Sunday, February 6, 2011

Where is Will?

So...I'm sorry...hasn't really been a lot of down time/time that I am in the mood to write since I last posted a blog, like forever ago I know. So when I went back to Niger from my visit home in November, I went back to my village for a couple weeks, and organized final preparations for building the Housing Patient Facility, which got fully funded and thank you all for your help (more about that later)...So I had two more weeks in my village until I became the Regional Volunteer Leader (RVL) for the Maradi Region, a job that I applied for and received in September. As the Regional Volunteer Leader, I was responsible for communicating and relaying information to volunteers in my region from the bureau, and to serve as a support for volunteers in my region, particularly new volunteers. So I had a good last two weeks in my village, and planned on staying involved with them while performing the role as RVL, So I moved to Maradi, the capital on the 22nd of December to celebrate Christmas with my fellow Maradi team members. Living in Maradi was the other end of the spectrum in terms of volunteer lifestyle. Lets start with the house, First it was an actual house, bigger and nicer than any apartment or dorm room i've ever had, it had electricity (when Nigeria decided to let Niger have it that is), a bathroom with toilet and shower equipped with hot water heater, a fridge, and an A.C. Unit in the bedroom, this was ridiculous to me, and I enjoyed it to the fullest. In addition to the house, Maradi came with its own perks, including fruit and vegetables, and beer, and delicious whole chickens roasted for two dollars...mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm :)...It was such a different lifestyle, one of the things that sticks out in my head is how different it was being inside all of the time, with fluorescent bulbs, I had spent the previous 15 months living predominately outside, like unless I was cooking, I was outside, even then my house was very open. As the RVL, I did a lot of paperwork and organization for implementation for things like installing new volunteers in their villages and things like site development. If I had to choose, I'd say that life as a bush volunteer was more my style, the city living was very different, it didn't last very long though...


A new group of volunteers completed training and were sworn in on December 30, 2010. 9 new volunteers were placed in the Maradi Region, they were brought to Maradi on New Years Eve, we had a nice dinner and dancing, spent the weekend preparing them for installations into their new villages. We spent the next week installing volunteers. We finished Friday January 7th. On that night two young french citizens were taken from a bar in Niamey, the capital by some members of Al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb, the men were killed later that night. We were informed on Saturday morning. And then we waited, Those of us who had been in Niger for over a year were kind of wondering what this meant for us. And we waited...I woke up Wednesday morning, we hadn't heard anything, I kind of figured that maybe they were French and Americans weren't being targeted and maybe they were just gonna keep an eye on it, and keep telling us to maintain low profiles. Anyways, I was having a great day, I had a meeting with our Eastern Regional Coordinator, and was preparing to test a new theory I was formulating with my charcoal project. At 10:30 I received a call from my supervisor, telling me that due to security concerns in Niger, Peace Corps was evacuating....I was numb...I'm still numb as I sit in my house in Dallas and write this...So what happened..well...On Thursday and Friday I helped to facilitate the retrieval of 22 volunteers in my region from their villages to the regional capital in Maradi, I disbursed my money for the hospital projects, I bought mattresses, beds, mosquito nets to go inside the building when it eventually gets completed (more on that later). On Saturday I shopped for gifts, something that I had been putting off for a long time, stupid procrastination!!!, Then about 20 volunteers from the far eastern region of Zinder came to Maradi for the night, and Sunday we caravan-ed in Peace Corps Vehicles to Niamey, a 10 hour trip, We were flown out of Niger Monday morning at 2am to Morocco, where we attended a Close Of Service Conference.


So what's gonna happen with my hospital project? I am lucky enough to have great villagers and friends in Niger, as well as a man named Soba, he is the Eastern Regional Coordinator for Peace Corps Niger, he is Nigerien, and he agreed to see the project through to completion. I spoke to him recently and he informed me that the bricks have been made and are almost dry. He will keep me posted and send pictures when he's done, and as he keeps me posted I will keep you all posted. Please know that I trust this guy like he is family and I can assure you that your donations will not be wasted, and that the people of my village are very thankful for all of your support, as am I.


So We had a close of service conference over three days, I won't go into it too much, but I was kind of numb through the whole process, some of my friends got the opportunity to go on to something new with Peace Corps, unfortunately my fluency in Hausa wasn't a big help to me, and my lack of french skills kept me off the list of potential transfers. To be honest though, I'm not sure I could have just gone somewhere new like that, ever comparing it to Niger, and the wonderful people and experiences I had there. God...I miss it so much already...I'm sad, I am and I will be for a while, but you know, I'm not done with Niger, My experiences in Niger have made me a better person overall and I have to feel blessed that I got spend the time I did. I've made a personal commitment to revisit Niger every five years for as long as I'm able, I figure that's the least I owe them.


So what's next. My overall goal is to do my hardest to MAKE SURE THAT IT'S NOT LIKE I NEVER LEFT...and I'm gonna try to explain what I mean by that...what I mean is that, it could be really easy to go back to living my life the way I was before I left for Niger, not that that was a bad life, I just want to take all that my experiences in Niger have taught me, and apply that to something new. I really like helping other people, I do, and I loved helping Nigeriens because they helped me so much. I'm not sure how it's gonna work out, or what it's gonna end up looking like, but i'm gonna do something that allows me the opportunities to keep Niger and places like it, a part of my life forever. I guess I'm gonna get a job, or go to grad school, I'm not sure how long my parents will let me crash their house, so I better get searching pretty soon here.


I'll keep you posted, and if you have any ideas, please feel free.


Take Care - Ousmane

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trust me: I am not Holier Than Thou

I can’t seem to let myself enjoy this, the way I would like to….as some of you know I am home in Texas, unfortunately my father is ill, we have high hopes that he will fully recover, and. Well shit….he better cause I’m not quite done learning from him yet…So I’m in Texas…in Dallas at my parents house and its strange…I didn’t really prepare for this, how could I??? When you go home at the end of your service, they have a conference three months before you leave that not only helps prepare you for leaving Niger, but also for coming back to America. Its’ taken me a while to figure out, accept, and put into everyday practice that Niger, is not America, and Niger does not work like America, and that it takes adapting to the way Niger works in order to work and live successfully in Niger….Now, in a matter of days I am going to have to get used to how America works, and re=adapt myself back into America for a few weeks. So as I started out saying, I’m having a hard time letting myself enjoy my time here (I’ve enjoyed it very much so far, it’s just when my mother or friends ask me what it is I want to do while I’m here, I don’t really have any answers) I have a couple of theories as to why this might be. The first being , maybe I’m jet lagged and I really don’t know what it is that I want to do, maybe there are so many choices that I’m just overwhelmed by it all, and I rather curl up and read until its’ time to go back to Niger. This kind of crosses over into another theory, which Is that I don’t really think I’ve earned this time, and won’t let myself enjoy it…I mean I’m here to be with my father because he’s sick, and because I love him very much…and I really do miss my family, and my friends while I’m in Niger…but when I left America, I left with the intention of being gone for two years, and was looking forward to seeing who I was, and what America had become after those two years….maybe I feel like this is cheating, and that’s not letting me enjoy this time…and the last theory I have is that I traveled in planes over 5000 miles, more than 19 hours in a plane, from the poorest country in the world to the richest country in the world and because of that, I won’t let myself enjoy it…last night when my parents and I were having pizza and beer(real pizza, and real beer)… My mother offered me a dinner the next evening at a restaurant that would probably have cost me and my family 250+ dollars to eat at (I’d like to say that my parents are middle class, and they don’t pay for 250 dollar meals very much, my homecoming and my fathers sickness constitutes spending it I guess, but my parents aren’t lavish folk, my mother did complain recently that she feels like a bum driving my old run down 1999 camry into work, where she’s the boss, but she will continue to do so, cause they enjoy living a modest lifestyle, and a lifestyle full of giving, they have always been advocates of volunteerism (where do you think I got it from), and they give more of their money to more charities than I know), but the thought of spending that much money on a meal…more money than anyone in my village makes in a years’ time…I can’t do it…I was talking to a friend in Niger online today, this internet thing is amazing, anyways..I was telling him about how I was feeling, and he said that he was afraid that that was going tohappen to him to when he finished his service, and he was like, “your mom probably looked at you like you had this holier than thou attitude.” And I don’t want my family or my friends to think that I am judging them for anything they do/buy/say/anything…first of all I am friends with amazing people who are down to earth and I have an amazing family as well…second, THIS IS NOT NIGER…THIS IS AMERICA, and I have no right to judge anyone because the circumstance of Niger and America are extremely different…I told my friend, I think my biggest worry is that I’ll forget…I don’t want to forget how fortunate I am to have been given the many opportunities available to me just because of where I was born. I think, rather, I know that part of the reason I wanted to work for the Peace Corps was because I didn’t think that I appreciated all that I had, that I took it for granted and really didn’t fully value it….my friend was quick to point out that he didn’t feel like he was better off because he was from America, I pointed out benefits of America like health care and education and he said “I don't feel more fortunate because I don't see a difference in happiness level and death and illness happens everywhere, people here are as happy, if not more, than people in the states so sure, we get better medicine but it's hard for me to feel like I am more fortunate.” I remember blogging early on about how I felt that the average person in Niger was happier than the average person in America, and I still feel that way…The fact of the matter is that the way I feel is probably a large combination of all of these things put together, I’m tired from flying, I’m shocked at just being in America, and I’m scared because my dad is sick(this is a big one that I’m having a lot of trouble with, that I’m not really sure has hit me yet, my family has a really healthy outlook on life and we choose to live one day at a time because that is all we are truly promised, in light of many events in my life, both past and quite recent, this is all we can ask and hope for…one day at a time, and so I’m glad that I’m here with my dad today). And maybe this wasn’t expected, but yet another thing that I have learned in Niger, is that you can’t expect anything(unfortunately it took the AQIM to teach me that but whatev) , so I’m just going to have to let myself enjoy my time here with my family, however unexpected, it is fantastic to see them, and to see my friends, and to eat some sandwiches while doing so…Until Next Time – Ousmane

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hospital Patient Housing

So I have realized that I have mentioned my hospital project in my blog in small blurbs on occasion, and I wanted to take this opportunity to really expound upon this project, because I do truly think it’s of great importance to my community at large. And because I need your help to make this dream, a reality.

When I first arrived in my village, like a week into my service, a man approached me to ask for help regarding the lack of space for overnight patients at the small hospital in my village. Now, when I say hospital, I mean a cement brick unit, with one room and a desk in which the one doctor and his two assistants, who show up randomly, serve the 50000 people in my commune who walk from 20 kilometers out just to get treatment. Last year my doctor treated over 14000 people. The building, which also has a maternity ward, is about 20 years old, built by an NGO back in the day, and is run and funded by the government. This hospital in the middle of nowhere is not high on the governments list of things to tend to in the near future, what with the political situation and the instability of Niger as a whole. There used to be two, two room buildings that were used to house patients overnight, but they have slowly been destroyed, and are now unsuitable for housing patients.

I know I blogged about how rainy season in Niger brought me to the hospital many a time, because of the amount of malaria that takes over Nigeriens, who have no real assess to decent prevention. I have stayed the night with friends and family who were suffering from malaria, overnight in the one building that still stands, barely. Let me tell you, it is not a place you’d want to be while trying to recover from a sickness that takes your body over with unbearable pain. You lie on the cold floor, maybe on a mat if you thought to bring one from your home, you sleep with no mosquito net, which only exposes you even more to more malaria. If it starts to rain, the windows and doors don’t close, and the ceiling (if you could call it that) leaks all over you. Think about the last time you were in the hospital, and imagine if the roof caved in on top of you, as you were recovering.

So, I originally told the man who asked me for help, to wait a while, until I had kind of gotten a feel for the language, and the community, and was really ready to take on a project of this size. He was very respectful of my wish, checked in with me on a weekly basis, not to ask about the hospital, but just to ask how I was doing, and has been a great support for me in my service. One day I approached him, and said, lets have a meeting, see what we can do. The next day, the entire board of directors for the hospital was ready; they laid out what they needed from me. I told them what I needed from them, and we got to work. My villagers are donating the water, sand, time, labor, food and lodging for contractors from my regional capital Maradi. They also came up with $180 dollars to buy some bed’s and mattress’s to put inside. Now I know that $180 dollars may not sound like a lot of money, but lets just say that 33000 of the 50000 people in my commune experienced hunger this past year, so it’s a lot. They are also helping transport materials from Maradi to my village.

We are building a two room facility, completely out of cement with metal doors and windows and a metal roof. We will put 3 beds and mattress’s in each room with mosquito nets and poles for the IV bags. This will be place of recovery, a clean, nice place that the people of my village and commune deserve to have. As my wonderful Aunt Dorthy wrote to me… “I am so excited about your project. Such a simple project - a room for patients to recover - with such far-reaching benefits.” Thanks Aunt Dor :)….You can’t begin to imagine the benefits that this will have. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you will consider donating to this project, I think my friend Jason said it best… “This is an opportunity to directly touch the lives of real people living in his village -- the same people who were gracious enough to take Will in, share with him with what little they have, and make him a part of their community.”

I’d like to end by saying that, this is the perfect time to implement this project. Harvest season is coming to an end, and the people of my village can afford to share food and money with those construction workers who are coming in from Maradi to help to build. It is also a down time for my villagers, who have worked the fields all rainy season, and are available to help in the construction process. That being said, please donate as soon as possible. I know you will be as generous as you can be.

You will be able to follow the construction process, online on my facebook account, with many photos for sure!!!

Thank you, and my villagers thank you. – Ousmane

Donate Now!!!

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=683-190

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SANNU. KUN JI?

As we grow older, I feel that many things change, and that life throws more at us, tests us more frequently. Over my 15 months in Niger, I have been tested more than I could have ever imagined, from Terrorist groups threatening to kidnap ex-patriots in Niger, to family emergencies that I could not be present for. With the help of family and friends support and guidance, I have had the ability to overcome and conquer these tests that life has thrown my way, and I am proud to say that I have met these challenges with ultimate success. It was my Peace Corps Niger family that came together to help overcome what is by far the biggest challenge we have faced as an organization since my time here.

Last week, a newly sworn in volunteer named Stephanie, passed away in her home in the Eastern Region of Zinder, after only having maybe two weeks in her ville after training. This had a very powerful affect, as you could well imagine, on all of the volunteers in Peace Corps Niger. We are a family here, there are those who were greatly affected who had never even met this fantastic girl, because there are so few of us, we must be a family for each other in order to overcome the many challenges that Peace Corps in Niger present on a regular basis.

I feel very fortunate in the fact that I did have the opportunity to spend a short 2 weeks with Stephanie. She came to Niger to volunteer in Peace Corps from working as an accountant, probably living the lifestyle of one as well, and she gave that up to work with and support and better the country of Niger and its people. She was amazingly funny, and could brighten a room with her smile. I remember helping her to buy fabric to have a shirt made, that she really wanted, she just had to have it, and I spent like thirty minutes with her bargaining with this guy just trying to rip off a couple of ex-pats in Niger. She gave all the Niger staff American names, with whom she had developed very close relationships, and who were all greatly affected by her passing on as well. Needless to say, she stood out amongst her stage(the group of people you come to Niger with) mates, whom I know have been very deeply affected by this incident and I can’t begin to imagine the pain that they are experiencing.

Stephanie, you will be truly missed, know that you touched many people with your personality and your smile while you were on this earth. I’d like to share a quote that she kept on her blog…”I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now.” Stephanie lived this quote in her life everyday. May we all hope to do the same. Allah Ya Jikinta. (May god watch over her as she passes on)

Take Care of yourselves and each other – Ousmane

Friday, September 17, 2010

Allah Shi Kiyaye!!

What a month...

So a lot has happened over the past month, and in spite of the following blog and some of its sorrowful nature(at the end, you'll get there), it was probably one of the best month’s I have had in village.

-4:10 a.m. - WAKE UP, WAKE UP, DRINK WATER, EAT FOOD, WAKE UP, WAKE UP!!! (I awake to the loud speaker, the gentleman who calls to prayer at each mosque is waking everyone up with the help of other fellow town criers so that everyone can get up and eat food and drink water before the sun rises and the fasting for the Holy month of Ramadan begins. I role over in my bed and put my pillow over my head.)

-4:30 a.m. - COME BUY BREAKFAST!, COME BUY BREAKFAST! (These are kids yelling in the streets, their mothers awoke hours earlier to cook breakfast to sell) My alarm also goes off at this time in case I have by slim chance actually slept through these callings which is not a frequent occurrence. I wake up, I put on pants and a shirt and I walk outside of my house to buy food from one of these kids, I go back in my house, I put the food on the table, I go to the stove and I heat up some kunu(a pounded millet porridge that is SOOOOOOOOO GOOOOOOD, especially with a little sugar) I bring the heated kunu out to the table with my purchased breakfast (fried pounded millet, hard to explain but delicious with sauce). This and a very large bowl of water is my breakfast. Many people do different things to start off their fasting for the day, my friend Nuhu likes to stay up all night till around 1 or 2 a.m. eating food and then he awakes right before sunrise, drinks some kunu and sleeps the day away(he’s relatively wealthy and so doesn’t have to take the morning trip to see the farm, he pays someone to do that for him). I chugged water in the morning, and at 1 p.m. in the afternoon on days that were hot, I am aware that this is cheating, but my reasons for fasting were various and this did not interfere with those reasons, judge away if you must but its not easy anywhere, and most certainly not in Niger.

-5:15 a.m. - I move my bed inside so as to not be awoken by the sun, and I lay down, my curtains are drawn and my windows covered so that I can try and get some more sleep. But I can’t sleep, not at least for a half hour, my stomach is so full and my brain wide awake from the activity. (By the end of the 30 days, my stomach could handle the breakfast much better and I could fall asleep a little faster)

6:15 a.m. - Get up to pee, go back to sleep.

6:45 a.m. - Get up to pee, go back to sleep.

7:15 a.m. - Pee, sleep.

7:45 a.m. - Pee - consider getting up for good this time…Perform the morning rituals, get dressed and what not, and head out to greet the family and friends. In Hausa, you have different greetings that you perform at different times of the day, and during Ramadan a new one for the morning, is basically “how was rising at 4:30?” - The correct response, a hard one to truly muster is “Da Godiya” I am thankful to God. I find this a very interesting part of the culture, the greetings, and don’t be surprised when I came back home and ask you how your tiredness, your family, your work, your getting out of bed, your farm (J) are within the first minute of our conversation.

8 - 10 a.m, - I gotta keep busy…sitting around thinking about hunger and thirst is not for me, I work on collecting old millet stalks that have fallen down (much like my concession wall) in the rain, splaying them to dry out in the sun (when available) and then burning millet to store for making bricks in the coming months, I am planning on starting a income generating activity with them. So I work now because its cool enough and then its shade time.

10 a.m. - Noon - I work on some Foreign Service Exam stuff (I take the test October 9, wish me luck) and I also read (This month I read The World is Flat and Guns Germs and Steel, both good books)

Noon - 2 p.m. - I sleep in the shade of a tree, its nice, no one talks, my friends who went to check on their farms are sleeping; everyone has no energy to do anything, even the women are resting (which they don’t get the opportunity to do a lot.

2 p.m. - 4 p.m. - I do some more reading and some more foreign service studying, this is the slowest part of the day!! It’s grueling, my mind and body are now fried and when I get up to prepare for breaking fast (in three hours) I feel very light headed like I may pass out. But I am excited because the time is soon approaching.

4.p.m. - 5 p.m. - I clean my dishes from the morning and the previous night, and I head to the main road with my thermos to buy ice (a special treat for me and my family with whom I will break fast). The Ice goes fast, so I’ve put an advance down for the week and they ice guy (who is not on anyone’s schedule but his own and will come when he wants) will save me a nice piece of ice. On the way to the road the only people working are tailors who are making outfits for the end of Ramadan celebration (good time to be a tailor in Niger), everyone wants new clothes for their kids and themselves if they can afford it. I get my Ice and go to visit one of my favorite Tailors. I call him Mai Kiran Sala (The prayer Caller, which is an honor in the culture if you are the one who calls the prayer five times a day), his real name is Hachimou, but that’s my best friends name so I go with Mai Kiran. I make a loop back around to my house.

5 p.m. - 6 p.m. - Gotta keep busy, I read, I play the guitar, It’s hard not to break into some of the treats I’ve bought to break fast with my family (potatoes, fried beans, juice and sugar), But I manage, I feel proud to say that I didn’t eat any food during daylight hours, which was one of my goals.

6 p.m. - 7 p.m. - I prepare to break fast, I boil sweet potatoes and mix the juice (kool-aid-esque) and sugar with water and poor it over ice so it has time to get cold. I get everything ready and head over to my family’s place, right next door, around 6:45p.m. The sun sets around 7,

You break fast slow, your initial instinct because its hot and you’re parched is to go for the ice cold juice, you can have a little, but a lot will give you stomach cramps, the trick is some nice warm kunu and a little bit of food to ease into it.

8 p.m. - I feel bad because my family doesn’t have any food to eat, its hunger season, which is kinda weird that they fast anyways cause most of them don’t have any food where I live, and a big reason why I chose to fast with them. So for about the first 10 days at 8, I got up and went to my house and cooked myself a substantial meal, while my friend and his family got a little food from friends who had it, or just drank kunu, which is not at all adequate.

8 p.m. - 10 p.m. - I listened to several programs on the BBC and took a bath and went to bed, we’ll get to the news I was hearing a little later.

So that was an average day during my last month in Village, a great bonding experience with my villagers, although hard, worth it. We’ll see if I try again next year.

So what happened after the first 10 days??? USAID happened…they came to my village with 15 huge 18 - wheelers full of rice, oil, sugar, and corn flour and provided food aid for my village and many of the surrounding villages. My family and most all of the families in my village were given enough food to last until harvest season which is just around the corner, and I am very happy to say that in my village, the harvest will be very good this year, as opposed to the drought that we experienced last year, this year has been full of rain, and I cannot begin to explain to you how happy that makes me. So for the remainder of Ramadan, I would buy rice and sauce ingredients to contribute to family meals, and we would all eat together, and I mean, there are a lot of stuff I know I took for granted living in America, food was never one that crossed my mind. It will now. The mood in my village, you could feel it, just changed, people were not only happy that they got to eat, but more so that their kids could eat, it was amazing. Thanks for paying your taxes. Sometimes America does get it right. - Sometimes America gets it wrong, we’ll get to that soon though.

So that was Ramadan, the Ede (and I probably spelled that wrong, its called Idi in hausa), is the festival to mark the end of Ramadan, and it’s a smaller version of a bigger celebration called Tabaski which I have written about before, but its just like any other holiday in America, you give gifts, you eat good food (we killed 6 chickens, DELICIOUS!!!!). I walked around in my new party (Nigerien) attire and handed out candy to kids and greeted everyone on the ending of Ramadan (BARKA DA SALA!!).

So Ramadan was awesome and led to what I would again call one of my best months in village, however, there were some things that were not so good, which brings us to the somber part of this months blog.

It’s interesting, with different seasons come different challenges it seems. It is currently rainy season in Niger which means a large increase in the number of malaria carrying mosquitoes, and the number of patients at the village hospital is ten times that what it is in off season. It is a challenge when everyday you see someone you know either going to the hospital themselves or taking someone they know to the hospital. When, “how is the morning of the sick?” becomes a standard greeting in your everyday routine. It’s even more of a challenge to watch a mother hold her sick child in her arms, fever of 103, and she can't take her to the hospital because she doesn't have the money for medication. We are taught in PST (Pre-Service Training) that it is best not to diagnose, and especially not to give medicine to villagers because it will inevitably lead to you being seen as a doctor and there is no way that you have the capacity (physical, emotional, or monetary) to deal with all of them. So you watch, you make sure they drink water, and eat food, and you hope and pray, that they will get better on their own. And once you've seen this once, you go around the village and you make sure that people are sleeping inside mosquito nets, and that they are doing it properly, because after all, prevention is the best medicine. There were several deaths in my village this past month, mainly those of the too young or too old, who can’t handle the disease on their own. I know I’ve said this before, but they way that Nigeriens handle death is, to me, beautiful, they acknowledge that it was time, they grieve, and they move on.

In addition to having to deal with the sicknesses of family and friends, I had to deal with the news from the outside world. The news is usually kind of depressing, but this month’s news was not only depressing, but also very, very embarrassing, and I’ve personally struggled with whether or not I wanted to write about this in my blog, for the same reason a lot of people didn’t want to talk about it, because it really doesn’t deserve the attention that it has gotten. I am speaking of course of the preacher in Florida who threatened to burn copies of the Koran, and also of the debate over the mosque near the site of the twin towers. I can say that when I first heard of these stories I practiced the phrases, “some Americans are kind of not intelligent,” and “I’m really sorry for this, it shouldn’t happen and I hope it doesn’t” in Hausa so I could explain to my friends what was going on in America and why because they we’re hearing the same news I was hearing. EMBARRASSING!!!!!! I’m not going to dedicate a lot of time to this, but he was wrong, and the fact that people care where a mosque is being built in New York (one of the most diverse places on the planet!!!!!!!) is beyond me? That just seems like a really big waste of time and effort. BUILD IT SIR, BUILD IT and use it to teach Americans about the real Islam, and in time, I hope we can look back at this, as a road hump in our history, and not something that propels us in the wrong direction as a country. I would like to say how relieved I was when the gentleman in Florida said he wasn’t going to burn the Koran. I can’t imagine how relieved other foreigners in countries where radical Islam is active. And the fact that he didn’t do it, gives me some hope that this too, will pass.

Well that’s it for this month, it was a long one I know, I hope not too long. I’m off to Niamey, the capital, for a week to celebrate the swearing in of about 30 new volunteers who just completed their pre-service training, still can’t believe that was me this time last year.

Thanks!! Love ya!!

- Ousmane

Monday, August 16, 2010

Off to a Month in the Ville!!

I’ve spent the last five months, very good months, traveling all around Niger doing all sorts of interesting things, I just spent the last three weeks working with 33 new volunteers. This last three weeks gave me some great rejuvenation, the year mark is a hard mark for volunteers (Man I can’t believe it’s been a year), In the beginning I spent so much time integrating into my village that it was like a full time job, learning the language, meeting new people, learning how to live in Niger. And now life has kind of normaled out a little bit, a bit mundane to be honest, I speak Hausa with relative fluency, I know the people I want to talk to and interact with, I am integrated. This combined with the fact that it is rainy season and most of our projects get put on hold because everyone is concerned with farming, this happens to be a boring time in the Life of a PCV in Niger. I am hopeful that in the next few months that It will pick up again, and I can deal with my little issues, as long as it continues to rain and my villagers have adequate food supplies come next hunger season. Being able to transfer all of the knowledge that I have learned to the new volunteers has been really good because, I feel as though I have actually gained a lot of skills by being here, and that I really have grown in many ways in the last year. The 33 new volunteers are an amazing group of people, I think that the recession in America caused a bunch of qualified people to sign up for Peace Corps, because this group has their sh*t together. I really enjoyed my time working with them and can’t wait for them to be out working in the field.

I am working on a proposal for a hospital building, running into a couple of road bumps which may prohibit it from happening but hopefully all will work out and it will be online, looking for donations, within the next couple of months. This hospital building will sleep up to 6 patients who currently have to sleep outside when they are sick. In the mean time I am burning more millet stalk, saving up charcoal powder to form it into briquettes when rainy season is over. This next year is going to be full of analysis of the project, making sure that is it worthwhile, and profitable, I will also be testing it to see what kind of things I can cook with it. Then I will spend some time training other volunteers and villagers from within my community to make charcoal in their own villagers.

I’ve been future thinking a lot lately, I don’t know why, maybe it’s the boredom, maybe it’s that I only have a year left in Niger (they say the second year flies by faster than the first), and I have no idea what I am going to do after I’m done here. I think that’s okay, and I’m open to all sorts of suggestions. I’m actually taking the Foreign Service Officer Exam in October (gonna spend the next month in ville studying for that). Maybe grad school? Maybe Peace Corps work? I guess it comes little by little, and you just gotta let it happen. I’m excited about the FSOE, and about the next year in Niger, hopefully it’ll be a good one J

So, lastly I’ll talk about Ramadan. Niger is a 98% Muslim country, and all of my friends are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. Its an interesting time in Niger, and I think I am going to fast when I go back to Ville in a couple of days. When they fast, at 430ish to a guy banging a pot, and singing to wake every one up, they drink and eat and then have their morning prayer. Then its nap time, they wake back up around 7 and head to the fields to check on their crop, then for the men, it’s basically nap time for the rest of the day, before the second to last prayer they begin to prepare their food and drink to break fast with, everyone has their own breaking fast rituals (what they like to drink and eat and how they like to drink and eat that). A lot of money is saved up and spent on good food, ice, biscuit crakers, and other treats to break fast with, which means good dinners at friends’ houses for the next few months. So I am going to give it a shot, and I’ll let you know how it works out next month when I come back in from Ville.

Take Care - Ousmane

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm really sorry...This has been a long time coming...VACATION...LITTLE CHARCOAL...HOUSE CONSTRUCTION...ALL VOLUNTEER CONFERENCE!!!!!!!!

So...here we go...Ghana..Beach...Beer....Awesome!!! So my friend Brian (A fellow volunteer who was actually my roommate in Philly for the two days before coming to Niger, we've been friends since we bonded over a beer and philly cheese steak and the fact that we were both like, what the hell are we doing?!!!) we went on a 16 day (well 15 cause we ran out outta money, which gives you a pretty good idea of how much fun we had) vacation from Niamey, through Beinin, Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso. PC Niger volunteers call this the loop, cause you can buy a visa that allows you one enterance into each of these countries. We had a lot of fun, we traveled alot, every day in fact for the first like 6 days. We got in a bus at 5 am in Niamey and drove 18 hours through Benin, into Lome, the capital of Togo...we arrived in Lome in the middle of the night, found a GHETTTTTO!! Hotel and crashed after a fan millk(basically like chocolate ice cream in a bag, which they sell out of carts in all the countries we went to, they cost about 35 cents a piece, i think Brian and I ate about $40 dollars worth of them, so goddam DELICIOUS :-)!!!! anywho...we woke up and got our ghanain visas(not included in the loop visa) then we set off to find the Peace Corps Office, we found some really nice volunteers, who we ended up having some beers and some dinner with (good night!!!). We stayed the next night at a volunteers home, she lives at the base of this mountain...amazing!!!, me and brian got up the next morning and took a taxi to a bigger city nearby where we exchanged our Niger money into Ghanaian money, then we went to get a car to cross the border into Ghana. The taxi driver, the money exchanger, and the guys who got us a car to cross the border were all from Niger, and spoke the local languages that me and brian speak, and were kinda blown away at the two americans speaking Zarma and Hausa. We went into Ghana that afternoon, chilled in Ho, next to lake volta, and then went to Accra, the capital of Ghana. Up untill this point we had been taken aback by the mountains, the green, the water, but other than that, where we had gone, was most certainly more developed than Niger, but not significantly, Accra, blew our minds, Accra has skyscrapers, a huge ass mall, that would rival malls in America(Brian and I had draft beers and called our mom's from this bar for mothers day, what good son's we are!!) We were in Accra on a Sunday, and the south is predominately christian, therefore, much of Accra was shut down, so we didnt get to a PC Niger favorite Irish bar or Sushi restaurant, but no big deal...When we woke up monday, it was like the city came to life, people everywhere, commuting to work and what not, and it was nuts, It had been 9 months since I had seen that many people, cars, hustle and bustle, and it was honestly overwhelming....and it was really weird, being from Dallas, a huge city, I figured i'd be totally fine. But living in a village of 3000 people for nine months has apparently taken an effect. anywho...Brian and I got outta there real fast...took a bus to Cape Coast. Cape Coast is...well... a coastel town that was, during slavery, a port for shiping slaves. It is this amaizing post colonial town with beautiful old building and rich history. Me and Brian both are in agreement that the place we stayed in Cape Coast was by far our favorite, mainly because it had a roof top bar with a great view of the city. We tthe day there touring an old slave fort, learning about the history, really moving and informative, something I obviously missed in History class. The next morning we went to a national park and walked a famous canaopy walk, (pictures will come, some time)....then we headed off to our real destination, a Beach resort(a cheap but cool, PC volunteer favorite) called the Green Turtle outside of Takrodi. we spend about 4 or 5 days here, chilling on the beach, swimming, playing volleyball, drinking, EATING, reading, sleeping, really the most relaxing part of our trip. Then we were basically just traveling home, we went north to Kumasi, where the biggest market in West Africa is located, we spent the night at a PC hostel and then went to the market the next day where we were amazed by the market, it was so huge, and a really cool part of it, is that there is a huge Hausa population there, so i got to get a quick refresher before going back to Niger. We went through Burkina Faso, stayed for two days at the PC Hostel there, met some cool volunteers, and ate some pizza delieverd to the hostel (AMAZING!!) Then we made our way back to Niger, I think the last four days, we rode busses for 38 hours or something....So this is what I did...how I felt though...i think is different...It felt nice to eat some good food, drink some better beers(I think we tried every kind available in each country) and to relax a little. But I did not enjoy being a guest in a place of the world where I have currently resided for almost a full year. Having lived in Niger for 9 months before we went on vacation, we knew the rules, the languages, how life works here in Niger, from prices of food to taxi prices, and just knowing the local language gets you so much respect (for example, when we got back from vacation, all the taxi drivers who were outside the bus station knew that our bus came from burkina faso, and probably figured that i was a visitor to Niger, a driver greeted me in French, I responded in French where I needed to go, he quoted me a price in french (the wrong price, 1000 cfa (2 dollars), and I reponded in Hausa with the correct price (i'll give you 2oo cfa my friend), and he responded in Hausa, okay lets go). So we kind of got tired of being treated like visitors, even though thats what we were. And, please no one take any offence to this whatsoever, but there are no other people in the world like Nigeriens when it comes to honesty, niceness, hospitality, and what not, and the West Africans we met on our journey, with exeption of course, were not as nice as Nigeriens, and by the end of the two weeks, we both wanted to be home in Niger again.

So I came back to my village for a couple of weeks before leaving again (we'll get to why)...and I kind of got back into the swing of things, and worked on my house a little bit, I added two new doors to my house and re-cemented one of my rooms' floor because I was unable to properly sweep it before, and now my house is breezy and cool, and now I can actually nap in my house which is nice. Rainy season is coming, so charcoal is gonna kind of take a back seat to the farming that is, right now, far more important, the rains have started, and are coming every few days, I plan on getting back to village and heading to the farms with my friends to get a better idea of what it is that they do out there all morning. Its really interesting how life changes depending on the season here in Niger, i mean in America, whether its spring, summer, fall, or winter, you're still going to the gym, to the office, to the grocery store on saturdays and what not. During rainy season, women get up super early to pound millet to take to cook lunch in the fields, and everyone heads to the farm untill it gets to hot to work...I'll blog more about farming when I find out more, but i'll end by saying that if farming doesn't get better this season, that next year the hunger is going to be really bad...currently, my friends have a rotation system going on where everyone goes to someone's house for dinner, so that way they all get a little something to eat.

So when I left my ville I headed straight for Zinder where we held a conference for every PC Niger Volunteer...Zinder is currently the eastern most region (however Diffa will be opening up soon, another story)...I worked with 4 fellow volunteers to help throw this conference together, I have to say that my two years working at the University Center in college was invauable when it came to getting this thing off the ground and running smoothly, I mean I felt home kind of, chairs, tables, lcd projectors, screens, tents, laptops,(all this a little less sophisticated than what I had at my disposale at UTA :)..) But it went so freaking amazing. I mean, putting together something like this in Niger is not easy, there are huge concerns on the part of Bureau concerning travel and what not, and the logistics of having 56 volunteers in the same place, feeding, bathing, not to mention teaching them something, and it went better than i think any of the planning team could have possibly imagined. We had volunteers present on projects they had completed in their villages, with some great information exchange. Volunteers reviews were amazing, it was something many of them had been looking for from PC Niger for a very long time, and I am very, very proud that I got to be a part of the team putting it together, and cant wait to do it again next year!!!!!

So whats next, well, this summer will be full of fun and alot of travel, in 2 weeks I get to go prepare for my sister stage to come to Niger, the new volunteers arrive July 8, 2010, a day before we celebrate our 1st year in country. As a Volunteer Assistant Trainer, I will train with the training staff for a week, welcome the new volunteers off the plane, then head back to my village. We have a great team of VAT's this year for training, and to tell you the truth I've wanted to be a VAT since my first few days of training in Niger. I will be a vat during the 3rd and 4th week of training, which means I will be traveling back to village, then turning around two weeks later to go right back to the capital to help with training, the new volunteers will swear in at the end of september (they have extended the training 2 weeks) and I will be allowed to go back into Niamey for their swear in, which is a really cool week, full of fun events!!! Another thing I will be doing this summer is fasting for Ramadan with my friends. I'll probably have a lot to say about this later, probably the fact that I regret doing it, but we'll see. And I will be finishing my proposal for my hopital buildings as well as working on some cheap but effecient handwashing stations...and working out a training for my charcoal project for some neighboring villages next year...all of which I will hopefully, and timely blog about as they occur... Keep reading...i'll try to keep writing...thanks - Ousmane