The e-mail was brief and sad. It was succinct though softened with an apology by the sender who expressed dismay at being the bearer of bad news. It was the unsettling announcement of a beloved Niger staff member’s death which came that day. After a couple of months back in the US and after beginning to put the Niger experience in perspective, it was certainly a shock to learn that Seini, the tall Nigerien Program Assistant in the Dosso region of Niger, had died. In compliance with his religion, Islam, his funeral was the next day. How sad it was to know that very few of those who knew him would be there to pay their respects.
Seini, also a dedicated driver in the region, had worked for Peace Corps Niger for twenty years and now we were being informed of his death. No reason for this sudden passing was known. All we knew was that Seini did anything he could to help us volunteers. He did a magnificent job and showed compassion and heart without fail.
I recall during our 2 week language immersion experience when David and I were living in a village in the Dosso region, Seini stopped by to see us if he was traveling to another village nearby. He particularly liked David, and I think he admired him as an older volunteer. Outside our millet stalk shade hangar, we could see Seini’s white Peace Corps vehicle stop and the tall, slender, muscular Nigerien man step out. His smile was infectious and his handshake firm. He brought us French bread some days which was a treat, since there were no markets close to our village. Many of those mornings in the village of Bangou Banda, all we ate was that French bread and tea or coffee. One day he brought us a dozen eggs, one of the few items of protein we had during that 2 weeks. We learned from Seini and Djibo, our language trainer, that we could keep eggs unrefrigerated for several days before they’d spoil. We had eggs for supper and eggs for breakfast, David, Djibo and I, until all twelve were gone. Seini was the person who brought those eggs to us, and we did not even have to ask him to do so.
I’m certain the full time volunteers in the Dosso region have many more stories of praise for Seini than could ever be recounted in a blog. We are just fortunate to have known him briefly. We also know that Seini had arranged to find some type of toilet seat for another older couple who were working on their traditional pit toilet, trying to make it more user friendly. Seini always went the extra mile to help a Peace Corps volunteer.
We did not know his personal story or if there were underlying health issues, but maybe Seini died of the proverbial “broken heart” as suggested by one staff member who worked closely with him. Documented over and again in medical and other scientific literature, persons have been known to die after sudden emotional shock or loss of a dearly loved one. Maybe Seini’s death was due if not totally, partially, to a “broken heart” resulting from the loss of his life in the Peace Corps, or maybe due to the suddenness and abruptness of the evacuation from Niger of the entire Peace Corps family, and the loss of his identity which soon followed. Whatever the cause of Seini’s passing, it was tragic, and it said volumes about the impact of Peace Corps on one life which then overflowed to affect all the volunteers with whom he had worked.
Seini’s life ended as abruptly as did the Peace Corps in Niger. Seini symbolizes the briefness of life and the absolute importance of using every minute wisely. Seini was certainly a perfect example of that as he worked to make Peace Corps Niger an effective organization to benefit the Nigerien people who had asked for help. He worked even harder trying to help Peace Corps volunteers adjust to life in his country. To that end he was more than a success. May Seini rest in peace.
Irkoy ma suuji a ma a yaafa (Zarma). May God bless he who has died.
Judy and David