27 03 2009

[Overlooking Lake Geneva from Observation Park]

Geneva Day 1:

Menu(Arrival Day through Day1):
Quiche Lorraine
Totelini Soup
Appenzeller (Cheese)
Home made fondant drop cookies
Mandarine Oranges
Baguette w/ raspberry jelly
Croque Monsieur
Sloppy Joes
Baked Potato

OK, so there’s no doubt I’ve been enjoying the food…  Really the entire experience has been incredible so far.  We’re staying in a beautiful apartment in the heart of Geneva.  It has modern electronics (large flat screen tv), hardwood floors, a fully stocked kitchen, and a massive bath tub!  Surprisingly, the apartment is incredibly quiet as well.  At night, I hear absolutely nothing: goats, babies, even cars and appliances – silence.  The first night I slept for 10 hours non-stop.  That’s perhaps the first time I’ve done that in more than 15 months. 

The first full day we enjoyed breakfast and then headed on foot to the Natural History Museum.  The museum is large with 5 floors and one of the largest bird collections in the world.  I saw many species from Niger as well as the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker from the states.  They also have Lucy on display.  The Blashka glass jelly fish exhibit was also very interesting.  It was a wonderful museum and like most museums in Geneva, free!  After the museum, we continued our adventure on foot passing through the oldest part of the city, visiting the cathedral and doing a little shopping along the lake. 

As you may be able to tell from the pictures, I got a new camera.  I took over 100 photos  yesterday and I was very impressed with the result.  I can’t wait to start using it in Niger.

So far the adjustment to a more hurried, technologically advanced way of life hasn’t been too difficult.  The grocery store is a little overwhelming and the price of everything seems unbeliveably high. 

Today we’re heading to Lausanne. 


Large Bats and Giraffes and Amoebas, Oh My……

19 09 2008

[The village of Yeni north of Kiota]
Hey, I’m back!  I returned from Niamey Sunday morning and I am still recovering from something along the lines of a sinus infection.  I’m feeling much better now.  Nearly two weeks have passed since my last blog entry and a lot has happened.  Last Monday, before I even went to Niamey I joined a group of Jica (Japanese Peace Corps) volunteers in a small village north of Kiota.  They were there to produce a series of radio discussions about Malaria and mosquito nets.  The long ride to the village was offset by beautiful landscapes of orange/red mesas surrounded by seas of millet, ready for harvest.  The photo below shows the group of participants in the village of Yeni.  My counter part in Dosso is the guy with the tape recorder and the tan suit. He facilitated the event.  On the way back we visited the Jica office in Birni.  They have several volunteers in the Birni region whose main focus is malaria awareness and prevention.

Tuesday afternoon I headed to Niamey on a bus.  The bus left about an hour late and made several stops including one prolonged stop for 16h prayer.  On the way, I saw a young giraffe running along the road not far from Koure.  On Monday, the Jica volunteers said that they had seen nearly a dozen along the road on their way from Niamey.  During rainy season giraffes congregate in the area of Koure where the land is harder and drier.  The smaller hoofs of giraffes are not adapted to easily travel through muddy areas. I arrived in Niamey a few hours before sunset and got settled in at the hostel.  A lot of people were already there.  I got the last towel, the last bed sheet and the last bed.  I considered myself lucky and celebrated with the closest thing I could get to cheap chinese delivery: a mixture of rice, chicken, onions, and cashews with hint of a taste of the orient from Indrissa’s restaurant.

Wednesday I set off early in the morning to the bank, I visited an international bazaar and attempted to track down an affordable map of Niger to help plan some of my radio trips out east.  Besides getting some much needed money from the bank, the morning outing was fruitless.  The bazaar had very little in the way of artisanal goods and the IGN office in Niger wanted the equivalent of about $40 for a map of the country.  On the way to the office, I did walk down a street lined with bat filled trees.  Hundreds of large bats filled the trees for the length of an entire block.  I tried to get some pictures but I didn’t have much success.  The brown blurs in the picture are small groups of several bats. 

Later that morning I met up with my friend Kim to find a hammer and supplies for our dish for the BBQ later that evening.  I successfully found a small hammer for 1000CFA and purchased some beans, kudaku, and some strange beans/nuts that look surprisingly like my favorite European snack, Twinuts.  The vendor said that they were great boiled with salt.  I took them home and boiled them for lunch hoping for a delicious Nigerien version of boiled peanuts.  The large shells held a single nut with a second husky skin that also had to be removed.  The process was time consuming and the taste was slightly bitter and reminded me of a something between a boiled peanut and a garbanzo bean.  After lunch Kim and I continued our cooking adventure by making a large pot of refried beans and some tortillas. 

The new volunteer BBQ held Wednesday evening was a delicious success (although it probably gave some of the newbies bacteria and amoebas). Volunteers brought a variety of dishes including hummus, banana bread and pasta salad.  We also made cheese burgers.  I was charged with the task of slicing the large block of cheddar cheese.  I admit I ate a few pieces that weren’t quite the right size or shape for melting on burgers.  A block of cheddar that you would pay about $5 for in the US costs about $25 here.  I have food on the mind a little too much don’t I?  I really do get enough to eat here.  I’m not starving and my friends and family supplement my diet every few weeks with a small box of food from the US.  The food is probably what I miss most from the US.  OK, no more talk about food…  At the BBQ, I got to see all of the new volunteers together for the first time.  Overall they seemed younger than the group I came over with.  However they were just as excited to be done with training and ready to move to their new homes out in the bush.

Thursday, was the Gender, Aids and Development fundraiser at the American Embassy Rec Center.  Unlike many strictly development organizations, Peace Corps does not have funds set aside to actually fund development projects.  If we want funding for a project we typically must find it ourselves.  There are a variety of sources for funding and the GAD fund is one that is mainly funded from within Niger.  The bi-annual fundraiser includes an enchilada dinner, entertainment, silent auction, raffle, and live auction.  Luckily someone donated funds to hire a DJ.  Otherwise, I would have been responsible for setting the sound equipment up.  Instead I setup the slideshow and tested all of the electronics that were donated for the silent auction. The event raised nearly 2 Million CFA.  I spent about $20 at the auction and came away with some great deals.  I brought home two cases of ZipFizz, a clay piggy bank, and a satellite radio.  Since they stopped subscription satellite services in Africa at the end of 2007, they continued offering about 20 stations free of charge.  I can now listen to NPR in Africa for free!  Although, perhaps I would be happier if I didn’t keep track of American politics.  Many of the new volunteers came over with Obamma tshirts of which I’m slightly envious.  I decided that the best I could do was add a little banner to my blog (see right).  I hope that doesn’t bother my republican readership too much.  Sorry, but I find the possibility of Sarah Palin leading the country unsettling (don’t forget, McCain is 72). 

Friday was swear-in at the American ambassador’s house.  I did not attend the event since I was sick and keeping my friend Kaylee company.  She was very sick.  I didn’t miss out on too much.  Since PC is in the poor house (another reason to vote Obamma, OK I’ll stop), they couldn’t afford to provide attendees with dinner.  Saturday I bought what grocery items I needed for Dosso and took it easy for the rest of the day.  Sunday a PC vehicle was heading back to Dosso with the new volunteers so I left with them.  The trip included a stop in Hamdallaye and I was amazed at how Green it had become.  The pictures to the left and below are both of hamdallaye.  The entrie area basically looked like the first picture when I was there at the beginning of the year. The picture below was taken last weekend. Rainy season is virtually over which means no more rain until next May. 

Since sunday, I can’t say that I’ve been extremely productive.  Wednesday night I made an incredible squash soup with the local squah which is very cheap.  I added a little cinnamon and cardamom and it was delicious.  Thursday morning I made blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup thanks to a large bag of blueberries that magically arrived at the Dosso hostel.  The food was also enjoyed by some of the new volunteers still waiting to be installed. After breakfast I headed to Birni to assist with a radio show introducing some of the new volunteers (the Dosso region got 10) and stressing the importance of school, which begins after Ramadan.  We also talked a little about what languages are spoken in America.  While in Birni, I met Kaylee’s new Neighbor Emmanuel.  He is one of the first volunteers from a new German version of Peace Corps.  He is a recent high school graduate and is here working with an NGO that helps protect Niger’s giraffes.  I told him that he was a braver person than me since he came here without any dedicated medical staff and will return to Germany in a year without a dime in his pocket.  He’s a very knowledgeable guy who will undoubtedly do some good for Niger.

There’s not much on the radar for the next few weeks.  Prirority #1 is to finish the user interface for my Peace Corps radio database so I can move on to more interesting projects.  Kala Tonton!

Menu du Jour

Labtanda Holiday Soup
  • 200CFA of Labtanda (Nigerienne Squash)
  • 1 Maggi Poulet Cube
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Boil the squash for about 10-15 minutes.  If possible, place squash in blender w/ small amount of water.  You can also mash the squash or cut into small pieces.  Add additional seasonings and simmer for a few minutes.  It remined everyone of the holidays.

Ramadan Rocks!

4 09 2008

[Catterpilar in a nearby millet field]

I made it through my first day of fasting without too much trouble. I joined my counterpart, Ousmane, for the somewhat ceremonial process of breaking fast. I entered his house for the first time. A table was already out covered with an assortment of pots and pitchers. As soon we heard the sunset prayer call, the process began with dates and tea. We all (adult males of the family) grabbed a few dates and hot tea. Apparently, tt is important to begin with hot, not cold, beverages preserve your appetite. Next came a round of kooko, a delicious poridge-like drink made from pounded millet. [left: millet pounding in Hamdallaye] After that we had a coolaid type drink with some organ meat and capto (cooked tree leaves). Then we paused for prayer. The meal continued with a delicious salad, rice with a meat sauce and then hayni hawru with an okra sauce. I finished off the meal with a few glasses of water and some more kooko. We watched TV for a while and I returned home around 21h. Just after I arrived, the edge of a storm passed by bringing lots of wind, lightning, and cool air, but no rain.

Ousmanne said that he doesn’t wake up early to eat breakfast. Instead he eats several times during the evening with pauses inbetween. I, on the other hand, have been enjoying a pankcake breakfast the last two mornings. Each morning I make mostly plain pancakes and eat them with honey, but I also make a few with dried fruit from the US. Yesterday I had blueberry and today cranberry ones. I also drink about 2 liters of water along with two Labans. This morning I woke up a little after 5:30 and was finished with breakfast by 6:30. So my timing was much better than yesterday, but was still off by about 15 minutes. The first prayer, fajr, is performed at dawn (not sunrise like I thought) and it marks the begining of the daily fast.

Today I’ve been fairly productive. I’ve been continuing work on my radio database and also went to the market to pick up some food for the next week. I brought home some millet (trying something new), a coconut (to make milk), a few tiny bell peppers, couscous, tomato paste, pasta, and oranges. I got a bag of 10 small oranges for a little more than $1. I’m going to bring them over to dinner tonight. Inshahallah, I’ll be heading back over to my counterpart’s for dinner. In Niger, any future plans you make are inshahallah.

So I can’t help but make a few comparisons between Ramadan and Christmas. I swear everyone is in a more cheerful mood (except towards the end of the afternoon when everyone is hungry). People splurge on things like tea, dates, and sugary drinks. People are also more generous. This afternoon a local marabou invited me over to visit him at his modest store where he sells ice, cold water, sodas, and bagged kooko. He sent me home with 10 bags of Lipton tea, 1kg of sugar, 3 bags of kooko and a liter of nigerienne lemonade. I had to stop him from giving me anything else. Since virtually everyone drinks tea when breaking fast, all the stores were sold out. He had to leave his shop on a motorcycle and drive around for 10 minutes just to find some. I was very thankful. We’re going to break fast together on Saturday. Tonight I had another great meal with my counterpart, Ousmane: fish, millet couscous, pounded rice with baobab leaf sauce and oranges. Tomorrow I’m visiting another co-worker for dinner.

Overall the fasting process has been easy so far. I honestly think I have more energy. Although, this afternoon I was very tempted by a piece of Hershey’s chocolate. I received a surprise package today overflowing with goodies from my friend Michael. Thanks Michael, I’ll send you an official thank you tomorrow!

D is for………

29 07 2008

[Wall to wall mosquito nets at my place during demyst]

Demyst turned out to be a really great weekend of discovery for my three guests (soon to be volunteers) I did my best to spoil them with good food and Niger just seemed to do the rest. On friday I was initially in charge of 7 hungry trainees while we waited for the car to arrive to take some of them further south. Several of us went to market and purchased supplies for lunch: Mashed potatoes and scambled eggs. I took a very brief nap and once transport arrived I got settled in with my demysters, Alex, Ryan, & Mariam. I had a little follow up work to do for my recent computer class so we headed over to the radio station. Two of my demysters already spoke French so they were able to easily communicate with my counterpart and a few other staff members. Next, we walked down to see a large Baobab tree (the symbol of Dosso) just outside of town.

Side note:
Baobab’s are incredibly unique trees. I have always wanted to see one since I read The Little Prince. One species exists on the African and Australian Continents, 7 species exist on the island of madagascar. My mom called on Sunday and filled me in on some additional facts that she learned from this website. They are actually succulents, can regenerate their bark, and are hollow inside. Animals almost always live inside giving it its 2nd name: the tree of life. I’m looking forward to October or November when they’ll be in full bloom. The fruit, called Monkey Bread, is delicious!

Alright back to demyst. For dinner friday, we went out to Dosso’s only semi-restaurant, The Palace, for beef brochettes and fries. As with most places in Niger the level of service was non-existant. The food took a couple of hours to arrive. Afterwards we stumbled upon an international festival with live music and dancing next door. It was the first time I had ever seen such an event in Dosso. People were selling lots goods from neighboring countries and a surprising number of people were dancing and enjoying themselves. We also enjoyed an egg sandwich and a strawberry Solani (drinkable yogurt in a plastic bag). It was an enjoyable day for me, but a very exciting and eye-opening day for my three guests who had only seen the training site and its surrounding villages since their arrival in Niger.

The next day was at a slightly slower pace. In the morning we grabbed more egg sandwiches and headed to the market for food supplies. We walked through the entire market purchasing a giant bag of couli couli for my cat and the hostel cat, about 3kg of onions for 300cfa, 5 poivrons for 800cfa, 1kg potatoes for 400cfa, and 11 eggs for 1100cfa. Besides onions and couli couli, the other items are considered expensive. We stopped by my place and then headed over to my friend Seyni’s house. His wife, Hadiza is an excellent cook. We had rice with a vegetable sauce and chicken. It was the first time my guests had eaten poultry in country. I worked with them on their computer for a bit and headed back home to talk to my parents for a while. All is well on the home front. My dad is busy preparing for his upcoming journey to Niger in December. Closer to sunset we walked across down, stopped to greet a few of my acquaintances and eventually make it to the main road where traffic passes between Niamey, Benin and the east. We bought 2 apples 400cfa, 1 mango 200cfa, and a nice pineapple 400cfa to make fruit salad the next day. On the way back I ran into Ibrahim. He is an imam who does a radio show every week at the radio station, he also owns a shop near the Tessam (like a bus station, but instead of finding buses their you find bush taxis). He bought us to his shop gave us drinks and something like a Madeline. He also offered us bagged water, ice, and a dozen eggs. I was surprised by his generosity. Of course I turned down the eggs and ice but was very thankful. It was a cool random experience for my guests. We headed back to make flour tortillas, veggies fajitas and lima beans. The tortilla making process was time consuming and we ended up eating a little past 11pm.
At this point the 2nd D of the weekend entered- dysentery. At some point during the the previous day I ingested some evil bacteria. As far as GI problems are concerned I’ve been fairly lucky. Bacteria never gives me a fever, like most people, and the symptoms with other issues like ameobas are very mild. However, there is one type of Bacteria that gives me major problems. I’ve only had this once before. Interestingly, the first time I got it was on the 2nd day of my Demyst back in February. This time it was worse though, so needless to say I spent a good portion of the night in my latrine. When it comes to combatting GI problems, PC Niger has great resources. First thing Sunday morning I went to the hostel, prepared a sample, a lab tech arrived within 30 minutes, and I called my Dr. with the results. I started medication immediately and an hour later I was already feeling better. Today I’m virtually 100%.
Luckily it was the last day of Demyst that I got sick. My guests spent some time at the cyber cafe and then at the hostel with the rest of the trainnees that came into the city with their hosts. This morning I got up early and made pancakes and fruit salad before sending them off. Mr. D asside, my first experience hosting Demysters was a grand success.
Once they left I went home and slept for 5 hours :)
Well I think that’s all for now. Tomorrow I’m headed to Niamey for money and then back to Dosso the following day.
Kala TonTon!

What’s The Word(in zarma)
Translation: guest, foreigner, stranger; etranger, invité, hote

Yawey hinza ka neo han beri kan bisa; Three guests came here last friday ; Trois invités sont venus ici vendredi dernier.

[First catterpilar I’ve seen, the butterflies are really starting to come out too]