It's been pretty crazy here in Niger the last couple weeks. Here are a few vignettes that stick out in my mind:
-the 7 of us new Zinder volunteers getting in after dark after a 15-hour bus ride, expecting to be met by a car to transport us and all our stuff to the hostel. Instead, current Team Z volunteers roll up on the backs of motorcycles, shove helmets into our hands and graciously take some of our things from us (Allah bless Alex for taking charge of my big too-heavy-to-lift bag and getting it to the hostel somehow).
-a book in the Zinder hostel about Park W (in SW Niger, so named because the Niger River curves around in a 'w' shape) informed me that there are MANATEES in Niger!! Finding this out made my week. Now whenever you think of Niger you can think of the desert, Al Queda, me and manatees! That sounds like an epic combination for either an awesomely bad reality TV show or perhaps an awesomely bad short story I'll write! Or maybe just a song...I've already got 3 tracks I'm going to write for my Niger-themed album I'll be putting out: 'Snacks for the Bus,''Snacks on the Bus,' and the sure-to-be #1 hit, 'COUCH STORE!' Get excited.
-my ville is BEAUTIFUL! There are tree-lined avenues and a road that goes off into the bush which I run on some mornings (and greet people as I go, who remark that I'm late if I don't go at the same time every day).
-meeting coworkers at the Inspection (think school district office), middle/high school, and youth center, and getting ideas for projects. One man with whom I hope to work was having a very open conversation with me about the crazy things he did back in college. He drank beer! He danced! He ate pork and thought it was delicious! But now he's an old man, so he doesn't do any of that anymore.
-i went walking on my own one day and met a 'fada' or group of guys who hang out at the same time every day and drink tea. They were really nice and the main dude invited me in to meet his wife, and I hung out with her for awhile. She offered me Plumpy Nut, which is basically a bag full of fat and good things for malnourished babies, which is given out by an NGO. An African offering me a nutrition supplement?!? ...I politely declined ('Bani bukata': 'I don't need').
-Paddy and Mickey, the dog and cat who live with me, are helpful and aggravating at the same time. They're cute, they kill rats and mice, but they also eat my sauce packets and get in the way. To keep or not to keep? That is the question...
-Taking a bush taxi in Niger is always a crowded adventure. Last Friday I took a bush taxi with a handful of nice Nigeriens and no less than 55 pumpkins! They fell on our heads so we put them under our feet and all I could do was make faces at the 7 year old girl to make her laugh. Scared 'Is-this-pumpkin-going-to-fall-on-my-head-again?' faces.
-Stephanie. We lost a bright spirit last week who will be deeply missed. Stephanie was loud, funny and loved Chili's, breakfast burritos and snacks on the bus! Team Z was going to make a Twilight parody and she had already cast herself as Bella, since she was from Arizona. It's been a surreal experience losing her so suddenly, dealing with the reality that we'll never see or laugh with her again. I'm so grateful we were allowed to come together in Niamey to support each other and celebrate her life. Our thoughts are with her family and friends back in the states now, and her energy will be an inspiration to me throughout my service here in Niger.
-Speaking of service, I talked to my brother for 2 minutes today and got some great news: he's not re-enlisting! I would have supported him in whatever he chose to do, but I think I'm allowed a sigh of relief that come next April he'll be back in Oregon!
I'm beginning the multi-day trek back to post tomorrow: 15-hour bus ride, rest day in Zinder, another probably-ridiculous bush taxi ride out to post. Life at post is full of awkward moments and miscommunications, but little by little ('sannu sannu!') it will get better, more comfortable, and become my home.