Friday, June 09, 2006
Bonjour from Niamey, Niger! It’s 13:43 here (1:43), and for once, cool! We had our first rain two nights ago and another, longer rain last night. It is beautiful that I am not sweating right now. This first week has been about the hottest I’ve ever experienced, I think. Humid, too, as the rains were coming, but mostly threatening.
I arrived just fine- my flights were all on time and my parents surprised me by upgrading the ticket they had got for free with frequent flyer miles (Detroit to Paris) to World Business Class. I highly recommend World Business Class to anyone! I was offered wine and champagne at least five times (don’t worry, I didn’t accept), had great food, a hot towel, anything else I could desire, and let me tell you- I slept better on that plane than I had at home for the past week! And no crazy dreams, either.
The worst part of the trip was the layover in Casablanca- 6 hours in an airport smaller than Grand Rapids’s. Hopefully I’ll get out in the city when I have my 11 hours on the way back, otherwise I might go crazy, I think. I did meet some nice girls from Colorado College that were on their way to study in Senegal, though.
In any case, I arrived in Niamey at 3:30 am with no problems. There was a guy at baggage claim to greet me and carry my luggage, who brought me to Tom. One thing about Niger-everything is done for you- baggage carrying, gas is full service, etc. I think it’s because it creates jobs.
These are a few things I have learned about Niger so far:
It is very dusty. Niger’s primary colors are brown, red, tope, and tan
It is very hot.
Niger is the world’s poorest country. Tom says that Niamey has almost 1 million residents, but probably has a smaller GDP than that of Holland, Michigan.
Even though Niger is the poorest country in the world, it has a very low crime rate. I'm very safe in Niamey.
People don’t say any form of “bless you”- of course, why would they?
Many Africans like Asian kung-fu type movies
Most people speak at least two languages
I laughed when I read the phrase, “The people are so beautiful that even the men enter beauty contests” in my packet about Niger the RCA gave me, but it’s very true! The people here are very handsome, and usually are wearing gorgeous fabrics. Also, almost always cover the legs and at least half the arms. I have a hard time imagining the heat of that, although I suppose if you live here, that is the reality
Niamey is a city much like you’ve seen the National Geographic photos- people EVERYWHERE, in cars, on motorbikes, bicycles, feet, donkeys, or camels. In sandals or barefoot. Carrying things (sometimes quite a lot) on their head. Kids everywhere. I would never want to drive in Niamey. Nigeriens are also notoriously poor drivers. There are no McDonald’s, although there are a few modern grocery stores that sell pretty much whatever you want. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually sold by individual vendors on the side of the road.
I’ve been having a good time with the Johnsons. A normal day looks like waking up, playing with the girls while Tom works at home until Aïchatou returns from the clinic around lunchtime. Then there is sieste (nap time for the whole country!) during the hottest part of the day, often a couple errands to run in the afternoon, more playing, dinner around 8pm, maybe a movie and then bed,
Tom and Aïchatou are very nice and hospitable. Their girls Marie (2) and Laurey(6mo) are a lot of fun. Marie’s favorite phrase is “Ca c’est quoi?” (literally: “That is what?) and then someone will answer in French, English, or Hausa. She also loves to play with glasses (“my lunettes”) and really likes the ones I brought with the Mr. Potato head set. Laurey has big eyes and an easy smile, but is teething so is sometimes unhappy. She is learning to stand up, which she loves.
There is a guardian family who lives on the compound that we play with also ( a man and his wife, one of who is always here). The wife (Zeinabou) cleans the floors on Tuesday and Thursday and they carry in groceries, water the plants, rinse dust off the car, etc. Tom’s SUV doesn’t actually fit in the garage, so the family lives in there, and during the hot season sleeps outside. They have three beautiful children, Fati (11), Ibrahim (8), and Houwa (6). I have never met a more joyful or happy-to-laugh family. They and some other neighborhood games have taught me a lot of fun games, and I’ve taught them some too! Zeinabou and Fati both speak French, so we get along pretty well. Also, Ramatou, the fifteen year old who lives here and takes care of the baby/cleans and cooks a bit, speaks some French. She is my roommate during the week (she goes home during the weekend).
Tuesday, two cousins from Iowa, college seniors named Katie and Stephanie (in the picture above) came to Niamey and roomed with me, too. It was nice to have some girls my age here while I was getting acclimated to life in Niger. We all asked a lot of questions, so I didn’t feel alone. Yesterday we dropped them off to a rural hospital about an hour away. We saw a lot of small villages on the way there- grass huts and other huts on stilts that serves as granaries. I got to see a tour of the hospital with them. The hospital was what you would expect from a rural hospital. No gleaming white counters and high-tech machines like you would see in the States, but they do well with what they are given. They have two doctors for all of the 300,000 people in the surrounding area, and the chief doctor, a woman whose name I can’t remember, may soon be transferred to Niamey, leaving them with one. I am sure that the girls will learn a lot there. They also get to be part of a campaign to vaccinate pregnant mothers for tetanus in near villages.
On the way home, we saw two giraffes crossing the road, and Tom pulled over so we could take a picture, check it out! This is no zoo, folks!! I couldn’t believe it.
I’m having a good time here in Niamey, and learning a whole lot. Please pray for the Johnsons, for my new friends Katie and Stephanie and my other new friends in Niamey. Pray that I get my internal clock rightly re-adjusted and have no stomach problems. (I’ve been safe so far!)
I’m missing you already. Comment so I know how you are doing (you don’t have to be a member. Just click “other” and enter your name).
Lots of love,