I would be kidding myself if I said that this past week has been anything but difficult, as my life has totally been turned upside-down without warning. If it wasn’t hard enough to leave Niger the reality of my departure truly set in as I said goodbye to my fellow Niger PCVs. All 97 evacuees shared a love for Niger, a passion for change and a drive to make a difference in the world. We all came from different places around America to serve in Niger and do our part to make Niger, the least developed country in the world, a better place. These facts were the ones the bound us together as a group and also the facts that made it so difficult to say goodbye.
The most dreaded farewells for me were among the members of my training class. Only three months prior we stepped foot into Niger scared, but ready for the challenge of “hard core, Peace Corps”…aka PC Niger, and now just as we were getting settled it was all taken from us. We built bonds that made us a family and friendships that could withstand even the toughest day alone in our villages. As the newbies in Niger our time at the evacuation conference was not only spent saying goodbyes, but also meeting some of our fellow PCVs from older training classes. With each new person I met it was impossible not to think of the friendship we could have had or the potential memories we would have shared if our time in Niger was not cut so short. I often found myself on the brink of tears just trying to wrap my head around the reality of the situation. No matter what I did it or who I talked to it was hard for me to believe that I was not going back to Niger, a country I fell in love with in only three months.
Throughout this difficult time of endings and goodbyes I have done my best to find the silver lining, as I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. The silver lining is that I am headed to South Africa to continue my Peace Corps service! I was very fortunate for be offered a spot in South Africa and I am flying there today to meet my new Peace Corps training class. Getting a placement was bittersweet as there were only about 20 open posts, located in various African and Latin American countries, for all 97 evacuated Niger PCVs. This meant that those not offered positions headed back to America to re-apply to Peace Corps or to travel the world. With so few of us moving directly onto new countries of service it was impossible to revel in our good fortune as it meant that we would be leaving the comfort of our PC Niger family and immediately jumping into a new one.
I am more than intimidated by the fact that at the end of the day I will no longer be a Peace Corps Niger volunteer, but a Peace Corps South Africa trainee. Yes, that means I am starting the training process all over again and spending the next three months learning about a new culture and of course learning a new language. It is hard to believe that just as I was getting used to speaking Hausa and French that I will no longer need either of those languages. South Africa has 11 national languages, with English being the language of the “educated class,” like French was in Niger. I will be learning greetings in all 11 national languages my first few weeks and then choosing a primary language of focus. There is no doubt in my mind that learning another language so soon after learning Hausa will be difficult, but I am ready to put in the necessary time to be successful! One of the most important things I learned in Niger is that language is truly the key to building strong bonds with those whom I am to serve as well as the key to successful development …so here I go again!
My job description for South Africa is HIV/AIDS NGO development work, which is very different from the maternal and child healthcare work I was to do in Niger, but I am excited for this new adventure. Having a job with an NGO means that I could have a wide range of living conditions, anything from an apartment with running water and electricity to a simple mud hut with a latrine. I am fully prepared for either situation as I have spent the past three months in a mud hut and am a champion latrine user and bucket bather!! One of the most intimidating facts about being a PCV in South Africa is integration. Due to apartheid there is still a very strained relationship between races and a huge lack of trust between ethnicities. Unlike Niger where I was viewed as a “celebrity” and taken in with open-arms, South African PCVs have a notoriously hard time with integration due to this racial tension.
Being in South Africa before, as a study abroad student, I remember this harsh reality really affecting me. Seeing the huge disparity between rich and poor was very unsettling and I found myself constantly trying to come to terms with the reality of South African life. These feelings stayed with me when I returned to America and not only did they make me want to study South Africa further, but they also drove me to apply to Peace Corps. The fact that my love for South Africa and my strong desire to see change in that country made me want to apply to Peace Corps makes it seem that my new placement was somehow always meant to be. Yes, if I were given the opportunity to go back to Niger I would do so in an instant, but because that is unfeasible I have faith that my time, in South Africa, although very different, will be equally rewarding.
As a wise friend told me before I left for Niger, “just relax, don’t think, only feel.” These words have stuck with me throughout the past three months and will continue to be my motto as I begin this new chapter of my adventure!