Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Final Post

Well, life has thrown another curve ball my way, and instead of returning to the Peace Corps, I'm off to teach English with a private company in Japan. Surprise!!

Guess that means this is the end of SPF 500.... This blog was really designed for my PC experience in Africa, and I don't have the heart to dismantle it to start over. Instead, through the infinite power of Google, I just created a new blog to carry on this journey! If you're interested, here is the new link: Japanamania

I hope you continue to follow along this crazy adventure with me!

After all, Goodbyes are simply a different way to say Hello.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Farewell, Niger!

And one day
I woke to find
The future had no place
for me
I was unwanted in a world
that with my hands I helped build
Where once was honesty and pride
I now stand broken and alone
Just a shadow
of what I was meant to be
They say that Time will heal
The truth shall set us free
Well that depends
on what it is
that you choose to believe

- Holding On (lyrics), VNV Nation

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's over. Thanks to "security issues" (please read more here), all Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Niger had to be evacuated. In a whirlwind of confusion and tears, I left Sambera, and my kitten, behind. After only six months, Niger had become my home. I don't regret a single thing, and I will never forget the kindnesses shown to me there by friends, neighbors, and the PC/Niger Staff.

Tondi, Valerie, Ousmane, Mani, and all the LCFs/Hamdy staff - Ay sabu aran se gumo. Mi yetti. Merci.

But while this Act is over, the Show must go on. My time with Peace Corps will not end here! Once I re-enroll, I hope to be off on a new adventure somewhere else in the world, making new friends and starting new projects. Stay tuned for the next installment in this crazy tale!

As Tondi put it, this isn't Goodbye; it's just "kala tonton."

See you all soon!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Barka nda Jingar! Barka nda Giri Bareyan!*

Greetings, world, and Happy Holidays! Here I am in Dosso, having just celebrated a wonderful Christmahanakwanzika with my wonderful team-mates, and enjoying a couple days back in "civilization." Of course, the bright city lights, street traffic, and bustling market crowds keep reminding me exactly why I am so happy out in the Bush; by tomorrow, I will be very ready to head back home! But for now, I am glad for a chance to use the Internet, listen to music, take showers, and sit on a real COUCH. So many things we take for granted back in the comfortable furniture.

Recently, I've found that exercise - yoga, bike riding, lifting small children - is very therapeutic here. When the monotony of village life gets to be a bit much, and I can feel myself going somewhat insane, all it takes is a little stretching or pedaling to help clear my mind. Reading, taking photographs, and writing poetry have also become important parts of my daily/weekly routine. Finally, at the end of my first three months, I am allowing myself space to breathe! To use a term from a recent read (John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, thanks Munki!), I feel like this place has "digested" me. Niger has been slowly, patiently working its magic on me, trying to convince me to follow a more local pace of life. Thus far, I had resisted, instead forcing myself to run at 110% all the time until I began to feel somewhat burned out. And when I reached that point of being stressed, frustrated with myself, exhausted, even homesick, Niger was waiting for me, calmly ready to accept me into the flow of village life. Instead of hours, minutes, seconds, the day runs on the Sun's time; every once in a while, a call to prayer will sound out, reminding me that the day is, in fact, passing. And then night falls, the stars come out of hiding, and the whole village falls asleep. It's a familiar cycle, and for someone accustomed to busy schedules and constant motion, it can (eventually) be very cathartic. There's a lot to be said for the simple life!

With that in mind, most of the pictures I've got to share this time are mostly laid-back, aesthetically pleasing, or just plain fun. No work here! So enjoy the beauty of some African adventures...and, as always, my cat.

A gorgeous African sunset, as seen from my yard.

I try to encourage art whenever possible in Sambera's youth. So when they drew a portrait of me in the sand...I didn't have the heart to point out that "floating" ear.

The usual suspects at my house, playing a dancing game. I love the sense of motion in this photo! (There is an accompanying video, if I ever have the time to upload it)

Cold Season sunrise; one of my favorite parts of morning bike rides in the bush!

Russia, doing her version of lazy yoga. Have you ever seen a more content animal?!

So, as you can see, life here is coming along just fine! No giraffes yet, but I am ever hopeful. Next month, keep on the lookout for more frequent blogging as I will be in the Niamey-ish area for more training! As always, thank you all for the stream of emails and letters; the support is what keeps me going! Take care, and Barka nda Jingar! Barka nda Giri Bareyan! ("Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!")

Kala tonton,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Little Existential Food for Thought....

While sitting inside my mud hut the other day, I came across this passage in the book The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison. It caught my attention, and after reading over it several times, I realized that it has described (in far more eloquent words) exactly the sense of humbleness I feel when gazing out at the plains of the Sahelien bush. Here's the passage:

"Surely...the great mountains of the world would serve as a present remedy if man did but know it against our modern discontent and ambitions. In the hills is wisdom's fount. They are deep in time. They know the sun and the wind, the lightning's fiery feet, the frost that shattereth, the rain that cloudeth, the snow that putteth about their nakedness a coverlet softer than a fine lawn: which in their large philosophy question not whether it be a bridal sheet or a shroud, hath not this unpolicied calm his justification ever in the coming year, and is it not instance to laugh our carefulness out of fashion? of us, little children of the dust, children of a day, who with so many burdens do burden us with taking thought, and with fears and desires and devious schemings of the mind, so that we wax old before our time and grow weary ere the brief day be spent and one reaping-hook gather us home at last for all our pains." - Lord Gro, Chapter XXV of The Worm Ouroboros

In short, this passage begs the question, Why should we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the mundane? Up against the everlasting beauty of this world we live in, what do our trivial, day-to-day problems really matter? So what if I couldn't find bread at the market this week? So what if my neighbor's toddler pooped on my bed? Tomorrow is always another dawn, and all things have their due course. Enjoy this moment while we can, for it will never come again.

Unless, of course, you are a Time Agent or own a Tardis, in which case a little temporal displacement never hurt anyone.... ;)

'Til next time,

Poisson, Peuls, and Parasites, Oh My!

Greetings, friends! Here's an unexpectedly early post for this month, thanks to the little Giardia bugs currently making themselves at home in my GI tract. I've come in to the regional capital for treatment, and between swallowing antibiotics and sleeping for 13 hours at a time, I figured I might as well make use of the Internet here to connect with the rest of the world.

Since my Thanksgiving update, I've already had some fun adventures back at post. Last Wednesday, I traveled 40 km (via open-back cargo truck) to the large market town of Ouna, right along the Niger river. It was an absolutely breathtaking place, where one can buy a variety of exotic goods, including fresh fish, "lemu hari" (a citrus-ginger juice), and Fulani jewelry and garb. I also picked up a beautiful "tangara" mat for decorating my mud house, which is gradually being transformed into a cozy home. All in all, my third month was off to a good start. Hard to believe it's already December!

Speaking of which, I imagine that the weather back home must be starting to get cold. Some of you may already be seeing snow, or at least feeling the freezing temps that mark the onset of Winter. For me, this Holiday Season is going to be quite different: 90-degree days, not a hint of rain in the sky, and no Christmas trees or festive decorations to mark the time of year (Niger is, after all, a 99% Muslim country). But as we prepare to celebrate resourcefully as a team here in Dosso, I will always be thinking about my friends and family back home, and wishing you all a wonderful season of shopping and snow-filled streets. Drink an extra hot, marshmallow cocoa for me this year!

That's all I have for updates today. Until the end of December, take care, and enjoy a few new pictures from the Nigerien bush!

Kala tonton,

Showing of my PC pride with henna for the Tabaski celebration day.

Russia keeping guard at the door, protecting me from the neighbor's wandering chickens. She's getting so big!

It's all "Home Sweet Home" here in the bush!

A view of the Niger river from Ouna, a beautiful sight :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

N'dunya Borey ga ba Suuru

Hard to believe that November has already come and gone, marking the passing of my fifth month in Niger. While Pre-Service Training seemed to take a lifetime in itself, these past two months in my village home have flown by much more quickly. Most days, I keep busy between working at my Mairie (local government offices) and wandering around town chatting with the villagers. I have met many genuinely wonderful people here, and seen some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the country. Slowly slowly I am picking up new languages (Fulfulde and a little Hausa), and in turn am teaching English at my weekly club meetings. And, most exciting, I am mentally preparing myself to take on future projects, which will hopefully involve fixing the village water pumps and painting murals with the school children. Every day is a new adventure!

That being said, these first three months at post are undoubtedly the most challenging in any Volunteer's career. At times, the stress of adapting to a completely new way of life can be overwhelming; and despite the number of people constantly around me, it can still feel isolating to be the only American for many a mile. Yet I've come to find that after a long, exhausting day of being an "Annasara" celebrity, the best cure comes from gazing up at the night sky, and taking in the sight of millions of stars unmarred by harsh city lights and pollution. The sheer beauty of this place is enough to refresh my spirit and motivation for doing this tough (but rewarding) job.

Above all, the best advice I have come to learn in this country is about having patience. Niger wasn't built in a day, bush taxis never manage to leave on time, and no matter how far off it seems, tomorrow will always dawn anew. As my favorite Zarma proverb goes, "N'dunya borey ga ba suuru" - To live in the world requires patience.* A good piece of advice for us all, I think :)

(*literal translation is something along the lines of "The people of the world like patience")

And now, as proof of my trying to make the most of every moment here, I am excited to share some new photos from my little slice of the Sahel~

A real, live chameleon, hanging out near my neighbor's house. Watch out, they bite!

Two friendly Nigerien dogs - good protection for bush walks.

The local Mairie, where I have my own office.

A cow cart, about to take these kids out to harvest millet. Aahhh, they should be in school!

Team Dosso's Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, mashed potatoes, greenbean casserole, banana bread, candied yams, and PIE! So much deliciousness!

Thanks, as always, for the letters and words of encouragement. Take care back home~
Kala tonton,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reflections on my First Month at Post

One month has passed, and already the long, hard days of pre-service training seem a lifetime away. I have spent over 30 days as an official Volunteer now, living and working in my new village home, and enjoying the freedoms of being independent. My Zarma language skills improve a little more every day, while the villagers seem to be slowly adapting to my presence (although being the only Westerner for 30km around still marks me as something of a celebrity!). I have a new kitten (named Russia, or "Rousse"), have been adopted into my neighbor's family, and am learning how to prepare some of the tastier Nigerien dishes. So far, so good.

Time here, I've noticed, is a very intangible thing. It is a place where most people rely on the prayer calls instead of clocks, and where cool mornings can fly by while the heat of the afternoon seems unlikely to ever end. A day can seem short or long depending on the temperature. An entire lifetime can pass in just four short months. Every day here is packed full of new things to learn, experiences to be had, chances to grow; I can only imagine how much I will have changed by the end of two years! It will be a very, very long time...but I know it will also go too fast.

Anyway, today I make my return trip back to my village to hammer out my second month. I'm looking forward to getting home, seeing my neighbors, and starting an art class at the primary school. Please keep writing letters and emails, it is always wonderful to hear from America! Until next time, when I'm in for a Thanksgiving feast, enjoy some pictures~!

Kala hanfo,

Beautiful blue skies over Sambera! Doesn't look like it's 105 degrees, does it??

A scene from my hand-washing event at the primary school. The kids were great!

My kitten, Russia :3

CAMELS IN SAMBERA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Halloween with Team Dosso! We rock!