The evacuation, a year later

At least once a week, sometimes more, I have a dream with the same theme. The faces and the situation always change, but the idea doesn’t – evacuated, again.

In some dreams, I am already at home and trying to explain to friends why I am, yet again, back after only such a short time. I tell them I will go back, but I still haven’t received word on when that will be. In others, something terrible has happened – an outbreak of a deadly illness or the kidnapping of a fellow volunteer – and we are being rushed out of the country.

In each dream, my heart is coated in despair and I wake up confused but happy to still be in Lesotho.

One year ago, surrounded by my fellow Peace Corps Niger volunteers, the news of our evacuation was delivered, tears coming instantly. Four days, several goodbyes and many more tears later, I arrived in Morocco and finally allowed to share the news of my departure from Niger. (The post I wrote that day, Evacuated, is by far the most read post on this blog. Reading that post again brings tears to my eyes.)

Following Jan. 12, 2011, there is much of next two and half months that I don’t remember, but there are certain scenes that are ingrained in my memory bank forever. I still remember Mackenzie and I crying in each other’s arms as Tondi struggled to continue to read the statement from DC. I remember the faces of the training center staff after they had heard the news. I remember walking away from the secondary school, crying and trying not to look back as the students screamed, “Goodbye, Hassia.” I remember my last night in Zinder, a beautiful dinner with a ceremonial bonfire. I remember the Niamey airport at 4 a.m. on the 17th, wondering if this wasn’t just some elaborate drill.

There was no inclination that later in the year I would wind up here, an education volunteer in Lesotho. An RPCV PCV.

Yet, my Peace Corps life didn’t die that day. It was stalled for a bit, but eventually I found a new home. People, here and at home, often ask me which I like better and that isn’t a question I can answer. I love them both for similar and different reasons. They both are tattooed in my heart.

The evacuation, despite a three-month depression, brought a lot of happiness: the chance to be a part of my brother’s wedding preparation, precious time with my family, giggle-filled outings with friends, the opportunity to cover the biggest story of my journalism career, new friends, reconnection with old ones and, of course, Lesotho. In every way, the evacuation is a calculated part of my story.

Still, the idea that it could happen again (it almost did in 2009 from an unprecedented, abnormal event) haunts me. I can’t go through that again, I won’t.

With the year anniversary, I hope to step outside of the shadow and remember that Lesotho is not Niger and this service is different. I deserve a full, happy service and direct my focus to this small village.

I’ll never forget those six wonderful months in Niger. What we had is now frozen in time, a friend recently wrote me in a letter. In a way, that is the perfect place for those memories.

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