Krissa in Peace Corps/Niger

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 05, 2001 - 7:49 am: Edit Post

Krissa in Peace Corps/Niger

Krissa in Peace Corps/Niger

Krissa in Peace Corps/Niger

Krissa in Peace Corps/Niger

I'm heading off to Niger, Africa with the Peace Corps on Jan. 13, 2001. This page, (which will hopefully be lovingly updated by Luis Villa while I'm away and without internet access) will have pictures and updates on my life and travels.

Note from Luis: I'm doing my best ;) If you see any first person stuff in here, it is probably me. If/when I start posting letters from her here, I'll try to make it clear when it is me speaking and when it is her. Until then, assume that first person is me.

Trying to write Krissa? Here is some advice on getting packages and such through to her. All of Krissa's rolls of film are now here. Letters from Krissa. Images not sent by Krissa, sorted by date. Stamps from Krissa's letters.



Hamdallaye (usually pronounced Hom-dahl-ai) is a village 35km from the capital, Niamey (said either NEE-ah-may or nee-AH-mee). We, Peace Corps trainees, etc. are actually up on a hill overlooking the village. There's a perimeter fence, lots of stucco covered buildings, some with sheet metal roofs and some with thatch, and running water (including the somewhat iffy shower - the girl before me used the spigot, I got to use a bucket and cup.)

I sleep outside with about 20 other girls. My training group (my Stage - pronounced the french way stahj) is about 45 people, including 4 married couples. Women probably outnumber men 3:2, maybe 7:4. We sleep under mosquito netting, though I haven't (thankfully!) been terribly assaulted yet. The soil is very sandy, and red. Right now the world comes in shades of reddish-brown, green, and a white-blue of the dust filled sky. We could barely see the full moon as we flew in last night! There are trees. Lots of trees, actually. The village below is demarked by many adobe walls, and the trees are both inside and outside of them. The predominant tree on the training grounds is eucalyptus, many of which are young. I believe there are baobob tress in the village, but I'm not sure yet.

It's beautiful right now, the temp in the shade is probably in the upper 80s- which reminds me, I should drink. <drinks H20> We've heard a lot about how we should only drink water that comes from the three "fountains" in the refectoire (dining hall/meeting room). We can wash, shower, but DON'T brush our teeth or drink tap water.

We'll have health sessions twice a week, and we were given a 130+ page handbook on health in Niger today. The Peace Corps infrastructure is pretty amazing. There has been a program in Niger sicne 1962 (P.C. began in '61). It's the longest running straight through P.C. program around. So, I feel pretty good about health and communications. Also several of the staff here at Hamdallaye were P.C.-Niger and they are incredibly positive. I guess that's to be expected, but it's still nice to see.

I feel ridiculously overpacked, even though I couldn't say that I don't want to have anything that I brought. It will be interesting to see what I use the most. I already wish that I had 1 sarong to toss on in the mornings going from bed to shower or toilet. We've been pretty much informed that exposing the shoulders is off limits, and legs only during exercise. I have no idea how long I'll keep my hair. The braid I put in this morning is fine, but it has to be wet for me to do that. We'll see- I want to keep it long =)

I need to end this note, as I'm already probably pushing the postage limit, plus I have to go get Typhoid and Rabies (1 of 3) shots. =P My love to you all- Krissa.

[Ed. note: This is just a part of the letter, but Krissa didn't specify a 'please share this' section so I'm just sharing this because it linked with some of the pictures so I thought it would be neat. This is edited slightly to remove references to me but is otherwise a complete day's note.]

I spent most of my day in "beautification." I'm not sure if I'm beautiful now, but I'm certainly all dressed up with no where to go :) I have henna on the bottoms of my feet and on the tips of the fingers of my left hand and my hair is all done in braids. Not cornrows- probably 20 different braids. My head hurts <laugh> It was definitely a long process, and I'll have to see how long it lasts, how easy it is to take care for and how it looks after a couple days before I decide if it is worth it. I'll make sure to send a picture :) The henna is kind of strange. I had not realized how much went into the process. First electrical tape was applied to my feet to ensure clean lines along the sides of my feet and over my toes. Then a mash of henna plant (a green pate) was applied to the bottoms of my feet and the tips of my toes by my second host mother. She also put it on my left hand. Then both of my feet and my hand were wrapped up in plastic bags and I was forbidden to put any weight on them. I probably spent four straight hours on the mattress under the tree in my family's concession. The henna mash was probably on for two hours during which time I ate lunch with the wives, and my hair got started. The woman who did it started on corn rows but gave up and got a friend. The two of them ended up doing the braids.

After the two hours of the mash sitting and staining my feet, Zeinalou removed it and put what I think was a mixture of ash and water of the bright orange stained areas. That probably sat for an hour. Then she washed it all off and revelaed the dark chocolate staining on my feet and fingers. Where it worked well, the color is very nice, but in a couple of places it fades to orange, or yellow-y brown, and on a couple spots on my hands, the stain didn't take at all. It's pretty interesting. My toenails were protected with tape, but my left hand fingernails are dark brown, except at the tips where the color is uneven. Definitely not "beautiful" by American standards. Very interesting.

[Ed.: She goes on to talk about a number of other things- she is in fact playing volleyball, even though she wasn't in any of those pictures. Apparently, that wasn't an isolated game but rather part of a 4-on-4 tournament that she is taking part in. She also talks a great deal about the dust and the dirt, and about all the education they are getting about malaria. Sounds like they are in good hands. Finally, in the first actual work-related stuff I've heard, she mentions that they've been touring the town with specific instructions on looking at how trees and shrubs are used to control erosion and things like that around town. It is a long letter, so I hope you'll forgive me for not typing it all.]

March 19, 2001. Sergin Bougaje

RBT, Regional Based Training, has been a very interesting experience. A week ago today we were told of our future posts and on Wednesday we all piled into cars to head for our respective regional capitals.

The trip out to Maradi was long, of course; 10 hours in a navette (18 place van) is going to be long even if not all the seats are full. We had only one "incident" on the trip when there wa a nasty grinding sound of metal on raod and then the spare tire went flying off into the bush. We retrieved it after several minutes search and Pachom (our driver) reattached it firmly beneath the navette. Then we were on out way and thankfully had no use for the spare on our trip. :)

Mmm, there was one other interesting thing about our drive out, we saw ROAD CREWS! Honest-to-god shovels, gravel, and black steaing saphalt. Amazing. Later we heard that President Tandja has come out to Maradi the same day we did (or the next) and I've begun to wonder if the repairs weren't for his benefit. :) Who knows, I was just glad to see someone working on the roads.

But speaking of Tandja brings me to another story. I have seen more automatic weapons since arriving in Maradi than I had my entire stay in Niger. To be more specific, with Tandja in town, open roofed military trucks with mounted guns that would have looked at home on tanks were roaming the streets of Maradi. every time I see one I just want to drop to the ground on my face. Guns scare me and it makes me so happy that military police don't generally roam the streets at home. It's not that I saw anyone in fatigues harassing anyone else, I'm just uncomfortable in the presence of guns larger than I am.

In other stories, I saw a peacock climb stairs for the first time- or rather I had my first experience watching a peacock climb stairs- at the Maradi hostel. I was lying in the hammock reading when 4 or 5 peacocls ambled in and started nosing around for crumbs. They are quite gangly creatures, with honks much worse than geese. I mean, really obnoxious. The one that I saw climb the external stairs to the roof managed it by hopping both feet at once, from one step to the next, pausing on each one to catch its balance. Quite a process I must say. Once it reached the roof, it hopped onto the cinderblock railing and surveyed the hostel concessions, then honked a couple of times and flew/glided to the ground. Quite a sight!

Other adventures in Maradi before coming out to our respective villages included trying to break as many 10,000 cfa notes as possible in the little fixed price El hadki shops (I'm not sure why they're called that, other thn that anyone who makes the trip to Mecca and earns the title of el hadji must have money and perhaps could afford to own/run a shop...) We bought canned goods (yay for tomato paste!), pasta, soap, etc. at these shops. I even found some shortbread cookies with ENGLISH on the package. They're VERY good, and cost less than a mille!

Thursday night a group of us went out to dinner. We are at a little restaurant that was like so many restaurants here in Niger, composed of a small shack where the cooking is done, a covered area w/tables and chairs and an uncovered area with tables and chairs screened from the street by a wicker fence. It took at least an hour before we got anything that was ordered. This was very frustrating as we were pretty much the only patrons but at the same time, we have to have patience as I sincerely doubt that the establishment had more than two propane burners. At least we know our food was prepared fresh! ;) I had something called "hors d'oeuvres." Apparently it is an actual item and deosn't vary too much from restaurant to restaurant. It's a chilled salad of egg, potato and tomato in a mayonaise based dressing. Oh, with onions. It's pretty good, though I'd love to try my own hand at it with some balsamic vinegar and black pepper :)

I arrived in Serkin Bougaje, my home for two years starting in two weeks, on Friday. A lot has happened her, most of it overwhelming, but not necessarily negative. Of note: I ended up seeing the end of a camel race on my first night and on the second afternoon, Kristin (my PCVL (leader)) and I ended up dancing to drumming in the midst of a huge crowd of women and children celebrating an upcoming wedding. Some observations since I've been here: I believe that I have the smallest latrine hole in country, no more than 4" in diameter; and pagnes are quite appropriate to life here. Now that I've finally learned to tuck/tie one on so it won't fall off after 50 feet of walking, I find that they are comfortable and cool. I also think the people here may appreciate me wearing one. I think that on days when I'm not doing any serious travel or work out in the fields I may wear one.

[Ed. Note: this is from just shortly after swearin. She actually had very little to say about swearin itself.]

April 4th

Yesterday, I was installed in my village. Kind of. We tried to leave here "early" and ended up getting the two trucks for me and Jack the other new PCV up north near Mayahi) packed and ready to go around 8:30. An hour late. Not bad at all for Niger time. We drove up to Mayahi to get 2 "Services de 'environment" agents in the gov. of Niger Environmental Dept.- for our installations. The trip takes about 2 hours, a little over half on a very bumpy sand/dirt road (laterite road). As we drove Kristen [Ed. note: the PCV "Leader" for her area] asked me if I had my rules ready (yes) [Ed. note: she doesn't say anything, anywhere, about what those rules are. :| ] and reiterated something she had said about not letting me stay in my village if my brick wall and roof weren't completely finished.

Part of me kind of wanted this because I was scared to begin my life there. It's going to be hard. But I didn't really want to have to come back to Maradi. I knew, even through the anxiety that it would be best to get my integration started. So, when I arrived and my concession and house had not changed since I left, I was disappointed. And after the Installation meeting, where my 4 sentences of Hausa garnered applause and the women were all so excited to see me, I really, sincerely regretted that I had to leave. Hence, I was installed, kind of. Kristen (my PCVL) was there for my installation, as was a man named Sangare (who was one of our tech trainers). Sangare did the bulk of the talking, and he did a fabulous job. He even quizzed my villagers on my name. :)

The hard part though was when Sangare started asking when my house would be done. My maigari (chef du village) said three weeks. That was totally unacceptable, and Sangare and Kristen said that I'd either go back to Niamey or to another village... eventually, the time was wittled down to 5 days. I fully trust that my house will be completed. The only reason I'm not there is to give them an incentive. After one day here in Maradi, waiting, I really want to get on with it. I want to be there, to start learning...

I guess it may even be a good thing that I have to wait, because now I really want to be there. My anxiety has been overcome by my desire to start the whole process. The first month (3 months, 6 months) will be hard. Without question. I have no doubt about that, but I want to get started. The sooner I'm there, the sooner I'll get language.

So, I'll be in Maradi until Sunday. I think I'll probably be going batty... at least I have a pen and pencil...

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



By alanajaneschlaeger ( - on Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - 5:34 pm: Edit Post

Hey IM alana schlaeger and i go to north jr. high in Minnetonka, MN and IM doing a report on niger well we are pretending we are in the peace corps and we have to write journal question and where on journal 5 and im looking for information about the pre-colonial times of niger! do u think u could help me with this!! i would really like for u too write me back!! and give me some information! thatns alot! -alana

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