Peace Corps Nigeria 1990's

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PEACE CORPS NIGERIA 1990s
by Jeannine Fosca, (01) 91-93

I love Nigeria with such a passion! My Peace Corps experience was less about the health program in which I worked than about the relationships I shared with Nigerians Jeannine Dancing Don’t get me wrong—I worked hard on our mission to eradicate the guinea worm disease, traveling by Suzuki to 31 villages, many on dirt paths only as wide as my motorcycle. Our technical training at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, for one month was excellent. Then we had two months of language and cultural training in Zawan.

While the language instructors were excellent, I learned more talking with college students where we were trained, and the children where I eventually lived. I enjoyed the challenge of learning to understand the dynamics of the culture and its nuances. I had to learn the implications of meeting with women alone, or with children in their primary or secondary schools. I had to be humble to receive the acceptance of male community leaders and have credibility with them.

Into my second year in Awe, I found myself looking at my brown skin wishing I were deep ebony. Nigerians viewed me as white, yet as an Hispanic, I’ve always identified myself as brown. I learned to speak Hausa fairly well. I loved the people—Fulani, Tiv, Alago—the food, the rhythmic drumming, babies on mommies’ backs, the incredibly bright stars at night, the smells that wavered everywhere. I loved the sound of a cock crowing at dawn, the sight of Fulani cattle herded and directed by a stoic, proud boy, and strange-looking dogs that ran free with goats and chickens in the villages. Life was incredibly sensual and titillating. I was frustrated to realize that I could never be, truly, a part of this pattern of life of which I was so fond.

At the market each fifth day, children would fall over each other to follow me in awe or curiosity, calling bature (stranger). Yet I felt a part of that place. Perhaps it was because I was the only volunteer in the area. Perhaps I lost my own identity. But I didn't lose the core that lies within each of us. I overlaid who I had been with a much-loved, new experience. I felt one with the people.

My closest girlfriend, Saphee Moh’d Adams, and I would sit on a mat under a beautiful umbrella tree in her compound till late at night when all other life was down to sleep. We sipped Bournvita, and chatted about life.

We were so open and honest with each other. Although we operated from very different inner perspectives, we deeply accepted, yes loved, each other. Saphee was shy, the second wife to her husband. I had been married before and was not ashamed to express myself. We would find ways to open our hearts to each other until, finally, I would kick-start my babur and ride cross town, back home through an eerily quiet scene.

Living in Nigeria was a beautiful experience. I saw more than the poverty, more than the corruption. For me Nigeria remains the incredible relationships made and continue.

Editor’s Note: The author served in Nigeria 01, the first Peace Corps group to return to Nigeria in the 1990s after a hiatus of 25 years

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