It started at a bar with beers and a football game and it ended at a bar with beers and a football game.
The last American beer I drank was in an airport bar in Philadelphia. It was during the semi-finals of the World Cup, when Spain was matched up against Germany. We were hours away from leaving the country and many of us crammed into the far side of the bar to watch the game and enjoy one more barely drink, or more appropriately, one more good one. I drank two Boulevards and began to make conversations with these people I met the day before. At the time, the faces seemed unfamiliar but I knew this was the beginning of something I’ve never experienced before. We were not the only people in that bar, but it felt like it. This was our little group and we were on our way to a place that would change us.
Seven months later, some of us — not all from that first day — gathered in a smoky, and somewhat seedy, bar in Rabat, Morocco. A large number of our group had left five days earlier and then next few days were a trickle of goodbyes. Each time, we’d declared our hatred for goodbyes, especially these ones that came months too early.
We decided drinks were the most appropriate activity for our last night. We ordered Flags, a beer we found tolerable in Niger, as a game played on TVs in the background, the Asian Cup. We paid little attention to the game; the social icebreaker athletics can often led wasn’t needed this time. Now, we were a family. We reminisced about the last few months, telling jokes and repeating stories. The future came up, each of us headed on a different path, but it was quickly disregarded because we knew what would have to come first.
I took in each face around the table on our last outing together and thought about the others that marked my six months in Niger. I never thought I’d loved or depend on these people so much. I also never thought it end like this.
Sure, it’s cliché to say that my stagmates and the members of Team Zinder were my family, but I am not sure how else to describe them. They did and do understand every feeling I’ve had since the moment I received my invitation to Niger and, between the death of a friend and an evacuation, we’ve seen each other through rough times. Just like the Nigeriens I grew close to, they taught me to love and appreciate life in whole new ways.
Our evacuation can be summed up in three phases: Goodbye to Niger, Choosing the Next Step and the Disintegration of Our Family. This is the final step in what has amounted to my most traumatic experience. This part, thankfully, isn’t as definite as the other two.
Strong friendships know no borders or time. They hang on as if nothing has changed. Some of us will continue with Peace Corps and some of us will return to America, but none of that will change that for six glorious months we were Peace Corps Volunteers in Niger together.
I said goodbye today knowing it’s not final, because with these types of bonds it never is. There will be another day and another time. We may not know when or where, but it will come. The world is full of bars, beer and football games.