Saturday, March 28, 2009

Niger: A Letter From Me to You

Niger, Thank you, Tanamere, Merci. I’ve taken away from you far more than I can give back. You’ve rejuvenated me, inspired me, inflamed me, you’ve awakened me from slumber. You have infused my creative energy with your African spirit, so thank you. I don’t know how I will be able to live without you, although it would be difficult to live within you, always. I am not from you, of your sand and the dust that canvasses the air. I cannot drink your water or live under the animosity of your sun. Your temperament threatens me, although I would never want it to change.

You and I are not of the same world. I feel as if I should be taking a space ship, not an airplane, to my home on another planet, a place that seems, in retrospect, lost in slumber. It’s a place where men and women do not pile tables, mattresses, cigarettes and bottles of water, all on top of their heads as they meander through the sand. It is a place where most people have enough food, where most people waste food and water as if it were the sand beneath their feet; I, too, am guilty of this. It is a place where people go not one day without a television, a remote control, an instant coffee maker—pushing buttons, to help life pass by. It is not, for the most part, a place where sewage sits stagnant in open gutters. I live in a place with infrastructure, boreholes galore, if you can believe that, which bring clean water right to down my throat every day.

Dear Niger, I promise to tell my planet more about you. I promise you won’t remain a statistic to any of the people I know. Or worse, I promise you won’t remain imaginary—the vast, sweeping country that you are. I intend to recount your impoverishment, as well as your wealth—the wealth of your people, your livelihoods, the way you injected me with those things every day. I promise to attach faces and names to make your people seem a little more like mine. And I promise to remain in contact with the people who have touched my life and made it greater, through the technology that exists on my planet, and now on yours too. I hope they can promise me the same.

I am not sure if I have made you feel more alive, Niger, or if I have offered you anything at all. I’ve witnessed you. I think about you. You have a large place, the size of the sweeping Azawak Valley, in my heart. I can smell the fire and the dust of Niamey quite clearly. I can see the color of the marsh water many of your people are drinking right now. I can hear the sunset prayers and see the men bowing down simultaneously as I walk and think, sometimes about you and sometimes about me. I can see all the anas and abbas with their Tuareg children, hear the women pounding millet, join the men drinking tea. I can taste the leftover tea leaves in my slight glass and roll them around on my tongue. I can’t promise you these sensations will last forever.

When they do start to fade, your heat becoming an enigma, I promise to mount my space ship again. I will return to collect from you a sense of life, a jolt to my system, to hold the many hands I held before. So, you see, I will come back only to take from you again. I hope you can condone my predicament.

I must ask you, dear Niger: what can I do for you?

I see the hundreds of NGOs circling your periphery in their large SUVs. I see the signs of projects, development all over. I will do my part to help some of your people to have water through my contributions to Amman Imman. But I still see so many of your children do not have enough to eat, water to drink. This seems unjust, although, without asking, Nigeriens would never tell me so. Instead, they smile and welcome me, in their rags and shoeless feet. They give me what they have, themselves, in this country of sand. So maybe becoming more like my planet is not exactly what you need. I know you need food, water, infrastructure and a place where the sick can get cured. Maybe, so many of your people are right: you just need faith in Allah. Beyond that, I like you just the way you are. I like the way your people spend their lives outside. I cherish the way they greet me, caressing my hands and wrists. The contrast between the way they dress and the brown, barren landscape is stunning.

But there I go taking away from you again, these images of beauty and hope. I must stop now to reflect and stop grabbing—a model the French, the Chinese and the Americans should follow also as they excavate your uranium and strip your people of what is rightfully yours.

So, farewell, Niger, my friend, I hope I see you again soon. Please don’t forget me and I won’t forget you. Please take away from me what you can.


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