Human Rescue Plan

Fight World Hunger

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scarlett Syndrome

… I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think
about that tomorrow…

So, it's mid-October, two months until I'm out of Niger for good. Time for a lot of navel-gazing, head-scratching demanding of answers, or at least half-truths, from the universe. A brief synopsis:

Murals: essentially at an end. With the installation of the newest pump (finally) it's possible that the pump walls will be up and dry before I leave, enabling one more on not giving your infant the (dirty) water – mother's milk only until they've passed 6 months.

Water: The newest pump was finally installed on Monday, then promptly locked up until Friday, when there'll be a fĂȘte to officially open the pump. Of course, even had I stayed out until Friday I would have missed it, as I have to catch the morning bush taxi. A shame, but I'd rather they not associate the pump with anyone other than World Vision, lest they think that the next volunteer (if there is one, see below) is in charge of repairing the pump, rather than the committee that they've installed to pay for it (anasara does mean 'rich foreigner' after all…) They've also fixed (again) the older pump. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they're all still working by the time I get back. Allah shi yarda.

Women's' Groups: The one unqualified success story of my village. The women, led by Sa'a and Sa'am, continue to be the forces of kokari in the village. They so rock. The next fantastic thing that the Sarkin Hatsi women are doing is taking advantage of the impending food crisis (see below) to make some money. They're paying back all their loans and using the fund money to buy millet, which is now around 350F per tiya, or 75¢ per 2 kilos, which is high for this soon after the harvest. However, it's expected to get much higher – while I don't normally approve of capitalizing on suffering, in the end I suppose this is for a good cause. Which brings us to…

The Food Crisis: this year is not a good year for harvest. At all. Rain was patchy when it bothered to fall at all; there were periods of three weeks or more when no rain fell in my village while the crops were growing. Then, when it did fall, it was highly variable – we'd sit and watch the rainfall around us, the hole in the donut. Recent stats given to us volunteers in our newsletter were approximately thus: out of 10,000 villages surveyed, 2,000 didn't have sufficient harvests to feed their villagers, meaning that over 2 million people in a country of a bit over 10 million won't have enough food to feed themselves, leaving them to rely on the government or outside aid. Well, the government of Niger isn't an entity I'd ever want to rely on for my continued nutrition, and the external community isn't that much better. WFP is closing food sites, and Millennium Development Goal funds are way behind pledges, gee thanks global recession. Doesn't help, either, that shitty weather in the rice basket in Asia, where food aid likes to come from, has helped screw over their yields as well. All hail global climate change. To misquote my dad: Niger's pretty well pooched. My village has reverted to the most feared of approaches – ask the anasara. I left my village two days early because I was worried that the next person to ask when I would bring them the buhus of rice/beans/millet – not even asking if
I would, but when I would - would be the recipient of one of my patented temper tantrums, and I wasn't sure if it would go to angry tirades or, worse, tearful sobbing. I have to admit to myself that even if I were to pull all my money out of my account in America, and use it all to buy my
village millet, it still wouldn't address the problem: they'd still be dependant on external sources, they wouldn't be any better prepared for the next year, it'd be mis-distributed because that's just the way village politics goes, and it wouldn't address one of the underlying problems – the
farming system. So, rather than cry at the next person who couldn't figure out why the rich white foreigner couldn't/wouldn't just magic away their problems, I left. Which brings me to the next issue:

Replacement: So, when my group came in, there were 34 of us. The group replacing us only has 18 people… You guys do the math. Barkatou's village isn't being replaced, and she also opened her village. Others I'm pretty sure aren't as well. Me, I've been lobbying to be replaced with a health volunteer (22 of those…), as that's what my village needs rather than another agriculture volunteer – all that the village wants with an agriculture volunteer is free seed; a health volunteer could actually improve the situation. But I've been lobbying forever and we still don't
know – the newbies come in on the 22nd, tomorrow as I'm writing this, and I don't even know if I'll know by the time I leave.

The Solution: The Go-Til-the-Money-Runs-Out World Tour (other names will be considered). One of my stage mates and I are headed to Morocco, then Tunisia, and then I'm on to Turkey, then, if there's still money, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, (I have to work the precise path out), all the way to Dublin, where I've heard that there are cheap flights back to the
States. It's irresponsible, given that I have no job lined up, and limited funds. But, Peace Corps will give us cash in lieu of our plane ticket home, plus a bit of our readjustment allowance when we leave, and anywhere has to have a cheaper flight out than Niamey. So, setting aside a chunk for a new laptop, I've got a bit to wander on, and besides, you're only (semi)-young once, right? Time to adventure. Get while the getting's good, etc. I've always wanted to see North Africa and the remains of the Ottoman Empire and this seems the time to do it. Morocco I hope we'll be able to hit the highlights – Marrakesh, Tangier, Rabat, and maybe Meknes or Fez, time determining. In Tunisia I want to visit Carthage and Bulla Regia, then trail down the coast to Matmata, where they have a hotel in the old Star Wars set of the Lars' family homestead, then back through sand and neat architecture. Those each should take a week and a half or so. Then Lonely Planet has a three week itinerary going from Istanbul down the coast to Cappadocia,
stopping at all kinds of lovely places, including ancient Troy. From there…? Mostly I'm looking forward to the scents of the souqs and the beautiful architecture of what I was thinking of when I was told I was coming to muslim Africa two years ago. Also, the hammams, Turkish bathhouses. I'm almost afraid to think how much aggregate filth will be scrubbed off of me after two years in the bush.

After that? No idea. Looking at going back to school for another masters, or going to work. I really want to focus on improving farming systems and food security. No one crop or technology will fix the mess, or prepare us for the mess to come. Solutions must be adaptive; we can't just monoculture the globe. It won't work. But that's for another ramble.

In any case, if anyone knows of any good places to stay/eat/be on my trip, drop me a line on here or Facebook, I'll appreciate any assistance.

Until next time…