I am back in Oregon! I was very sad to leave Niger but I’m also happy to get back to the life I left here. I know my last post was a bit cryptic so here is more about what is happening in Niger and why I chose to leave. Before I left for Niger I was aware that there had been Al Qaeda kidnappings of Westerners in Niger. They concerned me but seemed a good distance from where volunteers are placed. The kidnapping attempt last month was particularly scary to us because it happened in Tahoua, which is next to Maradi. It was also the first attempt to kidnap an American (eight of them). We were all consolidated in our regions for 10 days until the Peace Corps administration had assessed the situation. The region of Tahoua was shut down and all volunteers from that region choosing to stay will be put in new villages in other regions. Volunteers were given the option of going back to their villages and complying with a lot of new security and travel measures or going home. Those of us leaving Niger were given the status of “interrupted service,” which means that we left our assignments because of circumstances outside of our control.
I had concerns about safety in my village because it is on the national highway at the intersection of a nice road to the North and a convenient route to Nigeria to the South. It is a larger town so it gets a lot of traffic; it’s not a bush village where any outsiders would be noticed. After consolidation was over, I really couldn’t make up my mind. But then, while making my decision, the trainees that had arrived in October were removed from Niger and sent to Madagascar. Shortly after that, a French researcher was kidnapped on the Mali-Niger border. I did have a lot of the “chances are, it’s not going to happen to me” thoughts, but I found that my threshold for the risk of being kidnapped was much lower than my risk tolerance for say, house robbery. One of the great experiences of living in Niger is that there are so few foreigners. Unlike most other places, we rarely saw other foreigners (outside of Niamey). When visiting a friend’s large-ish town for the first time, I asked a child sitting near the taxi stand “Ina anasara?” (“Where’s the white person/foreigner?”) and I was taken directly to his house. That condition of being such a striking minority added to my feelings of insecurity. Lastly, Niger’s President Tandja unconstitutionally extended his term several months ago; presidential elections were scheduled to take place at the end of this month. The international community has been upset with Tandja and many countries have stated that they will pull out aid if he doesn’t step down, which means a shrinking foreign presence in Niger.
So, I’m home and not really sure what’s next. If anyone is looking to hire someone with intermediate Hausa skills, extreme heat tolerance, and an MBA, give me a ring! I’ll be doing some traveling in the upcoming months and it will be nice to spend the holidays here. I left Niger with quite a few other people but I’ll be keeping up with my friends who decided to stay. This wasn’t the Peace Corps service I expected to get, but it’s the service I got and despite its early ending, I am very happy with it.
I’ve posted a bunch of photos from my time in Niger below. A little warning that there are some photos of animals being slaughtered in there. During the Muslim holiday of Tabaski in November, the custom is to slaughter and smoke sheep for family and friends. It’s a great holiday and a neat thing to see but a little bit bloody.