Monday, December 7, 2009

week 4,5,6 summaries and end of niger! sad!

Week Four, five and six….
The time in Niger slowed greatly after returning from demystification. Zarma continued, technical training continued, and we began and continued garden work!
And in the mist of it all, there was a consolidation announcement. There was an attempted kidnapping of American embassy workers in the Tahoua region of the country, which is in the center of the country. In response to this news, the country Peace Corps director decided to close the Tahoua region, as well as more of the Tillaberi region. During this process of closing part of the country for peace corps volunteer placement, we were living at the training site, taking language classes, having dance parties, getting medical checkups and shots, and having GAD Olympics (Gender and Development). GAD Olympics included doing a series of “Olympic” activities in which we carried water on our heads and raced around an obstacle course, pounded peanuts into peanut butter, and made Nigerien tea. I was team white and we got 3rd place over all! Yay! What a fun competition.
The following day, we received the bad news…The country director decided that our stage (French pronunciation) was going to be sent to another country to start our service…we’re going to Madagascar! This is both sad and exciting…it is so hard to leave the wonderful people that we have met in Niger, the trainers, language instructors, and families, but Madagascar, wow! But while we are going to have an amazing new adventure in a new country, Niger as well as other W.African countries are going to be suffering. Because of the security situation, many other NGOs and funding could leave Niger in the future, and this is the most painful especially since the people of Niger (the vast majority who are subsistence farmers) are the ones who will pay the price. It is so unfair and so unjust!
After being shocked by this news, we spent the next two days wondering about our job assignments (many people were going to be placed to different sectors such as education and business, though I’m still a health volunteer believe it or not!). Then we made an amazing Thanksgiving dinner…chicken (we couldn’t get the turkeys from Nigeria, oh well!), tons of mashed potatoes (the only real easy thing to find here!), sweet potatoes, cookies, apple crumples, pineapple upside-down cake, and the most amazing stuffing! If we can make a thanksgiving dinner in Niger, we can make it anywhere!
Then after a few more days stuck at the training site (though I was taking lovely runs in the desert early in the morning, watching the sunrise…it’s so beautiful!), we went back to our host families for Tabaski! Tabaski happens about a month after Ramadan, and people gather for a major prayer and then they slaughter goats/sheep, one for each family. They then cook the innards of the sheep/goat (and I write sheep/goat because it is hard to tell the difference between the goats and sheep here…it’s not like those in the states), and pass those around from family to family, neighbor to neighbor. Then they smoke the meat of the goat/sheep over night and eat that as a kind of beef jerky in the morning. I had front row tickets to the slaughter, and saw about 30L of blood pouring out of 8 sheep/goats…and some of them were even trying to move after their heads were clearly sawed off! Pretty gross, and I seriously don’t know if I could ever walk down a meat aisle in a grocery store the same way again!
Upon returning to the training site after a long Tabaski weekend of slaughter, we started French classes, we created an American Olympics game for the trainers and language instructors at the site: they had an obstacle course, a pin the tail on the donkey game, musical chairs, and a tug-of-war game. We were clearly working on Peace Corps goals 2 & 3 that include sharing our culture with the host country nationals as well as understanding their culture…too bad that we only had 6 weeks to do it!
Things I am thinking about when still living in Niger:
• I have never been in such an interesting and contradictory place in my life. Women spend hours and hours pounding millet and everything else, and in the process, all of the nutrients are pounded out. When confronted about ways to improve the health of their children, these same women will say that they cannot change their food preparation practices because to not pound as hard or to add more nutrients to their sauce would “not be Nigerien.” It’s also hard to argue against culture/religion: pregnant or nursing women will still participate in Ramadan (fasting during the day i.e. no food or water, and sometimes their children get extremely sick) without considering the consequences. They say it is “God’s will” if their children live or not. It’s hard to argue against God.
• People spend a greater part of the year working very hard, around the clock, just to have enough to eat. But then, on one amazing weekend, they kill thousands and thousands of goats/sheep and eat like kings for 2 or 3 days. They do know how to celebrate…they dress up in their finest clothes for a 1 hour prayer and for going “windi-windi-ing” (visiting) family members in the middle in the night, when no one can actually see their nice clothes. They are proud, and they are not budging or willing to change their traditions.
• Being dressed well is an important status symbol here. People always dress up to go to the once-a-week market or during the holidays. And “dressed up” can mean anything from wearing a new pagna or African-print dress for the women, or a Bubu for the men, to wearing a “ghetto” jean outfit or army/cameo outfit.
• Men like to ask you if you will be their wife upon meeting you, mostly just upon site, and sometimes even when they already have 1 (or maybe 2?) wives…they just hook their fingers together (the body language sign for marriage) and expect you to move into their concession! I love how dating is here… or at least how relationships develop here.
• The greetings: in order to have a conversation with a Nigerien, one must great them, with at least 3 different questions/responses, such as: how did you sleep? How are you? How is your family? How is your body/health? How is your tiredness?....there is always a question about your tiredness, and even if you haven’t slept at all and you are falling over, it is a faux-pas to say that you are at all tired! And the other thing is people basically talk at each other when going through these greetings…so it’s hard to know what greeting you are supposed to be answering, so you just kind of repeat everything that the other person says…it’s pretty fun.
• Weather and landscape: we are here during the cold season, so the nights can get pretty cold (down to about 50 degrees, which is cold for us who have now adjusted to the constant summer weather), but the days get up to about 80 or 90…it’s pretty nice. The landscape is just like what you would see in Arizona or Nevada: flat, some greenery, and the most amazing sunsets and moonrises ever!

I’m so sad to leave Niger! I hope I will come back, and I hope that the people here will stay resilient and wonderful! More updates from Madagascar!

summary of week 3 niger!

Summary of Week 3
So we went on demystification this week, and I went with a good friend, Maya, into the Dosso region to visit with a current volunteer named Aisha, who was a Peace Corps health volunteer and worked at the district hospital in Birni. She was wonderful! And we had great food, though there is very little access here to most food types because the market is dependent on the growing season as well as the ability to get goods from outside the Nigerien borders.
We walked around a lot in her village, we asked her a million and one questions about being a volunteer, and we got to do a lot of resting and relaxation! We also visited the district hospital where she did a lot of her work and learn a lot about the health system in Niger. Here’s a few points: sadly healthworkers are not the nicest to their village/bush countrymen. There is a lot of mistreatment that goes on within the healthcare facilities towards patients that have very little means to get to the hospital, pay for services, afford to stay at the hospital or pay for food, or afford the trip back home. And there is very little oversight of what’s going on at the health facilities, as well as very little incentive to improve conditions (as healthcare workers are not paid on time or enough), collect data, improve statistics, or whatever. It’s kind of sad, because it’s just a vicious circle of mistreatment, lax working conditions, and bad health statistics all around.
Zarma is going pretty well, and I’m slowly forgetting all my Spanish…but I promise to get that back up to par after training! I have 100 years of solitude in Spanish with me!
We are also doing a lot of gardening, which is sooooo exciting! I can’t wait to grow things at my home post!
Otherwise, village life is pretty great. We’ve been gathering together and playing cards…I haven’t played so much cards in ages!!!! Good times… I’m also doing a lot of reading, which is great! And we’ve been celebrating birthdays (we cooked on the floor of a hut the other day for a friend’s b-day…and I’m planning on having a “bush party” aka party in the African bush village that I live in…involving a little bit of dancing and food). It’s funny how we get so much pleasure out of things that would have never meant anything to us in the USA, such as bad cookies, bad sodas, popcorn, peanut butter in a bag sold on the side of the road, watching a movie in someone’s hut, having running water, and having a band-aid that stays on one’s body for more than 5 minutes!
Things are good, and we are entering week 4! Yay!

week two summary in niger

Summary of Week 2 (Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2009)
On our second weekend in country started with a Halloween party! We hung out by the Hamdallaye lake (which will disappear in a matter of months after the “cold” season ends and the hot season begins), and played games, listened to music, watched volunteers do tricks, and danced. Then we watched 40 minutes of hocus pocus! Lots of fun!
The next morning, we attended a baby naming ceremony in Hamdallye of one of the volunteer’s host mom’s. We watched a goat get dragged away and then quietly sacrificed, and then we listened to a prayer for the baby then had dates and a little bit of bread and goat meat. The ceremony was performed without seeing the mom or the baby (I still don’t know its name), and all occurred before 9am!
During week two, the language classes progressed. We are all expected to have a intermediate-mid level of the language, which may be a challenge since the language is nothing like any language I’ve ever heard. But it’s coming along! Our weeks are also filled with security talks by Peace Corps staff about how to travel safely, how to shop safely, and how to be medically/physically safe and healthy! We’ve also received 4 shots so far, and are expected to continue getting shots (from anything to meningitis to rabies) for the next 8 weeks!
Home life has been ok, but there are some challenges to it. Even though my family has had Peace Corps volunteers stay before, they are still susceptible for asking me for things, such as the use of my cellphone, or for money, or for medicine. I’ve been able to hold them off, but it is frustrating, especially when I don’t have money to spend (we are given about a 20$/week), but I’m still a symbol of wealth here….it’s hard.
Also this week, we started our gardening practice! It was great! We found out that soooo many vegetables and fruits can be grown in Niger, in the sand! Can you believe it?!?! I’ve decided that I’m going to grow eggplants, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and green beans, at least! I made two huge plots and we’re going to start planting in the next week!
Otherwise, I’m just hanging out a lot, reading books, working out in my hut (pushups, bicep curls with my water jugs, sit ups, dance parties, whatever…I’ll start yoga soon!), taking long walks in the sand (which is still cluttered with green plants as the hot season hasn’t come, and supposedly the hot season is going to be HOT!), having long talks underneath the stars and the moon that makes incredible moon shadows from 12am-4am (it’s like a giant flashlight), and waking up to the sounds of animals such as roosters, donkeys, and goats!
We received a visit from the US ambassador to Niger, who was very interesting and talked about her love of education and cross-cultural work. We asked her tough questions about how she envisioned progress in Niger, and one of the things she said was that it would be good if education was improved as well as if resources such as oil could be discovered. Interesting, is what I say. I think it would also be good if there was some sort of infrastructure/manufacturing base here…among other things. Currently, there are very few careers that one could have in Niger, mostly involving being a health worker, teacher, government worker, or part of the Peace Corps.
This upcoming week will be Demystification, when us trainees go and stay with different current volunteers to see the work they are doing and see how their lives are in their posts. I’m going to supposedly a great site in Dosso with a female health volunteer who works at a district level health center and lives in a small village. I can’t wait! I hope it’s great!

some pictures: baby with dirty buta/teapot, me in the garden, me and mike dressed up for ambassador visit, in class with animals lurking around, and baby naming ceremony!

week one summary in niger

Joanna’s Blog Posts!
Soooo…A summary of week one!
I met a lovely bunch of 38 people in Philadelphia after a last visit with my dad’s side of the family in the Haverford area. What a bunch we are! People from all over the United States, mostly recent college graduates, though there are some people starting or changing careers. I’m the only masters international student!
After two long flights we landed in Niamey and were welcomed by current volunteers bearing large bottles of warm water. Then we were driven in crammed buses to Hamdallaye, about 35 Km from Niamey, where the Peace Corps training site was located. It was kind of shocking, realizing that I would be sleeping outside under a mosquito net from day 1! But since then, I’m completely used to it…and used to the fact that my feet will never be clean again! It was great meeting the Peace Corps team in Hamdallaye: Tondi, the training director, is an absolute sweetheart, has made us feel right at home, as well as the VATs (currently volunteer trainers) who started telling us about their stories from their posts. It’s been pretty interesting!
Then two days after arriving, we placed in our homestay families and were assigned the local languages that we would be learning for the next 9 weeks. I was placed in a village about 1 mile away from the training site, and I was placed in Zarma language classes. Zarma speakers are placed closer to capital, Niamey, in the Dosso or Tillaberi region. I’m hoping for a location that is small village-sized with mildly easy access to the main road to Niamey or another regional capital (and I’m thinking this could be a likely situation!).
Family life in my little village, A.B.K. (Auturo Baba Kwara, Auturo’s father’s village) is great, and my family has been wonderful! Upon arrival, they started practicing Zarma with me, and then I taught them the card game “memory” with my limited Zarma…now the whole village is obsessed! I have young boys from all different families hanging out in my concession (family’s house area), waiting to play every night!
Then the rest of the first week was spent getting to know each other, getting to know what was coming up in the PST training program, and getting to know our host families and host villages/towns. There was a little bureaucracy, but it’s been fun getting through it with everyone. Plus I’m learning a crazy African language that is only spoken in western Niger and Mali! It’s awesome! I’m also lining up tutors for French and for Hausa (the other native language that is spoken more widely in North Africa) in the upcoming months! So yeah, that was basically the first week, and it was pretty great! I also got a phone number so you should all call me (use “Call Africa” or something like that, which costs like 6 or 7 cents a minute!).

some pics.... our outdoor beds, me and some trainers, women by the village well, learning how to poop in a hole, the group smooshed in the back of the peace corps vehicle.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

a couple of little updates while i am online!

i am healthy and happy, and thats the most important part! i have phone number here 90292341 niger country code 227, so please call!

i will post more in less than 2 weeks!
love you,
joanna (aka samsiya in Zarma!!)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm in my hotel with 40 other volunteers....

I'm in King of Prussia, PA and I've met a wonderful group of americans who are just as overpacked, nervous, confused, enthusiastic, and wild like i think this was probably the right decision.

i just did my last shopping run: speakers that don't use batteries, new sunglasses (since on the way over to the hotel, i broke mine!), a frisbee, and a waterproof watch!

so now the adventure begins! 7 am wake up, clinic/immunizations, and then a ride to JFK, then a long flight to paris, and short flight to niamey, and a 45min drive to the training site.

it's all happening, and i want you all to keep in touch! so send me letters (not postcards, those are confiscated and put as decoration on post office walls, i am told), care packages, anything!


Joanna Bove
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 10537
Niamey, Niger

I will be updating this site, as well as sending out an email, about my cellphone number once i get that set if you need a desperate dose of Joanna, you can get it!

Thanks to everyone for being so supportive of me, and for visiting with me, and for everything. I love you all so much, and hope you will keep in touch, visit, or yearningly wait for my homecoming in 2 years! Ciao!

pictures:my family dinner in philly monday night, my family dinner in atlanta sunday night, my packing issues.