Big Up from Aribinda

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Niger Volunteers Speak A Lot More Local Language Than I Can

Just got back from Niger. Met about 10 volunteers, all nice, but there was something else very interesting about that crew: they spoke Zarma (also called Djerma, I believe), or Hausa to get around. Most of the Burkina volunteers get by with French. There are volunteers in Burkina who must learn to speak Fulfulde, Moore, or Dioula to communicate well with villageois, but in Niger, the volunteers are savvy in ways which we just aren't.

Niamey was also really nice. Much nicer than Cotonou, Benin, that's for sure. Lots of trees, lots of green (because of the Niger River, naturally), and it just seemed well organized. We checked out the Zoo/National Museum of Niger. The conditions in which they keep the animals is horrible, but one able and motivated volunteer named Rose showed us around the place. She was doing good things and talking about plans to expand the lion habitat and hopefully the other animal grounds. Good to see an effective, passionate volunteer trying to change deplorable conditions for a bunch of animals in captivity. Also met a real nice gentleman from Libya named Ahmed. He invited me, through a very gracious Nigerien interpreter, to come and pray at the mosque. We had a very neat little chat about Islam, I told him I was a Buddhist, he told me that Islam was the best religion, etc. Then he scribbled some Arabic on a pad, gave me the slip, thanked me and we went on our ways. Not everybody hates Americans I guess, and I hope that I can help break generalizations and stereotypes wherever, whenever I can.

We ate dinner close to the Niger River, watching the dug-outs move up and down while the sun glinted through the clowds. Didn't see any hippos, but they are all over, yeah? No, we went southeast the next day and saw about 10 giraffes. We saw that small group, of about 175 giraffes total, the last large group in West Africa. They are actually making a comeback there, thanks to the fact the Niger government is starting to care more and there are no lions in the mix. All the lions are either in Arli or the W, two local wildlife parks. Still, the occasional taxi-brousse supposedly strikes a giraffe in the rainy season when they are close to the road. The villagers must eat well that day. Imagine eating road-kill giraffe. I can't, they are just such beautiful animals.

Wow, could've been my last real Peace Corps vacation. Didn't do much else otherwise. The first night tried sleeping on the roof at the Niger PC transit house. Didn't go so well, mosquitoes devoured me despite the fact I used a mosquito net. Moved inside and couldn't sleep because of the start of the hot season. Rather burn up than get eaten alive.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


‘Got no time to for spreadin roots
The time has come to be gone
And tho our health we drank a thousand times
It's time to ramble on.’

Yeah, it’s time. I am ready to come home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I just wanna bag it for the last few months. There are still things to be done and I want to finish my service strong. However, there are things that I have just had enough of.

What am I sick of? Well, for starters, living in the absolute middle of nowhere. Aribinda sits almost dead inbetween 2 largish cities, about 60 miles from each along a poorly maintained dirt road. There isn’t a lot of transport options and vehicles don’t really come around often. I have grown accustomed to this, but I have never liked it. Now, I just want to be finished with it. Some volunteers don’t know what it is like to live in extreme isolation. Some live on paved roads near the capital, maybe even being flanked on either end of this paved road by nearby volunteers. I am not trying to say these volunteers are not serving in difficult conditions. Volunteers just don’t get to choose all the conditions of their service. These volunteers simply can get away easier, possibly helping to maintain their morale. I met a volunteer in Benin, in a small beachside tourist town called Grand Popo. Benin having such a small coastline, she was not far from Cotonou or Porto Novo, Benin’s two largest cities. She had the ability of getting places more quickly. Lucky for her. But then again, she lived in a sleepy, sandy, tourist destination where I don’t think I would have liked to serve. Aribinda has been wonderful for me, really an ideal place to serve, maybe not to be located. It just always goes to show that there are the positives and negatives to anything we are involved in.

I have also grown tired of the minutiae of cultural differences and the way they can affect oneself and the community. Just being different is a bitch. I mean, I am still the circus sideshow. Did I expect that coming in? Yes, but I guess being somewhat green and inexperienced, I didn’t think it would continue, at least in my village where everyone knows my MO, in this manner. And, because I spend the vast majority of my time in village, this is annoying. How about other cultural differences? Language I have learned to have fun with, especially with Fulani men. I sat down to a meal the other day, and they came in just hooting at me in Fulfulde, I start laughing, they’re calling me tubaku, I just start speaking English to them, they laugh, I laugh. I can understand just a little bit and I know they keep referring to me, the tubaku, maybe they’re talking about money (common for all PCVs to hear). As they speak to eachother in Fulfulde, they tell me they don’t speak French. Well, to hell with it, I am gonna speak to you in English! We all get a good kick out of this, they keep referring to me as toubakou or toubak, I just keep on laughing, jabbering away in English. We are all laughing, having a good time. For some reason it just took me longer than others to find the humor in these culturally nuanced exchanges.
Then, I am on transport headed back to Aribinda from Dori. I am sitting next to a Fulani gentlemen, who speaks not 10 words of French. He starts talking to me in Fulfulde, I address him in English. We banter back and forth, both of us laughing. I can tell he is interested in my dearth of volunteer money, understanding his Fulfulde after I told him I was American. He starts telling me there is a lot of money in America, come on, give me some so I can eat! We laugh, I respond in English, we smile big grins and just continue to laugh. Close to home, we have a blow out while stopped in a village called Boukema, 13 km east of Aribinda. My goat sack, full of vegetables, starts drawing the attention of other Fulani. They tell me they want my sack. I tell them to take a hike, in English of course! We all start laughing. I’m usually a pretty positive guy. Let’s just have fun with the situation.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by to see my neighbor Idrissa. A few Fulani (also known as Peuls, Peuhls, however you spell it) had come in from out of the bush to see him. He tells me to go in there and say hi. So, I go in and there is one guy sitting in a chair playing with a 3 to 4 year old girl. Three women lazily lounge about in front of him. Well, one of the women sees me and completely averts her face and contorts her body in her seat to do everything she can from having to address me. Everybody is hysterical, this grown woman, probably around 25 years old, is scared of me! Sure, I am used to this, but only from children. Usually I get reprehensible stares or nothing from Peuhl women. But she finally comes through, rotates her body towards me, gives me a nervous, sheepish grin, extends her hand. I shake it, start to giggle, then make for the little girl. She flips out! We all are laughing hysterically at this point, I apologize and giggle, and take my leave. Yeah, maybe it’s funny sometimes, but I just wanna be another face in the crowd, anonymous. This, this is the closest I’ll ever get to being a celebrity.

But now’s it’s almost time for me to go, the March moon lights my way. And as Orion’s shield points west, in a few months, I'm headed that way.