One generation later

My assignment in Mali ended on a high note, even if it didn’t always look like it would. At my last lunch with ICRC colleagues I met a fellow traveler who was also going to Niamey on the midnight flight – that makes waiting in airports a lot more pleasant.

After several debriefings at ICRC I returned to the hotel. I asked to see my bill and pay. As it turned out their credit card machine was broken. Luckily I had enough cash, though just barely, to pay the bill in a combination of CFA and dollars. That had been good intuition to bring dollars and get a lot of cash out of the Ecobank machine.

The Turkish Airlines flight from Bamako to Niamey was empty, although I managed to sit in one of the few rows that was filled. I suggested that the very tired 3 year old sit by the window but he chose to sit next to me. He flopped against me with his head and then with his feet. He was traveling with his mom to Istanbul and then Rome, a rather roundabout way, but I suppose the ticket was cheaper than Air France.

I helped mom put up her case in the overhead bin – something I can now do thanks to my daily swims. I few months ago I had to ask for help; now I can provide help. Even though I have only 3 tendons attached to my rotator cuff in my right shoulder, they are getting stronger by the day. The swimming has been a discovery for me. I didn’t think I liked it.

We arrived at 1:30 AM in Niamey, temperature 30 degrees! The ICRC car was waiting for us and dropped me off at a hotel that hadn’t even opened when I was here 30 years ago. Now it looks like it was 100 years old. I know plenty of old hotels that are nearing their centennial anniversary that look a whole lot better. The place has suffered from neglect, poor maintenance and probably poor quality building materials. Still, it is billed as the luxury hotel of Niamey.

I was too tired to care about which room they gave me, and tumbled into bed for a short sleep as my alarm was set for only 4 hours later. When I woke up I decided that the room I had, with a view onto a fly-over and thick dark curtains hiding a small dilapidated window, was too depressing for a 10 days stay. I requested a move to the back of the hotel that looked out on the pool, palm trees and the Niger River, the same river I had just left behind in Bamako.

The pool is twice as big as the one at my Bamako hotel, and also mostly unused, though it is not tucked away and out of sight of most hotel guests. Still the people here seem not to care about using it, whoever the guests are.

Next to the hotel is the Palais des Congres, where, the day of my arrival, the first ladies of West Africa came together to discuss genital mutilation, early marriage, domestic labor and other malpractices that hurt young girls. These practices used to be defended as ‘it’s our culture.’ I was happy to see that these issues have now reached the top. When I was here 30 years ago you would be hissed at, especially by men, if you raised any of these. Fran Hosken was an early activist against genital cutting in those heady days of the 70s. Her activism was dismissed as annoying American interference in age old rituals. She was ahead of her time. If she is still alive today she would be pleased. No one is arguing anymore that such practices are bad for everyone – and raising them is no longer political suicide.

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