Friday, March 11, 2011


Hello! The final post! The long road home! The end of an era! Ndunya: haykulu gonda inga lokatchi.

I will begin by saying that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I think one of the best signs of a good and engaged service is not always having the time to update your blog. That said, I am not sure there is ever a good excuse for 14 months of silence.

I am in America now. The weather is cold. The cold is becoming rain as we find ourselves nearing spring. It has been nearly three months since I left Niger.

Leaving Niger. Leaving. Goodbyes. Loss. And then remembering everything you still have, all of the thousands of things you have gained. That is the key to this jarring and nostalgic and wonderful and terrifying process of reintegration.

I stayed in Kiota, my second village from March of 2009 through September of 2010. Most of my American friends left in the partial evacuation in November of 2009. This left me at first alone, and then realizing I lived in a village in a region in a country filled with the people who would become my friends and family over the next year, more than they already had.

I continued my English Club, finished up my penpal program, came up with an idea for a girl’s empowerment group-combo-world map-global-women’s-stories/geography project, continued my radio show, merged my radio show with my women’s group, and then concluded my service in Kiota. Though I had intended to close my service in September of 2010, I did not feel finished when the time came.

I applied and was accepted for an extension to live and work in Niamey, Niger’s capital for three more months as the Creative Writing Specialist at the American Cultural Center. I moved into a beautiful house not far from where I worked, and though I left my cat behind in Kiota, I acquired a dog in Niamey. At the ACC I created a curriculum from scratch (thanks to my NYU writing professors!) and began teaching poetry to underprivileged Nigerien students who had been picked for a scholarship to study English at the ACC. It is complicated teaching poetry to students, some of whom have never heard of poetry. Metaphors and similes were a big hit once the kids got the hang of them. Here are a couple examples from the final anthology of my students’ work in the persona poem category:


Oh man!
Why do you often cut me?
I’m the framework of your wonderful house,
the plank of your nice table!
I’m the bumpy wood of your gigantic bed!
The channel of your smart door!
The maroon bed on which you sleep—
please, don’t cut me!
Let me live to stop the wind and sand!
Let me live to shelter the sad animals!
Le me live to calm down the clouds
and bring the rain!
Hear my prayer!
Listen to it!
Oh man! Listen to my prayer!
Don’t cut me, let me live.

By Saratou Harouna Issaka


Oh people,
Why do you always sit on me?
My tires are very tired.
I cannot work.
Please, if you drive,
do it slowly.
My legs are very tired
I cannot walk
Please people,
ride a bicycle or something
just not me,
I’m a very old motorcycle.

By Daouda Bado

My time in Niamey could be given such titles as: A Drawn Out Goodbye, Learning to Leave a Country, Tying Loose Ends, In Search of Sand Dunes, Frantic Market Shopping, Limbo, The Wild Restaurant Testing Adventure, Avoiding Submersion in Fresh Water, or, Attempting to Live Without Your Village.

I learned new and various lessons about sub-sahelien living in this new, more independent, sometimes lonely and sometimes bustling life. I made new friends, saw old ones when possible, visited Kiota one last time, and searched for as many unseen places as I could find and see before I left.

I sat atop the dunes outside of Niamey:

Made it to Parc W:

And looked for hippos on the river, but found none:

Twelve weeks moves quickly and soon it was time to head home. The 13 of us still in the group I came to country with in October of 2008 closed our service on December 9, 2010. My friend Ariana and I headed straight to Tunisia where we kicked off the Middle Eastern revolution before continuing on to Spain where we met Emily and Liz; and finally (through a snowy round-about-stuck-in-airports-Europe-freeze-maybe-not-get-home-for-Christmas-eventually-go-to-Rome-where-its-warmer-and-fly-out!) I got on a flight and made it to Boston right in time for Christmas Eve.

Here I am. I live in Lincoln, I spend a good deal of money re-filling my Niger phonecard, I try not to eat with my hands, or wash my hands with water from straws over the floors of nice restaurants (which are not sand as it turns out). I am in awe of books and kindles and American culture and the fact that I can’t talk about the person next to me in English without him/her understanding me. I am often cold but the snow has not yet lost its wonder for me. I am consistently relieved, heartened, inspired, in awe, and overcome by having the ocean so near by. I am frequently on the verge of tears when listening to NPR because despite our billions of shortcomings it seems there may be many people in America doing well-intentioned and interesting projects all over this country and the world. I am trying to find my place in the new home of my old life. I am looking for jobs, and learning how to use a Mac, and trying to decide which city to begin the apartment search in. I am open to advice, sage wisdom, coffee dates, letters or inspiration, letters of anything else, and would love to hear from any and all of you.

Please get in touch. Hope you all are still well, and enjoying this taste of spring day as much as I am. Much love and thank you so much for joining me and staying with me on this long adventure.

Until Next Time!
Irkoy m’iri cabe cere!


P.S. The Peace Corps Niger program has been suspended until further notice. It was evacuated in early January, 2011 due to security problems finally making their way to the capital. Most of the Volunteers are now back in America much to their surprise. I feel very lucky to have left when I did and been given the chance to say all of my goodbyes as properly as one can say goodbyes. I am sending all of my best wishes to those PCVs whose time whose was cut short and to those who were able to relocate and begin anew somewhere else. Irkoy ma no say aran kulu say. Kala suru. Kala hanfo koyne. It has been quite the ride. Barka.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hello in 2010!

Well…it’s been a while! As many of you know there was a second security scare in December and we (all of PC Niger) went through a second consolidation similar to what I went through last January. This time around we were not allowed to write about it publicly, hence my absence from this blog (but don’t worry, we are all safe). Now I am back in action! The last few months have been a little rough. Three of my best friends and 50 of my other friends all left the country in a rushed and unexpected manner due to terrorism evacuations. Everyone is fine, but PC Niger is a changed place. My last blog entry was about all the work I was excited to get up and running, and this one will be more like an update on why those plans changed.

As of now I will be COS-ing in September of this year, 3 months earlier than my original departure date. I will be leaving with the other education volunteers instead of with the agriculture volunteers whom I came to country with. I am not quite ready for such an early departure, but not sure if I really want to change my mind and remain in my village until my initial December date. If I do leave in September I will most likely be replaced with a new education volunteer who will take over. If I stay until December my village will be PCV-less for 9 months. In addition, I am considering applying for a job in Niamey which begins in September, and extending for an additional year. This option would give me some great experience with NGOs, and would challenge me to get back into the swing of an 8-5 work day. But…I would be away from America for that much longer. In short, I am at a crossroads and am very unsure as to which path I will take.

In terms of work, my English Club is up and running and I am working with 2 teachers at the Hanscom School in Lincoln on a pen-pal correspondence program. My neighbor Hailey and I are starting a Girl’s Empowerment Group and hoping to coincide it with painting 2 large world maps at each of our schools to teach these girls about women around the world. These groups will most likely end when school does in June, and I am not sure what I will do yet over the summer. School opens back up in October, and as of now I have no idea where I will be at that point.

The weather is great here. Cool at nights and warm during the day. My mom and brother are leaving the states to come visit me in only two and a half weeks! I can’t wait to see them and to show them Niger! This country is really starting to grow on me. But maybe that’s just because winter here is such a great time of year. I hope you all had a fantastic time over the holidays and a happy, happy new year!

Much Love and Stay in Touch!!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dear America

My one year anniversary here in Niger arrived without much preparation and seemed to disappear just as subtly. It got me thinking about movements of time and our perceptions of those movements, and what a day is versus an hour, a year, etc., etc. At home, in the states, each day seems to be filled up with all of these details and events, and by the end of the day one can say, rather easily, what he has accomplished (or at least what he has done). There is, perhaps, a sense of action in each American day. I am not disputing that here in Niger we don’t also do things with our days; I would like to assert, however, that the cyclical movement of hours turning into night and then day and then night and then day seems to move much more fluidly. Recently I fear time is traipsing so quickly and seamlessly that I will wake up one morning to discover I am an old, old woman and still with so much to see of the world.

I have a meeting planned with the English teachers at my school next week to start a club d’anglais. I’m excited to get connected with the actual students at the CEG. I think interacting with kids instead of bureaucracy will be a good, fresh change. Insha’allah. A couple weeks after that I will be having a meeting with the COGES, the faculty, and (I’m hoping) some portion of the village community to run a PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action). In these meetings the PCV sort of sits on the sidelines/lightly facilitates while the community uses an image-based system of creating a list of needs and voting on the most pertinent one to bring to action. In a positive light PACA is an innovative and illiterate-friendly forum in which a community can articulate as a team their most pressing need, and then work to eliminate/alleviate that need using their volunteer as the missing link/resource. In a less positive light it can be seen as a forum for voting on a ‘big money project’ which the volunteer can dump on the community without much hope for sustainability. I am hoping that if we go ahead with PACA in Kiota the result will lead toward the former. Regardless, if all goes as planned, I will end up asking an economically crisis-ing America for money to fund the project.

Our sister stage (the group of Ag/NRM volunteers who came a year ahead of us, and helped train us during PST) is currently in Niamey having their COS (close of service) conference. I cannot believe that this group of people will be leaving in less than two months. Once they leave we are the next set of Ag/NRMs to COS. I’m starting to feel like there just isn’t time in two years to do anything. Or rather, any amount of time learns how to eat itself up until suddenly it is diminishing and all of the tasks allotted to it have been pushed to the back. I suppose people probably exist who live differently than that: people who end up with their tasks completed and the extra time laying out ahead of them. I have not learned to be one of them.

I have harvested my millet, my hibiscus, my beans and my peanuts. My moringa trees are getting taller and providing me with delicious kopto to add to my lunches. My cat is getting bigger and crazier everyday. I’ve been reading great books and appreciating that after Peace Corps I will never again have this kind of time to read for pleasure. I am trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. But I presume we’re all doing that. Miss you all and would love to hear from you. Much, much love, Annette.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomorrow is September

Andrew trying out some post-colonial literature :)

It’s been cloudy all morning, even drizzled, but the sun just broke through. All the colors in the Petit Marche are jumping in the wind-- the reds and whites of the shade umbrellas covering the bowls of produce for sale, the pagnes hanging and blowing as walls. Even the stacks of phone cards, cigarettes and mystery medicines seem bright as the nerandiko boys carry them above their heads selling them to who will buy. Women in complés with their heads covered zipping by on motorcycles, the chipping paint of store fronts, the long white jabbas on the men…it all looks fresh again. The sun, this force we try to hate but are nothing without. In the rain, everyone in their puffy jackets claiming the cold is sweet, but their hands shiver near the small fires where they prepare chai. The rainy season is really here. There are vegetables in the market and we sleep with blankets.

However, my sister arrived on Friday for her study abroad program and claims that the nights are too hot for sleep. Maybe I have grown more used to this place than I think. Kate and the 17 other students she’s here with had their naming ceremony on Saturday night. She is Kaidiya, or the Zarma pronunciation: Kadija. It’s so fun having her here, and her dorm is nearly walk-able from our hostel here in Niamey. I can’t wait until she can actually come to see my village. Some people tell me she looks like me, but mostly they say, “a ga hima Sediku,” she looks like Andrew. …and then they say she’s more tan than I am. Alas, when the sun is too hot you live under a shade hangar.

Speaking of Andrew—he was here for almost 4 weeks. We had an incredible vacation through Benin, Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso (I am attempting to put pictures up on facebook right now, the one above is the night we returned to Niger from Burkina). He’s now been in as many West African countries as I have. …And now he’s on a cruise in Alaska. Life is so hard. It was great to have such a long trip with him and I can’t wait to meet Jeanine (his girlfriend) for Christmas in Paris!!

This is a picture from The Green Turtle Lodge in Ghana where we spent 5 nights...

When we returned from our 3 week trip, my kitten was in fact missing. But he was only zellaying (looking for girlfriends out on the town) and 2 weeks later I found him. Now he leaves whenever I leave and pops in to visit for a few days at a time when I’m home. I try to tell him that he doesn’t need any other women in his life…but men never listen so out he goes. I’ve now tied a strip from little blue pagne around his neck so people will know he’s the anasara cat. He looks quite dapper.

My millet is taller than I am. My moringa trees are growing everyday. I think the third set of tomatos I planted are actually coming up, hurray! I have peanuts and hibiscus and black-eyed peas…I think I even have one lavtande squash and one watermelon. My concession is beginning to look like a little paradise instead of a parking lot.

What else? My radio show is going well. I’m working with Michelle, the volunteer who was here before me to start selling my friend Afoulan’s jewelry in San Fransisco. And when school starts back up in October I’m going to hold a meeting with director/teachers/pta to decide what projects they want done while I’m here. So…If you’ve been really itching to donate to some charity project, I’ll probably have one up on the web by January or February for you to start donating to! If I end up doing something like trying to turn their millet stalk school into a cement school, it could run somewhere about $23,000. Yikes.

So, I think that’s pretty much all that’s been happening lately. I just bumped into Kate in the café I’m in…this is going to be a crazy four months! Bumping into my sister in Niamey! I’m back to Kiota tomorrow, but I’ll be coming back for the new stage’s swear-in and GAD Auction on the 9th and 10th.

Hope all is well back in America. I can’t believe Fall is going to be starting soon. I’m a little jealous… Lots of love and look forward to hearing from all of you!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

An Ex-Pat Independence Day

Storm approaching as the sun goes down.

The top of the mesa behind Kiota: you can see the mosque in the background.

Well Hello!

I know it's been a while. Happy belated 4th of July! We had a nice little party of nearly 1,000 people at the ambassodor's residence on Friday night to celebrate. The four marines in country did a salute with flags and rifles, and the ambassador herself gave a nice speech that I'm sure I would have enjoyed if the microphone had been good enough for us to hear anything. But there was free wine (though often served to men first...!), , and a sunset over the river, so I'm not complaining. It was a nice event to sort of see how the other 0.2% lives. It isn't that often we go to parties with American officials and wealthy Nigeriens.

Things in Kiota have been great. I still spend a lot of time sitting with my friend Afoulan, and the group of men who come to sit there everyday, outside my house. My friend Suraji and I are in the midst of a fairly heated debate about whether or not there is ever a gray area in the world, or if everything can always just come down to lies and truth. Somehow it always falls back to religion, and the conversation usually concludes for the evening with Suraji reminding me that I think people came from monkeys, whereas he thinks they came from other people, and then it's hard to make the laughter stop that comes at my expense. Who is this anasara who thinks monkeys are people and that maybe an explosion of rocks created earth instead of God? I usually say, let's agree to disagree. Iri ma yarda ga si yarda. And he tells me that we're only having fun, only having a conversation. We all part ways while it's still light out, only to resume in the morning.

I'm in Niamey right now because Andrew is due to arrive tomorrow! I can't wait. Our plan is to leave Niger on Thursday morning, busing down through Benin and Togo, and arriving in Ghana by Monday or Tuesday. We should be back in Niger by the 26th. My first real vacation in 9 months! I am praying that they still sell sushi in Accra, and that there is still such a thing as the ocean.

What else, what else? I've planted my millet and a go ga fata. It's sprouted and looks healthy, and if, Insha'allah, we get rain again soon, none of it will die. My tomatos have not come up yet, nor has my moringa, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I'm hoping the place doesn't look like too much of a disaster by the time Andrew gets to see it at the end of the month. Also, my kitten wasn't doing so well when I left on Friday, so I really hope he gets better not worse while I'm gone. Afoulan promises that he's already doing better...but people here are not big cat-fans. Iri ga di...

Anyway, hope all is well home sweet home. How is the economy shaping up? How's the heat? If anyone is lacking summer plans (or Christmas plans that is), my door is wide open. Lots of love and hope all is well. Some more Kiota pics -->

Me at the Juma prayer.

A Niger River tributary on the way to Gotheye.

Carrie and me at my house.

Jingara Do, Juma.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Niger's President Seeking 3rd Term

Hello from the capital!

There is a strange feeling in the air here in Niamey due to recent political developments in this still new republic. President Tandja, who was elected in 1999, and in December would have completed the two 5 yr. terms allowed of any one president, has made some rather surprising decisions of late. In the last six months there has been much rumor and speculation about him potentially seeking a third term, but the hope was that the elections scheduled for December would go forward as planned, and a new president would be democratically elected here in Niger.

This past Tuesday, May 26th, after being told that the court and assembly would most likely vote in opposition to an amendment to the constitution enabling the president to remain in power for an additional three years, Tandja disbanded parliament. This is technically lawful, and means that there must be an election held for new parliament seats within 90 days. It is assumed Tandja's hope would be that the new elected officials would then be in his favor of remaining in power.

Sufficed to say, there is mass opposition to these recent happenings. Tandja made an address two nights ago to the people informing them that in their best interest he would be going through with the referendum to change the constitution, and that he would remain their president for the next three years.

Tandja is 70 years old. He claims he wants to stay president in order to fulfill certain projects he has initiated for the best interest of the country's economy such as a second bridge in Niamey, the dam project, and certain contracts with other countries and companies regarding the uranium in Niger's northern region.

This could mean any number of things for Niger, and any number of things for Peace Corps Niger. There are demonstrations scheduled for the next 10 days, and all PCV's have been asked to avoid the capitals and remain in their villages. I am getting on a bus to go home this afternoon.

It is hard to stay politically neutral, as is my job, in the midst of all this. I love hearing my villagers talking politics, but I only listen and try not to give my opinion. I'll be in touch with updates, but you can also read about it in the news. Here's a link to a BBC article:

I have to run, but I miss you all and I'll talk to you soon! xoxo

Monday, May 11, 2009

One Year Older and Korean Postcards

So I turned 23 in Niger. It's strange, getting older in a foreign country. My birthday brought rain with it, and so the last few days have been much cooler. Clouds have given us some slight shield from the sun, and my friend Will said they have begun planting in his village. It's only May, and hardly the beginning. Planting usually begins in June or July--this could turn out to be quite the rainy season.

My friend Kirsten is on a Fulbright in Korea teaching English to high schoolers right now. On Thursday I went to the Peace Corps Bureau in Niamey to check for any packages before my birthday. There was one incredibly beat up box with bubble wrap coming out of its ripped corners, and inside was a large plastic binder with at least a hundred laminated pages inside. The note said, "Annette, in response to your request for snail mail I asked my students to do the work. Why would you want one, lengthy, grammatically correct letter from me? Better still is over 500 personalized postcards from EFL students!! I gave them some very simplified information about Niger and this is what they came up with! A student said it best. "You mind is so beautiful and decent." And, "Annette, have a strength!" With love, Kirsten.

Sure enough, there are more than 500 postcards inside responding to a power-point presentation Kirsten gave her students on the work I'm doing here. Due to the students' English level, they are pretty hilarious. Here are some of my favorites:

"To: Annette

Hello. Annette! Nice to meet you :)
I heard about you much time
from Kirsten. Hmmm...I want to
do volunteering like you someday.
I respect you because you help
poor child and person although
it is very hard...
I want to meet you in the future.
So, please tell me about volunteer then
I look forward to help person
with you <3
Hmm. Are you okay in hot weather?
I hate hot day!!
So ~ Take care of yourself and be happy!
I will always victory for you!! Thank you for reading!"

"Dear Annette.
You...Beautiful heart.
You...God Bless you ~ ...
Love. Love. Love.
You...I love you <3 <3"

"Hello Annette!
My name is jin-a fr
I heard your story from Kristen
I'm glad to hear your story
At first I'm not understand
your behavior
Because NIGER is so far...
If I you. I'm not.
but your behavior is nice
your will become a such as
mother theresa.
And your will have
meet handsome, and kind
and have much money guy
like obama :)"

"Hello Annette <3
Glad to meet you! I'm So-young.
I'm high school student in Mokpo, Korea.
I'm so happy, because I miss you.
I'm a lucky girl :)
Are you Happy? If you say 'I'm
not happy,' I'm so sad.
The world is beautiful, wonderful and
Anyway ~ Have a nice day.
Bye, My new friend, Annette."

"To, Annette!
Hi. Annette.
Nice to meet you :)
Do you like ice-cream?
I like ice-cream very much.
I have a lot of time."

"Hi, Annette!
Nice to meet you
My name is Lee Ji Young
What is a niger famous
food? You know what?
I hope visit a niger
what do you in niger?
Do you have a fun?
What a funny and
surprisely culture
in niger?
I hope funny of your trip!

There are many many more. And some great pictures, too. This has inspired me to start my pen-pal correspondence with students in the U.S. So thank you Kirsten, and thank you to your students!

These are a couple pictures of my new kitten, Levin, and his triumph over a chariot spider. He has earned his keep.