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!