Peace Corps Assignment: Niger
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Peace Corps Assignment: Niger
Margaret Rehm's Peace Corps Assignment in Niger
Margaret Rehm's Peace Corps Assignment in Niger
Peace Corps Assignment: Niger
Taken at the airport in Paris,
awaiting flight into Niamey
Margaret Rehm is the girl in the green shirt.
Assignment to the village of Wurodela,
about 3 hours from Niamey.
Margaret lives in this hut.
Life in Niger
(photos by Margaret Rehm, PCV)
(9 photos) VILLAGE LIFE
(19 photos) LIVESTOCK
(5 photos) WATER
Read the first LETTER FROM NIGER to Davison High School.
Be sure to see Peggy's Travel Guide detailing her visit with her sister Margaret.
More pictures are available of Niger.
February 11, 1997
Please excuse my late response to your letter. I received no mail November thru January and just received your letter about two weeks ago.
My first four months in Niger have been very busy with training and basic adjustments. I trained in Hamdallye, a village outside Niamey, for three months. I am posted in a small village outside Torodi now and have been there for a month. My village has about 700 people. Everybody in my village is Fulani and speaks Fulfolde. Fulanis, in the past, have been herders and due to running into problems with farmers and country borders, they have begun to settle. They are one of the smaller ethnic groups in Niger, but in my opinion one of the more interesting. I live in a small round mud hut with a thatched roof. This is the typical house people live in.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has many problems. To my surprise, the people here are some of the kindest and most giving people I've ever met. Their main food staple is millet and it is eaten three times a day. The women spend their whole day pounding the millet, sifting it, and pounding it again. They boil this and make it into a solid ball and add sauce. The sauce is usually an okra sauce or some other leaves. For lunch they drink a millet drink.
The people of Niger are primarily Muslim and Islam has a big influence on their daily lives. Niger does not have a very strict Muslim dress though. Most women wear long skirts, but not head covers or face covers. I usually wear pants and have had no problems. Men and women have very separate roles and polygamy is legal and practiced. Men do not spend very much time with women, but as I said earlier, the women work all day pounding millet and getting water. The men work in the fields, but on off season, I have yet to see them do much. I feel very lucky being a white female here because I am equal in the men's eyes and the women feel comfortable with me too.
My job while I am living here will be to try and work with the men in their fields to improve some farming techniques. Niger is struggling with the Sahara quickly approaching and with lack of money, education, and a growing population, the environment is rapidly degrading. The largest problems are lack of firewood which contributes to loss of trees, and loss of soil and nutrients. All of their problems are closely tied and with a society struggling to feed itself and set in their historical ways, it takes time to change their priorities.
As of right now, I am concentrating on learning Fulfulde and getting to know the people in my village. Planting season is coming and I plan to work with some people in their fields. I would love to send you some pictures of people at work. A disposable camera would work or I have a 35mm camera and would be able to take some pictures.
I do not know if Niger has a role in this region. I believe it still exports uranium to France, but I think this is just an obligation France still has to Niger. The country has no natural resources to export besides uranium. If you have more specific questions, I would love to answer them. Once again, I apologize for the lag in response. I believe mail delivery is back on track. I have no computer access or e-mail, hence the messy letter. Sorry.
Good luck and keep in touch.
Excerpt from a short note in June
June 22, 1997
I realize your school year is probably over, but I am very excited to begin taking photographs for you and to share my experience and the culture here. These people are beautiful, but the differences are shocking. This is the beginning of the rainy season and the villagers have planted their millet. We are waiting for more rain which seems to be lagging. If it does not come in another week, the sprouts will die and they will plant again. They plant up to 3 or 4 times. If you look though at rain patterns and drought years, we may be headed for a bad year. This would mean many men leave to find work towards the west African coast and worse, many go hungry. I'm not sure how that would affect me and my work, but I can't imagine living in a village that has no food and watching my dear friends go hungry. "May Allah bring them rain-" I hear this often.
(Note: Margie's village got rain at the last minute and the crops were saved. When her sister Peggy visited in October, the millet was being harvested. Villagers pound the millet in big wooden mortar and pestles from about 4 in the morning until 10 at night.)
Peggy's Travel Guide
(Note: Peggy is Margaret Rehm's sister.)
October 24, 1997
My trip to Niger was an unequivocal success! No health problems, no airline problems, just lots of heat. Niamey is a big desert ghetto but the people are friendly and I didn't find the smell overwhelming at all. I always felt safe and with a PCV, getting around is easy - there are always plenty of taxis. Be prepared to be up close and personal with the people you share a taxi with. As a matter of fact, during your trip to Niger abandon all your preconceived notions of "personal space".
The next step out of Niamey is usually the Bush Taxi. Picture a shell of a VW van with 25 people crammed inside and screaming goats strapped to the top. If there are only 2 of you, buy the cabin for an little extra and you will have a view and a little more leg room. Sometimes someone has beaten you to it - you can try to buy them out of it if you really want it. Again, don't have expectations of convenience and you won't be bothered. Don't be in a rush to get anywhere and you'll stay sane. It's easy when you're in the hands of your PCV. You'll probably find them getting more anxious than you because they are worried about how you are handling it. Reassure them alot.
Margie's village is a 5 mile walk from Torodi (where the bush taxi dropped off). There was a hostel there and any time you can take a break at the hostel - it's a good thing. The three that I visited offered a "refuge" from the onslaught to your senses. We did the walk to Margie's village at sundown and a few days later - the walk back at sun up. When I left Texas it was still in the mid-90's, so I thought I would be semi-acclimated. Nothing can prepare you for the fact that it's HOT and there is no escaping it barring the shady spot under a tree. Don't plan on doing anything in the afternoon. This was a good time for Margie amd me to hang out and talk about whatever came up.
The villagers were so warm and friendly. They want to watch and comment on everything you do and you would never believe that you could be so entertaining! Just scratch your nose and you're a hit. Get used to being laughed at - laugh at yourself. I was not concerned with physical contact - they liked to shake my hand. It's just dirt and there is plenty of that without touching a soul. I even ate village food numerous times and that was the only time dirt bothered me (because it was in the food and quite gritty).
I didn't know how often I could expect to bathe so the fact that I got a bucket bath every night was a luxury. I loved the bucket baths after dark because you bathed under the stars and heard the village sounds and remained relatively comfy in your clean body for the remainder of the evening. Practice squatting.
The hostel in Niamey was a good launching spot for our expeditions. We snagged a ride with a Peace Corp vehicle to Kirtachi. A real coup since it's 3 hours with 2 of that on a very bumpy dirt road. The highlight of my trip was the bird survey on the Niger River with Katie and Margie. We got onto the river early in the morning and skimming along the water was the only time the temperature was comfy. (I understand it's just about to cool down a little, so soon it shouldn't be as bad) Almost the entire west side of the river all the way to Benin is a park named Park Double'Ve (that's W in Fr.) because of the W the river makes at that point. We saw Hippos, Vervet monkeys, Baboons, an unconfirmed Lion (I know it was), Bush buck and a Dueker (a very small hoofed animal). And I can't even say enough about the birds. I was a bird watcher before my trip so what a tremendous opportunity.
Boscia, the village Katie stays at when doing the survey, is nice. The most remarkable thing was the man who does prayer call. It will take your breath away! Absolutely beautiful. It's worth sticking around a couple of hours for if you're just passing through. I had my most pleasant village food experience here. Along the river people have more access to rice so I did not have to eat the traditional pot & sauce (something I didn't take a liking to..it's the equivalent of grits or cream of wheat only w/ ground millet) Anyway - a villager fixed a rice and pumpkin dish that I loved. Great Thanksgiving idea.
If you are on the boat take sunscreen - since there is no escaping the sun. Yes - I hear there are all sorts of things in the river but at some point I ceased caring and doused my straw hat in the river for relief.
We took a bush taxi back to Niamey and although we secured the cabin, the truck had no windshield. Nothing a pair of sunglasses wouldn't take care of. There are few vehicles on the road so it's not like we were eating anyone else's dust. While waiting for the taxi Katie gave me a "tattoo" using the liquid she squeezed out of a tree's fruit. It was very good. I gave her one, too and she was very gracious when she didn't laugh and wash it off immediately.
I spent my last day buying souvenirs. The PCV's know where to go and be sure you go with someone who speaks Zarma. Margie's language, Fufulde, is not spoken widely in Niamey so the 2 of us trying to get anything done alone in Niamey was pretty much a joke. Like when we tried to cash in travelers checks at the bank and they insisted on having the receipts (make a note of this - you will need them if you plan to exchange for cash). I feel like I got some outstanding deals. Bring an empty bag to bring back goodies. Or better yet, bring a bag full of goodies for your PCV, and return with it full of goodies for you.
Another tip - don't eat in the airport! It's the only place that upset my stomach. In Niamey there were numerous "Western" places to eat. I recommend the Nims (little egg roles). Oh well - Margie and Katie are doing great. They seem extremely healthy. Of course mentally there are good days and bad days. It's a difficult place to exist and I give them a tremendous amount of credit for the work that they and all the volunteers do. I loved meeting Katie. She made me feel at home (if you can believe you can in such a place) and we really hit it off. The two families must be very compatible. She and Margie send their love to their families and friends at home.
I hope your trip is a success! As my Dad would say "Roll with the punches". These are words of infinite wisdom in Niger.
For any other families this finds its way to... Greetings from Darren - what a doll! and Adrianne - She was a godsend with her house in Niamey and a smart and lovely person. Todd, her boyfriend is great. Anne & Jamela, Margies team-mates are doing well and looked super. I wish I could mention everyone I met but I was taking in alot! I enjoyed meeting them all. Hearts of gold.
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