Archive for March, 2010

Niger currency and quiz update

March 23, 2010

I’m boning up for my hausa exam this week, which I know I will fail, but when I took the class I had no idea there would be an exam, which I think that is a pretty good excuse. Just to continue to wallow in hausa self-pity, let’s just look at numbers and currency, shall we? So the numbers: daya, biyu, ukku, hudu, biyar, shidda, bokoy, tokwos, tara, goma (1-10), ashirin (20), talatin (30)… and more.. to dari (100) and to jikka(1000). Simple enough… I guess.

But, the currency is all in divisions of five. So, if you’re talking currency, you start with “dala” and then multiply or divide (given the situation, I think?) the amount by five for small currency and give the amount. So, “dala daya” (daya being 1) is actually 5 francs, “dala biyu” is 10 francs, “dala goma” is 50 (5 times 10), dala ashirin is 100 because 5 X 20 is 100. “Dala dari” is 500 francs, because dari is 100 and “dala tamanin” is 400 francs: 5 X 80 (tamanin). Get it? If you do, good for @$#% you.

Now, it gets a little more complicated. If you get over 500, then you have to start adding things to the amounts, so for example:

“dala dari da arba’in” is 700 francs, because it’s 500 (dari) da (and) arba’in (40): it’s 5 X 100 to make 500, and then 5 X 40 to equal 200, to bring us to 700 (francs).

 “dala dari da hamsin” is 750 (francs), because it 500 (dari) da (and) hamsin (50): it’s 5 X 100 to make 500, and then 5 X 50 to equal 250, to bring us to 750 (francs).

Now, 1000 is jikka, and it doesn’t *seem* that it gets any arithematics attached to it. Unless, the amount is not *exactly* 1000. So, 25350 francs is “jikka ashrin da biyar dala saba’in”: ((1000 X 25) plus (70 X 5)).

Should I have to use parenthese when doing my grocery shopping? No! Fortunately, 25000 is about 60 dollars and I won’t be using that at the market at any point that I can foresee.

It all just seems like a cruel joke, doesn’t it? I feel like I’m in grade three math class again but in hausa. I think I should stick to improving my French. I mean even if it was in French (or English!) it would be confusing and all the moreso when you picture yourself at the market when crowds gather around you to get your attention.

But enough about that, because I should study.

Quiz wise, I will say that Michael Moore is a great guess, but is inaccurate, and as an extra clue I will add that the subject of the book is still in the news, and very recently had to make a very difficult decision about voting on a certain health care bill. That should make it pretty straight forward.

I think we’re going to need a bigger boat

March 21, 2010

This past week has been interesting, I’m happy to say. Although not directly related to my project, I participated in a worshop for the literacy side of the program I am with.  As part of its literacy program, the agency I work with supplies small villages with cases (“malles”) of books on various topics.  In some communities, the cases are stored in small literacy centres and in others whereever is possible.  The workshop participants are themselves former literacy learners and volunteerly manage the cases.  They don’t speak or write French and the workshop was held in their language, Goulmentia (?) and through a translator. The objectives of the workshop was, basically, to see how things are going.  The cases hold anywhere between 55 to 200 items, and all of them have a at least a few subscribers- some have dozens.  The participants talked about what they needed for their communities, the activities they do to attract people to the cases (mainly community meetings), who used the collections, how they think they can acquire new documents, and their challenges.  I was there mainly out of my own interest, but my colleagues coordinating the workshop had asked me to talk about programming ideas, so I tried to come up ideas that I thought may be appropriate for these volunteers in small communities with no resources, and I tried to focus on early literacy activities that incorporate their language and parents, or activities that incorporate their books (like scavenger hunts.) After I asked for an example, one young, enthusiastic man even volunteered to sing a song that moms sing to babies in their language. The experience was pretty humbling, seeing recent literacy learners pouring over and presenting their flipcharts to talk about a project they volunteer to take on.  With every presentation, they put themselves out there for reaction and criticism. It was a really good group.

Haussa class is still an embarassing struggle.  I know I don’t have much stake in it- I don’t have to work in the language, nor will I be here long enough to really use it- but when you undertake a challenge, it’s nice for it not to go badly.  There are really no reference points to other languages I know.  And, because I am the only “introductory” level student in the class, I really started to get the feeling that the instructor was picking on me a little. A classmate, married to a Nigerien geologist, confirmed as much the other evening when we out to dinner. It’s at such times that I didn’t have a good sense of humour which I think just *encourages* the instructor all the more. We had to take a dictation the other day, so here it just to give you an idea of the language. (Keep in mind that some of these k letters are not actually “k”s, but a little K with a hook at the top, which is only said at the back of the throat. And it’s way more difficult when you hear it spoken than when you go over it and see it written.)

“La bahin de Rodne da matasshi”
“Sunana Rodne sunan ubana Alex suma wata Louise. Daga Bristol nike. Bani da ya, bani da wa. Banida kane, ko knwa. Ama inaga kare sunanshi Reba (she changed that for me!), kuma inada susu. Sunanshi kit. Bya haka inada akou, sunanshi patsi. Ce karata ashirin da bokwoy. Ina da aure mattata sunanta gillian. Ce karata ashrinin da hutu. Nayi rantu tanrihi jami’a Cambridge cikin Inglia. Nayi aiki gidam radion BBC. Yazu ina aiki enjerida Times. Mattata karatun rawa Trinity College a Dublin. Kuma tahi karaha intquider a Paris. Kana aiki Queens Hospital da London.”

Yep, got that. After the dictation the teacher made me read what I had, and then she made me translate it verbally, to be corrected by a classmate who has lived here 20 years, married to a tamachek man, who complains she speaks haussa with a tamackek accent! Oh god, someone just shoot me! (And I don’t know how to say that in Haussa.)

We went through a big hot spot recently, in the forties celcius, but the dust is rolling in which has helped lower the temps into the thirties.  April and May are the really hot months, however, and I have already come up with some great things about living in forty plus temparatures, based on experience:

– Don’t know what to wear to work? No problem! Get up a little early, wash your favorite outfit, put it on the laundry line, have a cup of tea, and boom! Dry in an hour!
– You know what a pain it is making garlic butter when the butter is too hard? No problem! Insert butter into bowl and it starts to soften on contact!
– Weight loss! Never underestimate the power of a sweat diet… saunas are healthy, right?
– You have to keep hydrated, so have another drink, and finish it before the ice cubes melt!
– It’s too hot to worry about a coup d’etat!
– It’s too hot to work!
– You now have warm running water! You may not want it, but you have it.
– You didn’t need all that skin on your fingertips before you touched the side of the refrigerator, or any other metal object, in fact
– Hate using stinky bathrooms? No problem, you can drink two litres of liquid and never have to pee! Who knew you could sweat that much? I mean, like dripping out of every pore on your body. (See item on weight loss.)
– Chapstick in it’s solid form is over rated!

Yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s the insightful type of stuff I come up with with my spare time.

On another intellectual high, during the recent workshop, I encountered a baby goat that looks just like my dog! It’s cute, black and furry, with a white underbelly, and obviously far more intelligent than the other goats. It looks just like Reba, except for the stubby legs and that it’s a goat. I call her Kid Reba and I almost convinced someone to take her on his motorscooter, but he then reminded me that the owner may be *right there* as we discussed the kid-napping. That put quick end to that.

I took an unexpected boat trip on the river today, and saw a hippo rear his head. Their heads are really big! Made me worry there may others near by.  Did you know hippos kill more people in Africa than all other wild animals here? After all, have you ever seen the teeth on those lumbering creatures? I was told a story by a Canadian diplomat today,upon return from our trip, about a news story he saw on television regarding a tour guide who dove into the water to rescue an American tourist when their boat was rocked by a pissed off old hippo. The guide dove in, and recounted he dove into the water “but was dry”, because he had dove (dived?) directly into the hippo’s mouth, which swallowed him to the waist. He lost and arm and was pretty messed up. The American tourist was deemed to have had a heart attack had died hitting the water.

Stay tuned for more. Well, unless you have better things to do with your time. If you see them, hug my boyfriend and dog for me.

I’ve got chills, they’re multiplying….

March 3, 2010

I was told that the first time you get malaria, you know it. So when I woke up this morning drenched in sweat again, but feeling somewhat chilly, I thought, “maybe today won’t be a full work day”.  I left work early to get the prick. By this time, I was feeling better and a little silly.  I could explain away all my symptoms- it’s hot out! but there’s a breeze in the morning, so why not feel hot and cold? don’t want to eat, it’s hot, that’s normal! Sore back and neck, that’s what you get for dragging your computer everywhere and using it at an ergonomically incorrect desk (picture teacher’s wood desk circa 1979) with matching chair! After paying a small fee, you make your way to a lab, where they prick your finger, blot it a few times on a little piece of glass, and you’re told to come back in an hour and a half. The result: positive. I have malaria! Shit. Honestly, the more I think of it, I’ve never met a foreigner say they’ve had a negative test, which admittedly makes me wonder.  Of course, after the positive test, you have to consult a doctor, for another fee. And just because he happens to be cute, french speaking, young and unmarried doesn’t make it any less of a hassle. So I sit here with another bottle of pills in front of me, and am just realising I forgot to buy mosquito repellant while getting the perscription filled. (Is that irony?)  But at this point, I actually feel fine.

Arg! Sorry for the lack of updates! Perhaps you may heard that things happened here in the country, but in the interest of family security (they know who they are) I have not blogged about the C word. Yes, things are calm now.  But that aside, life really does just go on. If you read the odd news source such as RFI or BBC, you’ll know about as much as I do.

Much of my stalling on posts is that I’m sorry I don’t have much to report in the way of work progress.  It goes slowly, and I’m constantly questioning the legitmacy of the mandate with regards to long term effectiveness. Or even short term effectiveness, for that matter. (I won’t get into them here.) Of course, I think I could be the problem, why can’t I think of any better solutions?  Maybe there are none. But I am developing some pretty bad job envy about the people around me who I meet who have “real” jobs with development agencies, and I wonder if I could ever gain one of those. It would mean very strict restructuring of my skill base, however.

But, then, when I’m really feeling sorry for myself, wondering how I suckered myself into another unsatisfying development posting, I take a look around, and see the young man whose job all day is to push a wheelbarrow of onions around the Grand Marche everyday, all day. I see the guys who do nothing but collect trash for change, I see the young men with whole pharmacies that they carry around on their head in the burning sun, I see my coworker who works her ass off for no doubt a fraction of what I’m given to be here, or even the secretaries that have their heads down on their desks, out of fatigue or boredom, or maybe both, or of the woman who makes my breakfast and lunch who has already lost three of her seven young children, and it reminds me of how fortunate I have been to be born where and when I was, and I feel like a whiney, ungrateful brat.  But I still can’t shake my questioning of my mandate and why I find my job sucks so much. Maybe I have been spoiled.

And then recently, I had this conversation with a taximan, which did remind me, a little, of why I do care about doing what I can. He asked if I was from Europe, and I said no. “It’s very expensive there”, he said. “The museums, are very expensive.” I agreed. “Have you been?”, I asked. “No, I’ve never had the opportunity”, he replied. “But”, he continued, “I read. And you know when you open a book and read, it’s like you travel. It’s like you have the whole world in books.” And we talked about the library he uses, the same one I use, and how great it is that you can get a book out for a week or two, and almost for free.  I was a little veklempt, to say the least.

My next workshop I’m planning is about “animation” (programming).  Although it may go over like a lead balloon, I’m going to focus on early literacy issues, something that is not done in libraries here, but will also be difficult to address due to language and parental literacy issues. In some ways, they parallel those we actually face at home (generally, that a child’s school readiness is strongly related to their parent’s social and economic situation, as well as finding ways to incorporate indigenous languages and oral culture.) However, the country does have new programs sprouting up (I’m not sure if they are public or private, to be honest), that would be similar to daycares, also with an educational mandate. So I may be able to encourage some reach that way. The libraries I’m working with- parish libraries- are very poorly funded.  The focus of many, in relation to programming, is for students who need re-inforcement with regards to school, so libraries are mainly outposts of school programs. The students register (and pay) for programmes at the libraries because they don’t get what they need at school.  That’s good, those programmes are very important in this context.  But the librarians don’t need me to come here and tell them again what they are doing well. However, a bigger concern for me is that some of the libraries run their libraries too much like school, with lots of rules and dress codes, not focusing on the enjoyment of reading. Maybe that is an impractical concern of mine, but like I said, what point is it to have me here if it is not to bring new tips and ideas? (I have othther concerns… but won’t go on anymore…)  So we’ll see. All ideas and feedback welcome.

The third workshop will be something about cataloguing, for which there is lots of interest, but moreover, the interest is in using software to catalogue their collections. This may be a problem given they often don’t have any software, and many don’t have the computer skills to maintain an electronic database. Some, don’t have computers. Others, don’t have electricity. (If anyone has any open source ideas about databases, I would love to hear them, they must be available in French. UNESCO made one called WINISIS, but last I heard doesn’t have a circ module.)

But enough library talk. I’ve had some great questions about my “meat” post. I don’t know if I have firm answers. Do people eat a lot of meat? Well, by North American standards, I would say no. Although meat is a staple, the quantites are low per meal. So, as mentioned, they don’t eat a steak, my little lunch dish comes with three or four little pieces of meat.  Brochettes are sold by the side of the road for about 25 cents each (which I don’t eat-namely because I question what the animals have eaten before they become brochettes- but again, I have that power to chose. But, they probably don’t get filled with antibiotics.) From what I see, the raising of animals for meat is done without the use of enclosed land, or without antibiotics, etc. Little packs of sheep, goats and cows roam the streets here. (I was actually quite concerned when I came out my front gate and was greeted by a mass of well-horned ox coming down my street.) However, an outfall of that is where the waste goes- often into the river, I suspect- where people bathe (oh, and the bovines)and wash their clothes. Also,I was told that a whole cow, is between cfa 100,000 to 200,000 (about 250 dollars canadian to 400 dollars), a lot for one family, but manageble among two or three (don’t forget there aren’t the refrigiration systems we have). It’s not uncommon to see people loading whole skinned caracasses of a sheep or lamb out of the trunk of taxis. And communal meals can include everyone standing around the table with a roasted goat or sheep, and then ripping the meat right off it while standing there to eat. For me, it’s a little intense, but at the same time, maybe that is a more realistic, natural way of eating meat than the way it is done in North America (on styrofoam under saran wrap.. okay you wouldn’t eat it that way…but you know what I mean.)

As mentioned, it’s considered really weird or even offensive to ask to have one’s meal without meat. My recent roommate was vegerarian (and is when at home) but when her students here proudly brought her such delicacies as dried sheep tripe, she would at least try some. She’s a stronger woman than I would be. I draw the line at tripe. Part of me wondered before the original post, which gave me time to reflect on the sitaution, about the cultural tightrope of such things, especially when every social occasion could rotate around food. By denying what is seen as a staple, are you seen as someone so priveledged that they could deny a staple? What comment does that make among people that have nothing but rice and tomatoes and onions to chose from for lunch everyday otherwise? I think back to a time in Nicaragua in which someone told me that “it’s all fine to be a vegan in Canada, but in the country [rural area], here, you eat what you can get” (or the such.) It’s hard to know the real dynamics of such things.   I say all this, without having ever been a good vegetarian.  My observations, are based only on life in Niamey. Outside the city, I don’t know about the quantity of meat eaten.  But thanks to questions, I am going to keep asking, and will update. Ideas? Experiences?

I’ve started taking Haussa language classes which are very difficult. It doesn’t help that the beginner class was cancelled and I had to join the intermediate class. There are two local languages, Djarma and Haussa.  Djarma is easier, but is really only spoken in Niger, and at that around Niamey, whereas Haussa is spoken in other Western African countries (although accents do differ widely, apparently).  “I am a librarian” is “Ni mai kula da litahafai ce”, which would indicate you are a woman, also.  A male librarian would say: “Ni mai kula da litahafai ne.” Or I think it is.  I think it is loosely translated as “the person who takes care of the books”.

Now to even more trivial observations:

I’ve added a new explanation to my repertoire for having a late library booK: “I couldn’t return it on time! There was a coup d’état that day and my embassy told me I couldn’t leave my home for the whole following weekend! I’m sorry.”

Obama watch. As mentioned before, you can’t escape Obama paraphenalia fever here. I haven’t been able to establish how much of it is part of clothing from abroad and how much is home grown.  The variety of t-shirts is dizzying: Che-like Hope shirts, shirts with the whole Obama family, Barak and Michelle shirts, the list goes on; an Obama cybercafe; Obama umbrellas; Obama window stickers on taxis; Obama belt buckles. My personal favorite, so far has been the Obama panties I saw in the Grand Marche: panties with the USA flag and the name OBAMA underneath. Now, I’m holding out with some with his face on them. (Just to be fair, I have seen a barber shop that named itself: “Chez Bill Gates”. Would that make BG an underdog on the popularity front?)

Was sitting at the French-Nigerian Culural Centre listening to a hip-hop song that seemed to sample from something repeatedly refered to being “a classic”… it sounded so familiar.. and I almost wanted to jump out of my chair and yell: “That’s Strange Animal by Gowan!” Boy, if it’s not Celine, it’s got to be Gowan.

So here comes the quiz question for this post.  As mentioned previously, libraries here end up with some pretty strange donations.  The local arm of the Canadian agency I work for has a libray of old French novels and non-fiction, including biographies of random people.  However, when I spotted one book, I couldn’t help but pull it down, and boy was I happy I did.  So, no Googling, or checking library catalogues, and if I’ve already mentioned this to you, no participating!  The title of the book is: “L’enfant terrible de Cleveland”. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been translated into English, but that title would be translated to something like “The incorrigible child of Cleveland” (but I like to think, “The bad boy of Cleveland”!) Who is the book about?

More later. If you see them, please hug my boyfirend and dog for me.