26 September 2009

When Cosmic Spiders Spin Silken Atmosphere: Ramadan

more pictures on the way...

27 August 2009

Roots! ROots! RoOts!

Take a look at all the beans and peanuts growing in my yard! The rain is coming down hard in my city!

20 August 2009

11 August 2009


Sorry for the silence! The last few months have been full of work, vacation, and extreme humidity. In May, I flew from Paris to Chicago, and met my mom, Aunt Cheryl, and Cousin Pat. I then took a bus to Indianapolis to see my brother, my godparents, old roommates, and all of my friends that are still in Indiana. After a week, I flew to California to spend more time with friends and relatives. Then, My family and I took a wondeful cruise to Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten. We relaxed on white sand beaches shaded by lush mountains, swam in gentle, pristine ocean water, and ate delicious...delicious...delicious food! Here's a pictorial representation of what I did while I was in America:

So, what have I been up to since I've been back in Niger?

1. Running...lots of Running.

2. English Club- The American Embassy was gracious enough to sponser an American Corner at my MJC (maison de la jeunesse et de la culture). So they now have internet, computers, and a brand new paint job. I have been teaching english there four times a week and I love it! The students are really motivated, and my counterparts are amazing.

3. Listening to music! I got so much new music while I was in America. My iPOD definitely needed a change-up. I've also been drinking a lot of tea with my neighbors!

4. VATing! I was a volunteer assistant trainer for two weeks in August. We received new volunteers in July and I helped the director of our education program faciliate technical sessions at our training site. It was a wonderful time, and it was really great to meet everyone, and to be on the "otherside" of volunteer training.

5. Gardening! My neighbors and I planted peanuts and beans in my concession! I'll post pictures soon to show you how much everything has grown!

Current albums on rotation:

Stevie Wonder "Talking Book"
The Foreign Exchange "Leave It All Behind"
Orchestre Baka de Gbine "Gati Bongo"

and lots of Zap Mama

Currently reading : The Autiobiography of Malcolm X (had to revist this a second time!)

29 April 2009

Mango Sun to Lively Up This Flight: Earth Day (Photos)

Some pictures from Earth Day. The event was planned by a very dedicated volunteer, who worked with several local Nigerien NGOs. We all traveled to a quartier in the city, gave trainings on proper hand washing to young kids, and walked around distributing handwashing posters to small shops and boutiques throughout the neighborhood. Some volunteers also went door to door, giving handwashing demonstrations to families. In addition, we picked up trashing, and talked about the importance of taking care of the environment. This was a very great project!

08 April 2009

Blue Nile

I awoke when palm trees whispered peace of mind to the ears of earth-folk
And fuchsia hummingbirds signaled the procession of
black women
rising from the waters
worshipping the sun for the delicious ebony bestowed to their hands and chocolate arms…
drinking twice of the cool river and sprinkling the third to the hot earth
Whose vines serenaded the moon, and swayed like ocean waves in the red heat of summer.
We meditate in the desert…eyes closed but forever vigilante
Tasting sweet mango from cool tiles of alabaster
Daydreaming to the fluid sounds of shape-shifting baobabs
And the blue nile breeze carrying the fragrant serenity we all seek to trap between our fingers
and breathe

-Ryan Forbes Morris

07 April 2009

Funky Highs of The Eclectic Felon

It was the eclectic felon that kicked voltage to the walls
Burned the atmosphere and
Sliced green peaches with daylight
Spilling nectar to the chosen ones
Who sit bemused and electric
Seizing from the impulses of eccentric dreams in which they
Float beneath the sun in lotus position
Die sweet honey
Re-envision existence
Spinning cashmere from AFROS upon the rings of Jupiter.
The eclectic felon, whose funky beat cross-galactically-reveberates smoooooth to tha people!
Elevates our collective grief
Where cellos smoke themselves anew
And we sip tea in triangles beneath the shaded moons of our afternoon escapism
-Ryan Forbes Morris

03 April 2009

Escapist Winds Kick the Heat: More Pictures!

Here are some pictures from the Women's Recruitment and Organizational Strenghtening Conference, a Naming Ceremony held at the home of our Program Assistant, and my trip to visit a fellow Californian and her donkey Mabel!

20 March 2009

Conference Day Jitters

Tomorrow my counterpart and I are holding our very first training with COGES presidents, secretaries, and treasurers! I am scared, I am nervous, I have to speak hausa tomorrow! We have been planning this conference for a while, and I've had control over every aspect of the conference- from its beginning stages, to the proposal writing, purchasing materials, etc.! But tomorrow, I guess it's no longer in my hands! The COGES Womens Recruitment and Organizational Strengthening Conference will be the first of its kind. We are trying to encourage COGES leadership to increase their recruitment of women, but we are also going to give them instructions about how to create intimidation-free voting environments, and how to use gender-sensitive approaches when managing meetings and COGES business. We've worked hard, and we're going to conduct 4 interactive workshops. The COGES members will be split up into 8 groups and they will hold discussions and undergo training to build their capacity. I'm excited. We'll see how everything will go. Hopefully the pre-conference jitters will pass soon. Wish me luck, and wish me perfect hausa!

06 March 2009

Peace Corps Maradi Region International Non-Governmental Organization Conference (Pictures)

Another volunteer and I planned a really nice conference where International NGOs could give presentations and talk to Peace Corps volunteers about their work in the Maradi region, to open up the opportunity for future collaboration. We worked very hard, here are some pictures of the event!

04 March 2009

A Present from Arles! (A Small Cartoon)

My former host family from Arles, France sent me this cartoon to celebrate 2009. I lived with them for two months before my Senior year at Wabash College. They are amazing, and corrected every grammatically incorrect French phrase that came out of my mouth for an entire summer! My host dad is a cartoonist, and sketched this out for me.

Thank you so much Rémy, Farida, Thomas, and Simon.

02 March 2009

Baby Naming Ceremony!!

28 February 2009

Marketing Hot Desirability: What Pristine Sunshine Will Reveal

Marketing Hot Desirability: What Pristine Sunlight Will Reveal

A cool day. I was walking around town, confirming some of the last details for an event that would take place in a few weeks. It was near noon, the sun shone bright, and as I began to walk home, I saw two other volunteers standing near a street vendor. I waved at them from a distance, and they quickly waved back, smiling and talking to me in English while trying to hand their money over to the woman meticulously frying food in her enormous tukunya at the busy street corner. As I approached, a large group of veiled girls with cinnamon colored dresses joined, pooling their money to purchase some lunch before returning back to their afternoon classes. As I continued to chat with my friends, I noticed that one of the girls was looking at me. She was a pretty girl, perhaps 18 or 19 years old, tall, with soft eyes. Her face and eyes were bright, and I realized that as I subtly looked back at her, she continued to stare at my arms and my hands. I thought nothing of it at first, but as the other volunteers and I waited patiently for the food, I realized after several minutes that she was still staring at me. I looked back at her and briefly greeted her in hausa and she responded, moving her right hands from her waist to adjust her headscarf. As she did this, I realized that there were burns, skin discoloration, and scars all over her hands, most prominently around her knuckles and wrists. This discoloration and burning was almost identical on her left hands, as was the discoloration on her neck and chin. After a few minutes, I realized that this young girl, like many of her friends standing around the street vendor, was bleaching her skin. I couldn’t believe how many scars were on this girl’s hands, and how her knuckles and wrists seemed to be almost irreparably discolored and scarred.
Later on that day, I talked to some of my neighbors about what I saw. They were not at all surprised. The men that I sit with explained to me that skin bleaching is really popular among young girls, and he said that it was the fault of men that women continue to apply skin bleach. He said that women will apply the crèmes to certain parts of their bodies, but sometime if they’re exposed to too much sun, or use the products incorrectly, the skin will burn, and become even darker than it was before. I found this to be a really interesting opinion and I asked him to elaborate. He went on to explain that many men only prefer women with lighter skin complexions, and women feel pressured to begin applying skin bleach when they feel undesirable. So I asked my neighbor, “Why would you expect women to have light colored skin, when we are living in the Sahel of Western Africa, and when there was little to no racial mixing during French colonization?” Some of the men begin to explain that there some lighter skinned women in Niger, but most of them came either from Touareg or Fulani groups. He explained that many men only want to date and/or marry women with lighter skin, but they do not want their girlfriends or their wives to use the skin bleach because of its rancid smell. So, this seems like a tough dilemma. Men want their wives with dark complexions to have light skin, but they do not want them to use skin bleach, which is the only method that people here obtain lighter skin complexions. Curious. I explained to my friends about the racial and color caste systems that used to exist in places like Mexico and former French colonies were racial mixing was more prevalent. In a place where there was little racial mixing like Niger, it is interesting that many still arrive at the same ideas about skin color and self-worth. In a separate conversation, a friend of mine, who is exactly my same age, told me that he hopes one day to have children with lighter skin. He said that would be the greatest gift that he could ever give them, because he believed that it would advance them in society. I shook my head when he said this to me, explaining to him that an education was the greatest gift he could leave them. We have had this conversation several times, but he still doesn’t agree with me. We agree to disagree. When I hear others speaking of a post-racial world, I wonder if they are having the same experiences and conversations with people in this country that I am.

20 February 2009

Approved Project Proposal # 1

Project Title: COGES Women’s Recruitment & Organizational Strengthening Conference
Volunteer: Ryan Forbes Morris, CYE ‘08
Post: ---------
Region: Maradi
Project Implementation Period: March 2009
Total Amount Requested from GAD: 48, 975 Francs CFA
I. Project Summary:
The secondary Inspection would like to conduct a one-day training with approximately twenty-one (21) COGES members from its seven (7) secondary public education establishments in order to increase the recruitment and participation of women members, specifically the recruitment of women members into elected positions of leadership. COGES members will undergo a series of tutorials concerning gender-sensitive meeting management techniques; the creation and maintenance of intimidation-free and friendly voting environments, in which both men and women members can declare candidacy for COGES-elected positions of leadership; the pragmatic uses and applications of agendas, budgets, record-keeping, and the importance of financial transparency. This project seeks not only to increase access and equity to women who wish to participate in COGES and pursue positions of leadership, but also to enhance and reinforce the administrative skills of the few women currently serving on these committees.
II. Background Information and Needs Identification:
Due to the absence of monetary resources to fully support educational institutions, the government of Niger has partially delegated the management and finance of all public schools to community-based organizations referred to as COGES (Comités de Gestion des Etablissments Scolaires). The committees are comprised of eleven (11) members, two (2) of which must be women, who assume the administrative and fiscal responsibilities of school establishments that the government of Niger can no longer provide (i.e. supplying school textbooks and funding the construction of millet-stalk classrooms in overcrowded schools). The eleven representatives include parents, school headmasters, student representatives, local, and municipal authorities. The Women’s Recruitment and Organizational Strengthening Conference will afford COGES members gender-sensitive and refined managerial and recruitment skills to assist them in their efforts to make their committees more representative of the general population and in the administration of their respective establishments. COGES groups are unlikely to bring sustainable educational access and equity to young girls and boys in their communities if they themselves do not exemplify the change they seek to affect in their school establishments. A strong organization is one of diverse membership, opinion, and experience. In order for an organization to respond to the needs of a community, composed of both men and women, gender equity in COGES committees and leadership must remain a prioritized initiative.

III. Project Objectives and Timeline:
Main Objective: Increase the number of women participants in Maradi urban region COGES groups and enhance the administrative skills of COGES members.
Goal 1: Train COGES presidents, treasurers, and secretaries, in practical methods to recruit more women into their committees.
Objective 1-1: By the end of 2010, all of the seven COGES groups will have a minimum of three (3) women members on their committees.

Goal 2: Increase the awareness of the importance of a free and democratic vote to ensure a friendly and intimidation-free voting environment in which both women and male members can declare candidacy for COGES positions of leadership.
Objective 2-1: After the one-day training, COGES members in attendance will be able to list, define, and demonstrate methods to create and maintain intimidation-free and democratic voting environments within their COGES group.
Objective 2-2: By the end of 2010, 15 % of COGES groups in Maradi urban region will have an elected woman president.

Goal 3: Enhance COGES members’ meeting management techniques and financial transparency.
Objective 3-1: After one-day training, COGES members in attendance will be able to demonstrate gender-sensitive meeting management techniques.
Objective 3-2: After the one-day training, COGES members in attendance will be able to demonstrate the formulation of trimester-based budgets.
Objective 3-3: By the end of 2010, 63% of COGES groups in Maradi urban region will employ a system of co-signed financial transactions through the use of Cash-request forms.

Month (2009) Activity
February Volunteer/Counterpart meetings; goal evaluation; grant seeking.
March Send invitations to COGES members; confirm schedules/travel; purchase of food and office supplies; Conference will tentatively be held March 18, 2008.
April Initial reporting and evaluation to GAD committee and Inspector 1 month after completion of Conference; calculate increases and/or decreases in women COGES members and/or women in elected positions of leadership; identifying COGES groups employing gender-sensitivity and organizational strengthening methods presented in Conference
July Follow-up reporting and evaluation 3 months after initial report submitted to GAD committee and Inspector
October Final Reporting and evaluation 6 months after initial report submitted to GAD committee and Inspector; Analyze 6 months worth of collected data on COGES women’s recruitment, retention, and participation in COGES

IV. Roles and Responsibilities
• Ryan Morris, PCV
o Pricing and purchase of anticipated food and office supply materials
o Co-creation of session content
o Aiding in the planning and facilitation of sessions in national language
o Evaluation of COGES women’s recruitment, participation, and retention at 1, 3, and 6 months after conclusion of Conference.
o Relaying immediate results of session to GAD committee, Inspector, and Peace Corps bureau.

• Boukari Bako, Nigerien Counterpart & Inspection Employee
o Making contact with COGES members
o Co-creation of session content
o Facilitating sessions with COGES members in national language.
o Monitoring and evaluation of COGES use of organizational strengthening methods. Determination if whether these methods have been useful to COGES administration.
o Relaying immediate and long-term results to Inspector and COGES groups.

V. Gender and Development
In the Maradi urban region, there is a functioning COGES group in each of the seven public secondary schools. While these groups have made significant progress since 2005 in the management and administration of their establishments, the presence and involvement of women in these decision-making bodies is feeble and substandard. Currently, there are neither women COGES presidents nor women members holding positions of leadership in any of the Maradi urban region’s seven committees. Moreover, there are COGES groups that currently have no women in their membership. In order for these groups to aptly reflect and attend to the needs of their communities, the full participation of all of its citizens, namely women, is fundamental. Furthermore, an increased participation of women in the COGES groups will likely initiate productive rapport and collaboration between other community-based organizations such as AME (Association des Mères Éducatrices) and aid in the mobilization of parents to actively participate in the future direction and restoration of their establishments. This type of training for COGES groups at the secondary level is essential not only to the realization of Niger’s Ten-year Education Plan (Programme décennal de développement de l’education ) but also to the growth and progress of committees in secondary education establishments, who seldom receive training or programmatic support from other non-governmental organizations in Maradi that center their efforts on rural, primary schools. A well-structured, gender-equitable, empowered, and organizationally sound COGES bureau will bring sustainable change to a community, and can best advocate for the needs of its constituency.

The short- and long-term effects of the Women’s Recruitment and Organizational Strengthening Conference will include both behavioral and quantifiable change. The recruitment of women into COGES membership and elected-positions of leadership can be followed over time; however each COGES groups’ use of gender-sensitive meeting management techniques will be much more difficult to monitor and evaluate. In the months following the Conference, we will assume that the increase of women in COGES membership, and elected positions of leadership will be correlated to the COGES groups’ successful application of gender-sensitive meeting management practices. At the conclusion of the one-day training, COGES members in attendance will be given questionnaires to test their knowledge of the material that has been presented, and will also be asked to demonstrate and replicate the gender-sensitive methodologies in small groups. The number of members in-attendance that can successfully complete this will be recorded in chart-format. Moreover, in April, July, and October 2009, all of the COGES groups will receive questionnaires to ascertain whether they are using the gender-sensitive methodologies in their meetings. Also, in this post-Conference period, each COGES group will be visited, and the demographics of the membership will be recorded. The results of this monitoring and evaluation from March to October 2009 will be compiled into a report that will be given to the Inspector of the Maradi Secondary Inspection, as well as to each of the COGES groups. Lastly, the immediate results after the Conference (increase and/or decrease in women members among each COGES group; use of gender-sensitive and financial transparency meeting techniques) will be reported to the GAD committee in April 2009.

Our indicators include:
• Number of women members on COGES membership
• Number of women members in elected positions of COGES leadership
• Number of COGES groups
o using gender-sensitive meeting management techniques at one, three, and six months after conclusion of Conference
o collaborating with other community based organizations, such as AME
o consistently using and formulating trimester-based budgets
o using co-signed Cash Request forms after one, three, and six months after conclusion of Conference.

29 January 2009

Master Teachers: Poetic Offerings

Master Teachers
by Ryan Forbes Morris

(For all those that voted!)

Let me dream the dream of the master teachers
The injured physicians that must heal themselves and shed light to the unwisdom that has taken the streets.
In search of themselves, in search of you-
The spirit soldiers and lotus queens that possess the fire of the sun in their eyes
The youthful Nubian, Red, White, Yellow and Brown pharaohs and goddesses that step from Khartoum to Timbuktu to affix the galaxies and moons suspended in the gaze of pyramids to their lips
And with the most precious gifts of the universe, walk between the planets
Blue flames in hand
To paint visibility to the voiceless and vision to the forgotten
Let me dream the dream for the master teachers
Young kings and queens that climb from their thrones
And at their knees,
Kiss beauty to the wounds of those with severed wings…Young Queens. Young Kings.
…and all who confront unceasing stalemate towards the primacy of truth,
Pawn your bullets for books
And subvert the system that seeks to erase you from my dreams.

Revolving Light: Poetic Offerings

Revolving Light
By Ryan Forbes Morris

Revolving light to this dying star
Black woman
Rock my soul, and
To be simply what you have always been…

The Coolest

The Coolest

“No one day is like another, each tomorrow has its special miracle, its magic moment in which old universes are destroyed and new stars created”
-Paulo Coelho, “By the River Piedra I sat Down and Wept”

The month of January zoomed by! And what an amazing month it was. All of the volunteers from my July 2008 staging group reunited for three weeks of training near the nation’s capital. It was so refreshing to see the other volunteers and training staff together again for the first time in three months, and to see how much everyone has changed! New Years was a great celebration, and we were able to spend time with the volunteers from Zinder as we all made our way west. During this early In-service training (IST) we focused on job specific language skills, cross-cultural sessions, community-content based instruction, cross-sector trainings, grant writing, funding sources, proposal writing, and project design management using logical frameworks. The education volunteers were also very lucky to meet members from Niger’s Ministry of Youth and Ministry of Vocational Training to discuss gender-sensitive teaching methods, community development through income-generating activities, classroom management, education enhancement/school-retention activities, as well as finding ways in which volunteers could work more closely with officials in local youth centers. Since our first “three months at Post” are officially finished, we are allowed to begin projects in the community. It was really helpful to have the first “three months at Post” to concentrate on learning Hausa, and becoming more familiar with the NGOs and community based organizations in my city. January is almost over, and I hear that February will be a much hotter month. Some items on my February bucket list:

1. Start a hot season garden. I think it would be very cool to begin growing a lot of my own food. I just have to actually start it! Some Chinese physicians in my city are growing bok choy, so it can’t be that hard right!?
2. Read Fareed Zakaria’s “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad”
3. Work with my counterpart to plan/obtain funding for a training for the 7 school headmasters in my city, as well as C.O.G.E.S. (similar to the American PTA groups) presidents and treasurers. We could do some great capacity building with them, which I think will help them work more efficiently and be more transparent with their finances. 2009’s list of sensiblisations with the COGES groups include: Creating a budget, A fair and democratic vote, Funding sources, Meeting Management, Collecting Feedback, Introduction to Internet/Technology, and Record Keeping.
4. Find a way to collect used teaching methodology books in French. During IST, a lot of the other education volunteers were talking about starting small-scale Teaching Methodology resource libraries in their cities. Many of the English teachers haven’t had the opportunity to have any teacher training. This is especially important because the Nigerien government wants teachers to being using gender-sensitive teaching methods.
5. Work with local English teachers and find a way to record dialogues and passages from their textbook English For The Sahel (EFTS). During IST, we met a man from the national ministry of education. He told us that they did not have access to any of the sound recorders made by the publisher. They tried to have a project a few years ago in which English conseillers and Peace Corps volunteers were making their own recordings, but for some reason that project abruptly stopped. Many of the students learning English have never heard a native speaker of English and/or haven’t had the opportunity to hear different English accents (i.e. Nigerian English versus American English versus Australian English). I want to find a way to get funding so that each school could have a sound recorder or small CD player so they could play the recordings for their students. I think this is especially important at teacher training schools (called Ecole Normale).
6. Write my first radio show. This is a lot harder than it sounds! We had a full day’s session on Information Technology, and how to do follow up to make sure that the messages that we are broadcasting over the radio are actually being understood. I have been helping two volunteers in my city with radio shows every Saturday. All of these radio shows are done in Hausa, and the topics range from Cold Season Gardening, to HIV/AIDS prevention to Road Safety. I am going to do my best to do a February show for Black History Month and step-up to the plate while my radio partners take a much-needed vacation to South Africa.
I should also mention, that we were able to watch the inauguration of our very new president Barack Obama at the American Cultural Center in Niamey. All of the volunteers in town attended, as well as Nigerien English teachers and their students. We were jam packed into a room, watching CNN on projected on a screen. It was amazing, historical, and I was so happy that I was able to experience such a ground breaking event. My Auntie Jill and Uncle Flores sent me a box of Obama gear, so I handed out stickers, pins, and bumper stickers which can now be seen on the walls of corner stores and jacket lapels throughout my city! My Aunt and Uncle also sent me four bright blue Obama ballons which I took over to the young girls next door. They were so happy, singing “Obama! Obama,” over and over again. I think these are the first ballons that they’ve ever seen. This made me so happy, especially because unlike many girls in Niger, these girls are starting school, and will have a very bright future, so they were most deserving of this very small gift! Thanks Uncle Flores and Auntie Jill. I must also say that I felt very blessed to be in the warmth of Niger and not the 11 degrees of bitter icey cold in Washington D.C.
I also had my first international birthday. My friends took very good care of me, took me out to celebrate, and even made me a video of funny clips from our 6 months in-country. I was so surprised, I had no idea they were doing anything! Also, thank you Mom, Uncle Flores and Auntie Jill, Amina, Tia and Uncle Fred, Backs Family, and Santana Family, for all the birthday packages, books, emails, and phone calls from America!

10 January 2009

A Nigérien Christmas/Kwanzaa (Photos)

6 months in-country! Barka!

Hey everyone,

Can you believe it!? Today, I have been in Niger for exactly 6 months! It is very hard to believe, but it has been so amazing for me to see the change and growth that has occurred not only in myself, but in the other volunteers of my group. We have reunited this week for In-Service training (IST), and it has been the first time many of us have seen each other in 3 months. Many left training speaking absolutely no Zarma or Hausa, and now they have returned to IST, having full fledged conversations in national languages! I am proud of my fellow volunteers and so excited for all of the work that we will begin at the end of this three-week training period. Thank you to everyone that has called, sent emails, letters, packages, and "bush" notes to me during this six-month period!