Moreover, the Peace Corps facilities here are much better than any other PC facilities Ive ever seen. The office is a modern three-story building that formerly was the local headquarters for a large Esso oil exploration effort. (They didnt find enough to be commercially exploitable.) It comfortably houses our staff of five Americans and about 30 Nigeriens and third-country nationals, and includes a medical unit with two nurses, a lab technician, and 6-bed infirmary for volunteers. Its in a large, securely walled compound, and includes a volunteer lounge, warehouse, and garage behind the main building. In fact, its bigger and nicer than any of the three African embassies in which I served, and my personal office is the biggest and best Ive ever had. My predecessor was able to get these facilities because of security concerns in the wake of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, and because they were really cheap.
There are just over 100 volunteers, who work in health/nutrition, agriculture, and environmental protection sectors. All are young, mostly in their mid-20s, and 60 percent are women. They all work in rural villages, living in mud or thatch huts constructed for them by the villagers. There is no electricity or running water, and only squat toilets (i.e., a hole in the ground). Nonetheless, their morale is high, and they love what theyre doing. (Peace Corps slogan: The hardest job youll ever love.) Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their dedication is inspiring. Their projects include demonstration crops, para-veterinary training, child nutrition education, tree planting, fruit tree grafting, fuel-efficient stoves, fish ponds, polio vaccinations, Guinea worm eradication campaigns, womens gardens, sewing co-ops, and many more. Recently, they have begun HIV/AIDS education work. (Unlike some countries in southern Africa, where the HIV/AIDS infection rate has reached 30 percent, AIDS is not yet a major problem here. The UN estimates the Niger infection rate at a little under 2 percent, but thats just a guess, and theres reason to believe it may begin to rise rapidly unless preventive measures are taken.)
The U.S. embassy here is surprisingly large, mainly because it formerly included a USAID mission of more than 100 people. USAID pulled out of Niger three years ago, however, because of a military coup and continuing instability that made serious economic development work impossible. There are about 25 Americans in the embassy now, including Marine guards. The ambassador is a career Foreign Service officer who seems to be very capable and on top of her job.
There is a small (40+ students) but excellent American school adjacent to the embassy. Kevin [note: Amb. Bullingtons son] loves it. His class (combined fifth and sixth grades) has only eight students. The school goes through the eighth grade. Kevin has spent the last two nights at the Ambassadors residence, as her son is one of his classmates. Another classmate he visited earlier is the son of the World Bank resident representative, an American who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the 70s. Kevin was apprehensive and negative about coming to Niger when we first arrived, but now hes quite happy.
Our house is a fairly spacious and comfortable but modest villa with three bedrooms and a study, and a nice covered verandah on two sides. Its in a large fenced compound with lots of mango and other fruit trees, flowers, herbs and other tropical plants. Tuy-Cam [note: Mrs. Bullington] recognized many of them as also native to Vietnam. We inherited a dog and some chickens from my predecessor. The embassy provides full-time security guards. We have a maid/cook and a gardener (both of whom are pleasant and competent), and Ive just hired a driver for the car Im in the process of buying for Tuy-Cam and other personal use. At about $100 per month each, the servants are well paid by local standards.
All in all, we are quite happy here. I love my job and am delighted to have this opportunity to work in an international context helping some of the worlds poorest people and leading a group of outstanding young Americans.
Warm regards to all.
|INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF NIGER|
Amb. Jim Bullington, who has a commentary on Viet Nam in the current issue of this journal, recently was named American Peace Corps director in Niger. Writing his first impressions of his assignment to a number of friends and colleagues in the United States (below), he brings to bear the unique as far as your editor is aware perspective of a career senior diplomat and former U. S. ambassador to Burundi and head of a large Peace Corps contingent in Africa, all rolled into one man. ~ Ed.
September 4, 2000
We arrived in Niamey as scheduled August 28 via the weekly Air France flight, and aside from some lingering jet lag we are all well. This message is to confirm our arrival and give you some first impressions of life in Niger.
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