some traveling in the upcoming months and it will be nice to spend the holidays here. I left Niger with quite a few other people but I’ll be keeping up with my friends who decided to stay. This wasn’t the Peace Corps service I expected to get, but it’s the service I got and despite its early ending, I am very happy with it.

I’ve posted a bunch of photos from my time in Niger below.  A little warning that there are some photos of animals being slaughtered in there.  During the Muslim holiday of Tabaski in November, the custom is to slaughter and smoke sheep for family and friends.  It’s a great holiday and a neat thing to see but a little bit bloody.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

I’ve been in Maradi for a while now while we have been waiting out some security issues. This is the official message on what has been happening:

On Saturday, November 14, heavily armed individuals attempted to kidnap American Embassy employees in Tahoua. The Embassy once again strongly urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution and remain vigilant. The Embassy restrictions on the travel of U.S. Government employees and official visitors have been amended to prohibit official travel outside of Niamey until further notice.

You can Google for a bit more information. Some of us will be going home and some of us are still trying to make our decisions. If I decide to stay, I know my increased travel and security restrictions will at least result in less internet access. Thank you to my family and friends for your support right now!

Last week my villagers found me a new house and I was able to get moved in very quickly. The new house is much more secure – it is in a neighborhood several blocks off of the road. The house itself is nicer than I need it to be. I have electricity now and fewer bugs! Most importantly, I have really great neighbors. The first few days, I went door to door greeting everyone who lives around me. People have been very welcoming. I live in a nicer neighborhood, which is evident by how many wives are in each household. Men show their wealth in Nigerien society by having more wives and children. It is always interesting to visit polygamist households – every wife wants you to sit and chat in her bedroom while she shows you all of her belongings (gifts from her husband). It’s important to be equally complimentary to each wife. It’s a little tricky and honestly makes for a lot of guiltily funny moments as the wives try to subtly tell you that they are the favorite wife.

I had a really rough experience on my ride into Maradi this time. I was in a bush taxi (some other time I will have to explain bush taxi transportation) and we stopped along the side of the highway at a village between Tchadoua and Maradi. Two men had flagged us down. One man handed money to the driver through the window. A man with a disability came crawling up behind them. Physical disabilities are common here because there are a lot of opportunities for injury here. In America, those injuries would be treated for most people but here there is less medical care so simple injuries turn into life-long disabilities. A lot of people limp around using a tall stick to steady themselves on. If someone has limited functioning of both legs they lots of times will wrap their knees with cloth and drag themselves around with their upper body. It’s heartbreaking, especially considering that Niger has no sanitation system so the dirt roads are covered with garbage and animal feces.

The taxi driver realized that the two men were paying the fare for the man on the ground behind them and he began to shout. He was pushing the money back at them and said he wouldn’t take the man. He asked who would help the man once we got to the taxi stand in Maradi. The men finally convinced the driver to take him and lifted him into the car. It was clear that the man also had a vision impairment. He was put right in front of me (we were in a van with row-style seating) and was very friendly when he got into the car. Even though he wasn’t being treated well, he still greeted everyone in the traditional way. Once we got to the taxi stand in Maradi people began to pile out of the van. There were a lot of men outside the side door of the van, waiting to have baggage unloaded from the top of the van. The man with the disability began to slide himself along the seat and the men outside were all watching him. It was obvious that no one was going to help him and the man was prepared to essentially fall backwards out of the van from quite a tall seat. I felt stuck and couldn’t think of anything to say in Hausa. I had a man next to me blocking my exit to the door and in a society where women are not even supposed to touch men, how many cultural boundaries would need to be crossed for a white woman to help this Nigerien man? But the idea of the man just tumbling out of the car was beyond my personal reality of things that can actually happen in this world so I crawled over the man next to me and got out of the van just as the man was ready to fall out. I lifted him up under his arms and set him on the ground. I was surprised at how little he weighed. I grabbed his things from the seat and gave them to him.

I wanted to yell at the dozen or so men who were all just watching us. I wanted to yell at the driver. And I wanted to tell the man on the ground that I admired his tenacity to be alive at all. But I had started to cry and my Hausa gives me a limited ability to communicate. Right now the worst insult I know is “you have no niceness.” All I could manage was to give the man with a disability a traditional Hausa blessing – may Allah give you luck. The man was appreciative and thanked me but I couldn’t tell if he could see who I was. I should have stayed to make sure the man got to where he was going but I was on the edge of big time losing it so I just ran out of the taxi stand to get to the hostel as quickly as possible.

It was by far the worst experience I have had in Niger and probably the worst example of human behavior that I have ever seen anywhere. My heart broke for the man who could only be unluckier if he was female. The incident crushed me for a while and oddly made me feel like I was reliving every heartbreak of my life all over again, all at the same time. It solidified for me that I should be here in Niger to help, while at the same time made me want to leave this country where such a forsaken population can’t even help their own worst off in such a basic way. I don’t know how that happens. People who know me (especially anyone who’s used the R word around me) understand that I am very sensitive about disabilities. It’s a big soft spot for me and it was crushing to think of the people with disabilities who I know and love being watched as they helplessly fell into the dirt. But I think everyone I know would have been appalled at this, even though I’m not sure that everyone I know would have helped. Think about it… would you have? Why aren’t we nicer to each other? Why do we wait for other people to help so that we don’t have to? Don’t we all have that push in our hearts that reaches out to the hearts of others with kindness and assistance that we are so able to give? Can’t we all just agree that the most important thing in life is to be decent to each other and then move on and act accordingly?

Earlier this week the mayor’s office in my village was robbed in the night.  All of the tax money was taken along with a lot of paper records.  Because my house is situated next to the mayor’s office, directly on the national highway, on an isolated edge of town, Peace Corps pulled me out of my village and I have been staying in Maradi.  My villagers are working on finding me a new house so hopefully that will be quick and I’ll get back to my village soon.

The robbery is suspected to be an inside job.  The night guard was at home sleeping when it happened; now he is in jail in the next big town over because of it.  Other staff members were also in jail for a while.  They have been investigating but I don’t think they’ve found anything definitive.  It is really heartbreaking for my town to lose its entire savings.  Although there is a tax system in Niger, many people do not pay taxes because they can’t afford to pay them or nonpayment is just not enforced.  Part of my job as a volunteer with the mayor’s office is to encourage people to pay their taxes and to highlight the benefits that citizens receive from paying taxes.  That campaign might need to wait a while…  This is a big setback for my mayor’s office.  Decentralized government has only been implemented within the last few years here; mayor’s offices are young and trying to figure out their roles in communities.  People don’t have much understanding of what they do and they don’t hear much about the work of the office.  Beyond the financial loss, this is a big blow to the public perception of the mayor’s office, especially since the staff may have been involved.

My volunteer life is kind of turned on its head right now!  Besides the housing change, there are a lot of questions about my work with the mayor’s office.  I’m not sure how that will all shake out when I get back to village.  Last month I had started visiting the large clinic in my town to see what kind of work I could do there.  The staff was very welcoming and is very excited about me working there.  Most of the people who visit the clinic are women and children so they certainly have the population that I am most interested in helping here.  I do believe that disease and malnutrition are the biggest challenges my village faces.  Besides the preventable deaths that they result in, disease also contributes to lost work days and life-long disabilities. 

Tomorrow I am going to a friend’s village to attend the opening of a school he built.  I will pass through my village and check in on my housing.  While Maradi is comfortable with its showers and refrigerator, I’m ready to get back out to the bush.  Although I’m not going to lie… my next stop is the pool and it’s going to be wonderful!

The UN recently came out with their annual quality of life index (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8290550.stm).  It measures a lot of factors like literacy, food access, life expectancy, per capita income, etc.  This year Niger is number 182 out of the 182 countries measured.  Niger makes it to the bottom of a lot of lists but we always comfort ourselves with the countries that are so bad and unstable that they cannot be measured.  But this study included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and Afghanistan.  Really?!  The people of Afghanistan are more comfortable than this?!  That was bad enough but perhaps worse was that part of the analysis is a gender index and the only country to rank lower than us in gender equality is Afghanistan.  Ouch.  But I guess we are better off than we would be in Iraq or Somalia… that’s comforting. 
We’ve talked a lot about the study during the last few days and it’s brought on some interesting conversations.  Everyone’s had different reactions to it but I feel like mine’s been mostly positive.  I am glad to know that the world doesn’t get much worse than this for people.  Obviously living here as an American we have a lot of perks that locals do not have – most of our discussions about the study this weekend happened while we were playing around in the only swimming pool in this region, which is a private club and cost prohibitive to non-foreigners.  Even so, it’s really easy to be jealous of the volunteers in just about any other Peace Corps country; I think I’ve heard charming pina colada/safari-ing/snorkeling/mountain climbing anecdotes about all of them.  Peace Corps Belize?!  Come ON! 

I can tell I am getting a lot out of this experience and it seems hard to believe that I’ve only been here four months.  The past few months have been as intellectually energizing as college – it’s the combination of learning from my villagers, reading books on poverty and development, and discussions with the other volunteers.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt myself changing this much this rapidly.  The physical conditions are toughening and that’s the first change I noticed.  A lot of the things I initially put on my continually growing “Things I Will Never Again Complain About” list were physical.  But more important than the environmental changes, is the perspective that I am getting here that will last my lifetime.  Every day I just feel so lucky – even when I am sick, sweaty, mosquito-eaten, and just generally miserable, it’s still impossible to ignore that the 11,000 other people in my village are much worse off than I am.  Just by the dumb luck of being born in America I have opportunities, care, and support that even the most wealthy and well-educated Nigeriens will never have. 

It’s a lucky thing that everyone loves Obama here and therefore loves America right now… if I heard any negative talk about America I would probably be thrown out of here for brawling.  America isn’t number one on the list either (it’s 13) but for anyone who thinks that it’s shameful for us with our resources and status to not be number one, I’d invite you to come vacation in Niger.  It might make you more contented!  During the past two weeks, two of the nine other volunteers I started with in this region returned to the US.  That was quite a loss for us but we all know that the draw back home is very strong.  We don’t need to ask people their reasons for leaving because we all have plenty of them – it’s not easy here for anyone.  But the longer I’m here the more my reasons for coming here become real reasons to stay here. 

Car

This is all of the new Maradi volunteers headed out to our region in September. The beginning of a very long ride!

Sunrise

It's hard to capture the intense sunrise and sunsets we have here. I took this one from the car on the day we left Hamdallaye.

Shago

This is why it's difficult to get oriented in Niger. This is the tailor's shop. How would you know that? Because it's the tailor's shop.

Moto

Motorcycle safety doesn't really exist here... even for children. There is an amazing amount of motorcycle accidents here.

School

This is a very nice school that we went to in my friend's village to teach about hand washing.

Hands

These two students helped us with our hand washing themed murals.

Cheers to a successful first month!  It was up and down but mostly up and I’m happy with how it went.  We have all been in Maradi for a few days to celebrate the end of the first month.  After a month of no running water, I had the best shower of my life when I got back here!  And Maradi has a great pool that got a lot of my time this weekend.  I head back to my village tomorrow morning; we have national elections for the legislative assembly (the one that was dissolved earlier this year) on Tuesday so I want to be back in the village for that.

My house still needs some work but I am feeling more settled.  I have a bit of a crazy bug problem but I think it’s getting better.  I have ants, earwigs, crickets, spiders, locusts, and a termite infestation.  The spiders are certainly the creepiest I’ve seen… large, striped, fast things.  I thought I found a scorpion but when I showed a photo to an Agriculture friend here, he said that it’s a cousin of the chariot spider.  I’ll post a photo below; it was the weirdest bug I’ve ever seen.  Besides the wildlife, I’m enjoying my house and I really don’t mind living without electricity and running water.  Thank goodness for my solar charger, though!  It has been somewhat insanely hot here… we are experiencing “mini-hot season” right now for a month and it has been getting up into the 120’s and 130’s.  It’s hot but I’m feeling pretty used to it.

I spent most of the month exploring my village and getting to know folks around my town.  I spent time at the mayor’s office and at clinics around my village.  We have a lot of malaria in Tchadaoua right now… a lot of the families I visited had a child suffering from it.  The mosquitoes in my area last all year round, whereas in most of Niger, they are only around during rainy season.  I visited four houses in mourning during the month.  I did also attend a naming ceremony; in Nigerien culture the babies receive a name ten days after they are born and it is a big social event. 

I also spent a lot of time fumbling around Tchadaoua trying to figure out where everything is.  I have managed to identify where I can buy everything that I need and I have even narrowed those stores down to the ones that are owned by men who will shake my hand.  (Many Nigerien men will refuse to shake a woman’s hand.)  Kind of like the buy local idea, it’s the buy from the men who aren’t so overtly sexist idea.  I did get out of my village for a few days to visit a friend and on the way to Maradi I stopped in another village to help a volunteer with a hand-washing project for a few days.  We painted murals at the hospital (because of illiteracy here, any written messages need to be accompanied by a picture), did demonstrations at two schools, painted murals at the schools, and recorded the kids singing a Hausa song about hand-washing that we played on the regional radio this weekend.  It was great to help out and very insightful.  I was surprised at the basic health knowledge that is lacking here.  When we asked the kids for reasons why they should wash their hands the only response we received (even from teenagers) was that it prevents AIDS.  Problematic on many levels. 

I am lucky to live in Tchadaoua and to have a man name Hamza Blaze living in my town.  Hamza has been helping volunteers for many years and he has been my closest friend in town.  I spend a lot of time working on my Hausa with his friends at his gas stand.  I think my Hausa is getting better but it can be frustrating.  It provides many funny moments too, like when I told Salisu (the guy who gets my water and takes care of my yard) that he should diarrhea at my house every two days when I meant to say he should come to my house every two days.  Ah, the tragic similarities of zowa and zawo!  Salisu has also been a great help.  I have always been proud of my ability to build a decent fire but I can’t manage to successfully burn my garbage here (unfortunately it is the most environmentally friendly alternative in a country with no waste disposal system).  For some reason, that was probably the most frustrating thing about the month!  My family has a strong history of building/setting fires and my own father once burned down a neighbor’s garage while burning garbage as a kid.  With that kind of genetic predisposition, I’m finding my current deficiency in this very frustrating and I can’t figure out what Salisu is doing differently but either way my garbage is getting eliminated into our atmosphere.

The elections should be very interesting… we are not allowed to engage in politics here, which is kind of tricky since I am involved with the mayor’s office.  There are a lot of political parties here and we have had a lot of rallies and candidates visiting.  Again because of illiteracy here, parties are associated with a color or two so that people don’t need to read a party’s name to know it what it is.  People and stores frequently have a piece of material to show who their associated with.  It has been fascinating to see how another country manages elections.  It has nice to catch up with everyone in Maradi for a few days and I’ll be back here at the end of the month for Halloween.  Time is flying right now!

Tomorrow I head out to my village so this will be my last post for a while (although the car taking us to our villages is currently broken, so I might be in Maradi for a while longer).  I wouldn’t mind a few extra days because I’m pretty sick right now and it’s easier to be sick with ceiling fans, electricity, and running water!  I’m nervous to go out to my village but ready to settle in. 

Here are some photos from the Swear In Ceremony:

(Shikena means “finished” in Hausa and we use it all the time.)  Our nine weeks of training ended last week and we swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers on Thursday.  The week flew by!  We had a lot of events leading up to it and it was overall a week of celebration.  I was a bit sick but I powered through and I’m starting to feel better.  Our swearing in ceremony was held at the ambassador’s house in Niamey, which was great!  It was a beautiful setting with a view of the Niger River.  (I’ll try to post photos tomorrow.)  We all had our shoes off to fully relish in the opportunity to walk on grass rather than sand.  Oooo…  A friend in Portland knows one of the embassy workers here so I was able to meet him at the swear in ceremony.  It was nice and made me feel more connected to home.  Our country director, Mary Abrams, is from Oregon and used to teach at OGI in Portland, which is now a part of OHSU academic health center where I used to work.  There are a few Oregonians here and it makes me feel closer to home.  It’s funny that I had to look up Niger on a map when I got my country assignment but there are people here that show me that the world’s a lot tighter than one would think.

There are ten of us who are newly assigned to the Maradi region and we all crammed into the back of a Land Cruiser for the ten hour drive to Maradi yesterday.  It was faster than the bus but more uncomfortable.  My flip flops actually melted to the floor of the car!  We have a few days here and then we will all head out to our villages.  We are required to spend the first month in our villages without leaving… volunteers tell us that it is something to be “survived.”  We aren’t supposed to start working on projects for the first three months; we spend that time working on language and getting to know the village.  I’ve got a lot of books, seeds to plant a garden, a harmonica, and plenty more Hausa to learn.  So, we will see how it goes!

I finally have enough bandwith and internet time to get some photos posted!  Here are a few shots from the past two months… 

A Street in Hamdallaye

This is a street on the edge of Hamdallaye headed out to the millet fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosque in Hamdallaye

This is one of many mosques in Hamdallaye on the the main street through town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camels at Market

This is one of the camel parking lots on market day in Hamdallaye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millet

These are grain storage huts in a millet field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rago

This is a sheep that was put in the back of a city taxi that some friends and I were taking in downtown Niamey. I like animals but this particular one was not happy to be in a car and was right behind our heads. It was an eventful ride.

We are in Niamey all this week.  Yesterday I passed my langauge exam required to swear-in as a volunteer tomorrow.  I am an intermediate-high Hausa speaker! 
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