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.