It started to sprinkle, but the deep ocean blue clouds suggested that this was only the prelude.
“Let’s move under the hangar,” Mason, one of my fellow trainees, suggested.
Because of the standfast, we’ve spent four days at the training site and organized group activities have become the norm. Mason decided to hold a few morning exercise classes based on workouts he did in America and a dozen of us decided to attend. This was our last day on site before 10 days of language immersion, so we all wanted to get in one more workout.
Not willing to give into a little rain, we picked up our gym equipment – two rocks that mocked dumbbells, a thick branch pretending to be a barbell and another large rock – and reconvened our workout underneath the metal shelter, despite large flashes in the sky.
It was mine turn for pushes, so I put my hands to the ground forcing myself up as many times as could in four sets of 20 seconds. Next, the singular rock helped me perform kettle bell swings. Then, it was time for squats with the branch.
The rain was pounding now and the hangar could no longer prevent it from hitting us. We still continued on, this time with two minutes of plank. Puddles started to for underneath our stomachs and our around our feat, still we fought through the pain. Eventually, the rain won out and we were soaked. Instead of giving up for warm tea and bread, we formed the chair position, a yoga and chore exercise, for another two minutes.
My legs were now red with a burnt sienna sand and water mixture. My gray t-shirt and green shorts were dripping because they reached their absorption limit. Puddles had formed in my shoes. Although I was finished with the workout, I stayed for a few minutes to cheer on the others. Mackenzie propped the stick on her chest, preparing for her last four sets of 20 seconds. She smiled at me, dripping wet, and said “This is Hard Corps.” I smiled back. I’ve never been one to do things the easy way, and now, 33 people with the same attitude surround me.
There are various reactions to the phrase “I’m going to the Peace Corps.” There is the “Wow, good for you. I always wanted to do something like that.” And the “That’s incredible. I could never do that.” Or the “Huh, that’s interesting.” The latter sometimes comes with the perception that the Peace Corps is just a two-year vacation.
For people and some countries, I am sure it can be. But, this is Niger, one of the Peace Corps’ toughest programs. The weather is terrible, the dessert is destroying, and some amenities are decades behind the developing world. In most parts of the country, women – even American women, who are given more respect that Nigerien women and held to the status of men because of our nationality – are to always cover their knees and shoulders, even on 115-degree days. There are no waterfalls, glorious mountains or beaches, just bushes and desert. Every day requires patience, understanding and laughter to make it to the next.
As I’ve said from the day I received my invitation to Niger and researched, they don’t send the B Squad to this country.
Peace Corps in general is a tough gig and not everyone makes it all 27 months. A former volunteer warned me before I left to avoid the one up game. She then followed that statement with a reality: It’s a pride thing, and in West Africa, you do become proud of not using a traditional toilet for two years. (Side note: Many volunteers in Niger do have toilets at their sites but not in training. In case you were curious, I will not.) I guess I’ve developed that pride in only six weeks.
Since coming to Niger, we’ve joked about being tough and proud to have things the hard way, but like me, the other people in my stage are wired to want to have it tough. We thrive off of the struggle, and would feel guilty in any other setting.
When the rain came, a part of me did want to quit, but letting myself do so was failing, so I kept going because all the pain in the world hurts less than failure. So did the others, even though our muscles ached and the rain mocked us. We did it together, constantly encouraging each other because we are Peace Corps Niger. We are Hard Corps.