Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Was yesterday Easter?? I think it may have been. To celebrate I just pulled out the bag of jellybeans you so thoughtfully sent me, mom. They are so GOOD. How can anything so small be so pretty and so good? My god, I think I never enjoyed a jellybean more in my life. Should I be concerned that they still haven't melted? What's in these things?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sharing my abode

After the baby visits I returned to my hut and began moving my stuff into place. It's nice how something as simple as a familiar book set on a shelf can make a place feel more like home. I was quite surprised and ultimately pleased (although at first I was against it) to discover that for the time being, I am sharing my abode with a pigeon. He was here when I arrived and I presumed he would bobble his way away, but he seems to like me and I enjoy his company. He is a white pigeon with a brown head and some blue paint on his back (where oh where did it come from?) He is currently perched, roosting, on the wall by my bed. He spent a very long day toddling around my "shower" area and sitting in the shade. Smart fellow. I shall call him Bartholomew. Or Myrtle? Not sure yet.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


So that brings me to everything that's happened since I started living here yesterday afternoon. So far it has been quite a trip. The main character is my neighbor/caretaker/self-appointed surrogate mum, N'arba. N'arba is 70 years old, tough as nails, and has taken it upon herself to make sure that I am properly cared-for here. Because of her, I feel like I have someone looking out for me. She is Kungiya--women's leader--so everyone knows her and she knows everyone. I was particularly thankful for N'arba yesterday. As soon as the car drove off, she took my hand and we started a tour of all of the homes where a child had been born that day. Yesterday I held no fewer than five newborn babes, complete with umbilical cords and exhausted mothers, in the dim and musty rooms of five mud huts. One of the features of my village is that the paths are all twisty and turn-y, with mud walls and homes all over; it's an absolute maze, meaning that I often have no idea where I am relative to my home, meaning that I don't think I'll be able to find all of those babies to check up on them again! Although with N'arba's help, anything is possible...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Village meeting

It was pretty cool. There were a few kids, a dozen or so old men, and two women ( I will tell you about them later!) Haoua and Mousssa went over a bunch of details about what to expect, and a few caveats. Want to hear them? They are funny:

I. The Previous Volunteer
A. The previous volunteer was really motivated and did great work. (Hi Ben G!)
B. Try not to compare Samsiye to him because it will make her feel bad.

II. The Helmet
A. Samsiye has to wear a helmet when she rides a camel or a motorbike.
a. This led to a long and colorful discussion regarding the following questions:
1. Does she have to wear a helmet when riding a donkey?
2. Does she have to wear a helmet while riding in a donkey cart?
3. How about while riding in a car?
4. A truck? Does she have to wear one there?
B. Samsiye does not actually even have a helmet.

III. Sometimes Samsiye Runs
A. This usually happens in the morning or evening.
B. Don't worry; she is not scared or angry.
C. She is just doing "exercise."

IV. Attending Things
A. Samsiye would like to attend all public celebrations and meetings.
B. Make sure you tell her otherwise she will never know about them.

It was a fun meeting to be at; all of these nice strangers coming to get some info on the new girl. After that, Haoua, Moussa, and Suzannah left. And now, here I am, in my village, making it home! I did not cry as I watched my friends drive away. I didn't feel like it, because beside me and all around me were my new neighbors.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Now, back to yesterday. We visited the offices of all of these guys whose actual responsibilities and jurisdictions are a mystery to me. The Prefet (?), the Maire, the Chef de Canton, the Chef de Village, and the government's extension agents for agriculture and natural resource management (NRM). Haoua and Moussa introduced us, and the officials introduced themselves, and then protocol was nicely and politely accomplished.
We dropped John off in his village first; it has a goofy name that sounds like baby talk...and village. And here I am. As we drove up, through the sand and the wind and the sun, a crowd of kids (they always come in crowds here) swallowed the car and I could hear them shouting my name: "Samsiye! Samsiye! Kin dawo! (You came back!)" Several of the older boys dutifully lugged my stuff into my concession for me, and then we all made our way into the shade for a "Village Meeting," aka "Here's Samsiye."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yesterday's fine company

Water harvesting near Illela, Niger; photo courtesy of FAO
March 19, 2008
It is just after sunset on the evening of my first full day in my village as a legitimate PCV. I will try to tell you everything, so that if you have a dream about this place, it will be accurate! Yesterday morning we loaded up the Land Rover with my stuff: a big backpack full of clothes, a duffel bag full of books, one bucket with miscellaneous doodads like string and nails, one bucket with vegetables I bought at the market, one box full of foodstuffs from a "fancy" store, and one small backpack with my more precious and sentimental items--letters and photos from home, my mermaid doll, and my sock monkey, Geronimo. This is everything I have!
Then we drove north to the town of Illela; it's just a larger village and it has electricity but no pavement, just sand. There we fulfilled protocol by visiting half a dozen officials, both municipal and traditional ones. By "we" I mean:
1. Me
2. John, a fellow new PCV who is my second-closest neighbor, about 15K away.
3. Haoua Grande, a dynamic, expressive, hilarious, completely delightful woman who is an agriculture trainer for PC. She is Nigerien and jokes that she'll never marry because she is too rude to men; but really she's not rude at all, just awesome.
4. Moussa, who is also a godsend; he is the PC driver for the Konni region. He knows all of our villages, coordinates with them, and takes care of everything we could possibly need. He speaks Hausa and French, and I think he understands a lot of English, but he rarely breaks it out except for an occasional, wildly popular "talk to the hand!"
5. Suzannah, the PCV whose current job is to keep everything running administratively and logistically. She is so on top of it, way more patient and organized than I think I have ever aspired to be. She is, also, terrific.
I should add that John, my neighbor, is ALSO lovely, stable, and a great dancer. So, happy me, I am in fine company.

Monday, April 21, 2008

First, Ben wrote to Jessica, and then she answered

Dearest Brother of Mine,
It brings me great pain to hear of your tragic fortune at the craps table. The loss of the helicopter, in particular, brought a tear to my eye. Multiple tears, if I am to be truthful. I can only hope that in the time since you wrote, you have managed to survive without encountering too much hardship.

I must speak frankly: I, too, have come across unexpected challenges. Shortly after arriving in Niger, I was captured by Tuareg nomads and forced to join their caravan across the Sahara. For the first several weeks, I was contained inside a burlap sack and strapped on a camel's back. Certainly it was difficult to maintain a positive attitude, but I endured it by picturing the faces of my loved ones and nibbling on camel fur. Now that I have gained the trust of my captors, I am permitted to walk alongside my camel, provided that I do not attempt escape (which would result in unspeakable consequences).

Needless to say, your letter explained a lot about my circumstances, I am convinced that the Croatian mob that threatens you is also responsible for coordinating my Tuareg cross-cultural experience. Quite possibly, you will hear of my predicament before receiving this letter-and you may be asked for ransom. I understand that since your big losses in craps you will be unable to buy my freedom-- perhaps you could approach our young brother with the Croatian/Tuareg demands. Please make haste, as the hot season is quickly upon us here in the desert and I do not have any rehydration salts. My approximate location is 20 degrees N lat, 10 degrees E long.

With Greatest Affection,


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An interesting discussion

Peace Corps language teachers

One of the language teachers here was telling me about his education and the state of higher ed in Niger. He said that because of IMF/World Bank requirements, Niger is trying to discourage people from pursuing education past grade 6, and rather wants them to enter the workforce early. As a result, people with higher education are having a harder time finding appropriate work. There just isn't a lot of energy put into developing the kinds of jobs for the educated work force. I don't understand the nuts and bolts of this, nor do I understand the IMF/World Bank perspective, but I definitely understand my friend's concern. He has a master's degree in geophysics from a college in the Ivory Coast, and he wants to work in eastern Niger doing petroleum surveying/extraction. You can imagine, we had a lot if interesting conversations/views to share about petroleum-related topics and enviromental rights (ala Ecuador). Anyway he is an outstanding teacher, fluent in at least four languages, and he's going to apply for a Fulbright to study in the US. and get a PhD in geophysics.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wiped out

We're all feeling wiped out. The heat is continuing to inch its way into every aspect of living. Example #1: the water. I carry a nalgene around with me all of the time, and starting last week, I am unable to prevent the water from getting HOT. The bucket of water I bathe with, that sits outside, is still so hot at 8 PM (when it is dark) that I'm guessing most people would cool it if they were able to. Example #2: involves water, again. I can soak my t shirt in water (hot, of course--see #1), walk outside, and in under five minutes it is completely dry. It's no wonder I am thirsty all the time. The following simile comes to you courtesy of Angie, a PC trainee neighbor: Water is evaporating off of me like conservatives exiting a Marilyn Manson concert...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds

Zuciya, deusa, chukka, zee; I have been playing cards. There is a very popular card game here called Huit Americaine. I don't know why it has that name, really. Well, I guess maybe I do...nope. Anyway, it is a lot like Uno, except it's played with a regular deck of cards. I suggest learning it , and practicing, and you can play it with me next time we're together!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A lack of wind

Dry season in the desert

The last week has flown by. It has been exceptionally windy. I think the heat is becoming less of a shock/surprise. The other day it was 98 at around 1:30 PM, but it didn't feel unbearably hot because of the wind. I guess the killer thing about hot season is the lack of wind. I've heard that it's much too hot to sleep, so people end up just staying awake talking all night.
The year here is divided into two main seasons: Locacin Rani and Locasin Damana (Dry Season and Rainy Season). Dry Season goes from November-ish to May-ish, and it has two different personalities. November to February are dry and windy, and night here is cold (really!). March to May is HOT and is also called bazazara, or something hot-sounding. Rainy season is June-October, and I guess it is nice and green in most places, although often the first rains don't come until July or even August. There is harvest season in there, too, right after the rains stop.