Monday, January 17, 2011

This Service Has Beed Canceled

This update is about a big change and possibly my last post. My parents’ visit went relatively well after losing two days to a state-side snow storm and they are going to write posts about their trip to Niger so that you can get their perspective. When it was time to leave with them for my vacation to America, a kerfuffle with ticketing codes almost got us all stuck in Niger. We got out alright and upon arriving home found out that the very night we left there had been an al Qaida kidnapping of two French men at a bar which many volunteers go to and which is very close to the Niamey hostel. Later the two were killed when the Niger army tried to free them. There have been kidnappings before, so I thought not a lot of it. Though on the other hand, the kidnappings happened in the capitol for the first time at a place frequented by volunteers and that made me a little uneasy.

But nothing happened for a few days and I breathed a sigh of relief that they wouldn’t evacuate Peace Corps while I was on vacation in the states, cuz you know, that’d be pretty annoying. Then on Wednesday the 12th of January, my 25th birthday, I got the news that indeed that is what they were going to do. And that although my fellow volunteers will be pushed to close their service they will have a chance to look for and apply to posts in which they could finish their service. But because I’m in the States, I’m done –they’re closing my service 8 months early. I thankfully got ahold of my volunteer friend in Niger who broke into my house for some things I didn’t want to loose and who explained what was going on to some of my village friends. For that I am seriously grateful. Hopefully Peace Corps will eventually get those things to me.

After that, I scrambled mentally to assess what this meant for me, my service and my village. Were my projects okay? My moringa tree garden project was in a pretty decently well developed. There were improvements I was going to make, and I would have felt better if the health center had done a cooking class or two completely on their own. But, we got far enough into it that they understood how to do every part of the project and were invested enough, I think, to carry on. My text book funding project was not even begun. I feel really bad that the school’s hopes were so high and now they have very little resources to get the books –practically speaking, no chance. But on the other hand, besides the principal of the middle school, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get the staff involved in the project. So I’m calling that project a wash. One of the things my dad and I did in Bande was build a bread oven. I was going to develop a cheap and nutritious recipe for bread using squash and moringa and teach it to people –a project that would be both about “income generation” and about malnutrition. There are a lot of projects I wanted to develop in my last 8 months. I was still thinking about an art club, which would have been about the only thing I would have done in my 2 years that would employ my art history degree. I had just started sewing with my friend Murza and was hoping to begin to grow that project into a group. I was going to begin English classes with the teachers at the middle school. I never made an improved (mud covered) cookstove with my neighbors and friends who were interested in learning that.

There were things I wanted to do for myself too, like illustrating a graphic novel, beefing up on my art history and studying for the GRE, re-reading Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings and reading Ulysses. Now I guess I have time for most of that, just instead of in the Peace Corps it will be while sitting un-employed at my parents’ house, figuring out the rest of my life.

And I have felt sad about not getting to say goodbye. I had only just begun to feel really comfortable in Bande and just felt like the people I hung out with really were, in some odd way, my friends. I have some of their numbers, but the language barrier was hard enough sitting right next to them; speaking across the wire and several time zones, I’m afraid my frustration will overcome my desire to keep in touch. They don’t have a postal address and I think none of them have started emailing yet. I was supposed to have 8 months to figure this out. Now what am I going to do? It is a sudden, crappy probable end to many relationships that, so short a time ago, were all I had on a daily basis.

I think also of all the things I was going to do in my last 8 months. I wanted to get out to see Kelle, a post that has an ostrich farm and some big rocks out in the countryside where monkeys live. During the fasting of Ramadan, my sub-region had planned to meet at one of our posts to sleep all day and at night when there was electricity we’d watch a marathon of West Wing. I was gonna really learn Hausa so I could test at nearly advanced at the end of my service. I was gonna teach our guard at the hostel in Zinder how to harvest moringa leaves from Stephanie’s memorial moringa garden. I had more to say to you about Niger, I just had to find those magical words that would explain it all- but that was okay, I had 8 months to do it.

There are just too many loose ends. Too many goodbyes not said. Too many instructions not given. Too many promises not kept. I had thought Niger was Un-evacuable. Peace Corps has been around 50 years this year –and has served uninterrupted in Niger for 49 of them. Al Qaida, al Smaida. I did not think my service would end with me sitting on my bum in America. This sucks.


  1. AJ, I'm so sorry this happened. My son, David Metting, was also a volunteer in Niger, and is now in Morocco, hoping to be re-assigned.

    I remember how he diligently studied Hausa every day before going. In vain? I don't think so. He was certainly able to touch lives, so I can't believe it was all for nought. AJ,your service was outstanding and you put good into the world.

    Your blog reminded me of a similar circumstance I had to endure 20 years ago. I was serving as an Air Force officer at Clark Air Base, Philippines when nearby Mount Pinatubo erupted. That volcanic eruption and a simultaneous typhoon destroyed the base and forced evacuation and closure. I had many unfinished projects at the time. Worse, I never had a closure with my staff or hundreds of people I had drawn close to. Seven or eight years later I dreamed we all gathered for a re-union. Everyone told their tale of woe but also how they quickly recovered and were just happy to be together one last time. That dream was my only closure, and rarely do I reflect on any of it, so I guess I'm over it. You just move forward, is all you can do.

    My advice to you is just give things time. These days you have blogs and emails to make reconnecting and closure possible. Twenty years ago people weren't emailing yet, at least not anything like we are today.

    You'll work it out.


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