Door-to-door visits

November 6

As much as I try to fight it, parts of my heart will always be a journalist.

My conversations will always be designed with me as the questioner and the other person as the interviewee. I haven’t figured out to shut off the “Oh that would make a great story” function in my brain. I’ll never lose the high of being the first to tell someone a piece of information and my favorite pastime will always be telling stories.

But, as my close friends and family know, I’ve struggled with parts of the reporting life that keep me from committing to it. I leave and try something else. I come back then leave again.

One journalist characteristic that I have a hard time adjusting to is the cold call or  ask the person on the street. Maybe I only remember the tough interactions but not many people enjoy being bothered to have their opinion publicly recorded.

When I have an assignment to make that call or find the random source, anxiety floods my mind with scenes from the sure-to-be rejection. Then, because I get so worked up, guilt comes along and continues the internal beating.

In Niger, this fear is thrown into my face on a daily basis. I’m not on deadline, but the entire foundation of my work is built on my ability to walk up to strangers and ask them personal questions, such as marital status, profession and opinions of the community.

Nigerien socializing is one neighbor walking into and other’s concession at any given point. I’ve struggled with during training and language immersion, but it’s heightened in my own village, especially as this is one of my main tasks for an extensive community report that is to be completed during the first three months. We are to hold interviews, meet with local organizations and visit as many households as possible to gather information on the communities and get to know it’s strengths and weaknesses.

Door-to-door interviews are a main aspect of this report. My Hausa only takes me as far as greetings — the first three to five minutes of a Nigerien conversation — and a few facts about the family. I’m far from discussing village issues but, as my supervisor reminds me, the purpose is to build relationships and trust.

That’s the point of being a reporter, too, but no matter how hard I fight for objectivity I can change one’s perception of the media.

Here, it’s a clean slate.

One Saturday, I dedicated an entire day to visiting houses and talking with as many people as possible. Some houses, I sat for an hour, others just a few minutes. I exhausted all the Hausa I have and let silence be a part of the conversation. I helped make noodles, had a toddler urinate on me, held a newborn and watched women do their normal chores. At times it was awkward, but there was also a sense of community, and maybe a hit of trust sprouting.

After several visits that day, I walked home doing a Megan Vogel-fist pump. It’s a small task for my service, but a large hurdle over a fear. The after glory felt so good it made me believe that maybe my skin is thickening for another go at reporting.

For now, I’ll stick to making my villagers happy with a short visit.

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