I’ll never forget Oct. 8, 2010. I was drinking tea with the headmasters of the elementary and middle schools and few other village men. The headmaster got a call, but because service was sketchy, he walked off to a nearby tree to call back whoever it was. After a few minutes, he called me over and handed me the phone.
Startled, I said hello.
“Hi, Heather, this is Jenelle.”
“Oh, Jenelle, hi. How are you?”
“I am not doing well.”
Evacuation, we were being evacuated, I thought. Something terrible must have happened and they are sending us home. That would come later, though. This something terrible was much worse.
“Stephanie passed away yesterday.”
I fell to the ground and blinked my eyes a few times, hoping this was just a nightmare. It wasn’t. Loud and uncontrollable sobs came from inside me and I told Jenelle I would get to Zinder as soon as I could to catch the next bus to Niamey. By the mere grace of God, I got a vehicle that took me straight to Zinder. I was the last volunteer to hear the news and I was the last volunteer to arrive at the hostel. My stagmates were buying their bus tickets but a few older volunteers were there to give me hugs and some food. When the others returned, we wrapped our arms around each other firmly and for seconds in hopes to soak up some of the pain. Since we had only been in our villages just eight days, we just saw her. None of this made sense.
I didn’t sleep much the next few days. On the 14-hour bus ride to Niamey, I couldn’t sleep because each time I did I saw Stephanie.
A year has elapsed and so much has changed. I still see Stephanie in my dreams. I hear her joking and laughing, they way I like to remember her.
I may no longer be in Niger and my Peace Corps future lies in another country, but Steph sticks with me and her spirit continues to drive me to be my best and do all that I can. Life is short and laughter is the best gift. Stephanie taught me that.