Saturday, March 8, 2008

My Host Family in Hamdallay

Host family looking at books (& stencils) from a care package sent from home

1/16/08 (Yes, it is out of order!)

I know that by any official standard (or for that matter, unofficial), this is poverty. But when I am living with it, around it, among it, the word "poverty" just doesn't seem relevant. It's beside the point. I mean, who has time to ponder it when there are 8 mouths to feed? I write this kneeling on a woven mat that I got at the market yesterday. It is 7:45 PM, dark; the moon is high and bright, though only half full. I have a kerosene lamp for light; huddled around it and me are three breathing, giggling, curious kids. Ibrahim (3) is quiet, and he follows me all over, greets me after school, loves the soccer ball, rarely wears pants, and is currently laying next to me, alternately watching my face and playing with sand. Aissa (8) is holding Abdi (1). She got her hair braided today and says it hurts her head. She works hard, does the family's laundry, babysits, plays with me, teaches me. She is learning to write and enjoys looking at my books. I love her; she is bright and sweet and doesn't ever let me light my lantern: she does it for me. Haoua, my host mom, is 26 years old. Twenty six!! I am 25! Haoua is beautiful. She, like all the women here, wears fantastically colored skirts, shirts, and head wraps. She wraps Abdi to her back, where he is quiet. (He's been afraid of me until yesterday, and now he smiles instead of cries when he sees me.) Haoua gets up at 6:45, starts a fire to make breakfast and get warm, and spends the day cooking, visiting neighbors, cleaning (ie washing pots), and nursing. She is a patient teacher, although my Hausa is still so poor that it is challenging for me to thank her proportionately for all the help she gives me.
Now, Aissa is approximately 6 inches to my left, looking at my Hausa manual; Ibrahim is at my right elbow watching me write, and Haoua is sitting next to him nursing Abdi. The light from the cooking fire is starting to dim, so everything outside of the glow of my lamp on the sand is dark. I can hear laughter (Nigeriens love to laugh!) and conversation and crickets. During the night I hear Afropop radio, dogs, the occasional donkey (my neighbor has 4, living 25 yards from my hut), and sometimes roosters. It gets remarkably silent at about 3 AM. I think the silence wakes me. I don't mind; it is mysterious and still novel.

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