A new phrase in my life.
Upon recollection the exact date is uncertain, however the day was the eve of moving back on top of the training site. In the next few days we were going to prepare for swear-in. In a few more days I would no longer be a measly trainee, after months of hard work the payoff would be to become a full fledged official volunteer. Yippee Skippy!!
So on this particular evening the docket was full of plans to enjoy some snacks that the Peace Corps were going to provide, eat some food, and then present my family with gifts in appreciation for their generosity and then save the best for last.
Hidden like a stowaway and snuggled safely away deep within the security of my duffle bag coming to Niger my djembe (African drum) had big plans to dymystify the myth that white men have no rhythm, it was my tool to showcase the extent of the white mans ability in Africa.
This invaluable resource was unleashed onto the Nigerien masses once before and it was a devastating success. Each experience with this drum has been a cultural highlight. It usual starts with me playing my groove style western rhythm then everyone says “oh that was nice give the drum to Chibu.” (SHeye-boo) (My neighbor) On each occasion of my drumming he comes a running and dazzles us with his mystical rhythms.
One would like to assume that many of his rhythms are based on his imaginative interpretations of the cosmos, or stories about life in the bush. My particular favorite is his beat based on his interpretation of my host father picking up a cobra in the bush. This is a major feat in Niger. Here if one is bitten by one of the MANY poisonous snakes, lets just say, its not a dance beat that write for you.
In the Sahel breaking a bone can be a life long affliction, which can destabilize you and your family’s livelihood. Manhandling a very dangerous cobra in a frenzy of youthful foolishness can be a moment of triumph or of great remorse. Luckily, this triumphant rhythm will always beat close to my heart.
So tonight my real gift was to bring down from the hill two traditional drums from our cultural center and bring along my very own ol’ thumper from storage. Tonight Chibu and his youthful apprentices would provide us all with a memorable night filled with incredible beats, and fond memories of children rhythmically following their cues in trance like movements.
As nightfall descended, the crescent moon and star, iconic of Islamic culture illuminated our party, while the gas lamps placed on the perimeters of our gathering provided a glowing landscape of something otherworldly. Tonight through the music, the lunar luminescence, and the petrol fed radiance, we (the nigeriens, and four other peace corps friends), were all removed from our concession and lost in a magical realm. Our foot stomping dust storm of a party displaced a significant amount of earth which acted as an enchanting atmospheric effect which gave us the feeling of dancing in the haze of clouds while still firmly planted on the ground. Captivated we were.
Winded from the dancing we “anasaras” regrouped to the side of the dance circle and stood captivated, silent, and in awe of this magnificent spectacle I broke the silence with the most prophetic words yet uttered by a Peace Corps volunteer.
“Yep….We’re in the Peace Corps”
This simple phrase has come to speak volumes of all of our experiences. For instance.
While sitting in a bush taxi waiting an hour and a half under the sahelien sun for twenty people to pile into a van the size of a dodge caravan one displaces his angst by playing his mandolin and harmonicas for the people until departure time. One normally would be agitated by this inconvenience, all I can think to say is “Yep….I’m in the Peace Corps”
Standing on the side of the road and watching a truck pass that has successfully lashed twenty goats tethered to the roof rack, while another twenty are restrained in the bed, while five men are struggling for space in the same bed with the goats, and another four are holding onto dear life while standing on the bumper hitching a ride….all one can say is
“Yep….I’m in the Peace Corps”
Hovering over a hole in the ground for three solid days and the only sound produced more audible than the neighboring kids, animals, and crackling shortwave radios is the symphony of sound melodiously exiting from my bottom half…sick, dehydrated, wanting to be anywhere else in the world but one still has to ring out in between discharges
“Yep….I’m in the Peace Corps”
Sitting on a wooden bench under the shade lost somewhere between my point of origin and destination in some random road village one needs to take the personal time to recover the feeling in ones ass and reduce the nausea from the bone jarring hellish trek
Unfortunately the only option is to eat street food. In Niger no task is simple and even eating can be epic battle between good and evil. While eating street food one has to battle for re-nourishment with the two other things that desperately want that food far more.
One being the agitated hoard of fly’s displaced from their breeding grounds when my food was served. The other being the dozens of on looking starving children with their all too familiar plastic bowls strapped to their neck. With each bite of contaminated food one has to swallow much more, such as his pride, his remorse, and sense of hygienic food preparation and say once again.
“Yep….I’m in the Peace Corps”
So here I sit and ponder upon my memories and reflect gleefully in knowing that this is but a glimpse into my life for the last three months here. I have really achieved nothing other than losing a combination of weight, body fluids, and skin off the ends of my fingers from mandolin playing.
Next week hopefully I have a home…that’s life in Niger, Once upon a time a had a snowballs chance of the sahel of even saying I wanted to be in Niger now all I can say is……
“Yep….I’m in the Peace Corps.