Cottage Cheese?

I think I just made cottage cheese. Either that, or I’ve been in Niger for so long that I don’t know what cheese looks like and I just ate rotten milk. On the upside, I’m already having some intestinal issues so even if I do manage to give myself food poisoning I’ll still be going to be going to the bathroom the same amount. It’s like killing two birds with one really messy, smelly stone, right? Maybe I have been here too long; among me and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), discussing bodily fluids has become akin to sharing celebrity gossip.

I was trying to make yogurt. In Maradi, the big city near my village, sweet, cold, drinkable yogurts can be purchased for something like the equivalent of $0.25. Given that Safo, my village, lacks electricity, anything sweet and cold is pretty much out of the question. But, according to PCV Niger cookbook, it is possible to make yogurt in village by using one of the sweet, cold yogurts as a starter.

The only problem: after buying a yogurt, carrying it to my village, laying it in the sun until it turned to powder and then adding a bit of that powder to milk, the cookbook instructs me to “put the yogurt in the fridge.” Really, cookbook, really?!? If I had a fridge that would mean that my village has electricity and more likely than not, given the popularity of yogurt in Niger, I would be able to BUY already-made yogurt.

After ranting at my cookbook for a while, I decided to make a fridge. My neighbors have three large clay pots that they’ve buried deep into the sand until only the rim is visible. I asked them what was in the pots and they told me sanyi “cold” and promptly poured a cupful of almost-refrigerator-cold water over my hands. They told me that they make the pots in a village that is about a half hour walk away.

The next morning I put a couple thousand CFA ($4 worth to be exact) in my pocket and turned my daily run into a scavenger hunt for a clay pot. It only took me ten minutes to run there but it took me a good half hour to get away from the women who immediately surrounded me.  I’d arrived on a food aid day and given the lack of melanin in my skin, all of these women promptly assumed that I was also there to distribute nutritional supplements to their malnourished babies. My Hausa isn’t quite good enough to explain that I was in search of a fridge to make yogurt so I just told them I was “moving my body,” a concept that is just as strange but known to be a trait held by foreigners who don’t get their “exercise” from the hard labor of farming.

I made my way out of the women and found a clay pot that looked about the right size for a mini fridge. But now the problem of getting it back to Safo…One of the many people staring at me (Nigeriens ALWAYS stare at me) suggested that I pay a small boy, probably no more than seven years old, to carry it on his head back to Safo for me. I was so offended by this proposition that I decided to put the clay pot on my own head and carry it back. This of course, made not only my audience at the pot store but everyone I saw for the next five minutes double over in hysterics. Apparently, little white girls with big clay pots of their heads are funny—someone should make a show.

Sadly, the entertainment only lasted for five minutes because the pot was HEAVY and my neck was starting to cinch up in pain. Thankfully, a man with a motorcycle offered to carry both me and my pot back to Safo. We rode off into the rapidly rising sun, my pot rattling in anticipation of the cottage-cheesy yogurt it was about to bring into the world.