Saturday, November 20, 2010

October 25, 2010

Barka! Greetings All!

I am healthy, happy, and working hard. I’ve been in Niger for 3 days now and last night was the first night I stayed with my host family, the family I will be living with for the nine weeks I am training. There is so much to tell, everything is so different than I imagined. The ground is sand, red/brown/orange, smooth with fine grains, while some areas are more rocky. Shrubs and small trees somehow grow sporadically on the sand.

Our training site is a gated, fenced compound with a guard. Sleeping outside here with my host family is the safest I’ve ever felt sleeping outside, and the most comfortable. I sleep under a mosquito net at night; it’s like a little sanctuary from creepy crawlers. The moon has been full and the night is full of new sounds. Large bats chirping, pigeons that sound like monkeys, donkeys, goats, and things you would not expect, like televisions; people keep their televisions on at full volume all night long. The call to prayer is around 5 am and the roosters start crowing. The best part of the night – I wake up cold! Who would have guessed? My bed is so comfortable. On top of a bed frame of sticks crossed and bound together is a thick foam pad and borrowed sheets on top. I wake up with the sun around 6 am.

Hello -> Sannu! I am learning Hausa! Hausa is the local language spoken in eastern Niger. I had my first language lesson yesterday; we learned greetings:

Ina wuni? How are you?

Lahiya lou. I am fine.

Sunana Zalika. My name is Zalika.

Guess what?

My name really is Zalika. My host mom gave me this name before I even got to their house. I’ve got to get rabies and typhoid shots and then play volleyball, so I’ll have to continue this later…

I’m trying to give y’all a good overview of what it has been like here and what Niger and the Peace Corps is like. I feel very safe here, so don’t worry about me. The community is very friendly and protective of us; they correct my pronunciation and fill in the blanks when I forget how to say things. We had a talk today called ‘Diarrhea!’ also known as Dr. D. Everyone gets it here; I haven’t yet, thank goodness. But we talked about how to stay hydrated, prevent illness, get help, all good stuff. We are learning how to filter water later today.

We are in the mini-hot season, at the end of it and about to enter the cool season. Sometimes it’s very, very hot – over 100, but now it’s windy and warm. Inside the building where we have our meals and some sessions it is very hot. When we eat Nigerien meals, we eat on mats on the floor, family style, all off of one large tray and we eat with our hands. Actually, we eat with our right hand, the left hand is unclean and you do not use it to eat, wave, greet, exchange money, nothing; it is a big Faux pas. So far the food has been delicious – a grain and either beans or meat sauce. From now on we fend for ourselves for breakfast, which means we go buy street food. Don’t worry, it’s safe because it is all fried. There is one that is made of flour and fried, basically a donut only way tastier, which you dip in sugar or a spicy spice mix (farimassa). There is also cecena – fried bean cakes – dried beans crushed to flour, mixed with stuff and fried. Also, there are millet balls, yummy.

Our fearless leader is a man named Tondi with a big smile and lots of jokes.

I’ve had lots of practice with my French, way more than anticipated because the two language trainers I have had so far both speak French, hardly any English at all. Sorry for the horrible grammar. My brains are scrambled with heat and I’ve got three languages running through my head. We played volleyball today. It was really fun; a few people can play pretty well. Tomorrow is market day; I am so excited to buy a coin purse and a tote bag, and some farimassa. We also start intensive language training tomorrow: Yiya cow! (good!)

It wouldn’t be hard-core Peace Corps without a least a few disgusting realities. To go to the bathroom, I use a hole in the ground, a latrine. Some advice for any one who ever has to use a latrine in a 3rd world country … Do Not Look In the Hole! Haha. Seriously though, hearing the chirp of a bat is bad enough without actually having to look at it. Roaches and maggots a plenty! Eww.

I got to dance with some children, who came to the training site as part of our culture training. The children here give me a lot of hope and faith, they are all smiling and are very forgiving as far as language.

In a nutshell, I am staying very busy and just trying to take it all in. I saw two camels yesterday and – this is way cool – we met the chef de canton for the village we are staying in. The chef de canton is the top person in this and the surrounding 53 villages. What was very, very cool was his bodyguard – dressed in a red headscarf and baring a huge saber. Also wearing sunglasses, this guy looked like he could chop my head off and also totally awesome. He was excited to take pictures with us. I really hope everything is going well at home – want lots and lots of letters with all the details. Be sure to add ‘Par Avion’ to any letter you send so it will go by air and not camel! Although Niger is the poorest country in the world, Nigeriens are a hospitable people who smile a lot and always great you kindly. There are many more amazing things to share, let me know what parts of my life here you want to know about in more detail and I’ll tell you!

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