Niger, the 2012 edition

In Career Development, International Development, Niger, Travel on April 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm

I got back from Niger yesterday, after a brutal 3 weeks, where I had to work over 250 hours doing an internal audit and be acting country director for about 8 days. Suffice it to say I did not have time to write like I usually do. But I got this down while I was between planes in Paris on my way home.

On French…
My French is getting better. I’m functional and was able to really work in French. I felt like I wasnt missing much of what people were saying; that I can at least hear Nigerien French. Apparently I say, “C’est ça” a lot, enough that my non-francophone colleague asked me what that meant. I mess up verb tenses and feminine, masculine, plural possessives, basically all grammar that makes you sound eloquent if you nail it. But my Nigerien colleagues didn’t seem to care.

On working…
I got to be acting Country Director for just over a week. It wasn’t fully anticipated when I went, but I was delegated authority and the staff treated me as the patron for the whole time, it was a great experience. Everyone comes to you with their issues for resolutions or decisions, you have to be patient, courteous, and helpful – but firm. One little thing I loved about being a CD, even temporarily, in Niger – I love stamping things when I sign them. We should do that in America.

On being back in Niger
It was great to be back in Niger, even though it was for a grueling internal audit after letting our CD go. I am on the books for working over 250 hours in just under 3 weeks. I didn’t have time to see my village or hang out with friends, it was ALL business, unfortunately. I felt like I owed it to the local staff, many of whom were pretty stressed out, for reasons I just can’t get into here.

It was still nice to make groups of people light up when I would greet them in Zarma or Hausa. Nigeriens can look so serious while they watch you walk around observing things, but (at least in some instances) then you greet them colloquially and they just beam happiness at you and are so appreciative that you learned some of their language. That never gets old.

On Niger…
The last rainy season sucked, they couldn’t produce enough food, and Niger still has one of the highest birth rates in the world, at almost 7 children per woman. I was involved in my NGO’s World Food Program (WFP) activities, which include Blanket Feeding and therapeutic/supplemental feedings for malnourished children.

Niger is having a tough year. They’re facing a possible famine, instability in Mali has sent many refugees to the border areas, and the collapse of the Qadafi regime sent thousands of remittance making Nigeriens back home. However, the Issifou government is being extremely responsive and helpful to the aid community, in contrast to the Tandja government which worsened the ’05 hunger season through their anti-foreign assistance stance. I appreciate a country wanting to be self reliant, but you need high quality institutions and sufficient finances to feed starving families that can’t produce anything. Niger will have significant new income from its new Chinese-built oil refinery, hopefully that helps things in the coming years.

Other things…
It was insanely dusty until April 1. Then, out of nowhere, it rained. It was like flicking a switch. The dust had been so bad that I developed this gunk in my chest that hopefully will work it’s way out over the next few days at home.

I’m bummed I missed the cherry blossoms, hopefully there are still some blooms around.

On traveling…
Never gets easier being away from the family. My middle daughter especially, she takes it very hard and it’s just painful. Hopefully some day she’ll find some inspiration from my work and feel like she played a part in helping people. But now she just misses her daddy. Still flattering, still painful.

I’m happy I’ll be home for my son’s 1st birthday. I missed my daughter’s 5th when I was in Ethiopia and I never, ever, want that to happen again. Even though he’s only turning one and probably won’t remember, I can’t make a habit of missing these kinds of things. I’m glad I stayed firm on that.


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