Michael R. Bell writes: Most farmers are subsistence farmers trying to produce enough food to feed their families
I have been in Niger for almost two weeks, experienced four very interesting bus rides, toured a small part of the Sahara desert and tried many new foods. One of the most impressive things I have seen over my time here is the complete dedication of these mostly young Peace Corps volunteers. Niger is the poorest country in the world today. When my daughter came here two years ago, it was the second-poorest country. The conditions under which these volunteers work and live is difficult at best. You should be very proud of the work these young adults do as Peace Corps volunteers serving around the world representing the U.S.
Most farmers are subsistence farmers trying to produce enough food to feed their families, share with others and possibly use as barter to obtain other needed items for survival. In the bush, which is where most Nigeriens live, daily routines are the same except during planting and harvest times. Families will raise livestock and poultry, vegetables, fruit if possible and all grow millett as their food staple. Feed for livestock is not grown. Land capable of growing a crop is used only to produce commodities to be used directly by humans. So how do they feed their livestock? Each morning a worker (probably one of their children) is assigned the task of taking the animals out further into the bush to forage. Animals that can find feed survive, those that can't don't. Since Niger is mostly desert, finding forage can be difficult. The Fulani are nomadic herders of animals such as cattle, goats, donkeys and camels, and are allowed to use certain areas of the country. After a day of grazing, the worker will lead the livestock back to the village for the night.
Nigeriens as a whole are a hardworking, intelligent, caring and happy people. They are generous with what they have no matter the circumstance. Those whom I have encountered during my stay here have all been quick to smile and find pleasure in everything, no matter the conditions. It has not taken long to get used to seeing camels grazing, being ridden or lead down a main street in a large city with typical automobile congestion as I saw just a few minutes ago. Read more.
PCV Joshua writes: Eco-Farming in Niger
Last week we visited a terrific place named ICRISAT. ICRISAT is the leading West African seed bank and scientific location for testing new farming practices and developing improved crop varieties of millet, groundnuts, beans, cowpeas, and many other vegetables resistant to both pest and drought. There is a lot of information disseminated from this place but what caught my attention most for the purpose of this blog imput was their efforts towards developing eco-farming.
Eco-Farming is a term used to describe using a plot of land to its maximum potential incorporating both intercropping and agro-forestry in concert to reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers and additional irrigation. A critical aspect of eco-farming is to reduce land erosion by making a snake like terraces or demi-loons (terrace like half moons) along the contour of the land. Within these terraces trees useful for nitrogen fixing, mulch, fruit, and other useful improvements are placed in these half moon circles.
The social impacts of this type of agriculture is that it provides the farmer with labor for nearly 10 months out of the year instead of the typical 5-6 months usually attributed to a typical growing season. The impacts of this aspect are incredible because when the farmer has income generation throughout the year there is no need for the farmer to "exode". Which means work as a migrant laborer in neighboring countries depriving their families and nation of its most critical workforce and most productive of individuals. Read more.
Niger RPCV Angela "Khadija" Williams is helping gain asylum for Ansam, a translator for coalition forces in Iraq
Angela "Khadija" Williams, 53, is a veteran U.S. foreign-service officer who embraced Islam nearly three decades ago and now serves as a U.S. cultural affairs liaison at Camp Fallujah. A State Department colleague familiar with Williams' devotion to the translator's case affectionately described her as "a pit bull in hijab."
Angela Williams went to the University of Denver - the same institution from which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received her undergraduate degree - before dropping out of graduate school in 1978 to join the Peace Corps. "The bug just got to me," Williams said. "I was so anxious to go out in the world and do something."
After volunteering in the West African nation of Niger, Williams joined the World Council of Churches relief agency in Senegal. A Muslim housemaid there helped Williams convert to Islam in 1981, the culmination of a longtime spiritual quest. Switching faiths proved just as controversial for Williams as for Ansam's family. She lost her job with the Christian relief group and faced a strained relationship with her parents, who were devout followers of the Church of God and Christ. "My father hung up the phone," Williams said. "I called back again and my mother answered this time. She said, `I still love you,' then she hung up too."
Williams remained in Senegal, where she studied Islam and married a local Muslim activist. He died of a heart attack when she was five months pregnant; she miscarried three months later. That experience, Williams said, helps her empathize with the grief of the Iraqi women she reaches out to in Anbar. "I was a 24-year-old widow, so I understand how it is out here to be a young widow," Williams said. "I would walk the streets in Washington, D.C., and ask myself, `Why am I alive?'" Struggling to recover from the tragedy, Williams dabbled in agricultural studies, then worked briefly at the World Bank. She found her calling in 1989 when she joined the U.S. Foreign Service, which offered her the opportunity to create cultural affairs programs in far-flung posts across the globe.
Ansam and Williams first crossed paths when they worked on an empowerment program for Iraqi women in Anbar. They clicked instantly, marveling at the parallels in their lives: grief for their parents, tests of their faith, life as civilian women among battle-hardened Marines and a determination to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Ansam and Williams spent the past week in Baghdad, where Williams lobbied U.S. refugee officials, compiled Ansam's recommendation letters, surfed the Internet for federal resettlement options and sent flurries of e-mails to military and civilian friends with influence in Washington.
When Iraqi officials stalled on Ansam's passport, Williams picked up the phone and warned them in Arabic to issue the document or face her wrath. "I believe God has his angels and Angela is one of them. If I get out of this, I owe her my life," Ansam said. "The others tried; I know they did. They wrote nice letters, but it always ended with a problem with the law."
The friends cut a striking pair as they strolled together through the ornate marble halls of the Republican Palace one recent day. Ansam was in full camouflage and toted a Burger King sack. Williams was in her trademark black and yelled, "Assalamu alaikum!" - the Islamic greeting of "Peace be upon you" - to Iraqi colleagues. They walked to lunch, oblivious to the double takes of the soldiers and security contractors who roam the palace. Williams put her arm protectively around Ansam, looked her square in the eye and said: "No one's forgetting you." Read more.
Caption: Ansam, an Iraqi translator for coalition forces whose last name is withheld because of death threats against her, at Camp Fallujah. Ansam hasn't been able to gain asylum in the United States, despite letters of recommendation from a Marine brigadier general, several colonels and a number of other officers who praised her service as a translator and guide. Photo: Hannah Allam/MCT
RPCV Charles Dufresne is a Partner at InterWorks, a Madison firm that
helps agencies around the world respond to disasters and provide
"I started off as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and did that for two years. I was involved in community development programs and . . . I got involved in setting up groups and technical experts to transfer those skills. Then I worked with a language and literacy training organization in Minnesota, the Minnesota Literacy Council, their English as a second language program, with refugees and immigrants settling in the Twin Cities. Quickly I got involved in setting up training and recruiting tutors so I found myself again involved in that. I got increasingly intrigued in how people learn."
I work with people who are trying to do humanitarian work and they're working in extremely complex situations, places like Sudan and Afghanistan . . . to say nothing of New Orleans. They're often put into positions and jobs where they have the desire to do something but not the refined skills and knowledge to do it. So again you come back to training and learning to equip these people to be more effective. "There's no such thing as perfection. There's only the process of perfecting." Read more.
Praise for Niger RPCV Susan Rich's "Cures Include Travel"
"Susan Rich writes gorgeous lyrical poetry which so courageously tells us the truth about the world, tells us the world is much larger than we Americans usually like to admit. Her beautiful ear, her fierce attention to detail, her deeply human empathy inspire me and make me glad. I am glad, no thrilled that there exists such a unique and memorable voice writing today about the joys and grievances of our planet, writing with such charge in ideas and language. In this age of irony as an end in itself and of art for art's sake, it is a rare luck to encounter a poet such as Susan Rich for whom living in this world and writing about it is one and the same flash of poetry's transforming revelation."
A generation of war-lords have made Somalia an archetype of natural disintegration and the power of tyrants. Even now, with the death of Mohammed Farah Aideed, there is no end in sight. But there is another dimension to Somalian politics: the radical role of women. Two years before the entire country collapsed into civil war, in Kismayo, Somalia's southern coastal city, something happened that momentarily interrupted the slow march of strife over the body politic. A few dozen women, defying the conviction that enjoins female sartorial modesty, bared their breasts in public in front of a crowd of men. Fists raised, voices harsh, they shouted "Rise, Rise!", challenging the men to action, reproaching them for their failure to confront the excesses of the dictatorship. By challenging the men in this manner, the women implied that they would not from then on defer to them as husbands, fathers, or figures of authority. (From The Times Literary Supplement (London), (November 15, 1996), pp. 44) Read Susan Rich's Poem "the Women of Kismayo" about this event:
The Women of Kismayo
The breasts of Kismayo assembled
along the mid-day market street.
No airbrushed mangoes, no
black lace, no underwire chemise.
No half-cupped pleasures,
no come-hither nods, no Italian
centerfolds. Simply the women
of the town telling their men
to take action, to do something
equally bold. And the husbands
on their way home, expecting
sweet yams and meat,
moaned and covered their eyes,
screamed like spoiled children
dredged abruptly from sleep—
incredulous that their women
could unbutton such beauty
for other clans, who
(in between splayed
hands) watched quite willingly.
Give us your guns, here is our
cutlery, we are the men!
the women sang to them
an articulation without shame.
And now in the late night hour
when men want nothing but rest,
they fold their broken bodies, still
watched by their wives cool breasts
round, full, commanding as colonels—
two taut nipples targeting each man.
— Susan Rich, from her collection of Poetry "Cures include Travel" Follow this link to order the book.