Sunday, March 15, 2009

On the Road Again

The following seven posts are published in reverse chronological order (beginning with “Beyond Niamey: A Journey” and ending with this one). All the posts are from my time spent outside of Niamey and in the bush. I hope you enjoy the read.

It is my last night here in Abalak, the city of the bush. I thought I would be away from Niamey for one week, maybe 10 days, now, it has been about three weeks. Nothing has gone as planned, nothing ever will, in Africa. I am just getting settled in, just getting to know the landmarks around my home: the metal barnlike structure just across the road, the particular cow who waits patiently outside our red, rusted door to come in and devour our own cow’s food, the mosque and what look like mud-walled bungalows beside it. I can now go out at dusk, walk a mile or two into the bush and find my way back, without asking for the paved road, its relationship to this little house. I can finally pronounce and remember my friend Tchichigadon’s name – a girl who has helped me with Fassely, with life’s practicalities. But now it’s time to go, again.

We will be back on the road tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get some time alone then, or maybe I won’t. Nigeriens don’t believe in alone time, I have noticed. They want to accompany you wherever you go, want to stay in your house with you during the day, walk with you at night. Who would want to be alone, they think. In death, you are alone; in life, always in the company of others. Kids, hordes of them, follow me out to the bush each night, as I try to escape this companionship. As an only child, a fairly reticent person, I need to escape. When I am here, alone, with Fassely during the day, Yusef, then Jamila, then Miriama, then many more, come by. They play with Fassely, they greet me over and over again. The mother of the family brings me millet each morning. With the father, I act as a nurse and give him arnica for his arthritis. I am never alone, here in Africa.

I don’t know what I will take away from all this, although I do, indeed, know I am taking a lot away. I am stripping Niger of its people, carrying them with me – their generosity, their hunger, their thirst, their companionship. But what am I giving them in return? I will go back to the United States and continue to talk about them, write about them, in my communications work for Amman Imman. But will this feel trite in the face of such indignity, living without water. I think a lot of things in my life will seem trite after what I have seen here, which has made me, albeit depressed at times, feel very much alive. Driving back from the bush, walking back from the bush, I feel I owe these people my life, for rejuvenating my spirit, for waking me from slumber. At the same time, I don’t know what I can possibly give, beyond my contribution to these borehole wells, these oases in hell.

We will return to Niamey to negotiate with the contractors and find out if, indeed, we have the money to dig the borehole well in Kijigari, or if we have to fundraise for a few months and then come back to bring them the most basic human right: water. If we must delay, this will cost the families of Kijigari many of their animals, maybe some of their children too, because the dry season has arrived and will only become more insufferable until July, when the rain is due to fall. These families can wait no longer for the clean water beneath their toes.

Ariane and Denis, most importantly, have appointed a local team to help manage things and keep the project running when they are not around. This team consists of a leader to consult with the men at Tangawarshane, a driver, another man to help interview and talk to the men of all of Tangawarshane and the surrounding villages and a woman, who will spend time with the women of the Azawak to assist them with meeting their own needs. Many have a desire to further their own education, not just their children’s. Others want to be better educated about hygiene and health. Just because these women live in the bush, behind cloistered walls, this doesn’t mean they don’t have desires and aspirations of their own.

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