I’ve been traveling and speaking, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Whether it’s standing before an audience or chatting with a stranger on a plane, these eight weeks have been characterized by the Q&A.
And I’m beginning to find some common themes; certain questions keep coming up. Which makes me think that maybe you’d be interested in the answers. So here they are, listed in order of frequency:
Q: What kind of a house do you live in, and what conveniences do you actually have?
A: I live in a cement house with a metal roof . . . one side of a duplex actually. It’s a comfy one-bedroom with a fabulous little screened porch that often doubles as Chez Déborah (ranking on ‘Galmi’s Top 10 Places to Eat’ two years in a row).
Yes, I have electricity (most of the time) and indoor plumbing . . . clearly you don’t know me well enough if you think I could rough-it without a shower or flushing toilet 365 days in a row!
I do have an air conditioner . . . but it doesn’t hold up well too many hours in a row during hot season. So I find I use it more once rainy season starts as it helps get rid of the humidity. Also, I have a KitchenAid mixer . . . I’m pretty sure there’s a good number of short-term doctors that would starve should it ever break!
And yes, I have a house helper. I know that in some circles that can be a controversial subject, but I would never make it in Galmi without my R. She helps me with my laundry, washes the dust-storm remains from my floor, and trims the fat off my meat. Don’t believe how time consuming those might be, I invite you to come visit us.
But R.’s job isn’t just for me . . . it’s for her too. You see, she doesn’t like hand-outs. She takes pride in the work she does and they way she provides for her family. R. has no education and she cannot read or write, but she is an incredibly joyous and hard worker. If I’m away, I’ll offer to pay her for her time and give her the day off (since there’s no work for her to do), but she always comes and finds SOMETHING to clean! She is truly a gift!
Q: Aren’t there any nice, handsome, single, young doctors that come to Galmi (wink wink)?
A: Why yes, there are. Unfortunately none of them have wanted to stay.
Q: What do you wear?
A: To work I usually wear a wrap-around skirt (African fabric) and a scrub top. However, it’s really tricky doing therapy when I’m constantly making sure my zunni doesn’t slip from my hips . . . so I’ve had a few long tunics made out of the African prints with solid black baggy-enough pants (this is my Tsoho’s favorite look).
When I’m out in the village, visiting friends or going to the market or church, I wear a full African outfit (skirt, top, and head covering, ALL of the same material) . . . from time to time I’ll ‘dress down’ and wear a solid color t-shirt with my zunni or use a solid color calibi on my head . . . but if I’m going to a wedding or baby naming, I’ll get all dolled up and wear the nicest African outfit I have.
Q: Is fashion important to Nigerien women?
A: INCREDIBLY! I have learned so much about fashion during my first term in Niger. I had no idea that the length of a top could tell one's marital status. Or that wax content of a fabric could show your economic class. Or that wrapped fabric on the top of your head is haute couture.
So here's what I've learned so far about fashion in Galmi:
Single women: Tops should be to the waist . . . and tight enough to show that you're on the market. Sleeves or sleeveless are fine. Wrap around zunnis are just as preferable as a skirt, but should cut and sewn so that they are curvy, not straight. Think of it the way we buy jeans . . . straight leg vs. boot cut. One of the newer fashions coming out of Niamey is wider-leg pants with a long tunic that covers the thighs and butt.
Young-er married women: Tops should come to the upper/mid thigh . . . but more 'progressive' women are wearing shorter, sits-at-the-waist-level tops.
Q: What is a typical day like?
A: Being a life-long night-owl, my day starts as late as it possibly can. Unfortunately our guard dogs, roof-dancing pigeons, and scratchy-radio-listening gardeners don’t always share my distain for the wee-hours of mid-morning. So, I like to be at work between 7 & 7:30 . . . but I think we’ll have to start implementing time-cards before that becomes a practiced reality.
I begin my day on the surgical ward, checking in with the rounding docs and picking up new patients. From there it’s off to the OR for burn wound care. Since all of our burn patients will have therapy later in the day, and they have to fast in order receive the pain meds we have available, I like to get the most painful part of their process over early.
We start with the kiddos and work our way to the most severe adults. Depending on our case-load and splint fabrication needs of that day, this could take anywhere from half an hour to three hours.
At 10am, everyone takes a half hour break. My Nigerien colleagues eat breakfast (usually rice and sauce) and this is when I usually have coffee with Tsoho, Kanéna, and the other OR staff. But on Wednesdays, those of us who live on the hospital property get together for cinnamon buns and coffee. Everyone loves Wednesdays.
Back to work at 10:30 . . . until 1. Then comes the best part of my day: nap time. Due to the extreme heat in Niger, the whole country shuts down from 1-3 each day . . . no, I’m serious! Even in the capital, the stores close! And the guys selling stuff on the street find a tree to lay under. It’s just that hot!
At three o’clock we return to work. I continue with inpatient and outpatient therapy until six . . . usually. Sometimes it’s earlier or later, depending on the number of patients.
Evenings and weekends often feel just as busy as our days . . . between meetings, hosting short-term doctors and visitors, spending time with Nigerien friends, positing on the blog, phoning home, and meal-prep, most of my ‘free time’ isn’t actually so free.
Q: What do you eat and where do you get your food?
A: It’s true, things are much more limited in these parts than elsewhere in the world, but it’s been fun (at times . . . tear jerking at others) trying to come up with creative ways to satisfy a love of culinary diversity.
We have a lady who sells fruit, veg and eggs once a week, right on our property. She sets up shop at the front gate of the residence and we haggle for a good price. Most of the time we can get onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas and cabbage . . . most of the time. There are certain seasons for lettuce, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, guava, mangoes, papaya, oranges, lemons/limes and (very small) green apples. Unfortunately, no raspberries . . . ever.
On Wednesdays, market day, a man shows up on our property to sell freshly slaughtered beef. Strapped to the back of his motorcycle, he has a large tray of meat, covered in flies and a plastic tarp, and uses a machete to cut off our request in kilograms. We can get fillet mignon for $2.75 a pound. So, maybe there are some perks to living in Galmi!
Also on Wednesdays, we can walk downtown for Market Day, our weekly open-air market where we can buy dried millet in bulk, roasted locust, black eyed peas, dried fish, freshly fried bean cakes, brown-sugar or molasses-like discs, and other local treasures.
We do cheat a bit, and stock up in Niamey on rations such as milk powder, pasta, basmati rice, cans of tuna, mozzarella cheese, jam, butter, canned peas and mushroom, sausage, frozen chickens and pita bread.
In Galmi, we do have some fast-food options too. At lunch time, there are street vendors who sell rice or pounded millet and sauce, and a man who roasts mutton over a fire. And I have a friend who comes around our residence on Mondays taking orders and she returns on Saturdays with roasted chicken.
Needless to say, we get very creative!
Q: When will you go back to Niger and how long will you stay?
A: I will be leaving the US at the end of December. I will spend Christmas with my family, then off again.
When people ask ‘how long’ I will ‘stay’ usually they want to know when I’m planning on moving back to the US . . . for good. That I can’t answer. What I can offer instead, is that this next term will be 2 1/2 years followed by six-months in the US. But, things can always change.