Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A final lesson in geting things done

On Monday I was misled. Duped. I thought for a brief moment in time that I would be able to sail though the Nigerien bureaucracy and exit the country without a hitch. I awoke early on Monday and full of anxiety- I was headed to the water and electric companies to turn off services and pay bills. Something akin to an elementary school teacher on her first day of school, you cannot let them sense your fear. I channeled Senegal- a place much more aggressive and where respect is gained though the fight. I pushed ahead of the already forming crowds and thrust my documents in the line of sight of those behind desks. I lied- I said that I was leaving the next day. Told to come back the next day, I left the building and got in the car with the electrical technicians, forcing them to my house before they went anywhere else. In amazing efficiency, I had the water and electricity turned off and the last bills paid by 10:30 in the morning. What is left is just to get back the deposits I put down, totaling about $50.

So being that today is already Wednesday and still no deposits, I am beginning to ask myself just what is $50 worth to me at this point? I have developed a cold and have all but lost my voice. Trying to use this to my advantage as either the "pathetic sick Anasara who suffers so much" or the "sexy mysterious gravel voiced Anasara" has not advanced things. I have sat and waited, read a book, returned each day, and watched numerous Nigeriens attempt to bribe officials. The officials glance up at me and refuse the bribe, but what they don't know is that I am watching closely how much it costs to get things done and recalculating my possible losses.

How can this take so long? One guy stamps, another fills out forms, yet another signs, someone has to locate the carbon copy from December, get the bill printed, wait in more lines. It is beautifully ineffective, and I am running out of books.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

sprint to the finish

I remember how as my two years in Senegal came to end I was surprised by many people. many of whom I considered friends throughout my stay disappointed in the end, and others whom I spent the two years avoiding brought me to tears with their kindness. It seems that this exit is going to be a similar one in which true colors shine through. With just over one week left here in Niger, I am frantically running around and tying up odd ends with regard to research, the house, moving, and trying to see friends. Having a house has allowed me to host a record number of guests from the States, the grand total now at 7. It has been an incredible expense though and a huge pain in the ass at times. My landlord appeared a few days ago to remind me that I was responsible for painting the house before leaving, which he felt was going to cost me approximately $500. He was willing to cut me a deal however and suggested I give him two-thirds cash and let him handle it. I stormed off in a huff and got my own estimate for $130. Then he suggested that we add the estimates together, divide in two, and I pay that sum. What?! A three day battle ensued, but I ultimatately was victorious with the help of 2 Nigerien reinforcements and 3 Americans.

I plan to pack up and move out this weekend, and will be starting my own personal reintegration training staying next week with a friend who has air conditioning and cable tv.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some faces in places

A Fulani girl from the Torodi region on market day

Hourera and her daughter Jeynoba escaping from the heat at my house

Bella Women of Ayerou

Hippos Go Berzerk

Mom reminded me recently that when I was little, my favorite book was one called Hippos Go Berzerk which I refered to as Hippos Do the Zerk. Well Ma, I finally saw them zerk-ing in full form. Leigh and Brian and I went to the border town of Ayerou last weekend to catch a colorful market and to see the growing hippo population. Ayerou marks the ancient crossroads of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. We took a dugout canoe downstream in the evening and saw about 30 hippos wallowing in the shallow parts of the river. They were incredible- calling to each other, yawning, and actually brawling right there infront of us. The locals have lived with the powerful beasts for ages and know each one and their personalities. They look like rocks until you see their little ears twitching above the waterline.

That night we camped out on the roof of the local 'hotel' along the banks of the river. We wanted to get a good spot to see the herds of cows swim across in the morning for the market, not to mention to maximize the night breeze. Unfortunately we also had not much of a choice- the hotel managers had decided to paint every single room of the hotel that day and they were not ready for guests. Poor Leigh had to then be further tortured by looking at the air conditioning units in the rooms, not being able to benefit from any of them. Buckets of river water were collected for our baths and we climbed over a tall wall to get to the stony roof where our mats were spread out. We discovered that the spot had been claimed at sundown by some local lovers and with complete indignance, the three of us kicked them off our roof before settling in for the night. It has been great to have Lu here to share in the experiences, although I am sure that this hotel one was one she could have done without. I keep having to remind her that there are no vicious beasts here that will go bump in the night. I think that both she and I are a little surprised at how vividly Gabon has entered her blood memory.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Top 10 Things That I Will miss about Niger

1. men still carry swords
2. the way people dance like no one is watching
3. herds of sheep and camels in downtown traffic
4. the little girl next door that screams like she just spotted Santa claus evertime I leave my house
5. tea
6. the sound and feel of the night in the desert
7. the beauty and diversity of the Fulani women
8. the night sky
9. call to prayer
10. how the concept of forming a line to wait for something is a completely foregn one

Friday, May 04, 2007

When systems fail

Yes, it is true. My new fabulous, lovely and amazing computer has failed me and left me to manage this month alone without photos, movies, music or much to write on. I have successfully body-blocked tens of Nigeriens anxious to get their hands on a Mac to fiddle around with it, convinced that with a little fineggling they can make it cooperate. Trying to insist that it is nothing like the local television hooked up to a car battery that you can just smack around to light up, I realized that physically intervening between the machine and them was the way to go. After finding the zen spot in myself that could control the absolute panic about the loss of data and photos over the last month and a half, I have regrouped and am focusing on other things- mainly reading some books in French that I have been putting off and doing things the old way and taking notes in a now chaotic looking notebook. My sister gets here next week and her 2 week visit with me about wraps it up. The last few days are going to be spent saying goodbyes and fighting my way through the electric and water companies- all alone this time.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

When technology fails: a word from Lucie

Hi folks. It's me, Lucie, posting from NYC. I live with Parks and I'm a friend of Steph's. Since I like to tell it like it is, I feel compelled to shed a little feline perspective on the technology situation over in Niamey.

Holly called Steph yesterday only to discover that Steph was experiencing some major computer problems. Being a cat who is only semi computer literate, I did not understand the details of the conversation. However, I did catch some phrases like "all white screen" and "possible hard drive failure". Oh, and there were some explitives thrown in. They were talking on speaker and both of them sounded pretty frantic. I guess it appears Steph may not be able to use her laptop much for next several weeks.

Am I supposed to express sympathy here? Shoot, if that would only happen to Holly's computer, I'd be thrilled; more of her attention would be on ME, rather than on that silly machine. I am here to let you know that life without a laptop can and does go on. I mean, who needs a laptop?? Computers can start to control you when you begin plugging more and more 'stuff' into them, then rely on them to spit it back at you. Plus, they make you believe they are necessary to do things that all of us people (and cats) did just fine before they came into our lives. Without computers you can still do the important things like eat, nap and hang out with friends. Incidentally, I think the Nigeriens have the right idea with the siestas and the tea rituals. They sound like my kind of people.

Anyway, Steph, you're just going to have to embrace going back to pen and paper, back to notebooks of data...back to the basics. You can do this! As proof, here you were back in January expertly handling patients' paper charts:
If you really need a computer fix, there's always Leyla's Cybercafe: This is where Steph often blogs and writes to all of you.

Here's the proprietor Amina with Steph:

And Leyla's has the added bonus of being a full service cafe where you can dine with friends:
Last but not least, you can use the time you may have spent tapping on the keyboard to enjoy the moment over there in Niamey. You can do things like hang out and laugh with kids...

...or watch the sunset over the River Niger: Due courage, Steph. I have faith that this latest obstacle, too, shall be overcome.



Sunday, April 22, 2007

Spirited Away

The last month and a bit are ahead of me and as incredibly anxious I am to get home, this weekend was a nice reminder of the things that I love here. I guess in the hum drum of work, I have gotten caught up in the daily commute to the hospital and return to the house. I have not been out in a while to do other things other than go to marketplaces. Most of my Nigeriens friends come over in the evenings and so there is really no reason for me to head out into the night either. I guess it is funny how living in an 'exotic' place can also become quite hum drum. My friend Allison has been in town- she and I were at Emory together and then she did Peace Corps here while I was in Senegal. She has returned for a month to do some work on schistosomiasis for her masters degree in public health. It has been great to reconnect. So this weekend we went to another spirit possession where about six of the nature spirits showed up. A guy arranged the ceremony to see if the spirits were ok with him marrying a certain lady friend. I have to say I would not have wanted to be in her position! (don't get any ideas, Christopher) After about eight hours of music and dance in the hot sun, the mediums for the various spirits started to get possessed. We took our usual seat behind the musicians so that the possessions happened direcly infront of us. I love the energies of the ceremonies, the music, and how casual it all is. I love that can't be explained in my American head and that it just moves the questions of life around in my head, solving none of them. Before coming here I had no idea that this paractice was going to be so prevalent. We have even had several fistula patients with spirits at the hospital. But it is one of those great things bout being here that you can't get anywhere else. So to help me ignore the heat, I get to focus looking forward to the enormous rain ceremony to be held next week. (PS- the photo is with Isaka, a high priest, and his wife. Pedro- notice Natty Boh?)