March 1, 2003: Headlines: COS - Nigeria: PCVs in the Field - Nigeria: PC Day: Sheboygan Press: RPCV Cathy Isa stayed in Nigeria for 16 years

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nigeria: Peace Corps Nigeria : The Peace Corps in Nigeria: March 1, 2003: Headlines: COS - Nigeria: PCVs in the Field - Nigeria: PC Day: Sheboygan Press: RPCV Cathy Isa stayed in Nigeria for 16 years

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RPCV Cathy Isa stayed in Nigeria for 16 years

RPCV Cathy Isa stayed in Nigeria for 16 years

Teacher talks of life in Nigeria

What started out as 2-year assignment became home

By Martha H. Shad
Sheboygan Press staff

In 1966, Cathy Isa was fresh out of college and curious about the world beyond Sheboygan, so she joined the Peace Corps for a two-year stint in Nigeria.

She stayed for 16 years.

Isa, a teacher at Cooper Elementary School in Sheboygan, shared her experiences with the school’s fifth-graders Thursday to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the Peace Corps’ creation.

During her time in Nigeria, Isa lived in several different communities in the Sahara Desert. Her homes had 2-foot-thick walls of mud and straw and a thickly thatched roof. Despite months when the daily temperature reached 120 degrees, the home’s interior was cool by comparison, Isa said.

She split her time between teaching English at a high school and traveling to elementary schools in small villages, where she helped aspiring teachers with their English skills.

“People who had finished the sixth grade could go to teacher school for one year and then go back to their school and teach,” Isa said. “It would be like having a seventh-grader teaching a class.”

Transportation was a bit of a challenge in those early months. Initially, she was given a horse, which was problematic in two ways.

“I guess the Peace Corps thought that because I came from Wisconsin and had lived on a farm, I knew how to ride, but I’d never been on a horse in my life,” Isa told the students. “The other thing is that, in Nigeria, horses don’t have shoes. Most of the time, the places I went to were 20 miles away. My horse couldn’t go there and back in one day; it was too hard on his feet, so we would have to spend the night.”

A few months later, she traded in the horse for a motorcycle, which was replaced with a car after an accident that left the motorcycle mangled, Isa said.

She could have left Nigeria in 1968 and returned home, but by then she had fallen in love with the country and its people — one man in particular, whom she married that December. Her family’s only concern was that she return to Sheboygan for the ceremony.

His family was very pleased with the marriage.

“Marrying a white woman was the highest status symbol a man could have,” Isa said.

They had three children, but the marriage ended tragically in 1978 when her husband was killed in a car accident. In addition to the pain of that loss, it created a dilemma.

“There, the children belong to the father, not the mother,” Isa said. “So, if the father dies, the children and his wife go to his family, who designates someone to marry her and look after the children. I didn’t want to marry again, and especially not someone who was, essentially, my brother.”

During the next four years, she tried to get permanent residency status. Without it, she would not be able to claim a pension when she retired. When the government refused her request, Isa had to make the difficult decision to return to the United States.

“I was very happy living there,” she said. “I did not want to leave.”

She has not been back to Nigeria since leaving 20 years ago, simply because she can’t afford it, but she does stay in touch with extended in-laws.

Reach Martha H. Shad at and 453-5167.

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Sheboygan Press

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nigeria; PCVs in the Field - Nigeria; PC Day



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