Saturday, December 11, 2010

Women's Work is Never Done----in Rural Niger

Often it starts before sunrise. The stars still shine in the sky above. We lie awake and listen. The roosters crow, the donkeys bray, the children have not begun to stir. There is activity at the well behind our hut. Local village women are chatting, laughing, banging their buckets about, as they await the container with precious water which is being pulled from the well by one of them
The sun is just now rising. A woman’s work is never done in rural Niger.
Her day ‘s calendar starts with sweeping the floor of her concession or family’s area. She then cooks breakfast which she might have started when the open fire was burning the night before. Next is pulling water from the well, which means dropping a 10 gallon bideaun into the well and pulling it up sixty to sixty-five feet with 80 pounds of water. The women pour the water into open buckets, lift it to their head and walk to their huts with perfect, erect posture. A baby is frequently on the woman’s back as she takes the water to her family for use in drinking, bathing, cooking and washing clothes by hand. (Based on Nigerien culture, only women pull water from the well so when Dave tried to pull a bucket for us to use, the women became agitated and upset. I tried to pull the water up, but it was so heavy I was almost pulled into the well! Peace Corps now pays a village woman to pull water for all the trainees. It makes me feel guilty, however, we are told that the women need the money and Peace Corps pays well. I hope that is true.)
The women must then pound millet for part of the family’s meal. Rice is too expensive so millet is used in most daily meals. (The only reason Dave and I get rice is because the Peace Corps pays for it.) Fire wood must be gathered for cooking and during this season, many women also work in the millet fields harvesting the end-of-season crop and chopping left-over stalks which are used for fencing. They may also plant winter gardens as well as make crafts or foods for sale at local markets. If lucky, a pause will occur during the hottest part of the day for women and children to rest or fulanzam.
Women’s work is all of the above without mentioning the care of their children. The average number of children per Nigerien woman is 7.5, so again, the woman’s work is never done. Child care is often shared among wives of a husband, but the children’s needs are countless—just as in the U.S. When a Nigerien woman is asked “mante farga”? or “how is your tiredness?” in the Zarma language, she generally answers “farga si no:, or “no tiredness”. What woman in the U.S. would ever reply in this way after such a day?
And the day starts over…………………a woman’s work is never done in rural Niger.
Our hope is to bring some idea or small improvement to the life of even one woman in Niger, to make her life a bit easier. These women are strong physically but are humans just as are. Our first effort was to give work gloves to one woman to use and share as she pulled water from the well or pounded millet. During both of these tasks the women’s hands become heavily callused and sore from the friction of the ropes and pounding sticks. We never saw the gloves used and believe the recipient sold them, needing the money more than protection for her hands. Dave also built 2 mud cook stoves for a large family in hopes of reducing the amount of fire wood needed for cooking. The family used the stoves to prepare food for a wedding so we know they appreciated the effort.
Count your blessings and be thankful for the life you now live. As the Nigeriens say frequently,
Alhamdulilahi or “thanks be to God”. Judy


  1. This is inspiring. Thanks for keeping me up to speed with what you are doing in Niger.

  2. Pounding millet sound is the background of life there. I showed the women a postcard of my New Mexico with the adobe house, chili peppers and a horno oven--they thought it was Niger (as it looks the same) and were very interested in the clay oven..small dome with large opening at front and small vent one at back...might work there. Lynne