Looking Back on 2010

I know what you’re thinking. It’s 2012 now, shouldn’t she be looking back on 2011? Well, I was and then I came across a blog post that I wrote last year on January 1st 2011 but due to the minor complication of a terrorist attack that forced me to evacuate my life, never published. So here we go:

A bat entered my bedroom at exactly midnight, its small wings and high-pitched chirps seemed to be God’s way of telling me to wake up and greet the New Year. Blearily,  I reached for my phone  and stared at the greenish 00:00 01.01.2011 that cut through the darkness. Outside my house all was quiet, it was a far cry from the debauchery that has marked most of the new year’s eves that I can remember. According to the Islamic calendar the New Year falls on December 7, a day long past.  But even then, there hadn’t been much to give the new year a proper welcoming; the only reason I even knew there was a holiday was because we were given the day off school.

So there I lay under my mosquito net, alone in my little mud house since the bat had decided to find somewhere more exciting to carry out the New Year’s festivities. My mind began to wander, rewinding to midnight on January 2010, when I’d stood with my sister on top of a tall apartment building in Amsterdam, watching fireworks explode all around us and drunken Europeans below us stumble from one nightclub to another. She had been studying abroad in England and I’d been in Copenhagen for a conference on climate change. We’d decided to meet up and hostel hop, a very cold but exciting adventure.

Then there was the last semester of senior year, a strange mixture of incredible stress, tearful farewells and a lot of partying. I distinctly remember meeting with my senior thesis group at the Walla Walla Brew Pub, downing beers with our professor as we discussed the impending deadlines of the honors thesis. The library seemed to be my second home what with my thesis, fellowship applications and the normal, never-ending stream of homework. And yet, in between all the studying were potlucks, slam poetry nights, wine tasting and those awesome Whitman parties where everyone knows each other. Sadly, there was the inevitable break-up with my long-time college boyfriend but there were also the amazing friends who brought me chocolate and hugged me as I cried. I won a journalism prize of $500 and used the money to go on an “alternative” spring break trip down to New Orleans to build houses, discovering my love of power-tools and eating deep fried oreos for the first—and probably last—time. I gave an undergraduate presentation about my thesis and felt honored that three of my politics professor came to watch me speak. Then my introductory geology professor took me down a few notches, giving me the worst exam grade of my college career.

There was a lot of community service, weekends spent distributing energy-efficient light-bulbs in poor, mostly Latino, neighborhoods. And endless hours spent organizing events, like the Earth Day celebration that rocked Whitman for a whole week. Of course, there relaxing times too, like those picnics in the wheat fields, evenings spent lying on blankets and slowly watching the sun turn the golden wheat a brilliant orange.

I had the distinct honor of not only giving the baccalaureate speech at my graduation but also having twenty members of my family make the long drive up from the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate with me. After graduating I had a little more than a month to try to see all the people I love before taking off for two years in Niger.  June was filled with coffee dates, lunches, long walks and then an amazing graduation present trip to Italy. I definitely spent a lot of money before moving to the poorest country in the world…Then there was that fateful day at the airport, hugging all of my sisters and almost breaking down at the sight of my dad tearing up, but somehow walking through that security line and coming to Niger.

July, August and September were spent in a summer-camp like flurry of language classes, volleyball games, runs through the millet fields and lots of bonding with my host family and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). There was “demystification,” a night spent with a Peace Corps Volunteer to discover what the life of a PCV was really like. After that, I found out my village placement of Safo and was lucky enough to get to visit it before anyone else had seen their villages, spending two weeks living in my new house with three other PCVs and a language tutor to try and immerse ourselves in Hausa. Our language immersion group made up a song in Hausa to the tune of Madonna’s Holiday and ended up winning an oreo cream pie for our efforts. Then I had to say another goodbye, tearing up as my host mother cried and giving long hugs to all the amazing friends I’d made during Pre-Service Training.

On September 29th I arrived in Safo and began my new life in a small Nigerien village only to have it shattered with the news that Stephanie Chance, a fellow PCV and friend who had spent language immersion with me in Safo, had unexpectedly passed away in her sleep. Along with the rest of my training group, I immediately left my village and headed for Niamey, the capitol city, where a funeral service was to be held. It was hard, so hard to say goodbye, but amazing to see how our group banded together and comforted each other. After a few days of mourning and counseling sessions, we went back to our villages and re-started our lives.

I started to turn my house into a home, making myself a mud oven, planting a garden and decorating my mud walls with postcards from home. My days began to have a rhythm, a schedule of alternating between teaching English at the middle school, helping out at the health center and chatting with the men at the mayor’s office. Before I knew it, it was Halloween and time to go to the nearby Peace Corps hostel to cook delicious food, dress up in crazy costumes and dance the night away. Another month passed in a whirl of work, dinner parties, teaching my favorite little girls how to count to ten and building lots of improved cookstoves. Thanksgiving at the hostel probably involved even more gluttony than usual, given my inability to buy many vegetables or fruit in my village. I painted a few maps of Niger and one of Africa on my primary school’s walls and then made a small tree farm at my middle school. Then it was Christmas and we decorated our hostel as best we could and played carols to help bring the spirit of Christmas to a country where no one actually celebrates it.

Now it’s 2011 and there are children banging at my door so I’d best go answer and find out what the new year will bring!

A huge tree