What I May or May Not Be Doing for the Next Two Years

9/3/2010

 “Do you know what you’re actually going to be doing yet?” I read in the letter from one of my closest friends.

It’s a valid question bu one that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully answer. Oh sure, there’s easy replies for the relatives and my mother’s friends who inquire at the grocery store: I’m a  Municipal and Community Development Volunteer in Niger working in a mayor’s office to help improve local governance.

 But there’s just a few little tidbits left out of that resume line. Last February, there was a military coup, and the entire government, including the newly elected mayors, were thrown out of office. They were replaced by “Administrative Delegates” selected by the military government who will presumably be kicked out of office once the next local elections are held in October. And yet if the mayors weren’t incredibly transient, there would still be the ever-present problem of a lack of funding, of personnel and often of willpower to fulfill local governance duties.

I like my mayor. I met him yesterday, at the Peace Corps Supervisors Conference where all of us attempted at our newly acquired language skills to find out the resources and needs of our respective villages. My Hausa has a long way to go before full comprehension but I gathered that Safo, my village, has a hospital, a community garden, a women’s group with a goat micro-finance project and an elementary school—all of which provide possibilities for collaboration.

 Although Habibou, my mayor, is certainly nice, he also seems to have the idea that he should treat me as I were one of his daughters. He told me to report to the Mayor’s Office every morning, upon which he will tell me what to do and where to go in the village. He’s also decided that I will need someone (presumably a man) to accompany on my walks and that I shouldn’t walk too much or I’ll tire my weak, womanly body. Okay so maybe he didn’t say that last part but that was the impression I got…

 Keeping all this in mind, I write back:

“I’m going to spend the next two years figuring out how to successfully integrate into an entirely new community without compromising my sense of independence but while still behaving in a culturally appropriate manner and taking part in community-directed projects that provide my villagers with  tools to improve their own lives. Sound like a lot? I hope so because I’ve got two years and you know how I hate being bored!”