Ashley Cruz dreamed of seeing Africa. Her desire to go was so certain that she chose to study at Boston University partly because it was the only school she found that offered a program in Niger. When she got her chance this spring, in her junior year, she was ready to take on life in West Africa.
NOT THE SUITE LIFE: For American students accustomed to cushy lounges and Wi-Fi connections, Nigerien college life may come as a shock. Here in the capital, Niamey, where BU collaborates with Université Abdou Moumouni, regular features of dorm life include round-the-clock security guards, sporadic electricity, and no hot water. But Cruz really only misses one amenity: "Besides my family, I am most homesick for air conditioning!"
CRICKET CUISINE: While most of the dishes Cruz has tasted consist of rice or pasta with salad and fruit, it was an insect that took her breath away. "When I was in a village I had some of the most amazing food. I really liked eating sauteed crickets with tanka, which is hot pepper powder." But that isn't the only exotic cuisine she has munched on. She's tried goat heart and liver, which she calls "tasty."
RIGHT HAND, MAN: Cruz is left-handed, but she quickly learned to use her right hand to do just about everything. "My biggest faux pas thus far has been giving a cab driver money from my left hand. I was immediately yelled at by the driver and told to never repeat that again. I forgot that in Nigerien culture, left-handedness is looked down upon and left-handed people are seen as devious and/or sinister."
QUIET NIGHTS: With classes sometimes as small as one student to a teacher and a strict religious code limiting night-life activities, it can be tough to make friends, Cruz said. "It is difficult to meet other girls my age since most women do not go out at night to nightclubs or bars. . . . Niger is a Muslim country so drinking is not really accepted anyway, let alone for women," Cruz said. "For this reason most of the Nigeriens that BU students get to know are men."
AMID DEPRIVATION: Life in Niger means seeing some difficult sights, Cruz said, like children defecating in the street and searching for food in garbage heaps. "Although I can't say it doesn't bother me, I must admit that it's something I've gotten used to seeing." But Cruz was "surprised at how generous Nigerien people are. I was touched at how readily people are willing to help you or offer you something, especially when they usually are very poor in comparison to the average American."