Currently, many of our days begin with the rising sun barely visible through a dusty haze on the horizon. It is Niger’s cold, dry, dusty, windy season. BUT…………….based upon the negative tone of our last blog, this follow-up posting should be a ray of sunshine. It is a true lemons to lemonade story. Although Dave and my first few days in our new village were rough, the Nigerien proverb “kala suru” certainly paid off.
As soon as our village chief (maygari)/landlord realized that we were serious and expected an improved living environment, he jumped into action. Even though before our arrival the hut to which we were assigned was where he had been living , there must have been questions in his mind as we began to request various repairs. Crazy, demanding Anasaras! Maybe this is what he thought, but the Peace Corps had contracted with him to provide living space for us and the chief definitely was going to work with us on our issues.
What the maygari did was to enlist villagers to do the work necessary on our hut. Within a couple of days the rat holes were filled with smooth concrete, shiny black plastic was added to the inside of our thatched roof to catch falling dirt and to deter entry of bats and rodents, new screens were installed on our door and window and the latrine/shower area was cleaned. We also paid to have black plastic installed in our shade hangar since chickens roosted atop the hangar prompting regular showers of dirt and grain to fall on us. Because of the incessant dust during this time of year, we bought 10 palm mats and hung them inside the millet stalk walls of the shade hangar. We hoped to reduce dust from nature as well as from that which arose when the village women carried out their daily chore of sweeping the outside area around the hut. Just picture having to dust the pages of a book as you read it or the need to keep your clothes in large zip lock bags to keep them clean enough to wear.
While right now dust is an issue as it coats everything in sight, the rainy season will come and our roof was already reported to have a leak. Even before we asked, the maygari wanted to know when we’d be on vacation because he wanted to have the roof re-mudded before the rainy season begins in May or June. So, by the end of our first week “in vil” , as PCVs say, our little fu (home) was beginning to take shape and to become livable. After a villager wipes down the walls of the hut, we plan to paint them and that will be the final major task before we actually move in. We continue to sleep outside under the shade hangar and our gas cook stove is situated there as well. Until the rainy season we’ll live outdoors and store belongings inside the one room structure. The Peace Corps covered the cost of work which would provide safety and health while we paid for improvements in ambience and were glad to do it. The living situation of a Peace Corps volunteer is supposed to be comparable to that of the villagers and our space included only a few upgrades.
We now feel comfortable in our new African village home and are ready to begin the village assessment and project idea development. We are gradually meeting neighbors and have already been enthralled with the eleven month old little girl who lives next door. She is the daughter of the village maygari and is typically frightened by Caucasian people. She cries when she sees us and when I try to hold her, however, bringing a cookie to a recent visit made the tears disappear quite rapidly as her Mother placed the child into my arms. She is learning to wave good-bye as I tell her “kala ton-ton” in Zarma language.
As Mary Poppins once said, “a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down”. In this case, a few improvements and a bit of cooperation from our village maygar allows us to accept the “medicine” (unprepared living quarters) and encourages us in our pursuit of immersion into the African culture of our new village home. Lemons can certainly be squeezed, combined with sugar and made into lemonade. This experience definitely proves the saying to be true, and we are grateful. Judy and Dave