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December 19th 2009
Published: December 19th 2009
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Niger is often referenced as the poorest country in the world, with a large portion of its land consisting of or threatened by the encroaching Sahara. My time spent there was, however, refreshing and a welcome respite from the overwhelming 3 days in norther Nigeria.
Other than the excessive cost of our visas, we had very little problems getting into Niger. The landscape maintained its level dryness and fewer trees dotted the lanscape than on the Nigerian side. Houses and rounded food storage containers were made of mud and thatch and surrounded by smooth mud walls. Herds of sheep and occasional donkeys pulling various necessities flanked the road. We traveled along the southern road, staying in Maradi, the third largest city and the groundnut capitol of Niger. The people here spoke Hausa, like in northern Nigeria and were predominatley muslim. On the street we ate fried tofu and sweet potatoes in a sweet chili sauce.
Walking towards the big market, we ran into a man leading his camel nonchalantely through the city streets. Many people in Niger have intricate scarification designs on their face, some in the form of cat whiskers, a practice which happens around 9 or 10 years of age.
We moved to Niamey to get our visas for Mali and Burkina Faso. Niamey is the capitol of Niger and rests along the banks of the Niger River. We took a boat ride at sunset one evening, walking down to the river past harvested millet stalks and tiny plots of irrigated tomatoes. The sun set behind the mesas on the western side of the river as our paddlers took us north against the current and we investigated a floating island of scraggly plants for resident hippopotami. As hippos are notoriously territorial and aggressive, it was probably to our benefit that we did not run into the mama and baby for whom we were searching.
I did get pretty close to a few hippos, lions and hyenas the next day at the zoo in downtown Niamey. It was not up to american standards, but is a work in progress and will hopefully improve its cage size and exhibit capacity with the help of the numerous aid organizations working to pull Niger out of poverty. Left for Burkina Faso on thursday and found a very different city.

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on the way from Maradi to Niamey

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