Homestay Info

During training, Peace Corps Volunteers in Niger stay with host families that generally speak the language they will use during their service. As I have mentioned, I am in a little village of Barchawal, staying with the Hamidou family.

My host father has two wives. Niger is about 95% Muslim, and according to Islamic law, a man can have as many wives as he can afford to treat equally. He works in Niamey (the capital) and sells pagnes (women’s skirts), and I think that either his father or his uncle is the chief of the village. Therefore, he is relatively wealthy for the village. He’s a really nice man who laughs a lot and rides his motorcycle into work every day.

His second wife is 19, they’ve only been married about 5 or 6 months, she has her own concession inside the compound. I don’t really interact with her too much, but she does eat with us. In Niger, men and women always eat seperately, the family never eats all together.

His first wife is the one I consider my host mother – she is 33. She is really smart with a good sense of humor and I am pretty sure that she can read, which is rare for women. Her brother actually went to school in Pennsylvania and speaks fluent English – he visited us the other day and it was nice to talk to a non-PCV in English. My host mother has four children – a boy, 5 months; another boy, 3; another boy, 9; and the eldest is a girl, 13. The baby is ADORABLE, I love to hold him and play with him. He usually doesn’t wear anything, except when it gets down to about 90 and then they put him in a little hat and snow pants. The 3 year old is warming up to me as well, he loves to play with his dad’s motorcycle. I’ve never met the 9 year old boy, he is a student in Niamey and doesn’t live at home. My favorite is the eldest sister – she has such a wonderful personality and is one of the smartest girls I’ve ever met. She also goes to school in Niamey and speaks Zarma, French, and even a little English. She’s been super helpful for communicating with the family because I speak a little French as well. They are really committed to us learning the language and are super patient. She loves to dance and sometimes I sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to her at night – the stars here are super bright and beautiful. My roommate has iPod speakers and we have dance parties sometimes – my host sister loves Shakira and Beyonce. She hopes to go to college in America and be a doctor.

Generally, they are really a great family to be a part of, I’m glad I was placed with them.

Hamburgers today were pretty good. I got fries and a milkshake too! On the way out, I bought a bunch of pastries to share with my host family. I wanted to go to the grocery market and get some food, but they close inexplicably from 12:30 – 4pm everyday. I guess I’ll have to wait until we’re back here again, I think we’re coming again next weekend but maybe not.

Some other highlights from training have been that we had a really interesting session on Islam the other day – it is a really interesting religion and an integral part of life here. Also last week we got to meet the acting US Ambassador to Niger. He was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from the Phillipines. I got to speak with him at lunch and he had some great stories. I think when we have our swearing in ceremony in September it will be at his house.

Have to go now – we are going to take the bus back to our homes. I’ll update again soon, probably next week. If you have questions you can leave them in the comments and I’ll answer in my next update! Bye for now.

Update from Niamey

Hello everyone!

Currently I’m at the Peace Corps/Niger Headquarters in the capital, Niamey, and I have an American computer so I can write something a little more coherent. This weekend has been amazing. We are on a “demystification” trip, where we go to visit an actual volunteer in the field to see how they live and what kind of work they do. Of the trainees in my stage, or training class, we are pretty much split up into two groups – Community Youth Education (CYE) and Municipal Community Development (MCD). From there, most people are learning Hausa language and the rest (nine, including me) are learning Zarma. The MCD people who are learning Zarma are in Barchawal, the small village I talked about in my other post. Everyone else is in Hamdallaye, which is within walking distance to the training site. Barchawal is 6 miles from the training site, so we bike the distance twice a week at about 6:00am to get breakfast and shower before classes begin at 8:00am. The six of us in Barchawal call ourselves Whites on Bikes.

There is no running water (anywhere) though the training site does have electricity. We take a shower by filling a bucket with water and then using a tea kettle to pour it over ourselves. This is actually really effective and makes me think about how much water we waste in the US on a shower – I can take a perfectly good shower and be clean with less than one bucket of water and I’m sure I use 10x that much in the US.

Classes run all day. We have technical sessions about Nigerian government, community assessment, and non-formal education, etc. Also, there are health sessions about how to filter water and what not to eat. And we do language training in our villages on the days we’re not at the site, those classes are literally all day and pretty draining. Zarma is a relatively easy language to learn but I’m having a hard time and trying my best.

Most people have gotten sick, I think, but they were well taken care of and got better quickly. So far I have been fine with the exception of a ridiculous amount of bug bites and pretty bad run of dehydration from heat exhaustion last week, and there’s also the aforementioned incident with the malaria medication but that was totally my fault (I had forgotten to take the pill after dinner so I thought I could just have it in the morning before breakfast, really bad idea).

I do like the people I’m with here, they are really cool and we’ve already become close. There are 33 of us total and we are all together on the training site days, so it’s nice to see everyone. One of the other trainees is actually an Alpha Xi Delta from Oregon State! Her name is Annette, she’s really cool. I thought it was pretty amazing, I WOULD find another AXD on the other side of the world, right?

I also love to go to the site because we get good lunches like stir fry and they even made us sweet potato fries the other day. Also we eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but the peanut butter here is weird so I just have jelly and butter. The food I miss most, and everyone makes fun of me for this, is a turkey sub from Publix with lettuce and tomato.

Something weird that has happened since being here is that I am completely off coffee, which if you know me, that’s really, really bizarre. I haven’t really touched it since I got here and I don’t even miss it. I share my packets of instant with everyone else though, and we trade for emergen-c and stuff like that.

I have to go now because we’re off to the restaurant to get hamburgers. I’ll update more later if I can, if not, I will next time I’m here, I think next weekend.

🙂 Jess AKA Layla

Hello from Africa!

I am currently at a tiny cybercafe in Dosso. They have crazy French keyboards that make it kind of hard to type and the internet is really slow, so I can’t really write much this time.

I am having a good time in Africa so far, it is really different from the US! Life here is hard to adjust to but the staff is wonderful and I love the other volunteers in my training class. I sent my family a long letter last week with a lot of information on where I’m staying etc, so when they get it I hope my sister will paraphrase it on here.

I don’t have running water or electricity where I’m staying, and we have training classes pretty much all day, we get up around 5 or 6 and then have stuff to do, classes, studying, etc until about 9 or 10. It is really hot (duh) but at night it gets chilly, so I am using a little blanket I stole from the flight to Paris, ha ha. We sleep outside underneath mosquito nets, and all my stuff is in a tiny mud hut that I share with another volunteer. We live with a host family inside their concession and eat with them. They cannot pronounce Jessica so my name here is Layla, I hear “Fofo! Fofo Layla!” (Hello) all day from the children who are everywhere. The food here is pretty yukky but I am getting used to it, I am glad I brought tuna pâckets and nutrition bars because we don’t get a lot of protien. Also, I get to bike 6 miles twice a week because me and five other volunteers don’t live at the training site with everyone else, we live in a smaller village together because we are learning a different language.

I haven’t been sick except for dehydration (we have to drink 6 – 8 liters or more of water every day) and heat exhaustion. Most other volunteers here are pretty healthy though. The people are so nice and they really look after you. They are so patient with us even though we don’t really speak the language, but I am learning Zarma.

I don’t know yet where I will be stationed, but I will likely be close to the capital and I might even have electricity, which I am happy about. Obviously I can live without it but when you don’t have it your day is basically over when the sun goes down, flashlights etc are useful but you can’t really sit and read with a light because of the bugs. So it is easier to have it. I probably have about 100 bug bites because they have three different kinds of insect repellant and I am allergic to all three. But it’s not so bad.

I spent this weekend with a current volunteer seeing what kind of work she does and tonight we are in the Peace Corps hostel in Dosso with a bunch of others. Tomorrow we are going to the capital, Niamey, to have pizza and hamburgers! It is such a treat because literally all we eat with our host families is rice or millet and sauce, sometimes beans. Twice a week at the training site we get better food though, but we’re all excited to see the capital.

Please don’t worry about me, yes it is difficult to adjust to such a different life and the classes are challenging, but I am in very good hands with the staff here and I feel very safe. Niger in general is a very safe place, there is a lot of poverty for sure but the people are warm and protective. I had a bad reaction to the malaria medicine the other day because I took it on an empty stomach (which they told me not to do and I definitely won’t do again) so I was sick one day in the middle of the village. The women went right away to get my host mother and the Peace Corps language trainer who lives with us, and some of them stayed with me until I was feeling better. Then for the rest of the day so many people came by to check on me and ask if I was ok.

Anywhere I go mass quantities of children run behind me and beg to carry my things for me and ask how I am over and over. They ALL know who I am and call out my name when they see me coming. They love when I sing American songs and teach them easy dances and games (we played Duck Duck Goose and Simon Says last night, plus I taught about 20 kids the Macarena and YMCA) and it’s so funny how they are endlessly fascinated by this strange white woman that’s come to live here.

I have to go now but hopefully Jamie, who I miss a lot, will post my letter when she gets it! I miss everyone very much! I’ll post more when I can. I’m taking lots of pictures and I’ll upload them when I can get internet, my laptop, and a working electrical outlet all in the same place, which might take a miracle but it will happen soon enough. Goodbye for now!

Family Update.

This was an update email we received on Friday once Jessica arrived safely in Niger.

—– Original Message —–
From: AF/Niger
To: AF/Niger
Sent: Friday, July 09, 2010 8:33 AM
Subject: Arrived Safely

All 33 new Peace Corps Volunteer trainees arrived safe and soundly in Niamey, Niger, yesterday afternoon, after their two flights from Philadelphia. Peace Corps Niger training staff met them at the airport and transported them to our wonderful training site in Hamdallaye, about 30 minutes north of the capitol. The logistics flowed smoothly, the trainees are well, and we look forward to preparing them for their Peace Corps service in Niger. You’ll find your loved one in the attached photograph, just taken.

Thank you very much,

Valerie Staats

Country Director

Peace Corp recruits beginning their journey.