Sunday, May 14, 2006

I have a project! (sort of)

But first an update on my stage:

Back in January, 27 strangers met in Philadelphia with one thing in common: they all thought spending 2 years in Niger was a nifty idea. Shortly after meeting for the first time these 27 strangers were whisked away to one of the poorest countries in Africa. 4 days later the first one went home. But that's ok, he was still mostly a stranger, and there were still 26 of those.

After 2 weeks, everyone had gotten to know each other pretty well. So it was very sad when 2 more people decided to leave. Before training was over, 2 more had decided this wasn't for them, and went home.

We all hoped that would be the end. That those who made it through training would stick it out. Well, since then we've lost two more. Richard left after the first month at post. Seth left this weekend. We're gonna miss you guys. 27 strangers have been reduced to 20 friends who hate to see each other leave.

But enough of that melancholy business. I have a project to work on! The other day the school director in my village told me he wants my help in getting the students to start a peppiniere(sp?) which is basically a tree nursery. This will require getting seeds and little plastic bags to plant the trees in (Seth was kind enough to leave some of these for me, Thanks!). Fencing is also a must, unless we want them to be eaten by the cows and the goats.

I'm not going to start on this project until after IST (in service training) which is a week from now, becuase that's where we'll learn how to get funding and actually execute projects. But I've started figuring out what I need and what I need the school to do. It's nice to have direction again.

Now some of you may be saying "but Seabass, I though you were going there to take care of animals, not play with trees." Well I suppose I should fill you in on what it turns out my job is really.

Many of you remember that I got a nice little letter from peace corps that gave me the job title of Agriculture - Small Animal Husbandry Agent or something impressive sounding like that. Well it turns out those don't really mean much, as they just represent the need spot that you got picked to fill. The only part that matters, for my stage, is Agriculture vs Natural Resource Management (or AG and NRM). This determines what you will be trained in during stage.

During the tech sessions of training, the AG's basically did gardening activities and the NRM's did trees. The truth of the matter is really, that AG's and NRM's overlap a lot. This is why we are trained together (the health volunteers and the education volunteers are trained together). It also seems very much that AG vs NRM has almost no reflection on your background, as our stage has a lot philosophy, poli sci, and other non farming type majors. So the fact that I will now be doing a NRM project as an AG volunteer is not surprising, nor does it really matter as we're all basically just field volunteers. The titles just make it seem like we know something.

On the other hand, I am frequently told that Animal Husbandry, as opposed to Forestry, Agroforestry, Ag extension, etc., is one of the specialized job titles that actually means something. It just isn't necessarily the same as the initial job description you're sent back in the states. The long and short of it is that I have been placed in a herder village in order to work with some local organizations within the village and also some larger NGO's in the area that are involved with live stock. How this will manafest I have yet to learn, as we're told not to really start work for the first 3 months. But the basic jist is that at some point I'll be working with cows and possibly goats and sheep to try and improve the income and what not of the village.

I'm sure I'll learn a great deal more about all this when I go to IST in a week. In the mean time I can tell you that some agents of the International Livestock Research Fund are right down the road from my village, so hopefully I will get to work with them at some point. I was also introduced to a guy who works with Veterinarians Without Borders at swear in, but have yet to hear anything more about that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

More insight into my village.

After a much needed phone call with a friend of mine, I have been ordered to post some of the information about my village that she pried from me. So here you go:

As I have said I am living in a fulani village. Fulani villages tend to be very spread out rather than clustered as we tend to think of villages. Each family has it's own little cluster of huts, sometimes enclosed by a millet stalk fence. As a result, my village of roughly 1200 fulanis covers 32 square kilometers.

There is a laterite road that runs through this area to a small town on the riverside, but within the actual village the only roads are foot paths through the millet fields leading between all the various family clusters. A few roads are wider do to Ox cart traffic. There's no "main street" or anything like that. As far as I know there aren't really any stores or real businesses within my village. Everyone goes to the riverside town to buy things like rice, sugar, cigarettes, kerosine, etc. Although we do have a school and a new mosque is currently under construction.

Living with the traditional herders is quite interesting. Unlike American farmers, their animals aren't really kept enclosed (though after feeding the cows my Maigari owns go into a corral(sp?) for the night). Usually a teenage boy takes the cows out of the millet fields to pasture where there is, I'm guessing, more food. I haven't yet followed one of the boys on these excursions, but I frequently see small herds of cattle walking along the paths. Goats and sheep it seem just roam free, but tend to stay close to their owners little hamlet since they get fed there. The goats get into all kinds of mischief trying to steel food and such. And then there's the chickens which are just a part of the general ambiance and are everywhere. Also, every evening I sit with my maigari and litterally watch the cows come home to be fed. They come right into the middle of his compound and mill about the cooking fires and the huts while the sons go around and put pots of food down for some of the cows, and hit the others with sticks to keep them from eating the food. It seems this food is more of a supliment to whatever they forage out in the fields rather than their only meal. Though many of the cows are quite skinny.

With the village so spread out I can't imagine that people actually interact with more than the families in their immediate area. Though my Maigari does seem to know most people I've seen. The weekly market seems to be the prime social opportunity. Everyone goes and hangs out and what not.

Market is loud and overwhelming. There is a bus that comes along the laterite road once in the morning and once in the evening on market day to bring people up to the market. So if I go, I'm stuck there for about 5hrs, unless I walk back beneath the burning sun. I've made friends with one of the vendors from my village who lets me hang out underneath is shade hanger, which offers some protection. However, I still get bombarded with people asking for cadeau's from the rich anasara while I'm trying read or write in my journal to pass the time. But it's worth it to be able to stock up on fresh onions for the week and buy anything else I might need or want that I can't get in the riverside town. I look forward to getting my bike (sometime next month) as the road to and from market is very much rideable. Also it slopes slightly toward home so I can mostly coast when I'm returning.

They always tell us that every PCV's experience will be different. In my village I am very much a part of the maigari's family. They help me with everything and look after me. I don't seem to have quite as much privacy as some other volunteers, as my concession is right there in the maigari's family compound. On the other hand, I feel like my integration into the community has been happening a lot faster than it would have otherwise. Though I do constantly look for ways to show them that I am independant and able to take care of myself.

I hope this has added to what I've already posted regarding my site and helps bring the picture into a little sharper focus. I sometimes forget what I have and haven't told people due to frequent discussions with other PCV's, writing letters, emails, phone calls etc. So if there is any aspect of my service that I have not posted about and you would like me to, send me an email and ask. It saves me from having to htink of things to post.