This is it, our COS date. On Wednesday, I moved out of Tamtala (again) and took my last bush taxi (in this country, anyway) into Niamey and started the bureaucratic part of finishing up my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Since then, it's been constant motion, parties, signatures, grant reporting, last-minute gifts and lunches with city friends, very little sleep, competing for space in the Tillaberi room, editing a certain movie, packing, plodding through sand, chasing down visas... and now it's all over.
In a few hours, Danielle and I will get on a bus and head to Ouaga, en route to Mali, on a trip that we've barely prepared for because of all the rest of our duties this week. And in a week and a day I'll be in Chicago again. Just like that.
I'm so glad I got to come back and finish up here, if for nothing else than the fantastic bon-voyage party Tamtala threw for me last weekend. In the midst of preparations for Tabaski, all the ladies in the village piled into my concession at midday last Saturday, saying it was time to braid my hair for the party. I surrendered myself to whatever might happen to me in their hands - a valuable skill I learned during those early days when I had crappy Zarma and no choice but to trust them. They brought out all the Bella wedding accoutrements, weaving coins into my hairdo, painting black lines down my nose, on my cheeks and chin, and rerouting my eyebrows. I was handed a huge lime-green shirt and an ancient indigo headscarf, and my "mom" Amina wrapped me in a wedding blanket. During all this, the ladies were chatting and Zeynabou, Maimouna's daughter, was calling for coins and dancing. She was hilarious. Each time someone came to the concession and dropped a few CFA (or a bowl of millet) at my feet, she picked up the money and yelled into my face: "You see this, Sakina?! So-and-so is thankful to you! S/he greets you on your patience and a job well done!" etc, etc, and then Zeynabou stomped around shaking her butt as the old ladies clapped and yelled.
Real brides are supposed to be demure and quiet during this part of the day, but, as usual, I got a free pass and was chatting and laughing along with the rest of them. My stalwart Kate and new friend Maria both came to Tamtala for the fete, and kept the ladies entertained and hydrated with a bucket of Crystal Light from the States. Poor Cat was scared - there had never been so many people in our concession - and she hid in the house. Zeynabou kicked dust up, the old, almost-toothless women grated kola nuts with improved tomato paste cans and stayed jacked up all afternoon.
When I was good and ridiculous-looking (I mean ridiculously good-looking), Illiassou the school director came in with a video camer (what?) to film the procession to Ousemane's house, where a string-and-sticks fence had been erected to keep the crowds at bay during the presentations that were to follow (Nigerien crowd control can be somewhat disconcerting to foreigners, as it usually involves whipping the ground DirectlyInFrontOf the first line of spectators with millet stalks, stinging little toes. During tech trip the village had learned this lesson - hence the fence). Dignitaries had been invited from as far as Tillaberi and Niamey, but most were unable to make it, which left Amirou apologetic and shaking his head, and me quite relieved. There were several speeches and a precious poem presented by three boys from the CM2 class (about 6th grade). And then a line of girls sang a song and danced - all composed by them (well, by Illiassou, surely) and about me, extolling my myriad virtues and thanking me for my work in the village. Very, very humbling.
When all was finished, Kate and Maria stayed over, all of us sleeping inside my house because it's so cold! Kate and I recorded our farewell radio show using a handheld tape recorder and my mp3 player inside my house, having to stop and re-record a few times when goats wandered in and wanted to talk on the radio too. When she left, Salley cried. I nearly panicked and cried myself, but left that for Wednesday.
After the party was over and guests had gone, there was little to do in the village other than walk around saying goodbye. My stuff was packed already, the cereal bank is up and stocked (wahoo! Just in time!), the Moringas are recovering from their October blight, so I only needed to go and thank everyone who had shown me patience, indulgence, friendship and/or help during the last two years.
Monday was Tabaski (which lasted into Tuesday). I wrote about last year's in here, and it seems it's pretty standard year to year. I made popcorn and juice (no, I didn't kill a goat) and handed it out to friends, who in turn brought me red sauce on rice, rice and beans, and chunks of meat (which I re-gifted... most of the time). Like everyone in Tamtala, Cat loves this holiday. I do too, but not because of the meat. New Year's is my favorite. It's so hopeful. "Ka Yeesi," everyone says for Happy New Year, and everyone asks each other's pardon for offenses in the past year and says things like "May your feet that walk this year walk next year," and "I'll see you next year at this time." I especially like the pardoning part. We need it in Amerika.
Tuesday night Maimouna came over to spend the evening chatting, as happens often. The moon was incredibly bright. I wrote in my journal without a light (good thing, since I'd given mine away). We sat on mats in my concession, with Cat curled up at her feet, not mine ("Kitten knows," she said). We told stories and laughed until it was very late, and she went home.
Four o'clock in the morning I woke up, heart pounding, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep again. I waited for prayer call, then went into our family concession wrapped in my blanket to watch the sunrise. As everyone else woke up (lots of hocking and spitting, it being cold season), I headed in, packed up, and called Amirou to call Djibo with his cow-cart. I'd been warned to leave really early, or everyone would be around to watch and cry and make a scene, so it was good that only a dozen or so of us were up in the first hour of daylight to "duum" (accompany) me to the path to Lossa, where Djibo was waiting. We took one more picture, and Amirou, Maimouna and I, with my backpack, climbed onto the cart for the ride to the paved road.
On the way, along with more final instructions for them - please have patience with Ali, he's new and just learning, please bring the barrels to the Moringa plantation, etc. - we told the story of my live-in, when they'd first duum'd me to Lossa, and we got a flat tire and nearly lost each other on the path on account of the wind. At Lossa, this time, a taxi was quick to come, unremarkable (I mean really, by this point I've seen it all... I hope), and got me to Niamey before 10am.
And that's about it. Kala Niamey, with (most of) the rest of Ag/NRM 2007: running around, saying goodbyes, crying, telling "remember-when" stories, making plans for our reunion (next year New Year's, Vegas), etc.
I'll be in Lake Geneva for Christmas, Minneapolis for New Year's, and Seattle for Inauguration Day. Friends who I know and love in any of those places - give my parents' house a call.
This isn't the end of MeAndMySwissArmyKnife, incidentally. I'll take a few months off and start up again in Fiji in July. Because apparently multi-tools are useful for opening coconuts. Mmmmm.