All posts by Amy Wilson

A FABULOUS TIME WAS HAD BY ALL

(What follows is an informal article on the recent Peace Corps Niger reunion, written by a former English teacher who likes to indulge himself by writing about interesting things. And this was really interesting! Please pardon me for errors and omissions. Corrections and additions are welcome! –Gary Steele, Niger RPCV ‘66-’69) 

The Peace Crops Niger Reunion of August 2022 was fabulous! It was a long weekend of wonderful reminiscence, catching up, great times and memories of old times. (This was the sixth approximately quinquennial reunion in Santa Rosa since1991.)

Hats off to our incomparable hosts, Gayle and Bob Reid, who took so many extra measures to assure us a wonderful time, and they clearly succeeded. Was it the beautiful grounds and the gardens, or the patio and the terrace, or the oak grove and the architecture? The setting was superb, but the warmth of the hosts the real factor. 

At least three reasons helped make the event Covid safer: Most of the time was spent outdoors, and even indoors there was significant cross ventilation. Secondly, many of us are trained in medicine/public health and well aware of dangers. And even those of us not in health fields are up on current events and know the importance of Covid mitigation. Lastly, the vaccination and boosting rate in our age cohort is extremely high, even higher in a well-educated subset like us. 

Twenty-six RPCVs made it to the event, and many were accompanied by spouses and significant others for a total of thirty-nine. The weather was nearly perfect. Some evenings had just a bit of a chill. Daytime temps rose to the low 80s but not for long, and there was the very low humidity that the Sonoma is famous for. Above all, love was in the air, love for one another, for Niger, for myriad good causes, and for having some fun. 

Greetings in Kanouri, Housa, Djerma, and French were heard here and there. Stories about old Peace Corps experiences were shared. An example is the experience of sitting down to supper after a long day of heat and work, and then suddenly grabbing plates to run inside as a dust storm sprang up. There were endless tales of latrine woes. Many stories about snakes remain quite vivid. We heard some long-forgotten words like Petromax and Braduni. It is remarkable how much great progress Niger has made in areas such as vaccination rates, child survival, food production, literacy levels, and miles of paved roads. And then there are the ways where so much more needs to be done. 

We gave updates on what had happened to us over the years since Niger, of how our Peace Corps time had inspired us or intensified what we wanted to do in life. And it was remarkable how things we had once taken seriously now seem trivial, e.g., some college course no longer mattered as long as the grade was acceptable. 

There was near unanimity on the pitiful state of current events, at the local, state, national, and international level. There weren’t many happy stories to bring up. 

Now the food was so much better than in our Peace Corps days! It was wonderful, though the conversation was so great that at times we barely stopped to eat. We feasted on salads of many types, enjoyed barbecue and pastry, not to mention tres leches cake! The list goes on. And the two West African ladies who catered on Saturday fixed spinach and pumpkin seed stew, jollof rice, and roasted goat. Oh my! 

How about some credit to the good folks who coordinated with Gayle and Bob and did things to make this reunion such a great one?

A big shout out to Norma Hyatt who served as executive administrator and registrar supreme.

She was ably aided by Robert Porter as bouncer for all events, day and evening, to keep the group from becoming too rowdy and exceeding Sonoma County noise limits.  

Guy Immega developed a wonderful repeating photo loop with photos of our colleagues who have passed. 

This was complemented with a memorial table of additional pictures of all types that Cathy Sharp assembled. Cathy and Guy’s skill and sensitivity helped bring those who are no longer with us back in spirit.

Guy also took any number of pics at the event, casual shots of large groups, small groups, individuals, and then the group photo in front of the fragrant lavender planting. He has generously shared all this on the evite site for the event. And lest we forget, there will be those wonderful mini-interviews that were taped and will be forthcoming. 

Penni St. Hilaire assumed fiduciary responsibilities, doing her high-pressure fundraising undercover to keep our hosts from protesting. The total we all chipped in to give to Gayle and Bob was impressive, and they can do with it as they wish. Just a bit of that total was used to have a grand bouquet delivered to their home on Winter Creek Road a few days after the event. 

David and Ginger Ikeda demonstrated their wonderful talent for smuggling many kilos of a certain agricultural commodity from Hawaii to the US mainland, and it was enjoyed by all. To be specific, that agricultural commodity was chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. 

Less formally, Shelly and Jacob Leib were the probable winners for coming the greatest distance to the event — all the way from boiling, muggy South Florida to dry, cool Northern California. 

Buck McAdoo was at least a contender for the prize of most varied conversational topics. His topics spanned from sailing to mushroom foraging intemperate rainforests. 

Not to be left out is Odessa Reid, a four-footed new addition to the Reid family. This little pup, just six months old, already excels in manipulation skills, scouting around under tables for fallen morsels, and in getting her belly rubbed. She was the runaway favorite for the prize of most beautiful ears!

All are invited to submit nominations for other prizes, such as, perhaps, sampling the most California wines, or losing a cell phone most frequently, paying the most for rental car, or fumbling to find the right rental car back along the driveway under the oaks. Self-nomination is encouraged. 

All present served on subcommittees for table busing, bottle uncorking, dishwashing, beverage re-suppling, ice totting, etc. etc. We were a pretty good bunch in terms of pitching in on all sorts of duties. 

If this reunion was different, it may have been in greater sharing of grandchildren pics on cell phones. After all, some of us do have more grandchildren now. And then there were prolonged “organ recitals” among us. This type of “organ recital “was the kind that takes place when geezers get together and start describing their gallbladder operations, pacemaker insertions, etc. These recitals were supplemented by “joint recitals,” which had particular emphases on replacements of various joints. 

Several people where shamelessly exposing themselves, or at least their knees, to show the patterns of patella scars left after knee replacements. Continuing in the medical vein, many of us are no longer sporting glasses after having lens implants related to cataract operations. Oh, and there were numerous dental implants.

And as if to prove that we are not just a bunch of near-octogenarians, we showed ourselves thoroughly up-to-date. We flaunted our Wordl skills! Yep, and David Ikeda won another prize, sort of, by having Wordl-worthy first AND last names. And if there was a special waiver to allow cheating and adding proper nouns, then let’s add Sahel, Housa, Jerma, Dosso, and Niger! Great minds think alike. Often. Maybe. Sorta. Right? (If this paragraph evades you, go googleWordl!) 

The discussions of the films, books, and movies were terrific, and as a group, we have very refined tastes, as in “simply the best!” Thanks to these interests, an idea surfaced to send out a very simple monthly email, something like “Arts for the Astute of Peace Corps Niger.” It would consist of some mini-reviews of good TV shows, films, and books. The reviews would be submitted to the co-editors of the email in advance each month. 

And so the search is on for a couple co-editors who would want to implement this idea and come out with a pilot email maybe in September. Estimated time needed would be maybe three or four hours a month. Warning! This is not search for people with ideas on how this monthly email should be done. Rather it is for people who will just do it. (Co-editor candidates contactgarysteele9876@gmail.com.)

It was bittersweet as individuals and couples gradually started to drift away on Sunday, walking down the oak-lined driveway and waving goodbye. Many would agree that we had not had a weekend like this since before the pandemic. A fabulous time was had by all!

APPEL A CANDIDATURES DES SUBVENTIONS / CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Appel A Candidatures Des Subventions   Les Amis du Niger annoncent un appel à candidatures qui se terminera le 1er septembre 2022.  Grâce à nos généreux donateurs, nous sommes en mesure d’offrir de petites subventions pour soutenir les initiatives locales au Niger.  Les subventions seront accordées selon un processus d’examen concurrentiel, les demandes devant être présentées d’ici le 1er septembre.  S’il vous plaît partager cette annonce avec des amis et les parties intéressées.

EN BREF

Les Amis du Niger (FON) accordent de petites subventions pour soutenir des projets qui profitent directement au peuple nigérien.  Les subventions varient entre 500 $ et 5 000 $.  Le financement des subventions provient des dons des membres et des sympathisants de l’organisation des Amis du Niger.

Les demandes de financement doivent être reçues au plus tard le 1er septembre 2022

Nous vous invitons à consulter les renseignements mis à jour à notre site internet :  http://www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2022/. 

Call For Proposals Friends of Niger is announcing a Call for Applications to close September 1, 2022.  Thanks to our generous donors we are able to offer small grants to support local initiatives in Niger.  Grants will be awarded based on a competitive review process with the first cycle applications due by September 1.  Please share this announcement with friends, contacts and interested parties.

IN BRIEF

Friends of Niger (FON) awards small grants to support projects that directly benefit the people of Niger.  Grants range between $500 and $5,000.  Funding for grants comes from donations of members and supporters of the Friends of Niger organization.

Applications for funding must be received by September 1, 2022.  All eligible applications will compete for available funding, based on how well they score.

GO to:       www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2022

SEVEN GRANTS AWARDED JUNE 2022

Congratulations to the grantees and many thanks to the grant review team this round.

Vounteers: John Berry, Brianne Boylan, Andrew Danzig, Tom Dechert, JoAnn Lewis, Lois Rakov, Pam White, Scott Youngstedt; FON Board members: Mary Abrams, Kelsey Andersen, John Baird,  Kimberly Dixon, Alix Fedoruk, Alhassan Ali Mamadou Souna, Doug Steinberg

With their hard work we reviewed 26 project proposals!!

Seven projects were selected for a total of $27,870.  All thanks to the generous donations of Friends of Niger members.

Projects funded in June 2022

Job Skills for Young People in Niger. (DIMA) $5,000

Train 72 unemployed youth to do leatherwork and other marketable craft work. The program builds on an existing program and girls constitute more than half the trainees. NIAMEY

Inclusion sociale et économique des enfants vulnérable.  AfriYAN Niger 1,460,000 cfa

Work with 50 handicapped or otherwise vulnerable street kids to teach them to make marketable crafts made from used plastic items. Project culminates in a craft fair/exhibition of products. OUALLAM

Ma sœur, Mon Modèle. (MICA) 2,515,000 cfa

Employ 12 young women mentors who have participated in leadership training to work with 100 middle school girls to reduce early marriage, increase school attendance and overall life success. MADAOUA

Maison de la Parole. ONG GONI 2,500,000 cfa

Create an event space/center for oral tradition in a community known for this. Project will construct a stage and meeting space (hut/hangar) to support cultural and artistic events. LIBORE/NIAMEY

Soutien des Femmes d’Eladab.  ONG TAMAKRAST 2,680,000 cfa

Install a borehole and solar pump in a garden for the women’s co-op, which is already organized and active in drying and processing fruits and vegetables. AGADEZ

Dignite des Femmes Tagala Koye. Tagaz Espoir 231,000 cfa

Conduct a needs assessment to evaluate economic opportunities open to women sand carriers in order to develop future job skills programs to help them gain better employment. NIAMEY

Elementary School Maradi. AFN $5,000

Build a classroom to replace temporary shelters being used since classrooms were destroyed in a recent fire that took the lives of 34 children. MARADI

ANNOUNCING 2022 GRANT SCHEDULE / ANNONCE DU CALENDRIER DES SUBVENTIONS 2022

Friends of Niger is announcing a Call for Applications to close March 15, 2022.  Thanks to our generous donors we are able to offer small grants to support local initiatives in Niger.  Grants will be awarded in spring and fall based on a competitive review process with the first cycle applications due by March 15 and the second cycle due date of September 1.  Please share this announcement with friends, contacts and interested parties.

IN BRIEF

Friends of Niger (FON) awards small grants to support projects that directly benefit the people of Niger.  Grants range between $500 and $5,000.  Funding for grants comes from donations of members and supporters of the Friends of Niger organization.

Applications for funding must be received by MARCH 15, 2022 for the first cycle and September 1, 2022 for the second cycle.  All eligible applications will compete for available funding, based on how well they score.

PLEASE NOTE: Requests for emergency response are not being accepted at this time.

GO to:       www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2022

_________________

ANNONCE DU CALENDRIER DES SUBVENTIONS 2022

Les Amis du Niger annoncent un appel à candidatures qui se terminera le 15 mars 2022.  Grâce à nos généreux donateurs, nous sommes en mesure d’offrir de petites subventions pour soutenir les initiatives locales au Niger.  Les subventions seront accordées au printemps et à l’automne selon un processus d’examen concurrentiel, les demandes du premier cycle devant être présentées d’ici le 15 mars et la date d’échéance du deuxième cycle étant le 1er septembre.  S’il vous plaît partager cette annonce avec des amis et les parties intéressées.

EN BREF

Les Amis du Niger (FON) accordent de petites subventions pour soutenir des projets qui profitent directement au peuple nigérien.  Les subventions varient entre 500 $ et 5 000 $.  Le financement des subventions provient des dons des membres et des sympathisants de l’organisation des Amis du Niger.

Pour l’année 2022, les demandes de financement doivent être reçues au plus tard le 15 mars 2022 pour le premier cycle, et au plus tard le 1er septembre 2022 pour le deuxième cycle. 

Nous vous invitons à consulter les renseignements à notre site internet :  http://www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2022/.  Nous vous encourageons de communiquer cette information aux autres qui peuvent s’intéresser à soumettre une application pour un don de FON.

VEUILLEZ NOTER: Les demandes de secours d’urgence ne sont pas acceptées pour le moment.

RECENTLY FUNDED PROJECTS

Supplemental Training and outreach for millet miner biocontrol. cfa 1 454 000, Potentiel Terre

Based on initial outreach work, Potential Terre has revised their project to reintroduce bio-control (native wasps) for millet miner, a project initially funded by FON last year, to include more training and outreach.  Trainings are already underway and engage young women as well as young men.

Construction of a “semi-dure” classroom at the school in the village of Tchinwizni, Agadez region.  cfa2 676 500,   Assemblée des Formateurs et Animateurs des Associations (Association AFAA)

The school in the village of Tchinwizni serves more than forty students and 650 families.

This project will replace the temporary straw huts with reinforced adobe construction.  Benefits include safer and cleaner learning environment for students, less maintenance and upkeep required of parents, and reduced environmental impact of continually replacing straw/wood structures.

Landscape Restoration for Ecosystem Recovery.  $5,000, Amman Imman

At the request of villagers in Tatiste and Fak of the Northern Tahoua Region, a long term project is being launched to restore pasturelands, wetlands and forests.  FON funding will support critical baseline assessment work to identify existing conditions and guide development of alternatives for restoration.  The project, which has the potential to be an important model, will engage villagers, government agencies and other key partners.  The funding will leverage additional future investments and with that the potential for long term benefits.

Annual Report & request for donations

“Alheri gadon barci ne.”   Hausa proverb

A kindness is never wasted.

Dear Friends of Niger Members,

Isn’t it true that during your time in Niger you were the recipient of countless alheri? Certainly, we would stand up and attest that Nigeriens are some of the kindest people we have ever met!

You and I represent a tiny fraction of the population that knows anything at all about Niger. From having lived and worked there, we have a better understanding of what life is like in Niger and what the needs are. We care about the humanitarian toll that poverty takes on individuals, families, and communities – many of whom we know and consider dear friends.

Friends of Niger offers a way for you to continue to support effective life-changing development and humanitarian work even after your time there has ended. Your donations support vocational training for youth, solar electrification of health clinics, and biocontrol of millet-boring pests, to name a few.

The reports and pictures we receive from the Nigeriens who successfully implement these projects, and from the participants and recipients themselves, are a testament to the work that the Friends of Niger is doing to support Nigeriens and Niger.

Our mission is to promote and support sustainable development efforts in Niger, and our new FON Board of Directors is looking forward to continue fulfilling this mission in 2022! Many of our projects target women and children aiming to improve economic opportunities, nutrition, and health. Please take a few minutes to read the informative 2021 Grants Report and contact us if you would like to learn more or get more involved.

This year, one of our generous donors is planning to give $10,000 and challenges you to support this work by donating as much as is comfortable for you – no matter the amount. We are truly grateful for and count on your continuing support of Friends of Niger!

Your gift can help in so many ways.  Please write a check and mail it to PO Box 452, Haverford, PA 19041; or go to our website at www.friendsofniger.org and donate via PayPal by clicking on the “DONATE” button. Your gift to the Friends of Niger is tax-deductible and makes a real impact on families in the country we love.

Please do it today.  Please donate and touch someone in Niger. A kindness is never wasted.

Please see our 2021 Annual Grant Report HERE.

Thank you so much for your past and future support.

Sincerely,

Amy Wilson, President         John Baird, Past President
Friends of Niger, president@friendsofniger.org

October 31, 2021 Grant Deadline

October 2021 Call for Proposals

Friends of Niger is announcing a Call for Applications to close October 31, 2021.  Thanks to our generous donors we are able to offer small grants to support local initiatives in Niger.  Grants are awarded in spring and fall based on a competitive review process.

THE BASIC INFO

Friends of Niger (FON) awards small grants to support projects that directly benefit the people of Niger.  Grants range between $500 and $5,000.  Funding for grants comes from donations of members and supporters of the Friends of Niger organization.

Applications for funding must be received by OCTOBER 31, 2021.  All eligible applications will compete for available funding, based on how well they score.  The next application period is planned for spring 2022 (details to be announced).

FON gives priority to projects that:

•           Address a locally identified need

•           Are feasible and likely to be successful

•           Benefit many people.

•           Have community support and contributions

•           Have a plan to sustain the benefits into the future

•           Build local capacity and leadership 

À toute personne intéressée :

Les Amis du Niger (Friends of Niger, ou FON) est une organisation fondée par des anciens Volontaires du Corps de la Paix avec but d’initier et de promouvoir des activités portant sur le bien-être du Niger et du peuple Nigérien.  FON a élaboré un nouvel processus compétitif pour le financement de projets, et nous lançons actuellement un appel de projets.  Nous prévoyons deux cycles par an d’évaluation et d’accord de projets.  Les applications ne seront considérées que pendant ces deux périodes.

Toute application pour cet cycle actuel doit être soumise au plus tard le 31 octobre 2021.

Nous vous invitons à consulter les renseignements à notre site internet : www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2021   Nous vous encourageons de communiquer cette information aux autres qui peuvent s’intéresser à soumettre une application pour un don de FON.

GO to:       www.friendsofniger.org/grants/grants2021

 

Four Grants awarded

Friends of Niger is thrilled to announce funding for a new round of projects totaling approximately $16,250*.  Project selection was accomplished through our new, rigorous competitive process.  Many thanks to our “Friends of” group colleagues, including Nepal, Tanzania and Burkina, and the Portland OR RPCV group, who shared ideas and information about how they select and fund projects.  We cobbled together all the best ideas and we think our maiden voyage was a success.  We received 22 applications for funding from a variety of groups and a wide range of projects.  After sorting out 3 that did not meet basic eligibility criteria, a team of 12 volunteers reviewed and scored the remaining applications. Following lively debate and discussions, 4 applications were selected for funding.  Those that were not selected received feedback on what we liked about their proposals and how they might be more competitive next time.

Many thanks are also due to JoAnn Lewis and Alix Barstow Fedoruk who contributed lots of thoughtful, constructive input to the new process. And HIP HIP HOORAY for the review team members:  Mary Abrams, Ismaghil Ag Moussa, Steven Anderson, John Baird, Kimberly Dixon, Alix Barstow Fedoruk,  JoAnn Lewis, Dane Miller, Yari Rabiou, Cheryl Turner, Pamela White, and Amy Wilson.

*Please note $ amounts shown here reflect the amount requested in cfa and are approximated in dollars; actual amounts are dependent on exchange rates. 

PROJECTS ACCEPTED FOR FUNDING July 2021

Tchizamene Clinic Solar Batteries & Beds, Organisation Vie et Développement ~ $3,175

Organisation Vie et Développement demonstrated their cooperation in 2020 by implementing a FON small grant-funded emergency response project, providing medical supplies in the Agadez area.  This successful proposal will replace 12 year-old batteries for the solar array for the health clinic and purchase 10 beds and mattresses.  The clinic serves about 10,000 people in the Village of Tchizanmene, Commune of Dannat, Agadez Region.  There are two nurses, one midwife and her assistant at the clinic.  The batteries will improve capacity for refrigeration of essential medicines.

Bangiya Elementary School Desks, Bangiya Village Cooperative ~ $1,401

The Cooperative in the village of Bangiya near Zinder has been awarded funding to supply a new classroom with desks.  This project follows the successful implementation of a classroom construction project previously funded directly by individual members of FON in December 2020.  FON Board member Yari RABIOU has already delivered the funds for this project and visited the site while he was visiting in country in July 2021.  The grant will fund the purchase of 30 table-benches for the Bangiya elementary school.  (A video will be uploaded soon).

Sécurisation contre la chenille mineuse de l’épi du mil. Potentiel Terre ~ $4,855

Potentiel Terre will implement a program to breed and reintroduce an indigenous wasp that attacks millet boring insects.  The program will also provide training so that it can carry into the future with local people producing and distributing the wasps.  As many as 20,000 households hope to benefit from a reduction of crop loss in the commune of Mokko.

Vocational Training for School Dropouts, Incarcerated and Unemployed Youth. Centre de Formation des Artisans de Maradi ~ $5,000

The Centre de Formation des Artisans de Maradi is working with prison officials to provide youth training in various vocational programs.  A 13-month program will be delivered for up to 20 participants for approximately $350 each.  Training will include literacy, technical writing, basic accounting and entrepreneurship to the trainees.

In other project news –

A $10,000 grant to Kirker Foundation/Niger last year helped cover costs for ground transportation and delivery for a significant shipment of medical supplies.  As with previous shipments, the medicines and supplies were selected in close cooperation with the Ministry of Health to ensure they are used appropriately throughout Niger’s health care system, greatly expanding the capacity to meet the needs during the pandemic.  A video of the shipment being received in Zinder can be viewed at https://youtu.be/PkIlrYKbRxY

Horticultural center to open in Libore 2022

The Dov Center will train horticultural technicians to support agricultural cooperatives across Niger, increasing food and economic security for 50,000 farmers, their families and communities over 5 years. Tom & Patsy Lightbown, Niger 1965-67 invite you to join them in helping to furnish classrooms, cafeteria and dormitories.

Read more about the center DOV Center.

Announcing Grants available

PROJECTS / PROPOSITIONS DE SUBVENTIONS

The Friends of Niger is an organization founded by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to initiate and support activities related to Niger and its people.  Friends of Niger is calling for proposals for a new competitive grant making process.  We have established two grant review cycles per year.  Applications will only be considered for funding during one of these two grant periods. 

All applications to be considered for funding in the next cycle must be received by May 31, 2021.  A second review period will be announced later this year. 

Les Amis du Niger (FON) accordent de petites subventions pour soutenir des projets qui profitent directement au peuple nigérien. Les subventions peuvent varier entre 500 $ et 5,000 $. Le financement des subventions provient des dons des membres et des sympathisants de FON.

Les demandes de financement doivent être reçues avant le 31 mai 2021. Toutes les demandes admissibles vont compéter pour les fonds disponibles en fonction de leur score.

Une deuxième période de demande est prévue pour novembre 2021 (détails à annoncer). www.friendsofniger.org/grants

Tribute to Irma Poots

We note the passing of Irma Poots, who was affectionately called “Poots” by her Peace Corps cohort in the Zinder region.  She was a public health volunteer serving from 64-66 in the Niger III group. Here is a tribute and enjoyable ode to volunteer service by Linda Schulman:

Excerpts from a letter written to the daughter of Irma Poots, (Niger III 64-66 Public Health) from Linda Schulman (64-66) . . . . .

I’m writing to you with my deepest condolences for the loss of your mother, who was a light spirit who buoyed my own on many occasions.

This is what came to mind as I contemplated what her loss meant to me:

When I think of your mother, an image comes to mind and that is of her standing beneath a towering giraffe, puckering her lips as if to let the animal know that she loved him and the giraffe bent its neck down as if to say he shared her affection. This snapshot, and I am sure a photo exists somewhere, was taken shortly after our arrival in Niamey in the early 1960s. I remember thinking that your mother had special powers relating to animals or maybe that people from Iowa might possess special abilities with animals that city folk like me did not have.

As you know Irma, who we affectionately called by her last name, “Poots” and I went on to become Peace Corps roommates in Zinder, the ancient capital of the newly anointed Independent “Republique du Niger”. We were both clueless as we tried to take on the mantel of Peace Corps Volunteer in what was then a truly exotic world to each of us. We might as well have been on the Moon or Mars. But fearlessly, or I should say, undaunted, we sallied forth and tried to perform our PCV duties to the very best of our abilities.

The first thing we did in order to make ourselves part of the neighborhood, so to speak, is to invite both Nigerien neighbors and PCVs residing locally, to a gathering at our home, which featured African “Piment” stew.

I don’t remember what the other ingredients were, but the hot pepper, “piment” is difficult to get out of one’s mind, even all these decades later. I remember everyone left happy and satiated, but with smoke issuing from their nose and ears. Figurative of course, but I recall that even our African neighbors could barely tolerate the spicy heat of our culinary attempt at making new friends and influencing people. All took it in good graces and with no small amount of amusement because we had naively added whole peppers, when only the very tip of one is necessary for making a good, hearty and very spicy African stew. So we blew our first endeavor as Peace Corps volunteers, but managed to save face somehow. Luckily the people with whom we interacted daily, both in our neighborhood or “quartier”, and in at the “Dispensaire” where we dispensed powdered milk to infants and pregnant mothers, thought highly of us, just by virtue of the fact that we were PCVs.   More accurately, I would say that they regarded us with admiration for our idealistic efforts, but with no small degree of amusement.

I have many other memories to share with you, like the time we visited the “Sultan” with his colorful entourage dressed in red and green, which stood out from everyone else, who mainly wore white, I presume to mitigate what could only be described as intense African heat. This did not include women, who generally wore colorful “pagnes”, that truly brought out their grace and beauty. Your mother and I wore these on occasion to the amusement of both Nigerien men and women, who clapped their hands in pure delight.

We, of course, felt very elegant, as we attempted not to trip over our long skirts, causing the whole thing to unravel and cause great embarrassment. This never happened, I am happy to say. I do not recall if we wore African attire on this occasion, but I seem to remember that my knees were showing below my hemline, which to African sensibilities is somewhat “risque”.

There were the everyday decisions to make, like whether to paint a room purple or a more mundane color. Surprisingly, we both agreed on purple, with relatively little argument. I think we both thought it was just great, in fact. I remember that others thought we had odd tastes, but we were oblivious. We felt free to be ourselves in this foreign environment no matter what. There was the day that we were each given motor “bicyclettes” and went tearing through the maze-like passageways of Zinder, without a care in the world. There were a few raised eyebrows needless to say.

We were invited to “soirees” at the homes of expats.  The French and the Lebanese were our favorite hosts and hostesses. It was my first taste of Lebanese food, which was a melange of both French and middle-eastern fare, that was definitely a palate-pleaser. We lived a life that was both opulent and exciting within a context of severe hardship that was often hard to reconcile. It was bitter sweet, like life, and it was often a bit quixotic and frustrating. Your mother dealt with the latter with a light shrug of her shoulders and arms flung out in semi-amazement as she uttered the time-worn expression: “C’est L’Afrique!”

Weaving all of these memories together, I see your mother’s lovely face shining through and still teaching me how to be humble, light-spirited and earthy all at the same time. I am grateful to have shared these experiences with her and to have known her under these very special circumstances that I still regard as one of the big highlights of my life.

Love, Hadija (Linda)