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.

Okay… at least I’ve done something….

February 11, 2010

This past week I did my first “formation”- workshop.  I feel immense relief that it is done, went well, and that I am finally being productive.  Let’s hope anyway.  I did not have high hopes, to be honest. I thought it would be a disaster: not useful, not supported, and without participation.  I was worried that the hours and hours of travel some would make for it would be for nothing. It seems that was a bit off.  The subject was a dull one (“maintaining the library”), but was one I think my coworker had been anxious to cover for a while. You can imagine the challenges of keeping a library clean in a country of sand and sandstorms, or trying to justify the time or need to weed collections when you have few resources for the staff or the shelves.

The participants ended up really getting into it and I thought even a fistfight could break out over the time management and weeding issues.  One librarian almost cried when trying to defend his (in my opinion obsessive) dedication to his library.  Who knew such passion could be elicited over what I thought was going to be a dull two days of me talking with nothing but the sound of crickets chirping during pauses?

I had included a point in one handout that a collection development policy could include a statement on intellectual freedom.  I didn’t know what the experience with the subject had been here, but it is part of our collection development policies in North America, and I thought it would be condescending to not include it as something to put in a policy.  I don’t present material as “this is how we do it, as should you..”, but as “this is how we do it, but adapt what I can tell you for your situation…”, and was curious about how the conversation would go, and worried I may get in over my head.

In summary I would say that although the broad term “intellectual freedom” was new, the idea of censorship was not, and only one of the librarians (the above mentioned obsessed one, who runs his library like a mini academy, complete with dress code) seemed to express strong feelings surrounding keeping children from reading material that did not offer them tips on how to behave or that were considered a bad influence. One person (perhaps this man again, I can’t recall) asked me to tell them what kind of books I would recommend not putting in the library.  I did not answer “Anything containing characters named Quatchi, Miga or Sumi”, but I did admit that most libraries I knew of did not have pornography in their magazine reading rooms (anyone know any that do? there must be some out there?).  Otherwise, I could not come up with a good answer.  I tried to give an example of when I worked at a library where the Scientologists had donated a dozen copy of each of LRH’s books, and how they didn’t get added to the collection…. but you could imagine the quagmire I got into explaining the Scientologists and so on… in French, in the end settling, I think, on trying to say it was more for publicity for their “church” so… So maybe that didn’t help. I tried to reinforce that, in my opinion, a parent has the responsibility to monitor what their child reads, and that one parent’s complaint can’t dictate the direction of the collection for all the other children. (I hope that is the public library’s point of view, I’m a little out of practice…)  The discussion was lively and I wish I had a better memory for remembering it.  I don’t think I said anything out of line, but I don’t know if I convinced that one librarian (above mentioned) to put his Harry Potter posters back up. (He took all but one down when parents came and asked him whether they give children “good advice”… but maybe multiple copies of HP posters is overkill anyway.)

So that’s it on that front for now. Next month they’ll be a longer workshop on programming and promotion, I think.

In the end I was happy that such a great group of people showed up, they do so much with so little and for so little, it can be humbling.

What we send to Africa

January 28, 2010

As mentioned before, there is a good little documentary about used clothing being shipped to Africa. According to it, at the time, used clothing is the biggest export from the US to Africa.  But books to Africa- and presumably to other parts of the global south- is another area that deserves examination.

Apologies to any astronomers reading this, but when Pluto was declared un-planet worthy, one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind was “Africa is going to get a shit load of old astronomy books for kids.”  Why? Because out of the goodness of our hearts we figure, “well, they’ll be happy  grateful for anything.” And (again apologies to astronomers) maybe the inaccuracy of the planetary sciences is not the end of the world (haha, so to speak) here but you have to wonder about some of the stuff that ends up on shelves here.  Those that receive it here are then reluctant to get rid of them.  There are no recycling programs for books here – they tend to burn them for disposal- and understandly, that is more than those who care for them are able to do. One librarian said that “someone took the time to put the words to paper, so that deserves to be kept.” I wanted to mention that they didn’t make the paper and hand print each book! But I appreciate the sentiment.

The result is, however, that shelves are stuffed with copies of such gems are “Canada in 1970” (3 copies), “Being black in corporate America” (in 1972), “Stripetease” (two copies of a biography of a Quebecois stripper circa 1975),and results of confences that took place in Ottawa in 1968, along with biographies of politicians that have no relevance to people’s lives here- mainly French and Qubecois. That being said, we cannot use our criteria for deselection, because truth be told there would be very little left.

I can appreciate that people here find use in things we easily discard- going through my trash is something I should expect. From a library perspective, this hit home when I remember when I was working at a well off suburban library that discarded romance paperbacks if they had a crease in the spine and I visited a St-Petersburg, Russia, public library where novels were held together with electrical tape.  Here, also, everything old is new again.

When items that are no longer useful are shipped across an ocean, it costs a tremendous amount of money, that could have been used to buy new items or local, appropriate items.  And it, agains, puts pressure on the library-keepers here to keep items.  When they have so few resources, they are reluntant to get rid of anything.  My first workshop next week will cover weeding, and I’m interested in finding out how it goes.

I don’t know what the solution is. Nor do I say that everything that is sent is useless. I hope that I can somehow communicate to librarians in the global north what type of donations should be made to people abroad, including that books do indeed have a, shall we say, shelf life.  Other things to do include when collecting donations of books, I think, is to ask: what is needed (subjects, dates, languages)? What is available for purchase locally and is money a better idea? Are there NGOs working in the area that can tell you what is needed?

More to come.


January 18, 2010

Let me jut say a word about meat.. Vegetarians and vegans be warned! And cat lovers. You’ve probably heard or read that if you reduced your consumption of meat, you would save land for growing food for humans. I’m not going to dispute that, I’m not knowledgeable enough to do so and I love a good tofu scramble the next girl. (If you doubt, check out the recipe in “Vegan with a vengance”- I dare you not to love it.) But here, in Niamey at least, meat is everywhere. I think I have already eaten more beef than I would in a year- maybe two- in Vancouver.

That accounts for the animals everywhere: the cows, the sheep, the goats and the chickens. You see the transport of the animals that are going off to the other world everywhere, usually a few of them strapped to the rooves of trucks. “That’s where you’re tasty brochettes come from,” I say to myself. Better than factory farming, at least. I almost got trampled by a whole heard of bulls coming up my street recently, so I figure that all the animals, which roam freely around the city, lead pretty free range lives before it comes to that. (Except the “range” part, of course.)

I didn’t cook much chicken here at first because the only way I had seen to be able to buy it was, let’s just say, *very* fresh. Like alive fresh. Not that I haven’t had offers: at the market a man will hold up a chicken to you, by the legs, and ask you to buy it. The first time I thought the guy was joking in that “let’s watch the white woman’s reaction when I offer her this”… but the second time, I asked the guy “now what do you expect me to do with that?” He replied “No prolbem, I just go down there [he points] and take care of it…” Ug. I gotta say, after you’ve looked that feathery lady in the eye, that’s a difficult prospect. I mean, I had to have my lobsters boiled for me in Newfoundland, for heaven’s sake. I am a wuss.

One morning on my walk to catch a cab to work, I came accross a huge, gigantic, black turkey wandering the neighbourhood. Russ asked, “So he was just wandering around?” “Yup, just wandering around.” “Until somebody gets hungry,” he replied. Too true.

A typical lunchtime meal is rice or couscous with a sauce with hot peppers and meat. I’ve heard different reports about what kind of meat it could be (or more specifically what part of the body it could be), and when you ask, you just get told “meat”. For a while I asked the woman who prepares our meals at work for “without meat”, but that seemed to be mildly offensive, from what I could tell (or perhaps she was just confused.) I could have said I didn’t eat meat, but that also could have meant months of explaining ahead of me. Let’s just say, I can report it is not organ meat,but now I get hassled for my eating of the “piment” (hot peppers), which apparently can afflict one with a whole list of ailments, one of which seems to be unique to “women who sleep alone”, who should not eat the peppers.

I had just missed the “tabaski” celebration when I got here, which (I believe) is a religious celebration that involves the mass slaughter of sheep. It is pretty important, and just to reinforce the importance of the occasion, I still see the billboards that banks have up to take out your “tabaski loan” – loan to buy your last
minute sheep for the occasion. I gather that savvy people like my former neighbour already have their sheep for next year. That’s planning! It does tell me however that meat is not neccessarily a cheap commodity for locals, which might also explain why “brochettes” – sticks with pieces of meat – are so popular, as opposed to having a whole steak.

Although I don’t know if it qualifies as meat (it’s not vegetarian) but crickets are sold by the wheelbarrow full. When I first spotted them out of the corner of my eye, I thought they were toasted shrimp -for reasons that escape me now- but as that thought crossed my mind, I also thought “but where did they get the shrimp… we’re landlocked…?” Then I took a closer look. I’ve since been told that the cricket’s feet and body have different tastes and are sometimes separated. My friend’s girlfriend cooked him some crickets with some hot peppers. Apparently not bad. [Okay! I know photos are in order, I’m working on it.]

I suspect that many other creatures are eaten, including cat, because I’ve seen a basket of a man’s selling meat with a furry tail still hanging over the side. When it comes down to eat, people eat what they can get. But, I won’t be tasting any cat if I can help it, and I’m fortunate that I can make that choice.

On a side note, just to tie many posts together, after I wrote this entry in my notebook, I had a dream that I somehow cornered Barack Obama on a Skytrain platform and practically forced him to come for a meal at some New West dive. He ate the meat but left the fries, and left in a total huff. In my dream, my dad (who I had apparently just also taken to the same dive) told me that I shouldn’t have taken him to such a crumby place. I woke up *really* honestly feeling like I had pissed off the most recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Just all freakin’ weird feeling. Darn those anti-malarials.

Today’s horoscope

January 7, 2010

I happened to spy my horoscope today in the daily newspaper, the pro-government Sahel: “Habillez-vous plus chaudement”. English: “Dress yourself more warmly.”   Granted, when we left the house this morning, the city was just bouncing back from an overnight chill of about 15 degrees C. (it is the desert after all!), but we’ll be able to warm that chill that gets deep into yor bones when it’s going to hit 38 degrees C tomorrow afternoon. (http://www.theweathernetwork.com/weather/ngxx0003)

just a few things

January 2, 2010

Sorry for the long time without a post.  I wrote this a few days ago. Today, at home we have no water, but I have some internet access at a cafe, what a weird world….

I’m writing this on December 27th, so marks one month since I left Canada, and the 28th will mark a month since I arrived.  Made it this long.  Day to day stresses of survival have shifted to work related ones, and of wondering whether there is a purpose to me being here.  Is the project I’m working on going to be worthwhile?  I don’t really know enough yet to know the ansewr to that. My camera isn’t working so until I get that straightened out, you’ll have to bare with me.

I went to a wedding yesterday. Well, sort of.  What we didn’t know was that we had been told to arrive what turned out to be hours after the actual ceremony, which took place at 8 a.m. We arrived late morning, and by then people had been divided into their respective areas: men outside the walls of the house, under their tent, women inside the walls gathered in different areas.  The people getting married were two brothers (two different mothers from a polygamous marriage of my co-worker’s now deceased brother) to two women (one each). Part of one of the family is Tuareg, the ethnicity that hails from the desert part of the country who, I think, are nomadic.  The men are often seen with large head dresses, like turbans, which also includes a loose piece of cloth that covers their face (presumably that came about to block out sand, but that is a presumption.) They would probably remind you more of the middle eastern people than Africans, but given they share a country there is overlap now between their cultures.

I spent a big chunk of time under the tent where some of the women were.  What a hoot.  These women were cheeky, funny, and joking around with each other for the whole time we were there.  One woman would drum with her hands on a large metal pan, like a large (maybe 65 cm in diameter), upside down frying pan without the handle, and some women may sing a little, a traditional song. Sometimes other women come to dance, and some jokingly get up to dance and shake their touches.  At one point, two women got up to do what seemed like a butt wiggle-off, one of them even inserting a pillow into her pants just to compete the other’s voluptuous behind.  It was very funny!  Part of the singing includes the high pitched sound I’ve heard before in Egypt while coming across a wedding, which I don’t know if I can describe.  It’s high pitched, and involves wiggling one’s tongue. There could be a you-tube video somewhere that describes it.

I had a dinner engagement with a friend already planned, but my roommate carried on for the rest of the evening’s events, which included bringing the bride to her new husband’s home. From what I understand, the bride is covered with a sheet and brought to the groom’s home, who is also covered with a sheet.
They are then revealed to each other.  We didn’t know whether it was an arranged marriage or not, but my roommate said the bride didn’t look very happy.  My roommate also noticed it was interesting that the women who were so cheeky and teasing when at the tent in the afternoon were suddenly so formal and quiet during the later portion of the day.

I am sitting here at the Grand Hotel after an afternoon of swimming and some brochettes at sunset.  I’m watching what I thought was a dramatic flock of birds scatter overhead.  Hum, something is funny about those wings?  Oh wait, they’re bats!  Cool. Lots and lots of bats, maybe coming from the bat colony found downtown.  These are the first bats of seen since reading the very neat book called “Dark banquet” which covers vampire bats, bedbugs, and leeches (and the odd other bloodsucking creatures).

|A local jazz band has started playing, they are really good, but have a strange repetoire of songs they sing in heavily accented English (probably having memorized the words by earand with sheet music.)  Probably no one in the band speaks English, but the songs are still recognizable and quite enjoyable.  I personally would not have chosen “Fever” to sing to a crowd of foreigners in a country where everyone gets malaria at least once, but that is still one catchy song. Other songs in their rep include “Blue moon”, “There ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone”, and “Killing me softly”.  That last one especially brought me back to living in Montreal fifteen years ago, when the Fugees had just come out with a remake. It seemed like it played every night at 2.30 a.m. at Vol de Nuit on Prince Arthur street where my roommate and I used to go after a night of studying and writing for closing time beers.  I’m not afraid of having to entertain myself, but I’ve often found that working overseas has lent itself to cyclical boughts of loneliness, even if just lasting a few minutes, and as I sat there listening to their version of the song, for a pang I was struck with how far away in both time and distance sitting on that patio in the middle of the night in Montreal is to where I find myself now. How would my 22-year old self see me now?

As I wait out getting the first bout of malaria, I have to take the required meds, which may temporarily stave off the disease and hopefully also lessen the impact of it when I do get it.  I’ve taken anti-malarials before, for trips to Central America, but I think the meds for Africa are stronger.  I generally have no side effects (yet- liver damage and sun sensitivity are supposed potential issues), but I do have one: really vivid dreams. I had noticed it in Guatemala but not to this degree.  It is difficult to describe. It’s not that the dreams are weird, they are often quite mundane, actually, but so vivid I sometimes have trouble decifering whether it was a dream or not.  The other day I had to ask my roommate “Did we discuss the light in the living room at any point?” No. Hum. Anti-malarials brain (the equivalent of a senior’s moment, I suppose.) An ex-boyfriend I haven’t spoken to in ten years has reared his head three times in dreams – not in a starring role, just a cameo, but why? Why now? It was like he was *really* communicating with me.  In the morning it sometimes take a while to straighten out the images in my head, and assure myself it’s a dream. It’s a little unsettling.  (Not as unsettling as the I dreamed- without anti-malarials- that I was dating Michael Ignatieff and wondered when I awoke: am I? My stepmother tried to convince me I was too good for him, and my father let out a little “ew, yuck” when I suggested it could be worse: it could have been Peter McKay. But I digress.)

So for Christmas I had a surprise invitation to someone’s house for dinner- a Canadian woman who was having family from Quebec.  It was really good and involved singing to Charles Aznavour, which reminded me of C.R.A.Z.Y.  I spent New Year’s Eve with her and her relatives too, which was great. We ushered in midnight under the stars on her patio.

Happy New Year everyone. 2010 finally here, and I’ve been sick of hearing about it since 2003.  Miss you all.

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: http://www.nei-ci.com/litgen/adoras.htm 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: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/tshirttravels/film.html)

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.