Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 15, 2009

So I have found time and internet to write one more blog before going out to my village for my one month of stay. As a volunteer, I am required to stay in my village slash sub-region for the first month. After that I am free to travel to my regions capital and possibly around my region to visit other volunteers. Volunteers generally travel to their regional capitals once a month for a Peace Corps Hostel meeting. We discuss our progress in our villages and other administrative work. Most volunteers seem to visit there regional capital every other weekend. I can imagine it’s nice to relax and be American every once in a while. In our hostels we can watch movies, play games, sit on couches, wear shorts and tank tops, take real showers (cold but that’s fine), get mail from loved ones at home, and speak English. I am not sure how unique to Niger this hostel concept is. At face value it seems to interfere with the integration process. Having been here for a couple of months, however, I can certainly understand the need for a support network. After the first three months, I go back to Hamdallaye for a three week technical workshop (e.g. learning about grant writing, resources, project building, and technical basics of participatory development). After that I have the opportunity to see other parts of the country either through work such as visiting other volunteer projects or through vacation. But I will try not to get ahead of myself.

After writing my last blog, I took a language exam to determine whether I could swear in as a Peace Corps volunteer. Luckily I passed, and I swore in this past Thursday (September 10, 2009). The American Ambassador to Niger was gracious enough to allow Peace Corps to use her residence for the ceremony, and she gave a speech. Following tradition, most volunteers had traditional Nigerien celebratory clothing made. For women, that is the complet. We buy two to three pannes (standard size, about 3 yards?) worth of the same fabric, and have this fabric made into a shirt, skirt and head wrap. Niger has wonderful fabric with really bright, fun fabric called atampa. I think this might be the first time in my life where I will be wearing intricately patterned fabric on a daily basis. You can also buy really fancy embroidered fabric which is lighter but much more expensive. At this point I’m sticking with the atampa. For the men, they also buy fabric, and have the tailor make a booboo – long shirt and pants.

After swearing in, we had one day of recovery. We did some last minute shopping in Niamey. There are certain things that one cannot find anywhere else but the country’s capital: a good frying pan, decent knives, various food items such as muesli or granola. Since I am over twelve hours away from Niamey, I figured I should take advantage. I even bought some tahini in case I become motivated to make hummus in the bush. We’ll see. On Saturday, we took a Peace Corps vehicle to Zinder. Normally we would take a large, Greyhound like bus, except the Greyhound looks like it is from the eighties and has no air conditioning. On these buses, it is vital that you make sure you are in control of a window. The bus will stop along the way for rest stops (stalls with holes in the ground; bring your own toilet paper) in larger villages and cities. Along the way you can buy bread, dried meat, juice, soda, sesame cakes, and hard-boiled eggs. In our case, since we took a P.C. vehicle, we had a bit more freedom to stop and go when we wanted. This is probably the only time I will experience this privilege. The road connecting Niamey to Zinder is mostly paved but with many pot holes. I want to say that I will never complain about the roads in America again, but my memory is not that good. Eventually after being back for some time, I will have to comment. In the mean time, though, I dream happily of American roads and construction workers.

Now I am in the Zinder hostel. I have spent the last few days here relaxing and preparing for my installation into my village. As protocol, all new volunteers visit the important officials of the region such as the regional governor, the mayor of Zinder, the head of the regional gendarmerie, and more. We also, again, collect food that we will be unable to find when out at bush – mainly vegetables. They’re limited even in Zinder, but I take what I can get. Being here these past few days has also been advantageous because I realized on Saturday that little amoebas were playing around in my digestive system. My parents pointed out to me that this is more commonly known as dysentery. Yay dysentery! No serious, this is a pretty common maladie. Three days after taking nasty metallic tasting medicine, I will be healthy once more. The only reason I am praising my good fortune is because in Zinder, I have access to indoor plumbing… a toilet… I love toilets. Squatting in a hole is just not as fun when you have to do it numerous times a day. In addition, I have the comforts I described above.

Tomorrow I will be installed in my village. I do not know really how to describe what I am feeling at this point. I came here to live in a village, integrate into a community and help in any way I can. Now the time has come to take that first step, and it’s a bit scary. What can I say? Like many human beings, I am afraid of the unknown. This is certainly the unknown. I will be the first Peace Corps volunteer to be installed in my village. While villagers have seen other Peace Corps volunteers on Fridays for their market day, they have not had constant contact or relations with Peace Corps before. What will they expect? What will be my first cultural faux pas? Will the village be receptive? Fortunately my town’s mayor seems very intelligent, open and receptive to the work I am doing. He is very adamant that I spend these next three months integrating with the village culture. His expectations seem very in line with those of the Peace Corps thankfully. I also live next to him and his family, who also seems very kind. A few weeks ago, trainees each had a chance to see their villages for a few days before becoming actual volunteers. During my short time there, I spent time with the mayor’s family. I attempted to help them pound millet. It is definitely not as easy as they make it look. I did manage to make them all laugh, so it wasn’t a complete loss. Plus, later on I got to have some of the coco (or kunu?); it was delicious!!! I also watched a Hausa movie with them one night. It was pretty humorous. For those of you who like really bad Bollywood, you would have truly appreciated this film. I know I did. So in sha allah (if god wills it), this next month will turn out equally as well. I will attempt to document as much as possible and relay it to you all when I get back. Sai anjima! (See you later!)

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