Back to Niger: a piece of home

by Simone Winneg/SRI, 2009/07/21

After two months of a compulsory time-out, I have finally returned to Niger. It is a strange feeling - I am feeling both at home and still foreign. After I had spent almost one year in Niger, Germany felt like a strange foreign country. Although I had soon got used to my old life once more.

Hardly back to Africa, I realised how much I actually had got used to the German living conditions: suddenly I couldn't just take a glass and hold it under the tap in order to drink some water - this is taboo here.

Suddenly it's once again advisable to keep your mouth shut when having a shower, not to eat fruit and vegetables just like this, but to wash them with chlorine if possible - for a long time and thoroughly.

"Glad to be home" was the name Simone Winneg herself gave to this picture; there is nothing left to say. Photo: humedica

I am experiencing many things I already knew in a completely new way: going to the market, the diverse foreign smells, the people who keep talking to you from every side, the children at the side of the road who are trying to fend for themselves by means of begging, washing car windows and similar activities...

Every white person here is well-known, since there are only three or four international employees living in Kollo. I am one of them and the people bid me welcome very warmly - they know humedica from the hospital and they highly appreciate our presence here.

Women with colourful dresses who are able to balance up to three bowls on their heads and at the same time still manage to talk to their friends in a completely relaxed manner. And, of course, waiting: I was almost pleased about the words of the security guard at the power plant when he told me at half past eight that his boss was not yet there, although he actually should have been there since eight o'clock.

That's just what Africa is like. So I had to wait, had time to chat a little with others persons, who were also waiting, about the weather, their families, and of course about the current political situation which everyone is talking about. For several weeks now the usually very calm inhabitants of the republic have been upset about the president having dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court in order to extend his term of office for a second time. On August 4 there will be a referendum which everyone here is waiting for nervously - until this day life will just run its normal course.

And this course is a busy one! The wet season has set in and everything is turning green. For the people living here this is the time to plant millet and rice in their fields. Those three months are the only time of the year it rains... and it rains a lot!

Already in the first week, when I was at the office of the humedica hospital, the sky became dark - everything looked red and dusty, thunder was rolling, doors were slammed shut by the wind and then, suddenly, the cloudburst started: torrential rainfalls set in and the water even ran into the hospital building through the slit below the doors, although there is a roofed terrace in front of it!

Puddles are only short-lasting evidence of the masses of water which had poured down on Kollo only a short time before. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg

And of course there was the expected electricity blackout. 15 minutes later everything had passed - large puddles of water remained on the streets and caused them to be partly impassable, since they only consist of sand... which is just one more little difference to our well-developed infrastructure. People here only shake their heads in wonder, when I tell them that in Germany almost every road is tarred. It's another world.

Entering back into a project after a period of two months means: first, to be happy to be back. To be happy to meet again all the people I haven't seen for such a long time; to be happy about achievements, about progress, about the friendliness of the Africans and their exuberant welcome.

But it also means: loads and loads of work! Despite the staff replacements and the handing over of responsibilities, a lot of work has been neglected; some things have worked better than I had expected, but some things haven't. This means that there is a lot to work off, sometimes until late at night.

Suddenly everything is expected to be ready at once: the chief physician of the humedica hospital needs this, the chemist needs that, the laboratory lacks lancets, the administrator wants to "order" cleaning supplies from me. And this is when I realise just how much our presence here is still needed.

That there is still a lot of structural work to be done which will demand a lot of time and above all patience and understanding. But also that we have already developed a good basis for a lot of things which now only need to be improved further. This is a pleasant task which will be the focus of my daily work over the next five months and which will hopefully bear fruit.

Generally, I am looking forward to meeting the various challenges I will face over the next few months: our laboratory will be set up and put into operation, and doctors who have volunteered for a mission at the hospital will have to be introduced to their work. The expansion of our hospital is to be planned and last but not least we will also organise the annual distribution of "Gifts from the Heart" shortly before Christmas.

This is a wonderful project which can only be implemented thanks to your donations. We would like to ask you to continue supporting our important work here in Kollo. Thank you very much.
      humedica e. V.
      Donation reference "Emergency relief Niger"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

Kind regards and God's blessings,

Yours Simone Winneg

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