Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peace Corps Africa: Honoring 50 Years - This is Where I Will Be


The year I came back from Niger, was the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps. I celebrated in Washington DC and kept in touch with a few Niger Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Years later, when I couldn't forget the people I'd met in Zinder, Niger, I wrote about them in The Cartographer's Tongue / Poems of the World. Now Peace Corps Africa is turning fifty and once again I'm going to be there to celebrate, this time as part of the program in Madison, Wisconsin. If you are in the area you can find me Saturday night at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Madison with Sandra Meek, Derek Burleson, and Anne Neelon -- all poet RPCVs who served in Africa. The event includes storytelling and film -- and is free and open to the public!


When I first heard I was going to Niger, I thought I was being posted to a river! Niger is the turquoise colored country above Nigeria and to the right of Mali, below Libya ... Fortunately, the area near the Libyan border is (or was) uninhabitable.  The country's shape resembles a fish - and as volunteers, we found this quite ironic as the country is land locked and the river nothing more than a dry bed - no fish.

These Fulani men are beautiful - and they know it! There are several different tribes among the Fulani and not all of them dress-up and paint their faces for beauty contests, but the Fulani men I knew did this. In Fulani culture, it is the men who do most of the primping and the women who judge the men on their looks. The gold line drawn down their faces accentuates the shape of the nose and the mascara of course highlights the eyes. The art of seduction is a key part of a man's power and these men work wonders with their eyes. While a volunteer, I ran an informal "free lunch" program out of my house. Over the course of two years, I came to know some of the young (as in pre-teen) Fulani boys quite well. I look at these photographs now wondering what became of Sa-a, Yabide, and Dari. As young boys, they were curious about everything in my house. They preferred Beatles songs to Bob Marley and loved the M & Ms that sometimes appeared in care packages from home.


The above photograph shows the "old city" of Zinder. The telephone wires led straight to the Sultan's home. The photograph below looks just like the Niger I remember: a strip of dust below a haze-filled sky. The streetlight, telephone wires, and width of the road all seem familiar as does the man on the mobilette. I'm looking forward to this weekend -- hopefully getting a chance to meet other Niger RPCVs.

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