Niger is no stranger to catastrophe and this mission was no different—maybe somewhat more extreme than most. Arriving there I got news that there was an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever—no cases yet in our area, but it caused the government to react by forbidding the export of livestock (Niger’s second largest export after uranium)) and killing the nomads’ economy. They also forbade large gatherings of Nomads which killed our festival and planned guitar competition. We decided to diminish the size of the festival to a few hundred invitees for one afternoon and evening. We would still hold a guitar concert and distribute microcredit and graduate the matrones. In the last days before this event, an American aid worker and friend, Jeff Woodke, a great friend of the Tuareg, was abducted from his home in Abalak, just three hours south of us. Everyone went on high alert. We had to make our visibility minimal so we reduced our program even further to just the school, the matrones and one representative from each of the associations who were to receive microcredit. We hunkered down, surrounded by our 20 man military security team who kept tabs on all developments and decided we were safer out at Tamesna than in a town waiting for our flights out.
So although I normally report our activities as they happen, this time for security reasons I am reporting on the entire mission now that I am safely out of the country. And no one on the internet could locate me in Niger.
As often happens our merry band of volunteers dwindled from five to two. But at the last minute the new doctor, Dr. Becky Jones, asked about bringing her sister, a certified midwife. This proved to be inspired. I was happy for Dr. Becky to have a companion to travel with and someone to support her in her work—what a team they proved to be. Becky had met with Dr. Bob and was given an overall view of the program he developed. Then she brought her own methods and ideas to add to the already strong basis the matrones had under Dr. Bob’s tutelage. I approached this with a little trepidation since all our experienced personnel were gone. First Dr. Bob, which was expected and he prepared all the matrones for his not returning. Second our clinic director had left and been replaced by the new wife of our school director who is a qualified nurse. Third Dr. Bob’s assistant Achicha, who had been with us from his first trip in 2009, got married and moved to France. So it really was a new beginning.