(This article appears in four parts.
Click here to go to part four.)
|Our two volunteers have good accommodations by Peace Corps Niger standards, each consisting of two-room mud houses in spacious, mud-walled compounds. Both had extended for a third year to serve in Iferouane, and they seemed happy and well adjusted there. They are engaged in various activities involving eco-tourism, wildlife conservation, a tourist information center, environmental education, and womens credit unions.|
One of them was to complete his Peace Corps service in two more months and return to the U.S. He plans to hike the entire Appalachian Trail before launching a career with the National Park Service or a similar organization.
The other Iferouane volunteer did not intend to leave Niger when her Peace Corps service ended in three months. Rather, she presented me with another first in my Peace Corps career, a request to get married to her Tuareg boyfriend. According to the Peace Corps manual, the Country Directors permission is required for a volunteer to marry a local national (although its hard to see how a Country Director could prevent such a marriage even if he or she wanted to).
Our volunteer seemed quite mature and had considered her decision fully, and she said both families have given their blessing. I told her I saw no problem in giving my permission (especially since I had married a foreign national myself when I was about her age!), but asked her to give me an opportunity to consult the manual on returning to Niamey to determine if there were any prescribed procedures to be followed. (I later found that yes, there is the inevitable form to be filled out.)
|We had a Tuareg-style dinner at her house, consisting of sand-baked bread, literally baked in the sand under coals and then served with a sauce of locally grown tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, etc. It tasted great, with only the occasional grain of sand to disrupt mastication. We ate Tuareg style, from a common pot while seated on the ground.|
|Back at the hotel, the French filmmaker was still conducting her casting call to select Tuaregs for the caravan scene. This process continued until after midnight.|
The next morning, the volunteers and I took an extensive walk through the Iferouane gardens. They lie along a valley running out of the nearby mountains, where water can be found three or four meters under the surface. Numerous wells provide irrigation for the gardens. The early morning desert air was refreshing, and the heat didnt become uncomfortable until nearly noon.
Iferouane pretty much shuts down after lunch, as everyone naps or just hangs around in the shade until sundown. I spend the afternoon talking to the volunteers about their projects and life in Iferouane.
This nights fellow guests at Vittorios hotel were four Dutch tourists, accompanied by a Tuareg tour guide from Agadez. During another nearly sleepless night in the sweltering hotel, I reflected that the U.S. elections, the price of oil, turmoil in the Middle East, and similar matters that had dominated my attention before I came to Niger, all seemed pretty remote from the perspective of Iferouane. I realized that I hadnt heard so much as a radio summary of world news in the past week; and whats more, I didnt really miss it.