Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Ni ma kande iri se Generator"

What follows is a more or less accurate representation of a conversation I had with my Maigari's son Boureima. The actual conversation was in Zarma of course. I have translated more or less literally, so you can see how limited my ability to explain things to my villagers is. Sometimes developement work is frustrating.

Boureima: You should bring us a generator.

Me: Why?

B: Because people need electricity.

M: Not true.

B: Of course! If a person has electricity he is thankful to god! You should bring us a generator.

M: But you have a solar panel. You have electricity.

B: It has no strength.

M: What do you want electricity for?

B: All these buildings want electricity (gestures to all the houses in the Maigari's concession). The Mosque, it wants electricity. If we have electricity we will be happy.

M: I understand, but what will you do with electricity?

B: We will have no darkness at night. Lots of lamps. That would be sweet right?

M: Maybe.

B: And we can watch tv.

M: You do that now.

B: The tv. It died. We have a new one. It is bigger.

M: So watch it off your solar panel.

B: The battery. It doesn't have strength.

M: So sell the big tv. Buy a small one like the one you had. You can then buy food. You keep saying you have no food.

B: But bigger is sweet, right?

M: Not if you have no food.

B: If we have electricity we will have food.

M: Not true.

B: Of course! People will pay to watch the tv.

M: But you keep saying no one has any money, who will pay?

B: No. The kids. Look, this kid, he has 50cfa. He will pay to watch.

M: He should use that money to buy food.

B: Ali! You will bring us a generator! Wouldn't you like to have lights and electricity.

M: Not really. I don't need it here.

B: America, they have electricity right?

M: Yes, but in America, electricity has been there for so long that now, if it stops, life stops. Here, if there is no electricity, it's not a problem.

B: You should bring us a generator, it will be sweet for you.

M: Fine, if god wills it.

The conversation was slightly longer and took about two hours to get through. I just could not make them see that a generator would not really make their lives any better. I didn't even get into the fact that they would have to buy gas for the thing which would give them even less money for food. Ah well. Kala Suuru.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Irikoy Bere

A little over a week ago, some college students from I forget where University arrived at Hamdalleye, our training site, on our last night of IST. We, being the loving helpful individuals we are, had all manner of fun tricks planned to truly acquaint them with Nigerien life. Among these were such things as hiding all the toilet paper, thus forcing them to "go native" (it involves a small plastic teapot). Also great effort was to go into displaying just how crazy 4 months in the bush had made us.

However as fate would have it, their arrival coincided with the first real rain. This was the first real rain any of us had seen in over 4 months. No effort was needed to look crazy before the bewildered and somewhat frightened college students.

I survived hot season and rainy season has begun. What no one ever tells you is that it's still hot, now it just rains sometimes. But that's ok, because the rain is nice, and now there are clouds which help screen us from the evil glowing day ball. Stepping out of my house at midday doesn't make me feel like an ant under a magnifying glass anymore.

While the first rain at Hamdalleye was wonderful in it's newness, it didn't really leave much of a mark. In the morning everything was as dry as before. However last Thursday night we got a nice big rainstorm just after sunset in my village. My villagers tried to get me to stay hiding in my house from all the wind and the rain, but I kept leaving to enjoy the cold. That one thing bears emphasizing. The rain here is cold. Very cold. And it can sting when it really get's going. But it's rain and the cold feels so good for as long as you can stand it.

Anyway, the rain lasted a few hours. After that it was safe to go sleep outside again (it's like sleeping in an oven if I sleep inside). Then next morning all my villagers were out in their fields planting away. It was quite an impressive site. My maigari had been planning to come into Niamey with me, but he approached me in the morning and we had the following conversation:

Maigari: I am not going to Niamey. I need to plant.

Me: Yes, you should plant.

I don't really know why I bothered typing that, but the simplicity of some of the conversations here still amuses me and I felt you should have a taste. Of course that was all in Zarma at the time.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the weather I have seen in the past week. I have been constantly complaining about the fact that there is no weather to speak of in this country, just varying degrees of hotness and sometimes some wind and dust. Well with the onset of rainy season that has all changed.

Starting a few days before the rain I just mentioned, I bore witness to some of the most fantastic displays of lightning I have ever imagined. Huge clouds would begin rolling in around the already gorgeous sunset, so you've got this vivid array of pastels and neons surrounded by a sea of grey and black shadows. And within these shadows flashes of light would occur with varying frequency. Once it got going though, I would see a fork of lighting every few seconds. But the most amazing thing is when the lightning would ripple across the sky. I shit you not it looked just like those preposterous lightning effects they use in movies when some sort of electronic array gets short circuited or whatever. It was amazing. Just these blue serpents of light worming their way through the clouds. What made all this even more phenominal was that for the longest time, it was all happening far enough away that it took place in silence. It was both fantastic and Eerie.

Fast forward. Friday, as I set off for Niamey, watching all my villagers starting to make little divets in their fields to plan the millet, I noted an impressive mass of clouds across the river behind me. I marveled at the constantly changing skyskape while I walked the seven kilometers to the paved road where I would pick up a bush taxi. I watched as the undulating mass slowly, well not quite so slowly as I would have liked, encroached on the clear blue skys ahead of me. Have you ever actually watching clouds form? Seemed like every time I blinked there were new clouds or the ones already there were bigger. I watched this display for about an hour mesmerized by how wonderfully elaborate and improbable our world is. Then the rain caught up with me with about 2.5k left to go. I spent the next 2.5 hours with not a dry spot on my body, freezing cold either hiding in a random villager's hut, waiting for a bush taxi, or having Nigeriens laugh at the shivering anasara on the bush taxi.

Maybe rainy season isn't all wonderful.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Stuck in Niamey

So I was supposed to return to post yesterday, in sha allah. But apparently god did not will it. Here's why.

Last week on Friday, the University students here in Niamey staged a protest. I don't know the details but basically the government has been cracking down on scholorship money, trying to make the students actually earn it by doing well. Well apparently they were holding back the money for this term or year or whatever, and the students got pissed. So they took over one of the commuter busses and drove it to the Ministry of Education. Once inside they lit 10 cars, inluding the ministers, on fire. The gendarmes were called in and I believe nearly 100 people were arrested and many were injured.

This is all just what I recall from what our Safety and Security guy told us, so I know I'm forgeting a lot of details and stuff.

Anyway, that over, the middle and high schools decided to stage demonstrations yesterday in support of the university students. They were much more organized and spread to various locations in the city in smaller clusters. So for most of yesterday we were restricted to the area of Niamey between the bureau and the hostel.

The reason this put such a damper on my movements is that to get to my post I have to cross the JFK bridge to the part of the city called Haro Banda (behind water), which is also where the university is located. The bridge seems to be a key location in the periodic protests from the students. So all bureau cars travelling through haro banda were cancelled yesterday and PCV's were strongly advised not to travel through that part of the city. Hopefully I'll get out today.

On a side note, yesterday I mentioned learning how to make demi-lunes and gully plugs. Well someone asked me to explain what those were and it seemed that other people might like to know as well. So here's an excerpt from my email to that person:

Demi-lunes are basically semicircular pits that are dug with a raised wall on
the round side, and the flat side facing up hill. The idea is to catch rain
water as it runs downhill and thus creat a small bit of land that is stays damp
for several days. The ground dries up very quickly here otherwise. A farmer or
forestry agent can then plant a few crops or trees within one of these
demi-lunes. The basic forestry version is about 3m in diameter but can be
much larger for agricultural uses.

To make a gully plug you simply
find a gully that has been eroded by rushing rain water and you build a sort of
speed bump for the water out of rocks or brush. This causes the silt carried by
the water to be deposited on one side of the plug, eventually eliminating the
gully and restoring the surrounding field to fertile topsoil.

So there you are. Hopefully I'll get out of here today.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's been a busy two weeks

I just finished my In Service Training last Friday. It was great to see everyone from stage again, though I think 2+months in the bush has seriously made us all go a little mad. There was no end to wackyness during our time back in Hamdallaye.

For starters a whole bunch of us shaved our heads the first week. That's right, I am now bald, or atleast mostly bald. 6 of us, plus one of our bosses indulged in the bare scalp experience. 3 of us even had orange boubous made so we look like Hari Krishnas (sp?). Now there's a joke going around that we've started a cult...and it looks like it when we parade through Niamey together.

IST was much different than PST (pre service training). PST was all about language and cross culture. We basically learned what we needed to be able to survive and have the skills to get around Niger. IST saw us spending our time in sessions aimed at how to do our job. This included some more technical sessions such as how and why you build demi-lunes and gully plugs or how to treat animal fodder with urea to improve animal growth. Other sessions taught us how to go about finding funding for projects and such.

By far the most exhausting part was the homologue conference. During this our Nigerien counterparts were invited to stay for two days and go through a series of sessions regarding the Peace Corps goals. We also had some joint sessions where we discussed mutual expectations and cultural differences in the workplace. It was amusing to see that the Nigerien and American Values were almost opposite on many respects, for instance respecting prayer time and social obligations came first and formost for them.

When we met with them one on one to discuss our work plan of action it was hard. My homologue works for the NGO Gajel Sudababa, which it turns out is a nation wide organization that does a wide variety of projects working with herders. He basically showed up to the conference with a whole plan of projects to be done over the next year that they wanted me to work on. I'll admit I'm a little overwhelmed as this wasn't really how I had expected things to work coming out of training. Though I suspect I have more freedom to work than it seemed during the conference. It didn't help that there weren't enough teachers to translate for all the people and so I basically spent an hour listening to him explain this all in Zarma. It took so much focus and concentration to get most of it that I was utterly brain dead afterward.

We've all been hanging out here in Niamey this weekend as we slowly scatter back to the four corners of Niger. I'm looking forward to getting back to post as I have been gone for the better part of a month now. Though i will be back next weekend for a meeting. I'd like to spend a long time at post sometime soon, but it seems like that's gonna be harder than I thought. Oh well. Kala suuru.