Monday, August 24, 2009

My Honey Safari

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.”

The Mob

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.

Women’s Group

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!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How I Became a Risk Champion

Ok thats a lie. I've never even played Risk. But it is a nice lead in to what I really want to talk about, which are the maps that I painted in the primary school in my village. I painted a map of the world, (which is where the Risk comes in, I'm all about world geography now) a map of Africa and a map of Niger on three walls in one of the classrooms. I may be a bit biased, but they are quite lovely. When I began this project (in February) I thought it would be a small "filler" type project to get me started on bigger and better things. I forgot to take into account that Niger runs on Africa time (probably because it's on the continent of Africa...) and things don't go as planned. I began by writing a propasal for funding from a source in Peace Corps which took about a month to get into the right hands. When it found its way there I was informed that it would be much easier to simply buy all the supplies and I could get reimbursed for money spent. One month down. It took another month-ish to get all the supplies from various stores and men selling things under shade hangars, and then I decided to wait for a Peace Corps car to bring the supplies to my village because travel in Niger is difficult without lugging around gallons of paint. When I finally got everything I needed to where I needed it to be, including "borrowing" paint from other volunteers, it was about mid April. My goal was to finish the maps by the time I left for vacation in mid May. I figured it would take about a week. That was dumb. Most buildings in Niger aren't made as well as in the states, so just drawing the rectangles on which I would paint the maps was a nightmare because none of the windows, doors or ceilings are properly aligned. I managed to get decently even rectangles that fit my size specifications and, with the help of a neighboring volunteer, painted the squares ocean or desert color (for the backgrounds) and drew grid lines to make drawing the countries more accurate and loads easier. We tried to let some of the village kids help with the painting and that was much more chaotic than I anticipated, and it set a low standard of respect that unfortunately haunted me for the rest of the project. Amidst rude shouting from kids who would periodically run in to steal our candy or chalk, we managed to draw the world, Africa, and Niger in one weekend. When my friend left, I assumed I could finish the rest of the work within the week. Yet again I was oh so wrong. In Niger, students have a 3 hour lunch break from 12:00 to 3:00 and end school at 5:30, and they don't have school on Wednesday afternoons. I thought that by painting the countries during that break, the hour and a half after school before dark, and Wednesday afternoons I could finish quickly. Like I said, oh so wrong. I think I forgot that I'm not a super hero or an artist, so painting tiny countries or borders like nothern Russia and eastern Canada and Greenland is rather time consuming. When I got sick during my map project, I actually had feverish nightmares about the Russian border and how hard it was to paint! Another unexpected problem was mixing paints. My purple is less than desirable, and I spent many painful hours just trying to get there. As the headmaster of the school told me when he came to check up on my progress, "Blue and Red make purple!" He repeated this about 400 times while throwing my important papers around in his excitment. "Yes I know that... I've tried multiple times... the consistencies aren't mixing properly... OK thanks I'll do that! You're so helpful!" Painting took the better part of 3 weeks. I was working so often that I was neglecting visiting my friends and spending time talking to people, which is a major part of this culture. So I decided to work only on Wednesday afternoons and weekends and spend my other afternoons with my friends in village. My stress level went way down and productivity way up after that brilliant epiphany. After what seemed like speeding through painting my countries, my closest volunteer neighbor came to label the countries for me (as my handwriting is awful) and help me paint the national anthem above two of the maps. So I finished my goal despite the village kids' best efforts. My maps were done by the time I went to vacation in mid May. I've been gone since then and I'll be going back to my village the day after tomorrow so I haven't done any sort of education with the maps yet. I plan on using them mainly to teach about HIV and AIDS, where it is more prevelent and how to prevent it from traveling to Niger. My favorite part about this project was seeing my friends stop by to watch me work. It felt amazing to know that people cared about what I was doing enough to come by and see it and learn more about geography in the process. Everyone seemed very interested in where America is, where California is, and how it really is quite far from Niger. And of course, as I said in my last blog, dancing with Muhammadu.

Friday, June 12, 2009


I loved kids in the states. I had a blast playing with them and I think I was pretty darn good at it. Apparently I lost all those abilities sometime during the flight here because I’m awful with the kids in my village. I like to blame the fact that I’m not as fluent as I’d like to be in Hausa, but let just face the facts, shall we? Really, I don’t have the patience anymore. It’s much different in a village; kids aren’t restricted in any way. So as the neighborhood kids are whiling away their lazy afternoons, why shouldn’t they bang on the door to the white girl’s concession and yell mean things at her? Unfortunately, I’d probably do the same thing if I were in their shoes, when they wear shoes. I’ve become much more selective about which kids I’ll play with for the sake of my sanity. The terrorizers aren’t on the list of my favorite parts of Nigerien life. Except one. I don’t know what it is about little Muhammadu, but man o man he cracks me up. Picture your most eccentric friend (most likely someone involved in theatre) and multiply that personality by 10 and cram it into the body of a 3 year old kid and you’ve got Muhammadu. A favorite past time of his is to follow me around during my journeys about the village to greet people. It’s very rare to see adults interacting with kids in this culture, unless the child is too young to take care of itself and is tied permanently to the back of the mother. Usually it ends in the child getting threatened or hit for being a disrespectful nuisance. So for a kid to be following an adult around by himself is very bold. Muhammadu will march along with me rambling on in Hausa that I can barely understand about his dad’s motorcycle. Villagers often think I stole a child from one of the bigger cities. I tell them that no, this is in fact my son. His father is in the house cooking. (That always gets a great response; “Oh Baraka, you’re so silly! Men don’t cook!”) I’ve stopped letting kids into my concession (again for the sake of sanity) but Muhammadu seems to think this rule shouldn’t apply to him. He tromps on in and sits down next to me until I carry him outside and lock my door, where he sits and shouts rude obscenities about my mother, sorry mom! And still he’s my favorite. When I was painting a map in my school, I had problems with village kids shouting at me and coming into the classroom to steal chalk while I was working. As usual, Muhammadu followed me to work one day and sat down in the desks. I figured I’d put him to work as my personal guard, thinking that no self-respecting 10 year old child would be shooed away by a 3 year old. To my surprise it worked! In between spontaneous dance parties and A+ attempts at breaking my ipod, Muhammadu successfully scared away packs of kids 3 times his age. I did have to turn away from my work every 4 seconds to stop him from going through my purse, but I was thankful for his help. Plus, every time I’d turn around to tell him, “No Muhammadu, that’s not ok!” he looked up at me with the most innocent face imaginable and responded, “No, not ok!” before going right back to what he was doing as soon as I turned back to work. That’s just funny. It’s one of those situations where the thing that bothers you most turns out to be the best part of your day. Or at least gives you a good laugh.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Random Facts of Life and Lies

I love my villagers. They are absolutely hilarious. There are times when I don’t know what in the world is going on and Hausa is so hard that I was to cry, but when my friends in the village joke around with me and I actually know what it is they’re saying, life is good. Have you ever tried using sarcasm with a non-American who doesn’t understand what you’re doing? Put yourself in that person’s shoes and imagine everyone around you using sarcasm. That’s what some of my conversations feel like because people lie about everything. “No, it’s not lying Baraka, we’re playing!” Right. I’m finding more and more people who speak English, especially at my health center. All of a sudden a friend who I’ve been struggling to speak with in Hausa for 6 months will strike up a conversation in English. The doctor often tells me, “I don’t speak English,” then will proceed to explain the logistics of a national polio eradication campaign in Niger. “Only that, that’s all I know how to say.” Oh yes, how could I forget. English 101: Good morning, my name is, this is the tentative route for community volunteers to distribute vaccinations. Then there are the people who speak Broka English at me- which is the street lingo English of Nigeria that travels up into Niger a bit. People don’t understand why it would take me so long to figure out that when they ask, “I be no be so?” they mean, “Do you agree?” Rather than assuming there is a slight linguistic difference between Broka and Gramma (broken English and grammatically correct English) they say, “Baraka, I thought you spoke English!” as if the fault is my own. The more I learn Broka the funnier it gets. But I digress. I was talking about people lying. It’s not just adults. There are three little boys who come hang out with me sometimes at night and love to shout at me that there is a “SNAKE!” or a “SCORPION!” in my yard. When I quickly realized that this was rarely true, they moved on to bigger and better lies. “I just got back from America!” “Oh really, did you greet my family for me?” “Yes. They say hi.” “What was your favorite part?” “The girls, of course!” Evert night as they leave, they yell, “Ok, bye bye girlfriend!” “I’m not your girlfriend!” “Ok, bye bye girlfriend…” and so on. It’s hilarious. Now that I’ve realized just how much Nigeriens joke around, life is getting less confusing and much more entertaining.

Oh Dancing. Oh Man.

I’ve been called many things in my time; physically graceful isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, “good dancer” has also managed to escape my list of attributes. People talk a lot about dancing here, but aside from the kids not many people actually do it. Most people are too embarrassed. I’m always hopeful to see the women dance at weddings, but generally disappointed, as weddings consist of men sitting and talking outside and women sitting and talking inside- all wearing fancy clothes. I’ve long since stopped hoping to see dancing at weddings, which is apparently the key to getting what I want. As I was chatting and eating with some friends at a wedding celebration (day 1 of the 3 day party,) I noticed the women on the other side of the concession get up and start dancing to the fuzzy radio music. I turned to the woman next to me and said, “Oh, I’m happy to see them dancing!” She responded with, “What? You want to dance? BARAKA WANTS TO DANCE! EVERYONE LOOK! BARAKA IS GOING TO DANCE!” Oh crap. I was dragged to a “dance floor” by a woman named Baraka, who shares no other similarity with me besides the name. I watched her dancing with a baby strapped to her back and a full bowl of hot sauce on her head with out spilling a drop and still managed to look awesome doing it. She started out slow with basically just stepping to the beat, which I managed, then (at the delight of all watching) threw in all sorts of crazy moves. I’m sure the laughter I was bombarded with didn’t do justice to how ridiculous I looked. Then came the time to teach the uncoordinated American how to move her hips like an African woman. Oh friends, it was atrocious. But I had a blast and they loved it. I still get comments along the lines of, “Hey Baraka, remember that time you danced? That was hilarious!” Luckily for me, people here really appreciate effort over the quality of the outcome. And they appreciate a good laugh.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Training. Eck.

Alright guys, I’m finally ready to start doing some real projects…kind of. I just got back from my In Service Training, where all the volunteers learn how to actually go ahead with projects. I’m so happy to begin more formalized work than our vague assignments of “integration” and “learning Hausa.” Step one is trying to figure out what exactly my community needs; step two is finding people who think my ideas brilliant enough to pay for them. I’ve been out of my village for a month for this training, so it’ll be crazy to go back. I have to get back into my Baraka (that’s my name in Niger) mode and out of my American Kelsey way of living. I’m most nervous about Hausa; hopefully I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learned thus far. My first project I’ll start up is part of a bigger campaign called Marketing Social. I’ll organize 2 groups of women to listen to a radio broadcast once a week about HIV/AIDS and woman’s rights and lead a discussion group about the issues raised in the radio plays. First I have to find a good Nigerien counterpart to help me because there’s no way I can do it on my own. I also would like to paint a world map, a map of Africa, and a map of Niger on one of the walls of my school. This is a fairly common project among volunteers round these parts. I want to find a way to implement a peer education group to teach about HIV/AIDS and how the surrounding countries affect the AIDS population in Niger. As of now, Niger has a very low population of people living with HIV/AIDS, but it is growing. Part of this is because of men going into other countries to find work, contracting the virus, and coming back to Niger where it spreads. In towns close to boarders like mine, this is especially dangerous. Enter my peer education group and map of Africa. I’d like to find a way to show where AIDS is more prevalent and how it is spreading and teach prevention techniques to High School students before they go off to these surrounding countries to find work. I’m also in the process of planning a tourney with one of my friends in a village close to mine about the importance of family planning. We’ll be traveling around to the villages in the bush on an ox cart performing skits, showing videos, and teaching about why it’s important not to have 10 children when you can’t afford to feed, medicate, and educate them. As of now, these are just ideas that I’ll be sure to keep writing about when they come into fruition. Until then, it’s back to the same old same old of village life in Niger. Lots of reading, trying to talk to all my friends in Hausa, and desperately trying to learn guitar so I can finally claim that I’m a rockstar. Speaking of rockstars, be on the lookout for Ben Ruttenburg, because soon enough the whole world will know what a rockstar he is. Thanks for reading, enjoy British 2009! (Any excuse to speak in a crappy accent, right?)T

Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Multicultural Holiday Season!

Tabaski- and lots of dead rams

Sometimes we have the chance to watch movies here. It's quite a nice treat. Some of these movies take place in times like the 1800's. I used to see movies like that and marvel at all the things we have that they don't. Now I marvel at how much easier life was in the developed world in the 1800's than Niger in 2008. Then I read my bible, and think, "Yea, that's more like it!" Such was the case when I witnessed my first killing of the Tabaski lamb. Tabaski is a huge holiday that takes place 40 days after Ramadan to remember when God let Abraham off the hook from sacrificing his son and he sacrificed a bull instead. Bulls are hard to come by, but my village is pretty rich so most families "cut a ram" as they say. Tabaski is a 3 day event. Day one was me at my mayor's house helping prepare food. It was nice, kind of like a family Thanksgiving day. What was not nice was watching as they cut the ram. There was a lot of blood, and a lot of laughter that the white girl was afraid of the blood. Apparently my stomach is not as strong here as it was in the States, because it took every ounce of strength I had not to faint (again) and left me all shaken up and discombobulated for quite some time after. I told them I was afraid of raw meat so that my cooking duties were strictly confined to cutting things that never at any time breathed. The feast is great, and the mood is even greater. Besides the blood and guts (literally, guts, strung up all around to dry) it was a good day. Day 2 of Tabaski was a lot of me walking around greeting people, watching men skin and prepare the meat, and eating a lot of good food. It's amazing that with all the dead skinned rams hanging around the town, I never got desensitized to the sight or the smell. Luckily, no fainting. Day 3 was the ram head day. They save the head, then stick it in the fire and char it until it's black. So I saw a lot of burned ram's heads that day. Again, not a pleasant sight, but apparently it's quite the tasty dish. I thankfully didn't get a chance to try it. Throughout this entire event, people love to give "Barka da Salla," which is a present to celebrate. This present is a small bag of the meat that they cooked. So I got a whole hecka lot of ram meat, which has since become much less appetizing because of its prevalence and preparation process. So there ya go, happy Tabaski everyone!

Bridal shower... kind of...

When I first got here, sitting and talking with women was dreaded. Not that I have a problem with women in general, but they tend to be much less patient then the men when it comes to me learning Hausa. Now that I'm starting to hear more and more, I don't so much dread my time sitting with the women. In fact, it's starting to become a nice reprieve from conversations with men who ask absurd and random questions that aren't in any context and therefore confuse me. (Do you have cows in America? How big is Godzilla in real life? Can you make a prayer cap like this?) The women aren't ALWAYS asking me questions; they sometimes let me just sit with them. One of my favorite places to hang out is at my mayor's house. His wife and her sister are wonderful people and can usually make me laugh, which is of course greatly appreciated. Today I went over to find what can only be described as a backwards bridal shower taking place. We'll call it a rewohs ladrib. Anyway, the mayor's wife's sister, (did you follow that?) Ramatou, is getting married soon. She is out of town visiting family now. I walked in on many women oogling over 3 suitcases full of tacky jewelry, beauty products, shoes, and fabric for clothes. (I have to admit, the fake gold dollar store bling is starting to look real fancy to me. Watch out, I may just raid your little sister's Pretty Pretty Princess game to get myself dolled up when I get back.) The women informed me that these things were Ramatou's present from her future husband that she gets on the wedding day. Here in the land where chivalry came to die, it's refreshing to see customs like this that show a man can care about a woman. So the women who would have been giving gifts at an American bridal shower were going through all of the bride's new things before she even got to see them. They were opening the makeup kits and spraying the perfume and deciding which shoe/purse combination was best. (The answer is none. Imagine what you would wear to take funny pictures in the shoe department of Ross.) When they were done playing with all of Ramatou's new (now slightly used) things, they sat around and gossiped for a while then left. I found the whole thing entertaining, and perfectly indicative of the no-privacy village type life. Oh Niger.

Cooking, or more accurately, lack thereof.

For some reason, people seem very interested to know what kinds of things I eat. This seems odd to me, because food selection in Niger certainly leaves much to be desired. You have no idea how badly I want ice cream right now. Fortunately, being so close to Nigeria, I have a wide selection of fresh fruits and SLICED BREAD! That may not sound too exciting to you, but since being here the phrase "it's the best thing since sliced bread" has taken on a whole new meaning. The main food staple here is tuwo. This is made from millet, corn, or bean flour and water. It has the consistency of cream of wheat that's been left out for 3 days and has hardened. There are many different sauces to go with the tuwo, some are great and some are absolutely awful. I also have street food in my village, rice and beans or dan wake (which looks like a cheese curd but is made out of beans) are my favorites. Everything is covered in peanut oil and yaji, which is crushed peppers and gloriously hot. Theres also pasta with some strange almost tomato like sauce, tofu, and various fried miniture pancake like things made out of bean or millet powder. And because my village is the best one in this country, I can buy salad, sweet coconut bread, egg sandwiches or omlettes, and this crazy thing they make with ramen noodles that tastes like heaven. I realize this probably doesn't sound all too exciting to you, because you're in America and you can eat cheese burgers and burritos. But here in Niger, this much selection in a smaller village is a rare treat. Which is a good thing because I've entirely given up on cooking. I was hopeless as a cook in the States, but goodness friends, it's gotten worse! One of my goals when I came here was to learn how to cook. I've modified that to refrain from accidentally poisoning myself. My first mistake was that time I ate henna, which I already wrote about and therefore don't feel the need to repeat. Then there was the time I almost bought a bag full of Rambo (a freakishly strong insect killer) thinking it was flour. A woman at the market came running towards me saying, "That's not flour! Don't eat that!" because she understood when I asked the vendor "How much is this bag of flour?" Close call, but I think someone upstairs must like me (thank God- really) because I survived. You'd think I would stop after that, right? Oh no. I attempted to make granola in the Zinder transit house, and set fire to the kitchen. Thus far I've set fire to a kitchen for each decade I've been alive. I'm on a roll. I'm not sure how I managed it this time. I put my granola in the oven and five minutes later the room was full of smoke (you couldn't even see through it) because the oven had caught on fire because I'm a disaster magnet. So now I boil water for oatmeal in the mornings (and I don't fail too much at that) and eat street food or tuwo with friends for lunch and dinner. The end.

Merry Christmas!

I love team Zinder. Niger is not the ideal place for one to spend the holiday season, but we've been able to spread Christmas cheer because the other Peace Corps Volunteers here are amazing. My first Christmas experience was in my market town. 3 of my friends who share the same market town and I had a family Christmas dinner, sang Christmas songs, and watched that old Christmas classic Return to Witch Mountain. We decorated Kira's house (she's our central hub seeing as she lives there) and attempted to make cookies for the occasion. I burned them, surprise surprise. We had 2 guitars and a book of carols and I can't tell you how much fun I had singing. We opened Christmas packages, took silly pictures, and ate our family dinner and burnt cookies. Then we decided to spread the Christmas joy, so we went around to a few people we knew in the city and sang them Silent Night (the edgy version, it was in 4) and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem because that is my favorite Christmas song this year. They loved it, and we were so full of Christmas love that of course we loved it too. My favorite reaction was when Mati's friends all started booty dancing to Silent Night, the edgy version. That's a sight I won't soon forget. Amazing. And this was all a week before Christmas! For Christmas day, I came into Zinder to celebrate with everyone. We had secret santas and a white elephant gift exchange as an excuse to get presents. In the morning we went to a big field and played football and soccer. It was so much fun to run around and make a fool out of myself because I have no coordination. The comradery was epic. We all signed up to make a dish for our Christmas dinner. I'm not allowed to use the oven because of that whole blowing it up thing, so I helped by chopping lots of veggies for the lasagna. We had our white elephant gift exchange and ate our fantastic meal in good company. We even lit candles! Fancy, right? After dinner my friends from my market town and I sang a special Niger version of Twelve Days of Christmas for the group and proceeded to sing Christmas carols with everyone. Although it's impossible not to feel a little homesick during the holiday season, it was a very merry Christmas here and I'm incredibly thankful for the people I have here to brighten my day.