Monday, February 28, 2011

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR.........................................

Good-bye from Nassirou and Sherifa.   These Nigerien names were given to Dave and me by our host family in Niger and are now sadly dropped since we are no longer Peace Corps volunteers in that country.  Evacuation from a place included evacuation from a persona.  I miss being Sherifa. The name sounded crisp and friendly when children called to me across a dusty village pathway or as Dave and I walked through the desert to Tondobon, the Peace Corps Niger training site.  Dave had a neutral feeling about being called Nassirou, but he readily responded to the calls of “Fo fo” (hello) which were frequently heard when we were out in the village.
These names ,  Nassirou and Sherifa, were additional efforts made towards total immersion into a different culture.  Just as wearing locally made clothing,  learning the local language, eating Nigerien food, and practicing culturally acceptable manners and behaviors helped to bridge the inevitable cultural gap, identifying oneself as Nassirou and Sherifa  signified that we wanted to be a part of our village. Peace Corps (and we) believe this is the best way to gain acceptance and respect , as well as participation in meaningful  work and projects, in a new community so different from our own.
Now that Dave and I are evacuees from Niger, we no longer say “Ay ma Nassirou” or “Ay ma Sherifa” when someone asks us our name.  We are now David and Judy, immersed back into life in America. We must now fit back into the culture here. We must pay attention to our attire (no Zaras ),  speak  English(not Zarma), eat American foods (not millet and rice at every meal) and we must refrain from culturally acceptable practices which are unthinkable here. (Example: burping loudly after a meal to express satiation and appreciation.)
We will not forget Nassirou and Sherifa . We will always be Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) from Niger. The memories of our experience in Niger, though brief , will always be with us.  Instead, we’ll bid Nassirou and Sherifa a fond and poignant farewell.  As our Peace Corps training manager, Tondi, once told us, “Everyone who leaves Niger wants to return because they left a part of their heart in our country.”    We agree, and we would return to Niger in a New York second if given the opportunity. 
Good-bye Nassirou and Sherifa………for now.            HELLO ARMENIA!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

     “Get out!”   Dave and I are at the movies watching the highly acclaimed movie “The King’s Speech” when  King George VI’s speech therapist was told  to exit Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

     My mind jumps to Niger where we had been living prior to January 21 and our abrupt evacuation by the Peace Corps  due to safety and security issues. Fatta!  Sobay!  These are the words for “leave” or “get out” in the Zarma language we were learning while serving with the Peace Corps. However, now Dave and I are back in the US awaiting another Peace Corps assignment and  memories of Niger keep surfacing.

         As I sit in this US movie theater, I keep thinking of Niger and its people we left behind, and the new friends we made with Peace Corps volunteers all of whom are now scattered over the world, probably never to be seen again by Dave and me.  My mind snaps back to the movie as King George VI, brilliantly portrayed by Colin Firth, prepares to deliver the speech of his life. He is desperately trying to overcome a lifelong problem with stammering, as he addresses his countrymen during WWII.  When the king’s speech therapist assures him that the speech he will deliver is only 9 minutes long----I immediately think of Dan, the young Peace Corps volunteer who delivered a speech at our Peace Corps swearing-in ceremony only slightly over a month ago. His speech was in Zarma language and was also 9 minutes in length. Dan had no problem with delivery and had no speech therapist to prompt him as he spoke eloquently to several hundred people in the language he had learned in only 9 weeks of training.  There was Niger again, returning to haunt me with a reminder that our experience in the Peace Corps though short in time and abruptly terminated, will be influential the remainder of our lives.

Someone said “good morning, how are you?” at the grocery store yesterday. I almost said , “bani samay walla” or “in health” in Zarma language. I see children in my son’s neighborhood as they ride their bikes and play with toys received at Christmas. I think of the children in our Nigerien village happily playing all day with nothing but each other or making simple toys from jar lids and sticks. At my son’s home we fuss because the water in the shower is not hot long enough, which makes me stop and think of Niger, our bucket baths and the water only as warm as the sun could heat it during the day.

    Now it is cold all across the US with blizzards, snow storms and stranded travelers making the news. Niger will soon be entering its hot season, then the rainy season. Every place in the world experiences weather and climate challenges, but I think of Niger as I add an extra layer of clothing to keep warm in the US.

      As Dave and I re-adjust to the life we once lived in the US, we eat out, attend a stage show, and shop in well-stocked stores buying whatever we need or want. Do we feel guilty because our time in Niger exposed us to 3rd world poverty and lack of all but the basics in life, then we return here to comforts and luxury?  Of course we feel a sense of ambivalence when we think of how other people live in the world.  But----our thoughts are also of extreme appreciation and gratefulness for the life we do have, and for the opportunities available to us.  One of our strongest appreciations is for the strength and ability to serve those less fortunate, those who were dealt a different deck of cards in life, so to speak. It is through this thought  process and willingness to serve  that we await another assignment with the Peace Corps.    Kala Suru!  or   have patience as the Nigerien people say in Zarma language.       Judy and Dave