Steven Saum posted an articleTheir life together carried them around the world, then back to New Hampshire see more
Their life together carried them around the world, then back to Stephen’s home in Concord, New Hampshire.
By Steven Boyd Saum
Concord, New Hampshire, was where Stephen Reid was born and raised and where, decades later, he returned with his wife and love of his life, Djeswende Pasgo Reid. In between were years and continents and family. Peace Corps service took Steve to Niger 1979–81, teaching middle school English in the town of Madaoua. He returned to work for the Peace Corps agency in D.C.; it was there he and Wendy met. She was studying as an undergraduate after stretches touring internationally with the Togolese national basketball team — from Lagos to
Beijing, Tunis to Buenos Aires.
They wed, had two children, and Steve served as associate director for Peace Corps Senegal, with programs in reforestation, water supply, community development, and intercultural language training. Steve later pursued a master’s in public administration while Wendy worked to support their growing family. USAID recruited him to work with an NGO in Burkina Faso focused on climate change and food security. He went on to direct USAID-funded projects in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, and Haiti.
Marriage vows: Djeswende Pasgo Reid and Stephen Reid. Photo courtesy the Reid family
A few years ago the couple returned to Concord, looking forward to time with family and old friends. They enjoyed hiking the area’s vast trail system. Tragically, it was while out hiking in April 2022 that they were both shot and killed for reasons still not clear. A suspect was arrested and arraigned in October 2022.
What is known: They were loved, admired, and respected by colleagues and friends alike.
This remembrance appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView magazine.
Orrin Luc posted an articleTuareg silverwork and hidden beauty amid the arid scrubland of the Nigerien Sahel see more
My Tuareg silverwork reminds me of the hidden beauty amid the vast arid scrubland of the Nigerien Sahel.
By Cathy Sunshine
During my second year as a health educator in Aderbissinat, Niger, my work partner and I had new saddles made for our two camels. The camels were our work transport, purchased for us by Peace Corps. There were no paved roads in the barren landscape around Aderbissinat, only tracks in the sand. Volunteers in larger towns got mopeds; we got camels. In addition to working in the village clinic, we would ride the camels several miles into the bush to visit nomadic Tuareg camps, where we would give nutrition lessons, check on pregnant women and newborns, and tend to simple medical concerns.
A tiny, windswept outpost on the Zinder–Agadez route, Aderbissinat was the most remote Peace Corps health post in Niger in the mid-1970s. The townspeople were mostly Tuaregs and Hausas, with a small number of Arab shopkeepers. Scattered throughout the surrounding area were the camps of Tuareg herders, who migrated seasonally with their camels and goats.
In Niger, leatherwork and silverwork are done by smiths called mekaris, who are highly respected for their artisanal skills. We knew of a mekari named Akou who lived in a tent on the outskirts of the village, and we went to see him. In a daily journal entry for April 9, 1977, we wrote, “Over the hill to see mekari about saddles and rings.” In addition to the leather saddles, we wanted to have silver jewelry made, and we agreed on prices for all.
In her work as a health educator, Cathy Sunshine sometimes traveled by camel to visit Tuareg camps outside her village of Aderbissinat, Niger. Photo courtesy Cathy Sunshine
The work took two months, and during this time we made several visits to Akou’s tent. On one occasion he thanked us with a repast of macaroni and goat meat, special foods considered suitable for guests. And there was tea. Boiled in a teapot over a charcoal brazier, it was sweetened with chunks of sugar broken off a large cone wrapped in blue paper. Three rounds were served in tiny shot glasses: the first bitter, the second sweet, and the last sweetest of all. No visit to a Tuareg home was complete without it. On April 27 we recorded, “Tea, bread, macaroni and meat!! Saddles are coming along slowly, but beautifully.”
We were always falling off the camels. Highly intelligent beasts, they have a nasty streak and don’t suffer fools — inexperienced riders — gladly.
On June 1 we picked up the finished saddles, and several days later we tried them out on the Zinder road — with unfortunate results. Our journal entry for June 5 reads: “Camel riding. We crash to the ground narrowly avoiding death. Saddle broken.”
This was in no way Akou’s fault. We were always falling off the camels. Highly intelligent beasts, they have a nasty streak and don’t suffer fools — inexperienced riders — gladly. My partner and I fell into that category, so they tossed us off with some frequency. It was a long way down, but we were young and our bones not yet brittle. We must have had the broken saddle repaired soon afterward, because a subsequent entry notes that we went “to Akou’s to retrieve saddle” on June 11.
A silver ring with inlaid red and green glass, slim silver earrings, and a necklace of silver and black glass. Photo courtesy Cathy Sunshine
I didn’t bring the saddles home with me at the end of my service; they were passed on, together with the camels, to the Volunteers who replaced us in the town. But I kept the ring, earrings, and necklace that Akou made for me.
The ring is silver, with delicate inlays of red and green glass. The earrings are slim silver hoops with geometric shapes at one end, and I wear them to this day. The necklace is made of silver tubular beads and black glass beads threaded together in an intricate triangular design. I have never worn it, in part because the cotton thread that holds it together is old and frayed.
The jewelry reminds me of how we gradually became part of the life of this tiny village on the edge of the Sahara. We commissioned goods to be made for us and sat in the silversmith’s tent, discussing our order in Hausa over glasses of tea. Above all, my silverwork reminds me of the mekari’s patience and skill and of the beauty to be found amid the vast arid scrubland of the Nigerien Sahel.
Objects and Stories
Cathy Sunshine’s jewelry and story are featured in the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. With a growing collection of first-hand narratives, the museum connects people, places, and objects. Learn more about how you can nurture those connections — across nations and generations.
This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView magazine.
Cathy Sunshine served as a Volunteer in Niger 1975–77.
Communications Intern posted an articleA phone call and a lesson from Niger in the time of COVID see more
A phone call and a lesson from Niger in the time of COVID
By William F.S. Miles
Photo: Faralu, a friend in Niger who reached out to the author to make sure his family was OK.
Early in our new COVID-19 era last spring, a phone call and forwarded WhatsApp message from near my old Peace Corps site poignantly reminded me of the transnational compassion and solidarity that Peace Corps engenders.
Twenty years ago I had received a similar urgent message of concern. Then it was about my 10-year-old son, Samuel, with whom I had just visited my friends in the hinterlands of West Africa to settle an inheritance dispute over my Sahelian horse. My friends were greatly afraid for Sam’s safety, for they had heard on the radio chilling news about America: on March 5, 2001, a 15-year-old high school student in California shot 13 schoolmates, killing two. It was the tenth school shooting since the Columbine massacre, two years before. From what my African friends were hearing in the local language, thanks to Voice of America and the BBC, our children go to school in the morning and are regularly shot to death by other children.
Now Faralu — my former horse groom, he who had defended my property rights in Niger even after a decade since my previous visit there — is asking: Are my children, wife, and mother safe from this new sickness that is raging everywhere in the world? Everywhere except — at least for now, thanks to Allah — his own nation, Niger.
Amirou Albade is the President of the Association of Traditional Chiefs of Niger, one of the most respected positions in a country where the weight of socio-cultural norms is strongly felt. Photo by Juan Haro / UNICEF Niger
Life in Niger has long been one of daily struggle — anxiety from inadequate rains, little money, children dying from simple infections. Few Nigériens have running water or electricity. Beggars and blind folk still abound; flies afflict, diarrheal infants die. The average per capita income is less than two dollars a day. But the spirit of solidarity reigns supreme and resilience is second nature. So is the acceptance of mortality that comes with faith. Even if COVID-19 does infiltrate, it will not threaten the social fabric as it is already starting to do in more patently “developed” societies.
I am always humbled by such expressions of concern from my materially impoverished friends, be they about illness from an acute new virus or the chronic one that periodically prompts the young among my people to kill their schoolmates. They do not turn their back on their friends when disaster strikes; we should not, either.
Amirou Albade makes a door-to-door visit to a family in Niamey, capital of Niger, to inform and encourage them with the facts that can help protect them from Covid-19. Photo by Juan Haro / UNICEF Niger
Even as our bandwidth, print space, and airwaves have been colonized by coronavirus news, we should not forget our global responsibilities. Through no virtue of our own, most Americans happen to have been born into a prosperous nation. Not all of our co-citizens are prosperous, of course — an inequitable fact that is being made more and more obvious as coronavirus rages. Yet we still won the global lottery by the luck of birthplace. Even if the current pandemic is challenging casual cheerleaders of globalization — and I admit to having been one of them — we should not succumb to the temptation of restricting our compassion by citizenship. If the pandemic is a global crisis, the solution must be no less global — and personal, too.
Niger’s population of 24 million is close to that of Florida’s. As I write this, the Sunshine State has registered 726,000 cases of COVID-19 and 15,000 deaths; Niger, with 3 million more inhabitants, has had 1,200 cases and 69 deaths. The U.S. as whole, with almost 14 times the population of Niger, has well over 3,000 times more fatalities from the coronavirus.
End of shift: Early morning, a nurse with CURE Niger heads home. Photo by Ana Psiaki / CURE Niger
Not that Niger is a healthcare paragon. And there the government-mandated closing of mosques has not been without controversy — in a few pockets even violent protest. But there has been no crowing that “their” God is a better protector than ours, no groundswell of protest against the mandate to wear masks in the capital city.
Whether through the U.S. Armed Forces or the Peace Corps, hundreds of thousands of Americans have forged close relationships with “host country nationals” in the developing nations where they have served. Even in this moment of national health crisis, we should remember our friends from abroad. I am sure they are all — like Faralu, who called again during the fast of Ramadan to convey his concern — remembering us. And I am also quite certain that they have the equivalent of this proverb in Faralu’s native language: “From the friend who weeps in hearing of your sorrow, hide not your own.”
William F.S. Miles served as a Volunteer in Magaria, Niger, 1977–79. His daughter Arielle Miles also served as a Volunteer in Kenya 2009–11. Bill teaches political science at Northeastern University in Boston. His Peace Corps-inspired memoir, My African Horse Problem, is published by the University of Massachusetts Press. An earlier version of this article was published at The Wisdom Daily under the title “Interfaith Pandemic Solidarity.”
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