Well it’s been a couple of days, but I finally have access to the Internet.
It was a long drive to Zinder earlier this week. We drove for 9 hours on Monday and stayed in Maradi for the night. Getting out of Niamey earlier was a bit of a challenge though. The hotel didn’t take credit cards, so I needed to get some cash. No ATM’s on the corner in Niamey, but eventually found one bank that had one, only to be out of order. So ended up going into the bank and took out a cash advance. The hotel was offering 400 CFA’s to the dollar if I paid with U.S. cash. The bank gave me 479 CFA’s to the dollar, plus a commission for the advance. Finally went out on the street to the black market and got 500 to 1. That’s the way to go. Haven’t had anyone except a credit card since I’ve been here, cash only.
I didn’t have any expectations of Niger, so I just accepted what I saw. It’s quite flat, more like a savannah. Grass, scattered trees, the roads come and go. Literally! There’s a new highway for about 500 km east out of Niamey, then the road start to fall apart. Tschoulou tells me the new one is coming, while Issa, our driver, is very good at avoiding the potholes. No patrols, but you do stop every so often to pay a toll. The toll stop is two 55 gal drums with rope and flags strung between them, even on the new road. One of the other speed controls is at the beginning and the other side of every village is a speed bump. Rather large and I’m told, made by the locals.
We got to Zinder and went to check in at the hotel before going to the HKI local office. Someone offered money for the room earlier, so they gave away the reservation and were full, all 8 or so rooms. Tried another hotel but they were full also. Finally did find one for two nights while in Zinder. For ‘those in the know’, this made Dungadhi look like a 4 star.
Most villages are similar in size and structure. Whether along the roadside or, as I found out later, scattered throughout the land away from any paved roads. All made out of mud and straw. Very well made, but the rains do eat away at them, so they need to rebuild or repair yearly. Very narrow streets, actually just walk ways between homes. Typical of the villages we would visit was a detour from the paved road, traveling though the savannah and fields of millet (their grain plant). Sometimes on dirt roadways made from other vehicles to driving the sandy soil between rows of 6-foot high millet. A village would just appear and we’d navigate through or around that one and continue on through more fields and savannah till another village would pop up. That would be where we were visiting, that particular moment of day. Did I mention the heat? The direct sun can be brutal. 10am and it’s already in the upper 90’s approaching 100, along with some outstanding humidity!
As I remember from the villages in Nepal, the first thing you notice about the villages in Niger is the children. They are very interested in seeing the stranger, but a little hesitant. Curious, but timid at first. As Tschoulou says, for the young ones, I’m the first white guy they’ve probably ever seen. However once you make eye contact or wave, then they all come running. Usually they will follow you for the entire time you’re there. After walking through the fields, my pants were covered with stickers so I bent down to pull them off and the kids surrounded me, took off all the stickers and would not even let me help.
We were in the villages to look at some of the programs HKI is doing and some they are partnering with USAID on. Women learning to grow certain crops for their use and to sell the surplus, so they might purchase goats or other necessities.
To keep track of nutrition, health, and growth, the children are weighed measured every 2 weeks till they’re 5 years old. This is done in each village by locals, HKI trains to monitor the growth. Otherwise it probably wouldn’t get done religiously if they had to walk to other villages to do it.
I am now in Diffa. Flew in this morning and when the UNHAS plane showed up in Zinder… MY SUITCASE WAS ON BOARD! Clean clothes, back-up camera and lense, electronics, and meds! 6 days of the same clothes, maybe now I can loose the flies!