I never expected that I would be writing my farewell to Niger post only three months into my service, but some things are beyond my control. Everything is fine and I am perfectly safe, but I was emergency evacuated from Niger last Thursday, January 12th 2011. Although I was excited to bring in the new year with my new village adventure, Al-Qaida had different plans for me. On the day before I was to be evacuated I received a phone call from a Nigerien Peace Corps staff member who informed me that a kidnapping of two Frenchmen had occurred in Niamey, the capital of Niger. The victims were innocent aid workers who were relaxing at a local bar just blocks away from the Peace Corps hostel and bureau. These kidnappings have been an ongoing occurrence in Niger over the past few years as Malian Al-Qaida members have successfully attempted kidnappings of various Westerners in Niger.
Although Americans were not directly threatened, Peace Corps decided that the risk was too great to keep volunteers Niger. Since Westerners are very rare in Niger Americans are often mistaken for Frenchmen due to the white color of their skin. I have never been anywhere in Niger where people didn’t automatically start conversation with me in French before I would shock them with my “local” Hausa skills!
Receiving the phone call that I would have to leave my village only 10 days after arriving was a hard fact to swallow. My 10-week training session had come to a close, I had sworn-in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer and I was ready to live on my own and start my personal volunteer work and village life adventure when without warning it was all taken away from me. Soon after receiving the phone call I walked around my village and did my best to explain to my villagers in Hausa why I had to leave so soon after my arrival. It is hard to explain in English why I had to leave Niger so putting the words in Hausa was even more difficult! I felt horrible leaving the village as my presence there was a huge deal for the villagers. As I mentioned in my last blog post they haven’t had a volunteer since 1990 and I was the first white person that many of the villagers had ever seen aka to them I was a celebrity!
Even though this is a very hard situation for me I can only imagine how much worse this is affecting the innocent people of my village as well as the numerous villagers that the 98 Peace Corps Niger were serving. It just isn’t fair as Niger is probably one of the safest countries in the world and that terrorists from Mali could ruin Western work and aid for the Nigerien people. I mean what is going to happen to Niger when all the Westerners pull out of the country for fear of kidnappings? How will development progress and the necessary aid get to the Nigerien people?
Basically as you can probably imagine I have been on an emotional rollercoaster all week. After evacuating Niger all 98 PCVs were flown to Morocco for an evacuation conference. The best part about my “vacation” is that I have running water, electricity and a real bed…all things that I only dreamed of a week ago! On the down side I am absolutely freezing as I am used to the perpetual summer Nigerien weather! Luckily for me, I packed the night before leaving for Niger and without realizing that “cold season” in Niger was really 90 degrees I packed my fleece jacket as well as numerous sweatshirts and long sleeved shirts! The conference has been pretty crazy as I’ve been in constant meetings and medical action since my arrival. On top of that I just received word that I somehow managed to get parasites from the water in Niger…what a nice little souvenir from my adventure!
Aside from all the medical madness we are all trying to figure out the next step. All I know as of now is that I am not going back to Niger, which is very sad as I was really getting used to life there and I was pulled out before I could be completely settled. It is also upsetting that at the end of this week I will be separated from all the friends I made during my 3 months in Niger, both Nigeriens and fellow PC volunteers. This sad reality of everything is just starting to set in and is making my transition a difficult one.
The interesting reality of my situation is that I could literally be anywhere at this time next week! I could still be here in Morocco awaiting decisions, in a different country beginning a new service, in Spain enjoying tapas and sangria or back in America with my family and friends. I am not ready to end my service as a Peace Corps volunteer, as I am still very passionate about grassroots development so I sincerely hope that a new assignment opens up for me in the near future.
Thank you so much for all the support you have given me over the past three months. The numerous emails, blog comments and letters have really helped me through my transition to African life! My time in Niger was not easy (I will never forget the first time I had to use a latrine), but it was an amazing experience and I will greatly miss my life there and the relationships I built. Although I hate the unknown and am upset that I will not be returning to Niger I am excited for what the future holds. I promise to update my blog with my future destination as soon as I have that information. As they say in Hausa, “sai hankori” (have patience)!