Monday, October 18, 2010

From the mom

It is me speaking, the person who published most of these posts, sent to us via mail, and put online to share with a few friends and relatives who cared. It never dawned on me that others might read this blog, which unfolded like a story.

Over the past few years when I have followed Peace Corps volunteers' blogs I began to care about them and always wondered what became of them after they came back to the US. Somebody, somewhere, might like to know what has happened since Jessica returned to the US 10 months ago. I will be brief, and I hope she doesn't mind.

She took a long time to "re-adjust." Readjustment will probably never completely happen, and I think that is a good thing, because this was a transformative experience and it will be part of her for the rest of her life. That is as it should be.

Jessica is in contact with her village on a weekly basis, through the magic of Skype and cell phones. The grain bank has managed its first year without her. The school is thriving, but the doors need to be fixed, and she is able to call the contractor in Konni and a go-between in Niamey. Her village has just survived a very difficult hunger season, and is looking forward to an improved harvest in 2010. She plans to return to Niger within the next year.

Jessica is in graduate school in upstate New York, being challenged in the area of International Nutrition at Cornell University.

If you are reading this, welcome, and thank you for checking in!


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?