Living in a third world country, things become relative. Taste, cleanliness and degree of sickness are valued differently than in America. What’s mediocre somewhere else becomes brilliant.
Maybe it’s the relativity or maybe it’s the magic of living simply.
By 10: 30 a.m., I officially declared the day my worst one in Niger thus far. After spending the night in the bathroom, my body completely empty itself in all possible ways, I started the day weak. Fortunately, we only had a few hours of class in the morning, but, it was a two-part assessment. Still, I wasn’t too worried and looked forward to spending the rest of the day resting on my bed, which is made of a foam mattress and sticks.
During the first part of the test, the instructors passed out the results from our exam the day before. We had a practice language proficiency exam to see how far we’ve come in four weeks. I knew I had progressed, so I wasn’t worried about the oral assessment, but my results said otherwise. Despite the extra work and study time I’ve put in, my skills hadn’t advanced much and they desperately need to if I am going to be sworn in as a volunteer.
As I try to cope with the results, I began to hear other’s talk about their ratings. Our trainers and current volunteers have warned us not to compare ourselves with each other, but with blatant judging, it’s difficult. It was clear that I was behind and that realization was hard to bear without running off to cry in a random dirt alley.
This language exam doesn’t mean anything, but to me at the moment, it did. My mind began to race with what this meant. I may never learn this language. I may never be sworn in. I always be a failure.
It was a good minute of self pity before I realized that I was in the midst of another test. I finished the first part and went back to self-loathing, this time vocalizing it to the others that were also waiting for the second part. Tears did come, and so did hugs, but I still couldn’t shake it off. And this horror hung with me as I completed the second part of the assessment, which I truly was not prepared for. (Both exams are to check progress and do not actually judge anything at this point.)
Some of the trainees started talking about an afternoon trip to a nearby village. Six of the trainees live with host families in a village about 11 K from the one that I and most of the trainees do. Two days a week, we meet at the Peace Corp training site for what we call core days and this group has to bike in to town. Those of us in the bigger village passed around the idea of making trek on bikes loaned out from the Peace Corp, but nothing had been planned till this point.
With a beat spirit and empty stomach, I really considered giving into my nap and more self pity, but decided the bike trip may be helpful to my absolute, no good day. So, still not completely committed to the idea, I agreed to go and checked out a bike.
We left shortly before lunch, with the intention of making a meal there. The 11 K in the hot sun with a dehydrated body wasn’t convincing me of my decision to go. I seemed to go so slow and each rotation hurt. By the time, I was so dehydrated that I was seeing black spots.
But my crappy attitude to seemed to turn a bit when we saw six anasara, the local word for white person, with big smiles waiting our arrival. There was visitors to this tiny town that many trucks barrel through and we were their visitors. Naturally, we were also greeted with gawking natives, who spent most of the day just staring at our behavior as if were actors putting on a play just for them.
We were introduced to the communal tree and hogged all of its shade with three large mats. We immediately broke into games — Uno, Spades and Bananagrams —while tea, rice and a peanut sauce were being prepared over hot flames. Eventually, American pop music and candy were brought to the scene, despite the fact that most of us claim not to enjoy such things in the States. Dance parties appear to be a common occurrence when more than six volunteers/trainees are together outside of class, so one naturally erupted. The Zarma-speaking children couldn’t understand the suggestive lyrics of the Girl Talk mashups, but the thoroughly enjoyed the dance moves we created to accompany them.
A few hours later, lunch was served on three larger platters. It was only rice and sauce, the same meal we all eat every day, but it was the best rice and sauce we’d had since arriving. We devoured most of it, giving the leftovers to the kids nearby.
As we sat, enjoying the cool day, delicious food and learning more about each other, we all took the opportunity to express our sentiments about the day. For many of us, it was the best Nigerien afternoon we’ve ever experience.
Most of us promised our host families to return by the end of the afternoon, so we thanked our hosts and said goodbye in as many languages as we could. With a full stomach and heart, we rode home much easier than on the way there and I spent most of the 40 minutes taking in the scenery and falling deeper in love with Africa.
My day started out terrible, but eventually became one of my favorites of the day. Niger does that. It takes the bad or the so-so and makes it beautiful.
And it all it took was the simple combination of good people and good conversation over a meal. In this country, that’s all you really need to be happy.
(Promise more, soon. Internet is really shabby, but I hope to have some time to respond to messages and blog more soon. Loves – Heather)