|By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, July 05, 2001 - 7:52 am: Edit Post|
A Peace Corps honeymoon in Niger
A Peace Corps honeymoon in Nige
A Peace Corps honeymoon in Niger
RICEVILLE — Joe and Sharon Marley returned to the United States on Feb. 26 after a three-year "honeymoon" as volunteers with the Peace Corps.
"It was all I wanted it to be and more, much more. It was the best part of my life to this point and I never expected it to be," Joe said.
Although Joe, 29, briefly thought about joining the Peace Corps when he was in high school in Riceville, it was Sharon, 28, who spearheaded the venture.
"I’d always wanted to go into the Peace Corps since I was a little girl and Joe pretty much went because I wanted to," the Prior Lake, Minn., native said.
The couple left for Africa in October 1994 — three months after they were married.
"It was one big long honeymoon," Joe said smiling and looking at Sharon.
With Sharon’s degree in environmental biology from Winona State University and Joe’s experience in farm and livestock work while growing up in rural Riceville and a degree from Winona in life science education, the couple’s duties focused on agriculture and improving farming techniques with the people in the village of Sounga Me’, located in the west African country of Niger.
"I think, though, it was the farming background that determined what we’d be doing," Joe said.
They found agriculture in Niger was nothing at all like it is back home.
"It was more like gardening … it was a lot of hands-on type stuff," Joe said.
Instead of tractors, plows and combines, the villagers used primitive tools, their hands and oxen to pull plows.
"It was like it probably was here 150 years ago," Joe said.
The lessons the Marleys tried to teach their new friends were those about using chemical fertilizers, crop rotation and conservation tillage.
During their first year, the couple went around to each farmer to help on an individual basis.
"They would smile and try it, but I know when we left they went back to their old ways," Joe said. "They don’t have the luxury of trying something new, because if it fails, it means they don’t eat."
So the second year, Joe and Sharon developed their own seven-acre farm – that was about three acres short of the average-sized farm – to demonstrate all the techniques and how they worked together. They grew millet, cow peas, sorghum, ground nuts, or peanuts and corn.
Because they felt their work was not complete after their two years as volunteers were up, they signed up for another year.
Living in a mud house, the two never wavered from their commitment to the Peace Corps. About half of the 45 people they trained with left after two years. Only six people, including the Marleys, stayed for another year.
"We knew we could do better the second year around," Sharon said. "And it was a rewarding experience."
The entire way of life, they said, was different: the religion, the language, which the couple learned in a three-month training session, the food, everything.
The mortality rate among children is high, they said. Three out of five children die before the age of 5 because of poor diet, poor health care and disease.
"It was definitely an eye-opening experience," Sharon said.
In the country of Niger, Joe said, there are eight ethnic groups. And there was some fighting between groups.
"But it was, most of the time, over land. It was never an issue of prejudice."
But with all the differences, one thing, Joe said, was uncannily the same.
"Some of the people there, I swear, could have been my friends back here. They acted so much the same. If they would have had the same backgrounds…"
When they came home, they brought a friend, Amadou Ide’, who lives in Homdallaye, Niger, and has worked with the Peace Corps for 10 years. He will be staying in the United States for the next month before returning home.
"He just wanted to come see everything he’s never seen before," Sharon said, explaining that Ide’ speaks little English.
Among the new experiences was a good old-fashioned snow.
"But I think the new puppy syndrome has worn off," Joe said.
The couple plans to visit their village again, maybe in five years, maybe 10.
"But it would be impossible to say I would never go back. These people where like family," Sharon said.