Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
Mammath Mountain

Friday, September 28, 2007

Frosh No MoreFrosh No More!!!

Frosh No More!!!

Congratulations Josh/Me!

I am no longer the freshman class of PC Niger. Why not celebrate this victory?

D-Day in Niger my appearance represented my american character stylying fresh clothes, a freshly shorn hair-do and not to forget the all so important surplus of idealism.

Despite being 29 and sporting some particularly sexy wisdom whiskers (greys) compared to the volunteers already here I looked fresh, a child joining the ranks of the weathered veterans. Now after being here for my first 8 months when I see the new kids coming in I see the same look of bewilderment and helplessness that I initially portrayed. Naturally this was going to be the beginning of a new life and despite being ecstatic over coming here like many I masked my insecurity by trying to remain confident. But under the surface I was a trembling, unconfident, falsely veiling my confidence but asking myself regularly…

Wow, two years, this place is crazy,

Can I do this?

There are so many things to comment on what has happened over the last eight months of living in Niger and how I have changed, this is just some random thoughts so sai hankuri…

Here I sit here in my sophomoric status listening to “The Waybacks” on my mp3 player and portable speakers while sipping out of a filthy nalgene bottle and wearing black pajama pants for the 3rd straight day while appreciating the subtle delights in life. At this moment it’s the succulence of enjoying the exquisite dee---licousness out of a Werthers Original, “truly the greatest of caramel candies’ I giggle because now I realize at this moment that I have adapted to my surroundings, my once vibrant colored clothing is worn, and sunbleached. I am have joined the ranks of the venerated vets I once awed, maybe I am one of them in the new volunteer eyes, who knows. All I know is that I’m on my way to becoming an upperclassman, they don’t know I am a sophomore. Similar to upper classmen at home wearing a letter jacket, the status symbol of a PCV is used clothing, unkempt hair and defined tan lines from sandals.

The 6th of September marked my 5th month in my village and as I marveled at the flash in which this lapse of time has occurred I can’t help but think, Holy shit, What the hell just happened?

It seems like only yesterday that in the absence of a television the most enjoyable pastime was to watch the sweat drip of my elbows or fingertips during the thick of hot season. Then there was the span of time during in-service training where all of my staje mates were reconnected at our old training site and we digested our shared experiences. Then there was that proverbial light bulb that flashed and said to me “Sahelien ECO-FARMING!!”, now I have a purpose here. Currently I am in the tail end of my first major undertaking with my field marking the months of brutal but gratifying days spent laboriously in my field and as my physical appearance rapidly changes due to the envirmental and working labors of farming manually my thoughts wander over the span of my short existence and it seems in a short time every inch and phase of my life has been reviewed and evaluated. After all the soul searching and coming to an understanding my desires something naturally occurred without knowing it. The greatest transformation of my life.

Eight months, wow, I’ll say it again, eight months, insignificant in the great span of time to go through such tremendous metamorphosis. This entry represents the short time of my appearance from a silly putty gringo body and tethered mind into a hardened vetran physically changed from the labors of traditional agricultural methods and developing the ability to sharpen my mind and develop the individual always under the surface but never confident enough to emerge.

At first everything was put to the test, my mind and meat as the late Kurt Vonnegut would say about the human body they initially resented the change but as life here transpired my routine in life molded, the mind and meat came to a consensus and submitted to the rigors of change. Here we say that everything is in “life concentrate” so when something happens, despite the slow pace of life here, all change is much more intense so before I knew even acknowledged it my skills were being honed, the wasteful portions my physic thinned, tanned, and toned and my mind followed suit. Through even harder dedication my fingers have started to effortlessly caress the neck of my trusty mandolin and almost daily the hours spent learning to bear my soul artistically through my hands becomes more apparent. What was once was the lost and sought after eventually emerged after all the years of frustration prior to coming here and what has resurfaced is a lovely beast, finally the best of me was found and you know who else showed back up?

My confidence….

I won’t lie there were some extremely rocky times that tested my determination of whether I wanted to continue my service or not. The internal voice kept saying screw it, who needs this abuse? 135 Fahrenheit? ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! But the Meat (my body), just couldn’t commit to quitting. Unfortunately some good friends have decided this existence wasn’t what they wanted, and they moved on from here to find elsewhere what ever they search for. There is no hostility or stigma put on those who decide to discontinue service here, noone seeks to discredit them. Niger isn’t for everyone and there is no shame in admitting that, especially if your heart isn’t in it.

But what of the hearts that are in it? The ones who pump their blood freely through the body of Niger, there is no shortage of lost souls here searching what they desire most from life. We persevere, enjoy the good and bad, and as all things Darwinian we evolve. Ultimately we thrive in our own way and each volunteer’s service resembles something different as truly a representation of our uniqueness and diversity.

A few nights ago during a very therapeutic session on my mandolin allowing my fingers to vent the normal combination of frustrations and exuberance pardon the pun but something struck a chord, with a simple poem, evolving into a song I was able to sum up my last ten years on the global path and a crucial decision was made.

Brace yourself,

I am coming home.

Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! Happy New Year I am going to freeze my arse off.

For vacation anyways….no way I am giving up on this place now.

Reggae Man Get Up!!!!

Raggae Roots

It is a proven fact that everyone in the world loves bob Marley.

It can also be proven that a steady diet of bob Marley is indeed good for the health and can overall improve the respect one has for fellow man and our connection to the planet and the spirits.

Lastly it can be proven now that a white kid from northern Missouri with a year of bluegrass mandolin experience can meet up with a group of West African Rastafarians one day and then record reggae music with them in a studio the next. Not to mention make some of it sound pretty damn good.

Prior to coming here I started playing mandolin; not knowing that I had any particular talent for making music my enthusiasm usually was enough to carry me through all the hump days. Though I have had only maybe 2 real lessons a lot of hours have been dedicated to learning how to speak through my fingers and so far playing music has taken on some pretty amazing adventures.

It has taken me 9 months to get the opportunity just to play with Nigeriens, and then when it happened ka-blam! I hit the mother load. National TV, Famous musicians, Reggae, traditional music, and all kinds of other things came together as well on this trip to Niamey.

When I decided to join the Peace Corps I never thought for a minute that learning how to play the mandolin would be one of the hallmarks of my service. It was something I took up to pass the day and learn something new. I never thought that I would be mixing it up in West Africa with local musicians some famous, some up and coming, and some just old school Rastafarian. Despite our playing style, skill level, or instrument I have learned over the course of the last week that as long as one learns how to put the pulse of their soul into a rhythm then anyone with the same passion can play with them.

You know music really is a wonderful medium we use to connect to each other. Back in the states I started playing bluegrass mandolin because a friend of mine from Beijing China decided a long time ago to move to the United States and learn how to play bluegrass. And you know what?….he pulled it off. His passion inspired me to pick up an instrument for myself, then I met another who used to play with Bill Monroe and all the other greats and he showed me some of his tricks, then here I am today in the capital of Niger listening to my Mp3 player and grooving to the rhythm of my reggae recording from yesterday’s jam session. Currently a mandolin, a fistful of harmonicas and one blazing desire to play music is all I need in the world to keep thinking, yeah man, it’s a good life.

Have I mentioned that this weekend was also the 10th anniversary marking my High School Graduation? I know we all want to attend our reunions and say hey look at me blah, blah, blah, so for the last month I have been racking my brain trying to put into a letter what I could say about the last 10 years of my life. The Army, traveling, the amazing array experiences acquired from living, working, and loving wastefully. Man its tough.

Today I would just simply write, sorry can’t attend I am kicking it like a ninja playing reggae in Africa. YE-AH BAA-WOY!!!!

Afterwards the boys and I sat on a bench listened to our recording, made videos, pictures and shared all kinds of things while focusing on creating something instead of setting our minds on tearing down.

Its just a beautiful way to live.

I would assume that when the great ones came to us with incredible messages and deliver their insights they have to think man is this always falling on deaf ears? Is anyone going to actually understand what I am saying? Are the ones who are left behind going to actually understand the message before the mass production of T-Shirts and God-o-plexes start cropping up? Days like yesterday make me think that when folks like Jesus or Bob Marley look down from the heavens and look at what some of us are doing they say. Yeah, alright! Some of them got the point.

As of this week I have been nationally broadcast on television playing music with some of Niger’s finest traditional musicians and yesterday after playing with the Rastafarians….well they just say I am now part of the gang.

And I thought impressing the ladies only with saying I worked in Africa was enough….
Man. Its hard to believe the Peace Corps only pays me $7 bones a day to do this.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I have all kinds of news

Ok I know it has been a while since my last post but please forgive me, things have been a little well, wonderful.

The good news is that I have written a lot about my past months experiences, the bad news is that yesterday my flash drive was forgotten in the PC computer lab and apparently the b.s. finder keepers mentality of many of our PCV’s has once again struck. Bastards.

But lets wait until all facts are in before making any hasty conclusions.

I don’t want to write in detail about what I have written so I’ll just provide an outline to offer as a teaser.

1st I AM COMING HOME!!! Insha allah (if god wills it) I will be coming home for the holidays. This makes me very happy, it will you too!

2nd Harvest season is rapidly approaching and my field has been a HUGE success and have earned a lot of field cred from my villagers, the Peace Corps community as well as the other organizations I am working with.

After I return to my village I am going to make a video in full detail of my field and will try to post the presentation as a link on my site. It is going to take a while to do this so sai hankuri (have patience) but in the meanwhile I will be writing a presentation describing the field in much more detail to be blogged soon!!!

3rd I forgot

4th I am trying to remember

5th I am pleading the 5th I forgot everything….

ah yeah. I have a new neighbor in the village a couple of km away from Dan Saga, and I approve. She is a pretty cool person and quite capable of managing an intelligent conversation about a multitude of things, sometimes a serious deficit found in the PCV community.

Also I am in Niamey for the next week due to the 45th anniversary of Peace Corps working in Niger. Its pretty hectic with all the goings ons and all the preperation for the importants but its always gratifying to come and see the familiar faces and most importantly play music with the bluegrass buddies.

Apparently I will be performing live infront of everyone for the Swear in and other events. I didn’t know I was going to, apparently since I have a history of volunteering it seems that apparently my name just magically appears on lists now. Go figure.

Oh well never one to shy away from playing some bad music for good people.

Lastly I came in from the bush a couple of days ago and HOLY!, there were four packages filled to the brim with all things awesome. Seriously thank you guys, it means a lot to be so well supported.

Okay I am going to wrap things up but I’ll provide more things during the next week while in Niamey.

Take care, thanks again for all your support, emails, and comments.