The flowers seem to be fully in bloom. The dirt reminds me of Terra Cotta, California roof tops, Arizona, perhaps. I notice trash cans, as I never have before. Someone had raked the dirt on the next street over, to make it level, to make it less impossible to have to thrash about with each new step. This isn’t the Niamey I noticed before. But it’s all relative. Abalak was dirty and we couldn’t escape it. Even if we raked the sand and picked up our own trash, the animals would soon shit, a neighbor would just as soon litter the week’s garbage on our doorstep. So I wonder if, while we were gone in the bush, there was a neighborhood clean-up, here in Niamey, or, if, I will repeat, it’s all relative. I think it is.
I’ve found a sense of peace being back here in Niamey, with my own room, and actual floors Fassely can crawl around on. He doesn’t have to share the sand with the goats, sheep and cows. Today, I let him pick up a carrot off of the floor and eat it, because this is a controlled environment. This is modernity. I feel cosmopolitan here in Niamey. But I’m trying not to forget. I know I will.
I’ll be back in the United States in less than two weeks, and am already, mentally, checking out – while keeping a roster in my head of the most poignant memories:
The boy in the salmon colored shirt who so intuitively told me about how if he had more to eat, he could grow more, grow to the size he should be, at 16; the family running to Debbie and I with their sick, feverish child in their arms, hoping that we would be medical missionaries, not just the useless women we felt we were; the three women begging for my cheerios; the three men begging for my cheerios and then falling to the ground after one cheerio as it disappeared into the sand; the beautiful women almost of Insakan; the dirty water the beautiful women of Insakan were drinking; the dwindling rations for the school of Akoubounou; dancing in Miriama’s tent; the way Miriama’s sister Fati Matou stared at us from her own space, outside the tent; Mahmoudine’s cough; the night Mahmoudine recounted to us his experiences with evangelism under the stars and by the fire in Akoubounou; the children singing, chanting “Amman Imman,” following Debbie and I out to the bush; Debbie singing “The Circle Game” for the men of Akoubounou; singing the Dixie Chicks as the sunset over Abalak; the graves of Kijigari, where sand had fallen on men trying, always, to find water; holding the hand of Attaher’s grandmother; the guilt I felt wasting water on my clothes at Akoubounou; riding that Arabian; tasting the water, the Evian, at Tangawarshane.
I must say I don’t miss showering in an outdoor toilet. I also don’t miss sand in my food. But I miss, already, sleeping under the stars in Akoubounou. I miss driving back from the bush, walking back from the bush at sunset, and it has only been days. I miss Mahmoudine, Miriama, Tchichigadon and Jamila, and I am not even across the ocean yet. I will miss this place, when I am not here. In retrospect, struggle, hardship, beauty always feel exaggerated.
But just when I feel my memory roster is full and I start focusing on the future, the anxiety of what this experience will mean to my future, I have to add something else. Like last night, when Ariane, Denis, Fassely and I made our nightly visit to Miriama’s, Fati’s family. We went to see Fati and her newborn baby who entered the world just five days ago and will be named tomorrow during her Islamic baptism. And I met a new child there: a little boy who had a loud, cacophonous laugh.
“Ssssshhhhhh,” I said to the boy, as he bellowed.
“Il est sourd,” his sister told me.
The little boy was deaf, but brilliant. I snapped a photo of him and then he snapped one of me. He shouted every time he took a photo. He quickly learned how to operate the zoom and the review button. He directed photographs, placing his friends here and there. He ran to me, proud, to show me each photo he had taken. This is another child I won’t forget, when I am back at home.
When I am home…
I’ll run the tap in my DC shower and think of the men and women, children and animals, as in Attaher’s own village, pulling and pulling from the Earth just to get – water. I’ll throw my dirty clothes in the washing machine and be in wonder at how clean they actually are, no brown residue dripping from them when I tense every muscle in my arms to wring and wring them dry. Or maybe I won’t, because my life has been filled with water, excess. Maybe I’ll go back home and feel the same as I always did. Acclimation. I hope I don’t.