The day scheduled to be our first outing in Niamey happened to be her birthday. During the 40-minute trip to the capital city, she asked me to braid her hair, which I remember didn’t come out well. There, we all split up into groups at the petit marche to buy fabric and trinkets for our families. Part of the day included dinner at a restaurant, our first since leaving Philadelphia three weeks earlier. We both chose an Italian-themed local, in the hopes of scoring some pizza and cold beer. When we met up at the restaurant, she had a birthday hat that someone had found and purchased at the marche. She was beaming. Because of the number or people and the size of the restaurant, I wasn’t able to sit at her today but she made sure we had a picture together. She didn’t quit smiling that day.
That was a year ago.
It’s nearing 5 p.m. in Niger. We should be in Zinder cutting up vegetables for dinner and running through the Peace Corps rumor mill. Someone would have a cake in the oven and a dance party on the patio would be planned. It would be her birthday celebration, this time a year of Niger behind us.
Today, my late friend Stephanie would have been 27 years old.
I think about her every day. I miss her every day. Even though we are no longer in the place that brought us together, Stephanie is with me and I still see her face in the clouds, the way I did in Niger. Stephanie is one of those people who leave lasting impressions with a larger-than-life personality and a laugh that stops you. No matter where life takes me, Steph is in my heart and a constant reminder to live life on the outside, with passion and humor.
Happy Birthday, Stephanie.
P.S. Peace Corps has set up a memorial fund for Stephanie. Please consider donating. I am.