Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fellow Peace Corps Volunteers

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Components of the Best Care Package Ever

~ Meat, any and all of it. I’ve even seen packaged, no refrigeration needed bacon. Both deeply disturbing and delicious.

~ Cheese. Velveeta, Cougar cheese, those cheeses that people send their relatives for Christmas. We have locally made cheese here… but it puts me at risk for tuberculosis.

~ Pictures! Pictures of you, your pets, your garden, your surroundings. It’s a little piece of America for me, plus, villagers love looking at them and always have questions about the US.
~ CD’s: if you send me blank ones I’ll send you pictures!

~ Stationary; (while we’re on the subject of what I can send you)

~ Shampoo. It’s sold here, but it doesn’t suds up and it seems like the angrier I get at the lack of suds, the waterier the shampoo becomes.

~ Trashy magazines. Yeah I know. You’re above it and will probably even be embarrassed buying them, but you’re not here and we are, and here, none of us are exempt from the pull of US Weekly, People, In Touch, and In Style.

~ Ice Cream. No, just kidding

~ Dried Fruits and Vegetables. I like them all. And I'm desperate. Sometimes I eat leaves.

~ Maple Syrup. I can make pancakes, and French toast, but when I’m done they just look up at me, all golden brown and barren and I can tell that they’re wondering where the syrup is.

~ Taco Bell mild sauce, or any fast food sauce packets. Generally, the bigger and more evil the corporation, the longer their shelf life.

~ Coffee, whole bean -I have a grinder here. Think of it as me saving African babies one milligram of caffeine at a time.

~ Anything chocolate.

I'll go ahead and bold this part:

Natalie Beck
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 89
Konni, Niger
West Africa

The Woman in the Well

Exactly one month ago today Hadiza fell into the well. It was noon and I was about to head there myself when I heard a strange, eerie actually, mixture of yelling and crying. Kids are always yelling or crying, but this was different and everyone in the village must have heard that difference because when I stepped out of my door to see what was wrong I saw that everyone in the village was walking towards the well. More and more people started wailing as the news spread. I don't know what it is that makes the moments of disaster a blur or unforgettably crystal clear, but I remember sounds, wailing. I remember seeing Ali climbing out of the well somehow carrying Hadiza. I remember that she was dripping wet and I thought to myself, "she fell all the way to the bottom". Of course she did. It's a10 meter deep well lined with rocks, and not the kind of polished stones you'd see in a Thomas Kinkade cottage, rocks that regularly tear the rubber containers used to pull up the water. The well is ringed with crumbling cement and beyond that is mud. It had rained that morning. If anyone was least likely to catch their fall, it was her. She was eight months pregnant.

She was conscious. Everyone migrated to her house. Her family put her in her best clothes and onto the back of a motorcycle to ride the 5k through sand and mud to the dispensaire where later I found out she had refused to have a full exam because the doctor is male. Women here feel "shame"; that's the closest translation into English, but really it encompasses so much more than what might be conjured up by an American mind. It involves etiquette, morals, and lifestyle choices all silently dictated through tradition.

She is the fourth person to fall into this well. In a village, not too far from mine, I heard that a person fell into a 17 meter deep well and died. Here is the good news: Hadiza had a baby boy last week. I went to the baby naming ceremony. He seems healthy. Also, I'm convinced that getting funding to improve this well is the right thing to do. I would feel shame if I didn't.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Projects (continued)

Experimental Demonstration Fields
Another project involving ICRISAT ( ). I will be testing 4 pearl millet cultivars, 3 new varieties and the local one, each in its own 10 meter by 10 meter plot. With the help of the government agriculture agent in my market town, Gidan Iddar, I will (hopefully) find farmers in my area who wish to participate. Together, we will submit our observations for scientific exploitation. The possible benefits to these varieties (openly pollinated, of course) are 1) a shorter cycle, 2) greater yield, 3) more disease resistance. Also, this field will give me the opportunity to practice making zai holes and demi lunes, two popular and simple techniques used to tranform hard pan soil into a magical, fertile, Sahelian wonderland.
A Pepiniere
"By and by the boldest stole out of his covert,
to see if time were there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
mixing fresher air"  
-Emily Dickinson
I cannot exalt trees enough. Just like a picture says a thousand words, a tree solves a thousand problems. In what is quickly becoming desert, tree cultivation provides solutions to a multitude of problems facing Niger today such as the rapid wind and water erosion of arable land, lack of nutrients in the soil, the vitamin deficiency experienced by most of the population, and even just not enough shade.
The people here have an intimate relationship with their landscape and I'm nothing short of amazed when a four year old names the tree I'm pointing at and tells me its uses. Heading towards a bigger city last month, I asked my chief if I could bring him back anything from the city. He said trees. How lucky am I? Of all the things to want, he wants me to bring trees, grafted mango trees. So it's decided. I'm going to start a small scale tree nursery.
We will seed mangoes, ta'makka (moringa oleifera), date palms, and limes. The kids will help me fill the pot plastics with compost and sand and on August 3rd, Nigerien Independence Day, where the tradition is for every person to plant a tree, we will be able to distribute trees to everyone in Gidan Aduwa (my village). By the way, "aduwa" is the local name for Euphorbia Balsamiferous, a tree! That's the good news; the not so good news is that this tree produces a poisonous milk  that has been known to be used for criminal purposes. So the translation of the place I will call home for the next couple of years is "home of the poison milk tree".
If this is a success, we will think bigger at this time next year and maybe plant some gum Arabic (acacia Senegal). 90% of commercial gum Arabic comes from this tree, indigenous to the Sahel, and is used as an emulsion stabilizer in products ranging from (ironically) toothpaste to hard candies. 

Thursday, June 22, 2006


A Tomato Nursery
Throughout most of Niger, people tend to divide production of food into two main categories: cold season garden crops and rainy season staple food crops. The rainy season begins in June and lasts through September. The cold season spans December through February. In my region, during the cold season, the farmers focus on the production of cabbage and onions. However, in recent years the onion market has become flooded, driving the price down. Farmers are having to sometimes double their inputs in order to gross the sales of the previous year. In order to address this problem and for reasons both environmental and nutritional, one of the goals of the agriculture sector of Peace Corps in Niger is to encourage crop diversification. Although tomatoes aren't a part of my villages garden repertoire, they are a popular sauce ingredient, are often dried for later use, and can be found in the bigger village of Gidan Iddar, 5k away.
ICRISAT ( ) the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics, has developed a variety of tomato which produces fruit during the rainy season. This variety, called ICRIXINA, is an openly pollinated variety, which means that the seeds of the fruits in the next generations will be viable. These tomatoes will give fruit in September, considered by all here to be the most difficult time of the agricultural year because just prior to harvest, grain stores are nearly, if not totally depleted, and access to fruits and vegetables is limited. The small scale production of tomatoes in Gidan Aduwa (my village) will not only diversify their diets, but create a marketable product, if there is surplus. Oh, and I get to eat salsa all summer long.
The World Wise Schools Program
The aim of this program is to satisfy the third goal of the Peace Corps, which is essentially to share Nigerien culture with Americans. I've found a teacher of a 4th grade classroom of 16 students in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. After Labor Day we will begin correspondence. If you are, or you know of any teacher (any level) who would be interested in establishing a formal or informal link between their students and I with the goal of cultural exchange, please post a comment and I will respond as soon as possible.
AIDS Bike Ride

So towards the end of November, while most of you are working on your second helping of sweet potato casserole (and I say that with the utmost envy), I'll be lubing up my green Trek preparing for the annual AIDS awareness bike ride. We will cover just under 200 kilometers in the week, ending on December 1st, World AIDS Day.  The mission of the Bike Ride is to inform Nigerien men, women, and youth about AIDS transmission and prevention, to stress the importance of testing and treatment through the testimony of HIV-positive Nigeriens, and to attract attention to the hard work being done by countless Nigeriens and members of the international community in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Niger. And you don't even have to let go of those holiday pounds in order to contribute to the cause, just send your donations of bike parts, energy foods, etc. to:

 Corps de la Paix - Attn: Natalie Beck and Becky Hartz - BP 10537 - Niamey, Niger - West Africa



Thursday, June 15, 2006

You might be in a bush taxi if...

...your door is tied shut with an old seatbelt
...someone's child just peed on your lap
...actually, peeing yourself sounds like a good idea
...a snot rocket (courtesy of the driver) just hit your cheek
...a chicken keeps eating bugs off of your arm which is jammed between your body and the only fat woman in     Niger
...when the driver decides to pass trucks you begin making promises to God, even ones you can't keep notice that the mile (or kilometer) markers, oddly enough, are shaped just like tombstones decide that walking 20k uphill, against the wind, through deep sand in 100 degree weather was a better     idea're praying for unconsciousness
...the fumes from the gasoline in the backseat being illegally transported have rendered you unconscious

Friday, March 17, 2006

Becoming Official

Today is the day, but this is just a test to see if I can email my posts to my blog...

Yahoo! Mail
Use Photomail to share photos without annoying attachments.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

More Pictures

It's me and a tortoise on the grass of the softball field at the recreation center. This is the only patch of grass that I've seen in the whole country so far and it must be tastey.

Cathy, Alex, and I with the mango tree that we planted. We are officially tree planters.

The saddles used on every single camel in this country cannot even be called phallic because the handles don't look like penises, they're exact replicas. See for yourself.