American phones and their consequences

In Growing Up, Niger on April 25, 2010 at 1:03 am

The two 15 year old Nigerien girls are still with us, they were supposed to leave one week ago but a Volcano in Iceland had other ideas.  Fortunately that’s better and the girls are scheduled on a flight for Wednesday.  It’s been a total roller coaster week at this point.

I think the trouble started before the Volcano issue.  The Friday before they left, the NGO hosting them was going to have a dinner celebration for all of them, giving them certificates for their 3 week trip and the various lessons they completed and presentations they gave.  However, the Chadien and Nigerien teachers with them thought that the $40 per diem they were going to get for their final two travel days was not enough.  They persuaded all the students (all of them about 15-16 yrs old) to boycott the dinner and refuse the money until they got $200 for the 2 days.

To his credit, the Director of the NGO and the program director stood their ground and refused to raise the per diem.  However, this left a tricky situation, with their impending flight. At that point I think everyone was tired of everyone and all assumed that they would all go on their disgruntled ways and wash their hands of each other.  When the flight delays hit, there were some things that needed to be decided and communicated.

That was the first problem.

We heard from the program director who was valiantly trying to contact Air France, Delta, the US Embassy, and anyone else who could have any effect on the flight delays.  The one person who was AWOL was the NGO director.  The kids were confused and homesick.  We tried to incorporate them into our weekend by buying them more food, taking them out for the day, and generally hanging out.  It was an OK day.  On the way home from my younger daughter’s gym class, I helped Nadia buy an African phone card – she gave me what I thought was her last $5 for it.  This foreshadows the other big problem…

The NGO hastily plans some other little excursions for the kids, to keep them occupied and out of the house.  By now we’re all tired of each other, they want to go home, we want our house and privacy back, and the cost of feeding two extra hungry (and picky) mouths is starting to stress Andrea and I out.

At some point Wednesday night, Nadia makes a phone call using her card, which runs out of minutes.  Unsatisfied with her phone time, she just dials direct.  BIG mistake.

I am now a HUGE fan of Verizon.  They called my wife Thursday morning and told her there had been an unusual spike in our monthly bill, someone had placed a $600 phone call the previous night.

I’ll just let that hang there.  $600.

We were shocked.  Really pissed off.  Andrea called me at work, in total shock.  She immediately told the girls and, I was told, they were all in tears.  To the credit of the NGO program director Gaddiel – he held it all together and promised that we wouldn’t be liable, that the girls had agreed when they signed on to the program that they wouldn’t use the host family’s phones.  Would have been helpful to know this previously…

And, Andrea was able to talk Verizon down and turn off international calling (we would use Skype if we need to).

But the consequences are that for the last 3 days, the girls have been all but MIA.  They just sit in their room.  All day.  Today, Saturday, we spent the whole day in and out of the house, we were here from about 2pm on, and it’s like they weren’t here.  They haven’t been eating their breakfast that we’ve prepared.  They didn’t eat lunch today.  They’re not coming out for our cooking.  Right now they’re using 1000 million gallons of oil to cook french fries.  They always offer me their food which is nice, but it’s kind of a bizarre and twisted host family situation, don’t you think?

In any case, it would be nice to salvage things with them to end this experience on a high note.  I still feel friendly towards them.  I don’t blame Nadia for being homesick and wanting to talk to her family a little more.  They’re 15 yr olds exiled far from home in a foreign land.  It’s still cool to hear Hausa, and their food, even cooked with what we have in the house, brings me back to Niger, which is also nice.

And, it finally was made clear to us that the NGO will pay us about $25 per day for the kids entire time at our house, which makes the money stress go away.  Would have been helpful to know that beforehand.  In fact, it’s not entirely clear to me at this point if the NGO would have compensated us at all if this delay and complaining hadn’t happened…

I’m still glad we did this, overall.  We’re just not going to do it again.  Not for a while.  And not with this NGO.

  1. Wow Scott. What an adventure. Sorry to hear it didn’t go very well. If I ever decide to do something similar, I’ll get the name of that NGO from you and avoid it.


    • Thanks Colin. I think the program is very valuable, and there are definitely things they could have done better. I think VIA did a good job of managing the program itself during their original time period. They will learn from their mistakes and I think they’ll do much better next time. I was a little too hard on them because the situation was stressful. I don’t want to slam their reputation. We all make mistakes.


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