Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Today is officially the halfway point of my service, barring any changes to my COS date. After today, I have less days remaining than I have already been in country. I'm that much closer to coming home. Yay! Not that I am dying to come home or anything. But it is nice to think about being closer to the end. I miss you all.

Btw, Happy Singles-Awareness-Day! Also there's another audio thingy up at Jimmie's blog. Check it out. That's all for now.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Wall

Fulan's don't really do the concession wall thing. Granted, unlike Zarma's or Hausa's, each family concession is separated from it's neighbor by several hundred feet of open field. So privacy is not such a huge concern for them. As the sole out of place American, however, it's nice to have walls around me that define my space from common space. It's also nice to have atleast somewhere I can go and not be on display as the token anasara.

So my villagers, at peace corps' request, built a "wall" around my house. Especially important is the latrine wall. My concession wall is mostly made of eucalyptus branches suported by verticaly placed branches. The leaves provide most of the opacity of the nearly 6 ft high wall. Despite some drooping due to high winds (which was fixed with some enormous logs being partially burried to support the wall) it has held up quite well. The same cannot be said my arguably more crucial latrine wall.

My latrine was constructed out of kaka, which is horizontal clusters of millet stalks tied to vertical branches burried in the ground. To add extra privacy (there were slight gaps between the clusters) dala mats (mats of woven grass) were tied to the inside of the wall. This was all perfectly acceptable...until rainy season.

High winds and torrential downpours caused parts of the wall to droop. At one point the wall that faced the outside of my concession (and thus separated me from the main water carrying foot path) was nearly horizontal and thus only came about waste high. Less than desirable for my bathing area. This was fixed time and again by burrying large logs and tying the kaka to them. It's worth pointing out that logs are not cheap for villagers. Wood is at a premium in this country and these were good solid beams that could have been used for building roofs on mud huts.

So anyway, the situation got pretty bad, though it was functional. My plan for a long time had been, after rainy season, to replace the wall with mud brick. That was back in Octoberish that I started having conversations with my maigari to get this task accomplished. I still don't really know the town and it's resources such that I know where to go about finding a mason and how much it will cost and all that. So I depend on my maigari to help me out with that. But there was, I suspect now, some miscommunication and stuff just never happened. I would talk to him and, atleast I think, he would almost always say something along the lines of he was still looking for a mason who was available or what have you.

Eventually I came back from the horse tourney and found that my latrine fence had been torn down and the outside wall replace by vertical kaka. That is millet stalks themselves burried vertically in the ground. The wall dividing the wash area from the latrine itself was not replaced, though when asked my maigari said they were going to replace it. This wall was ok, but not really great as after about chest height, the millet stalks have lots of gaps and so people walking past could at the very least see that I was there, if not more. That and the presence of only 3 walls on the wash area (there were really four but the fourth was on the other side of the latrine) left me feeling uncomfortably exposed when I was bathing. Though once cold season started this was no longer an issue as no one bathes during cold season.

Moving on, cows began systematically eating this fencing until it was no longer serviceable at all and if I sometimes had to opt not to use the bathroom at certain times do to the presence of people on the other side of the fence. Luckily at this time I didn't get sick and so pooping did remain more or less optional. Or atleast delayable. But the main point is that my pooping/bathing habits were on display for the town to see. Eventually I got fed up and finally my maigari and I go the mason who was building the cereal bank to come build me a wall. I had two sacks of cement and a handful of cement bricks scavenged from another building site. These were not enough clearly, and so the price of mud bricks to finish it was discussed as was the labor, and I agreed and so we planned to start the next day.

Never try and get an estimate from Nigeriens. While I was aware of the 13000ish CFA I was going to pay for the bricks and work, they did not tell me about the 3000 CFA for lunch that I was expected to provide for the workers, the extra 1000 for the day laborer that my maigari hired without asking me first, or the 3 additional sacks of cement we turned out to need for mortor at 5000 a piece. Nor the fact that the mud bricks were actually used old bricks and not at all worth the 20CFA a piece I was paying. But all of this was not brought up until I had a 2ft high latrine wall. And the mud mortor has to be mixed and left to sit for a day before it can be used. So it was not feasible to switch to that after the cement bricks were done.

So in the end I paid 40000CFA or roughly 80 bucks for a somewhat poorly built cement/mud wall. But it's about 5+ft high and completely opaque and feels nice and secure. So I chalk this one up to a learning experience. Atleast now people can't watch me poop.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This one's for the PCV's

So now that I actually see and read people's comments on my blog, I've noticed something that I hadn't thought of before. I orginally thought this blog would be a great way to keep my friends and family back home up to date on my activities. But a several comments have also shown me that in reading about my experiences, other PCV's in both this country and others have found another fellow's experience to help them through their own. So this blog post is mostly directed at them.

Comraderie is one of the biggest support mechanisms we have here in Peace Corps. I went back and read my post on Western Guilt from September, which has received a few comments from fellow PCV's, as well as other posts on homesickness. And really what gets me through all of it at the end of the day is my fellow PCV's. I really cannot encourage strongly enough that volunteers seek eachother out and help eachother through the rough times.

I also want to point out to those who have read my earlier posts that it really does get easier. Around six months I was very very close to ETing. But, through the good council of my amazing PCMO and the company of my friends, I'm still here. And now, one year into my service, ETing is one of the furthest things from my mind. At this point I am amazed at how normal it seems to be living in Africa and doing what I'm doing.

One of the biggest frustrations I faced around the 6 month mark was the lack of real work. I've found that before too long, work just starts to happen. I know that I've been really lucky in having a village with a ton of Kokari (effort). Even still, I don't really remember when or how, but suddenly I just started working on a grain bank because it just seemed like the thing to do. Now I've taken on responsibilities as hostel manager as well, and am planning my next project already, and there seems no end to the work. All I can say is have patience.

When it seems hard, do what you have to do to stay sane. That's the most important thing. Bureau policies on travel be damned, your personal health is more important. If you need to visit another PCV, do so. If you just need to hear a familiar voice either by phone or email, make it happen. Try not to make these a crutch, but don't be afraid to use your resources either.

Also, don't forget that Peace Corps volunteers are one of the most courageous, awesome, and badass bunches of people out there. Regardless of how long you stay, just having the courage to do something like this, to leap headlong out of your personal comfort zone and into something completely unknown, makes you a remarkable person. I think it is impossible to spend any amount of time doing this and not grow as a person.

If just by being here and doing this helps even one fellow PCV stick it out or make it through a rough spot, this entire blog will have been more than worth the effort.


Incidentally it's worth pointing out that whenever I receive comments or emails from PCV's who are encouraged (or not) by something I say here it has the same effect on me. Hearing other PCV's relate to my experiences helps me get through my own rough spots (of which there are still many). So I just want to say thank you to all those who do comment/email.