July 5, 2001 - Personal Web Page: Welcome to The Niger Peace Corps Experience of Helen Steele

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Welcome to The Niger Peace Corps Experience of Helen Steele

Welcome to The Niger Peace Corps Experience of Helen Steele

Welcome to The Niger Peace Corps Experience of Helen Steele

Welcome. My name is Dan Steele and my daughter Helen is currently serving in the Peace Corps in the village of Gazera in south central Niger. Gazera is about 3K north of the border w/ Nigeria and about 40K south of the city/village of Matameye.

Helen began her service in May of 2002 after attending 11 weeks of training in Niamey, Niger.

The bulk of this site is made up of letters and pictures that we have received from Helen. The text on this site is largely Helen's. Of course, the letters are from her. We have made slight edits to provide clarification in some cases or to improve readability. The letters are all hand written and are transcribed into the computer by my wife or myself.

The captions accompanying the pictures are all written by Helen who has the developer send the pictures to us and then sends a letter to us describing the pictures.

Late additions: 12/30/02 Picture Roles 5 and 6

Received 2 Feb 02

Welp, here I am in Africa, Humdally to be specific. The trip was unevent ful, and I am healthy and happy. In fact, so far, I love Niger. The peo ple, the country.

On the way from Niamey, the capital, where our flight came in, to Hamdally, where the training, etc. is, it was dark so the he adlight lit up these little scenes along the way. (It took ~ 45 min they say - it didn't seem like it.) I saw little donkeys pulling carts piled high. I asked and was told it was most likely bean straw used to feed l ivestock. There were cows with huge curving horns lying near the road qu ietly chewing their cud, groups of men talking under thatch pavilions aro und a kerosene lantern, clusters of grass huts with thatched roofs, a dog jogging along in the dark.

I feel like I've been waiting do be here all my life, like it fits. I suppose it won't last and soon enough I'll not be so sure, but for now…wow. Right now the weather is beautiful. Folks that live here say it is cold, but it's quite nice compared to winter in the valley. I think it's about 18 degrees C.

Today we've got a bunch of interviews and stuff; right now I'm wa iting for the medical interview and more immunizations. Hooray! Chris w as right; I have more animal experience than any of the other volunteers. That's weird.

I still feel like I know next to nothing. It is going to be hard to wait 3 months (training time) until I get to go out and learn stuff. I've even been wondering if I could get my own donkey. That'd be fun. A little smaller than Oli and Po.

My French is nothing spectacular, but it is slightly more than non-existent and so far I've had lots of fun trying to use it. The folks here are very glad to help you learn. They really enjoy it. I am hopeful that it will come quickly. I haven't even started on any of the local language things.

I think the most difficult thing for me will be the structured schedule. I'm so used to doing what I feel like when I like to. After training that won't be a problem, but for the next 11 weeks I've got to do what I'm told and come and go when it's time and go to class, kinda like college. But I want to be here and most of the "classes" should be fun and interesting. So maybe it won't be that bad afterall.

1-11-02 Hey, family - I am sitting on a mat in a clay hut/house in Ouallam. (Say "Wallum".) It's nice, not really hot yet - there's a nice breeze. By the end of March the breeze will be gone and the heat will be hot.

I'm in Ouallam with 3 other trainees visiting with a volunteer here. This is like a venture before the serious training schedule starts next Monday. It is called "demystification" so we get to see what being a volunteer is really like.

The volunteer here is helping get another well dug and is doing gardening stuff. They have some very nice gardens here. We eat breakfast and lunch here but supper is with the chief's son, the next door neighbor.

I've had mullet with meat sauce, rice with some other kind of sauce, oatmeal, and a boiled potato dish here at the village. At the training site we got lots of different stuff including tapioca, pineapple, fresh bread, rice and some type of pancake. Quite nice, although it is said that Niger food is nothing great and that's true.

It is really sandy now and the wind gets it everywhere (there's even sand in the food). The sky is blue and clear and at night you can see so many stars, the moon sets before 10PM so it is just the stars.

We went to the Ouallam market yesterday and to the Hamdallye market on Tuesday. Markets are packed with people and lots of stuff to buy. There's the "normal" stuff like onions, garlic, cigarettes, salt, sugar, tea, potatoes and such and then the " not-so-normal" like grasshoppers, dried peanut butter chunks, boiled tree leaves, traditional medicines and stuff.

The sleeping bag and liner are excellent, I've slept in them every night since I've been here and slept well. The Nalgene bottles are also getting much use. I'm not using my stationary for this letter because I left it back at Hamdillye. Overall I feel well packed. The only thing I've missed so far is Booker T.

The hardest thing is having to get to know and interact with the other volunteers - all the other Americans. I had totally left them out of my calculations. I knew about (thought about - mentally prepared for) physical and emotional difficulties - feeling useless, missing family, friends, and Booker, not liking the heat - but I never thought about having to interact with my fellow ex-patriots. They are different from me. Most drink and smoke and last night at the hostel they had loud music too.

This is a part from my journal; it starts a little oddly but it gets a point across I think.

"What's wrong with beer? I think it's more just that it sometimes feels like a barrier that I don't drink. At sessions it didn't matter because I had the music. I don't mean just that I could play it, but that I had it. I was in with that. Here I don't have anything…yet. Give it time. But just hanging like these folks do, the apparent big thing to have is beer and cigarettes. They tell me a lot of PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers) start smoking while they are here. They say you have to pick up some vices."

So, I guess the thing is drinking is the point, not music is the point. The focus is on the beer. I guess it's just "hanging out", and I'm not very good at that, at least not with my peers. I'll learn, but I'm really looking forward to having my own village to live in. The weather is still beautiful and the people (native and ex-patriot) are cool. Not a bad deal, and I'm glad I'm here.

God Bless - Helen

[The Niger place names are straight from Helen's letter. We received this letter February 4. Enjoy.]

Received 12 Mar 02

2-8-02 (I think)

Dear [Everyone,]

It is Friday of our week of FBT: field based training. That's when we go out and get training in the "field". The whole stage (the name of the whole group) is divided into three groups and we all go to different places. My group has been in the Zindar area.

I think you can see the city of Zindar on the map, I believe. It's in the east and "close" to the border with Nigeria.

We've been several places around Zindar and seen tons. The volunteers and the volunteer leader for the region planned an incredible time for us. We saw a chicken farm place, bee keeping co-op, tradit ional fete (celebration/festival), the Sarki of Kantche (a traditional king w/ tons of power still), incredible village gardens & irrigation techn iques, vets working w/ villagers, an artisan co-op - silversmith, leather workers, the sultan's palace in Zindar.

That's my list to remind me what to write about, because I want to say more - and keep the letter b/c it 's my journal basically. I'm writing small because sending letters is expensive and two pages of paper costs more than one, however, I may get as tired of writing this small as you will get reading it, in which case I'll get bigger as I go along.

[The writing is approximately 1/8th of an inch tall, and we are using a magnifying glass to read it!]

Okay, first off, the traditional fete b/c that was just last night. Wow. They held it in the city of Matamey - maybe 30 - 40 K from Zindar. Matamey is where the Sarki of Kantche lives, and he's the one who put on the fete for us.

Kantche is a big region of Niger. The Sarki is chief or king of the whole region w/ lots of little chiefs under him - a traditional person of power. Now a days, the people still fear & respect these traditional leaders more than the modern government of Niger, and the government usually works through/with the traditional leaders. Sarki's are high and then the Sultan is even over the Sarki. Anyway, the Sarki put on this fete for us.

First we just walked from a large concession [house with a yard], where we were having siest [?], to the palace of the Sarki to meet him and exchange greetings, etc. The whole village was excited about it.

As soon as we left the concession, we were surrounded by children w/ adults standing farther back smiling and watching, and the further we walked, the more like a huge parade or even stampede it became. More & more people were joining, following, talking, greeting - there were literally 100's. The road (not paved - sand) was packed all the way to the Sarki.

The way opened in front of us & closed behind us. It was kinda an exhilarating experience. So many people & we were their guests of honor. I like to watch our teachers in these situations. They are Nigerian, and I wonder how it feels to them. We are white people - foreigners - they are among their own people - at least more so than we are. It was also almost awkward somehow. Just quite an experience and so much excitement!

At the Sarki's palace we all took our shoes off before entering and then went into a large square room - like the audience room or something. There were long white drapes cove ring the walls. The drapes had gold, red & blue designs woven into them. The windows were opened behind the drapes (The drapes were very fine - thin.), and the room was cool. There were couches all around the walls and large patterned rugs on the floor. We sat on chairs & floor.

When the Sarki came in, we all stood. He's very old. Near 100 they said. He came around and shook each of our hands - men & women. When you shake his hand, you bow and place your right hand on your left forearm then when finished, you put your left hand to your chest - a sign that your greeting comes from the heart.

After he sat down on his own couch, we all sat down. He gave greetings, welcomed us, told some about his job and answered questions. He had people bring out 3 huge drums they would use to signal a fete or when going to war and also the armor and spears they would use.

The last time they had a war was before the 1900's. It was with another Hausa tribe. The armor was like chain mail shirts with a leather collar. The spears were old too, but they had the new flag of Niger that was taken after independence was gained from the French.

It was fascinating and the Sarki had one of his guys get decked out with armor, helmet, spear & all. They also brought out the huge wrappings they would use for horse armor. I felt like I was seeing history, only it was so much more important to these people than it seems to be in the states. They were proud of their heritage and wanted to show these things off to us.

It also had an odd feel to it because everything was so dusty - the rugs on the floor, the curtains, the drums. You might say "dirty" only it wasn't dirty, it just wasn't so clean & polished like going to the governor's palace or something, and the connection to the past is so much more palpable. It's like the last time they went to war wasn't 100 years ago but was m aybe 2 or 5 years ago. It's a surreal mix of the past & the present.

When we left the Sarki's, it was to go to the fete, & the Sarki led the way . As we came outside, the crowd was bigger than when we went in and excitement was everywhere. Across from the door to the Sarki's was a raised kind of dais & between was a large area rather like a town square. The Sarki sat on the dais, & we, the guests of honor, sat on either side of him. Then his guards and aids and everyone filled in every other square inch of space (children especially) on the walls, in the trees, on the ground, sitting, standing, kneeling, smashing in so everyone could at least sort of see maybe. The guards and other men constantly moved through the crowd with Neam tree branches forcing the crowd back to keep the area in front of the dais and much of the square as clear as possible.

There were 4 drummers, I think - one was especially good. They were playing toms-toms or talking drums - noise, rhythm & dancing. Then they brought out 2 large bulls with huge horns - they make the Kerry cows at the museum look tame and small. What they did with the bull I heard called "bull fighting", but it was nothing like what you might think from the name.

A man would stand in front of a bull, back to the bull, facing the dais, and he would dance to the music of the drums practically touching - if not actually touching - the bull's face with his back. When the bull would through his head, he'd catch the guy with his horns or just bump him, and it was all one crazy dance. There were different guys who would trade in and out of the dance, and they'd trade back and forth between bulls as well.

One guy lay back on the bull's face & hooked his arms over the bull's horns. When the bull threw his head back, the guy did a kind of flip & ended up on the ground behind the bull's shoulder - that brought wild cheers and money tips shoved into his pickets.

And it wasn't just these men, a young boy - perhaps 10 - and young girl (12?) took turns as well. Nobody was seriously hurt, but the possibility was very real, & there were a couple of what seemed to me to be close calls. Like the guy whose shirt was ripped nearly off his back by the tip of one bull's horn. The bulls were never really hurt but were smacked with the ends of the lead rope or tie to try to get them more annoyed.

Traditionally, one of them would have been killed at the end - I think it would be the one with the least fight i.e. the one that was "less pleasing". I'm not sure about that though. After the bulls, there was a lot of dancing and then a bunch of shouting - but I couldn't understand anything they were shouting so that was a little odd.

After the fete, we went back into the Sarki's house for the good-byes & thank you's and when we came out again, all the people were gone and it was dark. So, that was the fete, in brief.

Yea, now it's two days later. The bee-keeping co-op was excellent too. It's ten village guys & it's all their own thing. We got to see their whole process - how they make the hives, hang the hives in the trees , collect the honey, press it and purify it. They demonstrated the whole pressing process, and we got to buy some of their honey too.

The hives are quite different than any I've seen. They are round and long - made from long grasses. They are about 16-18 inches in diameter at one end and ~ 36" long & maybe 8-10" in diameter on the other end. They hang these hives up in the trees, and the bees fill them up. Cold season (right now ) is kinda slow, but around the end of May, it'll be big-time honey. They don't spin the honey out of the comb but press it out & then let the last bit seep out on its own. They process the wax then too & sell it in the market. It is very sustainable and is done out of their own initiative. A project came and taught them the basics 10-15 years ago, and it has continued. That's way cool.

Let's see - also the chicken farm place. It was nothing like chicken houses in the states. Very well ventilated, clean & the chickens are quite healthy & clean. They have some nice incubators too. This was a gov.-run project. There are 4 in the country, I believe, and they are to supply eggs for eating & chickens for raising for the regions they are in. They aren't free, but it is a good source for healthy, strong, vaccinated stock. If I get posted nearby, I would like to really get involved there. The guy in charge is very knowledgeable about his field & full of energy. He was also very open to PCV helping & connections. If I could, he'd let me come and help/work there. So that was cool too.

We also got to talk on the radio, but we didn't say much since it had to be in Hausa or French. But they did a ½ hour segment on the peace corps, and why we were all wondering around Zindar. There were PCV's who know the national language who were interviewed too. So, all in all, FBT was a great week.

Now it is Feb. 12th, and we are back in the "normal" training sch edule. Our language classes are all in the national language now. Hausa is great, but it takes time. I'm enjoying it & right now I have an excellent teacher. I'm still studying French on my own too. In fact, today I got into a conversation - in French - with one of the teachers about re ligion - Christianity vs. Islam to be exact. Now that was interesting. I don't really have that much French yet. But we made some comparisons and "argued" some points. I've had some interesting French conversations.

Not too long ago, I got in on a discussion of women's role & equality ( or not) and before that, it was a discussion on death. They're not easy topics when you don't have words, but it is really cool none the less. Formateurs (teachers) have a ton of patience. Soon I think I'll go over and drink afternoon tea w/ some of them. It's a great way to learn the la nguages.

Let's see--I'm learning a lot besides language too - about reclai ming hardpan soil & water management, planting trees and making gardens.

The Gao tree is really cool. It can grow to be huge & it is beautiful, but it gets better. It has a very deep root system, so in the dry season , it is green & provides lots of shade b/c the water table is so low. Then the rains come & the water rises so the Gao leaves dry up and fall off. This provides organic fertilizer for the fields so the millet grows better. Since there are no leaves on the tree, the millet gets plenty of sun. There are all kinds of stuff like that.

Women in Niger aren't supposed to whistle. Whistling is calling the spirits. This has been challenging because I whistle all the time. O, well, it doesn't count my tin whistle, though, and I've played that a lot. It's quite popular. One time, several girls in the village came over, and we ended up having a mini dance. Well, they did. I didn't dance .

Hey, y'all should check out the web site that has the pictures on it. [ We have checked the site and it appears to be out of service.] I've had my picture taken a couple of times that I know of, and they should be up by now. (I don't think they would be taken down so soon.) If you see one w/ me all dressed up w/ some locals, that was the night of the "fashion show"- Probably my least enjoyed activity in/country up to this point. But the host families enjoyed getting us all dressed up. But it wasn't just that, b/c then we had to actually "do" the fashion show. O, man - not a Helen-thing. You can laugh, but it was bad. There were about 5 of us that walked off the runway and right into our own clothes. OK, I guess it was kinda funny - in a way. I'm running out of things to say now.

I really do live in a mud hut w/ a thatched roof & mud brick walls all around it. I have a nice pit latrine & a little bricked off area where I can take my bucket baths. Every night I wash my face, hands & feet before I climb into bed. I sleep inside my sleeping bag these days - it's only like 50 degrees F at night - cold! LOL

[A] BIG thanks to all the people who gave me letters to take along and who have sent me letters while I am here. It's great to see how much you all care. So, I am getting close to the end of this piece of paper. If there are questions, please write and ask. So far, I have responded to every letter I have received, however, I still only guarantee one letter per person (except to family).

Before I close out, a brief how-I-am-doing - Really well. I am still very glad w/ my decision to join peace corps. I am happy and healthy and making friends with nationals and with other PCV's. I sleep well at night, smile during the day, laugh in language class, study my homework. I talk with other trainees about a million weird topics that you usually don't talk about. I get tired at night. I talk in the dark with my host family trying to learn Hausa. I get frustrated, I get stressed, I get over it and I go on. Afterall, I'm just living, like you are. It just happens to be in Niger, and I love Niger. Sa i an jima!


Received 20 Mar 02

Hello There! March 3, 2002 It's March now and the temperature is starting to rise. It's gotten to 100 once or twice around mid day, but it's a dry heat & not to bad. Nights are still cool - though already my body is adjusting to temperatures and I'll bet that you all would not be wanting to sleep w/ a blanket like me.

Training continues to move on with language classes and TECH classes filling the days. Yesterday was about the best TECH class yet - animal traction. We worked w/ ploughs & carts - oxen & the donkey. Then at the end we got to ride a camel - one at [a] time of course.

Ideas continue to come & go through my head of what I can / could / will do in my village, but things change & I will have no idea what is needed or wanted until I get there. We have interviews this week - placement interviews and I'm deciding what I want to say. It is an opportunity for us to tell the director people where & what kind of things we might prefer for our posts. You don't have to say anything though and just let them place you where they think you fit. Then, next Monday the 11th we find out where our new home will be and on the 13th we leave for "live in". Live-in is a week at post basically. First taste of the "real thing" in your actual village. You meet your team & make "first contact" w/ your villagers. That means I will be in the bush for my 25th birthday. Pretty wild, eh?

After live-in we come back to the training sight for about a week & swear-in is on the 29th. Then I will be a for real PCV [Peace Corps Volunteer] and my two year service starts. Hmmmm…that's quite a thought. Everything up to this is just training.

It was an adjustment coming here & everything but the biggest adjustment is yet to come - when I move into my village & that is supposed to be "home". I am really looking forward to this. Some excitement, some nervousness, but positive feelings overall. I was tricking along w/ this letter & suddenly I've run out of things to say.

Today something is going on in the village, but I don't know what. But Mom got dressed up. There's more people than usual coming by and talking. It's a little like Tabaski! Well, no not really like Tabaski at all. Tabaski is a big Islamic Fete & everyone here celebrates it. It's kinda like Christmas in the states. Tabaski morning everyone bathes and puts on new or their nicest cloths. Then they all head out to the outskirts of town. Here they all pray. Up in front was the religious leader leading the prayer. All the men lined up shoulder to shoulder in rows in front of him. Behind them a little ways the older women lined up to pray. There were bright colors everywhere. There were also horses decked out in full get-up. I did get some pictures, so I'll send them when I finally get the roll finished. After the prayer they kill/sacrifice a ram and then folks head home to celebrate together. If the family has the money they sacrifice the ram. If not, a female sheep if not, a goat or if they are enable to, they do not have to. They then roast the meet all day long. Wherever you went in the village you find roasting mutton and people munching on organ meats & intestines. The real "meat" eating does not begin until the day after Tabaski. Then they eat tons of it. In fact, there are usually problems w/ GI tracks after Tabaski because people's bodies are not used to all the meats so there are also lots of dates being eaten. Seeing as I like meat & dates, this suited me quite well. (Not some of my fellow trainees.) All day the kids run around playing and asking for gifts - these usually consist of coins and then they go buy candy or gum in the market or at roadside stands. There was hardly anybody home at our house for the whole day. People were out visiting and playing.

After nightfall, the party went on - mostly on the main road through town. It was just packed full on people hanging out, talking & spending their coins. Quite a lot of excitement flows around.

The most difficult persons to be on Tabaski are married women and oldest daughters. These folks had tons of work to do most of the day. And the oldest girl in our family - Mari Amma didn't get a real "break" until after dark. Though she found some time to play during siest[a]. Tabaski is determined by the moon and this year it fell on a Friday.

The Saturday after Tabaski I went to Niamey with a neighbor. That was cool. It was just the two of us and we went to visit my older sister Fati.

Perhaps I already explained this but in case not here goes. When we (Jane my hutmate) first arrived at our host family, Mom was gone w/ the sick baby and the older sister (25 years) was taking care of the family for here Mom. In fact, at first we through Fati (older sister) was mom.

Well, Mom came back ~ 2 ½ weeks and then Fati went back to her family in Niamey. Well, Jane & I had become good friends w/ Fati and were sad to see her go. Fati also has a close friend here in the village named Sahiya.

Sahiya was sad to see Fati go and told Jane and I that we three would go visit. When the day came, Jane was sick, so it was just me and Sahiya. Fati didn't know that we were coming and the best part of the whole visit was the look on Fati's face when we walked into her concession [her yard].

That was also my first bush taxi experience and it was cool too because it was just me, not a whole big group of trainees. It was good.

On the Sunday after Tabaski the trainees took over the kitchen at the training site. See, being a big holiday the kitchen staff were off all weekend and the training director suggested that we could have Sunday to make ourselves a big brunch or watch movies or whatever. So we did and it was excellent.

We made cinnamon rolls & burritos & hamburgers & salsa & cheese & beans and fruit salad & hash brown & orange juice & it was excellent. Then we cleaned it all up and started a movie and then others made popcorn and chocolate chip cookies. Wow! This was really good. It was a good day. Mostly just because of the yummy food. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. So, I had a good Tabaski. Barka da salla! (Blessings on the Fete/praying/holiday)

I'll try to get the Tabaski photo roll finished soon - sorry I'm a poor photographer. Hope some of the Pics are cool though.

Today I've written a letter, washed my underwear & cultivated my garden. Yesterday a friend informed me today is peanut M&M day. So, I'm looking forward to that snack and this afternoon Osaman & Soba (two language instructors) are gonna teach me to make traditional tea … I hope.

So I love you!

(Anyone who has letters and is willing to share, type them up and send them out to my family and maybe they will disburse them. ) Yes?


Received 10 Apr 02

Sannuku, Greetings to you all! 3-16-02 Is it cheesy to put Housa words a letter? I've been trying hard to speak Housa all day, so there are lots of Housa words in my head, so I think I'll write them into this letter ko? (okay?) Yao (today) was/is my first full day in my village alone. Nope - I haven't actually finished training (though by the time you get this wasika (letter) I will have) but we are doing a part called "live in" during which we actually live in our village (hence the name!) So, for the first night a "seasoned" volunteer w/ the language stays with us, bayan haka (after that) we're on our own. It's great. A challenge, yes, but I have a wonderful village.

I am replacing their first volunteer who did an excellent job - that can be really hard, but also it's cool b/c she had such a good relationship w/ them that they are open to me as well. It's a great village - about 200 people, maybe 70 adults. I'm about 3K away from the border w/ Nigeria, about 40K south of the city/village of Matameye. They're really laid-back and friendly. It's a very religious community and all but one family are Muslim. The married women are cloistered. They can leave their home after dark and they can go to weddings, births, and funerals, but aside from that they stay cikih gidan (in their home). It's kinda weird and kinda not. It is so normal for them and it is a sign of their wealth that they're so well provided for that they don't have to leave their home. However, often it's not seen that way by others. Some of my fellow trainees said if they had gotten my village they would have had a real hard time with it. I don't know. It's not my water as the Housa's would say, meaning it's not my business, concern, problem. I know I wouldn't like it, but that's not the point. They do not have to wear all the veils and coverings like you see on TV - not at all. I can come & go as I please in the concessions & the village and the men are respectful and very friendly. Everybody is eager to say hello and shower me w/ a barrage of Housa. Some are incredibly patient & teach me some too. It really helps if they just speak slowly - they often don't though. But some are really good at slowing down and trying to find words I know. **** There was a break there where one of the chief's wives (that's another interesting thing) brought over supper. It was corn tuwo and a sauce w/ some kind of leaves… Not bad and then Al Haji - the chief brought me some tea. He makes excellent tea. So, after all the eating, I decided to take a bath, but while I was bathing somebody knocked on my door. I pondered this for a second and then hoped they wouldn't go away while I finished my bath. (Housa culture says you don't talk to people while you are bathing or using the "toilet".) Happily he didn't go away, it was the really cool guy I met w/ Garba (Jim - the experienced volunteer) yesterday. He's cool for several reasons. Jim told me this guy complemented his wife to Jim, while she was standing there, i.e., in front of her, that's unusual for Niger, and he's very patient and respectful of me. He has a kind personality and is a good Housa teacher. Too, (so, therefore) he's a cool guy. Anyways, yesterday we got on the subject of snakes. (Sorry I can't remember the guy's name - oh, it's dan Aba.) And he'd just caught three that day. Then he offered me some nama (meat) from the snake and I said sure, so I ate snake & it was good. So tonight, when I finish my bath & open the concession door, he had brought me another piece of snake meat cool. And - if I understood correctly - we are going to catch snakes tomorrow. Not bad, eh? I hope I did understand him right. Yesterday too I got to ride on a bull, loc. Garba took my picture & said he'd send it to me, he's returning to the states in two weeks (he actually extended a year, so this is his three-year mark. He was the PCVL last year - Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.) Then, this morning dan Aba took us out fishing. The fish live in the wells in the garden. They aren't "finished" concrete wells but, I guess, rough dug wells. They're used for watering the gardens. Anyway kifi (fish) live in the wells & you can fish for them. That was cool. 1st dan Aba caught one then Garba & then me. Yawa! (excellent!) Too, Garba left not long after that. He didn't eat his fish but I did J. This kid/guy in the village cooked it for me. They curl it around and stick its tail into its mouth and they cook it like that - scales & all - directly on some hot coals. It's not bad tasting when it's done either. I guess I pretty much spent the rest of the day yawo, yawo (walking/visiting around in the village) or resting in my house. I talked to the men sitting under the huge tree in the "town square". It's an excellent tree & they all sit there during siest. Bats live on the tree too and you can see them sleeping there during the day. I found one guy writing in Arabic on a special board. It's like the horn covered "books" that used to be used in schools - what are they called? I saw a newborn baby - the naming ceremony is Monday - the day after tomorrow - I'll be going to that. I was sitting talking to some women trying to get them to tell me their husbands' names. I was getting no where when a neighbor walked in. Almost immediately he told me what I wanted to know. This puzzled me - why did he understand so quickly and I had been trying for 10 minutes to ask the same question. Then I realized why… Housa women don't say their husband's names. They never do. I don't quite understand the reason but it has something to do w/ this major cultural thing called "shame". So, when this other guy came in he could tell me, they just couldn't tell me themselves & that's why they were laughing b/c they did understand. They just couldn't tell me! "Na gane!" I said "I understand!" Then I tried to apologize but I think they were quite ready to overlook my mistake. Well, quite a bit of time as passed since I wrote the first half of this letter. Maybe not that long, it's March 27th now. We swear in on the 29th, Good Friday - weird. I'm back from Live-in & struggling through the last 10 days of training. Struggling b/c I so much want to be -done. I suppose that's like me - always straining toward the future. Though, all the trainees (almost) feel the same. We've seen our villages & we want to get out there, settle in, stop being in a continual transitory state. It wears on you & I think we didn't realize it until we got to our villages. After that… well, we're ready to go. Today we meet the Niger government people - minister of Ag., minister of forestry, etc. Then we get to eat lunch at a nice restaurant in Niamey - that will be fun I think. This morning Jane and I were going to go into Niamey early w/ our host family and go to the baptism of our host sister's new baby…but, Housa is hard & there was a miscommunication. Oh, boy! We thought the fam was leaning @ 6 am so we would go w/ them & then meet up w/ peace corps in Niamey after the baptism…. Nope. They aren't leaving until after 9 am! So the plans didn't pan out. The worst part is we didn't find that out until this morning! So, we got up at 5 am to pack our stuff (b/c they'll be moving all our stuff out of our host families today while we are in Niamey) and then we thought we'd be leaving "any minute". So, we're sitting on our bare mattresses - waiting & waiting & waiting…Finally the family is getting up and by 7:30 we've figured out the miscommunication (after several other miscommunications!J). I think we got it all figured out but it was kinda a disappointment & rather humorous! Tomorrow there's a GAD (Gender and Development) spaghetti dinner and auction. GAD does a lot w/ women's education and girls in school & stuff. It's pretty cool. So, this is a fundraiser for GAD. I was looking through the pile of donations and there's an old, cheap mandolin (how is that spelled - mandolyn? You know the instrument?) that I am seriously going to try to get. If I do maybe you guys could mail me a book to learn mandolin and new strings and maybe a tuning fork and a pick. If you could anyway 'cause that would be fun! (So far no luck finding a guitar.) So that's tomorrow. Friday is swear-in - that's about all that's happening that day. There will be a dinner after that and maybe swimming. It will probably be a very laid-back day except that we become volunteers, and that's a big deal. There are a few of us trying to get something together for Easter Sunday. Not many people are interested in "religious" stuff - or at least Christians; there are a ton of religious Muslims around, but they're not so interested in Easter. I don't know exactly what will go w/ that though. Actually, most of the day we'll be in cars traveling out east. **** So, now it is the 29th and we'll all be swearing-in in a couple of hours. I ended up letting another guy get the mandolin because he really wanted it too & he has no instruments. If he ends up not playing it, he'll give it to me. Not a bad deal. Besides I have a whistle and a harmonica to play. I'm sitting in the Peace Corps barrics in Niamey right now. I'm actually writing/finishing a couple letters to send from the office here. After a bit I'll shower & then head off to the embassy for the ceremony. (Well, I'll get dressed first.) Last night there was also a spaghetti dinner & then a talent show - all part of the GAD fundraising. I played the whistle for the talent show - three times - and I talked some in between. I managed to make people laugh a lot & that was cool. It was fun to play the whistle for people again, & to have them really enjoy it. I think a picture of that may show up on the "Friends of Niger" website. Now more time has passed and it is Saturday morning. I am now a true PCV. It actually does feel kinda different in a way, like "summer camp" (training) is truly over & now the real adventure begins. This is now the "real thing", and it's a whole 'nother new beginning. I'm excited and nervous too. Today is kinda like a day off & then tomorrow - we're off! This is actually what I joined the Peace Corps to do. Sometimes I wish I could be home to talk and tell you guys all about it, but it's a long flight there and back again. Most of the people who ET'D (early termination. I.e., went home & didn't complete service) from last year's stage (training) left in the first month at post. That's the hardest part they say b/c you've got not clue and no language & no real friends. I guess by the time you get this I'll be close to being done with the first month. Wow! I've got a lot to learn. Sai luynica [sp?] - Helen AKA Rakia 3-30-02

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Niger; PCVs in the Field - Niger



By lawo ( on Friday, September 10, 2004 - 3:46 pm: Edit Post

I am looking for good a friend of mine who was in Ouallam/Niger in 2001/2002 as pcv her name is Dolora. badiane75@yahoo.fr

By TEXIER (amarseille-153-1-70-110.w86-206.abo.wanadoo.fr - on Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - 11:22 am: Edit Post

I am preparing a trip in Niger ( Tchighozérine)60 km in the north of Agadez. As a hobbyist beekeeper in France i was wandering of what is it possible to do with touareg in this area?
someone says that it is always welcome to bring beesmokers (it's not easy to made locally) and protective clothing specially veil.
do you have other advices, people to contact on this topic...
thanks for your answers.

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