The Information Resource Center Team in the Rosa Parks Library:
Maiga, me and Boubacar!
The Information Resource Center Team in the Rosa Parks Library:
Maiga, me and Boubacar!
Last Friday my colleague Yero welcomed a a baby boy to his family. In Niger the naming ceremony takes place one week after the birth, so this morning I attended the ceremony at Yero’s house. The new baby is named Yero!
Apparently the ceremony is a blessing similar to the one that takes place at the wedding. I arrived shorty before 8, but the ceremony had already taken place because an uncle in the family was getting married this morning, so guests had to get there next.
A sheep is slaughtered as part of the naming ceremony, but since it is Ramadan the meal does not take place until later in the evening, after the breaking of the fast.
Mother and baby Yero!
Yero and me.
In Niger Ramadan began on Wednesday and tonight the Embassy hosted an Iftaar as an official event. It served as a welcome for the new Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) and a farewell for the DCM who is departing. Since this was an official event guests included embassy staff, members of the transitional government, members of political parties, representatives of NGOs and civil society, religious leaders, and journalists.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which one fasts from sunrise to sunset. No impure thoughts or actions are permitted; it is intended to be a period of introspection and reaffirmation of faith. It commemorates the transmission of the Qur’an by the archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad.
“Iftaar” is the Arabic word for breaking the fast, which occurs at sunset. Typically the fast is broken with dates, because they were recommended by the Prophet Muhmmad. After breaking the fast, Muslims offer one of their five daily prayers, and after prayer is the full meal. For our Nigerien Iftaar this consists of millet porridge, chicken, fish, mechui (sheep), nems (mini egg rolls), dembou (a couscous dish), and more! I fasted all day and broke the fast at 7:15 with three dates and a cup of tea, then enjoyed the main meal after the guests had prayed.
PD was responsible for coordinating logistics for the event, so I worked with Amy and Yero to do that. We put in requests for the tables, chairs, tents and prayer mats to be set up and we planned the menu and met with the caterer to negotiate a price.
Amy and I, the organizational team.
This was my first official embassy function, so I’ve definitely ended my internship on a high note!
Part of my goal in coming to Niger was to conduct research for my senior thesis on the history of women’s political participation in Niger. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned. I had hoped to be able to meet with some female leaders to discuss the topic, which necessitates research approval from the IRB in the United States and the Ministry of Higher Education in Niger.
I got my IRB clearance, pending the approval of the ministry in Niger. About a month before coming to Niger I sent the ministry my dossier to apply for research clearance. From what I understood, the process required a letter explaining my request, a summary of my intended research, and my resume. I heard nothing back from the ministry, so I restarted the process upon my arrival.
I asked several embassy personnel about research clearance and they explained that it is not typically necessary for a project such as mine. However, the IRB in the US was requesting the approval of the Nigerien government, so I still had to get it.
Next step: talking with Soumana, my colleague who is the Cultural Affairs Specialist and takes care of American Fulbright Scholars in Niger. He explained that in addition to the paperwork I initially sent I would need a letter of affiliation from a Nigerien institution. He put me in contact with an NGO, SOS Femmes et Enfants Victimes de Violence Familiale, which addresses all sorts of women’s issues. I had a meeting with the president, who was very helpful and enthusiastic about supporting my research.
Once my new dossier was complete in mid-June, Soumana spoke to one of his contacts at the ministry. Bad news: the government had suspended granting research clearances because it was in the process of revamping the application process.
Finally, at the end of June the new regulations went into effect. I went to the ministry to pick up a copy of the guidelines. The process had become infinitely more complicated and now required twelve items of paperwork plus two ID photos. And there was a catch: all applications for research clearance must be submitted at least two months in advance of the planned research. Problem: I was already here and only had until mid-August.
I began a series of panicked email exchanges with my thesis advisor at Rutgers, who calmly reassured me that everything would work out. “Welcome to doing research in Africa,” she told me.
By the time I had assembled all the necessary papers it was mid-July. I hand delivered my dossier to the ministry and got a slip of paper as a receipt. Now all I could do was wait until the ministry sent approval for my clearance, at which point I would have to pay them, and finally I would have the official clearance.
Since I was pressed for time, the next step was having people call in favors to the ministry for me. Another Rutgers professor put me in contact with a professor at the University Abdou Moumouni here in Niamey. I met with him and he called the ministry on my behalf. One of the American Cultural Center library’s frequent patrons who I’ve gotten to know this summer is a PhD economist who knows the minister, so he offered to call in a favor for me as well. No luck.
I called to check up on my request and was told to keep waiting. At this point, with only four days left in country I think it’s safe to lose hope.
Despite the frustrations and the panicking and the bureaucracy, I have gotten a lot out of this experience that will enrich my thesis. While I haven’t been able to conduct formal interviews, I have met with several NGOs and received useful documents from them. And now that I’ve been initiated into the process of doing research in Africa, I’m ready for the next time!
Today I went on an excursion down the River Niger in search of the local hippo population. Five of us got in a little boat with some local guides and set off.
Because it is the rainy season the water level in the river is much higher than usual. Unfortunately this is causing terrible flooding. According to today’s newspaper report, it is the worst flooding since 1929. More than 5,000 people have been displaced in the Niamey region.
This village has survived so far, but the river is getting close.
The scenery along the way was breathtaking. There are such a variety of landscapes!
We found a family of hippos!
We spent awhile observing the family, careful not to get too close because there was a baby, meaning the adults are extra protective. Hippos really are huge animals, and they have some funny behaviors. When they come up out of the water they spin their ears like propellers, which is quite entertaining. Once again, it was totally different seeing such an animal in its natural habitat (especially when compared with their sad relatives at the zoo here in Niamey).
While driving in Niger it is not uncommon to see a variety of animals by the side of the road (and in some cases, in the middle of the road). Dogs, sheep, cows, goats, camels, and chickens all make frequent appearances.
One day, a taximan pulled over and sheep got in the car. The sheep explained where he was going, the two agreed on a price, and the taximan continued driving.
A bit further down the road was a goat. The taximan pulled over, the goat got in and explained where he was going, and the two agreed upon a price.
Further down the road the taximan saw a dog. He pulled over, the dog got in and explained where he was going, and the two agreed upon a price.
The taxi reached the sheep’s destination, so he got out, paid the taximan, and left.
Then the taxi reached the goat’s destination. The goat got out and ran away without paying!
The taximan continued to the dog’s destination. The dog got out and paid the taximan with 1000 CFA. He expected change, but since the goat had not paid the taximan gave no change to the dog. The taximan drove away with the dog chasing after him.
That is why when a sheep sees a car in Niger, it does not move, because it has settled its payment. When a goat sees a car, it runs away, because it knows it never paid the taximan. And when a dog sees a car it chases it because it wants its change!
August 3, 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Niger’s independence day! The event coindices with Niger’s 35th arbor day, so naturally a tree planing ceremony was held by the highest members of government. Trees were planted in a chosen area as part of the green belt movement to combat desertification in Niger.
The United States also recognized the occasion by giving us the day off. I celebrated at a barbecue with some American and Nigerien friends.
Here are Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks about the occasion:
On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Niger on the 50th anniversary of your independence this August 3. We remain committed to working with the Transition Government as it prepares for Niger’s return to democracy, good governance, and rule of law.
Niger has warmly welcomed our Peace Corps volunteers for nearly 50 years, and we are proud that more than 3,000 Americans have partnered with the people of Niger to build cultural bridges and strengthen Niger’s capacity for development. The United States has assisted Niger in overcoming food security deficits and addressing periodic humanitarian challenges, and we will remain a reliable partner for these efforts.
On this historic occasion, I offer the best wishes of the American people for a safe and joyous fiftieth anniversary, and I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to our enduring friendship.
Today I attended my second wedding in Niger. This time it was my colleague Hamidou getting married, and it was his second wedding too! That’s right, polygamy is practiced here in Niger. (Or, more technically, polygyny, meaning multiple wives.)
Muslims have different ways of interpreting permission for polygamy in Islam. The qur’an says:
“And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course”
In any case, the marriage ceremony is the same for that of a first wife. Now that I’ve seen it twice I have a better understanding. The ceremony started at 8am and had three parts which would continue the rest of the day.
The bride stays inside her house during the ceremony, so guests visit her before and after.
The woman in white is the bride, and the other two are her friends. They all work as guards at the embassy.
The actual ceremony is only done at the bride’s house, and it is essentially a blessing giving the bride to the husband’s family. The fatiha is the Islamic prayer led by the imam to complete the ceremony.
Men from the two families and the marabou during the marriage ceremony.
About half the crowd at the wedding. I would estimate there were over two hundred people total. Men and women were separated, but since I am a foreigner I was permitted to stay with the men to observe the ceremony.
After the ceremony, the second portion of the wedding is a midday meal that takes place simultaneously at the bride’s house and the groom’s house. I went to the groom’s house for this portion, because he was the one who had invited me.
The third part of the wedding takes place in the evening when the groom’s friends go to bring the bride from her house to the groom’s house.
The first wife is present for the entire day, but she behaves as any other female member of the groom’s family would. She has to give her consent prior to the marriage, but other than that she plays no special role.
Hamidou also has a two year old daughter with his first wife, so she was present as well. Despite the fact that she had no idea what was going on, she was having a good time and enjoying all the attention.
Everyone at the wedding was very open to answer all my question, about polygyny and about the ceremony itself. Since it’s unfamiliar for Americans I always get instructions to share everything I learn, so I hope I’ve given a good explanation!
Since Niamey does not exactly have a large variety of entertainment, Americans must resort to watching Armed Forces Network (AFN). AFN is American television broadcast to the armed forces and civilians at military and government posts abroad. There are regular American television shows, typically broadcast a few weeks or months after their original air dates in the US, plus the news and special AFN reports about military operations in various parts of the world.
The most interesting part of AFN is the commercials. There’s really no point in showing American commercials since none of the products advertised are available in Niger. So AFN has created its own commercials for its target audience. Some are practical advice for people living abroad: sign a lease for an apartment, don’t pack your passports in a shipping crate, sign a power of attorney agreement. Others are more military focused: follow the code of conduct, take advantage of your benefits, join the super elite parachute team.
Then there are an unusal number of commercials warning military personnel against drinking, suicide, domestic abuse, smoking, gambling, and sexual assault. This unfortunately makes all men in the military seem like alcoholic-suicidal-abusive-gambling addicted-smoking-rapists. More than one person in Niger has threatened suicide just to spite AFN.
If you’re curious about the brilliance of these AFN commercials there is quite a collection of them on YouTube for your viewing pleasure!