Thursday, February 12, 2009

Seeing the Light

8 February 2009

Darkness is always unnerving. Ever since coming out of the darkness my first night in Niamey, things have seemed more rationale. The red dirt I expected is all there. Goats frolic on my doorstep. We have an awfully nice porch, covered with slated tile, a blow up pool for the baby, shaded by what look like purple flowering trees, straight out of Southern California. A morning breeze litters the flowers on the tile. It is beautiful. This is privilege.

Just outside my house is a small bench where the guard, other bored men or young boys loiter. They speak just a little bit of French and then Djerma – which I know not a word of yet except how to say the basic hello – “Fofo.” The boys are adorable. There are children everywhere. They run out into the street to say “bonjour,” “bon soir,” they are far more charming than in pictures. I love each and every one of them. They are enamored with Fassely, a blond enigma.
Thus far, I feel very comfortable. Unlike my travels through South Africa, or sometimes even on the streets of Mt. Pleasant, I do not feel men leering. I do not get a sense that I am prey. There is a certain respect. I wrapped my head for the first time today, not in a burka sort of fashion, but rather as a turban. I should add that such a wrap wards the heat off quite well. And it is hot. Midday, the sun is brutal, although the complete lack of humidity keeps the suffering to a minimum.
This evening, around 5 p.m., when the day had cooled down a bit, I visited a traditional Tuareg community. Tuaregs live in tents with simple cots or mats to sleep on. Fati, one of Ariane’s close friends fixed us Tuareg tea – something so strong and sweet it makes your lips pucker. At 20, Fati is eight months pregnant with her third child, or she thinks she is. She is not certain when she will give birth. She is going to help us out with Fassely a little to make a little extra money. I look forward to getting to know her better.

While visiting the tent, I was offered a goat, but don’t worry, not in the sacrificial sort of way - at least not yet. One of the children brought a baby goat over for me touch. How sweet. There were many children, all very entertained by the entrance of the blond baby. They passed him around, they put him on the goat. They loved him. I loved them.

It is actually hard for me to grasp how poor they are. Although they were dirty and sand covered with soiled clothing, they were so gracious. They smiled and laughed. They found the pictures of themselves on the digital camera particularly amusing. Just as in South Africa, and even the division between NW and SE and Washington, DC, the gap between rich and poor is astounding. The American government, for instance, has its own row of houses with their own water towers and pools and probably luxuries that most Nigeriens could never even imagine. I would guess they import, a lot.

And just across the street from where I am staying, maybe 20 feet away and beyond a wall, families are squatting. I peek out of my gate in the morning to see what is going on outside and they peek from behind their wall. The very first girl I saw was maybe seven, wrapped in a peach colored shawl. If I had something, anything to give them, I would give them it all. But they aren’t asking for anything and I would have no idea where even to start. I guess bringing people water seems sensible, Amman Imman, indeed. Maybe I’ll leave behind most of my clothing and jewelry before I depart, although one guy already has dibs on my sneakers. Perhaps they will like that. Who knows.

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