I was raised by a Jewish mother, who felt closer to atheism than Judaism, and a father who renoucned Catholicism long ago. As the product of these two, I never thought the sound of prayer would bring me solace, but it does. Five times per day, I hear the chants. Men kneel on the side of the sand-covered streets, on their intricately decorated prayer mats, in their colorful robes, and pray. Peace-miel-la, they say here. May God be with you. Peace-miel-la. I love the sound, the language, of peace-miel-la, hamdilah. Although I could never accede to their traditions - the arranged marriages, the multiple wives - this sound of prayer will always have a place inside me.
I also find myself unoffended. I do not look the elder Islamic men in the eyes too long and wear my long skirts proudly. If I were forced to wear a Burka, refrain from driving, going to school, etc., etc., etc., of course I would feel differently, of course. But most of those living in the urban areas, like Niamey, are not fundamentalist. I feel at peace acceding to their rules, for now.
Last night, the sound of prayer followed Denis, Fassely and I through the streets on our nightly stroll. We strolled by a particulary large house, a castle. This was not a house owned by white people, or a foreign government; these were Nigeriens. Their kids played outside under the trees they had planted in front of their gates, trees that could have been transported from Florida or California, and they looked Western. I could picture them vacationing in Europe, having dinner at an upscale restarant in Washington, D.C. I could picture their house on The Real World, Niamey - however frightening such a show would be. They had bikes and toys and they were clean. These Nigeriens wanted to be our friends, I believe, because we were white, clean, they found more in common with us than with their own Nigerien neighbors, squatting in their own filth. They said come back, stay with us. No thanks, I thought. This castle, amongst the ruins, upset me, as do the castles owned by the Europeans, Americans, Canadians. But they had every right to this castle, to their cleanliness and wealth, I suppose.
But, last night, they too, despite their royalty, and like everyone else, eventually became shrouded in darkness. Power outages are common in Niamey and last night was my first. Denis and I sat down to have a soda and as we were about to depart, the lights went out, everywhere. Along the main streets, the lights of motorcycles and cars shined the way for us. On the side streets, we used only the little light on Denis' cell phone to see the way. If I was alone, I might of felt scared. For I know my skin glowed in the night. But, in the company of friends, I enjoyed trudging through the sand at night, trying out best to count "un, deux, trois" rues until we found home, and, indeed, we did.