Monday, November 22, 2010

After a long hiatus...

I am finally writing a new blog entry. I apologize. A lot has happened in the past few months with little internet or ability to describe it all.

Goat Project: Working with women

It's interesting working with women here because you're never quite sure if they understand what you're talking about or if they are just agreeing with you to appease you. Before buying the goats, I held workshops for the women on financing and goat care. The whole time they seemed distracted and aloof. I was skeptical as to whether they actually paid attention to any of it. The night after the first session, though, one of my women's groups came to my house to talk about what was said because all but one hadn't shown up. The one woman sat there with me, describing all that had been said and gave feed back. It was amazing! Despite having yet another exhaustingly long meeting late at night, it helped me end the day feeling far more fulfilled.

Even during a project targeted exclusively toward women, men always seem to find their way into leading roles, the same roles that push the project forward. Once the women had made their financial contributions and participated in the workshops, we went to market to buy 25 pregnant goats. I asked the help of the local veterinarian of the village. Basically I wanted him to approve the goats that the women chose. Instead, he said it would just be easier for him to go and bargain for all 25 goats himself.

Later, when we realized we had extra money, the vet insisted on giving a workshop on goat maintenance himself. He did not believe the women were fully knowledgeable on the subject despite spending their entire life caring for goats and the previous small workshop that we had for them. In front of him, the women assented to everything he said for the most part. When with me, however, they adamantly stated that they wanted to buy 25 smaller goats with the remaining money and would buy the goats themselves. It was difficult to balance the opinions of an expert and those of my women. I did not know what would be better for them in the long run, what would lead to a sturdy, sustainable project.

In the end, I wanted to empower my women so I listened to them and bought the 25 more goats. Once we reached the market, they did not seem to make much of an effort to go out and select the goats. Here is when my American mentality got in the way because I became anxious to take action. Then the vet showed up unexpectedly and moved things along. Within the hour, we had 25 more goats. Looking back, I am still unsure whether I should have spoke up for my women and said they could handle it. Alas, my fear of losing all the good goats before they could step up, take charge and choose was too great.

Swearing in of the New Newbies

Before I could attend the first bi-weekly meeting with each of my women's groups, I had to leave for Niamey for the new volunteers' swear-in ceremony. The ceremony was nice, and it was wonderful to have new people coming to live in our region. Seven new volunteers came out to Zinder. We timed it so that we would meet them in Zinder with a nice welcome meal and then see them off when they left for the first time to their villages.

Getting back to ville

After arriving back in my village, I found out that the villagers and those of the surrounding villages were in the midst of a cholera outbreak. What happens during a Cholera outbreak? Well, in my village, the streets were mostly empty, everyone staying the one housing areas. When you saw a group of people, it was most likely for a funeral (2+/day). The little work that existed previously in the village was reduced. Many did not go to work save some men who had to harvest their crops. Next to no one came for our usually vibrant market day. The health hut, which I was not allowed to go near, erected temporary housing for the sick to come and stay. As for me, I had to bleach and filter ever bit of water I used, refuse any food offered to me by my villagers, wash my hands more than usual and make sure all food I ate was well cooked and/or well bleached. Of the people that died, I personally knew six of them, but none were close friends (thank goodness for my friends).

A little over a week after I arrived, the epidemic in my village seemed to be clearing up. Nigerien health officials approved the steps taken by regional health care providers, and they declared my village safe again, with only a few more outbreaks in surrounding villages.