Saturday, February 25, 2006

A word on Avian Flu.

Avian flu is very much a concern for us PCT's and PCV's right now. Last I heard there were cases all along the Nigerian border with Niger. There have also been some bird die off's in the Zinder region of Niger, though they have not yet been attributed to avian flu.

Also, we've been told that if avian flu becomes rampant in Niger, there will be measures taken to ensure the safety of us. It is my understanding that if bird to human transmission happens multiple times ina region, volunteers from that region will be pulled back. If human to human transmission happens, there is a chance of a full evacuation. I really don't like to think about the possibility of being pulled out shortly after swear in, but it's there.

I'm not 100% on any of these measures, but you can probably find out more info from the PC bureau itself. I know that there are a variety of sources in Peace Corps that have all this info.

It's about to get real.

Holy crap! I can't believe 6 weeks of training are now behind me. I've been so busy that the time has just flown by. Let me try and give you an idea of what the last month and a half have been like.

I wake up everymorning around dawn (I actually get up at 7 pretty consistantly). After dismantalling my mosquito net and locking everything in my hut, I walk the one kilometer and change to the training site, which sits atop a mesa overlooking the town of Hamdallaye (Hamdy for short).

After breakfast on site, I have an hour and a half of language class. Then we get a half hour coffee break and snack before we have some other session (different everyday, but always a med session on a tuesday or thursday). Then we have lunch and another hour and half language class. If it's market day, tuesday, we get 2 hours for lunch instead of the usual one. Then we have another miscellaneous session, usually a "tech" session where the Ag and NRM trainees have separate sessions. Usually for us Ag's it's something about gardening. Then it's Beer o'clock (5pm) and we have an hour before they kick us out for the night. After that it's just chilling and having dinner with our host families. On Tues and Thurs we have evening language classes, which are optional.

Obviously that's the basic schedule, but on various days we have all kinds of special activities or trips that result in a different schedule. Somehow they've manage to perfect a busy schedule that still seems to result in a reasonable amount of downtime...which is usually spent mentally preparing for more grinding away at language.

The level of cultural immersion that they force us into still blows my mind. They only give us 2 nights before they thrust us into our host families with only a handful of flashcards with useful phrases to help us communicate. Every night there after they make sure we cannot hide away on the hill. The first night they loaded us into the cars to take us out to our host families I was terrified and more excited than I've ever been. I can definately see that working up the courage to go out and try to integrate yourself socially is the biggest challenge of peace corps... but it's so rewarding too. The first night I just sat there on the mat with my roomate while all the children clustered around us pointing at things and saying words I had no understanding of. I could not stop grinning.

At first it was breathtaking how fast I picked up language. I had to. My family and teachers speak very little english or they speak french at best. So I was constantly picking up new phrases and words. Also, classes are small (3 or 4 trainees per teacher) so you can't hide in the back and not participate. Now it's slowed down quite a bit. But my grammer get's better everyday as I practice talking in Zarma all the time. Classes now mostly consist of sitting around and chatting.

So yeah, that's been the last 6 weeks for me. It's been awsome. But tomorrow, it really starts. Tomorrow we all leave for our site visits. Tomorrow they take us out to our villages, drop us in our concessions, and we stay there for a week. It'll be our first taste of life in the bush. After that we have another 2 weeks of training before we swear in as real PCV's.

Last I heard, I had a house, but no latrine and no concession wall. The way houses work around here is you basically have your own little walled compound, usually fairly small, with a house or hut enclosed inside. Within that we also get a latrine and bath area with their own walls. Think of it as having a house that just doesn't have a roof, except for one or two rooms. So anyway, I'm hoping I atleast have a concession wall when I get there, as otherwise I'll be forced to hide in my house when I want privacy, and that can be hot. Anyway, needless to say I'm really excited to see my post and meet my villagers.

I'll be living in a Fulani village. The Fulans are one of many ethnic groups in Niger and are nomadic hearders traditionally. My dad is correct in that I will have the oportunity to learn a 3rd language, fulfulde. Though Zarma will be sufficient for my work. I'll also be really close to an ICRSAT research facility. ICRSAT does research on improved hybrid seeds, so I'm excited to work with them. I don't really know much more about my post than that, but I'm excited to see it.

I guess that's all for now, it's nice to actually have teh time to make a real post. Please keep sending letters! I can't tell you how much getting a letter makes my day. And if you want to send care packages those are great too. Also there are many people who's addresses I did not get before I left, so I can't write you back until you write me first.

Kala tonton!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Seabass in the Peace Corps

Hello Friends and Relatives of Sebastian,

Last Saturday we were able to speak to "Peace Bass" in Niger and he sounds just wonderful! His language skills are increasing, especially due to his host family, and he can even haggle with shop keepers in the marketplace, adding to his kitchen supplies for his new crib. There are no doubts that he finds life in Africa an awesome experience!

The PCV's are now traveling out to visit other established PCV's at their posts to see what it is really like in the bush. Thinks he might eventually get a donkey, although some volunteers have camels of their own (difference between buying a Mercedes and a Chevy). Also, and this will come as no surprise, he will probably get a cat (to take care of the scorpion problem).

He will be posted in the Say Region, which is on the West Bank of the Niger. Seems he will be restarting a program which hasn't been in operation by the Peace Corps for years. At least he will be able to get into Niamey periodically. His "concession" is under construction and will have two rooms - for which he is excited.

The food is quite good over there and he has been housed with the "Best Cook in Town". However, he still requests coffee (all they have is Nescafe) and beef jerky. Guess the beef jerky goes well with Nigerien beer!

Seabass sounds busy but very happy. His "stage" (pronounced stahj) is a great group of PCV's and he hopes to be posted near to some.

He sends his good wishes to all and really appreciates your letters and photos. Will keep you updated on his exciting venture!

PeaceBass' Mom

a few more recollections (some repetitious) by Seabass's Dad, from the phone call:

The people Seabass will be working amongst are mainly herders and nomadic people, who live off their cattle, though they are nomadic less and less, as modern pressures make that less viable. There will probably be experiments with new types of feedstock, to make the best of the circumstances.

If people send him packages, he has to pay to get them, though it does not seem to make much difference how big and heavy they are. But if stuff is sent by DHL, he does not have to pay.

He says it is not like the stereotype of Africa - it isn't full of bright colored clothes and constant drumming and all that. Everything is functional and to the point.

The night sky has not been especially wonderful yet, since they are not very high up, and there is often dust in the air, but the full moon is incredible - no need for even a flashlight in the full moon. He climbs up one of the hilly things whose names I do not remember, looks around in the moonlight, and reflects "Holy Crap. We're really in Africa." The views are amazing, he says.

If anyone wants to email pictures to him, he would love to see them. He can access them when he gets into a cybercafe in Niamey, which should be fairly easy every couple of weeks or so.

He loves haggling in the market place - it all sounds rather like the bazaar in "Life of Brian" where it is an insult NOT to haggle. But it doesn't help him learn the names of all the strange vegetables he sees, since whatever he points to, asking "What is that?" the answer comes back "sauce ingredient." He is lucky to be living with a great cook, who makes rice with sauce every day - he hasn't even eaten millet yet!, and everyday the sauce is completely different, but always made of "sauce ingredients".

It is getting hot, and 110°F in the shade is a bit much. He finds it hard to keep active in that. But the main instructions for how to survive boil down to these two:

Don't eat poo. (Poo is everywhere)
Boil your water.

He has a turban, but has not learned to use it yet. They are good things though, as they keep the dust out of your hair. He's settling in well, so the calls for prayer at 5 in the morning don't even wake him up. But when the guinea fowls start squawking - THAT wakes him up.

He yearns for good coffee, beef jerky, cigars, M&Ms, Irish Spring Soap. They drink unbelievably strong tea, stewed for an hour and a half. He has a mohawk, his hair standing straight up, using soap as a gel. Who would have thunk it!

Not only will he almost certainly get a cat, (see above) but he will probably inherit a dog, too. Dogs there do not really come in recognizable breeds - they are "dogs", of a vaguely greyhoundy type, and most of them are mean because they get hit a lot.

Since he is going to open new territory, he will have to learn a third language, though I didn't catch the name. I think Sabra has figured it out.

Greetings are tremendously important, and every time you meet someone you have to go through the whole gamut of good wishes and declaring everything to be wonderful, before you can either get down to business or admit that you are about to die from contagious epilepsy. Added to every comment and exchange are words that mean "God Willing" and, even more, "have patience". When the bus is three hours late "Have Patience"! If you agree to meet at 10 tomorrow, it will only be "God willing."

While they are doing the training, the magical moment is 5 o'clock, which is when certain purchases can be made. Thus it is known as "beer o'clock." But if the beer vendor does not show up, well, "have patience."

Seabass really does sound great, and is completely involved with this rich experience. They must think highly of him to entrust him with opening new territory. So I say "Go SeaB!"

PCBass's Dad

Seabass in the Peace Corps

Friday, February 17, 2006

Hey everyone!

Hey everyone, I'm alive. We're in Niamey for the day and I managed to sneak onto a computer. Just want to tell everyone that I'm doing well and that I really am loving it here...except the heat which is getting worse and worse as we approace hot season.I found out that I am going to be posted in the Say region just 32k from Niamey, so I will probably be able to post and check email fairly frequently, atleast every two weeks I'm guessing. Anyway, just thought I'd toss up a quick post. Oh and Thanks to Sam for all the awsome pics. I didn't realize how much I missed the UVM/Burlington crew until I got the pics of everyone. Anyway, don't want to tie up the computers for other volunteers who are waiting, so I'll sign off. Once I get posted, in about 3 weeks I think (I loose track of time like crazy here) then I'll probably be on here more regularly. That's all for now, Peace!


Friday, February 03, 2006


Zarma appears to be the African Language SeaBass is learning, so those of us who want to understand his future posts might find this a useful link.

I am sure we shall all be fluent in no time.

SeaBass's Dad

Seabass in the Peace Corps

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Word Arrives from the East

Hello everyone!

Mate ni go? That means “how are you doing” in Zarma. I honestly don’t even know where to begin. This is easily the most exciting, awesome, and surreal thing I have ever done!

I’ll start with my impression of Niger. Hot and Sandy. Lots of sand. It gets pretty cool at night (maybe 60ish) so I can survive. The landscape is very red with pale green shrubs & trees dotting it. Livestock roams all over the towns: goats, donkeys, chickens, guinea fowl, etc. Goats mostly roam just outside of town. Did not see much of Niamey except on the bus ride out to ********, the town where the training center is.

The people here are amazing. Despite being in the poorest country in the world, they are always laughing. The ******** are very helpful and all speak a little English if not a great deal, and also French, in addition to either Zarma or Hausa. They are all very willing and eager to help with anything. The entire staff on site is great.

Yesterday we moved in with our host families. My adoptive father is -------, and he named me -------- (who I am sharing a hut with) -------. So yeah, I have a hut-mate from my training group. I cannot tell you how amazing this experience is! After a day of classes, &&&&& and I return to our family's village (just outside the town of *********) to eat dinner. kkkkkk and his children then spend the night teaching us Zarma until we say “Ay farga” or “I’m tired”. This is the most amazing way to learn about a culture. Absolutely terrifying but amazing. Everytime I get a phrase right and hear them exclaim “A bori” it feels great.

I can see how this is the most challenging part of PC. After classes we have 2 hrs free time at the site. We all spent that time building the courage to return and face our family. It’s terrifying, until I start talking to them. Then I feel no fear, just [sic] excitement.

Also, the stars here are gorgeous, even in town. I can’t wait to see them in the bush. We landed on Friday the 13th on a full moon. Good thing Friday 13th means nothing in Islam. Even so, the full moon is really bright, so the stars seem much less brilliant by comparison. I really love it here and have no doubt in my mind that this was the right decision.

I just took my first bucket bath, by moonlight. It was very interesting. I think I can get used to it. The cockroaches are friendly at least and I feel surprisingly clean. I haven’t gotten sick yet either. Two people have gotten sick and gone to Niamey. One came back today. I hope noone from my state ends up going home, they’re all really cool people.

Anyway, I think that’s all for now. Call to prayer starts at 5am and ay farga. Halla a ton ton.



P.S. send photos!!!!