Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sleepless in Seattle

August 9, 2010

You know, it’s really weird that you get on a plane one night in the poorest country in the world, and in the morning you get vomited out at the other end into Paris’s CDG airport, a monument to consumption.  In just the one terminal I was in there were dozens and dozens of shops, including some very big names, of course, with the big price tags.  It is overwhelming, but I’ve been asking myself a lot lately when I’m in airports, which is not often, but honestly, how much shopping gets done at the airport? A lot, I guess, but airports just seem like shopping malls that happen to supply air flights.  I can understand the need for some things being sold, postcards, sunscreen, batteries, gum, books, food and even I guess duty free is a staple now, but are so many rolexes sold at one airport as to fund a whole shop? And skirts, blouses, jewelery, t-shirts, underwear, children’s toys, and the list goes on, incredibly each deserving their own stores? Is this because so much luggage is getting lost that people making connecting flights are worried they’ll have to spend their holidays only partially clad due to lack of garments and won’t know how to buy clothing in a foreign language?  And these aren’t even stores open to the public- they are accessible to only those in the security zone.  I suppose the shopping mall style of airport has been around for a long time, and I’m guessing it is somehow rooted in the shifting of airports from being public bodies to being increasingly privatized. Or, can it be people are arriving earlier and earlier for flights and have more time to kill? I don’t know, maybe the word bizarre is not right, but I find it really indicative of our consumerist society’s need or desire to shop a lot, or that shopping is a default activity to spend time.  But then again, I had shopping malls already so I don’t really have the most objective perspective on this.

I’m in the Seattle airport and pretty tired, but amazingly, the flight have passed pretty quickly, even the 11.5 hour stretch from Paris to Seattle passed really quickly.

That’s the news and I am outta here

August 8, 2010

So I guess, I’m wrapping things up here, and I leave with mixed feelings, of course. Months ago, amongst the job frustrations and things not going anywhere, it seemed like the time to leave wouldn’t come, and now the time is here and it seems like I just got here yesterday.  ALthough it’s only been a few months, my life here as it is now seems really normal, and I have my habits and ideosyncrasies down to an artform.  It’s amazing how quickly one can adjust (to certain things, anyway.) There are things that remained difficult, like making my way from the taxi stand to work by walking around the Grand marche. Although it’s a cliche, I know I am returning to Canada a different person.  I’m probably less tolerant of priveldge, but also realise that I’m a less patient and charitable person than I thought I was.

All things considered, Niamey is a very laid back city, and I think that ever visiting or living in another developing world city may be really difficult.  My time in Colombo made me far more cautious than you have to be here, not that it’s a completely safe city, but people are not on top of you all the time like there. Men, as well, as not as lets just say… assertive as in Sri Lanka.  Maybe that means I missed out on some things, but it kept me in my comfort zone to the point that I could operate from day to day.

So what will I miss?

Brochettes
One dollar Biere Nigers
50 cent cab rides
The view of the Fleuve at sunset, and the Fleuve in general
My friends, from around the world
The friendliness of people
No ever being cold
Swimming at the hotel pool
The social acceptibility of eating fries at every meal
The social acceptibility of drinking red wine chilled
Colourful fabrics and custom made clothes
Camels, goats and sheep everywhere
Piment- spicy sauces
Trying to speak french and haussa
Having excellent skin

What will I appreciate (lots!)

Having loved ones around
Seat belts
Sushi
Being able to express myself in English
Not having to stand in line for 1-2 hours to pay bills or get money at the bank
Having an oven
Credit cards
Not having to bargain
Blending into a crowd
Resources in the workplace
Sewer and garbage services
Public libraries
Not having sand in everything
Not sweating my ass off during power outages, and not stading up to find your pants soaked with sweat
Wondering whether every ailment is malaria
My good luck

I also wanted to take this time to thank everyone for their support over the last few months.  Your emails, phone calls, online chats and thumbsups have meant a lot to me and kept my spirits up.  I want to also thank everyone who helped Russ out after his surgery or dog sat for us during my absence. Thank you! Thank you!!!

So that’s it… for now.  Flight home in a few hours… will post later about readjustment!

Maternal mortality up close

July 31, 2010

It’s one thing to read and write about maternal mortality, but for someone who actually doesn’t work on the ground in the medical field, it’s another thing to see an aspect of it play out in real life. 

The organisation that I’m placed at has a milk program for new mothers who can’t breastfeed.  It’s not run out of the building that I work at, but occasionally women show up at our location. The previous time this happened, a woman arrived with her triplets- the results of her 8th pregnancy.  She carried one of the tiny triples, another woman a second, and a little girl- about seven years old?- the third.  I asked a co-worker about how that little girl is not in school, and commented that she probably won’t ever go, right? My co-worker replied, “well no, who would look after her siblings?” Of course, I knew the answer before asking it, but it was more like an observation on my behalf than a question, but curious about the answer I would get. And so the cycle continues.  But I digress.

The more recent visit, was quite different.  Two women arrived with a tiny, day old, premature baby girl. I haven’t been around a lot of day old babies – okay, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a day old baby- but I am pretty confident they should be a lot bigger (her head was about the size of a tennis ball?). Even my Nigerien coworker lamented how small she was, and I suspect people here are around a fair number of underweight babies. The woman holding the baby was the mother’s sister, because the mother had died the day before in childbirth.  I can only presume that the family could not pay for further hospital care, because the hospital had removed the baby from it’s incubator for premmies, and given her to the family to take home.  They had no access to another breastfeeding woman, so here they were, looking for milk.  Unfortunately, even from my basic knowledge of maternal health issues in Africa (and I mean very basic), as I looked at this baby I knew her future was bleak. Not only was she premature, but a baby born to a mother who dies while the baby is young, is far more likely to die herself.  This, if I understand correctly, is not only due to the lack of immunity that would be gained by breastfeeding, but just as in this case, the baby is often handed over to a family member, but tends to be assigned a lower status than the other children in the family thus  putting it at risk for a whole lot of factors. This sister who had just inherited the baby, couldn’t even afford to buy some milk, so add in all the aspects related to poverty that kill little children to begin with and that the fact that this baby is a girl… like I said, her future is bleak. I guess I haven’t  been able to forget about that little baby, what she stands for in my mind and just the injustice of how who you are born to and where decides so much about whether you or your children live or die.

I guess there will be some things I won’t miss when I leave next week, things are just so much easier when you’re ignorant.

Another update

July 17, 2010

I  went to a really good conference a couple of weeks ago.  It was actually billed as a “foire au savoir”- loosely translated as a “knowledge fair”, I guess.

I went to many sessions, but here are some that are more popular. One of the reasons I topics I really wanted to see was the session being presented about Dimitra’s (FAO, www.fao.org/dimitra) radio clubs for women that they support in Niger. The clubs are run in conjunction with local literacy centres, and are primarily aimed at women because it’s usually men that have access to radios, so the women’s groups are supplied with solar and hand cranked radios. As a group, they decide on the topics they would like to either communicate about or know more about. The programs are then produced by the local community radio stations or by the women themselves. After listening to the programs, the women discuss and go to the literacy centres to write about what they heard.  The radio can also travel among families, and the group is also provided with a cell phone that they can use at a low cost to communicate among local villages on the project, as well as call their community radio stations with questions about the topic and debate the topic.  This aspect has also served to break the isolation that the women feel in their communities.  The community radio stations also appreciate the project because it can provide them with some extra funds and training. The topics they cover include malaria, marriage issues, girls’ and womens’ education, land issues, sanitation issues and so on. The women who participate pay small fees to participate, and in once instance, one woman mentioned that the village chief kicked in some cash to support it.

So what’s the big deal? Well, these are rural women who have never had the opportunity to go to school, and in addition to the direct results of increased access to information and literacy skills in their local language, the women involved gain the opportunity to participate in a more democratic process then they usually do, organise meetings and have their opportunity to speak, etc.  The women spoke eloquently (through translation) about the impact the program has had on them, one stating that “they had never had an experience that opened their spirit the way that this program has” and another that it reinforced the solidarity among them.  The program now also runs some clubs for men too, but of course a question was raised as to why the women had a separate club (which I thought was obvious, but I guess some of the answers bare repeating here.)  The separation of the men and women reflects the realistic context to how they interact here, generally men and women don’t socialize together. Also, one participant plainly stated that men and women can’t work together and another stated that they have more confidence when they are among themselves. Apparently, the villages’ men were quite surprised that women could speak up. They certainly did during these sessions! So pretty great. 

The session held on micro-gardens was very popular, despite the apparently simplicity of the idea. The raised gardens demonstrated involve a few rocks at the base, some good soil (presumably not sand), peanut shells, and rice husks (skins?).  Then plant!The gardens – built on tables- also include a way to preserve water through a spout. What I found interesting was that this was a conference with many rural attendees, and the country does have quite a bit of agriculture, so why was it so popular? I can just guess, but one is that urban attendees were interested in how to grow there own vegetables and herbs in a city that is built on sand, and that even in rural areas women don’t always have access to land, and this takes land access out of the equation. I would also think that these raised little gardens keep the greens out of the way of the goats and sheep that would nibble at anything at ground level.

Among other things I did at the Foire, I also attended the screening of a couple of good short films.  One was about a literacy program in Burkina Faso that started out as a correspondance course using technical and agricultural subjects as its base.  The organisation found that the problem was that after taking the program people didn’t have access to anything else to read, so that lead to the creation of a newspaper and then to small libraries (which were more like cases of documents- like the malles mentioned in an earlier post.) The libraries, run by volunteers, also coordinate reading circles and work with local literacy centres.  The materials are available in the local languages and French, and are focused on the local needs, especially surrounding agriculture.  One group of users were so successful at raising chickens thanks to the documents they read from the library, they gave the library some chickens, which bread to the point the library had a 1000 chickens, that they could then sell to buy more documents!

A second film was one on “Les Ecoles practiques d’agriculture et de vie” (Practical agriculture and life schools?) in Mozambique. The schools train children that have lost at least one parent to AIDS in agricultural practices, because for many of them the parent’s illness and death interrupted the traditional practice of children learning cultivation practices from their parents.  They also learn life skills and well as traditional cultural songs and dance.  After the training, they return to their villages to put their new skills into practice, hopefully reversing the trend of young people to gravitate towards the cities. Apparently, schools like this are popping up everywhere, and as of 2009 20,000 students were trained in 545 schools around the world, from Uganda to the Gaza Strip.

Trust me, this was all more interesting in person that when I relate it!

An overarching theme to the conference was knowledge management, and if you’re interested in knowledge management in development, there is a fledgling online network at www.k4dev.org that looks at how social networking and community radio, for example, can be used in development.
Not to neglect the maternal health issue now that the G8/20 is over, I thought I would pass along the link to the special series that the Sunday Edition (CBC) is doing on the issue.  I haven’t had the chance to listen to all of the entries yet, but the ones I have heard are interesting. http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/2010/06/hardlabour.html

Anyway, I better just post this instead of procrastinating….

Home in a few weeks.

Update part one

July 8, 2010

“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.

Fleuve Niger,then and now

May 8, 2010

I don’t have anything written for the blog right now, but I’m starting to take some photos with my new camera, but I’m still a little shy about it.  They have been uploaded to Flickr (link on the right).  I’ve discovered compressing photos, which helps with such a low speed connection, so I don’t know how great the resolution is, but hopefully they convey the idea.  However, I thought I would post a couple of the photos here that compare the Fleuve Niger from when I first posted some (December, 2009) and now, after months and months without rain. They are all from the patio of the Grand Hotel.  (I don’t know if the low water levels have anything to do with the power outages, given that much of Niger’s electricity come from Nigeria’s hydroelectric dams, and problems in Nigeria seem to be blamed for them. Anyone know if that could be the case… I just made that theory up.)  However, if it’s that dry here, you can imagine how bad the crops have suffered in the drier areas of the country.  That’s it for now.

December, 2009:


May, 2010:

Canada Noir and SLAPP update

April 28, 2010

Talk about timing! Here is an article published in BC’s The Tyee published about publishing, mining companies, and SLAPPs.

http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2010/04/21/BarrickBricks/

Bits, bobs and podcasts

April 20, 2010

Hello everyone,

Sorry for the long absence in posting- I’m sure you’re all waiting with baited breath for ny next post 😉  My delay in posting is a combination of work malaise and the 45 degrees plus heat (up to 48 and 49 degrees) is just kicking my ass… along with day long power outages that don’t exactly help.  Water drank by 7 pm.: 3 liters…

I don’t have too much to report on the job front. The workshop I’m still planning keeps getting pushed back and back… fine.  I’m also starting to see if I can find funds to get them some books.  An exercise in frustration, surely, but gotta keep busy.  But I have a second organisation to work on now, an agricultural body that I think is somehow related to the government but not exactly sure how yet. We’re going to compile articles on onion production and put them on CD-Rom to distribute to their centres in rural areas.  Yes, contrary to popular opinion in the global north, the CDRom is not dead, in fact can be very useful for information distribution to areas that may have a computer but no internet access. I think the first essay I wrote in library school circa 1996 was about library services in developing countries, and the research seemed to also highlight the use of CDRoms.. so many things haven’t changed that much… but surely they have in some ways. In this situation, although rural areas don’t have strong internet access (in our case, they may actually have some access, but not strong enough to download articles), urban areas now have better access so they can collate info to send out. So we’ll see how that goes. Honestly, the man in charge seems to already knows what he wants and I don’t know what I can add to it, I guess a little leg work with indexing, etc. Gotta have it ready for Niger’s National Onion Day!

On that note, thank you to everyone for the suggestions surrounding library catalogues. Your suggestions make me realise that there are programming skills needed for open source options too. God, how ignorant was I? So, still working on this side of things.

So, never mind work things. Life goes on day by day, a definite highlight of the week definitely being swimming on Sundays. Outside of reading, I do tend to live off of CBC and Democracy Now podcasts and downloaded episodes of 30 Rock (which I love), along with listening to Radio France International (Afrique) and BBC Africa.  (I also just listened to a podcast from the NPR network calls “Arkansas Cooks”. I couldn’t resist, who knew there were so many foodies in Arkansas!? So sorry if this post is just a list of bits and bobs that are not at all connected.. and maybe a little out of date by now. (And sorry if any of them are repetitive of something I’ve posted before… or that it may be old news to you…)

_Noir Canada_

This is the first time in years that I won’t be on BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list” at the BCLA conference, which is fine because I started to think I was becoming a bit of a downer on it.Despite this it hasn’t been far from my mind.  I won’t go into what I would have presented if I was on it this year- there will always be another year- but the AGMBL has made it’s way to Africa, in a sense.  About two years ago I was at a talk about mining in Guatemala, and in passing the speaker made reference to a book that is probably now very well know in librarian circles called “Noir Canada”.  The work documents the Canadian mining corporations in Africa, and when it was about to be launched the publishers got hit with a SLAPP suit by the Barrick Gold Company to halt it. Well, since then I’d tried to find an English translation, knowing that my French was not good enough to read it in the original. So, low and behold, how taken aback I would be as I went to my new apartment here to sign my lease to only see, what is sitting there on my landlord’s desk?! but a copy of “Noir Canada”, which he had just lent to my neighbour to read. My landlord’s brother lives in Quebec and had sent him a copy.  My first live copy! I regret not asking to borrow it (didn’t want to ask for favours from a new landlord), but it’s apparently quite detailed and technical and my French may still not be good enough.  Hum, maybe I’ll ask anyway. I suspect it may be very difficult to ever see it published in English because that may attract yet another suit, unfortunately.  It looks like the suit, for $11 million Canadian, will be going ahead in September 2011. The publisher has as a website about the case here (in French): http://slapp.ecosociete.org/  and an old note about it here: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/weblogs/dawn/1800  Surely there is more out there on the web about it too.

_You godda fight for your right to Facebook_

I heard an interesting story on BBC Worldservice Africa, about a Sharia court ruling in Nigeria that ruled that civil rights activists could not Facebook or Twitter about the tenth anniversary of a court sanctioned amputation.  What cought my ear was that activists showed up with t-shirts at the court declairing their right to social networking. I’m going to start keeping my ears open a little more to listen about how social networking is being used for activism here. http://allafrica.com/stories/201003240460.html   http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8595572.stm

_Maternal Mortality_

This past year, Amnesty International moved to make maternal mortality a major human rights campaign issue. The choice wasn’t without it’s critics, but it is hard to deny that the death of at least half a million women around the world every year (one a minute) due to the lack of medical care (and the ability not to get pregnant, among other reasons) should be considered a crisis.  Unfortunately, countries hit very hard by it- like in sub-saharan Africa- are making very little progress on it. Niger, has the world’s highest birthrate, also has a high rate of maternal mortality (from what I’ve found out), which is not surprinsing given it is potentially the poorest country in the world. I was happy to hear, in passing on RFI, that the AI campaign was gaining some momentum in Burkina Faso, where human rights activists made a caravan to throughout the country to present a report on the issue to the president.

And then suddenly there was the whole kurfufle with the G-8 meeting and what Stephen Harper’s government did or didn’t say about contraception and women as a lead-up to the meeting… and now the issue was really getting airplay. On March 19th, The Current interviewed an advocate for contraceptions within the context of women and the Global South (Kathering MacDonald, Action Canada for Contraception in Development), who paints a good snapshot of how contraception plays into the maternal mortality issue.  I was shocked to hear that complications from pregnancy is the number one cause of death of women aged 15-19 (presumably in developing countries- but maybe that could be globally?)(www.cbc.ca/thecurrent).  The second half of the segment includes an anti-abortion advocate and, in my opinion, reflects the unrealistic perspective of many anti-choice advocates that don’t seem to understand (or accept) that women who want to avoid having a child do go to desperate ends. Of course, the issues surrounding fertility and reproduction is much, much more complicated than just distributing birth control, but I don’t have to tell any of you that.  There was also a good interview with some of the women who have formed the W-8, a group of women from around the world who are working in their countries to improve the lives of women.  I think one of my favorite quotes in the interview was when of the women in the group said essentially “In Malawi, we train a lot of women to be nurses. We train them for you”, aluding to the outflux of trained personel in poor countries for richer countries. See, just that issue is laden with complexities. That interview was March 8th and you can read more about the women at this Oxfamsite: http://www.oxfam.org/en/campaigns/health-education/w8-extraordinary-women

I can only imagine, as Niger, sits potentially on the cusp of another food crisis, that things are not going to get better for women and their babies anytime soon.

_Skin creams_

For years Michael Jackson’s increasingly lightening skin was the butt of jokes. But over here, the issue is not that funny.  More than once, people have pointed out to me certain local women who have been using using skin lightening creams. How can you tell? Smooth light skin? A glow? No, by the damage it does to a person’s skin: pockmarks and acne like spots.  And worse, from what I’ve been told, once someone starts using it, they can’t stop (for reasons I can’t figure out)… but when you add it all up, it sounds very similar to the results of using crystal meth.  I can only speculate that these could be products that have been made illegal or become obsolete in North America.  Does anyone know anything more about this? Strange that it would keep being used? I’m going to see what else I can find out about it from some of the women I work with and report back.

_No strings attached_

The CBC’s China correspondent -and former Ottawa morning show host- Anthony Germaine, will be reporting for the CBC radio show Dispatches this week (I think it’s this week) about China in Africa, in a series they call “No strings attached”. Should be very interesting.  Here in Niamey, there is currently only one bridge that crosses the Niger River, but China is building a new one, that is often called “the pond Chinois”… As in “Have you seen the Chinese bridge?” It is scheduled to open in 2011, I believe.  I think the old bridge should now be able to have a “camel only” lane, but I don’t know if that idea will gather any steam.  I suspect that Germaine’s focus will be on the fact that Africa is very mineral and resource rich and China needs it to fuel it’s huge growth. We’ll see- better to hear it all from him than me!

_Quiz update_

Okay, so what you’ve all been waiting for. The answer to the quiz. Who was the subject of “L’enfant terrible de Cleveland”? It is none other than the city’s former mayor, past presidential candidate, and universal medical care advocate Dennis Kucinich.  What was so interesting about the book is that is was written, in 1980 (a detail I realise now I should have mentioned!), by three Quebecers, who from the best I can tell, were journalists from Le Devoir. And given what happened during the recent medical care vote in the United States, it’s bittersweet (or proof that history repeats itself), that the title of the epilogue is “A dream broken by the establishment: the Dennis Kucinich experience.” The endorsement on the back of the book is by Ralph Nader.  So, there was one correct guess offline (by my dad and Lorraine), but otherwise online the closest guess was Barb’s guess of Michael Moore.  Oh! but what also made it great was the photo on the cover of the book, which I’ve included below.  If you want to listen or watch Dennis and Ralph talk about the health care vote, tune in to Democracy Now’s discussion with them from March 18th, 2010. I really forgot how civilized this type of interview can still be.

Gosh, I think I really have to start listening to less radio.

I have more little bits and pieces, but I’ll leave that for another time and try to make all this a little more interesting, and little less about what podcasts I’m listening to!

Finally a couple of positive notes. A friend I have here has brought me a camera back from Canada, so I hope to be able to post soon so you can again have a better idea of things here.  And, do you ever go to http://www.despair.com? (http://www.despair.com/viewall.html) I go a couple of times every year, because it just cracks me up. (“You may just have to come to realisation that your life has been led solely to be a warning to others.” Or the such.)

In closing I want to thank everyone who continue to write and phone. I love hearing from you, even if I don’t always have a chance to reply quickly. If you see them please hug my boyfriend and dog for me.

val

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.