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...