Archive for December, 2009

Christmas time!

December 24, 2009

I’m not a big Christmas shopper and I hate the consumerism of Christmas, but there is a lot I like about Christmas:  Food, little gifts, parties, holiday, New York City at xmas.  I can sometimes even stand the snow.  I actually get a little sentimental about it sometimes.  So a few people have asked me what I’ll be up to over here all alone.  Well, I’m going to do what I’ve already done a couple of times: go swimming!  A hotel here has a great outdoor pool- usually empty of people, a view of the sunset from a large balcony followed by some tasty brochettes.  I will then spend some time watching, as per my tradition, Christmas Vacation and listening to vinyl cafe Christmas stories, namely Polly Anderson’s Christmas party and of course “Dave cooks the turkey”.  I’ve declined going to mass in order to watch Chevy Chase and I suspect there could be a special place in hell for people like me.

Some of the agencies I’m involved with are closing for the holidays until January (surprinsingly, given it’s a Muslim country), but even more surprinsing was being handed condoms on the way out the door of the Catholic organization I work for, and being told to always be prepared for the holidays.   They are four year old condoms, made in India with an expiry date for March 2010, but at this time of year it really is the thought that counts.

I haven’t figured out yet how to embed photos, so I’ve started adding some to my flickr albums, and hopefully the link I’ve added should work.  Let me know if not.

Happy holidays everyone.


First library visit

December 22, 2009

I did my first library visit last week.  Being a support to the organization’s libraries is what I’m here to do, although I wish someone would actually help me get around to doing it.  I have to be patient!

I. B. is a technical school library.  It has a section for students and a section for teachers.  It includes one assistant and a librarian.  Classes file in from hour to hour to read, so it’s an active enough place.  Although the first library I’ve seen, I suspect this one is better off than the others that serve the public.  It is not automated, although it would like to be, and I suspect that interpersonal issues between the librarian and the school administration stifles any problem solving.  For example, it’s not unusual for a teacher to check out the best books, and when their contract ends just take them with them.  This was highlighted in a report three years ago, and it is still not resolved.  I don’t know yet about whether this will fall under the scope of what I will be working on.  On va voir.  Right now even one visit to one library leaves me with many questions rather than solutions (well, I have ideas for solutions, but how and where to tread is something approached lightly!)  But that’s not fun talk for a blog!

Given it’s a technical “Lycee” (nobody can exactly tell me what the ages of the students are at this level, but I figure the youngest 15/16 yrs to young adult…) they have programs such as refrigerator & air conditioning repair, electrical engineering, accounting, drafting, as well as other things.  They take classes in English too. Strangely, I wasn’t shown any of the programs that the women register for (which I’m thinking are more “office oriented” jobs).  I was asked if any women take the classes I saw and was told there are occasionally women who take them, but I’m guessing these gender career paths are still pretty clearly defined.

So the resources that the teachers asked for were those that were attached to the programs: texts in engineering, business English, accounting, English grammar, topographie (technical drawing, as for architecture, banking and finance, and texts for “le froid” (“the cold”- AC and Fridge repair), and French-English dictionaries.

Of course, it was talking to the students that was the most interesting and fun (although both my French and English made them laugh… strangely, more the English than French) and I think many teen librarians will recognize the consistency of what teens want in their library:

*Bandes dessinées! (comic books/graphic novels)

*Magazines and books about athletes, especially football

*African tales (contes Africains) and African novels

*Romance novels and contes Adoras (I diligently wrote that one down and made a note to myself to investigate what they actually are later, and they are essentially the African written and published Harlequins: which I guess the name implies. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.  Of course, I only found this out after but explains why when speaking to a group of six young men in an electrical engineer class, the mention of romans Adoras resulted only in blank stares back.  However, one young man in that class insisted that what he reads in his spare time are books on refrigerator and air conditioning repair.  I told him I bet he was a pretty good student. The slogan for Adoras however, is “when reading becomes passion” so I think he may not be too far from the spirit of the novels. )

*English-french dictionaries

All libraries aside, they had a more open ended question session which included:

What is Canada like? (Here again, the weather is great fodder for anecdotes… especially Edmonton!)

What do you think of Niger?

Would you like to stay longer?

Do you know the actor Jean Claude Van Damm there? (I know, a little out of left field…)

I heard that Celine Dion said that if she knew Africans would like her music she never would have recorded them? (Talk about being thrown for a loop… I said I had never heard that.  I do recall something similar being said about Tommy Hilfiger years ago, so it must be urban legend territory? Anyone…?)

I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to grab my camera to take pictures.  Speaking of which I know there are no photos yet! I’m working on that… I haven’t really been taking my camera with me during this period, but I may have some soon.

And finally, what you have all been waiting for is the answer to the quiz regarding ubiquitous t-shirt appearances… that honour goes to the guy whose been winning all the prizes lately, President Barack Obama.  He is everywhere, and I swear I even saw one guy here unloading packages of what looked to me to be Barack Obama bedsheets, but I think it was the style of packaging that made me think that.  I mean really, there couldn’t be Barack Obama bedsheets, could there?  However, a nod to the Bob Marley guess, who I  believe to be the most international of musicians- his seems to be everywhere I go?  (Although I can’t recall hearing much in Russia? Anyone else been to decided non-Marley places? Maybe it’s a hot, beach place kinda groove?)

So that’s it.  I have to go.  If you’re need my boyfriend or dog please hug them for me.  Miss you all.

Just little things

December 17, 2009

Sorry everyone, I’ve been without internet access for a while, but here is something I wrote a while ago and have updated a little.  Still getting settled, but more later I hope.  Don’t miss the quiz question imbedded here…

There are things that happen every day that I think, boy I wish I could remark on this to someone.  I guess this would be that place.  However, this means that I’ll be repeating these annecdotes at parties for years to come.  So here are little things that happen in my day….

Lost in translation

So let’s just say that I think my French is pretty good.  And then something happens that proves that I have gaps in what I like to call my “adult vocabulary”.  This is a conversation that took place today at a little store I’d been going to:

Me: “What is that product, I’ve seen lots of billboards for it?”

Storeowner : “Those are are “preservatifs””

Me, thinking: Oh like preservatives for food, so I say: “Oh so, does one mix it with your food to preserve it?”

Storeowner, now surrounded by teenage son and employee, quietly: “No, you put it on before sexual intercourse.”

Me: “Oh, good thing you told me, because I would have very surprised if I tried to mix it in my food.”

So, I won’t forget the use of that french word (which I had noted before but obviously forgot.)  I guess it makes the time in Cairo that I mixed up the words for “one” and “lonely” look less embarassing.

It’s cold out (this one is for the Edmontonians):

As mentioned before, this is the “cold season”. It’s about 15-20 degrees celcius out in the morning, but people take it pretty seriously.  Not only do some people wear parkas in the morning- down jackets, with hoods, but I passed a man walking his child one morning and the child was wearing a belaclava with the face cut out.  Kids are generally wearing toques in the morning. And I don’t think that these are unique situations.  Here, many merchants carry their wares around on their heads, and you know what must be a big seller right now?  Winter coats, because as I wander around the market (sweating) trying to figure out where I am, I pass men carrying in their arms and on their heads piles of winter coats.   Ever wonder what happened to that coat you gave to charity once?

Speaking of used clothing, Britney Spears seems to be beating Avril Lavigne on the t-shirts front.  I don’t know if that meant that producers more over estimated her popularity than Avril, thus leading to excess.  I think my favorite shirt I’ve seen so far is a young man wearing one with red and green letting that reads “I survived having an Italian mother-in-law”.

But the quiz question of the post is: Whose image is so ubiquitous here on t-shirts you can barely turn your head at a market without seeing someone wearing or selling one with their image on it?

(There is a good little documentary about the export of used clothing from the US to Africa called “T-shirt travels” which I saw years ago, that details the trips clothing in the US makes to Africa:

Did I need permission to go to a picnic?

The devil can sometimes be in the details you pick up along the way, even to a picnic.  Perhaps being asked “Oh, did you have authorization to go today?” should have tipped me off. Or the armed police escort, which stayed at the pincic all day.  This can’t be a good thing, can it?  Where are the Peace Corps volunteers? Not allowed to leave the city limits, apparently.  Wait, am I allowed to leave the city limits?  So, my friend asked, why all the police?  “In case we get attacked.”  I didn’t asked if she found out by whom.  I just tried to spend the day thinking of it as an extreme make work project. Well, we didn’t get attacked and I had some tasty fish brochette so it makes accidently flouting common sense all worth while.

These, of course, don’t represent in any way the only times I’ve said or done something stupid while here, to say the least, but I’ll more of those to come, I’m sure!

Catching a cab in Niamey

December 9, 2009

As I prepared to leave for Niger, a friend reminded me of one my own stories on public transit.  I had recently returned from Guatemala, where one learns to jump on buses even if they are still moving.  This it seems is a reality for much of the world and,  well,  I guess I had grown somewhat accustomed to that. (I do recall once having to jump through the back emergency door of one moving bus with my full backpack there, and have since wondered what the teachers who taught us emergency school bus evacuation techniques when we were children would think if they had seen me try to maneouvre myself up into a moving bus, instead of out.)  So, there I was standing in Vancouver waiting for a bus, and as fate would have it,  a bus driver, so keen to pick up passengers, actually opened the door of the bus prior to actually stopping, started to pull up, and with an impulse I can only describe as misjudged, jumped on the bus before it stopped.  Given the look on their face, I don’t know who was more shocked, me or the driver. I was totally apologetic- “I just jumped on your moving bus!- I’m sorry!”  It had seemed so normal just a few days ago.

I won’t even go into the time I clung to the side of a public pub on a rainy night in Colombo just to get to an internet cafe to check my email.

All that being said, I think that transportation, is the be all and end all of surviving anywhere.  So imagine my surprise to find out that here in Niamey there are no public buses, but there are shared taxis.  From what I understand, a taxi driver decides where they are going to go, they pick up their first customer, and that guides their route.  But how do you get where you’re going?  Easy! Sorta. You stand by the side of the road, and when you see a small white car with the taxi sign – which hopefully isn’t already full of people – you flag it down.  It has the passenger side window rolled down (well, probably all of them rolled down), and you yell what neighbourhood you’re going to, and if they approve, they stop.  If they’re not going your way, they don’t stop and keep driving.  Sometimes then, passengers stare at you as they drive away.  And I must admit, I’ve never shared a cab with another foreigner, other than the people I’ve met. Is there something other foreigners know that I don’t?  On the other hand, I’ve met a couple of really nice women in taxi cabs.  One hopes to visit Canada some day; it’s her dream.  So, you just never know what can come of squeezing into a teeny little car with practically no steering wheel or seat belts.

What doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger…

December 5, 2009

When you take predeparture training for many programs, you briefly cover the adjustment periods you go through while overseas.  They tell you that the first stage is a type of honeymoon period before an emotional and psychological crash that makes you homesick and want to retreat into isolation.  I guess I must buck some sort of trend because I don’t have much of that honeymoon period that is talked of.  Never. I start low and build slowly upwards (with some pitfalls).  I think this is because I tend to worry or stress about pragmatics, and I get wrapped up in being pressured or pulled in different ways.  Maybe, I need more handholding than I like to admit, but yet am relunctant to ask for help.  So, long story short, a couple of meltdowns this week over things such as being tired, home finding, and most recently the fact that none of my credit cards work here and I couldn’t get my travellers cheques cashed.  (I will soon be a holder of a Bank of Africa bank account… lets see how easy it will be to convince my c.u. to transfer money to Niger!) 

It all makes you think about the things you take for granted being able to do in one’s day to day life at home.  Apartment hunting (yes, even by Vancouver standards), grocery shopping, banking, catching cabs, knowing your surroundings, getting directions, eating with others, body language, interactions, language, work dynamics, the fluidity of time and schedules, appropriate dress, greetings, hierarchy, customer service, the weather, privacy… and so on… every single facet of your life is different and can be a challenge depending on the situation.  And while that is going on, you are almost always the centre of attention.  The degree to which these impact you, I’ve found here and in the past, especially when in Sri Lanka, depends on many things: your personality, your workplace, your gender, your colour, your language abilities, and every where you fall within the ex-pat lifestyle (for example, are you working here with a professional salary, and have a driver to shuttle you around or have someone do your chores, things that in my mind can shelter you from some of these things…).  In Sri Lanka, I just got used to being stared at (especially on public transit).  These challenges are not neccessarily bad.  The shock of the change or challenge can be thrilling, as is the confidence gained from small successes that you would never have thought twice about at home, such as taking a cab and not getting totally lost or taken for a ride, so to speak.  Being resourceful, such as asking if a grocery store will accept the five dollar american bill you have and nothing else, can fill you with such a sense of gratefullness that you thank your lucky stars you asked.

I have to remember that things will work out, bit by bit.  Hopefully.  Perhaps I should adopt the famous Dorothy Parker quip as mantra,”What fresh hell is this?” to get through the challenges and try to take it in stride.  And I haven’t even met with the partner I’ll be working with yet.  From the fat into the fire, as is said.

Fortunately, I have found people very nice and for the most part helpful.  Thank goodness.

Tomorrow I’m off to a big picnic, and honestly, things could go either way on it.  I will report back on that shortly.  Wish me luck.

If you’re close to them, hug my boyfriend and dog for me.