Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kidnapped (Not Literally)

11 February 2009

First, I want to say, if you are visiting this blog for the first time, I am sorry all my posts from Africa, thus far, are getting published at one time. Getting to an Internet CafĂ© that is fully equipped - meaning the electricity and the computers are both functioning – isn’t easy here. And things are slow in Africa, very slow. But I digress.

I got some CFA today, that is, Nigerien currency. But not in the traditional way - or maybe it is traditional in a Nigerien sort of way. I’m not sure. I took half of the $1,000 in cash I brought over here (probably far too much for food, Internet and gifts) and went into a room in the middle of what is called the Grand Marche (as opposed to the Petit Marche mentioned previously). After walking past several Islamic men lying around on their prayer mats, I found the beholder of the CFA to the back: an overweight, sweaty, Nigerien man dressed in black. He sat at a decrepit desk drowning in dollars, Euros and CFA, for all of the Grand Marche to see. I told him how much I had. He gave me the rate, which I was promised was better than at any bank. He then pulled out an old calculator, probably from the 1970s. $500 means 252,000 CFA, according to the calculator. Sounds good to me. I counted my cash and headed for the market, where vendors sell everything from traditional fabric to Western-style belts and sunglasses and shoes and even mattresses. “Viens dormir,” they yell (come sleep). Right…because Grand Marche is just the tranquil space where you want to take a little cat nap. It is extremely polluted, loud, and chaotic – a traditional African market on steroids.

Before going to make the exchange, I had a more tranquil morning with Fati (pronounced fah-tee), watching Fassely. If you didn’t read the previous entries, Fassely is Ariane’s son who Nigeriens call Faisel, the Arabic pronunciation, and Fati is Ariane’s closest friend here and now a new friend of mine. Fati is stunning. She is a light skinned, petite Tuareg woman, with deep set brown eyes, who looks as if the world hasn’t touched her yet…although it has. She is now in her second arranged marriage, at 20, after fleeing her first marriage with Ariane’s help and getting a divorce from an abusive man she was promised to at age 14. Yes, it is as you read in the papers. She lost her two children as a result of the divorce. She had nowhere to go but back to her family who promised her to another man - her new husband, 49 years old. When I asked her if he was a nice man, this new guy, she shrugged, her lips stagnant. She is eight months pregnant. I can only hope her new child is healthy and brings fulfillment to her life. Fati and I looked at photos of Barack Obama’s inauguration. She looked completely mystified, but, did, indeed, know who our new president is. The gift of marrying a well-do-man: a television. We listened to some Christina Aguilera – she liked the song “infatuation.” I hope one day she can feel what it is like to be infatuated, to be in love, I hope. I want to kidnap Fati, bring her to America.

This brings me to my evening: the kidnapping. I was kidnapped by a posse of Nigerien children, all shapes and sizes, with different demeanors. At one moment I was snapping a photo of Fassely with one young woman’s child, at the next I was being swept down the dirt road. A girl wearing a shirt that had “sexy” written across it grabbed my hand. The mob spoke barely a word of French, only Djerma. My Djerma vocabulary consists of “Fofo,” Hello, which I would repeat over and over again in that 20 minutes. I was shifted between straw huts and various squatters to where this group called home, in their own squat. They wanted to introduce me to their mother or who some of them called “mama” – mama enticed me to dance while clapping her hands and stamping her feet from a seated position. The children cracked up as I danced about. I am sure this white girl dancing in the sand with her dirty, red feet looked absolutely ridiculous to them. They then wanted a photo of the group. About 25 people gathered with mama. I snapped the shot. About 30 kids ran toward me to see the shot on the back of my camera. I wonder if they know what they look like, how often they see their reflection. They seemed quite pleased. I promised to bring them the photo. I would like to keep this promise, but know it will be difficult. Mission: find place to print out digital photos. That may take me the next month. This would also mean I have to find my way back to their squat. I should have counted the straw huts, the dirt roads to their space. Perhaps Ariane could show me the way. Everything looks the same in Niamey, (dirt, dirt, dirt, trash, trash, trash, camel, goat, camel), which is why 20 minutes after my disappearance Ariane and Denis became worried…and eventually found me amongst the mob. They pulled me away as about 10 stragglers followed us, laughing, grabbing my hand, down the road. I loved them all.

And this is my predicament, feeling like I want to give everyone the shirt off my back, the sandals off my feet, the bag off of my back, but then feeling helpless. Mama pulled at my shirt and I actually considered giving my shirt to her. If only had I had a shawl I could wrap around myself in my bag, I thought. But, of course, I am not sure if that was what she was signaling at all – probably not. I want to bring all of the children to our home and bathe them, feed them, let them dance around to my Itunes music. I want to break up the monotony of their days. But maybe they are just fine and I am projecting. At least, I don’t want any of them to be sick. I want them to live long, healthy lives. I want them to get an education. I want them to visit me in the States one day. I want all of that for all of them. I don’t want the girls to marry men 30 years their senior when they are still girls. I want them to remain innocent, untouched, girls.

Would that be simple? I doubt it, but I have some hope. We found out today that will take a mere three days to dig the next borehole well. This is astounding to me, that people can spend decades, lifetimes, without access to water, and it only takes three days to tap water that runs beneath their feet. This seems grossly unfair. I only wish we had the extra $50,000 we need to make sure the pumps and faucets get built as well. Any ideas? The pumps and faucets would take an extra month, but would make life so much easier for 25,000 more people. I probably consume an average of seven, eight liters of water per day here. It is so fucking hot and dry. It wouldn’t take long to die of thirst. Amman Imman.

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