26 December 2008

Subliminal Mind Rays

Happy Holidays ! December has been a month of very amazing and rewarding work. A couple volunteers and I have began to work with a local NGO in order to give trainings to Nigeriens about HIV/AIDS, early marriage and pregnancy, contraceptive use, and girls’ education via radio show broadcasts and skits. We attended a two-day training, in which we discussed the differences between Nigerien and American perceptions of heritage, gender roles, education, wealth, and contraceptive use. Each volunteer and their Nigerien counterpart received a solar radio, which can be used in surrounding villages without electricity, to receive the radio shows and conduct small trainings (called, sensibilisations in French). It was amazing! We counterpart and I drove to a local village, and did a sensibilisation on girls' education. In the radio broadcast, a father takes his young daughter out of school, even though she is doing very well. In the sketch, the father is in love with money, and wants his daughter to get married so he can pocket the dowry. The father's sister comes to the house to visit, and finds the young girl crying, and begins to yell at the her brother about how her own lack of education has made her life much more difficult. In the village that we drove to, all of the women were passionately engaged in dialogue about the importance of educating their daughters, and how the education of their daughters was essential to the future of this country. This was a great experience, and I hope to be able to attend more! The pictures above are from the sensibilisation!

16 December 2008

15 December 2008

Jealous Eyes: A Blues of Hope & Immensity

Jealous Eyes: A Blues of Hope & Immensity
(For Max)
By Ryan Forbes Morris

Damn the eyes of the jealous earth serpent
Who swallowed the sun
And melted
Like oak rain to cool blue nebulous lagoon.
Forthcoming in his triumph
Born bare evergreen chartreuse-
The jealous earth serpent,
Struggling to cast form to his readily dissolving shape,
Stubborn in his inability to release the sun from the grip of his being,
Called to the moon in his desperation.
Father Moon, he said, I have stolen the sun and seek your assistance.
Foolish Earth Serpent, the moon replied, you steal the greatest star of the fourth dimension and fear not swift retribution? Be gone green serpent, for you have stolen splendid amethyst from the fabric of our world!

Damn the eyes of the jealous earth serpent
Who picked the most precious jewel from the branches of our galaxy
And in his fluid dreadfulness,
Roamed through blank forests and rivers (Devoid of evening moon or sun)
Seeking some avenue of captivity for his lone descended sky gem.

Enslaved to his self pity
And envious of the Most High [craftsman of winter, eclipse, womb, and ocean]
The foolish serpent
Decided he would cast God to the earth,
And wrap the length of his tail around the universe and claim it as his own.

The warped viscous serpent,
(Who no longer drank of reality for fear that he would drown in his melted pool of self)
Looked to the north,
And searched for a winged creature to carry him to the sky.
Father Time, sensing the imbalance of this earth creature’s intention
Whispered to his crimson finch
[Who flew aimlessly in circles, drunk with the beauty of existence]
To perch upon the forest’s most fragrant eucalyptus,
And await the imprudent green serpent.

As the clouds parted (to make way for what would have been high noon)
No sun spilled forth from between the clouds
And only shadows were cast upon the crimson feathers of the earth finch.

Tears fell from the finch’s eyes, as she grieved the failed rising of the sun.
Where is my precious sun, she called. Where is the burning star, griot of this world and the next, whose Shiva-arms painted me wrapped in pristine clarity across the heavens, the earth finch cried.
And as her tears fell to the floor of the forest, their echoes attracted the glutinous slither of the earth serpent.
Alas, a winged creature to carry me to the heavens, the serpent recited beneath his impious breath, selfishly addicted to his desire to imprison our world and call it his own.
The earth serpent continued through the forest
Quietly circling the trees
(Never venturing too close for fear of rupturing his unstable form)
And slowly moved up the giant eucalyptus, toward the weeping finch.

Once again, sensing the iniquity of the earth serpent, God dipped from the heavens and whispered to the crimson earth finch,
my child, think of my most beautiful creation. It is you who must love this world enough to save it!
And so the innocent earth finch, crimson and pure of heart, closed her eyes
And in animated suspension
Spoke that her precious sun still existed as it did in her daydreams, burning ocean blue, silver, and indigo across the horizon.
As the jealous earth serpent leaped forward, and encased his fangs around the tiny crimson earth finch,
She gently lifted her wings…
And with the strength of the trees, allowed her spirit to remember
The profound weight of sunlight, air, peace, and color against her feathers.
And as the earth finch thought of such things,
As she kissed her being to the enormity of her Creator,
It was the immense soul of a minute being
(perfect in this very moment)
Whose light burned the serpent into echoing dust
Whose hope and clemency emancipated our galaxy’s bright amethyst
Whose daydreams of being suspended in the warm exquisiteness of sky
Forever vanquished the envious, insatiable, and jealous earth serpent
And restored the sun to our universe.

Ryan Forbes Morris

12 December 2008

speak FELA!

Speak Fela!
Across the lips
of mama AFRIKA.
(self-descended of one)
radical impetus
To place profound beauty
In the helping hands
Of youth
that rise.

-Ryan Forbes Morris

R.I.P. Miriam Makeba

Desert Sun: Iron Clad Redemption

Monday, my entire region celebrated the holiday of Tabaski. Ramadan is known as the small holiday, and Tabaski is referred to as the big holiday. During this time, many families will purchase goats or sheep, have them butchered, and then give half of the meat to their families and the other half to those in need and less fortunate. This was an amazing show of the hospitality that I experience daily, living here in Niger. All of my neighbors invited me over to their homes, and we overindulged in grilled sheep meat, goat meat, couscous, sauce, and counou! This is also gave me an opportunity to bring out my camera, and photograph some of these families in their finest Tabaski boubous and complets. This was an amazing holiday, and everyone was telling me that it was the equivalent to our Christmas. It was an amazing day, and I am so grateful for all of my neighbors and friends that made sure I was well fed that day! We've been given a few days off from work, because different regions in Niger celebrate Tabaski at different times. The day that a village will celebrate is determined by when they first see the moon appear. In Maradi, the holiday was celebrated on Monday, but other other regions celebrated on Tuesday. The last month, my counterpart and I have been busy working with the COGES groups. For those of you that aren't familiar, in an attempt by the Nigerien government to decentralize, each school has a committee made of parents, students, school administrators, and local/traditional authorities which are responsible for finding funding for each school, and managing each school.

This is a great idea in principle, but still very new, and we're trying to help each COGES work out their respective glitches. My counterpart and I visited each of the seven public schools in our city, to introduce the groups to the program that we have planned for them this academic year. We will teach them about running a meeting, about taking a fair and democratic vote, record keeping, school equipment preservation, and how to promote girls education via radio broadcasts and skits. At the end of the month, my counterart and I are going to attend a training with a local NGO to learn how to talk about HIV/AIDS (VIH/SIDA in French) over radio broadcast in local languages. This will be amazing, because it will give us the opportunity to reach a larger portion of the population. Many of the "glitches" that I observed in each COGES were almost identical to the problems you would find in the States. Some of the leaders were disorganized; many of the members (student's parents) were absent from the meetings; and many of the positions that were supposed to be occupied by women, were occupied by men. For the most part, the COGES members that were in attendance seemed to be very motivated about getting their schools in order, and finding more funding to provide their students with school supplies and books! Next month, I leave my post to go to the training site for three weeks! It will be very nice to see all of my stage-mates, but also to learn more about fundraising and being a better volunteer. Life is good here in Maradi, and the evenings and mornings are still very cool! Hausa is still coming along slowly, but sai hankuri (have patience) right!? By the way, helping two other volunteers every saturday with a radio show. It's been great for my hausa, and really fun to reach so many people!

03 December 2008

Boom: Desert Vibe Suffocation y La Estrella (Poetic Offerings II)

Desert Vibe Suffocation
by Ryan Forbes Morris

I was drowned by the Harmattan
And emptied by the hands of the Bahaushé seer
Whose arms untwisted my voice from the breath of Saharan sands
And guided my conscience to the neon complexity of day
Restoring sound to lifeless form
Where I float to the stratosphere…shining blue-green and killa peach!
Infused and then cool
Pouring blue flame as libation to afrocentric ocean
Where my body was smoked...remembered…kissed brilliant silver…and released unbound across the sky


La Estrella
by Ryan Forbes Morris

la estrella-
the seamstress of progressive thought
baptized the ocean
with sunbeams and revolutionary vision
our Sister of TRUTH… manifestation of transformative action
Who collected the sounds of Earth
Breathing jazz, afro-beat, and sweet hibiscus to my mind’s angle of song
And with commanding presence
Painted evening clouds bright sapphire
Shaped ripe moons the song of mockingbirds
self liberation
Vertically across my conscience

06 November 2008

Earthtones: Bare Feet in Progressive Soil

It is Thursday November 6th, Two days after Change4th, and how incredible it has been. I have received so many emails from people back in the States describing the joy and excitement of everyone back home. I believe it! Niger caught the fever! These past two days, I've been trying to talk to people to see what this change means to them. Why is was this presidential election so important to people thousands of miles away? Many of the Nigeriens that I've talked to all agree that this election reaffirms what America is about. Everyone that I've spoken with knows that the change that Obama will bring in Niger and West Africa is mostly psychological. For the first time, people are seeing someone that looks like them, having great influence over the hearts, minds, and pride of the entire planet. Pretty incredible right? People that I've talked to know that their possibilities are endless, and they love the example that Obama has set for the children of Niger. In short, everyone here agrees that this was a revolution for beautiful change, and that politics will never ever be the same after this moment. Everytime I walk down the street, instead of being greeted with "Sannu" or "Ina kwana" or "Barka", people are raising their fists to their chests and saying "Obama! Obama! Obama!" Anyone else want to share reactions they've heard back in States or from abroad!?

05 November 2008

Innervisions: Ancestry in Progress

"When we dream beyond ourselves"...I can't even finish my sentence. This year's presidential election was one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen in my life. I feel so absolutely blessed to be alive, and to have experienced the tears of joy, hapiness, relief, progress, and faith from American citizens, and citizens of various African nations. I was able to watch the election with other American ,Nigerien, and European citizens until 6 am Wednesday morning. As our new President-elect gave his victory speech, the west african sun was literally rising above us. Ancestry in Progress. What an incredible example this has set for ourselves, and for the individuals of other countries. I am proud to call myself an American. I am proud of ALL of those who fought for the change that was realized on November 4th! Change4th! It was one of the most incredible events to witness from this mother continent. "Yes we can!" Our possibilites are limitless!

The obligatory disclaimer: The opinons/commentary expressed in this message are not the views of the United Staes Peace Corps, they are mine and mine alone.

29 October 2008

Translinear MindTHIEVES: Archaic Greetings of the AFRO-Informatic Insect Tribe

We, as people of several lands and cultures, inhabit a planet of color. Through our cultures and our histories, we have been and are constantly bombarded with ideas and ways to think about color which we sometimes choose to adopt as our own or reject. Yesterday, while taking a walk into town to purchase some food items, I entered into a store in which an international radio broadcast, intended for Francophone West African listeners, was being played over large speakers. The broadcast began with some musical selections and several minutes later, the show’s host announced that he would be accepting calls from fans for the next ten minutes. A young man called into the station, saying that he was Franco-Togolese (A French citizen of Togolese descent) and shared that he was a recent university graduate. The young listener was abruptly cut off by the show host who quickly said in French “Hold on, hold on, what color are you? Are you black-skinned or brown-skinned?” The young listener gave an uncomfortable laugh and responded in French “I am chocolate.” The radio host then said, “Are you a brown chocolate or a black chocolate?” It seemed to me that the young listener was a little surprised by the question and stumbled and stuttered trying to give a response. The host then asked “Are you a chocolate brown with cream or are you a chocolate black? Here’s a better question! Are you an Ivorien shade of black or a Congolese shade of black?” The host continued this line of questioning for about two minutes, receiving only scatterbrained responses from the young listener. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The color of this man’s skin, and of all the listeners calling in, was the only thing that mattered to this radio host. He didn’t ask for the man’s name, what part of France he was from, and when the listener mentioned that he had recently graduated from university, the radio host made no effort to interrogate the listener’s area of study. Instead, the radio show host tried to equate this man’s worth with the shade of his skin. No one else in the store appeared to be surprised or shocked by what they were hearing over the radio lines, which I also found to be astonishing. But then I soon realized that I was standing in the skin care section of the store which was inundated with skin bleaching lotions, crèmes, and soaps (labeled in English and French) all promising a “fair”, “beautiful”, and “desired” light skin complexion. In the West African countries that I have personally visited, as in America, the politics of skin color is HUGE.
When I first arrived in-country, we lived with host families near the training site closer to the country’s capital. When I was introduced to my host father, one of the very first things he said to me was that he was café au lait (Coffee with cream, in reference to his skin color). I was a little confused about why he had made the effort to tell me this. He told me that he was “café au lait” long before he had to told me anything else about himself or his family. I had initially thought this was weird, but gave it little attention. Weeks later, after I had questioned him about his family and siblings, he told me he had very many siblings, but he only wanted to talk about his younger brother who was apparently the sibling with the lightest skin color in the family. I have realized that the longer I have been in-country, the intricacies of its intra-racial (within the same race) skin politics and color complex have slowly began to emerge. An American friend, who has run a non-profit foundation in Niger for several years, told me that she had begun to notice the manner in which many of the members of the villages she worked with judged the worth of their children by their skin color. She is a very fluent speaker of Hausa, and shared with me how young children were often being compared to the color of tar. After she and I had talked for several minutes about intra-racial discrimination, one of her Nigerien counterparts told me of a mutual friend we shared. After he explained, in Hausa, how he and our mutual friend were acquainted he slowly said in English the word “Black.” Of course, he was referring to the deep black skin complexion of our mutual friend. He mentioned nothing else of him, except the shade of his skin.
Once my Hausa language skills improve, I do plan on further interrogating this question of intra-racial skin politics. I know the history of intra-racial color complexes in the black community in the United States, but I do not know if the kind of color complex that exists here in Niger shares exactly the same origins. Any ideas? I guess this is where my education comes handy... talking to people and critically engaging their beliefs.

17 October 2008


So, I have officially been at post for one month now! Woohoo! Here are some pics of my house. Everything is going fabulously. I've been doing my best to talk to my neighbors as much as possible and "integrate." I am still fortunate enough not to have been hit by amoebas, bacteria, or the other myriad sicknesses that have affected my other fellow volunteers. And for those of you still in the States, I sent in my absentee ballot last week, so you all have no excuse NOT TO VOTE! Some of the vounteers have also organized an Election Party for Nov. 4th. There are a few restaurants in town with satellites, so we'll be following as best as we can! Nigeriens are following our election as if it was their own! This week, we submitted our Annual Implementation Plan to the school Inspector in charge of all of the schools in Maradi. We've also connected with CARE international to do some good collaborations on Girl's education. I'll keep you updated. Make sure you vote!It's hot here, so enjoy that nice fall weather! Miss you all.

Current Reading Material: Richard Wright's "Black Boy"
Current iPod rotation: Jorge Ben's "A Tabua de Esmeralda" , Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool", Me'Shell Ndegeocello's "Peace Beyond Passion", and Ceu's "CÉU"

02 October 2008


The past two weeks have been amazing! I've finally started my job at the inspection, and I've been spending a lot of time with my neighbors. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming, and I've been practicing hausa like a crazy man. This week was the end of Ramadan, so everyone was celebrating and finally, stuffing their faces and burning hot coals to make tea again. So, during the day that the fast ends, referred to as Salla, it is customary to bring your neighbors and friends food. Food huh? Well, I know that my American tastes and sensibilities are much different from those of Niger. I ended up taking some fresh grapefruit to my next door neighbors and penne pasta with tomato sauce and veggies to the guys that I sit with down the street. They were all surprised that I cooked the food myself, and they actually finished it all!
Work at the Inspection is also going well. There is another volunteer that works here in the city, and we are going to be doing a lot of collaborative work this year. We are going to run an English club on the weekends, and work with local Nigerien NGO's to provide literacy classes and computer trainings to members of the COGES (Parent Teacher organizations that are in charge of managing and administering all academic institutions). I was a little nervous at first, because I didn't quite know what projects or activities to bring. My counterpart and I are going to be focusing on these few things during this year. The promotion of girl's education--this is crucial. If Niger is going to advance, they absolutely must educate their girls and ensure their continued education through high school AND university; how to effectively run a meeting and keep records--this is needed to ensure that money is not being embezelled, but also to ensure that meetings and school administration is running as efficiently as possible; School equipment preservation--this includes books, computers (if available), copy machines, typewriters, etc.; Classes on how to look for funding--COGES gropus are responsible for finding funding for school materials and books, we want to do tranings to help them learn how to search fo funds on the internet; Literacy classes for members of the COGES that truly support the cause of education, but were unable to attend schools--there are many rural parts of the country that have very few schools. For example, in the town where our training was conducted, there was a middle school but no high school. The high school was 30 kilometers away in the nation's capital; and lastly, feedback--how can these Parent Teacher groups improve themselves, what are they doing well, what are they doing poorly, what needs to be improved? how can we help them! During these first few months, the plan is to visit all of these organizations and their respective schools to see what's going well! I love this project because we're not giving money, we're building capacity. These skills will do wonders for the administration of these schools. I'll keep you posted.

19 September 2008

Swear-in Photo

Meditations: ultraLOVE


Amassing the cool of this evening’s breeze
You exist of me
Half fearful
Wholly certain
That our ultraLOVE distracts my reality
Rains sweet pepper and cinnamon from my hands to my mind’s oasis
Blurs the brown of my skin
Leaves us suspended at the edge of the earth
Incredibly divine…
Wandering-forthcoming-and spent
Our world!
selfishly content
where our thoughts beam the color of marvelous sapphire

-Ryan Forbes Morris

Bass Heavy Dub Beats: The Cure for Incurable Lackluster

Bass Heavy Dub Beats: the cure for incurable lackluster

It’s the eighties baby…
So pick a dub.
And watch the werewolf scientist
Slowly disassemble your unmiraculous comportment to stay loose.
You instinctively pronounced that your dreary mediocrity was indestructible?
Don’t sweat the technique…and watch Him resurrect the iLLest love to forcefully intrude your misery
Where /FLY /nineteen sixty seven[1967] neon blue rushes the tape deck-
Drips from baobab leaves
And burns chocolate AFRObeat to the concrete.
Let the DUBmaster reverberate your soul to the tipping point
engage your swift inattention…
profoundly transforming your sad sorrows
to champion’s requiem.
It’s the eighties baby…where on January 32nd you’ll no longer inhabit suspicious gravity as drifter...
or beg the skies for generous reprieve
because you will feel the ground tremble
and realize that your paradise resides with the silk city dubalicious sense of things.

-Ryan Forbes Morris

18 September 2008

Community Sketches: Hi-DEF Nigerien Feats

When deliciously cool nights hit these urban streets, the whisking motorcycles and cars pay reverence to the evening’s coal black, star studded attire. In the evening, this neighborhood lacks dimension. In its vastness, in its intangible being, soft, gentle voices move through the streets where greetings and salutations inundate this floating night world. “Salaam aleikuum” they say, swaying to the rhythm of prayer beads that swing in their hands, passionately engaging each street-side city dweller with a human warmth that sends chills down my spine. This floating world of evening blankets the moving figures of men and women that sit beneath the stars, and release the flavors of green tea leaves and sugar to adjacent city walls, where conversation is easy and endless. Two nights have passed, and I am slowly settling into my house and this community. City life is dramatically different from life at the training site, but I love it here. There is vibrant warmth in this city that is so intriguing. My neighbors are very friendly, and each night after dinner, I sit outside with them to practice speaking Hausa and French. Last night, a neighbor and I had a really interesting conversation about the mixing of culture with globalization. We talked a little bit about the idea of integration into a community but also the idea of culture. He told me that when he first learned about the United States, he thought that everyone just had one dominant over-arching culture. He didn’t know that there were myriad cultures in the United States that all contribute to the distinctness of our country. I admitted to him that before coming to Niger, I knew nothing of the different ethnic groups and national practices of Niger. He wasn’t surprised, and told me that he has to often remind people that there is a country called Niger north of Nigeria. As it became later, my neighbor began to ask me about how Africa is perceived in the world. This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer because I could never speak for anyone but myself. I told him that countries in Africa and in other parts of the developing world are too closely linked with their statistics. For instance, when students in the developed world are asked about the continent of Africa, oftentimes they are only able to regurgitate statistics about the prevalence of certain maladies or the level of poverty. But, these statistics do not speak to the beauty of the cultures and traditions that exist in these nations. While I was in college, each student was required to take a course called “Cultures and Traditions” in which we had a module on “Africa.” Now that I’ve been living in Niger for over two months, I realize how ridiculous something like that sounds. You could spend an entire semester studying the eight ethnic groups of Niger, their traditions, their languages, and the literature of Niger. I live in Niger, and I’m still learning (and will be learning for two years) about the reality of living in a Muslim country and surrounded by cultures that are not my own. Sitting and talking with my neighbors has really expanded my perspective, and I think it has also really affected their view of the United States.
I will begin work next week. I’m going to start out working with the Parent-Student-Teacher organizations that are in charge of finding funding for school supplies and regulating the quality of teaching in the classrooms. All of my coworkers are back from vacation and they seem very ready to begin work. We’ve been instructed to not conduct any large projects for the first three months, and to try to work on our language skills and integrate into our communities. Just in case you were wondering, acquisition of local language = integration. One of the officials that works at the Bureau told us that it generally takes volunteers about 10 months to really get a good grasp of the language, so I guess I have a lot of work to do!

12 September 2008

It's the eighties baby...SO PICK A DUB

Training is done today! Tonight, we will be officially sworn in at the Ambassador's residence. Today is the beginning of a very excited journey in Niger. I'll be moving to my post on Sunday, and I'll have time to get my life in order and start my "integration" into the community. Wish me luck! Big UPs to the other trainees swearing-in tonight!

28 August 2008

Dreaming I’s/EYES

This morning, I experienced through dreaming eyes, the realities and barriers of education in Niger. Today, through dreaming eyes, and willing hands, I met many school administrators that were motivated about changing their schools, finding more resources for the ever growing student population, and creating more educational opportunities for their students. My inspector asked me to accompany him to four schools located near the city. Two of the schools that I visted had middle school and high school students and the other two only had middle school students. The campuses were very quiet, very modest, and a few of them were noticeably overcrowded. At one of the schools that I visited, there were not enough classrooms from all of the students, so chalk boards had been affixed to the sides of buildings. Initially, I thought I would see only a few of these wall-side classrooms, but as I continued to tour the campus with the administrators, I saw more than six. Some of the buildings had been damaged by the water and heavy winds of the rainy season. As I continued to tour with many of the administrators, they told me that most of the children were without books, and the school had no money to provide them with notebooks, paper, and pens. After talking more with my inspector, he stressed the importance of working with the COGES organizations, and trying to find funding so that the students can have supplies. I hope that with Niger’s 10-year educational reform plan, many of these issues can be resolved. I was also very fortunate today to meet many students that were attending summer school classes. In the few classes that I observed, the students were learning chemistry, English, trigonometry, and French! In the states, most of us just take one or two subjects during the summertime, but these students were each taking about five or six. Pretty impressive huh!? As I had found out a day earlier, most of the students don’t really understand French, so I took the initiative to try and do some learning today. For about two days, I’ve been eyeing the hausa-english dictionary of the volunteer that I’m replacing. Today, I finally took the dictionary and a floor mat, and walked down the street in front of the fire station to practice my conversational Hausa with a few of the firefighters and the men that sit around there and talk. So, I figured out that I have a lot to learn, and that a lot of the Hausa that I’ve been learning at site doesn’t really correspond to the regional Hausa spoken here. Aahah, it’s never ending. But I guess it’s the hard work that makes it all worth it right? On Saturday, we head back to site for two more weeks, then swear in, and then I’ll be back here permanently. I feel so much better about staying here. My coworkers are really nice, and we share so many of the same interests. My neighbors are also very friendly, and I feel that they are really looking out for me. When I left the shady tree that we were all hanging out under this afternoon, they instructed me to come back after I ate lunch so that we could practice more vocabulary. I guess it really does take a village to raise a child. Their village is one more Peace Corps Volunteer strong!

27 August 2008

In Remembrance: For all those who strive for the world as it should be

Dedicated to my grandmother, Mrs. Catherine Seymour Forbes, whose spirit continues to shed light despite her physical absence- May your soul rest in peace.

Sage Woman
by Ryan Forbes Morris

The wise sage woman sips galaxies for thought-(!)-
To displace the immensity of her perfect light to my
Left coast…west coast…fifth dimensions
Where my mind reassembles the rigid conscious centerings of my afro descended experience
Against the wrinkled hieroglyphics of the woman who thrust my spirit across the ocean
Offering her soul as my ink
And giving her body as my vessel
Wise woman-you have sketched my existence into the sun
With a beauty seldom spoken beyond the lucid domain of the planets
Where angels taste the urban warmth of the stars beneath the bitter blues of desert nights
Peace, Sage Woman. Through you I am bestowed poetic freedom.

Borough Check: We Represent the Rest

It is finally week 7! Very hard to believe. We have all been working hard at the training site so that we can learn Hausa/Zarma/French and be as effective as possible. Last week, I was able to meet my supervisor when he came to the training site for a conference. I was really excited to meet him, and he seems very hard working, motivated, and I cannot wait to begin work with him. He wants to do a lot of work with the COGES, which are parent organizations that help regulate teaching within the schools. My supervisor really wants to do a lot of work with poorer families, which was something I felt very strongly about since the interview with Niger’s first female magistrate. Right now, I am visiting the town where I’ll be posted in about two and a half weeks. After we complete training and are sworn in, I’ll get to move here permanetnly. This visit is just to observe my future work and living conditions. I’m about 10 hours east of Niamey and about a few hours north of Nigeria. When I am permantely installed here at my post, I plan to go observe some of the classes at the local middle and high schools, and talk with members of the COGES so that I can start brainstorming some projects, see what needs exist in the community, and most importantly, INTEGRATE! This week, I’ve been able to meet the majority of my coworkers. Today, I had the opportunity to chat with a secretary who was a Geography/History teacher for twenty years. We talked Obama, politics, Latin American history, and a whole host of other things. Everyone is so nice here, and I feel very comfortable and respected here. I am in a big city, which makes “integration” a little bit more different than it was in the small town by the training site. I will not be living with a family, but I will do my best to make sure that I’m as visible as possible. Everyday I’ve been greeting all of the old men that sit together and drink tea on the side of the road, and the firemen that live fairly close to my future house. There are a whole host of development organizations in this city. I had come across some of their compounds as I had met some kids on my way home. I tried to talk to the kids but their French was about as limited as my hausa is. This made me realize, that I have to really step up my hausa skills. For those that don’t remember, when I interviewed the “successful” women of Niger, I felt like none of them could offer tips or suggestions to be people that weren’t middle class or above- the rest! In sum, their class status had a lot to do with their success. I have realized that if I really want to do goo work here, and work with as many people as possible across all class lines, it is imperative that I improve my hausa. I want to be able to work with students that cannot afford outside tutoring and that cannot afford to study abroad in neighboring countries. Next week, I return back to the training site for two more weeks, and then swear in. Everything has been moving so fast, but such is life!

08 August 2008

Noon-time Meditation # 1: From Amandine's Cafe

As I sit fully immersed in the smoke filled atmosphere of this café, I'll take a minute for poetic mediations...

Emotional humans fully suspend blue thoughts like jazz
Amongst the candid intermissions of the cunning lyricist
Whose lips ring truth to tired fragments of existentialist lo mein
It is she… that longs to recreate peace from stereo beat knick mind states
It is she…the queen that stands…and seeks to bestow light unto her daughters that will come NEXT…
Where funk upon a time…
‘woke vigilant souls spilled tomorrow from sun spaced trajectories
and slowly moved their fingers to recreate colors in the wind.
Reach for my hand so that I can kiss yours
So that we, mutually existing as stars, can shine as TWO beyond unfathomable limit

06 August 2008

Elliptical Axioms: The Beauty of Radical Openness

When we speak peace, freedom, equality, and justice to the sky, when we name our pain, we can join hands and bring beauty to our wounds. It is only though radical openness, through our candid and honest process of dreaming beyond ourselves, that we can bring change. As an education volunteer, one of my greatest tasks will be to tackle the problem of girl's education in Niger. This morning, I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Madame Salifou Fatima Bazey, the first female magistrate in the HISTORY of Niger, and Madame Diroumeye Dembello, a 25-year retired sociologist of the United Nations. Both of these women were deeply profound, both growing up in environments where women's education was not valued nor promoted. However, these women persevered. These women are trailblazers. Speaking with Madame Salifou Fatima Bazey, (my translation from French) Yes, Niger is a poor country. However, if we allow everyone to go to school- girls, boys, everyone!- and we welcome the knowledge that receive, then we will truly be able to develop. Without the education of women, we cannot progress!" These women were truly an inspiration to me. In this country, these women have been referred to as "femme leaders" or women leaders, but I think this term is fundamentally flawed. We do employ the term "homme leader" or male leader. These women are leaders, and they are the trailblazers of the change that has begun in Niger. I salute the radical openness of these women- their willingness and thier courage to break glass ceilings! These women dream of solidarity for all- and for the end of patriarchy in all its forms. I hope that in the future, I can do more work with these women in the sector of female education in Niger.

27 July 2008

Poetic Ego: Nigerien Trigonometry and Fire in the West

Each night, we sleep beneath the stars. In Niger they are immense, brilliant, complex. It seems as if only street poetry could solve the trigonometry of the heavens...I have committed myself to these stars, that make speech vanish like vapor, these stars that bless and reaffirm the beauty of "we". After about three weeks, I am learning to call Niger home. The people here are incredibly warm and the sense of community...the sense of "we"...is very strong. Our training group has become a small family, as we work hard each week to learn the language, hausa zarma french, and learn about the culture here. My host family is amazing! I have a young sister who is two years old, and she now affectionately refers to me as "ton ton", or "uncle" in french. My host father is an english teacher at the local collège (middle school) and my host mother is a continuing her studies at the university near the capital city. We spend so much time together, which gives me a chance to practice my french and my very basic hausa. I'll update more once I get a chance. Site announcements are in three weeks! I'll find out whether I'll be en brousse (the bush) or in the city as an education volunteer! I miss everyone! Feel free to send me letters or care packages to the address on my blog website. It would be much appreciated!

09 July 2008

?uestlove Spins Strength and Sustainability

So, today we finally leave for Niger, West Africa. We have to get some immunizations this afternoon (yellow fever) and then we will first fly to Paris, France and the to the capital city of Niger. We are a nice large group of 48, so I'd imagine we will be taking up the majority of the plane. Last night, we tried to take advantage of our dwindling time in the states. Some other volunteers and I strolled around Philadelphia and found an obscure Italian restaurant beneath one Philadelphia's secluded and more quiet bridges. Open windows, red woods, floating candles, and steaming hot pasta were among the many aromas and flavors suspended in this street-side shrine to Italian delicacies. We continued to walk around the city, and we ended up at Silk City Bar, and listened to the wet/sick/heavy dub beats of old school reggae mixed by the R&B/soul drummer ?uestlove from The Roots. This club was amazing! Smooth beats, humid air, afros, dashikis, dread locks, rocking hips, that pure philly love! On our last night, we could all put our hands up, raising dub beats to the ceiling, close our eyes, smile, and just jam.

As we arrive in Niger, we have to keep in mind that the Peace Corps approach to development is strength based. We will be evaluating the strengths of our villages to see what's already working, talking to people and assessing the needs of the people. I will be doing teacher training/education work while I'm there. And let me just add, that we DO NOT take jobs away from qualified Nigeriens! We will have 9 weeks of training in Hamdallaye so communication will be tough. This might be my last post for a few weeks. Once we arrive in Niamey, we will drive about an hour to the training site, and then we get to meet the Chef du village! I know...I'm gonna make sure I put my best foot forward. Can't wait to share some pictures with all of you. I'll do my best to write letters while communication is bad in Hamdallaye.

Paz e amor,


05 July 2008

The CoLor SOUNDs of Travel (Philly Blues)

So I have safely arrived in Philadelphia for Peace Corps Niger staging orientation. This is where I will meet all of the volunteers that will be serving in Niger and learn a little bit more about what to expect upon our arrival in Niamey, Niger. As the plane entered Philly, we landed directly into a rain storm that was headed for New Jersey! All of the volunteers that I have met seem so nice. We all got stuffed into the same shuttle from the airport. Everyone seems very motivated, and very determined to have a meaningful path and existence. We networked immediately, and walked throughout the historic district of Philadelphia. We had chicken philly cheesesteaks for dinner and then hit a few spots for drinks. Everyone is amazing, and I feel much more relieved!

03 July 2008

Scarcity: The Remaining Days

Beautiful memories to hang from African skies...

02 July 2008

Complex Simplicity: PC Niger Packing List


o Water resistant Nike windbreaker

o 3 pairs of black, long, bacteria-resistant socks

o 1 pair of ankle socks (exercise)

o 15 pairs of cotton underwear/boxer briefs

o 10 plain, solid-colored cotton t-shirts & V-neck shirts

o 2 exercise sweat-resistant shirts

o 3 cotton button-down dress shirts

o 3 logo t-shirts

o 2 pairs of light running shorts

o 2 pairs light cotton pants

o 1 brown cargo pant

o 2 dress pants (1 khaki, 1 solid black)

o Belts (one-size fits all belt)

o Two hats (1 brimmed, 1 baseball)

o 1 pair black jeans

o Swimtrunks

o 1 Nike fleece


o 1 pair of running shoes

o 1 pair of Chacos hiking sandals

o 2 pair of Havaiana “Top” flip-flops

o 1 pair of dress shoes


o Thin, compactable microfiber towel

o Nail clippers

o Titanium scissors

o Face lotion/astringent

o Soap/Shampoo

o Toothpaste

o Two pairs of sunglasses

o Toothpaste & Floss

o Battery-powered beard trimmer

o Hair clippers


o 1 Leatherman tool

o 1 retractable serrated knife

o 1 AA-battery powered flashlight

o 2 Camelbak nalgene bottles

o 1 bottle of pico de gallo

o Zip lock bags

o Turkey Jerky

o Nutrigrain bars

o Fruit snacks

o Instant drink mixes

o Grapefruit seed extract tablets & drops


o Light, compactable synthetic down sleeping bag

o Compactable synthetic down pillow

o Free-standing mosquito net tent

o Hostel travel sheet

o Clothes line & clips for hang-dry clothing

o 5 packs of black writing pens

o Small dustpan

o Canon Powershot digital camera/carrying-case

o 2 retractable USB flashdrives (1 2GB, 1 256MB)

o Waterproof watch

o Batteries ( a lot)

o Day Pack

o Solio Solar charger (for iPod & cellphone)

o Hiking backpack (with frame)

o Luggage locks

o U.S. Driver’s License

o Passport

o 12 Passport photos

o Duct tape

o 30 GB iPod w/ water-proof & dust-proof Otterbox carrying case

o Chewable Pepto-Bismol & Imodium AD

o 2 rolls of toilet tissue

o Voltage converters

o French-French & French-English dictionary

o Canvas carrying bags (trying to be green!)

o Envelopes

o Lanyard

o Books to read