Tribute to Diane, with memories of Niger
We were called Niger 8. The eighth group of Peace Corps volunteers to serve in Niger, we were together from 1969 to ‗71. The girls were health educators and the guys dug wells. Niger was considered one of the roughest assignments—a hot, sandy country with frequent droughts. In those days, Peace Corps training was stateside. To prepare us for the harsh conditions of Niger, Washington sent us to the Virgin Islands. We adapted quickly – to the warm tropical breezes, the sandy beaches, snorkeling, and pinã coladas. You can imagine our shock when we landed in Niamey and found ourselves in what seemed like the world‘s hottest oven and largest sandbox. Debbie Harding will speak of some of the challenges our group faced. I‘d like to spend a few moments sharing memories of Diane in Niger at a time when we were mostly twentysomethings, idealistic, and certain that we could make the world a better place.
Some of us called her Hedge, some of us called her Diane, and others called her Hadiza, her Nigerien name. We all called her friend. Back then, we didn‘t have cell phones, blackberries, or the Internet--we had Diane. She was the consummate networker, communicator, and organizer. If computer technology had not spawned the term ―networking,‖ Diane would have invented it. About this time last year, Diane and Debbie Holt began organizing the first reunion ever of our group. And this past year has seen a flurry of reconnections by way of visits, phone calls, and emails. That the reunion was held this past weekend is testimony to Diane‘s extraordinary ability to bring people together.
We remember Diane as sophisticated yet down to earth, serious yet humorous, a hard worker yet an avid partier. She loved to entertain, she loved to cook. For many, music in Niger conjures up sounds of the balafon, kora, and talking drum. For us, it also conjures up the image of Diane dancing uninhibitedly with her favorite language teacher Bashar to the sounds of Aretha Franklin‘s ―I say a little prayer for you.‖
Niger has long been one of the poorest countries in the world, yet, even today, economists remain baffled by the spike in the Gross National Product during our time in Niger. The explanation--Diane loved to shop. And we followed suit. A trendsetter with exquisite taste, she was our go-to person for finding the best jeweler, the best tailor, the best artisan for leather.
Sherill Delahoussaye was with Diane in Filingue. She recalls how quickly Diane immersed herself in both work and village life. Her ability to gather resources for a project was evident early on. While many of us were dismissing home visits to outlying villages because ―we didn‘t have transportation,‖ Diane was convincing Niamey to buy her and Sherill bicycles.
No project was too small or too large for Diane—that is, until she decided that she and Sherill needed a pet—not a cat, not a dog, but a goat. Diane was convinced she could domesticate that goat. But the goat butted them, destroyed their garden, and refused Diane‘s every order to sit, stay, and rollover. Most of us would have made quick méchoui of that goat, but Diane, true to her nature, would not admit defeat. This may have been one of the few times in her life when she was unable to subdue a creature of either the four legged or two legged variety! As our group reconnected over these past few weeks, it was clear that Diane‘s reputation as a ―can do‖ person continued well after Niger. Connie Hansen remembers that ―Diane was ALWAYS on top of everything--a bit daunting for some of us.‖ When Connie, mother of three, heard that Diane and Val had adopted twins, she called Diane to offer encouragement. Diane‘s response was classic. ―Twins aren‘t so hard. You just put out a second bowl.‖
Because it was so hot in Niger, we often slept outdoors. The skies were unforgettably clear and the stars incredibly bright. Surely Niger volunteers today, sleeping outdoors, have noticed a new star shining brightly. We‘ll remember Diane as our special star. Over the years, she remained idealistic and she made our world a better place.