Before I left, a frequent question that came up was, “What will you do in Niger?” I answered it as best I could knowing our high level objectives. I remember asking it when my mother was on her two trips to Niger, as well as the trip my niece Emily was on and other friends I’ve met through North Presbyterian Church. How did they spend their time??? My, what a difference a week makes!
So far Kara and I feel like we have accomplished a lot in the time we have been here. We’ve visited the schools, have had very productive conversations with EERN staff and school directors, we’ve observed projects underway or finished – projects made possible by donations and grants. But now I understand that things just take more time here in Niger. Some examples –
1) Travel time – in the cities but especially between cities, drive times are much different. The trip from Niamey to Maradi, a distance of around 410 miles, took nearly 13 hours. If you look that up on Bing or Google, it says it should take 6 hours. Um, no.
2) If you want to buy certain items – bread, milk, bottled water, for example, you may have to go to at least three different stores. The bread you like will be at your favorite bakery, a particular store might be out of water or milk and so on. It isn’t that much different than many of the European cities I’ve been in, but the shops are more spread out. We couldn’t just walk to the local store, for instance.
3) It is important to conserve electricity here, so neighborhoods are on a cycle – it is turned off for a period of time each day. Occasionally it just goes off on its own, as well. The first two days we were in Maradi, the power was off three times that I know of. (I’m so glad Kara told me I’d need a flashlight!!)
4) Cooking meals takes longer – they just don’t have the modern conveniences we have. But I have to say, my favorite food so far has been the meals prepared by Nigeriens – slow cooked beef and vegetables served over rice. Very, very yummy.
5) One morning we were scheduled to meet with the EERN at 9:00AM. This proved impossible due to a heavy storm that occurred overnight. Many streets were flooded and the water and mud made driving difficult. But by 10:30AM it was much better and we were able to drive there. With such conditions you have to remain flexible – I really enjoy everyone’s positive outlook and readiness to laugh.
6) Conversations about Remember Niger, EERN, schools, priorities, needs, etc. just take longer. There is the language difference, but also cultural differences and we must take time to clearly understand each other. My observation is that Kara is skilled in doing this. They have a great working relationship and a trust and confidence in each other. But it still is very important to take extra time – after all, Kara is only here twice a year.
Kara and I are probably like many Americans, in that we are “list people” – we like to create lists and mark off that we accomplished X, Y and Z in a day. We often talk with each other about how busy we are. In Niger, there is quite a different pace. But I still think we are accomplishing a lot. I am learning, we are continuing to build relationships, and we have seen the differences Remember Niger is helping to create for the schools.
I am looking forward to writing my next blog – it will be about the amazing vegetable garden we saw at Tsibiri. Stay tuned….