Thursday, December 3, 2009
On my last day in Niger, I:
Woke up nervous
Ran along a sandy road (quiet on the way out, traffic on the way back)
Visited the hospital and bid farewell to the women who are still awaiting fistula surgery
Had a close-of-service interview and only cried during it once
Avoided saying goodbye, as a mutual agreement, with my friends on staff at headquarters (we did a lot of: "see you later, maybe even today!" )
Made and ate lunch with a fellow volunteer from my hometown (sifted bugs out of the pasta and could only barely taste them)
Packed a Going-To-Morocco-In-Sun-Faded-Clothes themed wardrobe
Gave three watermelons to the staff at Air Maroc for helping arrange my flight
Washed my grimey blue sweatshirt so whoever sits next to me on the plane isn't uncomfortable
Spoke to my two homes: parents in Oregon, and parents in...am I allowed to say the name of my village now? Maybe not, since I'm officially still a volunteer, until midnight...Anyway, I spoke with Narba, Mariama, Zuera, Suleil, and a few others.
And that brings us, generally, to Now. I have a few more hours before lift off. Thank you for reading, and I'll see some of you soon. Allah shi kiyaye, Allah shi gumma mu da alheri, Allah shi bada hankuri.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Here is Ibrahima and his camel. He's in his work clothes here, but I'll try to dig up a shot of him on a day that "ya sha gayye"- got dressed up (Ibrahima is normally very well dressed). He knew that I wanted a picture of him with his camel so one morning he stopped by my house on his way back from the fields. The stuff tied on the camel's back is "harawar wake"- bean vines, which he'll feed to his family's sheep, goats, and cattle.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I have managed to talk with my family and friends in my village every day; we all appear to be (mostly) over the huge bummer of my sudden departure and are just happy to be able to hear each other's voices. They're wrapping up the harvest and preparing for the biggest holiday of the year-- Tabaski, which will happen tomorrow. Obviously I won't be able to partake in the festivities with them this time, but I will celebrate here in Niamey with city-Nigerien friends. What will we do? Be thankful for each other, dress up, visit and greet many people, slaughter a sheep, and eat lots and lots of meat for two days. Barka da Salla!
Below are a few pictures from my last days in the village.
Above are Rahido, Alkasum, Idi, and Wan Mano filling a granary with newly-harvested bundles of millet. The average family will eat approximately one bundle's worth of millet a day. This year, in our area, a family is lucky to get 150 bundles out of their fields. After the bundles run out, they will rely on money sent home from sons and husbands on work exodus to purchase bags of millet from the market.
Friday, November 20, 2009
For now: we are all safe, together, and increasingly able to address the imposing number of emotional and logistical adjustments that we'll have to make eventually.
I feel fortunate that I was near the end of my service here, and therefore had already started the Goodbye Conversation with many friends. I was lucky, as well, to have almost 3 hours advance warning that a car was coming to get me; I got to pack some things and say goodbye to the hundred or so people who waited with me. Rahman almost made it into my backpack undetected.
Again, I will write more about this when I can. It's a little too soon to try to process it now, especially with an audience. But thanks for checking in.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Lots of unknowns right now...
Forever in my heart...
Thursday, November 5, 2009
This is Laura, a fellow volunteer-trainer who cracks me up and kicks my butt with her "dance workouts". Laura built a well in her village and organized a camp for young girls.
Meet Alex, a fellow Oregonian who got more work done in compromised circumstances than any of the rest of us who had it easy. A sample of his work: gardens, maps, health care for a girl with polio, tree planting, and just generally being resilient and creative. We went to high school AND college together but didn't know it. Alex also made it out to visit and wowed us all with his already-advanced Hausa (he learned Zarma in training).
Friday, October 30, 2009
School has started, at last, even though a lot of the kids are still spending their days in the fields to bring in the last of the harvest. We haven't opened the new classroom yet, for two reasons- one is that the headmaster is insisting that he arrange a ceremony to appreciate all of the donors (that's YOU!), and he hasn't been able to find a date that all of the officials in the region can attend. (And I really hope that he never does, because I don't want a ceremony. But I'll do it, for him, because he says it's important. "This is Niger," he said, "and in Niger we have ceremonies".) So, okay. The second reason is that I've asked the contractor to return and do some more work on the doors, which were installed funkily and need some work. That should be cleared up by the time I get back next week!
Last month I talked with several women's leaders in the village to figure out a way to transfer the responsibilities that I've taken on to others, so that there is always someone to provide that supportive role to mothers. Narba and Ana, the main women's leaders, presented a plan to the larger community- about 200 women- and picked four women from the village (two from the east side and two from the west- they're so on it) to act as what I refer to in my head as The Baby Patrol.
Shaibou and Habi, each with Samsiya
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The dancers: Sadiya is in the orange shirt, Saratou the red scarf, Oweli in yellow, Mumuna, Tahirou, Rifaidi, Alhassan, Sofiani, Kadir, and Rabiatou are all in the background. Dela's sitting up front with Miniah on her lap. When the camera swings around, you see Mariama, Amu, and Salmata, and then Lahadi, sifting through some leaves that she'll use to make sauce.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Lahadi's son, Issa, came home in September from work exodus in Nigeria and brought a STEREO. We listened to tapes and watched the kids dance until the batteries ran out. Lahadi is the woman in the green shirt; I took a bunch of videos here and managed to post the one that doesn't have much dancing but does have a kid crying. Go figure! I'll try to get another one up later!
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Jen is a licensed veterinarian working in eastern Niger. She has multiple serious projects going on, including a community garden. Midway through her Peace Corps service she inherited her grandpa's golf clubs and recently, just for fun, she introduced golf to her tiny village. Everyone seems to be in on it: little kids retrieve the balls, the guys work on their swing (below), and even the women are beginning to participate (above). Amazing!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Other news that isn't related to hospitals! Let's see. Harvest is in full swing. Beans beans beans, everywhere. And millet. Yesterday a woman gave me an entire bucket of green beans which were sooo good and fresh. It's hot again, and we have fewer rains to cool us off, so I spend a lot of time looking for shade.
Malaria season is upon us--started a few weeks ago and will continue for several more. Malaria season sucks, and if I could think of a more powerful word than "sucks" I would use it. Every home I visit has someone down with malaria. Lots of kids have it; in my close family circle, which includes 12 kids under the age of 12, 4 have malaria this week. Two of them got meds from the clinic a couple miles away; the other two haven't gone yet. I realize that all of my messages to you guys for the last month have been semi-bummers. It is a fitting tale...this time of year is tough, and there's no way around it. Sick people, hot weather, mosquitoes.
But we're all hanging in there, treasuring the lighter moments--such as:
Two days ago I walked around (verrrry slowly) with Abarta, an old lady and former women's leader. She's awesome--even-tempered, candid, and logical, a good leveler for my sustained mild sense of panic of the last few weeks. She also doesn't see well, but she knows my voice, and we've become friends. Anyway, we shuffled around Foloa, and she told me why she chews tobacco. She made a convincing argument and I did not counter it. Her gums hurt from where her teeth fell out, and tobacco is the only thing that soothes them. So there.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Updates on the ladies and co. Habi and Samsiye are home and doing well; they visited the Concern-run feeding center on Monday and got a week's supply of special baby power-food. (It's called Plumpy Nut, and it's basically peanut butter.) Salamu and Abu Zaidi are still in Illela along with Hawali and Abu Lawa'asu, and all of them were in high spirits, really happy to see me this morning. They have changed so much--even in the last two weeks--the mothers look more confident, the kids are smiling and showing off their newly-acquired cheeks, and I feel proud being a part of their progress. I sent another woman up yesterday: Saddi and her son Abu Lawani. They were settled in this morning; nurse Hajara was just about to look them over and see where the best place for them is. I suspect that Abu Lawani has something else going on besides malnutrition, but I don't know for sure. Hajara will figure it out.
I want to add that of the four women who have come to Illela this year from Foloa, three of them are visited regularly by their husbands. Only Hawali's husband hasn't come; he is on work exode in Cotonou, Benin. Last week when Habi was released, her husband Shaibu bought three eggs for Hajara as a thank-you gift. That was pretty cool...
Monday, September 28, 2009
My parents and my Peace Corps friends have asked me if I think these women with malnourished babies would be going to the hospital if I weren't going with them. There are a few answers to that question, depending on the woman and her circumstances. One answer is no, or not until it's too late. We lost two babies, that I know of, last year because of this. I can't claim to explain it or understand it- it is an unfathomable mix of shame, pride, negligence, and ignorance.
Another answer is yes- Salamu, for example, was already on her way to get help. The other answer, which I think is more common, is an in-between-yes-and-no. Women recognize that their child is suffering, and do what they can (in the middle of the Sahel, how easy do you think this is?)- and depending on what they feel they can or cannot do (given the restraints of their marriage, their other children, their responsibilities at home) they may or may not consider going to the hospital as an option.
In Hawali's case, Gwallo had seen the baby, suspected severe malnourishment, and came to find me because she knows that I've been helping some mothers out. Hawali wanted to come, right away, and is prepared to stay at the hospital as long as she needs to, no questions asked. I don't know why she didn't/couldn't go earlier- surely her son has been looking this bad for weeks. But. She's here now, and that's what counts.
PS: A weird thing happened yesterday- after seeing Hawali and her son. In the village I saw a tiny, tiny, tiny baby goat laying in the sand on its side-- I honestly thought it was a cat, it was that size--, panting, with its eyes closed. People were walking all around it like it was nothing. I just stopped in my tracks. Karima was there, and I asked her if we could help the goat- you know, either feed it somehow or kill it, because it was clearly born way too early (last night, and its twin was born dead). She laughed at me, and lord knows how I managed not to burst into tears right there. I was able to cough out "I guess we deal with these things differently where I'm from" before stumbling away. All I wanted to do was scoop up that little goat and run for it, but I didn't, because that's not how they do things here. I hate it when "how we do things here" is so hard for me to accept. Karima said that they'll leave it alone until it dies. Sweet, wee little cat-goat, alone in the sun. I feel a little better about it now that I've told you. Why did I cry for a goat and not the sick baby? I don't understand.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
And here I am...again! Probably would've come to Illela anyway to see Habi and Salamu and their babes, and then ended up bringing another woman and her baby this morning too. Enter Hawali and her son, Abdu Lawa'asu. But first- the really good news- Habi and Samsiya get to go home! Samsiya is now bright eyed and has a round face, and Habi is radiant and relieved. The two of them will come home with us in the truck this afternoon. So that leaves Salamu and her son Abdu Zaidi, who is also looking great. I never knew you could get chubby cheeks in 6 days; apparently, with Hajara's attentive help, you can. I wouldn't be surprised if Salamu gets to come home next week.
Hawali, the new arrival, is a gorgeous young mother. A few days ago, Gwallo came over and said she wanted me to visit her that afternoon (you may remember Gwallo- she's a firecracker on the grain bank committee and I've mentioned her here before). My first thought was 'aw shit, what have I done now?' I thought I was in trouble...I almost didn't go to her house. But I did, and she sent for Hawali, who brought her son, who is very sick. He's 9 months old, and has the familiar signs and history of malnutrition/dehydration/illness that ruin little kids here: diarrhea that started 2 months ago, causing severe weight and water loss. To try to speak objectively- these babies come to resemble insects more than they resemble babies. Fragile little limbs, ribs, no butt, thin skin hanging off of their stick legs, hollowed eyes, skull...I will not take pictures of the sick babies, but I'll send some of the recovered ones. Deal?
So- you know the drill now, if you've been reading these entries for the last few weeks. Pack everybody up and head to what I am fondly referring to in my head as Hajara's Haven. Hajara, nurse of nurses, who knows when to yell at you and when to praise you. I think this woman may be an angel. Scratch that, she is. Hawali and her son are settled in the infant malnutrition ward, and I'll swing by to see them again before leaving Illela. Hajara warned them that they will be there for awhile; Abdu Lawa'asu weighs 4.4 kg and should weigh 6, so he's got a ways to go.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
So. This morning was the longest time I've spent at the infant malnutrition ward. There are five women staying there right now: Habi (in her 3rd week!) with daughter Samsiya, Salamu with son Abu Zaidi, and three women with their babies from other bush villages. One of the women has eight month old twins; one is a normal weight and well developed. The other, a little boy, has bright eyes and seems alert but weighs less that 2 kilograms. While these women stay at the hospital, they are under the stern but compassionate eye of Nurse Hajara. Hajara administers medicines, weighs the babies every day, tells the mothers when and what to feed them. Depending on the age and ability of the babes, they are fed fortified milk, or a peanut-butter like paste, or a combination of the two. Babies who won't drink are force fed; babies who will eat eventually get fed bits of fish and egg. When they reach a weight and health that Hajara approves, they are allowed to go home. Everything is paid for by the government.
When Habi came with 5-month old Samsiya 2 weeks ago, the top of Samsiya's skull was so sunken in you could have filled it with a half cup of water. She weighed 3.8 kilograms (sorry guys, how much is that in pounds? 8?). Today I got to watch Hajara weigh her again- she is now a whopping 4.0 kilos and will be released when she makes it to 4.3. Hajara said that Habi is the best of all of the mothers at making sure Samsiya is getting better. I was really, really happy to hear that. Salamu was smiling this morning; Abu Zaidi already looks better. She told me today that he had passed out three times yesterday, and she thought he had died. But now he's drinking canned milk and getting a whole smorgasbord of medicines and vitamins. It is too soon so guess at how he will do, but I sure do trust Hajara, and I think she'll know what to do for this babe. Habi and Samsiya will probably be home within the week, and hopefully Salamu and Abu Zaidi won't be far behind.
Some of you who read this blog last year may remember that September, October, and November were hard months for mothers and babies. One difference this year is that women seem more aware of where they can get help. It could be my imagination, but I think that perhaps some of the negative stigma- associated with revealing that your child is malnourished- is fading in my village. I hope so. I'll probably write about this again; I sure think about it a lot.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I wasn't planning on coming to Illela today, although I did want to
come up here sometime soon to visit Habi and Samsiya at the hospital.
What happened was: yesterday evening at about 6, an older lady found
me at Narba's and asked me if I'd take another woman and her son to
I got up to go see what was going on; it turned out the woman and her
baby were already sitting in a truck on the road. The woman, whom I
recognized but didn't know that well, had tears all down her face and
was holding her son, a tiny bundle on her lap. Someone handed me a
note from the nearbly clinic; it had "severe malnutrition, admit to
hospital immediately" written on it in French. People were all around
us, staring at her and watching me to see what I'd do, shouting advice
like "Throw your bike in the back, you can come back in the morning!
You're in charge of things like this, you should go!"
I didn't feel like I could just jump in and go. Maybe if I had had
even 10 minutes to get ready, I could've. But the driver was revving
his engine, impatient. What I decided to do was run back to my house,
grab some money for the woman, Salamu, wrap it in paper, run to the
truck and give instructions on where to go when she got to Illela. We
got Hajiya, the older lady who came to find me, to go with Salamu.
They sped off.
I joined them this morning, via my bicyle. When I got to the hospital
I found a whole crowd of people from our village: Salamu and her son,
Abu Zaidi, plus Hajiya, and Salamu's husband Sa'idou and one of his
friends, all together with Habi and little Samsiya. My village is
filling the infant malnutrition ward! Not exactly something you want
to feel good about.
If it's the truth that there is infant malnutrition,
which it is, then it IS good that the women are getting help.
Green: Generally Food Secure
Yellow: Moderately Food Insecure
Orange Highly Food Insecure
Red: Extremely Food Insecure
Gray: No Data
Here is the FEWS map for the way things stand in Niger now. Compare it to the map from July and you can see the difference. Foloa is in the yellow zone. Although harvest season is beginning, we now face the most difficult season for infant malnutrition.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Ramadan is almost over. I tried fasting for one day, don't have the willpower or stamina for it, and gave up by noon. But I love cooking up nice meals every night to share with people- the most popular treats so far have been popcorn and boxes of raisins (courtesy of my grandpa!).
Do you like how I call popcorn and raisins 'meals'?
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Narba (who is over 70 years old!!!!) climbed over my 7 foot-tall mud wall last night at 10:45 pm because some of my neighborhood guys (Ayouba, Shaibou, Suleil, and Mustapha) thought they heard someone banging on my door. They wanted to make sure I was okay, but they didn't want to freak me out, so they woke up Narba to come check on me. I was fast asleep, oblivious to the world, until I awoke to Narba calmly asking me:
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
My friend is Habi; her daughter is named Samsiya, after me.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Meanwhile, here are some pictures taken by my dad in early August: