So what was I thinking? I felt invincible at age 20 until I was strong- armed by two soldiers each sporting an AK-47. I entered Niger, a country on the edge of the Sahara Desert, without a visa where I didn’t speak the language. So what’s the big deal? This never mattered to me back then in 1973. Here is an excerpt from my memoir, Part VI, Chapter, Deportation:
Out of nowhere two green-fatigued soldiers, each with an AK-47 slung over their shoulders, flanked me and forced me out of the customs line for further interrogation. In a meek respectful voice, I whimpered, “I’m just a Peace Corps volunteer innocently traveling to visit a friend. I won’t be a threat to your country. I…I promise.” When the soldiers’ grip nearly squeezed the blood out of my arms, I realized they took their job seriously.
1 page later I had summoned an American embassy foreign service officer:
Fred said solemnly. “You need to leave. I’m sorry. The customs officer stated you must re-board the plane right now that you arrived on from Mali. This plane will take you to Ouagadougou, the capital of Upper Volta.”
I pleaded, “Please go tell them, one more time, I have no money for a ticket, and I have no visa for Upper Volta.” I wasn’t willing to give up hope. I remained defiant.
2 pages later:
A hush overcame the airport terminal when all eyes turned toward the plane on the tarmac. A man came down the flight stairs, a French pilot in his navy blue slacks, white short-sleeved shirt with red, white, and blue service bars on his shoulders. With purpose in his step he marched twenty-five yards across the landing strip directly up to me, looked sternly in my eyes, and said in perfect English, “Get…on…the plane!”
3 paragraphs later:
Two hours later we landed. I entered the customs line [in Ouagadougou.] I handed the official my Peace Corps passport now stamped with a “Non Admis,” the deportation insignia from Niger on January 4, 1973.
Here’s proof with my visa entry. I could have been jailed and had my nails ripped out. Maybe being naive was a blessing. Never once was I scared, only angry and defiant. Oh to be young again…or not. I’m thankful to be able to write this story.