Hello! The final post! The long road home! The end of an era! Ndunya: haykulu gonda inga lokatchi.
I will begin by saying that as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I think one of the best signs of a good and engaged service is not always having the time to update your blog. That said, I am not sure there is ever a good excuse for 14 months of silence.
I am in America now. The weather is cold. The cold is becoming rain as we find ourselves nearing spring. It has been nearly three months since I left Niger.
Leaving Niger. Leaving. Goodbyes. Loss. And then remembering everything you still have, all of the thousands of things you have gained. That is the key to this jarring and nostalgic and wonderful and terrifying process of reintegration.
I stayed in Kiota, my second village from March of 2009 through September of 2010. Most of my American friends left in the partial evacuation in November of 2009. This left me at first alone, and then realizing I lived in a village in a region in a country filled with the people who would become my friends and family over the next year, more than they already had.
I continued my English Club, finished up my penpal program, came up with an idea for a girl’s empowerment group-combo-world map-global-women’s-stories/geography project, continued my radio show, merged my radio show with my women’s group, and then concluded my service in Kiota. Though I had intended to close my service in September of 2010, I did not feel finished when the time came.
I applied and was accepted for an extension to live and work in Niamey, Niger’s capital for three more months as the Creative Writing Specialist at the American Cultural Center. I moved into a beautiful house not far from where I worked, and though I left my cat behind in Kiota, I acquired a dog in Niamey. At the ACC I created a curriculum from scratch (thanks to my NYU writing professors!) and began teaching poetry to underprivileged Nigerien students who had been picked for a scholarship to study English at the ACC. It is complicated teaching poetry to students, some of whom have never heard of poetry. Metaphors and similes were a big hit once the kids got the hang of them. Here are a couple examples from the final anthology of my students’ work in the persona poem category:
Why do you often cut me?
I’m the framework of your wonderful house,
the plank of your nice table!
I’m the bumpy wood of your gigantic bed!
The channel of your smart door!
The maroon bed on which you sleep—
please, don’t cut me!
Let me live to stop the wind and sand!
Let me live to shelter the sad animals!
Le me live to calm down the clouds
and bring the rain!
Hear my prayer!
Listen to it!
Oh man! Listen to my prayer!
Don’t cut me, let me live.
By Saratou Harouna Issaka
Why do you always sit on me?
My tires are very tired.
I cannot work.
Please, if you drive,
do it slowly.
My legs are very tired
I cannot walk
ride a bicycle or something
just not me,
I’m a very old motorcycle.
By Daouda Bado
My time in Niamey could be given such titles as: A Drawn Out Goodbye, Learning to Leave a Country, Tying Loose Ends, In Search of Sand Dunes, Frantic Market Shopping, Limbo, The Wild Restaurant Testing Adventure, Avoiding Submersion in Fresh Water, or, Attempting to Live Without Your Village.
I learned new and various lessons about sub-sahelien living in this new, more independent, sometimes lonely and sometimes bustling life. I made new friends, saw old ones when possible, visited Kiota one last time, and searched for as many unseen places as I could find and see before I left.
I sat atop the dunes outside of Niamey:
Made it to Parc W:
And looked for hippos on the river, but found none:
Twelve weeks moves quickly and soon it was time to head home. The 13 of us still in the group I came to country with in October of 2008 closed our service on December 9, 2010. My friend Ariana and I headed straight to Tunisia where we kicked off the Middle Eastern revolution before continuing on to Spain where we met Emily and Liz; and finally (through a snowy round-about-stuck-in-airports-Europe-freeze-maybe-not-get-home-for-Christmas-eventually-go-to-Rome-where-its-warmer-and-fly-out!) I got on a flight and made it to Boston right in time for Christmas Eve.
Here I am. I live in Lincoln, I spend a good deal of money re-filling my Niger phonecard, I try not to eat with my hands, or wash my hands with water from straws over the floors of nice restaurants (which are not sand as it turns out). I am in awe of books and kindles and American culture and the fact that I can’t talk about the person next to me in English without him/her understanding me. I am often cold but the snow has not yet lost its wonder for me. I am consistently relieved, heartened, inspired, in awe, and overcome by having the ocean so near by. I am frequently on the verge of tears when listening to NPR because despite our billions of shortcomings it seems there may be many people in America doing well-intentioned and interesting projects all over this country and the world. I am trying to find my place in the new home of my old life. I am looking for jobs, and learning how to use a Mac, and trying to decide which city to begin the apartment search in. I am open to advice, sage wisdom, coffee dates, letters or inspiration, letters of anything else, and would love to hear from any and all of you.
Please get in touch. Hope you all are still well, and enjoying this taste of spring day as much as I am. Much love and thank you so much for joining me and staying with me on this long adventure.
Until Next Time!
Irkoy m’iri cabe cere!
P.S. The Peace Corps Niger program has been suspended until further notice. It was evacuated in early January, 2011 due to security problems finally making their way to the capital. Most of the Volunteers are now back in America much to their surprise. I feel very lucky to have left when I did and been given the chance to say all of my goodbyes as properly as one can say goodbyes. I am sending all of my best wishes to those PCVs whose time whose was cut short and to those who were able to relocate and begin anew somewhere else. Irkoy ma no say aran kulu say. Kala suru. Kala hanfo koyne. It has been quite the ride. Barka.