Bats

There are two things I remember vividly from my trip to Niamey 30 years ago. One is a very painful learning experience that has served me well, though I didn’t like it at the time. It had to do with facilitation and letting a group take control of the process. It was painful experiential learning.

The second I remember even more vividly. Every day, at the end of the work day, I would be sitting on the terrace of the Grand Hotel (it is still here). The same place Axel stayed before we changed roles, when he was the one traveling around West Africa. The terrace overlooks the river and the bridge across the Niger river. I would watch the camels either enter the city over the bridge, or leave it. Now I see, from the other side of the bridge, a gigantic traffic jam; the camels are gone.

As I would sit on the terrace, enjoying a ‘conjuncture’ (the local beer) and brochettes, I would watch the bats come out at dusk. I realized that I was a spectator in a ritual that was probably thousands if not millions year old. That has not changed of course, what is 30 years on a cosmic scale?

The terrace of my current hotel (the Gaweye) is not quite as spectacular but I can see the bats come out just the same. They come out about 6:45PM and disappear around 7:10PM. A few hundred of them come out of the enormous mango tree across from my room. There must be thousands of them swarming from everywhere in the city and across the river. The bats are the size of pigeons. They squeak when they leave their roosts in the trees and squeak when they return, but in between they are silent killing machines, eating all the hapless insects that are no match for their stealth.

Tonight I ate my mini brochettes while I watched the spectacle. I was wondering how long they’d be out. As if by some unseen signal or clock (it gets darker) they start to return, streaming towards the tree here or disappear over the roof of the hotel or in the distance. A few continue to flap around – they approach the tree and then they seem to change their mind and with a wide swoop fly out again. I imagine these are the adolescents, who love this daily outing. But eventually they too return to the roost and, after some settling in squeaks, night falls and everything is quiet again.

The returning home reminded me of summertime and playing out on the street in our neighborhood. I was among the younger ones and I wasn’t happy when my mom called me in, “ah,” mom, “can’t I stay just a little longer?” (in Dutch of course). I would have been one of those bats asking for one more trip around the block.

The stock of mosquitoes and other flying insects is, I assume, kept under control by the bats. For those insects that crawl, there is another danger, not at dusk but after dark. Then enormous toads come out. They are the size of an apple. They jump from one insect to the next, covering considerable distances on the swimming pool terrace.  I pulled up my legs to prevent being taken for an insect. They look fierce.

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