Sunday, July 1, 2007

Arrival in Niamey, Niger

The best part about my job is meeting some of the most amazing women in the world (seriously) who measure their success in terms of change within their societies. To get to meet some of these women on their home turf and see how things actually get accomplished well, that's not something I'll ever take for granted. It's not just the fact that these women stand up against cultural norms and take them on that impresses me (although, of course, it does). It's also their patience to make these changes - little by little, year after year - that inspires me. In the U.S., we want to see change RIGHT NOW.
I arrived in Niger this afternoon to visit Madam Salamatou Traore, President of the non-profit organization, Dimol, (more on that later) and to visit UNFPA programs. Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa is bordered by Libya, Chad, Algeria, Nigeria, Mali, Benin and Berkina Faso. The official language is French (which I don't speak, unfortunately) and the country is more than 80% Muslim. There are just under 13 million people here. The life expectancy at birth is 44 years and the fertility rate is just over 7 children per woman. The rate of HIV, however, is low at 1.2%. Niger is a constitutional republic with a President and a Prime Minister. It ranks last on the United Nations Development Fund index.
The Air France gate agent at JFK airport told me he has friends in Niamey (the capital) and that it was 54 degrees celcius on Friday. I've never gotten the hang of celcius so, against my better judgement, I asked him what that is Ferenheit. 125 degrees. "But it's a dry heat." It's the last thing I heard before I passed out. (Not really.)
On the way here, I kept reminding myself that women in Niger live with that kind of heat all the time (this is just a little south of the Sahara, after all). Since most Nigeriens live on less than $1 a day, they probably don't have the air conditioning (such as it is) that I have in my hotel room and many of them don't have nice, cool water coming out of the shower head, either.
We're so spoiled. It is not 125 degrees, by the way.
I arrived at the Niamey airport and was only expecting a driver but instead, Dr. Kinni Amoul Ghaichatou was there, too. She has been helping me with the arrangements for this trip. Actually, I booked the ticket and she has graciously done everything else. She is much younger than I expected and has only been working for UNFPA for about a year. When I asked her how she liked it, she said, "I love it." I told her I love my job, too and aren't we lucky that we can say that.
Even more amazing, Dr. Ghaichatou works on fistula for UNFPA. (That and her excellent English are how she got assigned to show me around this week.) Fistula is a hard topic and she must see real change as possible for her to love her work.
Dr. Ghaichatou is Nigerien, attended university here in Niamey and studied public health. She did her thesus on fistula. I'm looking forward to hearing more about her work but today was all about planing for the next five days.
(Please forgive spelling and grammatical mistakes - it's been a long trip.)

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