Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Senegal Drama

This is from July:
I have been back for a while, am about to go on my second vacation (Ghana!!) and didn’t finished this vacation update until now. The main events since vacation are that the Zinder team hosted an all Niger volunteer conference with 54 volunteers in our hostel. A lot of volunteers made presentations and I co presented on murals. In other news, it’s been raining and my villagers have been going out to the fields and I toured the fields with my friend Murza. Everyone farms, even old ladies, and they all ask me when I’m going to go or hire someone to do a field for me. I keep telling my villagers that I’m planting a garden, which I only did a week before I left my village. The moringa project, health murals and textbooks project are all progressing with some hiccups but generally pretty well. Rainy season means bug season and I am currently covered in bites because I thought hiding in my mosquito net without slathering DEET all over me would be enough. Not so, and therefore it’s DEET for me until October.
I’m writing an account of my trip through Bamako, Mali to Senegal in Ancient Greek Comedy form [a la Audrey because I don’t actually know anything about Ancient Greek Comedy] with graphic novel inserts. Also please keep in mind that I’m translating most of the conversations from French via a fuzzy memory and I took artistic liberties even with some of the stuff I remembered okay. Furthermore, apologies are in order because this has accidentally turned into a Brobdingnagian behemoth and also I am a terrible dialogue writer and I should probably be shot for even thinking of putting this in play/graphic novel form. Cheers, ~aj

Lo! Here is a white girl traveling across Africa alone.
How she feels vulnerable and adventurous so far from home.
She travels the sky with lux Ethiopian like the Nubian princes
But outside the airport with just French, no local language, she winces.
What are you doing here in Bamako on your own?
I am going to Senegal to meet my Austrian friend Felizitas.
I must stay over night in Bamako because Africa doesn’t have a lot of flights.
What do you think of Mali?
There is the Malian landscape, dessert with bluffs and a river winding through, much like Niger, just as expected. Here is the city Bamako, dusty, sprawling across the river basin. The airport is bigger than Niamey’s, but then, there aren’t many capital city airports that are smaller.
Wow Mali has air force jets like Americans, look at those two big black cargo plains!
Those are American air force. Remember hearing about the training that American soldiers have begun doing in the Sahara dessert. Now on your way out of Mali you see the soldiers on the other side of the lounge and you smell the delicious buffet they are eating.
I want to experience local cuisine. I want to experience local cuisine. I want to experience local cuisine …
What will you do in your 20 hours of Bamako?
I will find this elusive PC bureau and I will visit the national museum. Lo here is the building, after much trouble of searching! Wow this bureau is gorgeous. Nothing like the Niger bureau, which is shabby in comparison. And look at this nicely designed though modest national art museum. What will I see here?
You will see a large showing of Mali’s famous indigo dying. You will see Mali’s archeological treasures. And look around the corner. What is here?
It’s the Chi Wara antelope headdresses! These are studied in every world art history course and are famous! These were my favorite pieces when I took that course. Imagine, wandering through a dusty West African museum and, with no knowledge of the spectacular treasure it contains, stumbling across this. And here I am standing on the same soil as the culture that produced these! It is like meeting de Vinci for the first time.
A pilgrimage now well complete
But it is time your friend to meet

Act I
Scene I: Arrival. See Graphic Novel insert 1.

Scene II: [Setting: Felizitas, Audrey and Mamichou greet the family sitting on plastic lawn chairs on the side walk outside and enter the house. The room is nicely furnished with tile floors and concrete painted walls and a door going to the kitchen and one to the interior rooms. Felizitas and Audrey put their things in a room that has been given to them for their stay. Then they sit in the living room with the family.
Mamichou: Is the room okay?]
Felizitas: The room is great. Thanks a lot.
[enter Ramatou *I‘ve forgotten her name, but I‘m gong to call her Ramatou]
Ramatou: Hi I’m Ramatou. You must be the guests.
Felizitas: Yeah, I’m a student at St. Louis University. I’m your friend’s neighbor in the university dorms. This is Audrey, she works in Niger.
Ramatou: Wow, what is Niger like?
Audrey: It’s very hot! And there aren’t streets like here. And the carts that are pulled by horses here are pulled by cows and donkeys there.
Mamichou: Are you hungry?
Felizitas: No I’m not really hungry. Are you?
Audrey: I could eat.. But only if there are leftovers from lunch. Don’t cook anything for me.
Mamichou: I’ll go get it. Do you want to take a shower?
Felizitas: Yeah I’d like to.
Audrey: Um I’ll take one later tonight. [Aside] Yikes I’m gonna be exposed already as a mangy, stinky slob. But it’s so cold here, it must be only 80 degrees and I don’t think I’m really all that smelly yet..
[exit Felizitas and Mamichou, enter Ali]
Ali: Hi I’m Ali.
Audrey: Hi I’m Audrey.
Ali: Do you wana look at pictures?
Audrey: Sure.
[Ali goes to large armoire and takes out two large photo albums and two small ones]
Ali: Here, this is Ramatou’s wedding.
Ramatou: So what do you do in Niger?
Audrey: I work in education. I work with my middle school doing English clubs, and I’ve painted a few murals at the health center. What do you do?
Ramatou: I’m a secretary at the university.
[enter Felizitas]
Felizitas: Oh these are so pretty.
[Ali goes to the TV and starts playing with the DVD player. He puts on a digital photo slide show and starts playing music]
Ali: This is my favorite song. [Singing:] We are the woooorld. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day So let's start giving …
[enter Mamichou with a large platter of food. She covers coffee table with table cloth and sets out silverware. They begin eating from the communal platter.]
Mamichou: Is it good?
Audrey: It’s so good!
Mamichou: What’s the food like in Niger?
Audrey: It’s rice or millet pudding with sauce over it. Like this, only a lot more oil and a lot less veggies and meat.
Mamichou: Have you had Jibojen yet?
Audrey: No what’s that?
Felizitas: It’s one of the national dishes of Senegal. You’ll eat it sometime this week. Jibo means rice and djen means with fish.
Ali: And there’s also Massa and Yassa.
Felizitas: Massa is a sauce made of peanut powder and veggies and meat and yassa is another type of sauce with veggies and meat.
Mamichou: Eat more!
Audrey: I think I’m done.
Felizitas: Yeah me too.
Mamichou: You should eat more.
Audrey: Well.. Okay maybe a little more.
Felizitas: man Audrey you can eat!
Audrey: [aside] Dang it, now I’m gonna be exposed as the giant food disposal system that I am! Felizitas is so dainty and I am two left feet with a bottomless pit on top. [to Felizitas] Yeahh.. I can shovel it in pretty well..
Mamichou: So after, you guys can rest and then we should check out this neighborhood block party down the street. Those are fun! It’s a tent set up with mats in front and a band plays Senegalese music and we can dance or just listen.
Felizitas: That sounds good
Audrey: Thanks for the hospitality, this is really nice.

SceneIII: [Dakar’s street market, at a shoe stall in front of a touristy factory.]
Felizitas: I don’t know. Are these shoes okay looking?
Audrey: Yeah, but don’t trust my fashion sense. How much do they want for them?
Felizitas: I don’t know yet.
Audrey: I’m going to go into that store right there and look around.
[Audrey enters store and begins fending off sales people.]
Sales person: Look over here, this is pretty and it’s a good price!
Audrey: No I’m just looking.
SP: That bag you’re looking at is just 8000CFA, very pretty, very high quality.
Audrey: Okay well I’m just looking for now.
SP: Well I’ll hang on to it and you can look for more things you like. The price comes down if you buy a lot of things!
Audrey: No really, I’m just looking, 8000CFA is way too expensive anyway.
SP: Just keep looking and we’ll talk prices after. You like those slippers? Which ones, I’ll hang on to them. How about this dress? Do you like this?
Audrey: No I really don’t like that dress.
SP: What’s your name?
Audrey: In Africa, I’m Fati.
SP: Fati is the name of my mom! You are my mom! What are you looking for? Do you like this towel?
Audrey: No I don’t. How much is this suit?
SP: Cheap! Only 10,000CFA, here give it to me I’ll put it in the pile. Come look over here at these things.
Audrey: I really don’t think I’m going to buy anything. [Enter Felizitas.] Felizitas! Are you looking around too? [lower voice.] He’s crazy!
Felizitas: Yeah…
SP: Come look upstairs, let me show you the factory. This is a factory for handicapped people. We’re very well known. Let me show you special hand dyed, hand woven tapestries. My friend here makes these! They’re very high quality and you can only get them here.
Audrey: [Aside.] Yeah right this is a factory for handicapped workers, and these woven things are pretty similar to the ones made in Mali and Niger… Gotta give him credit for his sales pitch, he knows how to work a tourist. But not me: -I- am no tourist.
SP: How bout this one? Hey bring out all of those on the wall. What would you like to see? This?
Audrey: No, I really don’t have enough money for these, I don’t want them.
SP: I can give you a good price! How much do you have? 7000CFA! It’s a good price!
Audrey: No I really don’t have 7000CFA. [Walking out.]
SP: Okay let me show you these batiks. They’re very pretty arent they?
Audrey: No they make lots of batiks in Niger, where I live.
SP: Okay lets see this room then. See anything you like here?
Audrey: Do you have this shirt in a smaller size?
SP: No that shirt is one size fits all. It’s the style. It’ll look very good on you. Try it!
Audrey: No really that’s too big. I don’t like it. I’m ready to go.
SP: Well, let’s sit down and talk about prices then. Over here, make yourself comfortable.
Audrey: Really I don’t think I can buy all that. I don’t have very much money.
SP: How much will you pay?
Audrey: For that only 3000CFA, and that only 4000.
SP: No that’s not good. These are very high quality. The fabric colors wont run when you wash them in the machine! It’s good stuff.
Audrey: No really, that is the same as the fabric I can find in Niger, and there it’s half what you are asking for. Look at my bag, this is the same fabric and it’s from Niger and I didn’t pay more than 3000CFA for it.
SP: No that fabric is cheap. If you wash it in the machine it will run. This fabric is very high quality.
Audrey: No it’s the exact same and besides I wash by hand! I wont pay more than 3000CFA
SP: How much for all of this?
Audrey: I dunno…. 15,000 CFA?
SP: No! This is worth 35,000CFA!
[Enter Felizitas and Mamichou. Mamichou sits and tries to bargain in Wolof for Audrey. It doesn‘t look to Audrey like Mamichou is getting much head way.]
SP: Miss, how much will you give, above 20,000CFA?
Audrey: No only 20,000CFA.
SP: No really how much above 20,000CFA?
Audrey: Hhhhh. 23,000
SP: 25,000. It’s good. I’ll sell it for 25,000
Audrey: Hhhhhhh. Okay.
[Audrey pays and while Felizitas is bargaining for her items, Audrey gets suckered into one more purchase, the weaving in the other room. Audrey, Felizitas and Mamichou walk out of the factory to see the rest of the market]
Audrey: Man we got schooled back there, Felizitas!
Mamichou: [Rolling eyes] Next time, I do the bargaining.
Audrey: Yeah… Oh look! Can we go over there?
Felizitas: What?
Audrey: Yeah are you hungry? Just a snack? It’s Ali Baba Snack Bar! It’s in my guide book so I wanna check it out. And I’m a lil hungry.
Felizitas: We just ate like an hour ago.
Audrey: I know. Just a little bite, yeah? My treat!

Scene IV: [Mamichou, Ali, Audrey and Felizitas descend on to the docks of Gorée Island from the ferry to the sound of a drumming group. On the small beach there are kids splashing in the waves and parents sipping drinks at the cafés. The town is composed of well kept up 18th century, brick, two and three story buildings painted in bright tropical colors with tropical flowering bushes spilling out onto the cobblestone streets. It is too picturesque to be the scene of so much horror. The group wanders down the narrow streets until they come to a museum. They buy tickets and go in.]
Felizitas: This is the slave museum. It’s the building where slaves were kept before they went to the Americas.
Audrey: It’s really neat architecture.
Felizitas: Yeah. Look at this, this is the door that they left through. It was in a really famous film that you have to see.
[Enter Docent.]
Docent: Please listen up everybody. We’re gonna get started. First, thank you for coming to visit Ile de Goree and the slave museum.
This house was built in1776 by the Dutch. It was last slave house built in Goree. The 1st slave house dates to 1536 built by the Portuguese.
These rooms in front of you were cells reserved for the men. Families were split up, men from women, women from children. These cells are 2 and a half meters squared and housed 15-20 people with their backs against the wall. They were chained from their neck and wrists.
Occupants were let out to relieve themselves once a day and therefore conditions in the slave house were so revolting that it’s no surprise that Goree’s first pest endemic, in 1779, originated in these cells.
This small house contained between 150 to 200 slaves-men- women-children who had to wait for very long periods, almost three months before being carried away.
Their departure to the Americas also depended on the buyers; perhaps the father went to Louisiana in the USA, the mother headed for Brazil or Cuba, the child to Haiti or the West Indies. The separation was total.
And this is where children were stored. The mortality rate was obviously the highest in the house.
Young girls were kept separate from the other groups because their virginity might give their captors a higher price. Some of them wouldn’t be saved for the auction block but would be used in this house. If they didn’t all protest, you can’t blame them; it was that or death.
The second floor was used for trader’s quarters.
Why did they use Gorée Island? The harbor is good and sheltered somewhat. But mainly, there were not very many escapees from the island because most Africans couldn’t swim and those who could would be eaten by sharks. That might sound fictional, but in the 18th century there were a lot of sharks around this island because sick and dead people were thrown into the water.
There were many ports from which slaves were taken from Africa and Gorée isn’t the most important numbers wise. There were others in Senegal, in the Gambia, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Congo, South Africa and countries in East Africa.
After all this, who is to blame for Africa’s struggles to stabilize and develop? Certainly the West deserves much of the blame having torn crops, minerals and flesh from this land. But it has been 50 years since many African countries gained independence. An entire African generation has grown up and become middle aged in freedom. And still our society lets its youth sit idly, regressing. Our history may not have been in our control but our future is. So from your visit to Gorée Island, I hope you take enjoyment, but more importantly I hope you take away learning- I hope now you know more about the past, but that you think more about the future. Thank you.

*much of the speech I got from the UNESCO Goree site (because I wasn’t taking attentive notes in French while on vacation) here is the address, it has some great pictures:

Scene V: Sunday see graphic novel insert 2.

Scene VI: Monday -Fatayas! Walk with Ali
A: Are you hungry?
F: No, didn’t we just eat like an hour ago?
A: Um yeah. But can we find a snack around here somewhere?
F: Oh no you’re hungry again! Okay here’s a fataya stand. Do you eat street food?
A: Are you kidding? All the time. What’s a fataya?
F: It’s a pastry stuffed with things like a meat sauce and then fried. It’s the samething you had at Ali Baba’s only these are smaller.
A: Hmm okay I’ll try it anyway.
F: Don’t they have these in Niger?
A: No I haven’t ever seen them.
F: Do you want sauce?
A: Yeah [takes fatayas] Oh my god these are amazing. Man I should introduce these to Niger.. You can get these all over around here?
F: Yup.
*Un theatrical side note: I asked for fatayas everywhere I went after this so much that at one point Felizitas forbade me from eating anymore fatayas.
[later in Mamichou and Ali’s house]
Audrey: Hey Felizitas is taking a nap, Im going to go walk around the neighborhood.
The Mother: Oh no you can’t go out by yourself, you’ll get lost!
Ay: No no, I’ll be okay.
Ali: I’ll go with you. Wait for me.
Ay: Well okay.
Ali: Where do you wanna go? D’you wanna go to the market?
Ay: There’s a market close by? Yeah let’s go there.
Ali: It starts here. What are you looking for?
Ay: I dunno, not anything really. Do we need anything for dinner?
Ali: D’you wanna make a Senegalese salad?
Ay: Sure, but you’ll have to teach me. I don’t know what a Senegalese salad is. What do we need for it.
Ali: Lots of veggies. Here’s the lettuce. It’s 100CFA.
Ay: Alright
Ali: What else do you like? I think we have onions at home. We definitely need mint..
Ay: I like all vegetables, the more the better.
Ali: Alright here are carrots and tomatoes. She’s not giving me a good price on the tomatoes, let’s go over here. And she’s got a bunch of stuff.
Okay we have carrots and tomatoes and cucumbers. I think we’re good.
Ay: Is there a pastry shop near by?
Ali: Yup it’s down this street. If you look down here you can see the school Ramatou works at and if you keep walking on this street you get to my school.
Ay: Do you walk to school?
Ali: Yup.
Ay: Do you come home for lunch or do you eat there?
Ali: I come home. Oh no we forgot limes! Here’s a stand with limes, lets stop and get some.
Ay: Okay
Ali: They’re 200CFA.
Ay: Here you go.
Ali: Okay now we have everything and there is the pastry shop
Ay: Oh man, it’s a Brioche Dorée! I didn’t know you had one of these so close! What does your family like to eat from here, I’d like to get us some small dessert.
Ali: Ooooo This bread here.
Ay: Okay I’d like one of these breads and two pain au chocolats. [to Ali:] For breakfast tomorrow when Felizitas and I are on the bus. Okay let’s go back before it gets dark.
Ali: Thank you! [Ali jabbers on about something to do with Muhammad and Islamic history which sounds suspiciously inaccurate to Audrey. When the house is in view, only just barely because it‘s already night:] Oh no we forgot mint! We have to go to a stand down this street to get some. There is absolutely no way we can make this salad without mint!

Act II
Scene I: At Gite Somethingorother
Audrey: So we got in our room and now we need to find out how to get running water and lunch.
Felizitas: And we need to find out about tours so we can see the animals. So that guy drinking over there is the owner.
A: Oh great.
F: And I was listening to those English guys’ conversation and I think they’re doing a tour later that maybe we can get in on. Maybe you could talk to them?
A: Okay.
[enter Max the local Senegalese guide]
Max: Do either of you speak English? I’m supposed to take those guys on a tour tonight and I need to tell them some things, but I don’t speak enough English and they don’t speak enough French.
F: Yeah especially her.
M: Would you mind translating a little?
A: Sure.
F: Hey do you think we could join the tour?
M: Probably, but you’ll have to ask them, we’re taking their SUV.
F: Okay, also can we get lunch here even tho it’s almost 3?
M: Nah the cook’s gone and the owner doesn’t want to serve anything. But you can come to my house, I always cook for people on all day expeditions. I’m very good. I can make omelets or fish sandwich or spam sandwich, whatever you want.
A: Oh man Felizitas, I don’t know about you but that spam sandwich sounds amazing!
F: We’ll figure it out. What about the water situation? Why is there no running water right now?
M: Oh, the electricity’s not on. This place runs on a generator and the owner doesn’t like to turn it on till almost dark.
F: Guess we’ll be dirty and not picky eaters today. Why don’t you go help translate and ask those guys if we can join them?
A: Kaydoke. [To British guys:] Hi, sooo, this guy says he’s taking y’all on a tour later and he wanted to make sure you knew about some stuff but that he doesn’t speak English enough.
Uncle English Guy: Yeah, well that’s great!
[I actually can’t remember what Max needed to tell them, I think confirming what they wanted to see and the time. But that’s boring, so skip to..]
A: So my friend and I were wondering if it’d be possible to jump into the tour and split the price with you guys.
UBG: Yeah, well we’ll have to take some stuff out of the jeep cuz we‘re going around in our car, but yeah no problem. See you then.
A: Kay thanks.
[lunch at Max’s was as modest as it sounds, and also boring so skip to the tour:]
F: Oh these mangroves are so neat! And maybe we’ll see monkeys!
A: Monkeys! No way. We have to see monkeys. We absolutely cannot leave without seeing monkeys.
Nephew British Guy: You haven’t seen monkeys yet? Oh they’re all over around here. You’ll definitely see them before you leave.
Max: Monkey footprints here.
A: Ahhh! Cool, wow, awesome! What are these prints?
M: Warthog. Hey tell them that this white powder is where they have collected all the seashells around and piled them up on a stack of logs and burned them to get this powder that is used for making cement or plaster. And here we have my friend who runs this garden. He speaks English.
Gardener: Hi welcome. I work as an agent for this environmental tourism project. We want to build this site into a functioning organic garden area in a natural wildlife park to attract tourists who like seeing “Green” solutions. That’s ecotourism. Let’s walk down and see the area. So here is a natural spring. [It was gorgeous.] And here’s a papaya tree. There was a fruit here yesterday that I thought ‘tomorrow that will be ready to eat and it will be delicious’. But during the night a monkey came along and also thought it was ready to eat and look at it here on the ground now all eaten. That monkey stole my papaya. So here we are at some gardens that these local women take care of. They were built like this in order to take advantage of rainfall. So the rest is just to show you an area where we’ll see lot’s of birds and some toads and things. And that’s it.
[Later back at the resort Audrey and the English Nephew Guy playing table tennis:]
A: I’m really horrible at this game, so sorry if you loose and eye.
ENG: Oh no, that’s no problem. I’m not too good at it myself.
A: So what are you and your uncle doing in Africa?
ENG: Well my uncle decided to drive around Africa and invited me to come along, and I was working in construction and didn’t really know what I wanted to do for future career and so I thought the offer was too good to pass up. We were in Mauritania and that was really pretty, and tomorrow we’re going to the Gambia and then across to Ghana and Togo and Benin and Burkina Faso and Mali. In Burkina, we’re meeting up with my mum, cuz my uncle and she grew up there and they wanta visit it. So she’ll be with us for about 2 weeks. And then, yeah, we’ll make our way down south to South Africa and we’ll take about a year.
A: Wow a whole year of nothing but traveling! Are you going to come back up?
ENG: Well we’ll see. That depends on if we feel like it and if it doesn’t cost too much.
A: I watched some episodes of a TV show this French couple made of their trip from South Africa to the holy land which they walked entirely on foot -except for one stretch with camels=over 2 years! You African explorers, man I couldn’t do it, but it must be so interesting.
ENG: Yeah well on foot I couldn’t do that either. But its pretty cool. My uncle’s traveled here a lot and I’ve gone on a few of his trips to some of the big game parks. It is a really cool place to travel.
Felizitas: Oh look, what’s that animal?
ENG: It’s that giant owl I told you came to the water hole last night! Let’s go look.

SceneII: Monkeys! See graphic novel insert 3.

Scene III: Monolyths, see graphic novel insert 4.

Scene I: Walking in downtown St Louis
Audrey: I’m hungry now, where should we eat?
Felizitas: Always hungry. I was thinking at this restaurant called Fast Food right up here. It’s not great but its okay and it is *fast* food. Since you liked Ali Baba, I figure you’ll probly like this. And we’ll go by a bookstore we can stop in on the way.
A: Cool, but I think I’ll order before I look in the bookstore. I think it’s funny that you are taken aback seeing livestock on your campus. I mean in the western context its weird, but man I’m so desensitized, I would have culture shock if there weren’t random cows lying around outside my door.
F: It’s so weird! They wander by the window when we’re having class!
A: Yeah I remember how that would have seemed surreal to me, but it’s just too ordinary now. OMG look at that menu. What am I going to order? This is like 3times better than a fast food place in America. Except for Chipotle. Ohhh they have fatayas!!
F: [rolls eyes]
A: Yes that is what I’ll have. A fataya. So why are there so many students who take German at this university?
F: My university and the one here have a partnership so a lot of exchange students go between the two. I’m gonna get the burger. Lets go sit down.
A: [starts shuffling contents of bag]
F: What are you doing?
A: Putting my sea shells into a plastic bag so they arent all over the place.
F: That’s smart.
A: Don’t want them to break, they’re my travel present for my villagers since I think they’re pretty rare in a land locked dessert where not even enough food is imported. [Side note from the then future: all the women I gave those sea shells asked me if it was medicine or decoration. Sometimes I think life in my village is completely normal life for me, and then my villagers ask me if a sea shell is medicine. And then I remember it is not my normal life because I have in fact time traveled to the 15th century. But all my friends loved the seashells.] The beach was so pretty, even though it was overcast and there’s a lot of trash on the sand. I could go back there. [And we did!]
F: Yeah I used to go there all the time, even skipping classes, which is alright because we don’t even all the time have classes anyway. In one of my classes the teacher hasn’t bothered to show up except for twice- all semester!
A: That is weird to me. I can’t believe that. How does Africa intend to make progress if it doesn’t even intend to teach it’s university students.
F: Life here is just different. …Food!
A: Food! …OMG this fataya is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten at a fast food restaurant!! Except for Chipotle. AHHHHHH!
F: [looks dismayed]
A: This is my new favorite restaurant. I wish I could eat here every other day.
F: It’s so much like those awful places we have back home!
A: YESSSS! Those beautiful awful places!
F: I don’t get it. Do you like these places or not?
A: In the States, I snobbishly dislike fast food, but I’ve been living in Niger for the past 8 months where fast food is fried millet batter with ground up hot pepper. This is almost home, this is almost heaven after so long in Niger!
F: Well I’m glad you’re happy.
A: Hey look what they put on TV!
F: That’s traditional Senegalese wrestling.
A: No it must be West African. In Niger it’s called Kokowa. I didn’t know they did it outside of Niger.
F: they just had a big national competition.
A: Yeah in Niger too! They hosted it in Zinder, I watched it on TV cuz I had amoebas when I was in town. Wow. Okay wow, that was a great fataya. I almost could eat another.
F: [bug eyed] I envy you. Shall we go?
A: Lets.
F: Taxi!
A: I haven’t seen too many of those public transport vans that were in Simplice’s film we saw last night. [Simplice is Felizitas’ boyfriend from Burkina Faso who is a film grad student.]
F: They’re mostly in Dakar, I’m surprised you didn’t notice them. You’ll see them when we go back.
A: You know what they look like? Those fishing boats all around here, with the bright colors and designs on the sides. I’ll bet the fishing boat painting tradition got reclaimed in the van painting when they started adopting vans for public transport.
F: Maybe. They paint those vans as a matter of pride and also advertising. Since they break down all the time, the paint job tells you how well off each driver is; the more money he can put into the paint job, the more money he can put into repairs.
A: Is that going to be explained in the introduction that Simplice hadn’t finished yet?
F: Probly.
A: I wish I could see it all finished, and have a copy to show people. It was sooo good, and I’ve been to a couple of film festivals, were they show even more experienced filmmakers’ work. His thing was really better than a lot of those.
F: Yeah he’s really talented. Here we are. So you should watch one or two of the movies in Simplices ‘African Masterpieces’ film collection so that I can give him back those DVDs. And then maybe if we feel like it we’ll go to this dance on campus.
[Notes: We got up at 2 am to walk over to the dance and then decided not to go in. The films I watched are the following: Le Mandat, La Noire de…, Le Wazzo Polygame Le Retour d‘un Aventurier-witch was filmed in Niger and if you watch it, what you see in this 1967 film is pretty much what Niger looks like today only there are more burqas now. Simplice’s documentary was on the life of a public transport van and, as I learned from this film, they are super interesting. A lot of them date from the 1950s and were hand me downed from America to Africa in like the 80s maybe? Here they are rewelded and repainted over and over (just like the bush taxis that I take in Niger and that are common all over Africa). The engines, I can’t possibly imagine, have more than 3 original pieces anymore. Many parts of the car are practically hanging off the frame. Sometimes the frame is hanging off the frame. But the vans run. And run and run. Somehow. The documentary was very silent with little dialogue and no narration except the part in the beginning that Simplice hadn’t put in then. It was kind of like a poem with its clearness of subject but lack of explanatory language. I will definitely be interested in following this African filmmaker’s career.]

Scene II: Saint Louis, see graphic novel insert 5.

Scene III:
Okay guys we’re almost there. Greetings on your sticking in there. I’ve become bored of this format, which I originally decided to use because I had so many interesting conversations which I didn‘t know how to relate in my normal way, but most of those probably didn’t even make it in here. And you, by now, have gotten tired of this botched and silly format as well. So here’s my concession for your continued attention: this bit I’m gonna talk about in my normal, kinda rambly way.
On Sunday Felizitas and I went to the market where I bought a really great large wrap that I subsequently and lamentably lost in Niger on my return to Niger, and then the beach. Afterward we met Felizitas’ American friend Nathan. We went to a bar where I had a Guinness for the first time in more than a year and then a Vietnamese restaurant which was quite good. On our way in we met an irate Spanish mother who told us the owner was crazy. We passed her and found out from the crazy lady that this mother had let her monster children run wild in the restaurant, turning over tables and such, and then proceeded to take issue with the crazy lady’s request that she get her kids under control or leave.
There, that wasn’t so bad huh? Two more little tiny sections to go…

Scene IV. Back to Dakar, see graphic novel insert 6.

Chorus: So what are you going to do with your weird 20 hours in Bamako on your flight back?
Audrey: 1st I’m going to the PC bureau to use the computer and try to root up some American who wants to go with a random traveler on a random Tuesday night to a music club since the music has the reputation of being the best in West Africa.
Chorus: You wont find anyone to go with you
Audrey: Ah well. Then I’ll go to this store that the travel guide says is the best in Bamako.
Chorus: Nope. The nice PCV in the bureau has never heard of it. And your book is 5 years out of date. But she is recommending Indigo, which is also highly recommended in your book.
Audrey: Yeah okay. I’ll go there and I’ll wander all around downtown Bamako looking for it. Ah this is expensive stuff, but some of it’s pretty cool. I’ll make one purchase of this reasonable and very unique thing which will remain unnamed on purpose.
Chorus: And how about that section of the Bamako market that the PCV told you about?
I’ll try to find it, but I’ve wandered this way and that and I’m not even sure I can recognize a market in Mali. This might be it, but the shops are so well built… and I don’t know where the artisan section would be, and ah, here is my street. I’m back to the catholic mission hostel I’m staying in and It‘s almost dark. I’m going to sit and journal and listen to the pretty choir practice. Then go to bed so I can leave really early in the morning for Niger.

Monday, January 17, 2011

This Service Has Beed Canceled

This update is about a big change and possibly my last post. My parents’ visit went relatively well after losing two days to a state-side snow storm and they are going to write posts about their trip to Niger so that you can get their perspective. When it was time to leave with them for my vacation to America, a kerfuffle with ticketing codes almost got us all stuck in Niger. We got out alright and upon arriving home found out that the very night we left there had been an al Qaida kidnapping of two French men at a bar which many volunteers go to and which is very close to the Niamey hostel. Later the two were killed when the Niger army tried to free them. There have been kidnappings before, so I thought not a lot of it. Though on the other hand, the kidnappings happened in the capitol for the first time at a place frequented by volunteers and that made me a little uneasy.

But nothing happened for a few days and I breathed a sigh of relief that they wouldn’t evacuate Peace Corps while I was on vacation in the states, cuz you know, that’d be pretty annoying. Then on Wednesday the 12th of January, my 25th birthday, I got the news that indeed that is what they were going to do. And that although my fellow volunteers will be pushed to close their service they will have a chance to look for and apply to posts in which they could finish their service. But because I’m in the States, I’m done –they’re closing my service 8 months early. I thankfully got ahold of my volunteer friend in Niger who broke into my house for some things I didn’t want to loose and who explained what was going on to some of my village friends. For that I am seriously grateful. Hopefully Peace Corps will eventually get those things to me.

After that, I scrambled mentally to assess what this meant for me, my service and my village. Were my projects okay? My moringa tree garden project was in a pretty decently well developed. There were improvements I was going to make, and I would have felt better if the health center had done a cooking class or two completely on their own. But, we got far enough into it that they understood how to do every part of the project and were invested enough, I think, to carry on. My text book funding project was not even begun. I feel really bad that the school’s hopes were so high and now they have very little resources to get the books –practically speaking, no chance. But on the other hand, besides the principal of the middle school, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get the staff involved in the project. So I’m calling that project a wash. One of the things my dad and I did in Bande was build a bread oven. I was going to develop a cheap and nutritious recipe for bread using squash and moringa and teach it to people –a project that would be both about “income generation” and about malnutrition. There are a lot of projects I wanted to develop in my last 8 months. I was still thinking about an art club, which would have been about the only thing I would have done in my 2 years that would employ my art history degree. I had just started sewing with my friend Murza and was hoping to begin to grow that project into a group. I was going to begin English classes with the teachers at the middle school. I never made an improved (mud covered) cookstove with my neighbors and friends who were interested in learning that.

There were things I wanted to do for myself too, like illustrating a graphic novel, beefing up on my art history and studying for the GRE, re-reading Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings and reading Ulysses. Now I guess I have time for most of that, just instead of in the Peace Corps it will be while sitting un-employed at my parents’ house, figuring out the rest of my life.

And I have felt sad about not getting to say goodbye. I had only just begun to feel really comfortable in Bande and just felt like the people I hung out with really were, in some odd way, my friends. I have some of their numbers, but the language barrier was hard enough sitting right next to them; speaking across the wire and several time zones, I’m afraid my frustration will overcome my desire to keep in touch. They don’t have a postal address and I think none of them have started emailing yet. I was supposed to have 8 months to figure this out. Now what am I going to do? It is a sudden, crappy probable end to many relationships that, so short a time ago, were all I had on a daily basis.

I think also of all the things I was going to do in my last 8 months. I wanted to get out to see Kelle, a post that has an ostrich farm and some big rocks out in the countryside where monkeys live. During the fasting of Ramadan, my sub-region had planned to meet at one of our posts to sleep all day and at night when there was electricity we’d watch a marathon of West Wing. I was gonna really learn Hausa so I could test at nearly advanced at the end of my service. I was gonna teach our guard at the hostel in Zinder how to harvest moringa leaves from Stephanie’s memorial moringa garden. I had more to say to you about Niger, I just had to find those magical words that would explain it all- but that was okay, I had 8 months to do it.

There are just too many loose ends. Too many goodbyes not said. Too many instructions not given. Too many promises not kept. I had thought Niger was Un-evacuable. Peace Corps has been around 50 years this year –and has served uninterrupted in Niger for 49 of them. Al Qaida, al Smaida. I did not think my service would end with me sitting on my bum in America. This sucks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November update

It never rains but it pours. How’s that for a cheesy use of the adage? But now, as many times before in Niger, I’ve learned the literal as well as figurative truth of an old saying. Just like the torrents that took out house walls in my town last rainy season, changes and disruptions in my life haven’t sprinkled but deluged in September and October. Three of my six Zinder training mates were on medical leave in South Africa or America, for over a month (all back and in health). Volunteer relations with the bureau in Niamey have been strained to put it mildly. My laptop, a volunteer’s Ipod and another volunteer’s motorcycle helmet were stolen in our hostel. And in the middle of all that, Stephanie’s death happened.
Finally, to leave no part of my life in Niger untouched, my best counterpart, the English teacher in my town, got promoted to be a principal in a town like 47 light years away from anywhere. That was in September. It is now mid November and today I med the new replacement. I substituted for a few classes, but I had no enthusiasm for it because I knew it would be forever and a day before we got even one of the two English teachers we were promised from the regional school office. Last year when one of the two English teachers we had decided to just leave in search of better work (but still draw a salary for being a teacher in my town…), the regional office never replaced him. My job isn’t to teach here, and it’s not fair to the students for the middle school to rely on me to take over the post. It wasn’t fair for me not to do what I could though as well. So, unenthusiastically, I taught a couple of classes and waited. I know the kids are our future and I should always bound happily and confidently into every classroom, I’m afraid I had a stinking bad attitude about this. The kids, however, made most of those classes more fun than the few I taught last year, which made me think English club, if I can ever get it going again, would be that much better this year than last. It’s a relief there is finally an English teacher again. Time will tell if he’s a counterpart too.
Last month was the most bummer month of all, so far. PCVs always told me all parts of your service can be hard for different reasons. I knew even last year it’d be harder later in my service because things went so smoothly at first, compared to the first month horror stories I’d heard.
So to keep positive I have been thinking a lot about my parents upcoming trip here to see me and about my trip back to the states (January 8-24th—come visit me!!). To give my parents an idea of what to expect I made up a mock travel brochure which I’ll include below (eventually.. technical dificulties). My mom says she can now think past the bathroom situation. I’m figuring out how to arrange a camel ride for us out to my town’s garden and I’m strategizing about all the foods they should –and shouldn’t- try here. As for America, I can’t think much past all the food I’m gonna stuff in me. I decided back in june, just after I counted up the days I’d be in America, that I’d eat at chipotle for at least 14 of my 18 American days (I wouldn’t want to over tax myself by not having a few days off). Indeed, I will see the inside of a chipotle and probably have devoured the veggie fajita burrito with mild salsa, no sour cream but extra cheese and guac that I will be buying, before I see the inside of my old residence. I’m going to eat my way through vacation. I have conservatively estimated seven restaurants (apart for chipotle), 2 bars and a grocery store (rather frequently) which I will insist on visiting. Good thing I’ve been saving my pennies, I may blow my bank account just from spending time at home. My parents might have to roll me in a wheel barrow onto the plane back to Africa.
My biggest preoccupation in ville has been moving forward on the moringa project. The garden was swamped during rainy season and many trees died. But I have extra seeds and they grow very fast, so I’m not worried at all. The first class went with no major problems, except that the lady I’m working with, Zara, didn’t emphasize the points we are supposed to teach. I’d worked with her before on that, but I wasn’t sure if it had been enough and my suspicion was correct. I also didn’t have my act together enough to say everything in Hausa and so I was only able to prompt her to explain a few things. I learned from that and made sure that for the second class I was prepared and knew the hausa phrases I needed to prompt Zara to explain everything in better hausa. I also developed four questions to ask the women at the end to make sure we got the important points across. Both classes were fine (as in not failures) but we improved a lot the second time and we’re moving in the right direction. I thought after that class that I could really imagine the health center doing all this without me in a few months and then it will be a real shining jewel of a project-and all for less than 400usd!
Everything else in town has been quiet, normal village life. I’ve meant to do something to explain life here more to y’all but I always had something else to write about, and didn’t ever know how to describe what I see here. It’s such a different world. How does one describe a place where people live in mud brick or cement houses and watch satellite TV under grass huts? Here is a place where people lounge on mats under trees and drive new motorcycles, where people use town criers to announce meetings or important celebrations, and surf the net on their cell phones. People here make a weekly circuit of neighboring towns’ markets on camels, oxcarts and 1960s era minivans (sometimes with camels in the minivans, which to see is my personal holy grail). there are so many idiosyncrasies and anathema and details that I always think you need in order to begin to understand this place. I am like a sci fi writer trying to explain the planet trafalmador. But there are only so many gigabytes I can type and so many characters you can possibly devote time to reading. But here is a start at least.
It’s the tail end of harvest season so I’m watching a little parade of six pint-sized kids walking into town from the fields with bundles of dried millet stalks on their heads (unaccompanied by anyone over the age of 8). If it were dusk, I’d be watching a train of ox carts going by, loaded high with millet and sorghum.
I sit, almost everyday, with my “fada”-tea drinking conversation group –in front of one of the middle school teachers’ houses. We sit on a big mat and four plastic lawn chairs. We go through tea two or three times a day, sitting, chatting sometimes sleeping. We chat about work of stuff in ville or often just things I don’t understand cuz it’s in Hausa. They might play cards or mess with their fancy cell phones. Now and then someone’ll make a joke, everyone will crack up (except me cuz I didn’t get it) and a guy who appreciated the joke especially well will clasp hands with the joke maker. People will pass by and conversation will be interrupted for the appropriate greetings. When they ask me questions it’s often about when I’ll get married and how many kids I’ll have. when I say maybe I wont get married for 10 years and maybe I wont have any kids or maybe just one, they say, “Oh no Fati! You’re already old! in 10 years you’ll be way too old! You’re gonna get married here and you’re gonna have 10 kids! Do you like black people?” Then I have to gracefully decline marrying one of them. Once when we were getting lunch brought out to us by the wife of the house, a guy I don’t know very well said, “This is why I needa get married. I’m tired of cooking for myself, I need someone to bring me lunch.” I wasn’t in the mood to take this sexist comment seriously so I said “Meee toooo! I’m tired of cooking, I work and then I have to cook too and I just want to rest. Can *I* get a wife too?” After a moment in which he gave me a bizarre, puzzled look, he laughed. I also once listed all the stereotypically womanish traits when my teachers asked me what I was looking for in a man. He must be able to cook really good food and sweep and take care of the kids and do the laundry. They were pretty sure they could still find someone for me, but I’m skeptical.
A giant overloaded truck just lumbered by on the road that is technically a national highway and a main artery between Nigeria and Niger, but looks like a pot holey Midwestern country road bisecting small town after small town. The truck had mattresses tied three or four thick to the sides and several giant nets, bigger in circumference than I am tall, filled with plastic buckets hanging off the back. Several of these trucks roll through my town everyday. My friends tell me there are “experts” in Nigeria who conduct the insane over loading of these trucks, because not just anyone can overload it the right way.
I also hang out with my friend Murza to get the other side of Niger life. We sit and sort of talk, or cook things or lately we’ve done a little sewing tutoring. I do wish I had more language when I talk to her because I know I’m missing out on a big part of niger culture, not being able to talk well to women who haven’t finished much school and don’t know French. but when I got here I could barely explain that I was going to the marked or I got back from Zinder the day before. Now I know a lot about Murza. She’s 25, she was married in Nigeria but her husband died (-or she was divorced and she doesn’t want to say, but he probably died). She has a 19 month old son who was able to live in her new house (with husband #2) until he was weaned but then he had to go sleep at her mom’s house across town where her daughter lives also. She had two other kids but only two have survived. She’s genuinely interested in things I can tell her about America and when she finds a lot of money she’s gonna come visit me in America. The way she interacts with her husband is fascinating to me. She’s a little flirty and a little like any US housewife and a little like a teenager to a parent when she wants more allowance from him. I get it in my head that women are oppressed and held back here –because, largely, they are –but then I get it in my head that all marriages here must be cages and stifling for women. but I see Murza with her husband and I think well it might not be perfect, maybe they love the marriage, maybe they don’t, but here are two people making their way through life with what they have, each other as companions (--well actually he has at least one other wife… every conclusion I make here is tempered with “but on the other hand”).
I just saw an ox cart go by loaded up seven feet with millet stalks, a man leading it and two boys lounging on top just barely peeping over the edge of the millet bushels.
I hope to have a Thanksgiving/Tabaski edition to you in 3 weeks. As always, comments questions and your own updates are always relished.
Toodloo, ~aj

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another Band-Aid Post

Dearest Folks,
I promise to get a good full update soon, but I will have more time with the internet in 2 weeks. For now, i have an excellent treat for you all:
This is a video that someone who just finished made from some of my teammates' video clips. It's really well done and you'll at least get a glimpse of the aesthetics of Niger, even if you don't understand what's going on in the clips.
I just got back from my second vacation. My first was in Senegal and I will have that update for you when i have time to load pics because I supplemented it with graphic novel pages. My second vacation was in Ghana, mostly at the beach which would have been excellent had we remembered to pack the Niger sun with us in our bags. But we got the Ghanaian rainy season sky instead. If we didn't see the sun, however, Accra made up for it in letting us see the movie Inception, which you in the states can go see in theatres right now. I'm so up to date! It was so nice to be in mini America for a few hours and the movie was excellent.
And speaking of America, my third vacation will be in January back home in Ol USA. I didn't think I'd go home during the two years, but somewhere between 115 degrees F in the shade and a hallucinated donut, I broke down. I hope I get to see so so many of you!
But for now, it is back to post and back to work for me. I'll be setting up my moringa classes with my health center, and planning english club with my teacher. Plus I've successfully avoided almost all of Ramadan and I'll be coming back just in time to eat goat with my friends.
Wishing y'all well, ~aj

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Between long awaited updates post

I've been really remiss in getting my last update done about my vacation in Senegal and here I am a few weeks away from going on vacation to Ghana. I stilllll havent gotten that update done because i'm biting off more than i can chew, but here is some interesting stuff on the hunger situation in Niger. In my town I havent seen anything really bad, nothing that seems different from last year. But in the north i've heard people have had it bad.
The following are links to an ICRISAT report that a fellow PCV posted on facebook. the BBC version has pictures and compact captions and the ICRISAT page has a lot more detailed info. I'm going to investigate implementing this in my village in gardens rather than crop fields.
PS I love the picture in the BBC slideshow of the woman with lettuce on her head, and incidentially that is the biggest most amazingly healthy and pristine lettuce i have ever seen in niger.
PPS The music sounds native american in the video on ICRISATs page. Music in Niger is not at all like that.
PPPS. Props to Cindy's mom who somehow finagled that girl into bringing back a bag of treats for her poor deprived friends.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New House, etc.

In this post: Alex with his and SLH's apricot upsidown cake, a goat on my neighbors mud brick wall, the view from my porch of my bed and latrine and front door, the view of my 2-wife style house (things look different now because there is a shade hangar and i've rearranged my things a bit), Alex and sean at my favorite restaurant in Niamey-Alex just came up from under the table because he was embarrassed by something Sean said, the last picture is my middle school english clubs who just recived story books that my dad's french class made for them. i can't remember which video this is, so make up your own story