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