“Never get into this business if you’re afraid of failure, darling, I tell people. Count your successes is Sudan Surah’s advice and don’t even think about the occasions when you failed.” Sudan Sarah in “The Constant Gardener” (p.389) on development work.
I was at a pretty low point in my time here when those words crossed my eyes. My work here has been very slow and frustrating, and very, very unsatisfying. As per usual, I blame myself for much of that, but there are a combination of factors, and I’ve heard it said that Niger can be one of the most difficult place to do development work- outside of a war zone (I would add). I wonder everyday if my whole time will have been futile, as much as I hate to say it.
I finally gave the workshop I had been preparing and putting on hold for months. It covered family literacy, early childhood literacy, programming, promotion, and cataloguing. I know, a lot, when you have a small budget you have to cram in as much as you can. I presented them with songs and rhymes (yes! I sang and did children’s rhymes in French no less, will wonder never cease?) that I had found or translated from the English version, just to give them ideas about what they could do. They had the opportunity to contribute in a local language. For the most part, things went as planned, in the sense that the given topic was covered on the day planned, etc. However, the participation level was very low, as was the enthusiasm level. Unfortunately, that was of no surprise to me. I don’t know if this reflects this group of participants, is a result of an education system that is based on rote learning, or that the extreme low pay combined with the skills needed to manage a library leaves for few candidates. However, I’m sure it’s the only workshop they’ll ever attend that includes the hokey pokey. But in the end, I have to ask, what was the point? I really have to consider the lack of rigour behind the development of mandates on behalf of the canadian agency.
On the other hand, I should just thank my lucky stars, and I do feel petty complaining about things like “job satisfaction” when there is a severe food crisis occuring that puts millions at risk of severe malnutrition and even starvation. The coming crisis got some attention in February, when – from what I read – the (now former) President denied (as I think he did in 2005 during that famine) that there was a famine occuring, as he was doing earlier this year when he was ousted by power. So I won’t go into details but you can read dispatches from around the country (given I can’t leave Niamey, I can’t give any eye witness testimony). From all accounts, it’s getting very bad, and organisations have started emergency food deliveries. A friend traveled to Zinder to film for an NGO, and he returned pretty shaken by what he saw. There are of course many articles out there on the web, here is just one: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1287125/A-world-away-cup-The-burgeoning-famine-biggest-story-Africa-summer.html?ITO=1490
In some ways, I hope too bring that feeling of pettiness home with me. If anything, I have gained that: a little more perspective. Unfortunately, I think that will make my adjustment to being back in North America all the more difficult. They warn you in pre-departure training that for some people the shock of returning is a more difficult transition than the arrival in a new country. I didn’t think that would apply to me because I have been gone for a relatively short time, I had been away before, and arrogantly thought that given I’ve always found mainstream North American society alienating, that, basically, how much worse can it be? I know already that the transition will be more difficult than I thought, but I guess, that is to be seen.
All of that aside, I did go to visit a great little library that is in the room of a French couple’s house. They have a little library (a room that is in the structure the owner built for his second wife), where kids are invited to come read and sometimes listen to songs. There is a small lending library of novels for adults, but most of it is focused on kids. It was really inspiring and fun, and made me lament that the libraries I have been here to support are not interested in this model, and instead strive to be “reference” or academic libraries, an impossible feat under the current conditions.
I have more of an update to come very shortly.