Saturday, February 21, 2009

Walking These Streets

In between time spent caring for Fassely, cleaning, washing clothes and trying to read and write, I walk. This is how I prefer to see the world in Washington, DC, this is also how I prefer to see Africa. I walk to get to know the city, I walk to meet and greet people, to make new friends. I have now conquered this street and the one adjacent to it, and I am on a first name basis with most of the guards along the way. Yesterday, I walked back from the American Embassy. This was a new path for me. Although I got to the embassy to register with the consular so that they could track me in case anything were to go awry in the Bush, my mission remains incomplete. At 2 p.m., on Friday, most administrations close, including our own. But it wasn’t a journey in vain. What I saw on this new path was a community in isolation; Americans driving SUVs to and from, to and from, not walking around. They live behind gates, grand gates, away from the local smells, the sounds, the many people who greet you in the street. They live protected. They work on a tree-lined street, one of the cleanest in Niamey. They drive new cars. This is America, in Africa.

On my walk from the embassy back home, I met maybe 10 different people, wishing me a good day, good health, health for my family. I tell them about Amman Imman’s work in the Azawak. They respect this, this work of bringing water to people who need it. And when I returned home, I found something even more astounding: the United Nations of Niger in our living room. We had Djerma, Tuareg, Fulani and even someone from Burkina Faso visiting yesterday all in our home. Fada, the older Fulani man, brought his crafts, handmade purses, shirts, belts and jewelry, although he was sick. I offered Fada Western medicine to cure his stomach ailment. I can only hope it is nothing serious. Yacuba and his friend presented us with Tuareg tea, laced with mint leaves. It was delicious. Fati and her cousins braided the hair of Debbie and Ariane, in traditional style. I played with Mohamed and Zacharea on my computer, astounded that Mohamed had learned to play Solitaire and Free Cell at his school. He knew the music of Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. He is a fan of Barack Obama too. Mohamed is smart, small for his 16 years, but incredibly intelligent. He speaks French fluently and is learning English in school. I want Mohamed to go all the way with his education, make a difference in the world.

In between these encounters, I took another walk with Fassely. We walked and skipped, one of Fassely’s new favorite things. He loves to be on my back and feel me skip through the sand. He cracks up; those seeing this spectacle, laugh as well. People move slowly in Niger - to see a pale woman skipping through sand, laughing and singing makes them laugh too. I am glad I can be their entertainment. I think Fassely is too.

Tomorrow, Debbie and I will depart and walk through the streets of Tahoua, where we will stay for a couple of days with Achmadou, a friend of Ariane’s, before again leaving for the Azawak. Denis and Ariane will follow after finishing up some last minute paperwork in Niamey. We will have to learn what water we can drink and what we can’t. I might be hungry. Most people will be eating meat, I am warned. I have packed cashews, cliff bars and energy gels. This will get me through my time away from this “big” city. We will attend the festival Achmadou has helped organize: a camel festival. There, we will see Tuareg men on their camels sitting, racing, enjoying their time together. I will cover myself the best I can when I am in Tahoua and the Bush. I will be modest, as tradition is more rigid where it is more rural. I cannot wait to walk these new streets, to meet new people and walk some more.

No comments:

Post a Comment