June 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Niger: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps and go to Niger

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Niger: Peace Corps Niger : The Peace Corps in Niger: June 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Niger: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps and go to Niger

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-245-37.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.245.37) on Friday, June 24, 2005 - 11:18 pm: Edit Post

Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps and go to Niger

Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps and go to Niger

Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps and go to Niger

SLV grad on Peace Corps mission to Niger

By JONDI GUMZ

Sentinel staff writer

Karl Hedstrom had a job lined up as a physicist after graduating from Pomona College three years ago. But when the job offer vanished in the high-tech bust, he decided to enter the Peace Corps.

At 25, he’s living in a West African village called Tondi Fou, where the average temperature is 86 degrees and people live in straw huts without any electricity.

The son of Ron and Judy Hedstrom, he is working on a project to dig four wells to irrigate a huge garden plot cultivated by more than 100 women and children.

Labor and materials will cost $4,000 — a large sum of money in Niger, a landlocked country and one of the poorest nations in Africa. Villagers are contributing sand, gravel and some manual labor. Several of his high school teachers have sent donations, but he still needs $807.

The village, home to 2,800 people, is remote. It takes 2½ hours by car to reach the capital city, Niamey, where e-mail is available. The journey can take up to eight hours by bush taxi, with stops for prayers and equipment breakdowns.

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In an e-mail interview, Hedstrom said the biggest adjustment has been "getting used to the slower pace of life."

Back in California, he felt lazy if he didn’t put in an eight-hour day and then do something productive or fun after work.

"I’ve slowly learned to ‘have patience,’ as my villagers constantly tell me — ‘kala suru,’ " he said.

A new language
A 1998 graduate of San Lorenzo Valley High School, Hedstrom didn’t have a first choice when he signed up for the Peace Corps. He picked West Africa because it had the shortest wait, and he was tired of living at home with his parents.

He arrived in Tondi Fou, which means "rock house," in March 2004. His Spanish was rusty but he didn’t need it.

People in Niger speak Zarma, a language with a much smaller vocabulary than English. There are fewer words to learn but a phrase like "Ay ga ba" could mean "I like," "I love," or "I want," and lead to misunderstandings.

"Often we would try and compliment someone (‘I like your shirt’) but they would hear a demand (‘I want your shirt’)," Hedstrom explained.

It took a couple of months before he could actually communicate with the villagers. Luckily, they seemed to have plenty of patience.

Growing concern
Hedstrom’s first project was to supervise construction of a chain-link fence around the newly established garden, which was the size of two football fields.

Bureaucratic red tape delayed the arrival of funding for the fence, the brainstorm of two previous Peace Corps volunteers, and the women gave up on gardening for a year.

"I guess they figured it would get done eventually if it was God’s will," he said, or as they say in Zarma, "Nda Irkoy ba."

The fence turned the garden into a permanent enterprise, where women grew cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, melons, carrots and peppers.

The nearest market town is three hours away, so the produce not only created a source of income, but also provided nutrition for the villagers.

Hedstrom already discovered there was little variety to the village diet.

Cooking on a stove made his hut unbearably hot, so he joined his friends for meals — fried wheat balls with sugar for breakfast, rice and beans or couscous for lunch and "tuwo," a mush made of millet or corn with okra sauce for dinner.

A matter of survival
Hedstrom noticed the women who tended the garden spent hours hauling bucket after bucket of water from distant wells to ensure the survival of their plants.

This chore meant they had to walk about 6 miles a day, on top of caring for their children and preparing several meals from scratch for their extended families, as many as 20 people in all.

In January, when Hedstrom asked what he could do to help, they all agreed that digging wells inside the fence would make the garden more productive. They agreed to provide housing and food for workers to dig the new wells.

Hedstrom hopes to get the wells built before the rainy season begins in earnest. The best time to start gardening, he said, is around October.

Contact Jondi Gumz at jgumz@santacruzsentinel.com.





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Story Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel

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