Friday, July 28, 2006

Don't go to Africa to get a tan.

My new nemesis: African internet connection. I've now lost two posts. I finally typed it on Word. Here's the pasted version:

Hey Friends-
Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve last updated. This past week has been very busy as Ramatou’s gone (her aunt’s in the hospital so they need her to stay at home) and Aichatou’s final exam was this Friday, so she needed to do a lot of studying. I wrote a big entry earlier this week, but it all got deleted when the internet cut out! Man.

On top of all this, I’ve been doing research on a study abroad site for next spring. I’m in the middle of changing institutions, and have finally decided (after much debate and emailing and dealing with frustrating French websites) on the University of Rennes in NW France. Now I have to choose classes and send in my selections. It's a lot of work in another language/education system.

So with that all in mind, it has been a bit difficult to find the time to download and edit pictures. I will do my best to post some with this entry.

So, without further ado, the most interesting info from the past week and a half:

A couple days ago I woke up to the chirping of a cricket in my bathroom. They like to hang out in there, I think they must like water. Most nights before I go to bed I get a good-night chirp from four or five in my bidet who have hopped in and can’t hop out. In any case, after Jimminy Cricket woke me up, I discovered that I wouldn’t have been able to sleep much longer because there was quite a racket going on next door! Our next door neighbor recently had a baby, and Wednesday was the day of his baptism. At 7:30 in the morning, there were people all over our next door neighbor’s house and front “yard” (aka sand and trees) and driveway. In the afternoon I dressed up in my African clothes fresh from the tailor and headed over with the girls to see and take pictures. The baby’s name is Ridwon (sp?) which is I guess an Arab name. He doesn’t receive a name until the baptism- all last week he was referred to as “kobra”, which I believe is the Zarma word for baby. (You can imagine my suprise when Haoua asked me if I wanted to come with her to see the cobra outside.) Here’s a picture of him, isn’t he cute?:

You can see that he is very tiny; he was delivered by operation, but as far as I can understand, nothing was wrong with him. I don’t believe he was premature either. If you look closely you can see that he had a sixth finger on his left hand that they tied off. Aichatou said that she’s seen a lot of this problem in her study at the hospital this year-small, with multiple fingers and toes. Despite all this, Ridwon is living the normal life of a baby- eating and sleeping all the time. People are always over to visit him and his mom in their little (extremely hot and humid) house.

Along the same line of ceremonies I’ve been to in the neighborhood, my friend Ramatou recently invited me to a Muslim wedding celebration. These last a couple days in Niamey and can go for up to a week in the villages! We danced first to Tuareg music, which basically entails standing in place bouncing on your heels and waving your hands back and forth, like a hula dance. I think I danced “with” a guy once because we were standing about ten feet away from each other making similar hand movements. Apparently I was a bit forward by looking straight at him (I was trying to figure out what to do!), but everyone understands I’m a foreigner and laughs at/with me. I was repeatedly asked if I was tired, which was funny to me because dancing in the States is much more active and tiring that waving your hands back and forth, but I suppose that in the heat everything makes you tired (here, if you walk a long distance you “faire du sport”.) After a while Ramatou told me that she doesn’t like Tuareg music as much as Hausa music, so we spent the next hour setting up a DVD/CD player and waiting for the bride and her party to arrive. When we finally got the CD installed we got to dancing—Hausa music is much more upbeat, so I liked it better as well. It's still not as much work as American dancing. Ramatou and I and a few other people our age stood in a circle and took turns dancing in the middle-kind of like soul train. There was one guy that mimicked everyone else when he danced. Very funny. After a while they brought us a big plate of rice and sauce (I was famished!) and we ate African-style (duh, Amanda, you’re in Africa!) with our hands. You sort of hold the rice in your fingers and then mold with your tongue -- I mean thumb. It was good stuff, whatever it was.

After a while the bride finally arrived and they brought me to take a picture of her (people love to see the digital display when I finish—everyone asks for a photo to be taken of them). So this is the deal with the African Muslim bride: They bring a mattress in and put it in a room of the house, and she has to sit in this little dark room all alone, veiled, while the rests of the guests (and her husband!) party and eat and dance (imagine doing this for a week in the villages). People can come into her room and try and wrestle the veil off her, which they think is quite fun, but she has to keep her face covered. They had to do a lot of convincing to let me take her picture – they even took her veil off just a bit so I could see her face. She was frowning, as you can see below. I’ve decided that it’s okay to not want to bring every part of another culture back with you. Personally, I’d rather party at my own wedding. Later in the week I went back to see her (unveiled). She was very nice, although still hates having her picture taken.

These are all the young people on the mattress with the bride and groom. Ramatou is in front in the green with the gold necklace. The woman next to her was just married the week before. The bride would be the one in the back with the white veil, frowning, and the groom is to her left (your right) in green.

So, I’ve started to get to know our “quartier” alright. I thought I would never know my way around, and I’m really beginning to (despite today when I would have led us to a dead-end has not my friend Hadiza pointed out we were going in the wrong direction.) But really, I have the hang of it. Marie and Laurey and I enjoy our walks every evening before dinner, and sometimes I go out on my own as well. People in the neighborhood know me too, and often yell “Ameeenda, Fofo!” (Zarma for, ‘Hey, how’s it going?) to me across the road. A lot of times I have no idea who they are. They know who I am. Of course, my white skin stands out like a beacon of light against the red-brown sea that is Niger. (I’ve finally come to understand why African fabrics are so colorful: you have to create color somewhere if everything around you is brown!) I’m definitely not going to come back bronzed, either. Most every part of me is covered up when I go outside, and when one does go outside, one tries to stay out of the sun more than stay in it. I told Ramatou yesterday that in the US people pay to go in little rooms and have lights shine on them to make their skin turn brown and she looked at me in complete disbelief. Our culture has quirks, too!

So as for now that’s the news from Niger. The rainy season is in much more of a “full swing” now, and it rains every two days or so. There are a lot of bugs, though they aren’t as annoying as I thought they’d be. The worst part is the chorus of crickets and toads at night outside that won’t let me fall asleep. They multiply every rainfall and man, are they loud!

In the philosophical theological realm, I’ve been thinking a lot about Islam since I’ve been going to these ceremonies. You can’t escape it here – over 98% of the population is Muslim. There’s prayer call five times a day over loud speakers from the local mosques- something I thought was odd for about the first day but I am now completely used to. It’s normal to pass people along the street walking to or from prayer with their mats or their prayer beads, or to see them kneeling, face-down, rear-up under a tree or by a driveway. It is sad to me to think about America’s poor understanding of Islam. Not everyone is a suicide bomber. In fact, African Muslims are about as far from that as possible. The people here are very peaceful, and I think Christians could learn a lot from their devotion to prayer. I won’t continue all my theological ramblings on the subject, as they change most every day and would probably take up an entire entry’s more worth of space.

This week I received three text messages and two phone calls. Wow! What a treat! Thanks LP, Joel, Arika, and the Fam!

Sunday morning bright and early we head off for Zinder- we are taking the three cousins with us, which means five kids and three adults (do I classify as an adult yet?) in one SUV. This is going to be a wild 12 hours! I’m pumped. We’ll be in Zinder for two weeks, so I won’t have any internet access- I expect to see at comment box full of comments upon my return.

I’d like to thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. It really gives me a lot of peace and strength to know people are praying for me. You all are just great.

I love you a lot. Marie says hello too. (She’s hanging out with me right now when she should be in bed.)

P.S. I would have liked to have posted more pictures, but the internet won't let me. You'll just have to be patient.


M & D said...

Ameeenda, Fofo! We're back from Malibu..tired and lazy. We picked up Maury, first thing, after 24 hrs getting from camp to home via ferries, cars, and planes. Mom's caught a cold.. Good to talk to you once; and plan to call tomorrow.
~Much Love,
Mom & Dad

Mom said...

Is it common for Africans to wear Western clothing? It 's odd to see the baby in a Mickey Mouse shirt!

Miss Christine said...

I see Mickey Mouse makes his way even as far as Africa!

I got your letter today! I just got home from vacation (Drummon Island - the furthest eastern point in Michigan, off the coast of the UP) and it was a fun thing to get mail from Niger! I hope you get mine soon! <3

aunt gail said...

Hi Amanda = We've all been following your adventure, and you've been in our thoughts and prayers. I'm in Traverse City visiting family, and your ruminations on the Muslim faith have sparked a lively discussion among my extended family! Take care.

Natasha Noordhoff said...

hey Hey HEY!!! I saw your dad today at church, and he gave me this web address - so I can actually talk to you! Your trip looks like so much fun, and I hope you're picking up french really fast! I saw your pictures (the giraffe crossing is hilarious) and you're going to have to tell me all about it once you get back.
Miss you!

mom said...

In the wedding picture, is that ramatou, your new friend, or Ramatou your roommate? I'm guessing the friend.

Mom said...

Hey Girl! News blurbs on this end--
1) Your Babcia is laid out..flat on her back again w/Ciatica!(sp?) We're all prayin she'll be o.k. for Mackinac! She says it's not as bad as her other episode at the theater..

2) Jesse's golf retreat overlaps our Mac.trip! He's decided to leave it a night early and meet us at the Lakeshore after s'mores! Needless to say, I'm nervous for his 4-hr drive! This choice also means he's opting for The Brown Bear Inn over Darrow's!

Life goes on at home...Ready to face it again?

Miss Christine said...

In case you're interested, it's 'sciatica', so you were close! :)

AMANDA - can't wait for you to get home! You and me and the rest of the trucker gang need to get together to talk about our trip! :-)

Ms. M said...

Thanks, Chris!
-Ms. M.

Liz Fotieo said...

Hey Amanda

Just wanted to say that I'm in awe of the adventurer in you! We should all be so blessed to have the life experiences that you are having. You should be so proud of who you have become - I know we all are! I have so enjoyed reading your ongoing posts - you could be quite the travel journalist!

Hope you have a safe journey back home. Looking forward to seeing you and hearing more about your adventure.

Mrs. Fotieo