Broken in, my bed feels like home now. The sheets have gone from sandpaper to something between sandpaper and silk. Cold water showers are the most refreshing thing in the world. On occasion, I’ll drink the water, everybody does. I don’t hesitate to do a little barefoot wandering around Fati’s homestead. I wash my hands a little less. I tried the salad at Elhadji’s the other night. Sometimes I can understand a full and detailed conversation in fluent French. I bring my camera with me less. I am acclimating, just in time to leave.
My phonebook is filling up with phone numbers of acquaintances and friends I have met along the way. I am beginning to understand them, just beginning, when they call me and speak French to me on the phone, in the fast and muffled way we all universally speak on the phone. I’ve begun to replace one ring with another, one bracelet with the next, to make room for the gifts that my friends here keep giving me, the generous souls that they are.
But it would take much more time to acclimate completely, if that is possible, to release myself from some degree of culture shock. Some missionaries I met in Abalak told me it takes about two years until the highest degree of culture shock ends, and a more subliminal version begins.
I still can’t get used to the hungry people. I am still culturally shocked by that every day. I shared Fassely’s cheerios with three small boys today, as I took a roundabout walk from home to Chateau 1. They devoured them, like they always do. I’ll always remember this about dry cereal, about omelets, about my rice and other things I’ve shared along the way. I fear I haven’t shared enough, because I never could.
In some ways, I wish I could stay longer, but I know I can’t. In other ways, of course, I am desperate to get home. I know I might not feel as alive there, but I’ll feel less lonely. My departure next Saturday will be a bit premature. I’ll miss what it is like to feel the first rain.
In another piece of writing I did, this is how I imagine the rain falling over Niamey:
I imagine people running into these red streets and dancing, kicking up the mud, covering themselves. I imagine people sticking out their tongues and letting the rain drops fall and trickle down their throats. I imagine shirtless children stomping in the puddles, taking a plastic cup and then drinking from them. This would certainly be the most monumental rain shower in the world. In the valleys, by the river, brown would turn to a deep green. I imagine smelling the green only for a short time and then all the impurities of the city too. The dirt under people’s fingernails, I imagine smelling that. I imagine smelling the meat from the Petit Marche, the sweat of my neighbor – the blood, sweat, toil of Africa – this I want to see.
In the Azawak, it would be even more incredible, I know, because the marshes would begin to fill and the sand would begin to produce green things, maybe even a few things people can eat. I know the Fulani would be starting to celebrate these rains, with festivals, called Gorowols, where the women choose their favorite men who are dressed and bedecked in make-up and jewels. I would love to see this, would love to line the eyes of a Fulani man with eyeliner of my own.
If I want to stomp the puddles, pick the crops, cover my feet in not just sand, but mud – I’ll have to return some July or August. I hope the rain is still falling then and the skies haven’t completely dried up over dear Niger, as they have started to. I pray for this, here, for my friends living in this country of sand.