My Honey Safari Aug 24, 2009 I have friends in my village who sell honey. My village is famous for its honey; they sell it in all the shops of the surrounding area. The room in which they make it is close to my house so I see the men who are part of this production often. I’ve helped with the bottling of the honey- they squish it out of the honeycomb with a big squishing machine that they turn, filter it through a flour sifter, then pour it into old gin bottles found in Nigeria. I can’t remember what processed American honey tastes like, but my instincts tell me this stuff is way better. When I asked then where they honeycomb comes from they got very excited and informed me that I would go with them sometime to get it. That time came one random night after the last prayer of the day. They go out almost every night into the bush around my village and collect honeycomb from the beehives they’ve built in trees. When my friend Maigaji came to collect me for this excursion I was prepared. Despite the ever-present heat I wore long pants and brought a sweatshirt and a headscarf to cover my face. I was informed over and over that I wouldn’t need those but I really didn’t want to get stung. We walked for a while then stopped at the first tree with one of their beehives in it. As I layered myself up the two men took off their shirts and rolled up their pant legs as far as they could. I felt pretty silly. Maigaji climbed into the tree with a smoking bundle of sticks and the other man threw up a rope connected to a large bowl to fill with honeycomb then lower down. Maigaji began to smoke the bees out of the hive then filled the bowl, lowered it, and began the process all over again. On the ground, we were picking off the dry pieces of honeycomb. By this time I’d shed my sweatshirt and headscarf and through myself all sorts of awesome for braving a bee-sting. They suggested I clime the tree with a smoking fire stick and get honeycomb but I declined. I’ll brave a bee-sting but not death by fiery inferno. They admitted it was probably a good choice after I tripped twice on my way to the next tree. We repeated the process with several different trees. I managed to walk away with only one bee-sting! I’ve proved myself able to follow people around and eat fresh honeycomb. They were very excited that I was there to “help.”
One of the fun things of Peace Corps is that other volunteers can come visit. Last week on eof my friends from a village near by came to visit me in my village. As Ashley and I were sitting in my concession, we heard a lot of commotion outside. We decided to go investigate the reason for all the hoop-la. We saw a stream of well-dressed people around our age staring at us in the same way we were staring at them, each wondering what the other was doing in a village in Niger. I asked one of my friends and he told me they were students who came by bus from Nigeria (my village is close to the border). This was exciting because the school system in Nigeria is in English, so we would be able to speak to them in English, which is rare in Niger. As they were walking back to the busses on the street we stopped to ask what brought them here. “We are on an exkorgen.” Neither Ashley nor I knew was an exkorgen was, and the attempt by the students to clarify drew the remaining students from the busses until we were surrounded by a crowd at least 75 strong, oogling at the American English speakers. Finally Ashley shouted out, “Oh! An excursion!” and the crowd burst into cheers. They had come from Kano and stopped off at many places in Nigeria with the final tourist destination being my small village in Niger. During our communication struggle, a few students were surreptitiously snapping pictures of us with their phones. After the “excursion” break through the mob, Ashley and I became best friends. They all requested permission to snap us, which of course we granted once we realized that means take a picture. This was followed by more cheering and most of the crowd of students squeezing themselves in between Ashley and I. We were pretty much paralyzed with shock as many snaps took place. When one is the center of a mob, its impossible not to be touched, and in a country where anything more than a handshake is inappropriate this only added to the strangeness of the whole situation. All of a sudden, as quickly as they engulfed us, they were rushed onto the busses and off to Nigeria. Ashley and I were left to peacefully absorb the shock of so much concentrated energy hurled at us in the midst of a generally quiet life.
Remember that blog I wrote about the hilarious little boy named Muhammadu? Well he moved to a bigger village near by so I no longer have him to make me laugh. Fortunately for my happiness there is no lack of kids here in Niger. Enter Papi. Papi is two years old and of course absolutely adorable. There are plenty of children who are terrified of me. They scream and run to their mothers for protection from the strange white girl. When Papi first started to notice me he took this to a new level. Like I said, he’s really cute, so all the people in my neighborhood like to play with him. When I would go to hang out with the guys who sit outside my house and Papi was with them, a look of terror would appear on his face. He wouldn’t scream right away, only stare at me as if pleading with God, “Please don’t let it be real! You wouldn’t allow such a terrible abomination into existence, let alone into my life!” Then I would speak and remove all doubt, sending Papi into screaming hysterics. My friends would get a kick out of this, then after a while send me away so they could play with Papi in peace. When Papi began to get more used to me, he would only cry when I wasn’t wearing sunglasses. Then he wouldn’t cry, but stare suspiciously at me. Finally, and I don’t know what inspired this break through, he loved to see me! He now joyously screams my name and clumsily runs to greet me, holding up 2 fingers saying, “Peace!” One of my favorite experiences in my village thus far is a direct result of his newfound bravery. He was sitting outside my house and when I came out he asked me to come with him to greet his mom. Since I am unable to refuse him anything, I followed him into his house. I sat down and was talking with his mom, when all of a sudden Papi waddled past us and peed into one of the nearby cooking pots. I tried so hard not to, but I burst into laughter. His mom and sister couldn’t help laughing either. This is course made Papi giddy and he proceeded to roll around in the dirt. His sister went to clean out the pot and found that Papi had in fact peed into a fair amount of leftover food. This started the whole process of laughter and rolling in dirt all over again. That was a wonderful day.
The work part of my life has been mostly consumed by starting a peer-education women’s group at my health center. I’ve been doing random announcements about health and traveling from house to house talking about good water filtration practices. But the bulk of my work has been establishing this women’s group and getting it up and running. There are 14 women who took part in four trainings held at my house and made exciting by snacks. They learned about proper prenatal health care and breast-feeding, how to make conjunctivitis medicine, how to make oral re-hydration salts, and how to give kids a balanced diet. They now come three at a time to my health center to talk to the women who are there to weigh their babies for malnutrition. Each group has an assigned day, so every woman comes only once a week to teach about health. So far its been going well. Very exciting!