Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010

I have just come into Zinder after a week and a half in my village. Not very long, I know. Honestly, I was very tentative about returning to my village. I had not been there for about six weeks. I was also going back with full authority to initiate development projects. While I had many ideas about kinds of projects to implement and different questions to ask my community concerning future endeavors, the idea of actually returning and starting my life as an active, project-doing volunteer was a bit overwhelming. While I try to keep my irrational fears of failure in check, they are definitely always there. Once I actually returned to my village, however, most of those fears and trepidation melted away.

I was lucky to have my friend, Audrey, accompany me back to ville. She was having work done on her house, so we decided she could come with me to do a radio show. Having another volunteer at hand while I immersed myself yet again into Hausa culture was definitely comforting. I hadn’t spoken Hausa much for the past two weeks or so. I was definitely out of practice. I picked it back up pretty quickly though with Audrey to back me up. Seeing and greeting my villagers again was also a wonderful reminder of how great they actually are. I love my villagers. They are very sweet and considerate people. They are definitely more forward than I am use to at times. For instance, they say welcome back and then ask for their zigaygay (present you give when coming back from a trip). In a village of seven thousand people, you kind of wonder how much they expect you to bring back. [Side note: this is a shout out to three wonderful and amazing friends in Toledo (Jayme, Jen and Kim), whose recent package filled with Valentine’s day goodies was much appreciated. My villagers thank you for the zigaygays.] But for the most part, it’s wonderful to have people come up to me, ask how my trip was and say that they missed me while I was gone.

While I was in my village for only a week and a half, I was able to get a few activities underway. First, my grant proposal for a health mural at my doctor’s office went through. I was able to get paints and work out ideas and sketches with the staff members there. They want at least some of the mural to focus on family planning, childhood vaccination and nutrition. I am hoping to actually start the painting in mid-April as my time over the next few weeks will be spent in Zinder and another volunteer’s village doing workshops. Second, I set up a pen pal group with girls at my village’s junior high school. We wrote our first set of letters that I will translate and send off to my middle school in America this week. Third, I got two girls signed up to go to a girls camp with me next week in Zinder. We will be participating in workshops on self defense, physical health, nutrition, entrepreneurship, career building, and more. Finally, I got back into the habit of village life. I visited my radio station, my schools, the doctor’s office, the mayor’s office and houses of various friends. I helped my mayor’s office write birth certificates. I helped out in a few English classes. I also had the chance to help out my medical staff dispense prescription drugs on market day. Overall, good stay in ville.

When I was in my village, I received a call from one of my sister’s college friends. She is writing a thesis in which she proposes American foreign policy for a certain country. Most specifically, she is looking at how American foreign policy might be use to stimulate economic development in Niger. Hence, she called me, an American living in Niger, to get my perspective. Although I did have my own ideas after living here for a while, I did want to ask others’ opinions. So I asked my mayor what he would focus on with respect to Nigerien economic development.

My mayor enumerated the various issues on which to focus. First, he discussed education. The children here are not given a quality education, and they quickly drop out of school. Like the UN Millenium goal states, focusing on basic primary school education is vital to improving Niger’s social and economic development. Equally as important, however, is tailoring educational programs also to the Nigerien way of life, that is to say focusing more on technical training. Many people here drop out of school at an early age primarily because their parents and they do not see the benefits of staying in school. Most of the subject matter, while important for the intellectual and cognitive development of children, is rarely used outside of school. Particularly since most people here are farmers, focusing at least to some extent on curriculum dealing with that subject matter would be relevant and beneficial. Related to this is the need to improve farming methods in Niger. Currently most farming is done by hand, using rudimentary tools and man power. By improving the farming here, Nigeriens may be able to increase their farming output beyond the point of mere subsistence farming. On a side note, this will also remove one more reason for having so many children per family (needed man power for farming), thus addressing population growth concerns in the country. Thirdly, he discussed health issues in the country, which are often connected with lack of health education and malnutrition/starvation due to failed farming in Niger. I was really happy and pleased to see how he emphasized interdependency and need for a multipronged approach to addressing these issues.

My mayor and I also discussed the growth (or lack there of) of industry in the country. In Zinder, for instance, the only real industry today is tannery. While there are many small businesses and a few artisanal endeavors in the region, they are still very small scale and bring little money to the area. My mayor said that there had been several growing industries in Niger. Like many countries and (on a smaller scale) towns, Niger’s industry has suffered from lower cost, sometimes better quality imports. The notion of supporting your local businesses, “buy local”, has yet to catch on. As a result much of the industrial growth here has stagnated, even degenerated.

Random points of interest:

- In English, we often use “ok”, “so” or “anyway” to express the fact that we have heard someone’s point, we possibly agree, and let’s continue. In Hausa, all of that is expressed by the simple word: Toe. I love this fact. At first I felt a little weird continuous mentioning an appendage of my foot. Since then, I have embraced this word as a space-filler, a sign of agreement, and whatnot. I basically say “toe” whenever I can. It’s fun.

- We have reached hot season here in Niger. Thus far it has gotten as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit (more heat to come). What does this mean besides the fact that for most of the afternoon everyone here does absolutely nothing? Most of the men have gone on exode, meaning they have left their villages, going to other countries (sometimes other regions) to find work and send money back home. Most men here go to Nigeria, although some also go to Chad, Libya, Algeria, Benin and Togo. I imagine that the amount of foreign remittances (money gained abroad and sent back to country) is pretty high here. Unfortunately, I have also heard that as a result of the men spending so much time away from home, they often create new families abroad. Hence some of that money they gain goes to those families and not to those here in Niger. The men should return to Niger at the beginning of rainy season (July) in order to plant crops.

- I have a correction to one of my last reports concerning pasture animals. I have been told that animals do not actually herd themselves. There are in fact shepherds who herd these animals. They’re just usually far off, maybe watching from a far atop hillside. Part of me is still a little skeptical about this. I have indeed seen animals out in the middle of nowhere, slowly walking back to their homes, with no one anywhere near and no hills/trees to mask their presence.

- “Dead man’s clothes”: these are used clothing, sent to Niger from western countries and sold at market. It’s kind of like Goodwill, although it’s the clothing that Goodwill couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. The clothing might be slightly more damaged or was originally sewn incorrectly so that no one would buy it in the developed world. What’s really cool about dead man’s clothes is that there are usually jewels here and there in the mass of weird clothing. A Monty Python and the Holy Grail t-shirt, for instance, was found by one volunteer. All you have to do is look. What’s even better, though, is seeing Hausa people wearing these clothes. A lot of this clothing has a certain cultural relevance or context such as a Detroit Tiger’s shirt. One friend saw someone walking around his village wearing a t-shirt saying “It’s all relative in West Virginia”. Not only is it funny just to see something so American in a so not American environment, but the fact that they do not know what they’re wearing is also humorous, although sometimes disturbing (there are definitely things I don’t like seeing written on t-shirts in the states, much less here where no one has a clue of what they’re displaying on their chests). I do like seeing ten year old boys walking around town in pink teddy bear pajama pants and shirts.

To, I guess that’s it for now. Sai anjima!