This blog reflects only the thoughts of Daniel Hodson himself and does not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thanksgiving Fashion Show...Lost Footage





Just found these pics, photo credits to Eric Camball, from waaay back at the Thanksgiving Day fashion show. I miss my Niger stage.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Niger banda


Thanks to the feedback of several readers, I've decided to keep some kind of blog on my Peace Corps Senegal experience: http://salamsenegal.blogspot.com/

I'm still on an Arabic kick...which will make no sense in a year.

Blog (again) an aesthetic disaster, but I will work on this...



Point of Information


Disconnected from American media (which I never pay any mind anyway), I heard a rumor that the press said Americans were being targeted in Niger. From our experiences IN Niger, this does not seem to be the case. Of the several incidents over the last year or so, both French nationals (kidnapped and some killed) and American embassy personnel (came under fire only) and U.S. embassy people, FR people working with the mines up north, a FR aid worker, and maybe some FR tourists made up these groups, but our understanding was that any European or American had a bounty on their head, but FR or other embassy people viewed as very wealthy and likely to pay a ransom were targeted more than Americans. There were no incidents involving PCV's.  A disturbing aspect of the latest incident which precipitated our evacuation was that it was possible the terrorists simply grabbed two white people. Given that many people think we are French sometimes, this was disconcerting. But with the info I have, it seems wrong to say Americans were being targeted.

Manti wiza (NOT much to my surprise...probably not grammatically correct), the media cannot be trusted to deliver correct information. I don't want to be spending my time spreading rumors, so I want to stop before any more speculation, but I wanted to clarify this poss faux pas.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Epilogue: Senegal Bound


What an unbelievable roller coaster last week, especially last days. Impossible to recount properly. Last afternoon at like 1630h, we got some options for ways we could quickly join a new program. I was unsure, thought I had a plan, then looked at an option I had overlooked around 2100h, and it blew my mind. It's funny after looking at a lot of stuff that you're luke warm about, and then you read something that seems so perfect...you know. It's as though they actually know what they're doing over there. Through the rumor mill, Senegal's health program has an excellent reputation. I finished reading the packet literally walking to the wine bar, and the decision was made to put my name in the hat for the health program in Senegal.

Today at 1600h, they posted a list of names. My name was on it. How this happened I have no idea. Friends with better qualifications than me were left of the list for Senegal or other countries to which they had applied. There will be 7-8 of us from Niger going to Senegal, five of us from my stage, including some of my closest friends. I am, right now, the only male and only CHA going from Niger. They will give us 4-5 weeks of some kind of training, and then we're in. Running of 4 hours of sleep, but totally jazzed up and overwhelmed. Literally bouncing up and down. Been not quite sure what to do with myself, first waiting to hear news if I got the assignment, and now excited and nervous for a new position so soon. Was this the right decision? I think so, and I really hope so. We will leave within the week. No vacation. No time home. I will miss all my friends from this stage terribly.

We're done two birthdays this week already. The deputy director of the Peace Corps called us to thank us, etc, etc., and she said they had heard about our rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" and so she and several other Peace Corps Washington staff played the song and sang it to us over the phone. We clapped twice expecting them to be done in an instramental or something...and then they would be still singing. My name is on the list, and our shenanigans have spread to the D.C. office. I am doing something right. I will be given a tremendous opportunity in a dynamite program to do some real legit work. Expectations will be high, and I will have to prove I am more than cheap tricks and shenanigans.

This closes out the Niger blog I think. I'm not sure how I will record the adventure in Senegal. I think I have been thinking too much, holding on too tight. We will see. Thanks to all for reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Peace Corps Suspends Program in Niger; All Volunteers Evacuated Safely

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2011 – Peace Corps has suspended its program in Niger due to ongoing concerns about volunteer security. All 98 volunteers are safe and accounted for and have been safely evacuated to another country. Volunteers will take part in a transition conference and if possible will be offered the option to complete their service in another Peace Corps country.

Peace Corps will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Niger. The safety and security of volunteers is the Peace Corps' highest priority.

"The Peace Corps has been committed to development in Niger for nearly five decades," said Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams. "We have excellent relationships with Nigerien people and communities and we are grateful for the strong partnership we have had with counterpart organizations and the Government of Niger."

Prior to the suspension, Peace Corps had operated in Niger without interruption since 1962. Over 3,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Niger since the program was established, working in the areas of Agriculture/Natural Resource Management, Health, Education and Municipal Community Development.

Evacuation

My apology/ explanation to my village on the 1/4-1/3 portion of the wall that I was able to chalk board.

We picked up my friend in his village, and a crowd of villagers led him to the car. The picture doesn't quite capture it. The villagers came up to the car and told another PCV in the car that they were not going to let us take him away.

This about sums it up.

le 14 janvier (evacuation recap)

Wednesday, le 12 janvier.

I am at the clinic. My phone rings once, a number not in my phone. I let it go.

It rings again. Same number. Looks like a PC number. I step out.

One of the FARM APCD's. He greets me. He says he's going to read me a text message from Peace Corps. He begins to read. When does it hit me? When do I get it? Peace Corps is leaving Niger. I squat to the ground in the clinic yard. Overwhelmed. I start to cry. Boys come to get water. They cannot see me cry. Am I listening? Yes, yes, I'm listening. I get up. Wander aways some. Squat again. We can't talk to other PCV's about it until when? When are we leaving? Don't tell people at home. Don't tell village all of what's going on. Tell them you're going to Niamey, that maybe you will come back. Do I have any questions? So, we can talk to people when?

Phone call ends. Do I go back to the clinic? I cannot. I am overwhelmed. I walk quickly to my concession. I am crying again I think. I call home. It's like 0500. Mom picks up. I can barely get it out. They're pulling everyone. I ask her to call me back. What is overwheleming? For me, it's all the effort. Now, starting from scratch again. Especially the language. I had been SO stressed and unsure about learning a languge. I had never done it before. It was a major flaw in my experiences and accomplisments. And I did it. Well it was going. And now to have to start over. And now is the hardest time. And we just have to endure it. Get through the first week, first two weeks, first month, first three months. Now we have the opportunity to go home. Do I want to go home? I had wished for it some in first week. But, no doubt that would be a terrible defeat. Now, the easy out option is given to us. It will take strength to choose against it. So much work to come.  I settle down. Talk to mom some. 

Walk back to clinic. Get a text from my friend. We parry a bit. I call him. We're on the same page. I talk to him. Several other friends. Don't know what to say. We don't know what to do. Don't know exactly what's going on.

I don't know what to do. Knowing I am leaving actually has my spirits in the moments lifted. Sure, let's help some boys carry some water to the school. I'll be gone in a day, I can do anything. Should I pack? Take pictures? Go back to clinic? Walk around town? I decide to make lunch, so that when I decide to do something, I will not be hungry. Don't need to worry about food. I make pasts with the laughing cow and some spices. Brilliant combination.

The little kid in the fam I share a concession with pokes his head in. I greet him excitedly. I am leaving in a day. He can poke his head in all he wants. I decide to walk along the gardens by the river to try to get some pics. Also of the ville. It is nice to just walk, with no agenda. My "agenda" for the day out of the window. I am glad to have my little friend with me. I want to impart some major lessons to him in these closing hours. I become increasingly uncomfortable about taking pictures. This is why I don't take them all the time. I'm not a tourist. This should be my home. But now I want to be able to show people. I am ashamed to take pics of people directly. I wait for them to pass, then snap a pic from the back. My expensive camera. My tourists' eye. People seem not to mind. But, as we approach the ville again, it creates, as expected, too much spectacle. People yelling, pulling at me. Take their picture. I missed someone. Someone didn't see. Enough enough. I don't need pics this bad. I'm leaving in a day, but can't handle satisfying people's curiosity about the camera. It's just a picture, calm down, sometimes a pitiful scene again, but if someone landed a space ship in my front yard I would rush to check it out. At the time when I feel my patience is most, my patience is tried to its limit anyway.

I snap some pics of the gardens where I worked. Some pics of the route over which we tracked rabbits. Over which I ran in the morning. I think pretty much to the picture, each one, as I take it, seems to fail to capture the moment I try to capture. The pic of the rogo we planted. You see the ground we tilled, the river. You do not feel the shade as contrast to the sun. You do not hear the birds. You do not feel the breeze. Nor appreciate how awesome all these are in the middle of a desert-ish environment. You cannot swivel and see the full panoama. You cannot hear the Zarma I spoke. You cannot see us working, the stereoptypical PC scene, testament to my ever so partial success. You cannot see the Nigeriens watching me, the annassara speaking Zarma and tilling the soil. You see the place, but you see nothing of the scene. The picture taking seems for naught mostly, but I had to satisfy to pull to snap SOMEthing.

I escape to my concession. I talk to another friend. I realize I need to pack. Need to be ready to go. What to bring, what to leave? want to bring a skeleton packs of stuff...but what if we go straight to another post? Hard to know what we'll need when we don't know what we're doing. I end up packing a fair amoutn, but leave a lot behind. All the essentials I feel. Literally had JUST felt settled some. Just FELT a PCV. Had just set this stuff up, now I rush to take it down, pack it up.

I walk around briefly. My patience is thin some on the walk around, which usually gives me strength. Hard to say the extra fofo, greet the extra person, pay close attention to understand, when I will be gone in a day. What does it matter? I bring my world map to the guy who lives by the bricks we mad who had asked the questions. We have a great conversation. I try to explain how the spin of the earth's axis gives places far north and far south sometimes all day and all night. This is very hard in Zarma for me. I draw a map of the solar system in the sand to show the different planets and how they revolve around the sun. The sun does not revolve around the earth. He is grateful for the map.  I feel good about leaving it for him. Should I have left it for the school? Help the greatest number? I want to reward a friend.

I am on my way back. Someone gets me. My contact wants to see my. Do I have my phone? No, it's charging in my house. Peace Corps called him. I jog home. Don't want to do any more greetings for 30 min. Just need to confirm with our APCD. Will get picked up tomorrow morning, not exactly sure when.

I tell my contact's wife to tell him to come over when he gets back. The doctor is not there. I tell his wife to tell him to come over. I will make dinner for them. And tell them.

My room was just done. Now it is empty again. I cook the sweet pasta with cheese with spices. My contact comes. We sit on the floor. It is fun to play host. We sit on the rug. He writes some stuff in Arabic on the chalkboard. His name. My name. He has to go pray. I thought the last prayer was past. I feel stupid. It takes him a long time to come back. I worry he has forgotten. I am not looking forward to this convo, maybe the most important convo of my Zarma career. He finally comes. We sit on my rug and eat. It's pretty cool. I'm sitting eating dinner with a Nigerien, having legit conversation in Zarma. Four months ago I was bugging out about FR. He asks about the phone call. I try to explain what's going on. I hope he gets it. I tell him to give the seeds to the farmers and the other stuff to people. I give him a pair of shoes. He looks at some other stuff. He seems real pumped about the pair of shoes. That feels good.

It's funny, as a friend and I discussed, that for our stage, we did exactly what Peace corps does NOT do. We were there for a short period of time, and just gave out a bunch of stuff. When PC returns to Niger, these village that knew PC for a week only will have a skewed experienced. We all left tons of stuff. I, and others too, even left various amounts of cash in various pockets.

Pocket notes from this day:
"got phone call. in clinic. leet it go. same #. picked it up. Sangrey. Said he wanted to read us a message...when did I know we were all coming out? squatted in lokotoro kwaara. started to cry. he asked if I was there. kids greeting me. can't cry. you serious? so hard. do it again. option to wuss out? we're done...but we haven't done anything yet. easy way out. so hard, past week. even wanted to be pulled out sometimes. that cup would pass me by. but have to get through it. overwhelmed. didn't know where to go or what to do. went to concession. called home crying. mom there. I'm coming home? or am I? haven't earned it yet. off phone. back to clinic. distracted by boy carrying water. now everything fun that cup will pass. like when race over, even bad race, it's done. feel guilty to have that GOOD feeling. pain over, for now. what to do? pics? pack? am I to show up home without the $2000 I spent on stuff for the trip? embarrassing but not my call. not an Early Termination. can visit Drew and Cait? would be fun. or even my vaca to east Africa! with cash in lieu. time to go home? time that I wanetd? I should have insisght from this...what to do know? what do I WANT to do? I dunno. want vaca. to relax. with friends and family. collect. figure stuff out. wish had blogs from last 3 days. village is nice. could I stay like Drew and I joked about? want someone to know I had a MASTERFUL first week. wish I could get some affirmation on that at least"

"wish blog was caught up. should I take time to recap? want to be with stage"

"hoping to figure stuff out. now more doubt that not. more questions that answers"

"giving like this...guess it works? stuff with camera tough and food would run out...I dunno. Hard to know how to play that. Give and give and give?"

"waiting for guy to come back from prayer. this will be hard, my last Zarma speech- hope I, NEED to, nail it. want it to be done so I can be in my thoguhts, go to bed and be done. tought waiting more.

"today the dad of the family in my concession wearing a bin Laden shirt. [people had seen kids around one of the little towns near where we trained with one]. Just like the Obama shirts, right? They don't know? I hope so. same as voting. The main point is people don't really know what's going on..."

Thursday, le 13 janvier

Did not sleep well. still feel some unsafe at night. Think of things to do before I leave. Want them done. Finally, mornign prayer comes. Finally, sun comes up. 0645. I get up. A few quick packing changes. Put on oatmeal. Try to snap some pics of sun coming up. Look for doctor. He's not there. See my little bro. Pull him into my concession. Give him the last special lollipop I have. Grape. Tell him to study well. Tell him with knowledge and health, he can do anything. Hope it sticks. Have breakfast out in family's concession. Not so  Actually, kinda fun. Real fun. No fear now, I'm leaving in few hours. At some point, tell that family mom and dad. Bring over my bin of food. Not a ton left, but definitely stuff they probs never see (e.g. canned meat, Nutella, cereal). Drop off stuff at clinic, doctor stilll not there. Don't want to not get it over there. Go to magarie to tell him. Not sure it sinks in. Come back. Worried car will roll up any moment. Not ready. Go back to clinic. Sage femme there. I explain the situation. Show her the meds I brought, all the stuff Peace Corps gave us and my mosquito net and some money in case the clinic needs it. She is really nice. I'm on my way out and the doctor comes in. I run through it with him. The sage femme sits behind the desk. I sit across from her. The doctor sits on the patient table next to all the stuff. He starts to go through it, and I just sit mesmerized. Item by item, he identifies it, I chime in when I can, mostly Zarma, some FR, some questions, some miming (e.g. cough since I forgot the Zarma word). It is mesmerizing. I dunno why. They are nice people. He moves slowly and deliberately though it. I think they are grateful, probs some confused, probs now probs very misinformed about how Peace Corps works. When we're done, I head back to my concession. Would have liked to work with them. I erase the chalk board. Write an explanatory note to my village in Zarma on the chalkboard. Funny, of course, because no one writes or reads Zarma, but I don't think I can do it in FR...nor Arabic. Hope they get figure it out. I pull my bags onto my bed outside. Hang my solar charger to charge my phone and...wait.

Kids swing in hammock. It breaks again. Decide to try to tie it someplace instead of hammering it into wall. Tie it under their shade hangar. I think it will stay. Good. Glad I got to do that.

Wait.

Pace my concession. Check my phone constantly. Kids sitting inside. Doesn't bother me. I'm leaving. I pull out the Sesmane Street book in FR that I found...somewhere. Read it to kids, translating into Zarma. Here I am, six months maybe after starting FR, and I"m translating the kids book from FR into Zarma. That's a huge accomplishment for me, having neer learned a language before, and it's the hardest part of giving this up for me. Gotta do it again?

Woman comes while I'm reading. To look at my concession. Asks what I'm doing, where I'm going.

Waiting.

Sit outside of concession. See the magarie's go to guy. The guy who set up my house, etc. I explain it to him. It seems he doesn't quite know what to say. Maybe this happened before reading. I am getting nervous, too many people know. waiting too long.

Waiting.

Another lady comes over. Kinda asks some questions I try to evade. It's getting painful. I just want to sit and watch my phone, but the kids usually follow me. They look at my bags at my cell phone charger. They ask for everything, rubber bands, strings, the few cents of change I left on the table. I give them rubber bands, the clothesline hangars, the string from my kwaadi door. No, I don't have any more candy. My patience is thinned. How is string a toy? No, they can't have my Livestrong...the only thing left on my wrist. No, don't touch the solar charger.

We have no word. It's like past ten. At some point, I hear the driver had gone to the other side of the river first. Finally, he arrives. We load up. He looks in my concession. Tells them to move my bed inside. Asks me for a lock. I have packed it. Want them to be able to take stuff out. Small crowd. Small specacle. Minimal explanation. And we're off.

I ask him "Mate no?", like "What's up?"...trying to be careful. I know it will be hard on the staff. He turns to me slightly, his look not pained, but utterly dejected, and says "A si boori" or something that (No good). I feel so bad for the staff. This guy has worked for over twenty years for Peace Corps. He had evacuated from the Tahau (sp) region last year. Now, the country is totally out. I feel we are abandoning not only our villages, but these people who, it is noted, have dedicated their lives to Peace Corps Niger. Next year, PC Niger would have celebrated 50 years of unbroken service. No longer. I am told the staff, almost a full staff, will be kept on for a full year. To keep things going, in the hopes that the situaiton will resolve itself quickly and PC can return. Today, our training director, remember from the pic from swear in, came with us to Morocco. He seems so down. On the bus ride from the Casablanca airport, to our hotel in the capital, people kept commenting "Whoa! Real roads!", "Wow, fat cows like America!", "Wow, the ocean!", "Real soil!", etc, etc. Such exclamations come from Americans who have lived in one of the poorest countries of the world in the desert for 6-24 months. But, to a Nigerien, I worried they would be wholly insulting. How much better Morocco is than Niger, wala? I really really felt badly for our training director, a man larger than life, having led all trainees for 25 years, hearing his country picked apart by some 20 something year olds on a bus in Morocco. I guess he just wanted to be back in Niger, green grass or no green grass. Some lessons PCv learn well, others not.

I also feel so badly for older PCV's. I took it very hard at first, but being reunited with some of my stage mates, with more to come, I am reivigotated. I am jazzed up. Excited for this mini new adventure. Excited to have some say in where I will go. I do have to go. I have not really done anything. I want to be a PCV. In fact I was one. I cannot claim to have finish something I only barely started. I am excited to have some say in where I go. I am excited to see the countries we might be sent. Wish our stage could stay together, but also look forward some to another training. Now I know I can do training. But, the older volunteers. Had been there for a year. Had started projects. Had known their communities so well. Left so much more behind. Real friends. Work have started, not finished. They are taking it hard, many of them. I feel a freshmen again. I don't have the right to feel very upset. And I think out stage is taking it fairly well. We're bouncing back quickly. Excited. Looking forward. But, I feel guilty for our excitement, seeing their pain.

Last night, a mess at the hostel. Everyone trying to fit all their stuff, for us, three months worth, for others, two and a half years, into two bags of 23 kilo's each. Food left behind everywhere. Much eaten. Much left behind. A huge mess. Even here, American excess can be found. The driver from our region comes. Feel guilty...all the food. Our positive spirits. Older PCV's talk to him. I want to reach out to him, but have no rapport. Feel nothing I can say can mean anything. I hope someone said the right thing to him.


le 14 janvier

We left Niamey in the early morning. Working off...less than four hours sleep. More than many. Some have slept 4 hours in the last 48 hours. Everyone filled with anxiety to varying degrees. Hopped a flight to Morocco. Rolled into a nice hotel, maybe the nicest in which I have ever stayed. We moved out bags in, and then had an overwhelming buffet lunch. An older PCV, one I knew the best, looked at all the food and covered her mouth. Took a step back. Another paused entering the room. She could not finish her food. Both look dejected and overwhelmed all lunch. I am told the culture shock coming BACK is hardest. Maybe one day I will know.

"so this is evacuation? who would know". we have three or four cars leaving the hostel towards the airport. 0430. The most dangerous part, perhaps? The whole thing surreal. Very odd. The week at ville seems so far off, almost like it didn't happen.

On the plane, I sit next to a women, speak Zarma. She replies in English. Zarma done. I'm really proud to have learned the language. Had been such a huge concern. I did know if I could do it. The stewardesses speak Arabic, and French, and English. Arabic and French writing. Some English. So, we're back to square one. Not understanding anything. A few generally "Islamic" phrases we learned ARE arabic, so we can use those few. I'm kinda in language mode, excited to learn some Arabic...even though we'll be here maybe only a week.

I type up recap from blog days missed on plane. Don't look out window much. See desert though. Pretty unreal. Surface or Mars. Would have been cool to see Sahara, but that part of Niger even MORE unsafe. Untouchable for us without asinine risk. Want to close out "business". Catch up and finish out blog. I debate whether to continue blog through transition or into next assignment. I think no. At least not now. It's been very helpful for me and for people at home, but I hold onto it to tight, stress too much about it. want to just relax, experience, and think, without carrying the historian's burdeon of "recording". Want to be rested and have no agenda when the rest of our stage rolls in on Monday, and we start official business on Tues. Spent almost three months in Niger. Now I get a mini trip to Morocco. Next, who knows. It's turning into quite an adventure.

Will not speculate on circumstances of kidnapping, but other theories than the news about Al Quaida (sp) circulate. With the elections coming up, perhaps related, perhaps not.

There has been so much to experience, so much to record, it tears me up to have to put some on paper or type some up so quickly. For every though I remembered, every lesson I captured, I surely missed dozens more. For every great picture, a million greater moments were missed, could never be captured. 

Peace Corps Niger, destination Niger. Over. About 48 hours for my group from the phone call to touching down in Morocco.