Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mali Trek and the Past 5 Months

So you're probably all wondering what has been going on for the past 5 months and why I haven't been updating my blog. Really all is going well and I'm just proving to be a really bad blog writer. Last time I posted was after my Benin trip and now I'm just getting back from a wonderful trip through Mali. But don't think all I do here is go on vacation. There was a lot Niger time in between. Well first for the exciting part, Mali! We went through Burkina to the southern part of Mali to a region called Dogon Country. Traveling there was a little rough to say the least. We encountered some bad bush taxi luck, first getting stuck in the closest border town with no cars leaving to cross the border all day. Then the next morning our car finally left but only made it 12km before we got a flat tire, and with no spare the driver started rolling it back down the road we came from. After lounging under a tree for a while, I started hitch hiking and luckily got some French volunteers to pick us up. But when we finally got to Dogon, we quickly realized that it was worth it. It is absolutely breathtaking. There is a 200km escarpement with villages along the base and on the top. The remains of ancient villages still remain in the side of the escarpement. We spent 5 days hiking in between the villages, from the base climbing up rocks and cracks to the top and then down cannons and through tunnels to the bottom. We had a crazy but excellent guide who talked about the history of the old anamist villages and the transformation that has turned them into the villages today. We also had fun nights drinking millet beer and hanging out on the rocks. The trip back to Niger was just as rough, bush taxi took 6.5 hours to go 60 miles, spent the night at the bus station (not as bad as you would think but it rained) then as we're crossing the border back to Niger my cell phone and my friends camara and $100 got stolen from the bus. Bummer. But it was still a great trip!

As for the past 5 months... Things have continued to go well in village. I started my first big project with Moringa trees. Moringa is a miracle tree that has incredibly nutritious leaves, great for fighting malnutrition. We started a small garden using improved variety seeds from a research institution and will be producing more seeds to provide to the area. In the upcoming months we will also be starting projects with fruit tree grafting as an income generating activity for the women's group. Cold season is starting soon!!! It will be so nice to get some relief from this heat. It also means that its gardening so fresh vegetables will be available. Man its going to be a good next couple months!
New pics are up on my shutterfly page. Let me know how you all are doing. Love you!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Waves and Reggae!

I'm at the end of one of the most relaxing and wonderful vacations of my life. I just spent six nights relaxing on the beach in Grand Popo, Benin with three of my great girlfriends from Niger. We boarded a bus bright and early in Niamey and 20 hours later we arrived in Grand Popo at a wonderful reggae joint called the lion bar. We didn't set very high expectations for the vacation, thats what happens when you have spend 8 months in Niger, but in turn we were blown away by beauty of the beach. We also unexpectly arrived the night before a three day fete, a homecoming for those who travelled away from Grand Popo as well as some voodo vituals. We had some added entertainment for the next few days as it turned into a bussling town. We spent our mornings slowly waking up, eating omelets and drinking coffee while watching the waves in the distance. Then we made our way down to the beach to bask in the sun, play in the waves, listen to the locals play drums and dance, and stare at the blue ocean. At night we ate delicious meals of fish, prawns and rice and danced the night away to reggae music. It was paradise. Our last night there, they threw us a going away party because we had become so close with the staff. They made us fresh crab, not quite dungeness but still fun, and set up another night of dancing. I danced for hours upon hours and as you all can imagine it was one of the happiest times of my life.

Today we had to say goodbye and hit the road. On our way to Cotonou, we stopped in Ouidah, a historic port on the ocean. It was the largest port for the exportation of slaves to Brazil and the Americas. The city is gorgeous but it definately had an eary feeling to it. We walked down the Route of the Slaves, to the port on the ocean. It is the path that they had to walk to load the ships. Along the way you pass fetishes of ancient Voodo gods and small villages with voodo kings. We didn't have much time to we didn't see everything but it was interesting to see and a good reminder of the past.

It is going to be difficult to return to Niger because Benin is absolutely breathtaking. It is so lush and green, the food is delicious, and life isn't nearly as difficult as Niger. It has definately been a reality check of how poor Niger really is. After living there for so long, things start to become normal and we have become desensitized to the struggles Nigeriens face everday. Part of me wishes that I was posted to Peace Corps Benin so I could live in these beautiful villages, be near water, eat fresh fruits and vegetables everyday and not be so hot! But as difficult as it will be to return, I have to remember that I am having that much of a greater impact by living and working in one of the poorest countries in the world. And as amazing as this trip has been, I am excited to return to my village and see my friends.

Pictures of my trip to come on Shutterfly. I love you and miss you all!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

IST Time

Time for another update...I'm in my in-service training right now, supposedly gaining some sound technical knowledge so that we can begin working in our villages. Really I still feel a little unprepared but I'm getting some good ideas. We have covered topics like improved-seed crop trials, natural pesticides, gum arabic and moringa tree plantations, project plan development, and fruit tree grafting, my favorite. Next week our counterparts are coming in from our villages for a two day conference. They are staying up on the training site with us so I imagine it will be pretty awkward. Apparently it is funny watching them try to eat with forks, use sinks, etc... Hopefully they will leave with a better understanding of the kind of work that we came her to do. Most of my villagers still think that I'm here to bring them a millet grinder and they don't understand when I tell them that this isn't PC's type of work. It is really apparent how the NGOs have shaped their view of development by showing up with big money projects and then leaving the next day. I guess you can't blame them for expecting the same from us, but hopefully this will slowly start to change.

One of my favorite parts of training has been going back to see my host family. I brought them pictures that mom developed and sent me which made quite a frenzy. For some of them it is the only photo they have. All of my closest friends were there and not much had changed, except one little boy who was so sick when I was there that I questioned if he would make it. His mom was pregnant when I left so she wasn't able to breast feed. During my visit she told me that she had a baby but it died. This meant that she was able to start breast feeding her little boy again and now he has little chubby cheeks and is running around smiling. It's so sad that her baby died but maybe its a blessing for that little boy because I don't think he would have made it otherwise. A first hand example of the need for more family planning education in Niger. The rest of my visit was happy and it was great to see everyone. It also made me start missing my village and I can't wait to get back.

I have four new PC neighbors. They had to move because of some security issues in another region and they all ended up on my road. It will be weird not being the only volunteer in the area anymore, but it will be nice to have neighbors. One more week of training and then back to post. Send me some emails while I'm near a computer!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Survived the First Month!

The first benchmark of my peace corps service has come and gone. I completed my first month out at post with no major mishaps! With so much I have experienced it is hard to know where to start, so I thought I would give you some highlights:

-walking around a lake surrounded by grass in the middle of sand dunes and laying in the branches of a baobob tree
-meeting the most well known sheik in west Africa and eating lunch with his wife
-getting peed on by babies three times in one day
-solo dance parties and photo shoots in my hut
-listening to people react to anything I do with "Irkoy Beeri" (God is Big)
-laughing fits in the back of bush taxis with my friend Errin (no wonder they stare at the crazy white people)
-old people who's faces light up every time I walk by and greet them
-getting asked to take endless husbands and babies to America
-phone calls from my family and Zoe!
-learning Zarma dance, apparently I'm pretty good
-amazing sunsets over the sahel

In all it was a great month. I'm really happy here and I know it will only get better as I continue to improve my Zarma. I will be able to have meaningful conversations. I just posted pictures on my shutterfly site so you can see what my new life looks like. Thanks to everyone who has sent me letters and packages!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Living in paradise, or close to it

Suprisingly I'm able to write another blog post already. I just got back from a week living at the village that will be my home for the next two years. I am feeling so lucky right now because I managed to be placed in one of the few areas in Niger that has huge trees and grassy fields. Everyone in the village seems very excited to have me there. My first day, a lady came up to my and said, "Hi I'm Hadiza. I'm your mom. These are my daughters. They are your best friends. Anything you need, just let us know." Talk about welcoming me into their family!
My house is huge with two rooms and a nice concession. I have had some bug issues because there hasn't been someone living there for the past three years. Within the first 24 hours, I killed hundreds of spiders, a cockroach, a scorpion, dodged wasps flying in and out of their nests, and had a face off with a mouse who has built his home under my floor. But suprisingly I handled it all very well.
Kiota, the nearest town to me is a beautiful 45 minute walk away along a tree-lined street. I can get all the basics there. I asked my friend where I can charge my cell phone, and she took me into the sheik's consession and said they will charge it for me whenever I want. Not many people can say that. I should get to meet him when I move in permanently. I get full cell phone reception at my house so try giving me a call whenever you want, as long as it's not the middle of the night.

So it's taken some effort, but I got some pictures up. Enjoy. The last one is of my host sister during wedding festivities. I don't always dress like this, but it was fun for the occassion. Can't wait to hear from you all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Living the bush life

I can't believe that I have already been in Africa for a month and I haven't written a blog entry yet. I must say that I'm not just being lazy, I am really living in the African bush! No electricity, phones, running water and suprisingly, I'm loving it more than I ever thought I could. I love every part of it, my mud hut, my mosquito net covered outdoor sleeping quarters, and even the slimy millet mush. I find myself craving it sometimes. But most of all, I love the people here, my Nigerien family. From the moment I saw their smiling faces and the excitement in their eves when we arrived, I knew that I made the right decision coming here.
My Zarma is getting better and better each day, and my family has nothing but patience for me. Training has been much more relaxed that I expected it to be. We spend our class times spralled on straw mats under shade hangers. We are constantly interrupted by little kids, women coming in from the fields with millet pilled high on their heads, or gusts of wind blowing in at tornado speeds. But we have patience, we are living in Niger.
After much anticipation, they told us on Friday where we will be posted for the next two years. I will be headed to a small village of 200 people in the Dosso region. It is 4km away from a famous religious city where the biggest chic in west Africa lives. Thousands of people from all over Africa visit the city to see him, so I imagine it to be a fairly diverse place. I'm on a paved road, so I won't have to deal with the dreaded walks through endless sad dunes in 120 degree heat, as some volunteers do. I'll know more after our week of live-in coming up. I will be able to spend Thanksgiving with other volunteers in the Dosso hostel after live-in is over. It will be nice to meet the other volunteers in my region, and we might be able to get a turkey!
Thanks to everyone who has written me letters. They truely make my day. I have a cell phone now, but reception in my current village is bad. It will be much better when I'm at my permanent site in mid December. Buy a cheap calling card and call me. I hear www.callafrica.com and www.phonecards.com have good rates. To call me you dial 011-227-97165994.

Also, I have a new address:
Hailey Wright
Corps de la Paix
BP 144
Dosso, Niger, West Africa

I love you guys! I hope all is well at home. Yay Obama!! They all love him here too!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Off to Niger in 2 weeks!!!

Hi everyone! Welcome to my blog on my upcoming peace corps experience in Niger. To start off, I should tell what the name of my blog means. Fofo means "greetings" in Zarma, one of the local languages. At this point, it is the only word in Zarma that I can remember, but that should change soon. I begin my big adventure on Monday October 6th, when I head to Phili for a brief orientation. Then October 7th we leave for Niger! I will be a "community agroforestry extention volunteer" but who really knows what that means. Basically I will be working on the local level with subsistence farmers helping improve food security and sovereignty. I will be in training for the first two months in the village of Hamdallaye, 35 km from Niamey. I will be learning either Zarma or Hausa, the two local languages, and part way through training I will find out where my permanent placement will be. Communication will be shakey and sparce, but I am already looking forward to all of your letters, emails, care packages, and phone calls!

Contact info:
email: hailey1616@gmail.com
address during training: (you can start sending letters and packages now! It takes a while)
Hailey Wright, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 10537
Niamey, Niger
** please write "air mail" and "par avion" on all mail**
I'll let you know a phone number as soon as I get a cell phone.
Thanks for all your support in helping get to this point. Wish me luck in Niger!