Saturday, March 28, 2009

Niger: A Letter From Me to You

Niger, Thank you, Tanamere, Merci. I’ve taken away from you far more than I can give back. You’ve rejuvenated me, inspired me, inflamed me, you’ve awakened me from slumber. You have infused my creative energy with your African spirit, so thank you. I don’t know how I will be able to live without you, although it would be difficult to live within you, always. I am not from you, of your sand and the dust that canvasses the air. I cannot drink your water or live under the animosity of your sun. Your temperament threatens me, although I would never want it to change.

You and I are not of the same world. I feel as if I should be taking a space ship, not an airplane, to my home on another planet, a place that seems, in retrospect, lost in slumber. It’s a place where men and women do not pile tables, mattresses, cigarettes and bottles of water, all on top of their heads as they meander through the sand. It is a place where most people have enough food, where most people waste food and water as if it were the sand beneath their feet; I, too, am guilty of this. It is a place where people go not one day without a television, a remote control, an instant coffee maker—pushing buttons, to help life pass by. It is not, for the most part, a place where sewage sits stagnant in open gutters. I live in a place with infrastructure, boreholes galore, if you can believe that, which bring clean water right to down my throat every day.

Dear Niger, I promise to tell my planet more about you. I promise you won’t remain a statistic to any of the people I know. Or worse, I promise you won’t remain imaginary—the vast, sweeping country that you are. I intend to recount your impoverishment, as well as your wealth—the wealth of your people, your livelihoods, the way you injected me with those things every day. I promise to attach faces and names to make your people seem a little more like mine. And I promise to remain in contact with the people who have touched my life and made it greater, through the technology that exists on my planet, and now on yours too. I hope they can promise me the same.

I am not sure if I have made you feel more alive, Niger, or if I have offered you anything at all. I’ve witnessed you. I think about you. You have a large place, the size of the sweeping Azawak Valley, in my heart. I can smell the fire and the dust of Niamey quite clearly. I can see the color of the marsh water many of your people are drinking right now. I can hear the sunset prayers and see the men bowing down simultaneously as I walk and think, sometimes about you and sometimes about me. I can see all the anas and abbas with their Tuareg children, hear the women pounding millet, join the men drinking tea. I can taste the leftover tea leaves in my slight glass and roll them around on my tongue. I can’t promise you these sensations will last forever.

When they do start to fade, your heat becoming an enigma, I promise to mount my space ship again. I will return to collect from you a sense of life, a jolt to my system, to hold the many hands I held before. So, you see, I will come back only to take from you again. I hope you can condone my predicament.

I must ask you, dear Niger: what can I do for you?

I see the hundreds of NGOs circling your periphery in their large SUVs. I see the signs of projects, development all over. I will do my part to help some of your people to have water through my contributions to Amman Imman. But I still see so many of your children do not have enough to eat, water to drink. This seems unjust, although, without asking, Nigeriens would never tell me so. Instead, they smile and welcome me, in their rags and shoeless feet. They give me what they have, themselves, in this country of sand. So maybe becoming more like my planet is not exactly what you need. I know you need food, water, infrastructure and a place where the sick can get cured. Maybe, so many of your people are right: you just need faith in Allah. Beyond that, I like you just the way you are. I like the way your people spend their lives outside. I cherish the way they greet me, caressing my hands and wrists. The contrast between the way they dress and the brown, barren landscape is stunning.

But there I go taking away from you again, these images of beauty and hope. I must stop now to reflect and stop grabbing—a model the French, the Chinese and the Americans should follow also as they excavate your uranium and strip your people of what is rightfully yours.

So, farewell, Niger, my friend, I hope I see you again soon. Please don’t forget me and I won’t forget you. Please take away from me what you can.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

My African Nights

Barely able to see my fingers, I flipped through the photos on my computer. I shared my memories here with people who might never get to see them again. These were memories of them and me, together, sharing our nights.

Nights here in Africa are what I wait for all day long. I love being outside at night, when the sand seems a little less deep and my eyes adjust to the silhouettes around me. I love when the sun goes down, especially the way it fell over Akoubounou, where a million stars rested above us. I’ll miss life outside, the intensity of nature, how your life depends on what nature decides to do each day. I’ll miss that, for sure, because I can – because I am not actually subject to when the rain falls, and when it doesn’t. Today, nature decided to offer us, here in Niger, a trifle of wind, to slow the sweat, to better bare what 110 feels like. I hope it makes the same decision tomorrow.

Tonight, I became closer friends with Tisi, the sister of Achmadou. She is 23. She gets me. I think I get her too. She is, by Tuareg, standards a feminist. She believes in education before marriage. You’ll find when you travel that even on the other side of the world there are people who get you and people who don’t, irrespective of your culture. Perhaps you’ve already discovered this, in Africa, Asia, somewhere else along the way. Tisi is a secretary here. She wants to know how to use email, to open an account. I hope I can find the time before I leave to help her do this, I hope, so I don’t have to leave her completely behind, like the rest. Tisi and I exchanged necklaces, exchanged a small part of our lives. I am not sure Tisi completely understood the pictures she saw of Heather and I, but that may be for another time. There are some cultural barriers that will remain difficult to break.

I was already nostalgic, sitting there in Miriama’s tent, the place Fati is bound to for another 30 days with her newborn, showing Tisi and the family my photos. I showed the crowd the photos of our trip to Akoubounou. They laughed, they smiled, they asked questions, enjoying the cinematography. I occasionally glanced to the back of the tent to make sure Fati could see from her place in the rear. She glanced outward from her pink headscarf. She was there, still.

And she will be there, still, March 30, when my plane pulls into Dulles, maybe even on the 4th of July when I hear the sound of firecrackers all over Washington, D.C., because as of tonight, Fati has no other place to go. Her husband just divorced her, like that. He didn’t need a reason, a lawyer, papers, Fati’s signature. He is leaving her, now that she just gave birth to Aichitou. He did the same to his former wife when she had her last baby. This makes me angry. I clench my fists. God damn these cultural norms! At 20, Fati has been twice divorced, the lovely Fati who looked so tired tonight, tired with worry that this husband will steal away her child again, just like the last. Ariane considers kidnapping Fati, taking her to France, if she only had the means. Anyone would consider this once they had met Fati Matou.

I will remember my days and nights with Fati, in our house with Fassely, how she taught me to pat his back, in a certain way, to get him to sleep: the Nigerien way. At home, I will think of the numerous children - Aminatta, Moussa, Zacharea, Aichitou - at the homestead of Fati Matou. I will hope that Fati can possibly find peace, alone, or maybe love, even the infatuation, that she so deserves. Maybe this divorce is a blessing in disguise. Maybe one African night, the love of her life, someone more like Fati than not, will welcome her and Aichtou. When I return to Niger, perhaps I can spend my nights at Fati’s new homestead, a part of her new life. If I did pray, all these dreams would certainly be in my prayers for Fati Matou.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In the Company of Others

I just left the house to say my goodbyes to Elhadji, the owner of my local boutique. I promised I would. I’m trying not to break promises on my last days here in Africa. I thought I would be gone 30 minutes, maybe 45. Naivety, still, exists, for me. Visits, here, always take longer. Life does too. As I waited patiently for Elhadji who had gone to the Internet Café to check his email, I chatted with his younger cousin. He told me, at 28, he is ready to take his wife, an 18 year old Tuareg woman, but, unlike many other Tuaregs yearns for a small family with two kids. A relative of his in Agadez has four wives, 45 children. This is too much for me, he said. Me too, I agreed.

While I waited, he made me a leather piece on which to put a new piece of jewelry I bought myself at another boutique in Chateau 1. I offered to pay, but he wouldn’t accept. Before going over there to have it done, I thought, maybe, my friend would be angry I bought this piece from another jeweler, instead of him. Naivety again. They are family, of course. The owner of boutique is his cousin. But still, even if he wasn’t, I don’t think there would be animosity between them. Niger is a place of brothers and sisters. Even if you aren’t family, you are, I realized as I watched Djerma, Hausa and Tuareg men make jewelry for Elhadji’s shop.

One elderly man was making a cross of Agadez, a typical piece worn by many locals and tourists alike, here. It would take him from morning to night to make this one piece, melding, pounding, shaping, cutting. I imagined his hands must be stronger than the muscles in his legs. I watched these silversmiths, these jewelers, as I waited another hour for Tuareg tea to be prepared. I was hot, although not unusually so. My shirt was drenched in sweat, but my skirt wasn’t. There was a slight breeze today, blowing the dust around. This made it a more bearable day than yesterday, for watching these men at their craft.

Elhadji will take some of this work to New Mexico in July. He will try to sell it for twice the price he sells it for here. This will be his second trip to the United States, although he doesn’t like to stay there long. It’s too different, he told me, too very different. Referring to a small trip to New York City, he said people work too much, earn too much money, walk too fast, run through the streets. This hustle and bustle makes him feel alone. He asked me if I felt alone here too. Sometimes, I admitted, of course I do, because we live in different worlds, planets. I promised to meet him if he is Washington, D.C. again. Perhaps we can’t recount our memories of sitting outside of his boutique. Perhaps this will make him feel less alone.

I took, finally, after two hours, the first Tuareg tea. I then had to go, to return to the house, for the little French baby here. I felt guilty for spending too much time, there, sitting, waiting. There is much to be done at home. But not to understand the time spent, the time waiting, would, again, be to not understand Niger. I measured, in my head, whether this time spent was productive, the American that I am. Although it was – I got to see a new craft, speak French, ask Elhadji more about his family – in measurable terms, that shouldn’t matter here in Africa. This is a country of company. Time spent in company is not time wasted, never wasted.

I wonder if I will take this mentality back with me. I don’t know that I will. As Americans, we like to feel productive, I think, even if we really aren’t. I sometimes do things, just to be doing something, not knowing anything but the feeling of productivity. Talking at the market, exchanging greetings, often takes too much time, in America. This is not productivity. But it is, I swear to you it is. Try it. Because when I lay down at night, I remember the people I meet along away, the hands I touch, the things I share.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Broken in, my bed feels like home now. The sheets have gone from sandpaper to something between sandpaper and silk. Cold water showers are the most refreshing thing in the world. On occasion, I’ll drink the water, everybody does. I don’t hesitate to do a little barefoot wandering around Fati’s homestead. I wash my hands a little less. I tried the salad at Elhadji’s the other night. Sometimes I can understand a full and detailed conversation in fluent French. I bring my camera with me less. I am acclimating, just in time to leave.

My phonebook is filling up with phone numbers of acquaintances and friends I have met along the way. I am beginning to understand them, just beginning, when they call me and speak French to me on the phone, in the fast and muffled way we all universally speak on the phone. I’ve begun to replace one ring with another, one bracelet with the next, to make room for the gifts that my friends here keep giving me, the generous souls that they are.

But it would take much more time to acclimate completely, if that is possible, to release myself from some degree of culture shock. Some missionaries I met in Abalak told me it takes about two years until the highest degree of culture shock ends, and a more subliminal version begins.

I still can’t get used to the hungry people. I am still culturally shocked by that every day. I shared Fassely’s cheerios with three small boys today, as I took a roundabout walk from home to Chateau 1. They devoured them, like they always do. I’ll always remember this about dry cereal, about omelets, about my rice and other things I’ve shared along the way. I fear I haven’t shared enough, because I never could.

In some ways, I wish I could stay longer, but I know I can’t. In other ways, of course, I am desperate to get home. I know I might not feel as alive there, but I’ll feel less lonely. My departure next Saturday will be a bit premature. I’ll miss what it is like to feel the first rain.

In another piece of writing I did, this is how I imagine the rain falling over Niamey:

I imagine people running into these red streets and dancing, kicking up the mud, covering themselves. I imagine people sticking out their tongues and letting the rain drops fall and trickle down their throats. I imagine shirtless children stomping in the puddles, taking a plastic cup and then drinking from them. This would certainly be the most monumental rain shower in the world. In the valleys, by the river, brown would turn to a deep green. I imagine smelling the green only for a short time and then all the impurities of the city too. The dirt under people’s fingernails, I imagine smelling that. I imagine smelling the meat from the Petit Marche, the sweat of my neighbor – the blood, sweat, toil of Africa – this I want to see.

In the Azawak, it would be even more incredible, I know, because the marshes would begin to fill and the sand would begin to produce green things, maybe even a few things people can eat. I know the Fulani would be starting to celebrate these rains, with festivals, called Gorowols, where the women choose their favorite men who are dressed and bedecked in make-up and jewels. I would love to see this, would love to line the eyes of a Fulani man with eyeliner of my own.

If I want to stomp the puddles, pick the crops, cover my feet in not just sand, but mud – I’ll have to return some July or August. I hope the rain is still falling then and the skies haven’t completely dried up over dear Niger, as they have started to. I pray for this, here, for my friends living in this country of sand.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mr. American

Last night was my first invitation to dinner solo, without the company of Ariane and her family. It came from the owner of the Tuareg jewelry boutique near to our house. He quickly learned I was American and I just as quickly bought several of his silver earrings for my friends in the States. I expressed my enthusiasm for his jewelry and his shop, which could have been a transplant from any New England boutique at home. He must have sensed my enthusiasm. Before long, I had agreed to bring a package of his goods to the States so it could be sold in Washington,D.C. Humdillila. In return, he agreed to cook for me, and another of his American friends.

When Ariane first learned about this invitation, she expressed caution. Beware of what you eat and drink, she said.

Fear pierced my heart. Might she mean rufees, here in Africa, in Niger?

No, she said, beware of the magic. If a man wants you to fall in love with him, she said, he might put magic powders in your meal. I must have smirked. No it’s true, she said, alluding to stories where she and her family members had been put under Nigerien magic spells before; one causing some temporary pain to her romantic relationship. I was still skeptical, although, deep down, increasingly aware.
Let me at least meet him first, she said.

And she did.

Haphazardly, still, I went off for a meal as a part of his American convoy.
This is where I met Steve.

Steve works for the U.S. Treasury Department here in Niamey. This is his fifth trip to Niger, although he has been all over Africa, with our government. Steve is quintessentially American. As we sat for dinner on the Tuareg mats outside of Elhadji’s place, Steve could recount every meal at every restaurant he had eaten in Niamey, meanwhile renouncing the indulgence of American appetites. Apparently the cheeseburgers at the place by the Petit Marche are to die for. A Lebanese restaurant in Chateau 1 sells hummus. Ziggys, or Iggys or something like that has the best kabobs and the coldest beer and an Olympic size swimming pool. Who knew Niger was such a foodie’s delight!

Screw the poverty, Steve is eating his way through Africa, I thought, although he has yet to try millet and milk, the choice meal of the Azawak and hadn’t yet eaten the traditional Tuareg bread Elhadji’s wife so generously served us. He still didn’t know the term piecemealla.

There could still be a lot of firsts for Steve, in Niger; for instance, Steve’s shoes. If Steve and I do, indeed, end up sharing the coldest beer in Niger, I will tell Steve he needs to try walking, in open-toed shoes, through the streets of Niamey. He needs a Nigerien footprint. And in his Nikes, his black socks he could never retain one. I am sure he has no calluses to match my own, to match Elhadji’s. I am sure black soot doesn’t line the crease marks on the soles of his feet. Elhadji offered to replace Steve’s stone washed blue jeans with some Tuareg ones, the kind that are loose at the waist and tie with a cinched string. There’s a start. Steve might also want to try, for a real cultural experience, visiting the Azawak, or just Abalak, for a start, although not on this trip. He might lose his job if he does. Despite the fact that Jeff, at the embassy, said it was safe for me to go on my journey, American government officials are restricted from traveling on the same route. The rebels in the North can never be too far off, according to Steve’s account of the restriction.

An old German fellow with a young Tuareg wife who also joined us for dinner said the same. You can never be too careful, he said, one balding one white man to another.

I know this. Don’t let your guard down in Africa, to Islam. This I have been told, hit over the head with on my own soil. But, to tell you truth, I feel safer here, felt safer in Abalak, than I ever do in Washington, D.C. Perhaps I am just naïve.
Right around the holidays, not long before I left for Niger, there was at least one mugging, sometimes armed and sometimes not, in my D.C. neighborhood. There was one shooting a week, usually within one mile of Mt. Pleasant. I don’t know the crime statistics here, but I can’t imagine there are too many guns. Knives, yes, machetes, ok, but guns, I don’t think so. Who could afford to buy them? Who would want to? I’m not sure. Sunset, here, is for prayer, not for malice.

There are, of course, the areas you probably want to avoid late at night – the areas where the nightclubs are, for instance. Perhaps those are the areas Steve was reminiscing about when he offered me a ride home. I mentioned that if it wasn’t so far, I would have liked to walk, after such a large meal, all the way home.
But it’s night, Steve said. And darkness does give us all the creeps, I suppose, especially darkness in an underdeveloped world.

I hopped into his brand new SUV, where his driver had waited for him while he devoured the meat, the bread and the fruit two hours before. Actually, I am not sure if the SUV was a 2009 model, or not, but it seemed new to me: leather seats, air conditioning. I could have set up shop in that vehicle. On the way home I mentioned to Steve that I might like to write an article about Elhadji, his business, his family who historically famous for being some of the most talented silversmiths in the world.

Well, in your article, said Steve, don’t say “Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.”

I thought about this request for a moment. Steve is right, I thought, Niger isn’t just destitution. It is a place with many rich cultures, beautiful people. Is this what Steve might be talking about? I’m not sure. But Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and not to know that would be to misunderstand Niger. If given more resources, these beautiful people would retain their own beauty but also have the chance to live longer and more fruitful lives. Why shouldn’t the world know that?

But Steve, although he is liberal in his political views just like me - a huge Obama fan - isn’t in the business of aid – so this fact just disappoints him. Steve, I am sure, has a place in his heart for Niger no greater or less than my own. He will remember the sunsets over the Niger River that he says I must see. He reminds me that Niger has one of the last remaining herds of giraffe in all of West Africa. He is impressed by the wireless Internet available at the burger joint.

Steve has his memories and I have mine.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The flowers seem to be fully in bloom. The dirt reminds me of Terra Cotta, California roof tops, Arizona, perhaps. I notice trash cans, as I never have before. Someone had raked the dirt on the next street over, to make it level, to make it less impossible to have to thrash about with each new step. This isn’t the Niamey I noticed before. But it’s all relative. Abalak was dirty and we couldn’t escape it. Even if we raked the sand and picked up our own trash, the animals would soon shit, a neighbor would just as soon litter the week’s garbage on our doorstep. So I wonder if, while we were gone in the bush, there was a neighborhood clean-up, here in Niamey, or, if, I will repeat, it’s all relative. I think it is.

I’ve found a sense of peace being back here in Niamey, with my own room, and actual floors Fassely can crawl around on. He doesn’t have to share the sand with the goats, sheep and cows. Today, I let him pick up a carrot off of the floor and eat it, because this is a controlled environment. This is modernity. I feel cosmopolitan here in Niamey. But I’m trying not to forget. I know I will.

I’ll be back in the United States in less than two weeks, and am already, mentally, checking out – while keeping a roster in my head of the most poignant memories:

The boy in the salmon colored shirt who so intuitively told me about how if he had more to eat, he could grow more, grow to the size he should be, at 16; the family running to Debbie and I with their sick, feverish child in their arms, hoping that we would be medical missionaries, not just the useless women we felt we were; the three women begging for my cheerios; the three men begging for my cheerios and then falling to the ground after one cheerio as it disappeared into the sand; the beautiful women almost of Insakan; the dirty water the beautiful women of Insakan were drinking; the dwindling rations for the school of Akoubounou; dancing in Miriama’s tent; the way Miriama’s sister Fati Matou stared at us from her own space, outside the tent; Mahmoudine’s cough; the night Mahmoudine recounted to us his experiences with evangelism under the stars and by the fire in Akoubounou; the children singing, chanting “Amman Imman,” following Debbie and I out to the bush; Debbie singing “The Circle Game” for the men of Akoubounou; singing the Dixie Chicks as the sunset over Abalak; the graves of Kijigari, where sand had fallen on men trying, always, to find water; holding the hand of Attaher’s grandmother; the guilt I felt wasting water on my clothes at Akoubounou; riding that Arabian; tasting the water, the Evian, at Tangawarshane.

I must say I don’t miss showering in an outdoor toilet. I also don’t miss sand in my food. But I miss, already, sleeping under the stars in Akoubounou. I miss driving back from the bush, walking back from the bush at sunset, and it has only been days. I miss Mahmoudine, Miriama, Tchichigadon and Jamila, and I am not even across the ocean yet. I will miss this place, when I am not here. In retrospect, struggle, hardship, beauty always feel exaggerated.

But just when I feel my memory roster is full and I start focusing on the future, the anxiety of what this experience will mean to my future, I have to add something else. Like last night, when Ariane, Denis, Fassely and I made our nightly visit to Miriama’s, Fati’s family. We went to see Fati and her newborn baby who entered the world just five days ago and will be named tomorrow during her Islamic baptism. And I met a new child there: a little boy who had a loud, cacophonous laugh.

“Ssssshhhhhh,” I said to the boy, as he bellowed.

“Il est sourd,” his sister told me.

The little boy was deaf, but brilliant. I snapped a photo of him and then he snapped one of me. He shouted every time he took a photo. He quickly learned how to operate the zoom and the review button. He directed photographs, placing his friends here and there. He ran to me, proud, to show me each photo he had taken. This is another child I won’t forget, when I am back at home.

When I am home…

I’ll run the tap in my DC shower and think of the men and women, children and animals, as in Attaher’s own village, pulling and pulling from the Earth just to get – water. I’ll throw my dirty clothes in the washing machine and be in wonder at how clean they actually are, no brown residue dripping from them when I tense every muscle in my arms to wring and wring them dry. Or maybe I won’t, because my life has been filled with water, excess. Maybe I’ll go back home and feel the same as I always did. Acclimation. I hope I don’t.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On the Road Again

The following seven posts are published in reverse chronological order (beginning with “Beyond Niamey: A Journey” and ending with this one). All the posts are from my time spent outside of Niamey and in the bush. I hope you enjoy the read.

It is my last night here in Abalak, the city of the bush. I thought I would be away from Niamey for one week, maybe 10 days, now, it has been about three weeks. Nothing has gone as planned, nothing ever will, in Africa. I am just getting settled in, just getting to know the landmarks around my home: the metal barnlike structure just across the road, the particular cow who waits patiently outside our red, rusted door to come in and devour our own cow’s food, the mosque and what look like mud-walled bungalows beside it. I can now go out at dusk, walk a mile or two into the bush and find my way back, without asking for the paved road, its relationship to this little house. I can finally pronounce and remember my friend Tchichigadon’s name – a girl who has helped me with Fassely, with life’s practicalities. But now it’s time to go, again.

We will be back on the road tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get some time alone then, or maybe I won’t. Nigeriens don’t believe in alone time, I have noticed. They want to accompany you wherever you go, want to stay in your house with you during the day, walk with you at night. Who would want to be alone, they think. In death, you are alone; in life, always in the company of others. Kids, hordes of them, follow me out to the bush each night, as I try to escape this companionship. As an only child, a fairly reticent person, I need to escape. When I am here, alone, with Fassely during the day, Yusef, then Jamila, then Miriama, then many more, come by. They play with Fassely, they greet me over and over again. The mother of the family brings me millet each morning. With the father, I act as a nurse and give him arnica for his arthritis. I am never alone, here in Africa.

I don’t know what I will take away from all this, although I do, indeed, know I am taking a lot away. I am stripping Niger of its people, carrying them with me – their generosity, their hunger, their thirst, their companionship. But what am I giving them in return? I will go back to the United States and continue to talk about them, write about them, in my communications work for Amman Imman. But will this feel trite in the face of such indignity, living without water. I think a lot of things in my life will seem trite after what I have seen here, which has made me, albeit depressed at times, feel very much alive. Driving back from the bush, walking back from the bush, I feel I owe these people my life, for rejuvenating my spirit, for waking me from slumber. At the same time, I don’t know what I can possibly give, beyond my contribution to these borehole wells, these oases in hell.

We will return to Niamey to negotiate with the contractors and find out if, indeed, we have the money to dig the borehole well in Kijigari, or if we have to fundraise for a few months and then come back to bring them the most basic human right: water. If we must delay, this will cost the families of Kijigari many of their animals, maybe some of their children too, because the dry season has arrived and will only become more insufferable until July, when the rain is due to fall. These families can wait no longer for the clean water beneath their toes.

Ariane and Denis, most importantly, have appointed a local team to help manage things and keep the project running when they are not around. This team consists of a leader to consult with the men at Tangawarshane, a driver, another man to help interview and talk to the men of all of Tangawarshane and the surrounding villages and a woman, who will spend time with the women of the Azawak to assist them with meeting their own needs. Many have a desire to further their own education, not just their children’s. Others want to be better educated about hygiene and health. Just because these women live in the bush, behind cloistered walls, this doesn’t mean they don’t have desires and aspirations of their own.