Tuesday, January 4, 2011

International Romance

Last month, I was reflecting on what I'd learned in 2009 about my craft, blogging, and most importantly, the amazing friends I've made on my quest.

This month, I'm excited to announce that four of my new-found kindred spirits have agreed to share some of their personal stories with you.

The series is inspired by International Romance. All five of us found ourselves on foreign soil, with foreign men at some point in our lives, and it has a profound effect on our world view and our writing. Because a relationship with a man from another culture (and the other culture itself) is a quirky, unpredictable thing. And it's all worth it.

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.
I rode the ten clicks between Bambari and Lioua on my Peace Corps-issued mountain bike about four times a week. The road had greatly deteriorated during the last rainy season. Gullies had formed in the hilly stretches as six months of torrential rains gouged trenches more than two feet deep. Often I had to get off my bike and carry it, hobbling under its weight, hopping from one ribbon of road to the next and praying like crazy I wouldn’t miscalculate and twist an ankle. Needing medical attention that far into the bush would not have been a good thing.

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.

My vocabulary for what’s romantic is vast now, compared to before I went abroad. I think my writing is more vibrant for it. I mean, in the days following my first meeting with Christian, I couldn’t pick up a phone and call him. There weren’t any. Every couple days, though, a company truck would pull up to my gate. My heart would race. Gilbert, the Central African hired by the Peace Corps to “guard” my house, would hand me an envelope delivered by the waiting driver. These notes from Christian were, hands down, the most romantic messages ever. I still have every one, tucked away in my journals. I would write a note back and the messenger’s tires would spin out on the dusty road, to get my response back to his patron, his boss, as quickly as possible.

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!

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Jules said...

What an adventurous love story. Thanks for introducing me to Nicole, I'll look forward to hearing the other stories. Wonderful idea :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Sarah said...

That's quite a story, and I did enjoy the photos, especially the bulging muscles on Christian's arms. :) Phwor!

Marieke said...

How wonderful! And I love the languages! Thanks for sharing :)

Mara McBain said...

What a fabulous adventure your life has been! I am sure that your experiences have bonded you and Christian in ways many will never experience. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story and I can not believe I have never looked at your photo album! I was all choked up looking at the pictures of the plane swooping into rescue you and the picture of you and Christian being reunited brought tears to my eyes.

Carolyn V. said...

That is so cool! Nicole what a fascinating story! I love the pictures! (Nichole's so cool.)

Great idea Carolyn! =D

Old Kitty said...

Awwwwww this is so lovely!! What a lovely thing to have!! Romance is not dead!! It's alive and kicking and knows no boundaries!! Thank you so much Nicole Ducleroir for sharing your beautiful memories of an astonishing part of Africa - much ravaged but beautiful if only people would stop hating and just love as you and Christian have found!! Yay!!

Thanks for hosting Carolyn! Take care

Matthew MacNish said...

What an amazing story!

Plus, these are 4 of my fave ladies, so I'm looking forward to the rest too!

Elena Solodow said...

What a moving story.

LTM said...

this is too cool, guys! Nichole threw in that polygamist part, and I was waiting for one of the Africans to invite her to join his family... :D

I love the part about the letters. My husband grew up in north Louisiana, and during the summers he'd go home. We'd write letters, and you're right. They're the most amazing things... I still have all mine~ ;p <3

Southpaw said...

What a wonderful story. I pictured the red dust scene perfectly.

Golden Eagle said...

That's a great story. :) Love the post!

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow, what an awesome story Nicole! I had no idea! Thanks for thinking this up Carolyn, so much fun!

Unknown said...

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for reading my article, for leaving your comments, and for being all-around awesome peeps! Carolyn, it's been a blast. Looking forward to everyone else's posts in the series!

Ayak said...

What a wonderful idea. I love Nicole's story and am very much looking forward to the others.

Jessica Bell said...

Wow, Nicole! What an amazing experience. I love that you still speak Snago with your husband. So cool :o)

Deniz Bevan said...

What a great idea - I can't wait to read the other stories, too.
DH would have to write ours, as I'm the one with family in Turkey and he was the outlander, the year that we lived there together [g]

Vicki Rocho said...

Ack! I can't believe I missed this series until now. FANTASTIC!


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