Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Niger-shaped hole

Distance and time are strange things. Seeming to exist more in one's mind than in stark reality. We have been receiving periodic emails from Peace Corps Niger staff, updating all the volunteers about what is happening in country, and allowing us to send in our updates to be sent out to others. Yet the news is strangely absent of stories about even the 'higher up' Nigerien staff, such as Tondi, our training manager, or Souleyman, Ash's supervisor. Even more absent are the updates from our host families in Hamdallaye, or of our villagers in the rural reaches of the Sahel. I suppose its too much to hope for to hear of them again, to hear tidbits of their lives which are so meaningful. Even if we did get some morsel of news, its superficiality would never slake our hunger to hear Tondi's laugh again, or to sip the over-sweetened tea that our host dad, Isoufou would give us, or to hear Maimousa say "dommi!!??". 

Instead we're left chewing on the memories we have of them, the prayers we can offer up toward them, and the distant hope of one-day returning to see them. I'm realizing now how much Niger has left its mark on me. A mark so deep and so pervasive that I can't place my finger on it, let alone articulate it. Somehow our short experience of that vast country has altered the course of our lives. At some point between leaving Philadelphia and now, sitting at my computer back in Denver, there was a slight curve in the road of our lives; the new course imperceptible at first is now obvious as we wind our way towards the horizon of clarity. But that horizon itself, clarity itself, is perhaps a misnomer. In order for clarity to come, there has to be understanding of what would have been. And yet in life there is never a clear picture of what would have been, only an admittedly fuzzy image of what is. And so clarity will remain forever a horizon. Forever around the next curve in life. 

So here is to the people of Niger. To Zali with her beautiful laugh and the way she would say Ash's name; Mariama. I hope you are enjoying your very own chair. To Isoufou and his toothless smile and rough, calloused hands so strong and true. To Tondi, with the most life-giving laugh and the kindest heart, may you reach your goals and attain your dreams. To Isa in Fadama with his no-nonsense helping hand, hopefully Charlie isn't bothering you too much and I'm sorry we didn't come back. To Garba, thank you for always greeting us with a smile, for the ride on your ox-cart, and we're sorry we didn't recognize you after you shaved your head, hopefully we'll have a chance to recognize you again. To the women street vendors with their full-face smiles and light-hearted but helping conversations. 

Allah kiyaye. Allah shi bada lahiya. 

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