I promised you a re-telling of the trip to Zinder, so here it is:
Arriving at Aichatou's parents' house was great. They live on a compound complete with guinea fowl, chickens, and a big dog named Dixon. The cooking is done outside on open fires by women on the compound. There has to be a lot of food becuase there is always someone coming over for dinner. Aichatou's family is quite large, as I am continually discovering. More than half of the church is made up of her family! Two days before I left I found out that Ramatou's daughter Nadira is a second or third cousin of Marie and Laurey on Nadira's father's side. Small world.
I really liked Aichaotou's family. They were very welcoming and hospitable, with easy smiles. The first day we were there, Aichatou's mother (Baba Aiyou) got out the family picture albums, and I got to see baby Aichatou, as well as pictures of her grandfather, the first Christian in her family. (He was a Quaranic scholar, and converted to Christianity as an adult). I also noticed that they had a lot of pictures of people in their family studying - at tables with books open in front of them. This was yet another example to me of how much Aichatou's family values education. Every night around seven the family (this includes those who live on the compound as well as brothers and sisters and cousins, nieces, and nephews who live in the general area) gathered in the large living room for Bible reading and reflection, followed by prayer and singing. It ended with a small offering collection and group prayer, after which they would go around the room and people would mention things they were thanking God for and praying for. Then we'd all greet eachother in Christ. I really enjoyed this part of the day. It was cool to see how important faith is to their family, and how necessary family fellowship and community devotion is to them in a country so dominated by Islam. It's a hard thing to be a Christian in Niger, but Aichatou's family is very intentional about living for God and making it their family's number one priority.
On Thursday, Tom took a business trip to Maradi, a town about three hours west of Zinder where the headquarters of the EERN is. I was invited to come along and visit Kara VanderKamp, Tom's partner missionary with the PCUSA who was looking for housing in Maradi as she will be moving out there at the end of the summer. She was in Maradi for the weekend with a Peace Corps friend (Judy) from Niamey, and I got to hang out with them at a very nice and peaceful missionary guest house there. Tom and I were supposed to return to Zinder on Friday, however I came down with a fever and some stomach problems on Thursday night (and let me tell you, having chills a hundred miles away from the Sahara desert is a weird sensation).
It turns out that I was lucky to have gotten sick in a place where it was so easy to rest and recuperate. There was a nurse that lived on the guesthouse compound, and Kara and Judy were very nice about "attending to me" so to speak. I was better shortly, and we spent the rest of the week exploring Maradi. We talked to some Peace Corps volunteers working there, and also were invited to dinner at the home of Ibrahim Abdu, genearal secretary of the EERN. Dinner at his house was really great; his wife Hadiza cooked some phenomenal Dambu (a traditional Hausa dish made with couscous and sauce) and we played with his son Samuel. It was a very fun night.
Maradi in general was a really fun town. It is smaller than both Niamey and Zinder, but bigger than a village. Because of its smaller size it retains a distinct culture and community. It's a colorful, busy city with lots of little one-roomed shops lining the streets under small awnings. It's got more of a traditional African flavor than Niamey because there aren't as many Westerners there and you don't have the same kind of big convenience stores. I really liked Maradi, in spite of little inconveniences like shops closing for sieste. Taxis also stop for prayer times, as we found out first hand. I also enjoyed getting to know the missionary and Peace Corps community in Maradi. A few of the missionary families live on the guesthouse compound, and we got to hang out with them. My favorite part was probably the last night, when we got to watch the first episode of the McGyver series at the guesthouse manager Gail's house. I always wondered why my guy friends at NPU were so into watching McGuyver -(some of you fellow North Parkers may remember them going so far as to celebrate Richard Dean Anderson's birthday in the ARA), but now I understand! I was astounded by his ability to turn "what may seem like normal milk chocolate bars" into a chemical reaction to stop a nuclear power leak! I'm hooked and I'm never going back.
On Sunday, Kara got the keys to a car she had inherited from some missionaries that left the country two years ago. It's been on blocks ever since. Our friend Ousman was up from Niamey, and with some elbow grease and a lot of new parts, had been able to repair the little Suzuki to working order. So after church Kara, Judy, and I set off to visit (and return me to, as I was getting low on clothes having only planned for one night and staying three,) Zinder. Judy and I squished in the small backseat as we were also giving a ride to Pastor Sonni, a member of the EERN who was working between Maradi and Zinder on a Words of Hope project with Tom.
We set off hopefully for Zinder in the toy SUV Kara had dubbed Sam (short for "samurai", the car's make). Other than leaves flying out of the air conditioning vents when we started the car and a break fluid light illuminating the dashboard, nothing appeard to be really wrong with it. After about two and a half hours, however, we found out something very wrong with it. We had gotten a flat tire, a common occurance in Niger, but still no fun. We took this point to notice also that the car was not, in fact, equipped with a spare tire or a sufficient jack. Ours was missing a piece. I was thinking to myself about what luck I have with flat tires. I seem to have a knack for attracting them when I am in other people's cars, and this one makes number four in the past year. To see the account of my first, almost exactly a year ago, go here.(Scroll to the July 9 entry).
Our flat tire:
So we got out of the car, on the side of the road, and looked to Pastor Sonni for wisdom. He seemed to be at as much of a loss as we were. We decided that since we were not terribly far from Zinder, we'd try and give Tom a call. Unfortunatley, Tom happened to be on Aichatou's family's farm, twenty kilometeres outside of Zinder, where the poor guy had to be perched on top of a large boulder formation in order to get any cell phone service. Despite our pleas for help, Tom responded that he simply was not in a position to help us, and that Pastor Sonni should know what to do as they 'fix tires in the bush all the time.' Getting off the phone with Tom I looked hopefully at Pastor Sonni, who seemed to be taking advantage of the moment to rest his legs on the back bumper of the Suzuki.
"Tom says you should know how to fix it," I said to him in French, "he says they do it in the bush all the time."
Pastor Sonni looked at me disbelievingly. "What am I supposed to fix it with?" he asked, "The straw on the side of the road?"
We were stuck on a highway in the middle of the Sahel with no where to turn for help. The nearest village was at least four miles away, and it was late in the day. In Niger, it's quite common for people to be pulled over on the side of the road because of car trouble. It's also very common for people who are on the side of the road to wave good-naturedly at those in cars. You can imagine how many people we waved at, trying to get them to stop, who politely waved and continued to speed past us. Finally, an empty bush taxi (*a bush taxi is a fifteen-passenger van that carries people from one village to another. It is usually packed with about thirty people, plus luggage and animals. Very unsafe.*) stopped, two men got out and loaned us their jack to remove the tire and then took the tire and Pastor Sonni with them to the nearest village, leaving Kara, Judy, and I to the nomad Fulani herdsmen nearby. We passed the next half hour watching people ride camels and cows and admiring the Eastern Nigerien landscape.
At one point, a very full bush taxi pulled over, who we waved off saying "no, no, ca va, we already have help, thanks!" when people started piling out of the bush taxi, followed by a tire and...Pastor Sonni! In thirty minutes the bush taxi had gone to the village, repaired the tire, stocked up with people and luggage and animals so full that I couldn't recognize it anymore and returned to help us.
This is about half of the people in the bush taxi that piled out to help us. They liked having their picture taken quite a bit:
Our rescuers. The one putting food in his mouth is the driver. I feel that's a prettty descriptive picture of him as a whole:
The top of the bush taxi. Goats along for the ride:
We put on the patched tire successfully and headed off for Zinder, with no major problems except for the pitiful windshield wiper on the driver's side that didn't work. So we drove through rain, Kara leaning to the right to try and see through Pastor Sonni's line of vision. Once we even pulled over and wipe off the windshield. But we got to Zinder, a three hour trip that took over five. I kept humming to myself the theme from Gilligan's Island.. "a three hour tour....a three hour tour...."
Anyway, the rest of the time in Zinder was great. The weather was perfect and I had a fun time with Aichatou's family. They showed me the farm and her father's pet ostrich (really very cute) and we got to climb the big rock formations. I pretended I was Elisabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and stood on the top of one with my skirt billowing in the wind, thinking, " 'For what are men compared to rocks and mountains?'"
One of the neat rock formations in Zinder :
And of course, a close up of the family ostrich:
We arrived at Niamey safe and sound, after fifteen hours in the car!
More to come soon on my trip home and my adjustment here to the states...