Today was a day spent in Africa’s administrative hell. Ariane, Fassely and I set out this morning around 10 a.m. to renew the permit for her car, which is this great, old white pick-up truck affixed with a cab that is affixed with lots and lots water canisters and other cool adventuring contraptions. This is our Azawak vehicle, so rugged, so tough. It’s awesome. This will bring us out of Niamey to - Amman Imman - the site of our next borehole well. Anyways, we were supposed to be gone an hour, but getting the car permit went so well we decided to tackle another administrative hurdle: the “permits de sejour,” or living permits for Ariane and Denis. Apparently, Ariane didn’t have the correct verification that she had paid for her previous permits de sejour, from 2005 through 2007. Thus, she was going to be charged a large fee to get a new one.
Well, we asked at the car place where to go to get this matter settled. This led us to office number two. On the journey from office number one to office number two, we also picked up a friend: a middle-aged Tuareg man who works for the administration and decided to help us jump through the hurdles. He had nothing better to do today than to hang out with us. Welcome, sir. We spent about an hour waiting there, the four of us, with the secretary. This was the first air conditioned space I had been in since coming to Niamey, so it was alright. But Fassely was getting cranky. Thus, Ariane lifted Fassely on madam secretary’s desk so he could watch her type on her type writer – that’s right, not computer, but type writer. Well, Fassely liked the jovial lady in bright yellow so much, just tap, tap, tapping away at the keys, he got excited. And then the little pant-less wonder peed all over her desk. She didn’t notice. Tap, tap, tap. Ariane looked to me – I looked to Ariane. We spoke a few words in English trying not to burst out laughing, and she quietly took her scarf and wiped up the liquid.
Enter monsieur: a serious looking short, stubby fellow speaking rapid Hausa, carrying papers with some sort of official seals. He places them on the desk for madam secretary. He looks up, looks back down at the desk, and then asks in French: has it rained in here? Yikes! And…just in time, we are called into chief’s office…which brings us to office number three. This office is luxury for Niamey. There is a television playing some Nigerien or Nigerian music videos. I can’t tell which. He has what looks like a pleather sofa. This space, again, is air conditioned. Ariane explains her ordeal. She speaks a little Hausa. He likes that a lot. Don’t look at me like that, Babou Hausa, I say (no Hausa here). The four of us head off to office number four, where they must verify what he just verified.
Another hour is spent in office number four. Fassely snacks on some leftover rice cakes, and my hunger and level of heat grow. I start to fade, which means any ability I once had to grasp French fades as well. A woman speaking Hausa finds Ariane’s small knowledge of Hausa enough to suffice for her amusement, and I space out. Thank God for Hausa today. Our new friend speaks some limited English to me, hoping to engage me a little; his English in quite good, refreshing. He wants to learn more English, wants me to speak to him in English. He says there is only one English teacher in Niamey who works for one hour each day. How sad! I need to be an English teacher in Niamey, I think. But then think better of it. I’m delirious. We wait and wait, and, finally, on to office number five. A lot of French, and rocking of Fassely while Ariane talks to a new monsieur and repeats her ordeal. Our new friend also steps in. He helps to settle the matter, saves us most of the money, somehow. Hausa, French, Tamashek, Djerma, I’m not sure. But Ariane must return in a couple of hours. We can wait if we want. Lord help us. We decide, instead, it must be time to eat. We wander, me listlessly, through the Petit Marche and get some lunch. Since we ran out of water over an hour ago, all I want is water. Amman Imman, Amman Imman, Amman Imman. They bring out a pitcher: do I, against all precautions, drink the water? Ariane does. Our new friend does. I can feel it drip, drip, dripping down my throat. I agonize, but decide against it. I, instead, again, have the best Coca Cola of my life, even better than the other night. Ariane and I share a dish of spicy rice and fish. Besides the flies also sharing our dish, the meal is quite good, anything was good at that point. Our new friend wants me to try his juice on the rocks. I refrain.
Update: Ariane was sick to her stomach throughout the night and into today. As Dave Matthews once sang, Don't drink the water...