So without further ado, I give you Nicole Ducleroir (top left):
My international romance began in 1995 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic. For those of you with the same feeble geography knowledge I had at the time I received my invitation to serve, that’s a very poor, land-locked African country which borders Chad to the north and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire) to the south. It’s a francophone country, and since I didn’t speak French, I knew I would be required to learn the language during my tour of duty. What I didn’t know was how dramatically my language of life was about to change.
After just three months of language classes during training, I was sent to my rural post of Bambari to work. I lived in a mud brick house with no electricity or running water. By the time I’d been in country about a year, my French was still weak. Outside the capital city, most people didn’t speak French, so I’d become much more comfortable speaking the local language, Sango.
Though I lived in Bambari, I chose a smaller village ten kilometers away in which to work. Lioua, pronounced [Lee-wah], was an agricultural community and exceptionally poor. Unlike my house in the bigger village, the homes in Lioua had dirt floors instead of cement, and grass thatched roofs instead of corrugated tin. The people were warm and hospitable, willing to share with me their only possessions. I was fascinated by their culture; they had so little and yet lived joyful, animated lives. And they were polygamists.
One day on the way back from Lioua, I met Christian. The temperatures were in the nineties and I’d been sweating profusely as I peddled. Several bush taxis had lumbered past, each time raising a cloud of red dust twenty-five feet in the air. When a vehicle passed, I always pulled off the road and stood, straddling my bike, covering my nose and mouth with a bandana. Nonetheless, as the dust settled, it stuck to my humid skin. I became redder with each new layer. And when I resumed my trek, sweat rolled down my face, leaving tracks on my dirty skin. Oh, and I smelled bad.
Christian was surveying the road that day. His company resurfaced the roads washed away by the rains. He asked me if I wanted a lift to the village. The rest, as they say, is history.
It was because of Christian that I have become proficient in French. After our time in Africa, we lived together in France for five years before moving to the States. And it’s because of him that I’ve expanded my awareness of language in general, in love, and in my writing.
Languages feel as different as they sound. Hearing my husband whisper, “Je t’aime, ma belle,” has a much different impact than hearing it in English. And cursing in another language both entertains me when I’m having “a moment,” and loses its connotative sting when it comes from my husband.
Christian and I still speak Sango together. We get a kick out of it, and it’s our only secret code now that our children can understand French. Sango, though very poor in vocabulary (it only has about 500 words), is a tonal language and extremely poetic. For example, ya means stomach. And da means house. So if you want to say “inside the house,” you say ya ti da (or the stomach of the house). Interesting, right?
My writing is definitely more imaginative and energetic because of my experiences with Christian in Africa and France. The decision to join the Peace Corps changed my life in so many more ways that I’d ever anticipated. And all for the better.
For anyone interested, here is a brief photo album with some of my pictures from Africa:
And, here are a couple short stories I’ve written based on my time in Africa:
I want to thank Carolyn for inviting me to participate in this blog series. Carolyn, you’re awesome! I can’t wait to read the other posts. Thank you!!
Thank you so much, Nicole! (I'm going to gush some more thanks to her in a private email...but remember next week Katie Mills (aka Creepy Query Girl) is stopping in to share some of her adventures too!)
For next month, I'm thinking up a series called The Specialists, ie. those bloggery friends who keep a niche for scientific things like medical phenomena, psychiatry, plant poisons, etc... I have a couple of ideas of who to ask, but if you're reading this and have a great suggestion, let me know!