Monday, August 2, 2010

Newbies, Goats and Rain

The Newbies are here!!! I’m no longer a Newbie!!! It’s been a while. Peace Corps Niger normally has two groups of trainees a year, one in July (my group) and one in October. Because of last year’s consolidation, the October trainees, those from the agriculture and health sector, were sent to Madagascar instead. Thus, my fellow 2009 volunteers and I have been the newbie volunteers for some time now. It has had its advantages such as the ability to claim ignorance on most things if need be. Overall, though, we’ve been like the little siblings who never really get to grow up… spread our wings and fly sort of thing (to some extent that is).

Pretty soon, our older sister group of volunteers goes back to the United States, the new group gets prepared to become new volunteers, and we are suppose to become the veterans of the crew. Yikes! I kind of find that more terrifying. I do not feel like I have learned enough here to be a legitimate resource of knowledge. My Hausa has also not improved as much as it should have this past year. Fortunately we still have the small agriculture group that arrived the October before us. They are a small group, only two in Zinder, but they will be the true veterans for a while at least.

In the meantime, the 2009 volunteer stage (my group) get to help train the newbies. I am helping with the fifth week of training. During this week, trainees find out where they will be spending the next two years – Site Announcements. In addition, they have a workshop on a participatory development framework called PACA: “Participatory Assessment for Community Action”. It’s a relatively long and tedious workshop, but the emphasis on community participation in volunteer projects is important. Moreover, like any administrative body, Peace Corps needs to legitimate itself by having theoretical frameworks and processes that embody those frameworks. Peace Corps needs to prove that its program brings about desired outcomes to development. Practices such as PACA can help to set measures of success, which can facilitate assessment of the program. So, for the fifth time in my service I will sit through a description of PACA. Hopefully the language trainers will perform a mock PACA session as they did during the preparatory week we had before the trainees came. In addition to being highly realistic (I could see that exact conversation happening in my village), it was incredibly entertaining. I think it would be educational for the newbies.

So I spent one week in Niamey preparing for the new trainees to arrive. We did several team building exercises and had discussions concerning potential dilemmas and solutions during training. They changed the program schedule since my training. In the middle of training, trainees will break into groups of three and spend ten days in a bush village with a language trainer. The hope is that this intensive language training session will prepare trainees even more for life in their villages and provide additional time at the end of training to start an additional language, either national language or French. This experience will be particularly beneficial for hausa speakers who, up to this point, have only had training in the village of Hamdallaye, which is in a Zarma speaking region of Niger (very few Hausa-phone families).

Back in Ville

Before going to help trainees, I spent a good amount of time in my village. School is out, and teachers have left my village and gone home for vacation. I now realize how many kids also come to my ville for junior high because now they are all gone. Many kids also go to other family members for vacation. In my mayor’s family, for instance, most of the smaller children have gone on vacation to other villages, visiting his older daughters in their homes. Hence, any education projects are not feasible. Because it is rainy season (i.e. farming season), doing projects with adults can be difficult as well. In my village, men are almost always out in the fields during the day. When they come back in the afternoon, it is mostly to rest and pray. Since crops have already been planted, women mostly stay at home doing their usual work. Their usual work is incredibly time-consuming and abundant, however, no matter what the season. Considering all of this, I am taking a summer break of my own and not starting any new projects.

My goat project is progressing nicely despite the timing. It is probably advantageous that I am working with women in this case. While they are busy, perhaps more so since they are missing some of their child labor due to vacation, they still are showing a lot of effort with this project. [SIDENOTE: Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone who helped by donating money and good wishes to this project.] The project is now fully funded stateside, and my village women are close to collecting their portion of the project funding. We will be able to buy the twenty-five pregnant goats in just a few weeks. For the workshops prior to goat purchase, I am now collaborating with a Nigerien NGO representative from Aquadev, a Belgian NGO that does various kinds of development work. I am really excited to work with the Aquadev rep. He has a lot of experience is doing development workshops, particularly micro financing workshops with women. When I go into Zinder next, we are going to meet and organize the workshop curriculum. After my return from training the newbies in Hamdallaye, we will conduct the workshops and buy the goats. I will be tracking the project’s progress by attending the women’s group meetings every two weeks, when they pay their bi-weekly dues and discuss any developments such as goat births. Then in December, we hope to hold follow-up workshops. I’ll make sure to keep everyone updated.

I have continued giving computer lessons to those interested. I actually ran into one gentleman who is extremely interested in getting a few tutorials before he goes off to University in Niamey. He just passed his Bac, the large exam at the end of high school which dictates whether you graduate and can continue school. He has never used a computer and is afraid of how much this will hinder his studies. I really hope I can help him get the fundamentals before he starts school.

Mostly I have just been hanging out with my villagers. There have been a lot of births recently, so I have been attending many baptisms. No matter how much I try, I do not think I have successfully argued why one should have less than ten children. Villagers always argue that if Allah wants them to procreate and if they give birth to ten children, then that is what Allah wants. No logic can defeat Allah in this case. “Allah provides”. I find this argument very frustrating, and I do not understand it. Then again, my villagers may think I’m a blasphemer and crazy for saying that “no, Allah won’t provide for everything and everyone; He’s only one deity”. It does depend on your point of view. I will not give up, however. Perhaps approaching the problem by arguing for birth spacing IS a more effective solution. If women space their births, hopefully they will end up with fewer children thanks to biology. Although making that argument makes me feel like a lawyer, trying to find a loophole in the procreation bylaws.

Now for Something Completely Different

Thanks to rainy season, two of my arch-nemesis (yes, I have multiple) have returned!

1. The flies have invaded every square foot of air and surface in this country. It is highly disturbing. They are everywhere! There is a constant buzz in the air. As I walk through my village, they are attacking anything, everything and everyone. I walk past my butcher, and I can’t see the meat because of the layer of flies. I find it impossible to sit outside without going crazy. So I spend much of the day hiding is my semi-sweltering hut. Sadly, my hut is not the cool sanctuary that it was during hot season since now there is a nice breeze outside, but my hut does keep the majority of flies away from me. Moreover, these flies are a different breed than those in the states. They have no shame. They will go anywhere. Many go straight into my mouth or just hang onto my eyelid until the very last minute, making me whack myself in the eye. At this point, I am pretty positive they are playing with me. “Let’s play chicken with the white girl! Ten points to any fly that actually makes her bruise herself!”

2. I have also discovered while in this country that I really, really dislike frogs. Have you every heard of the species of frog that only come out during rainy season and then spend the rest of the year hibernating underground? They are about the size of my fist, are an endangered species, and are one of the first animals in a very, very long time that have caused me to scream at the top of my lungs. Why is it that I can calmly flick away a cockroach crawling up my leg but freak out when a frog jumps toward me? Well, they are a lot larger and slimier than cockroaches. The sound they make at night is louder than cicada’s in the U.S. on a summer night. I really dislike the way their throats go up and down as they breathe and how they climb up walls. One night I was lying in bed (outside) and saw one crawling up the wall just two feet away from me. Eee-gats! Most importantly, though, they are so incredibly dumb that they jump into your path as you walk. One of these days I am not going to be fast enough and step on one as it jumps under my foot. The idea of squishing a frog and feeling its bone and guts spill out is one of the creepiest things that I can imagine. Going back to my village on one of my bush taxis at night, I watched at least two dozen frogs jump into the light created by the car’s headlights and get smooched. I do not want to be callous, but no wonder they’re endangered.