Like many Peace Corps Volunteers before and after me, Seyni was my Baba (father). Being posted in Dosso, Niger where Seyni was the Peace Corps Program Assistant, I became very close to him and his family. It was a rare day that I did not hear the white Peace Corps ambulance come barreling through my yard, only to be followed with the loud blaring of the horn, and the bellowing of Seyni's voice, "JAMILLA! It's Seyni!" Mostly he would come by for work, or he would come by to see if I had time to go by the post office, or if I could read a letter or email from a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), or if I was coming by the Peace Corps Dosso office later so he could write a letter to an RPCV. But I also knew that he was coming by to check on me. He loved us Volunteers. He loved Peace Corps.
When I was posted in Dosso, my house in the high school compound was not finished and it took 5 months for the house to get ready for me to live in it. It took all the patience I had to live at the hostel in the interim. Don't get me wrong, I loved other Volunteers, but I was ready to have some privacy. After a day of meetings where one service agent blamed another for not completing my house, I told Seyni, "maybe Niger doesn't want me here." I remember his reaction. I remember because I wrote it down. He said, "Jamilla, I want you here. You need to be here for my family. You will come live at my house and you will be my daughter." I am sure he knew this, but I needed him more! And this was the reason why I stayed through that hard time.
Months later, I was writing my script for the Thursday radio show. I was trying to come up with a catchy way to introduce myself. There was the legend of Salamatou Maigarize (another Volunteer before me), and I felt I needed a "name.” I was coming up with names when the car came blaring through my yard. When I told Seyni what I was doing, he said that my name could only be "Jamilla Seyni" since I was his daughter. And that's how I introduced myself from then on.
Years later, while my family visited, I became the sickest I had ever been. I could not stand up, could not keep anything in me, and Seyni's daily check up turned into an emergency response. Since I was delusional from dehydration, I cannot remember details, but my "Ameriki" Mom and Dad remember Seyni taking us to the Dosso hospital. Seyni stayed by my side and talked to the doctors as I got blood work done. What I do remember was when Seyni called the Peace Corps Medical Officer exclaiming that he needed to bring me in, and that I was not okay. He drove, and I laid in the back of that ambulance with my Mom and Dad. I had two Babas. Seyni carried me into the infirmary himself. He was a saint and he loved us all so much.
Through all the sincere support, there was also times of laughter. The birthday celebration commemorating his "you've passed the life expectancy in Niger" birthday; the nights he would hear we were having pizza and how THAT was his favorite food. We would always save Seyni slices of pizza and he loved hanging out at the hostel with Volunteers, laying on the floor with his feet up.
He was candid. , sincere, smart, patient, funny, and one of a kind. I loved him most out of all the people I knew in Niger. Seyni passed away on April 25, 2011. I will miss him dearly. Niger has lost one of its treasures. But, his stories will live long in the hearts and minds of Volunteers and Peace Corps/Niger. His love will too.
Love from your daughter,