Friday, February 27, 2009

Sweet homecoming (Part 2)

So, yeah it's pretty sweet to be back. The stress of dividing up gifts and handing out treats (which is expected of any returned traveler, not just me) was outweighed by the pleasure in people's faces when they received them. Thank you--you know who you are--for helping me pick out all of the kids' clothes, candy, bracelets, flashlights, beads, lotion, pencils, everything. I've seen more delighted, surprised faces in the last two days than in a whole decade of birthdays. And I tell you, for folks who don't have a mirror to see themselves in, getting a photo of themselves is one of the most exciting and beguiling things imaginable. It's hard for me to know what it must be like; many people seem to recognize themselves in photos only by their clothes. I guess that's how it is if you haven't had many opportunities to see yourself.

The guys--those who are still here are probably a tenth of the normal number; the rest are on work exode--are especially into talking about the snow and coldness right now. (One of the times I called Ayuba while I was in Oregon was during a huge snowstorm, and he was super interested). They also want to know all about Obama, how long it takes me to get home, and whether or not I'll take them with me next time.

The gals are all preoccupied with whether or not I got married while I was home. Apparently many of them are convinced that was my primary objective of the trip--and to be fair, I had joked about it a couple of times. It's been too bad to disappoint them with my ongoing unmarried status, but I have comforted them somewhat with photos of my guy friends (all of whom are "hot!" according to 100% of poll-takers.)

These village men were happy to give advice before I left ("Teach your parents Hausa!"), and even happier to see me return.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sweet homecoming (Part 1)

Moussa, driving the Land Rover

January 18, 20009
I've been back in the village for just 2 1/2 days and it already feels like I never left. In the days before arriving here: on the plane, in Niamey, then Konni, my head was a jumble of people and places. Parents, family, brothers, friends, dogs...Oregon, Wisconsin, I got closer and closer to this home, another crowd started mingling with that ever-present smorgasbord of America. Enter Niger: adoptive parents x 50, adoptive family x 100, brothers and sisters x 500, friends ('cause everyone here is your friend) x 40 gazillion. I spent a few days feeling pretty homesick, but gradually the loving hum of my village got louder and louder, and finally I arrived. The "welcome back" process has been like no other, a constant barrage of "How's your family? How are your parents? Your dad? Your mom? Your little brother? Your older brother? Eliza? Anika? Lucy? Their moms? (They've taken a special fond interest in my little-girl relatives; I explained "Fairy God Belayer" and it came across like I'm a child-crazy witch.) People I hardly know at all--some whom I've never talked with, much less recognize--are coming up to welcome me back. It is really, really cool.

One of my favorite moments of my whole time here was when Moussa drove me up to my house. You can hear cars from quite a way off, and there are seldom any around, ever, so people in town knew that someone was coming. They also all recognize Moussa's car-- a standard white Land Rover--so they knew it was me coming. Driving through the village was like being in a parade: a one-car parade, with throngs of kids shouting my name, and adults leaping out of courtyards to wave and join in the bustle. I wanted to throw candy, it was so festive.

And then, the kicker--we pulled up by my house and I spied Narba across the crowd She was all wrapped in her red shawl, carrying a bowl of sweet potatoes on her head. I got out and pushed through everybody to reach her, and she gave me a hug. A real hug. I may not have mentioned this before--villagers don't hug; I've never seen a single hug this whole time. Never, not in sad times or happy times, ever. But Narba gave me one!

I cried, obviously.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My relationship with dogs

It is a 9 mile walk to get to the paved road where I can catch a bush taxi when I need to get to Konni. This dog likes to follow much of the way, and it's nice to have the company.
My relationship with dogs, as you can probably guess, is different from that of most Nigeriens. Like them, I steer clear of all dogs I don't know, and I don't attempt to treat any dog here like I would an "American dog." However I am quick to curl up with the handful of dogs that I trust. There are four of those: two in my village, and two in Konni at the hostel. It's nice to bring that side of me out; dogs, after family and friends, are the coolest.

At the hostel in Konni, chilling with one of the dogs (and clutching some cheese from a care package)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Camel tracks

Photo: Alex Gva

Camel tracks look like big hearts.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dog owners in Niger

There are dog owners in Niger, but this is almost always for watchdog purposes and not for companionship. It is common for people to have a few dogs for hunting, too, if they live in rural areas. "Dog ownership" here means that you feed a dog; it doesn't mean that you touch it. Puppies, as an exception, get toted around by kids, and there are exceptions to the "no touch" rule, but definitely the understanding is that dogs are not for hanging out with. They aren't leashed, and tend to spend their time wandering around town, napping in the shade, or begging in the vicinity of a butcher. For the most part, people just leave them alone, and they learn early on to do the same towards people. On the occasion that a dog gets too close to a person or to a person's food, you can expect something to be thrown at said dog (flipflop, rock, sand). Otherwise, dogs are pretty much ignored. There are stray dogs too, especially in the city, but in the villages usually any dog you see belongs to one family or another.

I haven't gotten to see any hunting dogs in action, but I hope I get to. A guy in a nearby village has three or four dogs he uses to hunt rabbits; he said I can accompany him someday, as long as I can run fast to keep up. Not sure what that I have to catch the dog? An injured rabbit? I will let you know.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


This is the dog that likes to follow me out of town.

A bit about dogs. Most of the dogs here look like a distinct breed. I've only ever seen two or three exceptions to this seemingly standard dog; fortunately the canine majority is not only an attractive sort, but also is generally sweet-tempered and affectionate. Probably a dog or two has shown up in random photos that I've sent home. It most certainly looked like this: skinny and tall with the lanky, lean form of a greyhound or a saluki, a long snout, eyes lined in black, giving it a Disney character/Egyptian look, with a tan or reddish body.*

When healthy, these guys are gorgeous: shiny and strong and fast.

Mama and puppy in Hamdallaye

*[This breed may be known in Europe and the US as the Sloughi, or is at least very closely related to it. KB]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Henna in Niamey

Here are some photos of the henna I had done in Niamey in December.