As Peace Corps Week 2021 draws to a close, we invite you to learn more about the mission of Peace Corps and the experience that our Artistic and Managing Director, Lindsay Rust, had while serving as a PC Volunteer in West Africa. Read on for more from Lindsay!
Happy Peace Corps week! I was fortunate to to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, West Africa, from 1996-98. As the PC motto says, "It's the toughest job you'll ever love." This really sums up my experience there.
The greatest part of those rich and challenging years was by far the amazing people that I met and worked with in my host village, Larba Birno, and later in the capital city, Niamey, when I worked with the batik artists and silversmiths at the National Museum.
"Kala suuru" (have patience) was something I heard almost every day, as I learned to speak the local language (Songhai-Zarma), hitchhiked and waited hours for bush taxis, got sick, lonely, and frustrated by the intense challenges that every day would bring. I have so many funny and horrible stories from that time that I could fill a book. The lessons of "kala suuru" have served me well during this time of COVID.
In Larba Birno, I served as an Agro-forester and Community Service Volunteer. Once I got my mind around that amorphous job description and learned to speak the language (which took about a year), I was able to work with my Nigerien counterparts to create some projects to benefit the village. I worked with the local women to start a women's cooperative that met weekly, paid dues into their own "bank", and made loans that were paid back with interest by the members. We also started cold-season gardens along the Sirba River. I worked with the Construction Sans Bois masons to get tools and training for them to build more beautiful, domed houses without using wood. I worked with gardeners to train them in fruit tree grafting (mangos and citrus).
Years later, I returned to see that some of the mango trees that we planted had grown larger than a house and were filled with mangoes! I learned so much about farming and gardening from my Nigerien friends, and have always been amazed at how they can extract food from a hot, dry, and very unforgiving landscape.
Maybe the thing I'm most proud of today is how I've been able to address Peace Corp's "Third Goal" since returning home to the US. The mission of the Peace Corps is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals: 1) to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and 3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Your in-country service ends, but the "3rd Goal" never really does. I've written a book for music teachers that includes music and culture from Niger and worked with Steve Campbell to train them in the Takamba. I also had the amazing opportunity to bring Nigerien Afropop group, Mamar Kassey, on tour through world music festivals across the US (pre-9/11). I hope we can do that someday again. I'm still in touch with my silversmith friends at the National Museum and sell some of their Agadez crosses on my website. I try to keep my Zarma skills up by talking with friends on the phone, but they are fading and "ay dine ga tin" (my tongue is heavy) now.
Maybe someday I'll rejoin the Peace Corps. It really was the toughest job I ever loved. To all my RPCV friends, I salute your service and always look forward to reading your stories!