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Published: March 1st 2006
I love being in motion in Africa. Walking in the markets, zipping in taxis, bumping through the brush. I don’t know if it’s ‘cause I feel like I’m in a movie or I feel like, oddly, I can see everything more. Or see more things in a shorter period of time, even if it’s only a flash.
We drove for about thirty minutes, dodging sheep and donkeys and potholes. And then walked 15 minutes to the village. It’s the beginning of the dry season so there aren’t a lot of plants or people. There are the usual spiney plants and a beautiful three tree mango grove and the towering goa trees.
The village has maybe 200-300 people, a little school, two wells, no electricity, but oddly solar power to pump one of the wells. Random Niger fact if I’m correct; the guy who invented solar panels was Nigerien, look it up. In the rainy season the river bed that divides the village is so full you have to walk a long ways to find a way to get across. It was drydrydry when we went. A lot of people said hi to Yussef that he didn’t know and instead of the usual call of “Annasara” at me the kids were just too overwhelmed to see their first white person, maybe.
We hung out in the shifting shad of a building in the compound of the sister of Yussef’s mom. There were 4 houses in a circle with little pens for cows. The sister took my goodies and they killed a chicken for me. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a chicken de-feathered. She dunked it in boiling water to loosen the follicles and then just pulled away. They all giggled at me standing there observing. It’s so weird to think about how little is between the outer regions and the inner regions of animals/humans. Ramatu, a ten year old cousin, hung out wide eyed with us all day. I showed her Yellowstone postcards, a map of Big Sky, my trusty Audobon calendar. Most of the time she was so amazed with the events of the day that she wouldn’t even look at the picture I was pointing at. She was the designated “kid-getter” she determined which kids were worthy of stickers and put them through a grueling process of asking them to say their name and how old they were. Yussef older cousins made tea and looked at the magazines I brought and chased the kids away when they got too numerous.
We ate the chicken and spaghetti inside. Sand floors are so versatile. If you spill something, it absorbs the liquid part and to clean you just scoop the sand up and chuck it outside, like cat litter. You can draw and write and explain things on it. You always have something for your feet to do if there’s an awkward moment of not knowing the language.
We went walked back to the road through the dry river bed after leaving some t-shirts and hats and magazines with a promise to come back another Sunday. We waited by the side of the road in the perfectly lit African twilight time. The trees were glowing, the sand was beautifully copper, I peed in a ditch and we waited for a ride. We saw an overladen bush taxis coming and got up in preparation to try and squeeze on but it broke down fifty yards away. We waited until it got going and reached us and of course there was room, you can always fit more people. I squeezed one butt cheek on the bench with my feet under two goats and Yussef out the back again. But it didn’t last long cause the car broke down again and after a couple tries of just the guys who could easily jump on pushed it, we all got out. The guy opened the hood and blew in one of the tubes and it started. I lost my seat to a mother and baby and straddled the tailgate all the way back, in the waning light.
At one of the stops the littler goat was grabbed and put on the road. He cried. His legs hurt. He couldn’t move. When I finally got out, I felt like the little goat too.
We got out earlier than expected and found a van to take us the rest of the way cause the car broke down again. The driver of the van was on a world record mission or the Niamey equivalent of speed. He yelled at his customers to get in and out more quickly and we almost hit two taxis, 4 motos and several people in the short drive back to the CFCA. And we were sitting up front, in full view, exhausted, sun-drained, leg crampy. We got out and Yussef grumbled, “Irkoy m'iri halasi” may god protect our souls.
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