Friday, July 14, 2006

Ay koy ga di Gotheye

This past week I did a little visit exchange with fellow PCV Kurt. We were both itching for a change of scenery, and the timing just happen to work out, as we were both in Niamey for whatever reasons.

So on Friday we left Niamey for my village. The bush taxi ended up packed, as it always does when you catch one at the tessum (bush taxi station more or less). If you catch them on the road they've usually dropped off a few passengers already and so you can have a little more space. Either way, my tessum is fairly quiet and free of anasara harrassing merchents, and the bush taxi to my road is fairly short. It was a cool day, having rained the night before, so the 7k walk to my house was not entirely unbearable (aided by a midway snack of sardine sandwhiches).

We basically spent the rest of that day and all of the next hanging out and seeing different parts of my village. We went and checked out the stretch of river not far from my house, and the Zarma village that resides there (I needed to buy some kerosine for my lantern). It was fun to hear Kurts comments on how my village is different from his, to get an outsider's perspective. When we had dinner with my schoolteacher on the second night, Kurt was blown away by how bitter he is. We ended up getting into a long, loud conversation regarding materialism and whether or not money can buy happiness. I mostly sat by and listened, and occaisionally aided Kurt with Zarma or the teacher with English. My guests always seem to bring out the bitterness in him. My conversations tend to remain quite civil. All in all it was an interesting dinner, though I suspect some things got lost in translation.

As an aside, my teacher's wife had given birth that morning. The naming ceremony is tomorrow and it's one I actually look forward to.

Speaking of food, I have eaten more in the past week than I ever have in a week spent in the bush. That first night we made a huge pot of potato leek soup (we found some leeks at the western style market, very expensive). The next morning we had a breakfast of sauteed onions, garlic, eggs, and oatmeal. Then after already eating a dinner of our homemade bread and fish and tomato sauce, we had more dinner with the teacher consisting of more fish and a whole big bowl of rice and beans. Plus various lunch items we made. And this was just in my village.

Anyway, after two days of messing with my village kids and playing some music together (harmonica / guitar) we set out to head to Gotheye, on the northern part of the river, where Kurts village resides. Originally we had planned to run right through Niamey (after a big lunch of course) and continue straight on to spend a night at the Gotheye Hostel. We were however, temporarily delayed in Niamey as one of the Gotheye team members, Crystal, was ETing. As such, all the remaining team members came into Niamey to say good bye. So we stayed there for the night.

The bush taxi to Gotheye is quite a bit longer than to my village. However there is a break part way as you have to cross the ferrie to the other side of the river. After an hour in a bush taxi it's nice to get out and stretch your legs for half an hour. By this point in the journey the landscape is already quite different from my part of the river. For one, there are hardly any mesas around. It's very flat. Second, there are more deciduous trees, rather than the palms that dominate my village. The result is that I could almost imagine myself being somewhere in America.

We only stayed in Gotheye just long enough to buy a few kossams (bagged yogourt drinks that PCV's love) before heading out to Kurt's village. It's a fairly long walk, but not much worse than my own. It was a market day also so there was a boat to cross the small section of river that you must cross to get to his village. Once again, the landscape was very very flat. Most of the trees had clearly been mangled by villagers getting firewood. I think I like my sandy hills of palm trees better.

I must say that Kurt's concession kicks ass. He's the third volunteer in his village, so clearly there were two previous occupants working on making it comfortable, unlike my own post. Even so, it has a tree, and a massive shade hanger, which fill the whole thing with atleast dappled shade most of the day. His walls are brick and come to about 5 feet, so one could quite easily walk around naked with complete privacy. His latrine and wash area are also well laid out. The downside: He has the worst ant problem I've seen. You can't sit still for long without having ants crawling all over you. Even on his bed platform you're not safe. He says he gets used to it and it teaches him to be clean and was all his dishes immediately. I think he's crazy and should get some ant poison.

His region is mostly populated by Songhai's. They seem much more openly friendly than my fulan's, and have much happier looking faces, on a whole. They also have the funny quirk of not pronouncing F's. So where Ouallam Zarma's would say "Mate fu" or "Koy fulanzam" they say "Mate hu" and "koy hulanzam." I was actually used to this as my fulan's speak an amalgum and so they toss out the odd "hu's" here and there. Still, they definately had an accent different from Say region. Though they were most impressed when I busted out my "I speak fulan smal small" in fulfulde. But dissapointed when they learned that's all I got. They also build their grainaries out of mud rather than grass mats. They look like beehives and I'm expecting giant wasps to come out of them and kill us any day now. It'll happen.

Kurt's school teacher was very friendly and upbeat. He made us lots of tea and chatted with us whenever we went over there...which was a lot of the time. On the second day there we had lunch at his house. I ate so much rice and beans I thought I was going to explode, but it was delicious.

It was fun to go out and cultivate his teacher's field with him. Kurt is a NRM and so he doesn't have his own field as I do. So it was fun when the teacher offered me his kumbu (hoe) and I already knew how to do it, and then watch kurt to struggle to figure it out. After that however, Kurt went on to till most of the field that we did that day. A gonda kokori gumo!

Other than that, we mostly whiled away the hours playing chess, reading, and napping, as one does in the bush. Again, we cooked and ate a tremendous amount of delicious food. Kurt may have learned a lot of Zarma from having me around, but I learned a lot more about how to up my standard of living in the bush.

The return to Gotheye was certainly an adventure. Remember that little section of river we had to cross. Well usually Kurt just cowboys up and ford's it with his backpack on his head. It had rained the night before however. So where it was usually up to his waist, it was now over his head with a strong current. After a few exploratory dips, we decided we couldn't cross there and headed up stream to find either a easier crossing, or a boatman. If push came to shove there was a town 3k up that we could get a boat at.

Well, we ended up walking for what must have been 5k, seeing few people, before we got to the town. The town where people were doing washing in the river...with no boats to be seen. So we yelled across the river to one of the locals and asked if the river would pass us if we entered. They indicated that it was only waste high...I think. So Kurt started walking into the water, much to their surprise. They managed to convey to us that that was not where we should cross, so we walked up stream a few yards until they yelled something that sounded encouraging. I watched Kurt first to see how deep it would get. After he was about a third of the way across, I followed, clothes and all. The Nigeriens seemed surprised we didn't take off our clothes first, but we assured them it wasn't a problem. Eventually we made it across, thanked the ladies, and followed the river back down stream...soaking wet. The villagers will probably be talking about the anasara's who crossed the river for weeks. One of them was wearing a hat.

The rest of the walk was fairly uneventful, except for the hidden Gotheye camel population we found. Just sittin by the side of the river, something like 30 camels. It caught us rather off guard, but camels are pretty relaxed if you don't bug them.

We made it to Gotheye just a little before the others returned from Niamey. We made some lunch, took a nap, then I headed back to Niamey around 5ish. Crossing the ferrie around dusk was quite pretty and it reminded me that all in all, even with the hard moments, I'm glad I'm here. I think I'm going to have to start doing monthly visit exchanges, as it was very helpful for breaking up the monotony of living in the bush.