Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
Mammath Mountain

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I am in Health…..kinda kinda

Okay so I was released from the clinic today and overjoyed to be released to my own devices in the greatest sandbox of all time.

The Diagnosis…Well who knows, after a week full of being donating fluids of all types then being pricked, prodded, palpated and ordered to rest my arm looks less like one of a volunteer and one more of a needle junky….and its not over yet Grrrr!!!!

Shrugging our shoulders and scratching our heads the doctor and myself just equated my sickness to the last couple tumultuous weeks out of my village.

I guess my body just said enough was enough and decided to make me stop, and man I am glad that it did, the cheeseburgers in Niamey are exquisite!

This has been a good opportunity once again to learn my limitations and how to deal with new challenges thrown my way.

But seriously three weeks ago I left my village packed for four days, since then I have traveled to the far eastern reaches of the Peace Corps got lost out in the bush, lost my friend (matt for the war) and then picked up whatever garden variety of insidious virus, bacteria, vermin, amoeba, or god knows what else kind of infection that crept into my system.

Friday the 16th I will be heading back to Maradi and then will be resting for a couple days after that maybe until thanksgiving, so till then I will be working on the planning stage of seeking funding for a field day in my village (teaching how to work with acacia trees and make food from their seeds), then build a bigger tree nursery, and then acquire enough seed and other materials to potentially plant around 6,000 trees next year after my return.

Happily I was not chosen to be a volunteer trainer this year, after this stint away from the ‘ville and my rapidly approaching future vacation back to the land of opulence and indulgence I need to spend as much time as possible there.

Okay I am tired, not cranky, but seriously very hungry so I am going to get going so until again sai anjima.

Thanks for all your phone calls, emails, and prayers while I was helpless and laid up

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A news article published about Matt

U.S. Farmers offer Solace to War Vetrans

By Claudia ParsonNEW YORK, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Matt McCue had a moment of enlightenment in Iraq while guarding the back door of a house where his fellow soldiers were hunting Saddam Hussein -- he bit into a sweet lime and discovered an interest in horticulture.

Now he's part of a movement seeking to help returning U.S. veterans find peace in civilian life by tilling the land."

You take someone who has been walking around the street looking for insurgents, who's basically trained to capture people, to kill them ... you can't put them in some ordinary job and expect them to grasp on to it," McCue said."To go from that to watching things grow, to taking care of life, has been a very important step for me," he said by telephone from Niger in West Africa, where he is a Peace Corps volunteer teaching agriculture."

It's beautiful to go to that nurture mode," he said, recalling how his curiosity was sparked by the produce in farmers' markets in Iraq. "I had no idea there was a variety of lime that tasted like that."

McCue will be in New York this weekend for a forum on the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on rural communities. Organized by a group called Farms Not Arms, the forum is part of the buildup to Sunday's Farm Aid concert, a benefit for family farmers that was first launched in 1985.

McCue, who grew up in the suburbs of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said it was hard to leave his field of millet, sesame and beans in the village of Garbey Kourou, even for a short trip. He is hoping his story may be an example to others.

William O'Hare, senior fellow at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, analyzed U.S. military casualties in a report last year and found the number of war deaths of soldiers from rural areas was disproportionately high.

"About 19 percent of the soldier-age population live in rural America but they account for 27 percent of the deaths," O'Hare told Reuters. He linked that to a scarcity of jobs in poor rural areas where people were less likely to go to college or work full-time jobs, making a military career more appealing.

POLITICS OF WAROne of the biggest names associated with Farm Aid, musician Willie Nelson, has long been an anti-war campaigner and Farms Not Arms says it opposes the war in Iraq.

But McCue and others involved in Saturday's forum said they were politically neutral and focused on how farmers can work with veterans to their mutual advantage.

"Our farmers are in trouble right now and so are our soldiers," said Nadia McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in 2004 -- one of at least 3,750 U.S. military deaths there since the March 2003 invasion.

She founded a group called Veterans Village to help soldiers returning with post traumatic stress disorder and other problems. The group plans to set up a self-sustaining organic farm in North Carolina for veterans.

"The farm is going to be a safe place for them to be," said McCaffrey. "Many of them thought they were going to go back to life and put the war behind them but it didn't quite work this way."Saturday's event will mark the launch of a politically neutral group called the Farmer-Veteran Coalition to provide farm jobs, training and land for veterans, organizers said.

Steve Ledwell, a U.S. Navy veteran and recovering alcoholic and drug addict, runs a shelter in New Hampshire called the Veterans Victory Farm which houses up to 19 veterans."Getting back to the basics of farm life is very therapeutic," Ledwell said. A similar facility for as many as 200 veterans is planned for Long Island, New York.

When McCue looks back on his time in Iraq, he likes to recall farmers passing through checkpoints to take their crops of watermelons or pomegranates to markets that continued to function despite the violence and chaos.

"I realized there was a power in that," he said. "There are more soldiers in the United States than farmers at this point. Five years down the line maybe it won't be rare for vets to take this path."


Friday, November 9, 2007

Something I had to write for the Peace Corps....

“The lessons of Rainy Season”
By Joshua Anderson

I come from a small farming community in northern Missouri, and if there is one thing I thought I knew about farmers, it is was that they are all reluctant to change and generally loathe when someone tells them how to change. So when I moved into my village and decided to do just that, I came with low expectations and wanted to spend the first year just learning, not be preachy, but just work and see what comes of it.

Niger has a notoriously harsh climate, and except for a few short months of the year the heat and unforgiving nature of the Sahel, is washed away by intermittent powerful storms. The entire population depends on this season and welcomes the transition. Gleefully, as an outsider, I was not used to the climate and it was a welcome break from the over 120 degree heat.

Working in my field was like stepping back into the days when I was young kid with too much confidence and trying to impress my friends by brazenly sneaking onto the demonic roller coaster. All it proved was that despite being a little noxious and just a little worse for wear the ride wasn’t that bad, but the end was none the less greeted quite excitedly.

After the rains began I lived in my field everyday was spent fascinated watching my efforts guide a barren sandy landscape into a lush green field of imagination and sustenance for all to enjoy.

As the rains continued and my field developed, multiple villages started gossiping about my field and soon I had regulars coming to inspect and critique my work. Though there were some who only came to shoot down my ideas, most did come to learn, and they saw my vision and it sparked their imaginations. One of those in particular was my friend Hassan. He came to my field daily and we would spend countless time discussing each facet of my field. Eventually I decided to gauge his interest and go ahead and drop the question….

“Everyday you’re here asking question about how my field works, next year do you want to have a field like this?”…….”Yes I would, can we work together?” YES!!!! “Truly” MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!!

The sensation of the first rain is like being removed from the dangers and stresses of the Sahelien climate, its being reminded by nature that despite its unforgiving reputation, it too has its moments of tenderness and understanding.

That day when Hassan affirmed my work and decided to implement this concept into his field it was like the first rain; all the soreness, the blisters, the heat, and uncertainties were replaced by that same sensation of the first rain. The first had come, the rest afterwards were nice, but never as memorable.

At the end of harvest season I had a meeting with some of my local farmers to talk about my work and when asked what they felt about my field, they replied unanimously that they too wanted to implement my field model. It was better than remembering the first rain, at this moment I stopped only remembering the first rain and appreciated the entire rainy season. It’s great to see your friends follow your example and decide to ride the roller coaster and learn themselves.

damn its still hot!!

Na Yawo cikin daji (I wandered in the bush)

The date is November 6…..

How the hell did that happen?

What happened to September, October?

It seems like mere days ago when my friends and I played at the 45th anniversary celebration for Peace Corps Niger. But here I am on this day scratching my head, wondering how can time pass this quickly. Well I can’t answer for the whole 10 months but I give a story about something that happened after my cross country trip

A strange trip…..
Approximately two weeks ago I came to Maradi to meet a pair of my boss’s for site development which means to help evaluate a village near by for placement of a new volunteer. My goal was to work on some projects, help with site development, and then travel with the “higher ups” to the furthest reaches of Peace Corps Niger, The Zinder Region.

But as we all know, a true journey never goes according to plan.

The Zinder Zone…
Zinder is the furthest east that Peace Corps works in Niger, this is also one of the most scenic due to the incredible mini-mountains and random boulder piles. Zinder is the barren remnant of what was once an ocean thousands of years ago. Traversing through the region my thoughts ran wild as my imagination recreated what was there so long ago.

As beautiful as this region is, lord am I happy not to live there. Zinder makes my sand box of a region look like the garden of Eden. In Zinder the soil is even more nutrient deprived, the rains less frequent, naturally the temperatures are blistering.

My goal traveling to Zinder was to retrieve an abandoned mandolin (mission accomplished), visit my friends village, and discuss some agriculture topics with other volunteers interested in adapting some of my ideas for next years growing season.

Exploring mars…
Traveling east on the national highway past the city Zinder I was going to visit my dear friends Emily and Henry (Hemily)and experienced possibly the most bone jarring ride yet since being in Niger. Good thing we left too early to eat or drink anything, if I had, it would have been liberated within the car or worse yet on one of my boss’s.

Upon arriving in their village, the car stopped on the road and one of boss’s said, “Okay here’s the village get out and find your way, we are going to keep going and visit some sites. See you when we get back.”

How hard could it be to find the only white peoples house in a village of about 3,000?
Finding Hemily’s house wasn’t too difficult oops sorry, Hemily is what I call them since they’re married, they have a pretty remarkable village, geographically speaking. Hemily’s village is located smack dab in the middle of some of the most very infertile locations yet seen in Niger, yet their village is an oasis. Seriously an Oasis!!! I have always wanted to see one!!!! Seriously people life checklist kind of stuff!!!

Located beneath the village an underground river flows and supports an agricultural microclimate well suited for gardens, and a range of non typical crops not grown in the region, such as sugar cane. Passing through the transition from oasis back into the Sahel is a process that one only needs to take a few steps away from the green and lush to be reunited with the Sahelien brown.

Passing through this microclimate taught me how uncharacteristically forgiving the Sahel can be with its gifts but reminded sharply within less than a hundred meters why the sahel has such a harsh reputation.

So shortly after being shoved out of the car and left to fend for my own in an unknown place I reached my friends house, and then asked a woman where Henry was, (Emily was in Zinder). Our Discussion:

Ina Muhammedu? (Where’s Henry) Muhammedu is his Hausa name.
“Ya a Gonashi” (He’s at his field)
how far is his field?
“Nesa!” (Far!!!).
Tomodalla Ka iya gwada mini gonashi?
Good enough for me, can you show me?

As luck would have it she just happened to be going that way, so with my mandolin strapped to my back, half a liter of water, and two pieces of homemade beef jerky I embarked to see my friends field. How exciting.

Kilometers later, the Mountains that were once in the distance were now nearly casting shadows on my path, and as I arrived at my friend’s field my phone which hadn’t had service in nearly two days went off.

It was my friend Henry asking where I was. He was working in his garden that day and waiting for me. Back at the oasis. GARRRR!!!!
He felt terrible.

“What, You have a Garden!?!? Gee Whizz!!! I don’t even know what those look like anymore. No worries, its an adventure, this place is amazing, see you soon”

So turning my bad luck into a good adventure it was worth it to walk out and seize the opperutnity to explore and observe people’s fields and discuss agriculture with them. It was an incredible chance to factor in new environments and imagine how my mode of farming would mold to such a contrasting environment than my own location.

I know from reading my blog you all might misconstrue the notion that I am indestructible and 10 feet tall, but really I have weaknesses. Heat is my kryptonite.

Under the surface I was slightly worried to be so far out, having no idea of my location, alone, and to top it off being way out in the bush during the middle of the day with no water, Not to bright.

If you would read my medical history, it speaks of having survived some pretty nasty heat injuries, the worst being heat stroke a couple of times.

I was concerned yes, but not worried.

I can handle this. It’s a Journey.

Fortuitously a neighboring farmer approached and said Henry didn’t come out to his field today because he was waiting for me.
Bastard!!!! It would have been very helpful 10km back to know this!!!)
(actually said this in English along with a couple other colorful explicatives)

But it so happened that his wife was sick with a bad headache so he was returning to the village to get here some aspirin. (20km round trip) and he would be happy to show me back to the village.

At this time I had been in Henry’s field less than 5 minutes, realizing that I had no water I asked him if he could spare some water, and he produced a 25 liter jug that his wife had just carried to their field on her head. (maybe that’s why she had a head ache)???

Water never tasted so good, all I had to do was imagine something else instead of thinking about the brown sewer water being drank.

Mmm, delicious.

In these situations its recommended you drink what ever you can, and take the meds later. I had a sip, it was really bad, I lied, Henry was on the move, he was going to meet me half way.

Within 5 minutes of walking back I asked my sprite of a guide to stop, the first warning sign of dehydration had set in, I went behind a bush, runny poo!! Bad timing…

Only 10 km to go, its midday, my watch calculates temperature and it said “cracka you crazy!!” It was over 115 F out in the open sun.

We trudged on, I regulated my breathing and pace count, focused my mind to numb out the pain and we speed walked the first 5-7km or so. After this initial push I took a quick breather to keep my confidence steady, we continued, and then the bottom fell out. All at once breathing became erratic, I then realized that my body stopped perspiring k’s back, and my behind was seriously dragging. I tried to keep on, but about every ¼ to ½ kilometer I need to rest for a couple of minutes and then every 10 minutes, 5,….then I collapsed under the shade of a Gao tree.

The Gao tree has some merciless hooks for thorns so when I crashed under the tree I landed in a pile of these suckers, but the pain went unnoticed, my body was numb, limp as a boned fish. I was helpless.

My concern was on the brink of panic.

Despite the blurry vision, and a serious heat injury settling in, the last remains of my energy were devoted to my salvation. No not praying, but with the coordination of a punch drunk fighter my fingers jumbled a message that stated.
In trouble, send help ,have water!! Hurry

As my thumb searched for the send button I lifted my head from the sand and what can only be described as seeing a mirage, my friend Henry an angular six foot three man with a round straw cap, and Olympic marathon aspirations walked over the dune, he was not carrying water. Bastard.

For about 45 minutes we discussed Hemily’s experiences and sat patiently catching up as my strength recovered. Eventually I was well enough to move on, only a couple of Km’s to go, ashamed I had to ask Henry to do something I never asked anyone to do before. He had to carry my mandolin the rest of the way.

In all my years of hiking, road marching in the army, and other outdoor adventures I have never had to ask anyone to carry my gear.

But I like living, so I guess its an even trade off.

So Henry carried my mandolin, and I hobbled back on what ever reserves of strength that could be mustered. My strength came from the joy of knowing that I narrowly escaped a very grave situation, yes I would live to hike another day.

My panic waned, this is adventure.

A couple hours later as we rested, rehydrated, ate some lunch and caught up on more things, generally feeling much better, Henry’s phone buzzed with a text message, it was my message.

In trouble, send help ,have water!! Hurry

Damn we had a good laugh.

Welcome to Zinder, it felt like the farthest I have ever traveled on this incredible planet.

On the rocks

okay so for the last two weeks i have been all over this country, I have gone from Maradi to Zinder, then from Zinder all the way across country to Niamey to see matt off, and then returned to Maradi....and then guess what else?

While waiting for my monthly shuttle and resting from my cross country trip laziness struck and i laid around on a mattress for the last week wimpering feebly for someone to hold me. Why?

Well I what i thought was laziness actually was a pretty gruesome case of kidney stones, YOUCH!!!!!

So then i called the med bureau and told them my symptoms and specific difficulties, and they said get on the bus and come to Niamey. NOOOOOOO, I CAN NOT TRAVEL!!!

I tried every excuse in the book, the last thing i wanted was to hop on the bus for another 15 hours with the pain i was in, all i want to do is return to my village. So after cursing the doctor and then received the threat of being admin seperated if i wasn't on the bus the next day, here I am, alone in Niamey wearing borrowed clothes.

It was kind of funny, i saw the doctors today and apparently the news of my fight with the doc' not to leave spread quickly, apparently i left them with the impression that if i came in then I would be slinging rocks and dropping F bombs. I really wanted to, but......if you know me i can spit a little venom and make it burn. But damn it, its done with a freindly smile.

But......Ultimately they were right. I was trying to get back to post with kidney stones.

What the hell was I thinking?

I just miss my village. Its my home.

The day before coming to Niamey (again) I returned to my village to tell my villagers that I would be returning but that i was in poor health and needed to go to niamey. They were sad, but when i gave them some rabbits to care for they were pretty excited. Its a project i am starting in my village and it has the potential to make alot of money. They were really excited to have thier resident white guy back, even for a short stint, but to have the highly anticpated rabbits that they were promised finally come. Wow!!

I miss my village, its my home.

When i left my village two weeks ago I was expecting to be back after three or four days, instead i have been constantly on the road for the last two weeks. What a wild ride its been traveling cross country, nearly suffering a heat stroke while lost in the bush, and then having my best friend get pulled out of Niger to fight again in iraq, and now kidney stones. What else can this place throw at me?

What ever it is, its never enough.