Sannu, my loved ones,
Today is a big day because I just found out where I will be living for the next two years. I am going to Zinder!
Because of Peace Corp policy, I can’t post the exact village here, but if you want to know you can write me and I will tell you.
We went to the Bureau in Niamey today for site announcements and it was really exciting. The Close of Service Volunteers, the ones that we are replacing, are in the city because they are ending their service this week, so the bureau was really busy. Site announcements aren’t usually done in Niamey, so I like to believe the staff wanted the trainees and COSers to intermix, new journeys ending and starting at the same time. All of the language, training and bureau staff came in for this big announcement and the entire lobby was packed.
To begin, they gave the staff an envelope with each of our names and were asked to find us. In our envelopes were letters and we had to put them together to figure out the name of our village. Once we did that, we started running to each other, finding out who would be in our region and our hostel – meaning the group of people we would see the most and spend holidays with. (My friend Stephanie is already promising an amazing Christmas and breakfast burritos on New Years!)
After we all announced our villages, we were divided up into regions. The current and COSing volunteers gave us treats (pain au chocolate and KitKats) and necklaces with the Zinder symbol. We then started talking to them about our individual villages and what to expect.
Even before the announcement, I knew I wanted to go to Zinder. The Zinder volunteers seem to have a lot of fun and they have a lot of pride for their region. They were by far the loudest during site announcements. Also, I’m told that the other South Dakotan in the country lives in Zinder – and he’s also a graduate of South Dakota State University. There will be lots of Jackrabbit pride in Zinder!
My village is a bush village, meaning it’s small and lacks amenities such as electricity and water. Not many CYE volunteers have bush villages, but I am really excited for this authentic experience. My closest volunteers are about 35 K away. Both of them are in the stage ahead of me and I’ve had them as volunteer assistant trainees already. (One is a former sports reporter and we’re already thinking of possible journalism projects we could do.)
I am actually opening this post, meaning there has never been a volunteer there or hasn’t been one in a while. That would appear nerve racking, but I am excited to start fresh and without any expectations.
We were able to make requests for villages, and I only got one of the items I asked for. However, I am still very excited about this village. One of the volunteers told me that the people there are very genuine and that means more to me than running water or electricity. One of the biggest lesson’s I’ve learned in the last month is to trust the Peace Corp. They have a lot of faith in me, so I need to have a lot of my faith in myself.
In other news, things have been going well here. I made a video update to provide a glimpse of my life in Niger, but it didn’t go so well and the signal is not strong enough for a video. But, maybe, in the future.
Time is going by fast; we’ve already been here in a month. My first few weeks were pretty slow, but things picked up after demyst, which I was told they would. August 3 was Niger’s Independence Day, so we spent the day planting trees and playing traditional Niger gamers, which were not unlike the gimmicks found a street carnival. We also had a fashion show with traditional attire and, of course, ate a lot food. Other than that, my life has been filled with learning French, understanding the Nigerian culture and getting used to life in Africa.
In addition to site announcements, this week is a big one. On Saturday, we leave to visit our sites for a few days. The purpose of live in is to buy a few supplies for our huts and to start meeting villagers. We’ll be there for four to five days (depending on where my village is located) and then we leave for a 10-day language immersion, in which we speaking only the local language and learning to live on our own in Niger. Once we get back, it’s week 8, which means our official language proficiency exam. If I pass, I get to move on to Hausa and have two weeks of straight language classes. Then, it’s swear in! Crazy to think how fast the next two months will go.
I’ve been a bit sick the last few days, which can be really frustrating. But, thanks to old episodes of “This American Life” (P.S. If you want to make me a really happy person, send me episodes of TAL on a jump drive. I promise I’ll send it back.) and lots of rest, I am doing much better now.
Things with my host family are well. Our uncle has been living with us for a few weeks and he’s been helping me and my roommate with French and bits of Hausa. My little sister, who is nine months, took her first steps the other day and it was incredible to watch her world explode with this new skill.
Baby raising, in general, is interesting to watch. They carry babies on their backs, breast feed them in public and let them play with dirt and bottles instead of the flashy toys we have in America. To make up for their lack of spoilage, these babies are fairly strong and independent.
In some ways, I’ve become pretty immersed into the culture. One way is through bucket baths (have I mentioned how much I love bathing outside and not consuming so much water?) and another is eating with my hands. In Niger, the only people who are allowed to use utensils are men. As an American, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to request a spoon and plate for my dinner, but I much prefer eating out of the large dish that my host mom and sisters and using my hands. It feels more normal to me now than a metal utensil.
In others, I have a long way to go. As you may have read, I am still struggling with the language, which is not a feeling I have exclusively and very much part of the Peace Corps experience. The weather and understanding parts of the culture have also been a struggle, but then again, I’ve only been here a month.
Tomorrow, Ramadan begins. This is a one-month long fast for the Muslim religion and a major part of Nigerien culture. I have decided to participate in the celebration, but since my body is not used to this climate, I will probably drink water during the day. Although in no way am I considering converting to Islam, I find Nigeriens to be incredibly spiritually inspirational. Their commitment to their faith as made me want to be more committed to mine, so I plan to use Ramadan to pray more and dive deeper into my faith.
As promised, I am dedicating a paragraph of this blog to my friends Casey. We have the same Old Navy skirt, except hers is green and mine is blue. And she read my blog long before we met in Philadelphia. If you know Casey, she is pretty awesome.
Actually, I’m sending a shout out to all family and friends of my fellow trainees who read this blog. It means so much to me and please know that your loved ones are doing well and I am so blessed to be stationed with them.
Another big shout out to my former coworkers at the Foundation. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the cards and messages and reading my blog. I miss you all and think about you frequently. I am proudly representing the Jacks every day.
Big, big, thanks to all my friends and family who’ve sent letters, cards and packages. It’s nice to know I am missed at home and I really love hearing from you all. Thank you and please keep them coming. I will send letters back and even some other fun stuff (once I am on my volunteers salary). Much love to my mom for posting my updates and sending me an incredibly amount of mail. Oh, and I have a phone now, so contact her and we can chat in real time ☺ I’d love to hear from all of you.
Well, it’s almost time so I better go. I’ll post more about my new home when I can, but because of Peace Corps policy, I will only be able to post my region here and not my village. If you want that, you’ll have to write me a letter.
Must go now. Love and peace from Niger.