Thursday, February 3, 2011

An overdue story of an evacuation...

***  parts of this have been written at various points over the last 2 1/2 weeks... ***

And so it goes... We are currently on our way to Morocco.  No, not for vacation, but rather for a 'transition conference' no one saw coming. 
We received "the call" (as I have now dubbed it) on Wednesday, Jan 13th, mid-morning. Just around the time we were trying to decide whether or not we should make our way to the Mai gari's (mayor's) house to talk to him about the fact that no one had turned up to finish building the walls of our latrine as promised. 

I sat next to jos as he answered his phone thinking it might be his family calling or another volunteer.. Soon enough I heard him say something along the lines of 'yes, my wife, Ashley, and I are in ******.' and I realized it obviously couldn't have been anyone we knew. Then came the long silences on Jos' end of the conversation with intermittent 'what??!'(s) and looks of complete bewilderment. Not knowing what to say, Jos handed me the phone... Then I heard it, "Peace Corps Niger has decided to evacuate all volunteers ... " 

Peace Corps Niger began in 1962, just one year after the founding of Peace Corps, and had been close to celebrating a full 50 years of uninterrupted service in one of the poorest countries on Earth.  I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of irony in life I look for.  

That was a week ago, the last 7 days have passed by in an unforeseen blur beginning with our attempts to explain to our village, in Hausa, we had to leave and didn't know if or when we would be returning. How exactly do you explain (in Hausa) that you probably won’t be returning, not because you don’t want to, not because you don’t feel safe there, but because an extremist group 4 hours away, in the nation’s capitol, made some horrible decisions that we now, all, have to pay for?  Next came the mind-numbing (thankfully) task of  repacking all of our things that we had literally just started unpacking just a few days prior.  This also meant trying to find a new home for our kitten, Charlie, the 20+ trees we had just planted in a small plastic bags, and the slew of random things we had just purchased from the market to make our house a home.  Thankfully, one of the villagers we had given several household items to saw both Charlie and the planted trees and without hesitation said, “I will take care of them for you until you return”. 

The next morning, Seyni, the Program Assistant/Driver for Dosso region and go-to guy for getting things done, arrived at our house around 7:30 having begun his day at 5:00am.  Within minutes of his arrival, after prayers of safe travels and return from some of the villagers, we were on the road and headed to the next village.  Seyni has worked for Peace Corps Niger for 25 years…  

Soon enough all of Team Dosso found themselves in Niamey closing out our bank accounts and exchanging our CFA for $. How surreal...  We spent the rest of the evening at the Niamey hostel getting ready for our departure to Morocco.  The hostel looked like a tornado had ripped apart bags and left the belongings in its wake.  There were bags, suitcases, tables full of food, piles of unwanted clothes everywhere… and approximately 40 volunteers looking slightly bewildered, but willing to make the best of any situation – possibly because that’s all we could do.  We spent the evening cooking, laughing, packing, and repacking before our 4am departure to the airport.

Morocco - what bitter-sweetness... To be able to visit a place so beautiful and culturally rewarding, but to have so many unknowns looming overhead and to have left our hearts in Africa, in the many villages of Niger. What do we do with that?

It is now a couple of weeks after the evacuation, and Jos and I have found ourselves back in the mountains of Colorado wondering if the last 4 months really happened.  They must have - we have incredible, vivid memories of amazingly welcoming people, of highs and lows that could only have come as a result of pouring ourselves into an entirely different culture.  A culture that captured our hearts and had us looking forward to the next two years of life in service to its people.
Now, we wait, we wait again to find out what’s next - where and when?  Some of the 98 volunteers evacuated out of Niger were able to get “direct transfers” into other countries, some were given an “expedited return to service” in which they were able to find out both where and when (within the next 2 months) they would return to service, and some were given the option to re-enroll.  Jos and I fell into the latter category, being a couple makes it twice as difficult to be placed somewhere…  we mailed in our re-enrollment packets the day after returning from Morocco and now all we can do is have patience and wait for the phone to ring.

Thank you Peace Corps Niger for an amazing 3 and a half months.  Thank you for opening your hearts and homes to us and for giving us something more to live for beyond our selves.  
And thank you to the CHARM stage for making it a memorable PST ... blessings to you all where ever you are and know that you will, all, always be in our thoughts and prayers.

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