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.

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