Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sai wata rana- Until another day

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 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

Looking Back

It's been comforting to look back at pictures from my village while I'm preparing to leave Niger. Here are a few recent ones; for old time's sake I think I'll put up some of my all-time-favorites later this week, even if they're repeats.
This is Miniya, Zuera's youngest baby and Rahman's little sister. She and Rahman spent mornings with me while Zuera was out in the fields. Tying a baby on your back is called "goyo", and it is more secure than you might imagine. Plus it gives you full use of both arms.

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.

Camels have such big heads! The woven cover on his face is to prevent him from munching on millet in peoples' fields during the walk out and back from Ibrahima's field.

The Badagishiri bush taxi. This car comes through on Thursdays to take people and their goods to market; I caught it here early one morning as men were loading it with sacks of dried beans. This year was a better year for beans than it was for millet; many families hurried to harvest all of their dried ones to sell right away. They will use the money to buy bags of millet.
The road west to my village at sunset.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Latest

Thank you to everyone who's written to make sure I'm okay- I am okay, really. I will be in Niger for one more week before flying to Morocco and, eventually, to Oregon. It's an earlier take-off than I'd had in mind, but given everything that's gone on here recently it is an acceptable compromise. I'll take two weeks in Morocco, why not?

And, because I promised to include more information about "the situation", here goes. To the best of my knowledge: two weeks ago there was an attempted kidnapping of Americans in Tahoua, which is the capital of my region and a few hours north of my home. There have been a series of attempted and/or successful kidnappings of Europeans in and around Niger/Mali over the last year; most (if not all) of these are presumed to be the acts of an Al Quaeda group based in Mali. Because of the proximity and boldness of the Tahoua attempt, and because it appeared to target Americans, Peace Corps withdrew immediately from the region.
And that's why I had to leave my village early. I've spent the last two weeks trying to be useful (or, alternately, sitting in an absolute daze) in Konni, Niamey, and the training site at Hamdallaye, and will tackle my end-of-service paperwork next week before embarking on my last-minute trip to Morocco.

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.

Two days before I left, a truck pulled up at 7:30 in the morning with our twenty-five gorgeous new school desks!! That was so exciting. In this picture you can see Chaibou, the school director, and Isseuf, the man who arranged the construction and delivery of the desks.

Here is the inside of the new classroom, with new desks in place. In this picture are Narba, Balkissa, Rabi, Malim, Chaibou, and Isseuf. Balkissa, Rabi, and Malim are teachers for the youngest students; Chaibou will teach the two oldest grades in this new building.
There are so many more pictures that I wanted to take before leaving. I guess those will have to wait.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Abrupt and Unexpected

Due to sudden security issues, all Peace Corps volunteers in the Tahoua-Konni region and many volunteers country-wide were permanently removed from their villages earlier this week. I will post more detailed information about this when I can.

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


I went all the way to Tahoua and back. That is a lot of busing around, but it was worth it because I met Isseuf, who is coordinating the manufacture and delivery of twenty five brand new desks for the school!!! A very generous Nigerien-American family in the states, which supports girls' education and women's issues in Niger with great passion and empathy, made a private donation to fund this purchase. You know who you are- THANK YOU.

Tomorrow I'll truck and walk my way back to Foloa, for what may be the last time. I'm not sure if another volunteer will follow me, in which case there'll be more back-and-forth in December, or if I'll have other business that pulls me into the city between now and then. But- I am prepared to go in, be in for a month, and then leave, also for the last time. I've got plenty of work to do while I'm in- finishing the painting of a world map, re-filling of the grain bank, planting a garden with the school kids, and about 2,000 goodbyes... you may hear from me before then, but you might not.

Narba painting the world map with Kathleen

Lots of unknowns right now...
One simple sure thing is: I am grateful for the support, curiosity, compassion, and understanding that so many of you have communicated to me through this blog. My experience here has been richer because it is shared, in many ways, with you. Thank you for caring about me, about my friends and family here, and about Niger. I will see many of you soon-- one wonderful thing to look forward to in the midst of so many upcoming goodbyes.

Forever in my heart...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Faces I've come to love

Our end-of-service conference is over, and now we're heading back for one last month in our villages. I thought now would be a good time to show you some of the American faces that I've come to love while living here. All of these folks came to Niger together in January 2008, and will be heading home next month. Impossible, but true.

With Krista, a fellow fistula translator who's hoping to extend her service in Kenya, and Jen, who built a giant garden and taught people how to golf. She also made the difficult 2 day trek/walk out to my village TWICE.

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.

The one and only John, my closest Peace Corps friend and neighbor. John made being here easy. His work included the creation of a grain/fertilizer bank, a goat project, and the maintenance of an enormous tree plantation. He also made me the world's sweetest birthday presents (have you heard of "Backpack Boyfriend"? Yeah, that's right, he made a boyfriend doll for me to carry around in my backpack.)

Kathleen and Justin- two kindred spirits who did some really amazing work up north. They started a farmer's co-op , created a school garden, did a goat project, and made waves in challenging traditional gender roles in Niger. There is nothing these two people can't do. And they're MARRIED! Watch out world.

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).

With Kathleen and Laura. Don't we look clean?

Friday, October 30, 2009

A lot of catching up to do

I'm in Niamey to start the bureaucratic crunch that signifies the imminent end of my Peace Corps service in December, and I've been thinking about the work I've done here. We're supposed to find ways to "quantify our experience" that will help us "sell ourselves" to the work force in the US. I will do it, for the sake of my supervisors here who need the numbers, but dammit, I am resisting in my heart.

I do like to share with YOU guys what I do, because you don't ask for Anticipated Outcomes and Number of Participants and Percentage of Participants Who Benefitted and blahhhhhhhhh. Since it has been awhile since I filled you in---

The classroom! Green doors! I'll get more pictures on here, with kids, because the kids are the whole point, asap.

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!

Here is Habi, holding her daughter Samsiya, on the day they were released from the hospital in Illela. Habi's husband Shaibou is sitting on the left.

You know how it can be hard to write about something that you really care about? I feel that way right now but I'm still gonna get this out-- Word has been out for a long time in my village that I am available to connect mothers of severely malnourished babies with treatment centers in our region. You guys have heard about that work from the blog- you know about Habi and Samsiya, and the others. In the last couple of months, mothers started to bring their babies to me, just to look and see if I could tell if they were okay. Other mothers who I'd visit and advise to seek help were likewise much quicker to go get it- just a couple of weeks ago I ran into one such woman, Jemila, on her way to a feeding center south of us Tajae- she told me she'd been going weekly ever since I encouraged her to take her son there. I didn't even know she'd started going, and when I saw her son I didn't recognize the kid! That was really cool.

I started to realize that maybe, somehow, the stigma about severe, life-threatening malnutrition ("tamowa" in Hausa) is starting to change in my village. Instead of feeling intense shame and staying home, mothers seem to be taking action and getting themselves and their babies to the clinics. And it seems to help if someone is there to give them an extra push, encouragement, and basic information about what they can expect. I have filled that role for some women, and it's been, I think I can say, the most important thing I have done in my time in Niger.

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.

The women- A'I Mano, Haja Kalau, Rabi Masali, and Salamu Anza- have the following responsibilities: to know what severe malnutrition looks like, to be on the lookout for it in their neighborhoods, to be available to mothers who want to show their babies to someone in private, to provide accurate information about the local services available for tamowa, and to accompany women to local clinics to get services and/or referrals from the nurses there. I met with the Baby Patrollers last week to go over some basic information, and arranged for a nurse from a neighboring village to come down and give them a training about how to recognize severe malnutrition. I think he'll come in November...

So, that's what I've been up to. That and trying to get ready to come home to my other home, in Oregon. It's going to happen soon, and as much as I love home, leaving Niger is going to SUCK. But this post is long enough already, so I'll save that conversation for later. Or for never, or for Just in My Head.

Shaibou and Habi, each with Samsiya

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More Dancing

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

Dance party at Lahadi's house

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

Moms and kids

Here are some photos of the people I see the most, mothers and children.

Below is a video taken while walking into Narba's compound one morning. It shows a typical scene of kids hanging out and women working.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jen and golf

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

News not related to hospitals, even though it is malaria season

Millet growing in my concession

Part of the winnowing process

The millet, stored on its stalks. This is in Narba's concession, with millet from the family's fields.

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

An unfathomable mix

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

Illela, again

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

An unplanned trip to Illela (Part 2)


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

An unplanned trip to Illela (Part 1)

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
the hospital.

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
Black: Famine
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

Not fasting

The village mosque

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

Don't worry, I have Narba

With Narba

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:

"Did some guys bang on your door?"

"Nooo-- wait, what is going on? How did you get in here? Are you OKAY???"

"I'm fine; I just climbed your wall is all. Now let me out and go back to sleep."

Turns out whoever it was didn't knock on my door at all, it just sounded like it. In case any of you ever still worry about me-- really, you don't have to.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I added a video to this post, from July, about planting. It gives you some idea of the size of the fields hand-planted in millet, and shows Mariama in action. The video was shot in June; some of this millet will hopefully be harvested soon.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Today I am in Illela, site of a new internet cafe. I came to accompany a woman from my village whose 5 month old daughter is severely malnourished. They'll stay at the hospital here until, well, until the girl is better, hopefully.

My friend is Habi; her daughter is named Samsiya, after me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Community classroom photo update

The classroom is FINISHED and it is realllly nice- shiny green doors, smooth cement steps, a roof and walls... I will send pictures asap! THANK YOU EVERYBODY!!! Letters from the kids of the village soon to follow-- if you donated to the project via check and would like a card, please send me your address! Otherwise, if you donated online, I think I have it.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures taken by my dad in early August:

This is the old classroom; the roof is made of millet stalks.

Inside the old classroom.

Bricks, handmade, and drying in the sun. They had to be sprinkled with water as they cured.

Plastering the wall


It was a lot of heavy work

Me with part of the crew in front of the new blackboard

Putting in the ceiling. This is so much better than millet stalks.

See? It looks so nice.

Working on the door frame

The building, not yet plastered or painted, from a distance.

With the crew

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Come and gone

They came and now they are gone!?! What the? My Mom and Dad were here for three weeks. Maybe I will write about that, but I may not. In any case, you can read about it and see my Dad's beautiful pictures at

Monday, August 24, 2009


Ramadan, the month of fasting, has begun, so here is a picture of the top of the village mosque. There are minarets sculpted from mud on the corners of the building.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kid pics